For First Time Since 1967, State Tries to Impose Israeli Vacations on East Jerusalem Schools

Parents object to move, saying Israeli holiday schedule would harm students performance at Palestinian matriculation exams.

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

For the first time since Jerusalem was unified after the 1967 Six-Day War, the Education Ministry is trying to impose the Israeli school holiday schedule on East Jerusalem high schools. Parents at these schools are protesting, claiming that this will negatively impact students’ performance in Palestinian matriculation exams.

In 1967, after East Jerusalem was conquered and the city was unified, Israel tried to impose the Israeli curriculum taught in its Arab schools on schools in Arab sectors of the city. Principals, teachers and parents objected and shut down schools for an extended period. The strike caused many pupils to transfer from the public to the private school system. The government finally yielded to Palestinian demands and allowed these schools to continue using the Jordanian curriculum, later replaced by a Palestinian one.

In recent years some pupils have switched to the Israeli curriculum, and some schools operate classes that prepare students for Israeli matriculation exams instead of the Palestinian ones. However, these still constitute a small minority, with 95 percent of high school students in East Jerusalem still taking the Palestinian exams. The holiday schedule is the same as the one across the West Bank. According to this schedule, there is no spring break (equivalent to the Passover break in Jewish schools), but classes end in early June or late May, ahead of the exams.

Early this year, principals received a letter from the head of education at city hall, instructing them to switch to the Israeli schedule, which includes the spring break, and to hold classes until June 20.

The parents’ committee in East Jerusalem is furious, arguing that they weren’t consulted and that this would harm students’ performance in the matriculation exams. They claim that the days proposed for the spring break are critical for preparing for these exams, with internal preparatory exams commonly held during this period.

Moreover, continuing classes during the exam period could affect students’ performance since exams are usually held when schools are empty, and students are dispersed among classes, 15 to a class. There are also teachers available at that time to serve as supervisors.

“They are trying to change East Jerusalem but they can’t. It’s a city under occupation and they make decisions that will harm the children. We offered to sit and talk with us and the Palestinian Authority but they refused,” says Adel Ghazzawi from the parents’ committee.

The decision affects public schools, accounting for 40 percent of schools in the city. Ghazzawi believes the city will try and impose its decision on unofficial schools as well, attended by another 40 percent of all pupils. The Education Ministry and the municipality have tried to “Israelize” the system in East Jerusalem in recent years, and this is but one more step in this direction.

Attorney Oshrat Maimon from the NGO Ir Amim has asked the city to reconsider. City hall has directed plaintiffs to the ministry, which claimed that the decision was made in coordination with the teachers’ association. Two years have been allocated for making the switch.