Israel Orders Shutdown of East Jerusalem School Over Alleged Hamas Ties

Israel's Education Ministry accuses the al-Nkhba school in Sur Baher of teaching 'inciting content,' but the principal denies allegations as 'nonsense.'

The Al-Nukbha school in East Jerusalem.
Emil Salman

Israel on Thursday has ordered the immediate closure of an elementary school in East Jerusalem, which the state claims has ties to Hamas.

A statement published by the Education Ministry, Jerusalem District Police and the Shin Bet said that the al-Nkhba school in Sur Baher will be closed after information was received showing that Hamas established it.

The school, which was only opened last year, "was established and is being operated by" elements linked to Hamas, the statement said.

The school planned on teaching subversive content that "undermines the sovereignty of the State of Israel," the Education Ministery said, adding that, "The school's goals are consistent with the ideology of the Hamas movement."

The principal, who was detained for questioning on Thursday and later released, denied the allegations. "This is all nonsense," Loai Gamal Bakirat told Haaretz. "This is a regular, high-level school. At the beginning of the year we received temporary permits and everything was fine until someone set us up."

An archive photo of Border Police officers in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Sur Baher, 2015.
Lior Mizrahi

Bakirat and other residents believe it could be that others in the neighborhood are trying to close the school due to business rivalry. "If you are stabbed in the back it means that you are ahead," Bakirat said..

The Education Ministry says that the school was opened illegally and without permits. It also says the school was notified that it could not open the school year.

The school petitioned the Jerusalem District Court and the Supreme Court against the ministry's decision, but was rejected twice.

The police said that the ministry lodged a complaint against the school, saying it violated its order. The police confirmed that the principal was questioned and said that others will be investigated as well.

The privately-run school was opened in 2016 and has some 250 students. Residents of Sur Baher consider the school a success and say it focuses on teaching English and sciences. In the last two months, however, the school was accused of teaching "inciting content."

Education Minister Neftali Bennett said: "My policy is clear, consistent and coherent. Every case of incitement was dealt with and will continue to be dealt with very seriously We will not hesitate to close down schools. Schools in East Jerusalem that choose to teach [the ministry's] curriculum receive every tool to succeed, [but] the ones that choose incitement – will be closed."

In a Facebook post, the school, which is still open, said: "We are under a ferocious attack by the Shin Bet, which is falsely accusing us. We will fight with all our strength to remove this unjust decision to hurt the school, which received all the approvals earlier in the year."