JS: Which Israeli entity or authority interferes in the school systems?
HI: Essentially, it is the broad Israeli plan (with direct governmental directions) that administers every aspect of life in East Jerusalem. In 1990, the government of Likud Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir established the Jerusalem Affairs and Heritage Ministry. By and large, its aim is to enforce an Israeli policy toward the Judaization and Israelization of every single aspect of life in Jerusalem, which supports the premise that Jerusalem is “unified” and is the capital of Israel.
Education at the high school level is mostly supervised by the Israeli municipality, with direct coordination with the Israeli Ministry of Education. For the last few years, we have seen how Israel has been directly working on its five-year plan (Decision 3790, 2018 to 2023), which calls for the Israelization of education in Jerusalem. This plan was most likely pushed by Naftali Bennett—an extreme right-wing settler who served as Minister of Education from 2015 to June 2019—and presented to the Education Ministry of Netanyahu’s government. Bennett had a clear position: His aim was to change the direction of education in Jerusalem and to speed up the process of assimilation by imposing the Israeli curriculum and policy.
These days are showing us, more than any time before, the ways in which Israel confines, restricts, and limits all resources in [Palestinian] schools, whether private or not. It has been making all funds [going to Palestinian schools] contingent upon integrating the Israeli municipality’s courses. In other words, the Israeli system would require all schools to abide by its own curriculums, while aiming to impose normalization and the Israeli narrative.
In this respect, Israeli institutions—most specifically the municipality and the Education Ministry—are aligned in pushing for this larger governmental/political policy.
JS: What is different about this moment? Why is there more backlash today? And is what is happening affecting all schools or just some of them?
HI: This pertains to Decision 3790 the five-year plan (2018 to 2023) that Israel is aiming to impose on all high schools, regardless of school type.4 We have noticed that Israel recently changed its official direction in enforcing a new reality in Jerusalem, particularly in what concerns education. After years of neglecting to develop the educational system in East Jerusalem and ignoring the insufficient and inadequate facilities, Israel now seems interested in investing in Jerusalem’s educational sector. Examples of this are the newly built high schools and specialized schools, all of which serve those following the Israeli municipality-related objectives. Israel has been aiding these types of schools, whether in budgets or infrastructure, while imposing various restrictions on schools that follow the Palestinian curriculum.
An example of such clear discrimination was in 2019, when the Israelis arrested the director of the Palestinian Ministry of Education and limited the work of all those [PA officials] responsible for schools in East Jerusalem. Such practices also harm the economic situation of the people, who may feel compelled to switch to private schools and thus have to pay a high price for it. But these are more expensive; students from larger families or lower-income families cannot afford them. Meanwhile, the fees of Israeli schools are more affordable, and therefore more families are seeking to go to municipality schools—whether they follow the distorted curriculum or the Israeli curriculum.
Many families find themselves forced to choose between the bagrut and the tawjihi. The bagrut has been made to be easier for pursuing higher education in Israel—so we are finding that more students are now seeking to take the bagrut instead of the tawjihi exam.
JS: If we may ask, when were you born?
HI: I was born in 1952. Actually, I lived through all the phases of transformation from the very beginning of annexation. Prior to the occupation, I was in a government school, Abdullah bin al-Hussein school, in Sheikh Jarrah. In 1968, I was in Secondary I (10th grade). Then I planned to go to al-Rashidiyya school. However, as of the start of the semester [September 1969], Israel imposed its curriculum on the government schools. So I went instead to al-Ibrahimiyya school [a private school that followed the Jordanian curriculum].
JS: Does having both bagrut and tawjihi matriculation exams create a sense of fragmentation between students?
HI: Certainly. This persists especially after graduating from high school and continuing education. The bagrut is the door to pursue higher education in Israel. The universities and employment and everything that happens after high school will clearly influence those pursuing their education. Meanwhile, Palestinian universities—which most students seek to attend—have limited access; they are overburdened with large numbers of students. Also, their entry requirements are not easy for all, especially for those seeking degrees that are difficult or that may entail a parallel education system. On the other hand, Israeli institutes set certain requirements (such as good knowledge of the Hebrew language) that may ease the entrance of Arab students to their universities. An example of this is Hebrew University, where more and more Palestinian Jerusalemite students have been enrolling.
All of these factors influence Palestinian students’ ways of thinking in what relates to their future standards of living. Having differences in academic curriculums and governance while having Israel impose its educational system certainly increases polarization and fragmentation in the perception of the national struggle. Families and the surroundings also ultimately get influenced amid the social and national awareness.
With that said, the collective national stance and the community movement in the Palestinian street cannot be underestimated. By and large, it is what roots students’ perceptions. This has a great role in instilling their national stance, as we have seen in the streets today irrespective of Israel’s closure of schools under the pretext of “incitement curriculums.” We see that the street is active in confronting the Israeli occupation. School staff and families have also demonstrated their resilience; we have seen them bringing books and distributing them free of charge in schools (including in municipality schools) as a response to the distorted curriculum. All of this helps confront the fragmentation as it is being imposed within the Palestinian community in East Jerusalem in particular.
The Israelis have understood the importance of investing in the youth, and they have therefore aimed to normalize the society toward a future that serves Israeli interests.
HI: Where do the youth perceptions stand today?
It seems that every year, the sense of nationalism remains strong. I believe that this also depends on the social and economic status of families. We cannot lose hope in the generation that may also be considering livelihood besides the political stance.