Jerusalem: Capital of Discrimination

Politicians love to swear allegiance to Jerusalem at every opportunity; we can only hope that at least some of this talk will be translated into to improvements for the impossible conditions of tens of thousands of students in the city.

More than 1,100 nonexistent classrooms; a dropout rate that reaches 40 percent at 12th grade; lack of funding for educational advisers and psychologists; parents, not the municipality, being asked to donate money to establish a school library; and an Education Ministry that shirks its responsibilities. These are just a few characteristics of the education system in East Jerusalem, where 80,000 pupils study - or rather, are supposed to study. These characteristics are the result of perennial and intentional funding starvation.

The most severe problem with East Jerusalem's education system - as highlighted by a joint report published last week by Ir Amim and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel - is a shortage of classrooms. Some 18 months ago, the High Court of Justice ruled that "the damage to equality in education in East Jerusalem ... affects a significant part of a whole segment of the population, which cannot realize a basic right guaranteed by law." The actions to amend the situation, the judges added, can only guarantee a partial solution.

The Jerusalem Municipality proudly points out that hundreds of new classrooms are being built, but they too will not solve the shortage. Moreover, at the same time the municipality is promoting projects for the Jewish population in large areas in East Jerusalem neighborhoods - areas that could be used to establish or expand existing schools. Thus, for example, in Abu Tor, Issawiya and Silwan, where elementary school pupils can see with their own eyes how a school that once served them is being renovated for a tourist project for the "City of David."

The state's shirking of responsibility in East Jerusalem has led to the prospering of private education institutes, operated by various organizations. The basic conditions and study standards of these schools are lower than at formal schools, where only a quarter of students find a place.

Politicians, from both the right and left, love to swear allegiance to Jerusalem and declare Israel's sovereignty at every opportunity. One can only hope that at least part of this sovereignty talk will be translated to concrete actions to improve the impossible conditions of tens of thousands of students in the city.

East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan.
Daniel Bar-On