Educational Systems - Introduction

Palestinian children have been struggling ever since Israel’s illegal occupation in 1967 to achieve an education in the face of Israeli opposition. The obstacles Israel has imposed, such as destroying schools, enforcing curfews, and harassing students and teachers have not broken the Palestinian spirit to learn. Palestinians who, at 99 percent have the highest literacy rate in the Arab world, value education and through it hope to constructively resist Israel and achieve a better life for themselves. 

But it is not an easy task and obstacles sometimes seem insurmountable.

During Operation Cast Lead, Israel’s offensive against Gaza in December 2008 and January 2009, Israel’s military forces destroyed 24 schools, including six universities, and damaged 278 schools. Some 9,000 students were displaced and had to be split between two already overcrowded schools elsewhere in Gaza. The United Nations reported in the summer of 2009 that about 1,200 Gazan children would not be able to attend classes because their schools were destroyed and Israel’s ongoing blockade of Gaza has prevented them from being rebuilt.

Buildings weren’t the only casualties and impediments to learning during Operation Cast Lead: Israeli forces killed 250 students and 15 teachers, while 875 students and teachers were injured.

Still to this day, due to Israeli blockade, Gaza’s educational system has not been rebuilt. Approximately 105 schools need to be replaced. At least 25,000 tons of iron and 40,000 of cement are needed for construction.

The siege has caused massive malnutrition in the school-aged population, according to the United Nations. Children suffer from iodine deficiencies, anemia, and a lack of Vitamin A. These unfit conditions along with poverty, other military attacks, and child labor have impacted Gaza’s standardized tests and attendance. “In the first semester of the 2007/08 academic year, only 20 percent of 16,000 sixth-grade students passed standardized tests in math, science, English, and Arabic,” according to the UN. 

Children in the West Bank face similar problems. Not only do they have to deal with violence and mental problems caused by violence, but they also have to find their way around the Apartheid Wall and other checkpoints and barriers to get to school and function in their daily lives. 

In any given year, nearly 80 percent of West Bank school children can’t make it to school because the gates in the Apartheid Wall are shut and locked, blocking their way to school. One study reported that nearly 50 percent of school children say they have to find longer, alternative routes to school to get around the Apartheid Wall.

But there are other obstacles as well. Illegal Israeli colonial settlers often harass and attack Palestinian children on their way to school. And the Israeli military conducts frequent and random arrests and detentions of children.

Palestinian residents of Israel also struggle to get an education. These students are the victims of racism and segregation in the school system. 

The state of Israel spends $1,100 per Jewish pupil but only $190 per Arab student, according to figures released by the Israeli Ministry of Education. In addition, the school’s curriculum has been changed to completely wipe out any Palestinian history, such as the Nakba and numerous massacres from 1947 to 1949. All students in Israel also have to learn the Zionist nation anthem, which celebrates a ‘Jewish connection to the land,’ Of course; the Zionist’s national anthem mentions nothing about Islam or Christianity, or the two religions’ connection to the Holy Land.

University life is no easier. The Palestinian university system is founded on an integrated system with facilities in Gaza and the West Bank. The idea was not to duplicate degrees, so that means some professions are taught in the West Bank and others are taught in Gaza, according to Gisha – Legal Center for Freedom of Movement. But with heavy restrictions on their freedom of movement, students can’t travel between Gaza and the West Bank. Nor can they go to Israel.

Because of these injustices, Arab students aren’t getting the education that they deserve. 

In 2008, only 32 percent of Arabs passed the matriculation exams compared to 51 percent of their Jewish counterparts. There is huge disparity in the special needs population – 61 percent of Jewish special needs children receive the proper amount of attention while only 29 percent of equivalent Palestinian students receive the requisite amount of attention, according to DIRASAT.

~ American Muslims for Palestine, 2012