Five Arab schools in East Jerusalem switch to Israeli curriculum

Palestinian Authority urges parents to be vigilant; Hamas warns that ‘the new Palestinian generation will be bound to Zionist ideas and consciousness’

Elhanan Miller is the former Arab affairs reporter for The Times of Israel

Outgoing Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat visits Arab students in a newly opened elementary school in the Arab neighborhood of Umm Tuba, in East Jerusalem, on December 13, 2011. (photo credit: Kobi Gideon/Flash90)
Outgoing Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat visits Arab students in a newly opened elementary school in the Arab neighborhood of Umm Tuba, in East Jerusalem, on December 13, 2011. (photo credit: Kobi Gideon/Flash90)

Five Arab schools in East Jerusalem have decided to switch from the Palestinian to the Israeli curriculum, enraging both the Palestinian Authority and Hamas.

Jerusalem’s city council said the schools had made the switch so that their students could study for the Israeli bagrut (matriculation exam) alongside the tawjihi (the Palestinian matriculation exam).

Samir Jibril, head of education in Jerusalem at the Palestinian Ministry of Endowments, which funds a number of schools in Arab East Jerusalem, called on parents to be “vigilant” following the decision of five primary schools to introduce the Israeli curriculum into their classrooms. And some Palestinian teachers were said to have expressed concern over the use of biblical names in maps of Israel, history chapters about the destruction of the Jewish temple in Jerusalem, and references to Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in the Israeli textbooks.

According to Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics, some 28 percent of Israel’s students are educated in the Arab, Bedouin and Druze public school systems, and use textbooks published by Israel’s Education Ministry in Arabic. In East Jerusalem, however, the situation is different. Up until 1967, schools in the West Bank and East Jerusalem used the Jordanian school curriculum. Israel’s best efforts to impose its own curriculum after it captured the territories in the Six-Day War failed due to widespread objection from parents, who began sending their children to private schools.

Following the Oslo peace accords in 1993, all official schools in East Jerusalem (with the exception of one) switched to the Palestinian Authority curriculum, according to a 2010 Knesset report.

An unnamed education official told Palestinian news agency Ma’an on Wednesday that Israeli authorities had offered to increase the annual funding of schools willing to introduce the Israeli curriculum by NIS 2,000 ($550) per student. “This move is dangerous and harms the identity of Jerusalem residents, removing them from their reality in order to better control them,” Jibril told Ma’an.

But a spokesperson for Jerusalem’s municipality denied in a written response to The Times of Israel that any financial incentives were offered to schools in order to switch to the Israeli curriculum.

“A decision was made to allow schools to introduce the Israeli bagrut (matriculation exam) alongside the tawjihi (the Palestinian matriculation exam). Four new schools have already begun preparing students for the bagrut,” the municipality said. It said that the sum of NIS 2,000 mentioned in the Ma’an report was part of a special budget to encourage excellence in study, which applies only to the Israeli curriculum.

The Palestinian Authority was not the only entity troubled by the educational change of heart in East Jerusalem. On Thursday, Hamas issued a statement condemning the use of “the Zionist enemy’s curriculum” in the upcoming school year.

“We consider this a dangerous act serving the agenda of the occupation in blurring Arab and Islamic identity, eliminating and distorting historic, religious, and geographic facts. The new Palestinian generation will be bound to the Zionist ideas and consciousness,” read the Hamas statement.

Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip but is not part of the Palestinian Authority rule in the West Bank, called on the schools in question to reconsider their decision, and on “those interested in the educational process in Palestine” to pressure and boycott the schools until they do so.

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