Israel to Offer East Jerusalem Schools Renovation Bonus - but Only if They Ditch Palestinian Textbooks

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A high school in A-Tur, East Jerusalem, Jan. 2016.
A high school in A-Tur, East Jerusalem, Jan. 2016.Credit: Emil Salman

The Jerusalem Affairs and Heritage Ministry is expected to provide special funding topping 20 million shekels ($5.2 million) for the small minority of schools that teach the Israeli curriculum in East Jerusalem, where nearly all the city’s Palestinians live.

Most schools in the city's east teach the Palestinian curriculum, while graduates of those schools take the Palestinian Authority’s matriculation exam. But in recent years, more schools have begun offering the Israeli curriculum.

This lets students take the Israeli matriculation exam, easing their acceptance into Israeli colleges and universities. Surveys have also found that increasing numbers of East Jerusalem Palestinian parents prefer that their children study the Israeli curriculum to improve their children’s educational and employment prospects.

In Palestinian areas of the city there are 180 schools that are either government institutions or private schools that receive Israeli Education Ministry funding. Last year only 10 of those schools offered classes geared toward the Israeli matriculation exam.

That number is expected to rise to 14 this year, but at most of these schools only some of the students study for the Israeli exam, representing only about 3 percent of the students overall.

The Jerusalem municipality and the Israeli Education Ministry plan to stoke the modest trend. About a year ago, the ministry approved a plan for East Jerusalem that gives priority to schools teaching the Israeli curriculum.

In contacts between ministry officials and the city, the emphasis is on funding for physical improvements such as computer rooms and sports facilities to schools teaching the Israeli curriculum. Lower down the list is expanded instructional time.

Nisreen Alyan, a lawyer for the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, said there should be no connection between funding priorities and whether the Israeli curriculum is taught, noting that the Palestinian curriculum was used with Israeli approval. "Pupils in East Jerusalem deserve to learn in adequate structures because it's their right," she told Haaretz.

But the Jerusalem municipality said there was increasing demand for the Israeli curriculum, and many schools were not offering it, hence the special funding.

Jerusalem Affairs Minister Zeev Elkin added that the approach was to provide employment-related skills including Hebrew lessons and preparation for the Israeli matriculation exam.

“The idea is very simple. We want to help the school that is prepared to go in these directions to improve the employment integration of its students,” Elkin said. “We’ve seen the desire and demand from the parents, and we believe that market forces will work in this case.”

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