Civil rights groups charge officials don’t have handle on East Jerusalem school rolls
More than 20,000 pupils are unaccounted for and over 1,000 classroom are still missing despite High Court order, according to new report
Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.
Israeli authorities have conflicting records about how many children live in East Jerusalem and are therefore ill equipped to provide them with appropriate schooling, a new report claims.
The charge is one of several alleged discriminatory policies detailed in a report published Tuesday by two civil rights organizations, which claim that primarily Arab East Jerusalem does not get the same level of service as the West side of the city.
The paper also rings the Education Ministry and the Jerusalem municipality for failing to comply with a High Court order to increase the number of classrooms in East Jerusalem.
According to figures provided by the Jerusalem municipality’s population registry, 106,534 non-Jewish children aged 6-18 live in East Jerusalem. However, records from the Jerusalem Education Administration (known by its Hebrew acronym Manhi) show that 88,845 Palestinian children reside there, 86,018 of which attend school, the report states.
“If only 86,018 of these [106,534] children have attended schools, then a simple subtraction reveals that 20,516 have not attended an educational institution known to Manhi,” posits the report, published by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel and the Ir Amim nonprofit organization.
In response to a Times of Israel query, an Education Ministry’s spokesperson asserted that no schoolchildren are unaccounted for. About 70,000 Arab children in East Jerusalem attend official schools supervised by the municipality, while an additional 20,000 go to various unofficial institutions under the auspices of the either the Palestinian Authority, the United Nations or other bodies.
“Nobody got lost,” the spokesperson asserted, but failed to explain why the municipality’s population registry list about 15,000 more non-Jewish schoolchildren than she said were attending education programs.
The report, an updated version of which is published annually, accuses the Israeli authorities of various policies it claims amount to systemic discrimination of Arab schoolchildren in Jerusalem.
Quoting Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Pepe Alalu, the report states that 1,100 classrooms are missing in the Eastern part of the city. While authorities are aware of this and have started initiatives to improve the situation, only 33 new classrooms were built during the 2011-2012 school year.
Responding to an ACRI petition, the High Court last year ordered that the gap of classrooms in the two parts of Jerusalem be bridged by 2016.
“The Jerusalem Municipality and the Education Ministry must urgently enhance their investment in education in East Jerusalem,” said ACRI’s Nisreen Alyan. “The High Court has given them five years to bridge the gap in classrooms and if this is not done, the authorities will be obliged to pay tuition instead of the parents. A third of the timeframe provided by the court has passed, and at this rate we will be obliged to go back to the courts.”
In response, a municipality spokesman said the city invests more than NIS 650 million in education in East Jerusalem, including NIS 400 million for the building of 400 new classrooms — “in order to reduce the gap created by decades of neglect.”
The report also faults the municipality and the Education Ministry for “severe overcrowding” of East Jerusalem classrooms. “Within official elementary schools in East Jerusalem there is an average of 32 students per classroom, compared to an average of 25 students per classroom in the western part of the city,” the report states.
East Jerusalem also has the highest dropout rate in the country — four out of 10 children do not attend 12th grade, according to the report. The percentage of pupils who abandon their education is four times higher in the Eastern part of the capital — which Israel has ruled over since 1967 and formally annexed in 1980 — than among Jews in the rest of Israel.
“These grim statistics should justify affirmative action on behalf of East Jerusalem students; instead, students are discriminated against in the city’s treatment of the dropout phenomenon when comparing both parts of the city,” the report charges.
While the Western part of the city has 16 so-called MLA centers, whose schedules are adjusted to help students at risk of dropping out, in East Jerusalem there are only five similar centers. However, a similar number of students study in official schools in both parts of the city.
‘The authorities have deserted the right to education of tens of thousand of students in East Jerusalem’
“The authorities have deserted the right to education of tens of thousand of students in East Jerusalem, advancing a policy whereby one community is promoted at the expense of another community,” said Oshrat Maimon, the director of policy and advocacy at Ir Amim.
The report’s authors do attest the education officials’ “basic good will” in trying to tackle the problem. However, ACRI and Ir Amim posit that continuing discrimination of East Jerusalem residents is rooted in an unfair policy the government has been consistently implementing since it took over the Eastern part of the city.
“Of the 70,500 dunams in East Jerusalem annexed to Jerusalem in 1967, over 24,500 have been expropriated by the Israeli government for public purposes. However, the vast majority of these expropriated lands have been used for the creation of Jewish neighborhoods,” the report charges. “The Israeli planning authorities have done little to respond to the needs of the Palestinian population in non-expropriated lands in East Jerusalem and to promote new large scale construction projects in response to the population’s needs.”