Targeting education 

Targeting education – Israel’s Attempts to eliminate the hope and capacity to resist 

Primary school in Asafat al-Fawqa, one of the villages that make up the area of Masafer Yatta, demolished by Israeli forces on November 23 2022.

The denial of the right to education is an essential part of Israel’s efforts to eliminate the Palestinian people, including by demolishing schools and denying Palestinians access to education.

Israel’s denial of Palestinian access to proper education is embedded in apartheid as a tool of subjugation and colonization, as per the Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid (Apartheid Convention). Article II of the Apartheid Convention states: “Any legislative measures or other measures calculated to prevent a racial group or groups from participation in the political, social, economic and cultural life of the country and the deliberate creation of conditions preventing the full development of such a group or groups, in particular by denying to members a racial group or groups basic human rights and freedoms, including […] the right to education […].”

The budget for a student in a school attended by Palestinian citizens of Israel is 78-88% lower than that allocated to Israeli Jewish students. Tens of thousands of Palestinian Bedouins in the Naqab live in 39 unrecognized villages and lack any education facilities. Pupils have to travel every day up to 90 kilometres to seek education in distanced and overcrowded schools. The results are low scholastic achievements and a high rate of students dropping out of school.

Since the first years of the foundation of the state of Israel on the land of the Palestinian people, the 1953 State Education Law governing Palestinian access to education ensured the Israeli Ministry of Education (IME) has full control to design and determine the goals and contents of their education. Stop the Wall’s report on the Right to Education highlights: 

“As the Government of Israel treats Palestinians there as an ‘Arab’ minority group rather than as part of the larger Palestinian population as a distinct national group, the education system conceals Palestinian identity. Instead of allowing Palestinians in 1948 Palestine to learn about their history, literature and culture, the IME gives more attention to Zionist literature and Jewish history. This suppresses the advancement of Palestinians’ knowledge about their collective identity, history and national rights. Accordingly, Palestinians there feel alienated from the rest of the Palestinian people as they are taught to feel as an inferior minority group to the Jewish colonizers and disconnected to the larger Palestinian people.”

By the time Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza in 1967, Israeli policy makers had had ample time to realise that Palestinians wouldn’t just disappear and wouldn’t stop their struggle for justice. Hence, one of the main efforts since the beginning was a strategy to transform Palestinian education into a propaganda course of Zionism and to prohibit and fight any other form of education. 

The struggle for education was in fact one of the first strategies of resistance of Palestinians after the 1967 occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. 

On 9 August 1967, just two months after the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip began, the Israeli government issued Military Order 107, which banned 55 books from being taught in schools. Subsequent military orders ended up banning 78 out of a total of 121 books that had previously been issued in Palestinian schools. In 1969 Military Law 345 gave Israel full control over Palestinian schools and Military Order 845 later extended this control to colleges, which were only permitted to continue if they possessed temporary permits.

Palestinian teachers unions immediately started protests and called for strikes. Crushing opposition to Israel’s policies to repress Palestinian education was deemed so central to the ‘security’ of the state of Israel that it triggered the direct intervention of the Moshe Dayan, at the time Israel’s ‘Defense’ Minister, who threatened to ban the export of olives, the main agricultural product of Palestinian farmers in the West Bank, if the strike wasn’t ended. Palestinian teachers unions had to act underground from then on until 1993, when the Oslo process changed Israel’s ongoing policy to undermine Palestinian education. 

In occupied and then illegally annexed East Jerusalem, Israel’s clamp down on Palestinian education was even harsher. The lack of funds and school rooms was compounded often with the imposition of an Israeli curriculum that eliminated Palestinians and their existence completely. In 2016, the municipality of Jerusalem revealed a shortage of 2000 classrooms for Palestinian students there. Palestinians are not allowed to build new schools. In July 2022, six Palestinian schools in the eastern part of Jerusalem, which teach the Palestinian-issued textbooks, had their teaching license revoked, based on alleged ‘dangerous incitement’ against the State of Israel, its citizens or institutions in the textbooks. On 26 October 2022, three out of the aforementioned six schools were raided by inspectors from the Israeli Ministry of Education, who forcibly opened Palestinians’ backpacks in search for the Palestinian textbooks.

During the First Intifada (1987–1993), Israeli apartheid used the full spectrum of military orders and repression to stop Palestinian education. Around 1,194 West Bank schools were closed by military order for a total of 9 months in 1988 and for a total of 8 months in the following year. In 1988, Israel summoned the teachers in the Ramallah district to underline that “any attempt to provide education to students was illegal and, as such, would be understood to provide grounds for immediate dismissal.” When underground classes were held in churches, community centers, homes and mosques, those found ‘guilty’ risked up to ten years’ detention.

These were ironically the heydays of popular education and liberation pedagogy. Teachers designed and built alternative curriculum aimed at building capacity for critical thought and knowledge of Palestinian society and its struggle for freedom, justice and equality. The idea was to give students the tools to deal with their reality and to build another generation of struggle. 

In the aftermath of the Oslo process, the transfer of responsibility for Palestinian education to the Palestinian Authority, Israel worked hard to transform the fight against Palestinian textbooks and any mention of Palestinian history, presence and future on their land and demands for justice into an international issue. As a result Hilary Clinton, for example, argued during her first campaign to become a member of the US Senate, that all future aid to the Palestinian Authority should be preceded by changes to textbooks across all grades.

Over the last two decades, Israel has resorted to yet another attempt – the direct destruction of school buildings.

As of today, a total of 51 Palestinian schools are under a constant threat of demolition. 43 schools located in Area C and 8 schools in East Jerusalem received a partial or full demolition order. The school of Arab Al-Ka’abneh in the Jordan Valley, which serves hundreds of students has received over 20 demolition orders since the 1990s. In 2018, the Israeli occupation demolished a school in the Bedouin community of Ras Al-Tin near Ramallah only a month after it was built.

How the destruction of schools is an essential part of the overall project of ethnic cleansing ,the physical elimination of Palestinians from their land, becomes evident in the case of Masafer Yatta. Eight communities in the area in the south of Hebron are slated to be completely demolished and their over 1300 Palestinian residents expelled in what is Israel’s largest mass ethnic cleansing since 1968. 

Among the structures directly targeted are the village schools. The basic logic behind this effort is explained by the principal of the school of Khirbet Jinba: “If a school is in danger, the whole community is in danger.”

One of the first schools in the area to be actually demolished was al-Sfai school. On November 23, Israeli bulldozers came and in a chilling scene, students from al-Sfai school, steadfast in their school, were confronting the Israeli military forces and bulldozers for hours, refusing to leave the school. Children were standing behind the windows watching the Israeli soldiers brutally attacking their teachers. Another six schools are under imminent threat of demolition.

During the 2012 offensive against Gaza, Israeli attacks destroyed 97 educational institutions across the Strip.1 The number of schools destroyed and/or damaged during military offensives in 2014 and 2021 was 298—of which 6 were completely destroyed, 292 damaged. It must also be noted that as part of its illegal closure policy against Gaza, Israeli occupying authorities have prevented the entry of construction materials for years, hindering and obstructing the Palestinian Ministry of Education’s ability to build new schools or repair damaged ones. During May 2021, Israeli bombardments of Gaza affected over 290 kindergartens, schools, and higher education facilities.