Fighting for Jerusalem, Book by Book

East Jerusalem schools have been fighting an uphill battle, ever since 1967 really, but more recently since last March. Since 2000, schools in occupied east Jerusalem have taught the Palestinian curriculum, devised by the Palestinian Ministry of Education. Then, after a complaint from Israel Beiteinu parliament member Alex Miller, Israel decided things needed to change. “The whole curriculum should and must be Israeli,” he said during a meeting of the Knesset’s committee on education.

In March, the [west] Jerusalem municipality sent a letter to the heads of private schools that receive subsidiary funds from the municipality, informing them that from now on, schools would have to use the textbooks prepared by the Jerusalem Education Administration, not the Palestinian Authority books. While municipality-run schools already use books approved by the municipality, UNRWA and Waqf-run schools have been using Palestinian curriculum, which took the place of the Jordanian curriculum used prior to the Oslo Accords and after the 1967 seizure of east Jerusalem.

Teachers, students and parents have been arguing up a storm ever since. Some private schools have rejected the dictate outright, thus risking a cut in funds next year.

The battle is on, with Jerusalem schools striking after third period for two days last week and a promise for escalated measures if the municipality continues its pressure. The books, which still contain much of the material devised by the Palestinian Authority’s education ministry, are nonetheless dangerously modified. It is not surprising that Palestinians in east Jerusalem are so irate. They have good reason.

Just to offer an example of the changes made to Palestinian schoolbooks, a first grade book requires children to color in the Palestinian flag. This part of the lesson has been struck from the book completely. In other grades, passages about the Palestinian refugee right of return have been deleted. Mention of Acca [Acre] has been taken out and national sentiments towards Jerusalem have been struck from books that now host the Israeli Jerusalem municipality logo.

The changes are not random. Israel has had a long history of “judaizing” east Jerusalem, which it considers part of Israel. International law does not concur; neither do the world’s nations, even the United States. According to them, east Jerusalem is occupied territory. Palestinians in Jerusalem consider themselves just that: Palestinians. They do not take it lightly when their occupiers dictate to them what they can or cannot teach in their schools.

Legally, Palestinians say the municipality has no right to change the PA books, which are copyrighted, without the latter’s consent. One measure being considered by Palestinian lawyers in Jerusalem is to take the Israeli municipality to court for this breech. As all things Palestinian in Jerusalem, this will certainly be another uphill battle, but one that is definitely worth it.

Right now, Palestinians everywhere need to focus on Israel’s plans to reeducate our students in Palestinian Jerusalem in a way that Palestinian nationalism is no longer on the agenda. National poets such as Mahmoud Darwish and Sameeh Al Qasem, events such as the Intifada and places such as Haifa and Acre are all part of our collective psyche and national pride. As Palestinians and parents, we strive to pass this history on to our children. Israel is acutely aware that Palestinian pride is a force to be reckoned with and it is trying to kill it in any way it can. It has no right to dictate what we teach our children, especially when Israel’s Jerusalem municipality has been so negligent of Palestinian schools in the eastern sector as it is. According to recent studies, approximately 1,000 classrooms are missing from east Jerusalem schools and more than 4,000 Palestinian children are not enrolled at all.

The onus does not fall solely on the Palestinian schools in east Jerusalem facing the brunt of the pressure but also on the Palestinian Authority to fight for Jerusalem. This is primarily a matter of education but it is also about our political will. If Israel gets its way, it would have cemented one more tool supporting the claim that Jerusalem is part of Israel. This is something we as Palestinians cannot accept no matter the pressure. First grade teachers, unite and teach the young minds before you the beautiful colors of Palestine.