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Palestinian schoolgirls on a Jerusalem street, September 5, 2011


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Feature Story

Road Closures, Arrests, Army Raids, Anxiety: How Israel’s War on Gaza Is Affecting East Jerusalem Education


As war continues in Gaza, Palestinians in East Jerusalem are having their right to education threatened.

Since October 7, 2023, Israel has seemingly declared war on Palestinians everywhere. In East Jerusalem, students are facing new struggles in getting an education because of punitive Israeli measures taken toward Palestinians throughout the occupied West Bank.

Israeli authorities have implemented additional measures to control Palestinian Jerusalemites, which have mainly translated into minimizing their freedom of movement and creating an atmosphere of paralyzing fear and anxiety. Israel has closed or reduced access to the city for Palestinians via key checkpoints, added more checkpoints, closed roads, and blocked entrances to Palestinian neighborhoods and towns throughout East Jerusalem and its environs.

Critically for education, Israel has also closed the entrances to the Old City since the war began, restricting access to only residents. For students from other areas who study at schools inside the Old City, this has resulted in lost learning time.

Israeli police block entrance to the Old City through the Damascus Gate.

Increased Israeli police presence in East Jerusalem, especially at the entrances to the Old City, along with excessive frisking of the young and movement restrictions have added to the tensions.


brahim Husseini/The New Arab

The government has also armed and deployed roving civilian militias of settlers toting assault rifles throughout the city.

Palestinian pedestrians—including schoolchildren in their own classrooms—can be randomly stopped, invasively searched, and ordered to produce their cell phones, and their social media posts can be used to justify criminal charges.

Adel Ghizawi, head of East Jerusalem’s parents’ committee, explained many Jerusalemite students and educators live in the city’s suburbs, beyond the Separation Wall

“The journey for students to go to school requires that they pass checkpoints, which are deadly and dreadful and very tiring in the morning,” Ghizawi told Jerusalem Story. “It is getting more and more complicated, even with the towns inside Jerusalem.”1 Students are subject to beatings, insults, and constant inspections, including of their phones.

Ghizawi elaborated on how authorities closed the entrance to the Palestinian neighborhood of Sur Bahir in Jerusalem for two days this week because of an incident.

“You can imagine the hundreds of thousands of people who want to go in and out from one entrance to such a big town,” Ghizawi said. “And we’re talking about a town that is inside the wall and the boundaries of Jerusalem. How about the peripheries that are located outside the wall?” (See Neighborhoods beyond the Wall.)

Palestinian teachers living on the outskirts of Jerusalem are now surrounded by an increased number of checkpoints on their way to work. For instance, the Qalandiya checkpoint, the sole access point into the city for all Palestinians coming from the north, was completely closed for two weeks as of October 7, 2023. Since reopening, it only operates in a partial and restrictive manner.2

Previously, a teacher’s commute would take 1 hour and 20 minutes. Now that trip lasts 3 to 4 hours because of lengthy interrogation procedures. 

“Every time they pass any checkpoint, they’re interrogated, they’re asked the same questions, ‘Where are you going? Why are you doing this? Which school are you going to?’” Ghizawi said. “So teachers usually arrive to schools late, very psychologically and physically tired, and this has been massively affecting the educational process and, of course, resulting in poor education.”

On November 12, Ir Amim and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) sent a letter to Israel’s parliament about the police attacks on Palestinian teachers and students on their commute to school.3 This has included verbal assaults, physical attacks, arrests, and invasive body searches. 

Interactive Map Checkpoints around Jerusalem

An interactive map of the checkpoints around Jerusalem that control Palestinian access to the city

“Teachers usually arrive to schools late, very psychologically and physically tired.”

Adel Ghizawi, head of East Jerusalem’s parents’ committee

“We’ve witnessed so many incidents where the kids have been exposed to violence by the police, by the Israeli army, or even by the settlers who disrupt their roads to and from schools,” Ghizawi said, explaining how parents are now either driving their children to school themselves or just keeping them home, period. 

This has resulted in many students studying remotely, Ghizawi noted. At the beginning of the war, schools under the Jerusalem Municipality’s authority were holding classes online, but have since returned to in-person learning. Schools run by the Jordanian Muslim Waqf are only operating online, and private and schools run by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) are functioning in a hybrid capacity. 

Remote learning has not been successful. Ghizawi noted that young children like his own typically access their homework while reclining, more conducive to falling asleep than focusing on schoolwork. He expects that the negative effects will become more obvious over time. For students in grade 12 who have had to prepare for the all-important Tawjihi exam while studying remotely, the process has been negative: “Tawjihi students have fallen behind a lot,” he shared. Scores received in the Tawjihi exam at the end of the 12th grade typically determine acceptance in universities.

“All in all, the quality of education in Jerusalem is very low. It doesn’t matter which school system you’re studying under,” Ghizawi said. 

But it’s not just the commute to school that’s been impacted by the war. Israel’s Ministry of Education has recently forbidden child prisoners, released in the exchange deal between Israel and Hamas in November, from returning to school.

Additionally, ACRI’s field researcher Muhannad Anati described to Jerusalem Story how students are often arriving to school exhausted after being unable to sleep at night due to clashes between Palestinians and police. Recently, police were deployed in his neighborhood of Kufr ‘Aqab and sprayed tear gas throughout. The heavy police presence and noxious fumes prevented students from going to school that day.

Two Palestinian schoolgirls sit on an alleyway step in the Old City, December 2, 2023.

Two Palestinian schoolgirls sit on an alleyway step in the Old City, December 2, 2023.


Scott Peterson/Getty Images

If students do make it to school, Israeli police and security forces are often surrounding the area and even raiding the institutions, Anati explained. Raids include the classrooms themselves, where police conduct intrusive searches of students and their possession on the school premises.

Principals and students have also been arrested, in some cases for their social media posts in solidarity with the people of Gaza, which Israeli authorities consider as incitement.

Due to the oppressive conditions outside the schools, the climate inside the classrooms does not allow for any safe space for free sharing of feelings or experiences, forcing children to self-censor or their teachers to silence them. 

Blog Post Israel Muzzles Free Speech, Arresting Dozens and Creating Fear

New Israeli legislation and court decisions create a climate punishing all dissent and solidarity with Gaza.

The economic impact of the war has also weighed heavily on families in East Jerusalem as shops and restaurants remain largely closed, and the streets of the Old City are empty of tourists. Children inevitably notice the stress on their parents.

Students’ mental health is plummeting—not too surprising considering the violence and trauma they are exposed to just by commuting between school and home and contending with police and settler violence. And then there is the broader political environment. Some Jerusalemites—like Ghizawi—come from Gaza or have relatives in Gaza.

“We’re one people, we’re not really separated, which means this genocidal war and this massive assault on Gaza is negatively affecting our kids’ psychological health and also parents’ psychological health,” Ghizawi said. “We’re unable to function properly, whether it’s studying or working.”

Palestinians just can’t avoid the politics, Ghizawi said. “The unbearable challenges and difficulties that the occupation is imposing on us are unbelievable. We’re almost breaking down because of that. Politics is extremely integrated into every aspect of life, including education.”

“We’re one people, we’re not really separated.”

Adel Ghizawi



Interview by the author, December, 2023. All subsequent quotations by Adel Ghizawi are from this interview.


To Open the Qalandia Checkpoint for Regular and Full Movement,” Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), November 7, 2023.


Oshrat Maimon, “Violence against Students and Teaching Staff in East Jerusalem” [in Hebrew], Ir Amim, November 2023.

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