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Palestinian students and parents of al-Iman School protest the Israeli-imposed curriculum in East Jerusalem, October 27, 2022.


Mustafa al-Kharouf, Anadolu Agency, via Getty Images

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Palestinians in Jerusalem Reject Israeli Attempts to Impose a Distorted Curriculum in Schools

Palestinian schools in East Jerusalem observed a general strike in September 2022 to protest Israeli attempts to impose distorted textbooks and revoke the teaching license from high schools that teach the Palestinian curriculum. Parents and children of the affected schools continued to hold protests in October as well.

In July 2022, the Israeli Ministry of Education announced the decision to revoke licenses from six private Palestinian schools in East Jerusalem (the secondary section of al-Ibrahimiyya College in the al-Suwwana neighborhood and the five branches of the primary stage of al-Iman schools in the neighborhood of Beit Hanina) for using textbooks that allegedly incite against the State of Israel.1 The schools are now operating with temporary licenses that enable them to complete the school year. If the decision is not revoked, these schools will be permanently closed, affecting about 2,000 Palestinian students. More than 150 schools went on strike on September 19 to protest this decision.2

A general view of the al-Ibrahimiyya College building in Jerusalem

A general view of the al-Ibrahimiyya College building as Palestinian schools in East Jerusalem went on strike to protest Israeli attempts to impose textbooks on September 19, 2022


Eyad Tawil/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

An East Jerusalem classroom stands empty during a general strike observed by all schools on September 19, 2022.

An East Jerusalem classroom stands empty during a general strike observed by all schools on September 19, 2022.

The proposed curriculum changes are prompted by political and not pedagogical considerations. Israel wants to remove from textbooks content such as photos of al-Aqsa Mosque, the use of the word “Palestine,” the Palestinian flag, and Quranic verses. Palestinians consider these changes to be heavy-handed attempts to deny and erase Palestinian identity and history and ultimately any sense of Palestinian nationalism.

Hani Issawi, manager of a bus company in al-‘Isawiyya, is a Palestinian Jerusalemite activist and member of various national committees. Jerusalem Story spoke with him to learn more about the recent strike and ongoing Israeli measures to control the curriculum of Palestinian schools.

JS: Let’s start with a short introduction about you.

HI: Sure. I am a Jerusalem resident from the neighborhood of al-‘Isawiyya. I contribute to community work in Jerusalem. I was imprisoned by Israel a few times over the years, once for 10 consecutive years, and two other times I was held in administrative detention for six months each time. When I was released from jail in the mid-1980s, I worked as a journalist and a translator.

I am quite passionate about all issues pertaining to Palestinian nationality in Jerusalem and all that relates to its local inhabitants. I work with organizations that work on national solidarity programs in Jerusalem.

JS: Can you tell us about the history of the proposed curriculum changes in high schools?

HI: After its occupation of East Jerusalem in 1967 and its decision to annex the entire city under the pretext of unifying it in 1980, Israel started to implement, or rather to impose, a new reality here. This included the education system. Much like it has done in the Arab schools within the 1948 areas, Israel attempted to force its curriculum on the governmental schools in East Jerusalem. Israel first shut down the Education Office in East Jerusalem (which at the time had been administrated by Jordan) and proceeded to impose its curriculum in the governmental schools.

However, there was a strong national backlash against this. Palestinians collectively rejected this decision; teachers and employees within the education sector went on a national strike. They refused to comply with Israel’s proposed changes. Subsequently, the students themselves withdrew from these governmental schools that were starting to follow the [Israeli] curriculum, and they sought to go to private schools instead. Private schools continued teaching the Jordanian curriculum, despite Israel’s direct supervision and intimidation.

“Palestinians collectively rejected this decision, with teachers and employees within the education sector going on a national strike.”

Hani Issawi

I remember the beginning [of these attempts]. In 1968, I was among the students who studied at al-Rashidiyya school in Jerusalem. Once the school started to introduce the new [Israeli] curriculum, the students began to withdraw from this school and enroll in private schools, such as al-Aqbat (Coptic) school and al-Ibrahimiyya school.

After 1967, schools that chose to follow the Israeli curriculum were diminishing quickly; their classes soon hardly had 8 to 10 students left. This is what compelled the Israeli authorities in the early 1970s to give up their attempt to impose the Israeli curriculum and to approve the Jordanian curriculum.

The Jordanian curriculum was retained for many years until the beginning of 2000 [five years after the establishment of the Palestinian Authority (PA)], when the Palestinian curriculum started to take shape. The development of the Palestinian curriculum involved Israeli and international requirements on texts; “peace process” ideals were promoted, and anything considered to be “incitement to violence” was removed. In fact, their aim was to remove anything that promotes nationalistic stances or the Palestinian sense of belonging to Palestine. This is the way in which the Palestinian curriculum was eventually implemented, even in schools that are connected to the Israeli municipality.

The majority of schools in East Jerusalem are under the jurisdiction of the Israeli municipality and the Israeli Ministry of Education. About 46 percent of the students attend them. Private schools have religious or ideological governing bodies. About 35 percent of students attend private schools. Schools that are considered part of the Palestinian education system serve about 13 percent of all students. “Contractor” schools are private schools, owned by individuals; they follow the Israeli curriculum because they receive state funding. The al-Sakhneen network of schools is an example. About 4.5 percent of East Jerusalem children attend contractor schools. UNRWA3 high schools are attended by not more than 1.5 percent of all students. East Jerusalem has different types of curriculums.

Having multiple curriculums resulted in disparity and has made it difficult to commit to educational programs. In some government schools, Israel imposes its curriculum. It removes text that might be generally supportive of Palestinian nationality and introduces texts that support the Israeli narrative. In most cases, Israeli municipality schools remove the texts and leave many textbook pages blank altogether. Schools that are part of the Palestinian educational system teach the complete Palestinian curriculum.

As you see, the school curriculums taught in East Jerusalem have at least three different governing bodies. And all of them leave the students under the direct control and domination of the Israeli authority that seeks to Israelize education content. The aim is also to get students to take the Hebrew bagrut [Israel’s high school matriculation examination, instead of the Jordanian equivalent, the Arabic tawjihi] while diminishing even the least sense of Palestinian integrity or identity within the school systems.

A group of girls on their way to school in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City in East Jerusalem, September 8, 2007.

A group of girls on their way to school in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City in East Jerusalem, September 8, 2007


iStock Images

“[Israel] has been making all funds [going to Palestinian schools] contingent upon integrating the Israeli municipality’s courses.”

Hani Issawi

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.

Palestinian schoolgirls walk past Israeli soldiers in Shufat refugee camp in Jerusalem, February 8, 2010.

Palestinian schoolgirls walk past Israeli border police following an arrest operation at the Shu‘fat refugee camp in Jerusalem on February 8, 2010.


Menahem Kahana/AFP via Getty Images

When it comes to the youth in East Jerusalem, the Israeli policy dominates their perceptions. After all, the youth are subjected to direct discriminatory Israeli policies and procedures on a daily manner and in all activities—regardless of whether they are following the Israeli or Palestinian curriculum. These discriminatory Israeli measures do not distinguish between Palestinians: The police often throw canisters and tear gas inside schools. Moreover, Palestinian students undergo harsh struggles on their way into and out of schools due to the state’s policies. They also witness the demolition of houses and land grabs. They see their neighbors, siblings, and parents getting arrested. These measures are what instills a national sense among the youth. Even after over 50 years of occupation in what Israel deems an “open space,” the youth in East Jerusalem visibly and directly see the practices on the ground. These policies are basically instilling a strong sense of belonging, national identity, and fervor to struggle.

JS: Where are we now in terms of the school curriculum after the strike?

HI: The strike was limited, so to speak. However, the academic semester is now underway, and the Palestinian curriculum has remained. Some schools even managed to remove the distorted curriculum. Of course, there are still various restrictions and supervision, and many teachers receive threats for teaching the nondistorted textbooks. Schools are experiencing various economic challenges as well.

Education is one of many battles that Palestinians in Jerusalem are waging. In essence, we need to unify to confront Israel’s attempts to dominate and to keep the Palestinian identity alive—no matter what.

“When it comes to the youth in East Jerusalem, the Israeli policy dominates their perceptions.”

Hani Issawi



Aseel Jundi, “Israel Revokes Permanent Licenses at Six Palestinian Schools in Jerusalem,” Middle East Eye, July 29, 2022.


Daoud Kuttab, “Palestinian Parents, Students Protest ‘Israelization’ of Curriculum,” Arab News, September 19, 2022.


UNRWA is the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, which has taken responsibility for educating Palestinian refugees worldwide since 1950. In East Jerusalem, UNRWA ran seven schools in two refugee camps serving 3,000 students (“Israel Plans to Close UNRWA Schools in Occupied East Jerusalem,” Al Jazeera, January 20, 2019). In 2019, Israel accused UNRWA of operating illegally and promoting incitement against it and revoked permits allowing most of these schools to operate in 2020, replacing them with schools run by the Israeli municipality. The remaining schools are in the Shu‘fat refugee camp, the only Palestinian refugee camp inside the Israeli-imposed municipal boundaries.


Decision 3790 is a five-year (2018–23) government plan designed to “strengthen Israeli sovereignty in East Jerusalem” by investing nearly $560 million, much of it in education, with the aim of moving the percentage of Palestinian schools in East Jerusalem using the Israeli curriculum from 7 percent to 50 percent within 5 years, including through force, as described here, by making funding for schools contingent on using the Israeli curriculum. The plan reflects a belief on the government’s part that Israel’s rule over East Jerusalem has become permanent, despite its being wholly illegal under international law and ostensibly still an issue whose final status should be resolved through negotiations, as stipulated under the Oslo Accords of the 1990s.

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