Defense for Children International—Palestine

Case Study

Israel’s City Center Plan Threatens Palestinian Educational Institutions in Jerusalem


Israel’s City Center Plan is set to destroy the heart of occupied East Jerusalem as part of the government’s relentless efforts to Judaize the city. Touted as a plan to “develop and regulate” the economic and cultural center of Palestinian Jerusalem, the plan will ultimately displace many of the 360,000 Palestinians living there, devastate the city’s Palestinian education sector, and transform the area for Jewish settlement and urban development. This Case Study examines the impacts that the plan would have on the city’s Palestinian educational institutions through three personal stories developed by the Jerusalem Story Team in June 2023.

Israeli Jerusalem Municipality Plan No. 101-0456229, known as the East Jerusalem City Center Plan, covers about 689 dunums of land in East Jerusalem, threatening the historical Palestinian neighborhoods of Bab al-Zahra, al-Mas‘udiyya, Wadi al-Joz, and Sheikh Jarrah. The plan’s alleged goal is to “preserve planning rights, develop and regulate the business district in the eastern part of the city, including the addition of building expanses and the adoption of directives and instructions to regulate the development of the area.”1 However, it threatens to devastate the economic, cultural, educational, and political heart of Palestinian Jerusalem, including the lives of over 360,000 Palestinians who reside there.

Several human rights organizations challenged the plan by submitting objections to the Israeli District Planning Committee of Jerusalem. Many of the objections addressed the serious impact the plan would have on Jerusalem’s Palestinian schools. In fact, 19 educational institutions, including 15 schools and kindergartens, are at risk due to the plan,2 and this is especially worrying because the plan did not make any provisions for future building expansion for any of these institutions.3 What is more, Israel illegally excluded the general public from participating in the planning process,4 which led to different organizations stepping in on behalf of the educational institutions. For example, the Arab Center for Alternative Planning, the Jerusalem Center for Human Rights, and the St. Yves Society submitted an objection on behalf of the eight Islamic waqf schools that will be negatively affected by the plan, albeit to no avail. 

As the three stories here show, Palestinians living and educating their children in the area fear that Israel is deliberately targeting these educational institutions in order to shut them down, pushing Palestinians to enroll in schools under the Israeli Ministry of Education or the Jerusalem Municipality where Israeli curricula are taught.5 Schools in Jerusalem are supervised by four different authorities:

  • the Islamic waqf, which falls under the aegis of the Palestinian Ministry of Education since the Oslo Accords
  • the private sector, which involves churches, monasteries, Islamic charitable societies, and individuals
  • UNRWA, which suffers from chronic financial crises
  • the Israeli Ministry of Education and Jerusalem Municipality
Interview Salah al-Din Street, the “Beating Heart” of East Jerusalem, Is Targeted for Erasure by Israel’s City Center Plan

A conversation with Adalah’s legal director, Suhad Bishara, about Israel’s plan to relegate the Salah al-Din Street commercial district to irrelevance

An UNRWA school in Shu’fat refugee camp in East Jerusalem

Jerusalem’s UNRWA schools suffer from chronic funding cuts (especially since 2018, when the US cut off funding to UNRWA) and threats of closure by Israel. These schools can be crowded and in some cases under-resourced. They also face challenges with staffing due to the Separation Wall and the closure regime, which make it difficult for Palestinians outside Jerusalem to work in the city. Here, Palestine refugee students celebrate the start of the second school semester in an UNRWA school in Shu‘fat refugee camp, Jerusalem, in 2020.


UNRWA, photographer unknown

The first three educational authorities are constantly targeted by Israeli authorities, whose goal is to shut them down, thereby advancing the Israelization of Jerusalem. Indeed, since it occupied the city in 1967, Israel has targeted the Palestinian education sector in a variety of ways; if not by shutting down Palestinian schools altogether, then by ensuring their substandard quality and infrastructure, including a shortage of classrooms, the poor quality of existing facilities, and severe access restrictions for teachers and students.

As a result, many Palestinian students in Jerusalem have been forced to leave their schools and seek enrollment in Israeli Ministry of Education or Jerusalem Municipality schools, which forbid the use of the Palestinian curriculum.

As the following stories make clear, Israel’s City Center Plan will exacerbate the devastation of Palestinian education in Jerusalem.

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Crushing Women’s Educational Opportunities

May Amireh is supervisor of the Vocational Training Center (VTC) at the YWCA in East Jerusalem. She shares her thoughts and expectations around the City Center Plan and how it will limit access to independent vocational training opportunities, especially for young Palestinian women in the city. 

Established in Sheikh Jarrah in the 1950s, the VTC offers diploma programs in office management, photography and filmmaking, and graphic design, among others, and it also offers courses in skills that meet the needs of the city’s Palestinian labor market. VTC programs mainly service marginalized and poor communities, including high school graduates aged 18–25 who do not have the qualifications and/or cannot afford to go to university, as well as women above the age of 25 without high school degrees who are in need of an income. 

As Israeli authorities do not consider Palestinian interests in urban planning, it is no surprise that May and her colleagues at the VTC were not involved in the discussions surrounding the plan, which will directly impact the VTC. May shared that “not much is known about this plan, but erasing central roads such as Sultan Suleiman Street will negatively affect enrollment in the VTC and the YWCA’s activities in general.” In fact, many Palestinian institutes boycotted the plan as a result of the exclusion of Palestinians from the planning process. Nonetheless, the planning committee continued to deliberately exclude them from any aspect of the process.

Short Take Sheikh Jarrah: The Northern Gateway to Jerusalem

The neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah has historically been the northern gateway to the Old City and a home to powerful Palestinian families and consulates.

According to the plan, the YWCA building is classified as a “mixed building,” both as a residential and commercial building. The YWCA used to run a small hostel as an income-generating project to help sustain the work of the nonprofit organization. But it was forced to shut down the hostel due to a high arnona tax debt. May explained that “the YWCA is still under risk of confiscation because of the high amount of debt,” and that, as a result, the plan “also threatens the survival of the VTC”—a crucial educational institution for Jerusalem’s Palestinian youth, especially women. 

Importantly, all Palestinian educational institutions that fall within the plan area are under threat. If Israel does not altogether shut down these institutions, it will certainly deny critical maintenance and expansion on them. May said that “the last floor of the YWCA building needs to expand to be able to serve as a gym for women,” a vital expansion for the VTC, which serves as an important source of income to help the YWCA continue its services.

Speaking of Israeli authorities, May added: “They do not see us, so they will not include the development of the VTC in the plan.” In this way, May said, “Israeli urban plans target Palestinian entities in Jerusalem through marginalization and property confiscation to prevent them from serving Palestinians in East Jerusalem.” Ultimately, Palestinians in East Jerusalem are prevented from participating in planning their own futures in their city.

Young Women’s Christian Association of Palestine (YWCA)

A rights-based organization affiliated with the World YWCA that envisions a free and democratic civil society with women as agents of change

“They do not see us, so they will not include the development of the VTC in the plan.”

May Amireh, supervisor of the Vocational Training Center (VTC) at the YWCA in East Jerusalem

Erasing Palestinian Identity

Diala is a 27-year-old Palestinian Jerusalemite who studied in three different Islamic waqf schools in the city’s Palestinian neighborhoods of Sheikh Jarrah and Wadi al-Joz. “It was very convenient to study in these schools,” Diala said, as they “were walking distance from my home, at least until 2009.” In 2009, Israeli occupation forces expelled Diala and her family from their home in Sheikh Jarrah, after which they rented a house in the northern Palestinian neighborhood of Beit Hanina, where they currently reside. Throughout the interview, Diala connected the future of her school being expropriated as part of the City Center Plan to her and her family’s expulsion from their home in Sheikh Jarrah: “They will confiscate the building and expel the students,” she said.

In 2014, Diala completed the last two years of high school (Tawjihi) in al-Fatat al-Shamila girls’ school, an Islamic waqf school. Established in 1969, al-Fatat al-Shamila has been located on al-Hariri Street in Wadi al-Joz since 2000. Diala chose to attend al-Fatat al-Shamila after she and her family were expelled from their home, but rather than walk to school as she would have done from Sheikh Jarrah, Diala took the bus daily from Beit Hanina to Wadi al-Joz. “I don’t regret attending Palestinian schools,” she added.

Diala described the school: “Al-Fatat al-Shamila is a residential building in the middle of a residential neighborhood. It is three or four stories high with a tiny backyard, and the playground is on top of the roof. The school is surrounded by a fence like a prison.” Despite this, Diala shared positive memories of her time in school: “As schoolgirls, we never went home after school. We ate pizza on Salah al-Din Street, kabab on the rooftop of al-Khan market, and ka‘ek inside al-Aqsa. We created memories in addition to completing our education.”

According to the plan, al-Fatat al-Shamila is classified as a residential building, which means that Israel can shut it down due to inadequacy. That is, the school has 29 classrooms, with 381 students and 33 staff members. It is suffering a shortage of eight classrooms for 160 students, and it lacks sports equipment, recreational space, computer and science labs, and basic school supplies.6 Indeed, many Palestinian schools are located within former residential buildings that are unsuitable for accommodating many students.7

Palestinian schools suffer from a major shortage of classrooms due to the inability of Palestinians to obtain building permits. In fact, many Islamic waqf schools were forced to add necessary facilities without building permits, and have thus received demolition orders from the city for spaces such as laboratories, classrooms, and recreational grounds. For decades, Israel has been imposing severe planning and building restrictions on Palestinians in Jerusalem, forbidding the construction of new schools and the expansion of existing buildings.8

There is an estimated shortage of 3,517 classrooms in Jerusalem’s Palestinian schools.9 Yet, even if this shortage were remedied, many of these school buildings are substandard and do not offer a proper educational environment. As Diala described, due to the shortage of space, classrooms are often overcrowded and create a challenging learning environment for both teachers and students.

All Palestinian educational institutions that fall within the plan area are under threat.

Schoolboys in the Anata refugee camp on the outskirts of Jerusalem on September 3, 2007

Many Palestinian schools in East Jerusalem suffer from limited resources, including a shortage of classrooms, which leads to crowded and challenging educational environments. Shown here are schoolboys in the ‘Anata refugee camp on the first day of school, September 3, 2007.


Muhammed Muheisen, AP

Islamic waqf schools in Jerusalem mainly serve Palestinians who cannot afford private schools, who were not accepted in private schools due to shortage of classrooms, or who were not accepted in Jerusalem Municipality schools due to bureaucratic residency, registration, or family unification issues. Additionally, many Palestinians choose to attend Islamic waqf schools to avoid studying the Israeli curriculum. “I want to study my history, not lies written by the colonizer,” said Diala.

For decades, Israel has been imposing severe planning and building restrictions on Palestinians in Jerusalem, forbidding the construction of new schools and the expansion of existing buildings.

In 2009, the Israeli government outlawed teaching the history of the Nakba.10 In 2011, the Jerusalem Municipality and Israeli Ministry of Education started distributing new textbooks in Palestinian schools after removing substantial sections related to Palestinian history, culture, and national identity, as well as the First and Second Intifada. And in July 2022, the Israeli government revoked the licenses of six Palestinian schools for teaching “inciteful materials.”11 The schools were given one year to remove the textbooks or face permanent closure. In fact, the Israeli Ministry of Education conducts regular surprise inspections in Palestinians schools, storming classrooms to check if teachers are teaching the Palestinian curriculum.12 Most recently, the Knesset considered and advanced a bill to defund Palestinian schools in East Jerusalem altogether. “They want to erase our history and identity by closing Palestinian schools that teach Palestinian history,” said Diala. 

Diala emphasized the importance of Palestinian Jerusalemite students attending Palestinian schools to be able to preserve their collective national identity, which is constantly under attack. The Israeli government “targets everything Palestinian in the city, aiming to erase us,” she said. Indeed, the closure of Islamic waqf schools will leave lower-income families with no other option for their children than to apply for acceptance in Israeli Ministry of Education or Jerusalem Municipality schools, which teach the Israeli curriculum.

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East Jerusalem schools may soon be given two bad options and forced to choose one: Teach the Israeli curriculum or lose funding.

Palestinian textbooks required as part of the Palestinian Ministry of Education’s national curriculum

Two Palestinian textbooks, one for teaching Arabic and the other for teaching Islam, are required as part of the Palestinian Ministry of Education’s national curriculum.


Ammar Awad, Reuters

“I heard that the City Center Plan will convert Salah al-Din Street and Sultan Suleiman Street into walking streets like Jaffa Street,” Diala said. “Changing the landscape of the area will affect our lives. I can’t imagine not being able to walk the same route I used to walk to get to school. These are my memories. This is my city,” she added.

“I heard that the City Center Plan will convert Salah al-Din Street and Sultan Suleiman Street into walking streets like Jaffa Street.”


Sacrificing Quality Education

Nina, 31, has one child, a daughter, Eman, who is 12. Nina teaches in an all-boys school in al-Tur in Jerusalem, where they also live. She struggles to secure her daughter a proper educational foundation in the city, and Israel’s City Center Plan threatens her hopes for Eman. 

Nina chose to enroll Eman in Jerusalem’s Schmidt’s Girls College (also called Schmidt Schule), one of the city’s most prestigious private schools, established in 1886. As Nina explained, “the Israeli Ministry of Education and Jerusalem Municipality schools provide the worst education in Jerusalem.” She added: “My daughter, Eman, lives in a harsh reality, so I was careful when choosing her school, hoping to provide her with a decent education. She is a smart girl with a strong personality. I wanted her to receive the best education.” A teacher herself, Nina knows well what each of the city’s schools offers, and Schmidt’s Girls College proved to have the most to offer Eman, despite the costs.

At Schmidt, 530 girls (Christian and Muslim) learn German, English, and Arabic from grade 1; Hebrew is compulsory from grade 7. They can also take the German Abitur (university-entrance diploma) that enables them to study at universities worldwide, including in Germany.

Nina shared that the ramifications of Israel’s City Center Plan for Palestinians in Jerusalem are not clear. So, she asked family, friends, coworkers, and the school’s parent committee at Schmidt about it. Evidently, all they know is that construction is underway throughout different neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, with little further details. “The school’s administration usually conducts meetings with the parents to discuss plans that may impact the school,” Nina explained, “but they haven’t about this plan. I doubt that they know.”

While the plan did not address any future building expansions for Schmidt or other Palestinian schools, it did classify Schmidt as a property for public use, not as an educational institution. According to Article 6.12 of the Israeli and Building Law of 1965, properties designated as public use are liable to be seized by the local committee and registered as the local authorities’ properties. This will place the historic school premises at high risk of expropriation.13

Schmidt’s Girls College, East Jerusalem

Schmidt’s Girls College, located directly across from the Old City’s Damascus Gate, is often at the heart of clashes between Palestinians and Israeli police in Jerusalem.


Brian J. McMorrow

Girls in lab at Schmidt’s Girls College, East Jerusalem

Schoolgirls work in a science lab at the Schmidt’s Girls College in East Jerusalem.


Screenshot from Schmidt’s Girls College video on the college website

Eman uses public transportation to go to and from school because it is the easiest and fastest way. Nina explained that, “the bus from al-Tur drops her off at the bus station, which is a three-minute walk to her school.” Regarding the time it takes to get to and from school, Nina said: “Traffic in Jerusalem is unpredictable and unbearable. On a normal day with no security closures or flying checkpoints, it takes her around 20–30 minutes to get to her school.” But the plan threatens to close Sultan Suleiman Street; as a result, “the time will double, and she will need to leave earlier and walk for a longer distance carrying her heavy school bag along with her sports gear,” said Nina. 

The plan will close the western section of Sultan Suleiman Street, which serves as an important connection to the Ras al-Amud and al-Tur neighborhoods. In place of these streets, Israel is planning pathways limited to pedestrians and cyclists, creating a huge obstacle for Palestinian students, especially on cold and hot days. Nina fears for Eman’s physical and mental health, and she is concerned that these changes will impact her education: “She will get to school tired after a one-hour trip. This will negatively impact her education.” She added at the end: “I don’t give up easy, but I am afraid my daughter will not be able to handle additional stress.” 

Closing Sultan Suleiman Street will also affect students from Ras al-Amud and al-Tur who attend schools in areas inside and around the Old City of Jerusalem that are not covered by the plan. Indeed, the street closures will also impact students’ and parents’ joint activities across East Jerusalem. As Nina said, Schmidt’s “holds different activities for us and our children inside the Old City. Without street access or parking lots, I think the school will shift the activities to outside the Old City, which is an ultimate goal for Israel, pushing us away from the Old City.”

“Without street access or parking lots, I think the school will shift the activities to outside the Old City, which is an ultimate goal for Israel, pushing us away from the Old City.”


It is important to understand the City Center Plan as part of Israel’s ongoing policy of de-Palestinianizing Jerusalem. One way of doing so is to reduce the quality of education available for Palestinian children in the city, forcing families to move out of the city. Israel also subjects areas around the Old City to excessive violence, especially in the area of Bab al-Amud, which is directly across the street from Schmidt’s school.

Israeli guard towers stand ominous watch over the popular Palestinian gathering space, the plaza and steps outside Bab al-Amud to the Old City.

Here, on the popular Palestinian community plaza outside Bab al-Amud, three ominous guard towers have been installed in recent years—two at the top of the stairs peering down at the scene below, and one right next to the gate into the Old City. Police commonly haul random Palestinians into these fixtures for beatings before taking them off to detention.


Jerusalem Story Team

Nine shared: “We were forced to not send our children to school many times, because it was dangerous to leave the house. Even if we let them go to school, they would not arrive on time due to security closures or Jewish holidays” (see “I’ve Spent 10 Months of the Past 10 Years Waiting at Checkpoints”). Nina repeated: “I don’t give up easily and I am resilient, and know the importance of attending Palestinian schools, but I do not know how these harsh circumstances will affect my daughter. I fear she will ask to be transferred to a closer school.” But every school in al-Tur falls under the administration of the Israeli Ministry of Education and the Jerusalem Municipality, offering low-quality education, according to Nina. 

Palestinian schoolgirls rush past Israeli riot police in East Jerusalem

Two young Palestinian schoolgirls rush past Israeli riot police on their way home from school in East Jerusalem. The physical and psychological toll of life under occupation is immeasurable for Palestinians, especially children.


Oren Ziv, Activestills

Nina also fears the impact of air pollution on her daughter’s health: “My daughter’s physical and physiological well-being are the most important.” Construction around the school will result in air and noise population that will add to the already existing pollution in the city. For example, during the 2021 Unity Intifada, Israeli police used skunk water against Palestinian protestors in different neighborhoods. Schmidt’s school was not splashed directly by skunk water because the road is too narrow for the tank, but the street outside it was soaked, and students and staff suffered from the horrible smell for over two weeks. “All these harsh and unhuman circumstances negatively affect my daughter’s willingness to continue her education,” said Nina. 



Interview with Rami Salah, Director of the Jerusalem Legal Aid and Human Rights Center, June 2023.


Interview with Rami Salah.


Interview with Rami Salah.


Field work for the Case Study was conducted by the Jerusalem Story Team in June, 2023, including interviews with May (June 19), Diala (June 12), and Nina (June 21). All quotations throughout are from these interviews.


Interview with Rami Salah.


 “Annual Education Report.”


Interview with a schoolteacher in a private school, May 2023.


Interview with Rami Salah.

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