A report released by the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) in November 2020 highlighted Palestinian education as a target of Israeli assaults. The report found Israeli forces, Israeli settlers and the private security guards of illegal Israeli settlements routinely carried out “attacks on education” on Palestinian children in the West Bank. The NRC research, carried out over a period of two and half years, reflects a long-established strategy of impeding access to education in order to subordinate Palestinians economically, politically and socially.
Snapshot of a strategy
The NRC study analysed attacks on education between January 2018 and June 2020, with a focus on ‘Area C’ of the West Bank. Area C encompasses around 60% of West Bank territory. Under the terms of the Oslo Accords, Israeli authorities exercise exclusive jurisdiction over civil and security issues in this administrative zone, although the Palestinian Authority (PA) is officially responsible for administering healthcare and education. The report recorded 296 attacks against Palestinian education in 235 separate incidents. That is an attack on children on every other school day. These figures do not include the rest of the West Bank and occupied East Jerusalem.
The attacks by Israel “harmed Palestinian children’s ability to access their education across the West Bank” says the NRC report. However, they are part of an overarching Zionist objective of entrenching Israeli hegemony in the social, economic and political spheres, by subordinating and disempowering Palestinians. The cumulative effect keeps Palestinians “clustered in low paid jobs” and “by maintaining such policies, the ethnocratic state makes sure the status quo remains and the dominant ethnic group stays in control” (Nuseibeh 2016: 2).
The underlying imperative for Jewish settler domination in all areas of life is itself embedded in the founding tenets of political Zionism. As Zionist migration from Europe grew in the early 20th century, racialised and nationalised notions of “peoplehood” manifested in a segregated economic development plan, partitioned territory, and a segregated labour market (Samman 2009:227). In effect the segregation, denying and interrupting access to education epitomise Israel’s practice of apartheid. The idea of Israel exercising apartheid policies emerges from the Rome Statute (2002). This defines apartheid as acts “committed in the context of an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group or groups and committed with the intention of maintaining that regime” (quoted in Yesh Din 2020: 14).
“Raided and Razed” in Area C
The objective of the NRC study, titled Raided and Razed: Attacks on West Bank Education, was to “analyse attacks and barriers that harmed Palestinian children’s ability to access their education across the West Bank”. It revealed “a crushing pace of 10 attacks per month, on average” in the 30-month period. Three out of four attacks were perpetrated by Israeli occupation forces. In 37% of cases, Israeli Forces used “harassment, intimidation and threats or the actual use of force against students and educational staff”, including 10 actual physical assaults against school students. Children were injured by Israeli forces using crowd control weapons and two students were shot with live ammunition. Raids on schools in session were found to be common, with 25 such incidents recorded during the reporting period. Israeli forces detained at least 24 school children and prevented or delayed students and teachers from reaching schools on at least 38 separate occasions. Further, the NRC reported Israel closed and or obstructed the road or entrance to schools on 32 occasions.
The study also documents 20 separate attacks by Israeli settlers that include, storming schools, stoning school buses, and damaging and vandalizing school property. Other assaults on educational property were often carried out in the context of demolition orders, raids, and in one case, appropriation of school land, by the Israeli authorities. The study reports that “in 41 attacks, Israeli authorities demolished, confiscated, or placed under risk of demolition school structures, property, equipment, or materials.”
The acute absence of adequate school facilities among Bedouin communities in Area C of the West Bank is emphasised in the report. According to the NRC study, Israeli authorities in the Bedouin communities of area C routinely razed schools and seized tents or other structures being used as schools. As a result of Israeli prohibitions on construction, schools are often under threat of demolition. During the 30-month period under study, “a primary or pre-primary school was under threat of demolition in all six of the vulnerable Bedouin/ herding communities”. For secondary school, children had to travel outside their immediate communities. This created problems of “transportation costs, movement obstacles, and community fears of children encountering violence from settlers and Israeli forces”. The Israeli restrictions and difficulties to education within Area C has led to children to drop out of school.
Education in Occupied East Jerusalem: a precedent set
The NRC concludes that “the acute vulnerability” of Palestinian Bedouin communities in the West Bank “is a visceral manifestation of ‘occu-annexation’… pushed to its extreme limits”. The attacks on education demonstrate how Bedouin communities are prevented both from maintaining their traditional lifestyle and from accessing essential services that should enable tenable living conditions and survival. Israeli barriers to Palestinian education for Bedouin communities in Area C are achieved through the same Israeli tactics that are deployed throughout the occupied West Bank and occupied East Jerusalem – primarily, through attacks on infrastructure, restriction on movement, and harassment, intimidation and imprisonment of children and school staff (Friends of Birzeit University).
However, in East Jerusalem, which Israel also conquered in 1967 but where it exercises full jurisdiction, arrangements for Palestinian education have long differed from the rest of the West Bank. As such, Israeli assaults on education are exercised through a broader dynamic of tactics. Physical barriers to access, attacks on infrastructure, and routine harassment by Israeli forces – including tear gas attacks, forces storming schools, strip searches and arrests (Shalhoub-Kevorkian 2016:15-19) – impede Palestinian education in East Jerusalem. In addition, Israel’s educational disempowerment strategies in the city include discriminatory allocations of resources, control of teacher appointments and interference in educational curriculum.
The Jerusalem municipality and Israel’s education ministry maintain direct control of funding, infrastructure and recruitment in public schools in East Jerusalem, while the PA officially maintains responsibility for curriculum and examinations. This greater control reflects the significance to the Zionist project of a unified Jerusalem as the capital of a Jewish nation. Consequently, the process of “Judaising and de-Arabising” East Jerusalem – in order to subordinate Palestinian Jerusalemites and to undermine the Palestinians’ competing historical, cultural and religious connections to the city – has advanced much further than in other areas of the West Bank. In the wake of the US administration’s ‘deal of the century’ and the subsequent acquiescence of certain Arab states to Israeli’s unilateral expansionism, the strategies deployed in Jerusalem could potentially act as a blueprint for the evolution of Israeli control of Palestinian education in the rest of the West Bank.
Israeli sovereignty over East Jerusalem is not legally recognised by the international community. As an “occupying power” the Jewish state is responsible for ensuring the proper workings of an education system for Palestinians under the terms of the Fourth Geneva Convention (Kestler–D’Amours 2011). In reality, Israel presides over an under-funded and discriminatory education system that undermines Palestinian national identity, denies Palestinians access to a prime vehicle for social, political and economic advancement (Nuseibeh 2016:128-146; Nuseibeh 2013:36). Despite a legal responsibility to provide education in East Jerusalem, Israel provided public education to only around 42% of Palestinian students (Maimon 2015:2). National identity is diluted by Israeli interference with the taught curriculums (Sokolower 2016) and head teachers report they are closely monitored by Israeli inspectors and are under constant pressure to follow instruction (Nuseibeh 2016:53). Teachers are prevented from referencing topics that relate to Palestinian nationhood (Jibril 2008:11). The Palestinian flag, along with references to Palestinian land ownership, Palestinian history, Palestinian poets, and cities now under Israeli jurisdiction, are banned (Nuseibeh 2016:127; Sokowlower 2016) to be discussed.
Additionally, the appointment of teachers is controlled by the Israeli intelligence and any person with a history of involvement in political activity is discounted (Nuseibeh 2016:52). Since, 2016, the Israeli government has increased efforts to “pressure” East Jerusalem schools to switch wholesale from a Palestinian to an Israeli curriculum. The East Jerusalem education system is already “chronically underfunded by Israel” and the authorities offer extra-funding to Palestinian schools that make the switch (Cook 2016). This constitutes another attack on Palestinian national identity; the aims are to normalize Jewish Israeli control of the city and to push an Israeli curriculum that propagates a demeaning Zionist narrative on an ‘inferior’ Palestinian identity (Kashti & Hasson 2016; Cook 2016; Peled-Elhanan 2011:124).
Under-investment is reflected in the poor physical conditions in which Palestinians are educated. Some 43% of classrooms in official municipal schools are “inadequate” (ACRI 2016). Classrooms in municipal, UNRWA, Awfaq (Muslim endowment schools) and many other schools are overcrowded. Many lack proper ventilation and heating, and the majority lack adequate playground space, essential facilities and equipment (Nuseibeh 2016:77-93; Jibril 2008:6-11). The Israeli government also blocks the infrastructure expansion needed to meet demand for Palestinian classroom capacity (Yair & Alayan 2009:246). This is in contrast to Israel expropriating Palestinian-owned land for Israeli settlement expansion in East Jerusalem (Schaeffer et al 2012). The municipal authorities impose high taxes and fines on Palestinian educational facilities, and discrimination is stark in the uneven allocation of resources. According to a 2011 report by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), Palestinian municipal schools in East Jerusalem received NIS260 per pupil from the Israeli authorities, compared with NIS488 per Jewish pupil in West Jerusalem.
Israeli policies also compound socio-economic barriers to education in East Jerusalem. Regulatory impediments to social benefits and uneven distribution of public resources have compounded the adverse impact of a damaged Palestinian economy in East Jerusalem. Although traditionally the commercial centre of the West Bank, East Jerusalem has been increasingly severed from the rest of the West Bank since 1967 as a result of Israeli control. A disproportionately low level of the Jerusalem municipality’s budget is allocated to Palestinian neighbourhoods and to services open to Palestinians (Ir-Amin 2014:2). This aggravates child poverty rates and depresses school attendance and educational attainment (Maimon 2015).
The NRC study states that children in the West Bank “should be able to safely access their education without impediments, threats, violence, or fear”. It also warns that “in addition to harming children’s ability to safely access schools, attacks on education undermine children’s psychological state, which can lead to poorer learning outcomes and hinder their ability to realise their full potential”. This echoes the findings of various other studies on education in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, where an intimidating presence of security personnel around schools denies even very young children “their basic right to a non-militarized educational setting” (Shalhoub-Kevorkian 2016:13). This impedes children’s ability to “educate themselves, and save their families from daily oppression and humiliation” (Shalhoub-Kevorkian 2016:20). Poor educational opportunities and the restriction to make their grievances public increase the marginalized group’s propensity for violent methods of resistance, and this is evident in the case of the Palestinians (Shaykhutdinov 2011:144-145; Nuseibeh 2013:36). In-turn, children’s participation in symbolic acts of resistance such as throwing stones at occupying military vehicles, feeds the Zionist discourses that depict Israel as an agent of Western modernisation battling against an “existential threat” (Lloyd 2012:68; Keinon & Eisenbud 2016; Sa’di 1997:31). These discourses justify Israeli domination and are used to justify the physical methods of changing facts on the ground to consolidate annexation (Samman 2009:237-240; Shlomo & Fenster 2011).
The NRC study made a number of recommendations, including that Israel should “abide by its obligations under treaties and customary international law, including the rules of international humanitarian law applicable to situations of belligerent occupation and binding obligations of human rights law, and not commit attacks against education.” It called on “all parties” to “Reaffirm that Israeli annexation of any part of the West Bank would constitute an acquisition of territory, in violation of peremptory norms of international law, and would harm educational access and continuity in the West Bank.” The report also recommended that international and non-governmental organisations should “reflect in their monitoring and reporting endeavours that violations affecting education go beyond direct attacks against schools and related persons, documenting and reporting, where applicable, any coercive or administrative impediments to the availability, accessibility, and acceptability of education.”
The NRC’s recommendations may help to focus international attention on threats to Palestinian education, and to restrain Israeli assaults in the immediate term. However, they are unlikely to result in any real protections. Without acknowledgment of the role played by fundamental tenets of Zionist ideology – territorial expansion coupled with domination in all spheres of life – in driving assaults on education, Palestinian children will remain subjected to policies that demean their identity and constrain their life chances. Although mainly carried out by secular Jews, the nationalist Zionist movement adopted “a messianic monotheistic justification of return” (Pappé 2008:621). This religious reasoning for a “return” to an ancient homeland embedded in Zionism a “divine imperative, based on the eternal Jewish right and duty to settle all parts of the ‘promised land’” (Yiftachel 1999:14). Since territorial expansion necessitates suppression of the markers of an existing non-Jewish society, discrimination in education will continue for as long as the international community fails to condemn the underlying racism entrenched in Zionist ideology. Testament to this assertion is the two-tier segregated school system that disadvantages Palestinian citizens of Israel within the country’s 1948 borders. Palestinians who remained in Israel when the state was created lived under Israeli military rule from 1948 until 1966. Decades after martial law was lifted, Israel’s state educational system continued “to maintain the cultural, socioeconomic, and political subordination of Israel’s Palestinian Arab citizens through the imposition of aims, goals and curricula to which the students cannot relate, and the substandard and discriminatory provision of educational resources, programmes and services” (Abu‐Saad 2006:101).
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