by Azra Khan
Involved as it is in a political conflict that remains unresolved through peace negotiations, Jerusalem today is a city divided economically, culturally and socially. Even the provision of municipal services is a highly political issue in the city. This article assesses the situation of access to public education for Palestinian children living in East Jerusalem, which is under Israeli jurisdiction.1 In this context, it is essential to question whether Israel’s practices in the educational field are a realistic reflection of its legal obligations.
Legal jurisdiction and policy affect the everyday lives of Palestinians living in East Jerusalem, many of whom are not citizens but only permanent residents of the State of Israel.2 While the revocation of residency rights from Palestinian Jerusalemites has justifiably received wide public attention, documentation and analysis, the problems encountered by their children are given less consideration.3 Parents struggling to “prove” their residency in Jerusalem confront added barriers when attempting to register their children in municipal schools. Thus, children pay the price of the political conflict in Jerusalem, where education and other activities that elsewhere constitute the normal pattern of life for children are disrupted by political struggles and civil strife. When in 1967 Israel “extended its jurisdiction” over the Palestinian citizens of Jerusalem, the state undertook the responsibility to fulfil its obligation regarding the children’s right to education. However, implicit problems are encountered by Palestinian Jerusalemites when they attempt to enrol their children in public schools in East Jerusalem, due to the policies pertaining to the status of Palestinian Jerusalemites that impinge on their children’s right to education.
The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) adopted in 1989 by the UN General Assembly, specifically Article 2 (non-discrimination in provision of rights to all children), Article 4 (implementation), Article 7 (name, birth registration, nationality), and Article 28 (the right to education) cover the basic principles upon which this enquiry is based. Israel ratified the CRC in 1991 and has, in addition, its own Law of Compulsory Education (1949). These existing education laws further bolster the principles of the Convention with regard to education and non-discrimination. The Compulsory Education Law mandates that any child who resides in the jurisdiction of a municipality (or other local authority) must be registered in school and provided with free education (articles 3(a) and 6(a)). Thus, the right to education is not contingent on citizenship or other legal status, neither of the children nor of their parents.
Policies and Practices
Several Israeli policies and practices limit the access of Palestinian Jerusalemite children to free and compulsory education in the Jerusalem Education Authority (JEA) schools in East Jerusalem. Among the most serious are the following:
Palestinians holding permanent residency in East Jerusalem must prove that they actually reside in the state and within the municipal borders of the city. The Ministry of the Interior has the power to cancel the residency permit of a Palestinian for reasons of prolonged periods of absence from the country (seven years and more).4 Many families who had left the city and returned to it within the seven-year limit, or have moved to neighborhoods just beyond the municipal borders of Jerusalem, have had their residency permits revoked. In order for a child to be registered in school, the JEA requires proof of residency in the city,5 and thus children whose parents have had their residency status revoked by the Ministry of the Interior, yet remain in the city, are often denied their right to public education.
Although Natan Sharansky, who was minister of the interior in the Barak government until his resignation in July 2000, is claimed to have officially ended the “center-of-life” requirement of Jerusalem Palestinians, it is still unclear how this will affect the registration of children in JEA schools, particularly with the advent of the new Sharon government. Thus far, there is no recourse for those children who have already been denied access to these schools.
A child born in the country, whose parents are both permanent residents of Jerusalem, or whose father is a permanent resident, is legally entitled to permanent residency. In cases where the mother alone is the permanent resident in Jerusalem, the child will normally receive the status of the foreign father.6 In 1992, ministry officials declared that their policy was to allow a Jerusalem resident mother to register her children in Jerusalem, on condition that she prove she actually resides in Jerusalem and that the father agree in writing to the request. Such an application is considered at the discretion of the minister of the interior. This information, however, was never published, and the procedures remain unclear.
While the Ministry of the Interior currently provides an application form to register a child in accordance with the mother’s residency status, considerable obstacles remain. The process of providing documented proof of residency in Jerusalem is costly, and time-consuming (specific requirements have not been listed anywhere in the law or regulations, but include such papers as tax receipts, school registration papers of siblings of the child, utility bills, etc). The application may take months or even years to process, and, in the interim, the child is not registered in any “state” and subsequently has no access to health care or other benefits.
Even if mother and child are living in Jerusalem, children have been denied Jerusalem residency status and registered instead on their father’s Jordanian, West Bank, or other identity card, or have not been registered anywhere. To this day, a substantial population of children in East Jerusalem are not registered in any population registry,7 in direct contravention of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.8
A child must have his/her birth registered in order to be recognized by the state. By denying or restricting the birth registration of Palestinian Jerusalemites, the state can effectively disclaim their rights to any benefits or services, including that of access to and provision of education.
Facts on Registration and Admission to Schools of the Jerusalem Education Authority (JEA)
Former Israeli minister of education, Yossi Sarid, once said: “The East Jerusalem educational system’s situation is shameful, and it has been suffering from deprivation and discrimination for years” (Ha’aretz, August 10, 1999).
The JEA has 169 schools in West Jerusalem (excluding ultra-Orthodox schools), as against 35 in East Jerusalem.9 Three of the latter are educational institutions for children with special needs.10 In addition, there are 20 kindergartens under the supervision of the Ministry of Education and Culture. Palestinian students comprise one-third of the school age (5-19 years) population in the city.11 According to the JEA yearbook, approximately 60 percent of the children resident in East Jerusalem attend municipality schools. There are some 900 classes in the Jerusalem Municipality’s Arab education system, 457 of which are in primary schools (1st to 6th grade).12 The education department allocates to Arab neighborhoods a mere 12 percent of the total budget received from the Ministry of Education and Culture,13 though the Palestinians account for over 30 percent of the population of Jerusalem.
Since the administration of schools in East Jerusalem came under Israeli jurisdiction in 1967, only one new school has been built for the Arab population, whereas the school age grew some 6.5 percent from 1998 to 1999 alone, with a 6.2 percent increase at the primary level.14 Schools in East Jerusalem lacking sufficient classroom space for the expanding student population of Palestinian children have had to rent rooms in apartment buildings (classrooms are extremely cramped, with an average of 33.6 students per class; in West Jerusalem the average is 24).15
Interviewees for this article expressed frustration that, while the Palestinian Jerusalemite population has been growing, this increase has not been matched by a concomitant increase in the number of schools, nor even classrooms. They spoke of how much they dread the humiliation and hardship they face when attempting to register their children in municipal schools. While the declared policy of the Municipality of Jerusalem is to accept any child resident in Jerusalem to its schools, regardless of their residency status, there is a blatant discrepancy between official policy and actual practice.
School principals in East Jerusalem do not have the authority to admit students without prior approval from the municipality, though some of them have considered it a moral obligation to accept some who are not registered on the Jerusalem identity card of one of the parents. However, such students have no rights in the schools they attend: they have no insurance should any harm befall them, nor do they receive recognition for their achievements. This practice also taxes a school’s limited budget, which is allocated according to the number of children enrolled there. When some school principals lobby the municipal authorities, the JEA will at times yield to their demands in order to avoid negative publicity or to set a legal precedent. Nevertheless, many Palestinian children in East Jerusalem — those whose residency status has been revoked, children with only one Jerusalemite parent, unregistered children, or children who have moved from one neighborhood to another — are denied education in Jerusalem’s municipal schools.
Faced with threats to their security and legal status in Jerusalem, parents often do not appreciate their children’s right to education. They fear that by bringing the attention of the Israeli authorities to their cases, they will prejudice their rights as residents of Jerusalem, endangering other benefits they receive or hope to receive in the future. Many decide not to pursue their children’s right to free and compulsory education within the public municipal system, and opt to register their children in schools in the West Bank — a move that ironically may jeopardize their future residency status in Jerusalem. Thus, political uncertainty over the future of Jerusalem spills over into the daily lives of Palestinian families in the city and affects the decisions they make.
Conclusion and Recommendations
While it is not uncommon for countries to evade their responsibility for providing minority populations with free and compulsory basic education, all states, including Israel, are obligated to do so.
As regards the provision of education to all children under its jurisdiction without discrimination, Israeli law, court cases and official declarations of policy conform to these obligations. However, these are largely normative statements. Research has shown that the principle of non-discrimination is violated through unwritten guidelines and practices. In its unwritten practice, the Israeli Education Authority in Jerusalem denies Palestinians equal access to education, with the result that only children who are recognized residents of Jerusalem, and who hold an Israeli identity number, may attend the municipal schools without a legal and administrative struggle.
Child registration is a basic right (CRC, Article 7) that must be implemented in East Jerusalem. Israeli policies must be clearly stated and their implementation monitored. Regulations should be published to enhance people’s awareness of their rights and to eliminate confusion among Palestinian Jerusalemites. People’s ignorance of their rights and entitlements, and of the existence of organizations that can help them, makes it easier for the Israeli authorities to deny them their basic rights, including the right to education for all children in Jerusalem without discrimination.
1. Public schools in East Jerusalem have been operated by the Jerusalem Education Authority since the Six-Day War in 1967.
2. See the Law of Entry into Israel (1952) Article 2(a)(4).
3. See Y. Stein (1997), The Quiet Deportation: Revocation of Residency of Palestinians in East Jerusalem; and (1998), The Quiet Deportation Continues: Revocation of Residency and Denial of Social Rights of East Jerusalem Palestinians (Jerusalem: B’Tselem & Ha-Moked); Usama Halabi, “The Legal Status of Palestinians in Jerusalem,” Palestine-Israel Journal, Vol. IV No.1, 1997.
4. In 1985, the Regulations of Entry into Israel (1974) were amended to add articles 11(A) and 11 (C) stating the conditions under which a permanent residence permit “expires” as the holder “settles in a state outside Israel.” The conditions include: a sojourn out of Israel for more than seven years, the acquisition of a permit of residency in a foreign country and the acquisition of foreign citizenship by naturalization.
5. In a vicious bureaucratic circle, the Ministry of the Interior requires school registration forms as proof of residency that is under investigation.
6. While a child is legally entitled to the permanent resident status of his/her father, the child is not entitled to this status through the mother. This regulation is gender-based discrimination.7. Even when a child is denied Jerusalem residency status, s/he does not automatically register with a parent from the West Bank. When the Ministry of the Interior has revoked the status of permanent residency from one or both parents, their children’s status is also revoked, and a newborn child will not be registered in the Israeli Population Registry, even if the family lives in Jerusalem.
8. See Article 7 (the right to be registered & the right to citizenship), Article 8 (the right to preserve identity), Article 9 (the right not to be separated from the parents), Article 10 (family reunification), and Article 30 (children belonging to a minority or indigenous group).
9. The Jerusalem Education Authority runs a complex system, in which official institutions maintained by the Israeli government (Ministry of Education and Culture) and/or local authority (Jerusalem Municipality) include state education, state-religious education (Jewish) and the Arab educational system. An official institution for Arab education is defined as an institution owned by the municipality and under the supervision of the Ministry of Education and Culture. Following a resolution of the City Council in 1993, the ultra-Orthodox educational division was separated from the Jerusalem Education Authority.
10. M. Choshen & N. Shahar (1999), Statistical Yearbook of Jerusalem No. 16 – 1998 (Jerusalem: The Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies), p. 297.
11. S. Dershkovitz & S. Fairmont-Rafiah (1997), Jerusalem: Urban Characteristics and Major Trends in the City’s Development (Jerusalem: Municipality of Jerusalem), Tables 2 & 3.
12. Choshen & Shahar (1999), op. cit., p. 305.
13. A. Cheshin (1998), Municipal Services in Jerusalem: An Account from Within (Jerusalem: Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs), p. 67.
14. It should be noted this increase in population is due purely to natural growth. Choshen & Shahar, op. cit., pp. 47 & 305.
15. Ibid., pp. 299 & 305.