Cabinet Approves Billions to Ramp Up Israeli Sovereignty in East Jerusalem

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A school in East Jerusalem's Silwan neighborhood, 2017.
A school in East Jerusalem's Silwan neighborhood, 2017.Credit: Ammar Awad / Reuters

The cabinet voted Sunday to allot 2 billion shekels ($560 million) over five years to strengthen Israeli sovereignty in East Jerusalem, with much of the funding to encourage Palestinian schools to use the Israeli curriculum.

Palestinian officials in East Jerusalem, including parents’ committees, are opposed to the plan and protesting at schools being pressured to move to the Israeli curriculum — and are calling it an effort to change their children’s identity.

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Most Palestinian students in East Jerusalem study for the Palestinian matriculation tests, known as the taujihi. But in recent years, some schools have also begun studying the Israeli curriculum, with the students taking the Israeli matriculation exams, the bagrut.

The government will allocate 68.7 million shekels to oversee schools teaching the Israeli curriculum. Another 57.4 million shekels will go to physically develop schools that opt for the bagrut, 67 million shekels will to go toward rent for these schools and 15 million shekels toward Hebrew-language studies.

In addition, 206 million shekels will fund informal education and 15 million technology studies.

“The almost complete dominance of studies using the Palestinian curriculum leads to an inability to become part of the Israeli academic world, and as a result [the students] are unable to enter the employment market,” the explanatory remarks accompanying the proposal state.

The cabinet also approved a 350-million-shekel outlay to develop areas of the Old City and its surroundings, including events in the Old City and on and around the Mount of Olives. This funding will also go toward cleaning up the area, developing public space and business infrastructure, and the continued refurbishing of the Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives.

The cabinet also approved a plan to improve public transportation in East Jerusalem. As part of this, the Transportation Ministry will allow use of the Rav-Kav electronic ticketing system in Palestinian neighborhoods and connect public transportation between the two parts of the city.

Also, the Health Ministry will transfer funding to health maintenance organizations to open clinics in East Jerusalem. Most of the clinics in that part of the city are currently operated by subcontractors, not directly by the HMOs.

The justice and finance ministries will contribute 50 million shekels to the plan in order to register property in East Jerusalem. This process has been frozen since Israel took over East Jerusalem in the 1967 Six-Day War — which has led to planning chaos and a raft of economic problems.

The cabinet also approved a plan to double the number of Palestinian academics in Israeli universities and colleges, and for job training and encouraging Palestinian women in Jerusalem to join the workforce.

As with the cleanup program for East Jerusalem that was approved about a year ago, the new plan does not affect the neighborhoods on the other side of the separation barrier.

Jerusalem Affairs Minister Zeev Elkin, who is also environmental protection minister, will coordinate implementation. About six months ago, Elkin proposed that Israel move ahead with its plan to sever these eastern neighborhoods from the rest of Jerusalem. The plan has yet to be implemented.

On Sunday, the cabinet rejected a proposal to penalize ministers who do not move ministry departments to Jerusalem. Ofer Berkovitch, a mayoral candidate in the capital, said the decision would hurt Jerusalem’s standing and economic development, adding that it “proved that U.S. President Trump is a greater Jerusalem patriot than most of the government ministers.”

The cabinet also earmarked 47 million shekels for an archaeological excavation in the Silwan neighborhood, which according to the remarks accompanying the plan will continue the “research and development of sites in ancient Jerusalem via ongoing government activity.”

The allocation would “stress to the whole world Jerusalem’s place as the ancient capital of King David and the capital of modern Israel.”

The archaeologist Yoni Mizrahi of Emek Shaveh, a left-wing archaeology group, responded: “It’s unfortunate to see the callous use the government is making of archaeological excavations in Silwan. The promised amounts of money are unprecedented for an archaeological effort in one place over a short period.”

Mizrahi said this showed that the government was not interested in research and the study of the past but in strengthening the right-wing group Elad, which funds many of the archaeological excavations in East Jerusalem and the settlements.

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