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Right to Education

The Wall – An Obstacle to Educating Palestinian Youth

Written by admin  •  Tuesday, 08.11.2005, 11:11

Adri Nieuwhof and Jeff Handmaker, The Electronic Intifada

The United Nations Human Rights Special Rapporteur for the Palestinian territories, John Dugard, wrote in a report in August this year, with respect to human rights in the Palestinian territories, that “the quality of education has deteriorated because schools have been obliged to shorten teaching hours as a result of wall gate-opening times. Furthermore, children are forced to drop out of school either to help supplement diminishing family incomes or because their parents can no longer afford to send them to school.”1

The Birzeit University Right To Education Campaign has repeatedly warned that nearly seven hundred teachers employed by Arab schools in East Jerusalem are unable to reach their classrooms and that the situation is worsening.2

On 26 October 2005, we received an alarming report from the Palestinian Authority Minister of State for Jerusalem Affairs, Hind Khoury, on the impact of the wall on the education sector in East Jerusalem.3 The report makes it clear that Palestinian youth seeking to get an education are paying a high price for the occupation.

Educational institutions in East Jerusalem

Israel’s Compulsory Education Law requires the government to provide free and compulsory education for every child aged between 5 and 15 years, regardless of whether a child has been registered in the Ministry of Interior’s Population Registry or even if the child’s parents are illegal residents. Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs proudly claims this as part of its commitment to social and welfare rights.4

In 2002, Israel was called upon by the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child to “explain how much was spent on … education” and “why (its) report does not contain any information on the implementation of the Convention in the Occupied Palestinian Territories”.5

As the report from the Palestinian Authority on the impact of the wall on the education sector in East Jerusalem confirms, Israel treats its own citizens unequally and refuses to acknowledge its responsibilities to Palestinians in occupied territories, in violation of international law.

Unequal treatment

Israel’s ‘commitment’ is therefore aimed at Jewish children only, whether in Israel or in settlements in occupied Palestinian Territory.

In occupied East Jerusalem, 48 schools (kindergartens excluded) of the Jerusalem Municipality teach according to the separate “Arab Educational System”. In the academic year 2002-2003, approximately 39,000 Palestinian students (61 per cent) attended these Israeli government schools. After a lawsuit was brought on behalf of 915 Palestinian children who were denied access to the government school system, the Israeli High Court of Justice ordered in 2001 that the Municipality build 245 classrooms within four years. Since then, only 13 new classrooms have been built, out of a mere 47 that were budgeted for.

Only 20 per cent of the students (� 4,350) enrolled in 72 private schools in East Jerusalem hold West Bank Identification Documents (IDs). This figure excludes seven UNRWA schools. Merely half of the teachers in 28 private schools operating in coordination with the Palestinian Authority hold West Bank IDs.

The strict restrictions on movement impact even more heavily on students enrolled in tertiary education.

An estimated 17.5 per cent of the students (�40) at Bethlehem University and 25 per cent of the students (�85) at Birzeit University live in East Jerusalem and have to cross through checkpoints to receive their education.

Migration into Jerusalem

Those who live on the wrong side of the Wall have been more immediately impacted.

Palestinian families with a Jerusalem ID that live on the ‘Palestinian’ side of the Wall risk losing their Jerusalem residency for lack of adequate links to the city, with very significant, negative economic consequences. Due to this impending threat, many have decided to relocate to Jerusalem within the ‘Israeli’ side of the wall in order to safeguard their Jerusalem residency.

It is expected that this influx will bring thousands of new students and place more pressure on an already overstretched school system in East Jerusalem. The Israeli municipal schools, which have long shown a hostile attitude towards the needs of the Palestinian student population, will be under increased pressure as well.

The wall is an obstacle

The wall blocks free access to schools on both sides of the wall. Traversing checkpoints on the way to school or university is a burden to both students and teachers.

In the first place, it involves daily confrontation with the Israeli soldiers. The waiting time at checkpoints can vary from a couple of minutes to several hours and the checking of IDs in public transport make it impossible to be sure of arriving at school on time. If the students are on time, the teacher might not be in the classroom yet because of problems related to crossing the wall’s checkpoints.

Checkpoints may furthermore be closed altogether, at the discretion of the military commander.

Another problem is that after the construction of the wall, some students have been completely cut off from school where there are no checkpoints close by and where the wall cuts straight through their neighbourhood. For example, some students living in Abu Dis now have to travel over 20 kilometres around the wall to reach their classes.

There are also the increased costs of transport between checkpoints to consider. For example, students living in Ramallah and who study in Jerusalem must take transport to Qalandia checkpoint. After crossing Qalandia checkpoint they take transport to Ram checkpoint and finally from Ram checkpoint they take a third form of transport to get to school.

No Israeli permits now for many teachers

Teachers with West Bank IDs require permits from Israel to travel to their work in East Jerusalem. In July 2005, the Palestinian Authority requested the issue of permits for 375 teachers. Weeks after the 2005 academic year began permits had still not been issued, despite international pressure. Israel claims it has been working on the matter, but teachers who have not yet been issued a permit feel very insecure about their ability to earn an income.

Role of the international community

The international community must act upon the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice, which stated that building the wall on occupied Palestinian territories is illegal and that Israel should immediately stop construction and begin dismantling it.

Every day that this situation is prolonged represents another day of denying Palestinian youth adequate access to education, either because there are not sufficient Israeli municipal schools, or because they or their teachers cannot reach school in time.

The wall is an obstacle to the right of Palestinian youth to have an education. The international community should not remain silent — it must act now.

Adri Nieuwhof is a psychologist and human rights advocate. Jeff Handmaker is a human rights lawyer in The Hague and part-time Ph.D. researcher at the Netherlands Institute of Human Rights (SIM), Utrecht University.


[1] Report of the Special Rapporteur of the Commission on
Human Rights on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied by Israel since 1967
(PDF) A/60/271, (18 August 2005)

[2] Birzeit University, Right to Education Campaign

[3] Tearing the social fabric of East Jerusalem: Israel’s wall and Palestinian education, Ministry of State for Jerusalem Affairs.

[4] See Yoram Rabin, A Free People in Our Land: Welfare and Socio-Economic Rights in Israel, Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs (1 April 2005); CRC factsheet: Israel, CRC/C/8/Add. 44 (27 February 2002)

[5] United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, 31st Session (10 – 14 June 2002)

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