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Education in East Jerusalem: A Prohibited Democratic Right

Democracy is the calling of the future, and is almost the dividing line between first world and third world countries. It calls for the guarantee of rights and freedoms of all kinds, including the right to education, which is a basic human right for every individual in the world. Education is an important part of the process that leads societies towards comprehensive development. Understanding the necessity of education, the Human Rights Education Association assures the right to free, professional and fair education for every individual which is enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) of the United Nations that was adopted in 1948:

"Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit…" (Article 26).

The declaration highlights the importance of education, as it makes it a right for everyone. Despite the fact that Israel is a democratic state, it breaches its own commitment to fair and equal educational opportunities for all of its citizens. Access to schools, adequate education budgets and quality of education are all barriers to Arabs in Jerusalem who try to get an education.

One vital democratic right is guaranteed freedom of movement, but after the passing of the Nationality and Entry into Israel Law of 2003, and the building of the Apartheid Wall around Jerusalem, this right has been violated, making it difficult for teachers to reach the schools where they are employed. Building the Wall and imposing this law restricts the movement of more than one thousand Jerusalemites who work in Jerusalem and live in other cities (Al-Quds International Institution, 2010). Unfortunately, there are no exceptions to ease teachers' movement, although they make-up a significant part of the large number of people who are affected by this wall and law. According to Al-Quds International Institution, 19.6 % of teachers in Jerusalem are compelled to cross the wall and face Israel's barriers. In other words, "only fifty male teachers have an identity card from Jerusalem, mostly older men, while teachers who hold West Bank ID papers face serious difficulties when trying to enter Jerusalem, because of the Wall, barriers and not being given the requested permits." Every morning, teachers, along with countless other Palestinian citizens, are forced to stop at the wall and wait for permission to pass through the gate. Unfortunately, after waiting for at least one hour in the cold winter weather, or under the burning summer sun, although some teachers are allowed enter the Holy City, sometimes they are denied entry. Teachers are an essential part of the educational process, and the restrictions that they face hinder the progress of their students; many resign from their job as a result, leading to a severe shortage of qualified teachers, especially in occupied East Jerusalem. Thus, the teacher-student ratio becomes skewed at around 21.9 students for a single teacher, which is more than the standard ratio. This increase in teacher-student ratio makes effective teaching and learning more difficult, and it requires individual teachers to make more effort for more students, reducing their effectiveness. Violating the freedom of movement and consequently affecting the normal progress of education is a serious problem in Jerusalem and calls for a democratic solution.

Israel also violates the democratic right of equality in education. Whereas it is true that Israel has one of the best educational systems in the world, which "aims to prepare children to become responsible members of a democratic, pluralistic society in which people from different ethnic, religious, cultural and political backgrounds coexist" (ibid.), in reality, the Zionist state violates its own democratic principles by imposing rules and budgets which favour Jewish citizens over Arabs. This discrimination undermines the claim for "equality for all citizens, irrespective of religion, race or sex" made within the Israeli Declaration of Independence. (ibid.) While the Ministry of Education in Jerusalem supports Israeli schools with more than adequate funding, Arab schools face a severe shortage of resources. Hasson (2009) highlights this difference of financial funds between Arabic and Israeli schools by comparing the amount of New Israeli Shekels (NIS) spent on primary school students in an Arab school in East Jerusalem with that spent on a student in an Israeli school in the western part of the city. According to Haaretz newspaper, "NIS 577 was spent on each primary school student in the predominantly-Arab eastern section of the city, compared with NIS 2,372 for a student in the mainly-Jewish western part." (ibid.) This example indicates obvious racial discrimination by the government, which in itself violates democratic mores.

Sadly, bad as it is, that is not the only example of discrimination in the education system by the Jerusalem authorities. Israel has a well-developed curriculum backed up by excellent resources making the country's one of the best academic programmes in the world. Schools in the western, Jewish half of Jerusalem, have well-equipped laboratories and access to the latest technology, which obviously gives Jewish students distinct advantages. In addition to the basic academic programme, the Israeli educational system provides a broad range of extracurricular activities. (Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 2010) However, such programmes are available only to schools catering for Jewish students. In fact, the education system in non-Jewish schools in East Jerusalem is "devoid of homogeneity, both in terms of curricula and in terms of teaching methods". (ibid.) A poor education system results in successive generations ill-equipped to create and maintain a civil society capable of tackling challenges and change. Teachers struggle to teach without adequate textbooks and technology. Students have no option but to struggle through an antiquated education system which does little to enhance their learning; they graduate with little experience and few qualifications. The Ministry of Education breaches the principles of Israeli democracy by not providing equal opportunities for an efficient educational system for students in Jerusalem.

In conclusion, although Israel is a democratic country, it violates basic democratic principles of equality. According to this research, students and teachers in East Jerusalem face discrimination in terms of school access, financial support and the efficiency of their academic system, all of which affects the academic process in a negative way. It is incumbent upon human rights associations to work hard in order to guarantee people their human rights, regardless of their religion, race, or background.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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