East Jerusalem Schools Go on Strike: 'Israel Forcing Its Vacation Calendar on Us'

Parents say the move will interfere with the holding of the Palestinian matriculation exams; they're also protesting the closing of a school said to have Hamas links.

Children protesting the closing of the Al-Nukhba school in East Jerusalem, March 2017.
Olivier Fitoussi

Most East Jerusalem schools are striking Tuesday to protest the Education Ministry and municipality’s decision to align the school calendar with the Israeli Arab one.

The demonstration initiated by parents also protests the closure of the Al-Nukhba school in the Sur Baher neighborhood, which was ordered shut due to allegations that Hamas helped found it and that it pushes Hamas ideology.

The Education Ministry informed East Jerusalem public schools four months ago about the change to the school calendar that has been followed since 1967, when Israel took over East Jerusalem during the Six-Day War. With the old calendar, there was no spring break, but the school year ended in May. Schools were thus available to be used for the tawjihi, the Palestinian high school matriculation exams.

But this year the ministry announced that it was instituting a spring break, so the school year would extend into June.

East Jerusalem parents say the change will hurt the schools’ ability to have students sit for the matriculation exams. Some school officials say the decision is meant to put pressure on the schools to switch from the Palestinian to the Israeli curriculum.

“This vacation doesn’t just hurt the tawjihi, it wrecks the exams,” says Adel Jazawi, the head of the parents’ committee in the A-Tur neighborhood. “We demand that the situation be restored to the way it has been since 1967.”

He said that otherwise the Arab community was being forced to take “a religious Jewish vacation.”

“When we requested a vacation that would coincide with our holidays, for example, for the day after Laylat al-Qadr [during Ramadan] when the children don’t sleep all night and still have to go to school the next day, the Education Ministry said no. We tried to have a dialogue, we wanted to sit down together and solve the problem, but they just ignore us.”

Meanwhile, the Al-Nukhba school’s principals say they have no ties to Hamas and cite their curriculum that focuses on Hebrew, English and science. They say they have been shown no evidence of any Hamas connection. The students have since been transferred to a school under the control of the Palestinian Authority.