The Right to Education
Colonizing Palestine through [denial of] education
The colonizers’ domination over the education system of the colonized people has been used as a tool to discipline them and entrench their colonial enterprises over the natives’ lives, lands and natural resources.
Both France and Britain employed colonial education and controlled every aspect of the natives’ access to education as a way to create obedient, passive natives who internalize their constructed inferiority by their colonizers.
Since it was created in 1948, Israel has been utilizing its hegemony over Palestinians’ education system as a tool to realize the Zionist settler colonial project on Palestinian land: Taking over the land of Palestine, reduce Palestinians’ presence to a minority group, and if not totally possible, treating Palestinians as the excluded presence on their ancestral lands.
Israel applies various political-legal systems in Mandatory Palestine: lands seized in 1948 and became part of present-day Israel (1948 Palestine), de jure annexed East Jerusalem since 1967, and militarily occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip in 1967, where the latter has been under inhumane blockade for 15 years. This enables it to implement different educational colonial practices on the various Palestinian regions it colonizes. Accordingly, the degree of controlling Palestinian education relies mainly on the political-legal system through which it exercises control over the Palestinian population. Nonetheless, across all over Mandatory Palestine, Israel activates an apartheid regime to undermine Palestinians’ access to their right to education.
Israel’s apartheid practices in regard to Palestinians’ access to education are used to fulfill settler colonial goals identified by the Zionist movement before the creation of Israel. These goals are primarily directed to 1) wipe out Palestinians’ collective memory of Palestine before colonization and the process that resulted in it to be scattered as it is today, 2) Making the abnormal presence and superior status of the Zionist/colonizers seem normal to the colonized who should internalize their inferior and uncivilized status as constructed and determined by their colonizers, 3) realizing these two objectives allows for the third one to be fulfilled, which is to consolidate the subjugation and control of the Palestinian people to the extent that their presence or the effect of their existence is diminished. These objectives, in other words, undermine Palestinian struggle for self-determination and decolonization across all of Mandatory Palestine.
Education as a colonial tool in the eyes of International Law
Israel’s denial of Palestinians’ 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 […].”
Israel’s control over Palestinian education system to colonize Palestinian land and undermine Palestinians’ right to self determination also violates the Declaration on Decolonization adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1960, where self-determination is at the core of ending colonial hegemony over the native people:
“By this resolution, the General Assembly, considering the important role of the United Nations in assisting the movement for independence in Trust and Non-Self-Governing Territories, solemnly proclaimed the necessity of bringing colonialism in all its forms and manifestations to a speedy and unconditional end, and in this context, declared, inter alia, that all people had a right to self-determination.”
The Reality on the ground based on Israeli political-legal framework
Israel’s control over Palestinians’ education has started in the parts of Mandatory Palestine seized in 1948 and became part of Israel. Israel came into being by ethnically cleansing two thirds of the Palestinian population used to live on 80% of Mandatory Palestine. Within the newly established borders of Israel, only 156, 000 Palestinians managed to stay. Becoming a minority after they were the majority on their lands in an overnight, Palestinian citizens of Israel have been enduring different forms of institutionalized violence and discrimination, which has affected education among other aspects of life.
According to the 1953 State Education Law governing Palestinians’ access to education in 1948 Palestine, the Israeli Ministry of Education (IME) preserves full control to design and determine the goals and contents of their education. 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.
Schools attended by Palestinians in 1948 Palestine are underfunded compared to those serving Israeli Jews. This can be seen in the large size of classes, lack of enough classrooms and shortage of infrastructure facilities. For instance, the budget for a Palestinian student is 78-88% lower than that allocated to an Israeli Jewish student. The poor education environment leads to higher dropouts rates among Palestinian students compared with Israeli Jewish pupils.
Tens of thousands of Palestinian Bedouins in 1948 Palestine who live in 39 unrecognized villages in the Naqab lack any education facilities. The Israeli authorities prohibit these communities from construction as a measure to expel them from their homes. Pupils have to travel every day to seek education in distanced and overcrowded schools. In some cases, the distance is up to 90 kilometers from home. This has resulted in low scholastic achievements and high rate of students dropping out of school.
In the de jure annexed East Jerusalem, Israel retains domination over the Palestinian education sector through the Israeli Ministry of Education. Although students there still learn curriculum administered by the Palestinian Authority, the Israeli apartheid regime subjugating Palestinians in Jerusalem remove any content that it considers offensive or contradictory to the colonial project.
To inhibit Palestinians’ intellectual development which would be reflected on their lives socially, economically and politically, Israeli apartheid does not sufficiently finance schools in East Jerusalem. In 2016, the municipality of Jerusalem revealed a shortage of 2000 classrooms for Palestinian students there. Palestinians are not allowed to build new schools there, nor does the Israeli authorities accept to build new ones for them.
As the Government of Israel restricts Palestinians’ claim to their right to live in Jerusalem to a permanent residency status, Palestinians there are constantly required to renew their residency status, a daunting and costly process. Palestinians who lose their permanent residency status cannot register their children in public schools. This forces them to register their children in private schools, something not every family can afford to pay for.
The West Bank
The West Bank, which is along with the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem is recgnised by the international community as an occupied territory is divided into Area ‘A’, ‘B’ and ‘C’ according to the Oslo Accords. The challenges that Palestinians face in Area ‘A’ and ‘B’ to access proper education are different from those faced by Palestinians in Area ‘C’.
61% of the West Bank are designated as Area ‘C’, an area that has been de facto annexed to Israel. The de facto and planned de jure annexation of large swathes of Area ‘C’, mainly the Jordan Valley has been detrimental to Palestinians living there. Israel applies apartheid practices and policies in the area to create coercive measures to ethnically cleanse them from their lands. For instance, when Israel occupied the Jordan Valley in 1967, its population was about 320,000 people. Israeli apartheid practices pushed the number of Palestinians down to 56,000 people.
In area ‘C’, especially in areas inhabited by Bedouin communities-the Jordan Valley, South Hebron Hills, and E1 area in the vicinity of Jerusalem, Palestinians are totally denied the right to construct schools and kindergartens. This because their presence in the area is considered illegal. Thus, the Israeli occupation authorities refuse to issue construction permits for them, where any construction without a permit is met with demolition.
As of 2019, 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. Last year, the Israeli occupation demolished a school in the Bedouin community of Ras Al-Tin near Ramallah only a month after it was built.
Prohibiting Palestinians from building schools and destroying any school or kindergarten built without a permit has resulted in a huge shortage or absence of schools within Bedouin communities in Area ‘C’. According to UN OCHA, over a third of the residential areas in Area ‘C’ lack a primary school and children are forced to travel long distances, sometimes on foot, to reach the nearest school. Some children, including those in the Israeli-controlled area of Hebron City (H2) must wait at military checkpoints for inspection. There, these children are usually subject to the ill-treatment, intimidation and harassment of armed Israeli soldiers on the way to school. Moreover, long search procedures cause a delay in children’s access to school, where in many times they miss one or two of the morning classes.
In the Northern Jordan Valley, for instance, hundreds of children seek education in the neighboring villages. Others attend schools in Tammoun or Tubas. The distance from these communities and Tubas and Tammoun requires these the children of these communities to travel between 27-45 Km a day to reach their schools. On the way to schools in Tammoun and Tubas, children, including the driver of the bus transporting them are stopped at two of Israel’s military checkpoints in the Jordan Valley: Alhamra and Tayaseer checkpoints.
The daunting and precarious journey to reach school forces Bedouin communities in the Jordan Valley to send their children to live with their relatives or older sisters and brothers. There, children have to stay in rented accommodation during weekdays, all by themselves to be able to reach school. There, children lack enough supervision and care from their parents to look after them and help them with homework.
In response to that, families often adopt negative coping mechanisms, including withdrawing children from school, a practice that has its consequences particularly on girls. According to a report published by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, illiteracy rate for the Palestinian population (15 years and over) is 4.7% in the northern Jordan Valley, while it is 5.1% in Jericho and other areas in the Jordan Valley. Those are the highest rates compared to illiteracy rate in the rest of the West Bank. Dropping out of school pushes children to seek work in Israeli agricultural settlements built on Palestinians’ lands in the Jordan Valley. Children in these settlements are subject to exploitation and sexual abuse.
As Bedouin children usually attend schools located either in Area ‘A’ or ‘B’, schools there are overcrowded. This is reflected on the quality of the provided education to children. According to UNICEF, the effective provision of tailored education services primarily depends on the class size, teacher qualifications, pedagogical practices, curricula and school infrastructure. None of these factors are fully met in the school located in Area ‘A’ and ‘B’ due to the dependency of students from Area ‘C’ on them and the lack of enough financial support to them from the Ministry of Education, which mainly depends on conditional funding from the West.
The Open-Air Prison of Gaza
In its repetitive brutal assaults on the Gaza Strip, schools were never an exempt from Israeli bombardment. In the aggressive attack on Gaza in 2014, at least 138 schools have been damaged or bombed by the Israeli occupation. To accommodate with the severe shortage in schools, about two-thirds of the schools in the Gaza Strip are forced to operate in double shift (70% UNRWA schools, 63% public schools). Some a few schools operate on triple shift due to alleviate the over crowdedness in class rooms.
The Humanitarian Country Team estimates that 265,000 Palestinian children are in need of psychosocial support, while around 51% of Gaza’s children and 31% of the adults suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder as a result of the 2014 Israeli attack on the besieged Gaza Strip. The lack of psychological support badly affects the children’s scholastic performance.
As Israel denies Palestinians in Gaza access to power as part of the inhumane blockade, Children are forced to study in darkened classrooms and sometimes do their homework by candlelight.
Although the Palestinian Authority is supposed to administer the curricula that is taught in Palestinian schools in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, the Israeli occupation authorities intervenes with this through pressuring Western donors.
Israeli watchdogs like the Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education (IMPACT-se) and NGO Monitor have reviewed selected watchdog, that had reviewed selected examples of the Palestinian Authority’s 2018-2019 curriculum and claimed that the content was “more radical than those previously published.” The results of these reports have been based on a very selected interpretation of UNESCO standards – specifically focused on principles of peace and tolerance enshrined in international law. Nonetheless, UNESCO grounds its mission in a much more comprehensive set of human rights instruments that are particularly relevant to the context of Palestine. Israel manipulates the international legal framework, reinforces an application relevant to a non-colonial context and scrutinizes specific provisions in order to reinforce and justify its colonial intervention.
Due to IMPACT se’s biased report submitted to the Norwegian Parliament accusing Palestinian textbooks of inciting violence, Norway cut approximately 3.4 million USD of its aid budget to the Palestinian Ministry of Education in December 2020. Earlier in June, the Norwegian government withheld half of its funding earlier until the Palestinian Authority “provide[s] satisfactory improvements in school materials.”
Palestinian resource center of Badil, which released an in-depth study about this and the situation of education in Mandatory Palestine in general comments on the Israeli intervention with Palestinian curricula:
“By posing the lexicon of “radicalisation,” “hate speech,” “intolerance,” and “ethnic violence” about Palestinian educational contents, Israel pressures the international community to view Palestinian education only within the lens of its handpicked educational standards, such as the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) standards of peace, tolerance, coexistence and non-violence. This ultimately frames the Palestinian people as fanatical law-violators while forging Israel as a liberal law-abider. By reverberating this Zionist-Israeli interpretation amongst the international community, Israel influences international donors […] to financially pressure the Palestinian Authority to alter its curriculum in a way that aligns with the Zionist-Israeli colonial narrative and undermines the Palestinian people’s collective national identity.”
Although the settler colonial project of Israel has control over Palestinian education system across all Mandatory Palestine, Stop the Wall’s efforts have been focused on supporting Palestinians’ right to education in Area ‘C’, particularly in the Jordan Valley. The Jordan Valley, a contiguous area rich with natural resources, especially water, is threatened with Israeli imminent de jure annexation. This has been recently reflected in the intensified violence and home demolition against Palestinians in the area.
In June, 2020, Stop the Wall together with other civil society organizations and popular groups has formed a coalition to launch the Right to Education Campaign. Through the Campaign:
- We advocate for the right to education of the Palestinians in the Jordan Valley.
- We believe that the education of the new generation is a crucial effort to bring hope, strengthen determination and develop a vision for the future exactly where Israel plans to vanish us from the land in order to defy Israel’s planned de jure annexation of the Jordan Valley
- We believe that supporting Palestinians’ right to education there cannot be fulfilled without dismantling the entire regime of Israeli apartheid that ethnically cleanses Palestinians from their lands.
As part of the Right to Education Campaign, throughout 2020, Stop the Wall worked on improving the education environment in the school and kindergarten of Arab Al-Ka’abneh to make the education process more comfortable to children.
Throughout the last 15 years, Stop the Wall and other popular committees have succeeded in building a school in al-Jiftlik (2005) and another one in Fasayel al-Fawqa (2007).
What can you do?
- People of conscience, including public figures, influencers, decision makers and members of trade unions of the education sectors and education organizations across the world must utilize their position to protect schools in the Jordan Valley from demolition, raise awareness about the schools and the wider political context to mobilize more public support for the schools and defend them from demolition.
- the INGOs working on Palestine should financially support the construction of new schools and the development of existing ones; as well as support the Right to Education Campaign in its international advocacy efforts to protect the schools and the students from Israeli brutality.
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Such measures remain limited in terms of their effectiveness and ability to put an end to Israel’s apartheid and ethnic cleansing practices. The Right to Education Campaign sees an urgency for the international community in taking concrete actions that ensure the dismantling of Israel’s apartheid system, which legitimizes the violations of Palestinians’ right to exist and access education in the Jordan Valley. The Right to Education Campaign, therefore, supports the united Palestinian civil society call for action to the illegal annexation of West Bank land.
You can support our efforts with a one-time or regular donation, here.