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Thousands of East Jerusalem children not in school

Palestinians protesting the lack of classrooms in East Jerusalem in early September 2008, just after the new school year started.

Thousands of Palestinian children in East Jerusalem do not attend school as there is no room for them in the state school system, parents and rights groups said, adding that the drop-out rate remained the highest in the Israeli school system.

[Read this report in Arabic]

"It is a disgraceful situation," said Abed al-Karim Lafi, head of the Union of East Jerusalem Parents' Committees.

According to the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), there is a shortage of about 1,500 classrooms in East Jerusalem, which means only about half of all Palestinian children in the city attend state schools.

The rest - about 40,000 pupils – are in expensive private education or rely on various substandard forms of unofficial schooling.

To cope with the serious shortage of classrooms, the city came up with solutions such as "rented buildings, a double-shift system, mobile units and permission to operate unofficially recognised schools", according to a report by the Alternative Information Center, an Israeli-Palestinian NGO, in 2007.

These "solutions" mean students study at overcrowded private homes, sometimes without heating or in the open, and others have to wait until the second shift in the afternoon, leaving them on the streets in the morning. While the unofficial schools receive government funding they lack oversight, affecting the quality of education.

Some schools even lacked proper bathrooms, the AIC said.

Poverty and education

"There is a clear connection between the cost and the drop-out rate," Melanie Takefman of ACRI told IRIN, even though "education can help end the cycle of poverty".

In Jerusalem, about 67 percent of Palestinian families live below the poverty line compared with about 21 percent of Jews, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics.

In all, about 9,000 Palestinian children simply do not attend school.

According to the municipality's own statistics, more than 50 percent of Palestinian boys who start school will never finish, though for Jews the rate is less than 8 percent.

The AIC said the fact that in East Jerusalem "only one-and-a-half truancy officer positions are manned" also contributed to the problem.

Photo: Shabtai Gold/IRIN
Israeli Minister of Education Yuli Tamir cuts the ribbon to inaugurate a new school in Um Lison, in East Jerusalem, with Mayor of Jerusalem Uri Lupoliansky

Filling the gap

"In the past two years, we have built schools in East Jerusalem at an accelerated pace," Israel's Minister of Education Yuli Tamir told reporters on 10 September as she and Mayor Uri Lupolianksy inaugurated a new school in Um Lison, a village on the city outskirts.

Tamir admitted there was "a gap created by neglect for over 30 years" but said there were plans to rectify the situation.

"All we can do is keep building," Tamir said, adding that "we will build wherever there is land".

However, this too is a contentious point for the Palestinians, who said they had to give up their private land for schools as the state did not use its own land reserves.

"Why do they need our land when they can use [the Israel Land] Administration's land?" demanded one parent at the new school.

Shafik Rubaya, head of the Um Lison parents' committee, told IRIN his group had struggled for many years to get the new building.

"We had to fight for the last 12 years to get this new school," he said. "Before this new building, the children used to go to other villages, far away, to get to school. We hope this new school will make things better for us," said Rubaya, though the new school still lacked computers and science laboratories.

Tamir backed the line stressed by the rights groups. "As long as [the Palestinians] are here, as part of Israel, we need to give them the best quality of education," she said, noting that the new school, in her opinion, was not an attempt to strengthen Israel's grip over the city.


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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