by Thea Abu El-Haj, Barnard College; and Fida Adely, Georgetown University
Since we wrote our post, “Violating the Right to Education for Palestinians” in May 2016, Israel’s violation of the rights of Palestinians to an education has continued unabated over the past seven years. We have updated this post to address the more recent attacks on Palestinian right to education
“Between 2015 and 2019, over 4,000 Palestinian school and university students and educators were reportedly harmed by attacks on education – the highest number worldwide during the five-year period.” (GCPEA, March 2022)
“Between 2019 and 2021, teargas and other weapons fired injured at least 480 students and teaching staff and affected at least 9,650 in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem . . . [and] explosive weapons affected at least 305 schools and kindergartens in Palestine between January 2019 and September 2021. During an escalation of hostilities in May 2021, around a quarter of all schools in Gaza were damaged due to air-launched or ground-launched bombardments.” (GCPEA, March 2022)
The following examples offer illustrative cases across Palestine.
The Occupied Territories
In March 2022, Israel instituted a new policy entitled, “Procedure for Entry and Residency of Foreigners in Judea and Samaria Region” that severely restricts the academic freedom of Palestinian institutions of higher education. This policy gives the Israeli military authorities absolute decision-making power over which international researchers and students are granted permission to be in Palestinian universities, and what areas of research will be prioritized. Moreover, it sets a quota for the number of international scholars who can be present in the occupied territories at any time, and restricts visiting faculty to a limited term of five non-consecutive years. These restrictions have a disproportionate effect on Palestinian scholars in the diaspora. This policy places extreme constraints on Palestinian academic freedom, and exacerbates the international isolation of Palestinian academics and academic institutions.
Occupied East Jerusalem
In September 2022, Palestinian schools in East Jerusalem went on strike to protest the plans of the Israeli municipality to censor Palestinian textbooks and impose the Israeli curriculum in the municipalities schools. Israeli authorities are using their power as an occupying force to grant and revoke the licenses of Palestinian schools as leverage to try to change the curriculum. Palestinian schools in East Jerusalem are under the jurisdiction of the Palestinian Ministry of Education, and follow the Palestinian curriculum.This recent move toward what has been called the “Israelification” of Palestinian schools in what is internationally recognized as an occupied territory furthers Israel’s attempt to annex East Jerusalem, in violation of international law. Moreover, this curricular change is part of a larger five-year plan by Israel to take over education in occupied East Jerusalem.
In addition to Israel’s specific attempt to restrict the Palestinian curriculum in East Jerusalem schools, Palestinian children and youth in Jerusalem face other significant barriers affecting their education.For example, students face severe challenges getting to school because of military checkpoints, the annexation wall, and harassment. Palestinian teachers who live in the West Bank have been increasingly denied work permits for Jerusalem resulting in a significant decline in their numbers. The Israeli occupation of East Jerusalem continues to have a detrimental effect on all aspects of the capacity of children and youth to be educated in East Jerusalem.
Inside the Green Line
Palestinian students who are citizens of Israel also continue to face vast inequalities in access to and quality of their education. There are huge per pupil funding inequities between Palestinian and Jewish municipalities. According to Human Rights Watch, 35 Palestinian Bedouin communities that Israel has refused to recognize have almost no educational facilities as a result. In mixed cities, Palestinian students frequently must travel to another locality to get access to a bilingual education in Arabic and Hebrew. The 2018 nation-state law which, among other things, downgraded Arabic from its status as an official state language further jeopardizes the right of Palestinian citizens of Israel to live and learn in Arabic.
In 2023, the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip and its 2.1 million residents entered its 16th year. In May 2021, Gaza’s residents were again subject to Israeli military bombardment resulting in the deaths of 260 Palestinians, including 66 children (9 Israelis were also killed including two children). In yet another assault and Israeli aerial bombardment of Gaza in August 2022, 44 Palestinians were killed by Israel, at least nine of them children. In addition to the loss of life and thousands of injured, repeated Israeli assaults on the Gaza Strip have resulted in significant damage to Gaza’s educational infrastructure. Between January 2019 and September 2021, air- or ground- launched explosive weapons impacted at least 300 schools and kindergartens in Gaza. In May 2021, at least 189 schools were damaged (24 percent of existing schools). 12 higher education institutions were damaged, which amounts to 71 percent of higher education institutions in Gaza. Due to the ongoing blockade, and restrictions on the import of building materials, repairing damaged schools remains a challenge, exacerbating a significant shortage of schools leading to severe overcrowding. Beyond the infrastructure, children suffered untold psychological damage, destruction of their homes, and significant loss of learning time during this period, and continue to suffer the effects of living under a blockade and on-going siege. Nearly half of children surveyed by Al Mezan Center for Human Rights (2021) reported they did not feel safe in the area in which they live, and about a third said they did not feel safe at school.
Violations of the HR Rights of children
The violations of Palestinian children and youths’’ rights to education are one aspect of the much broader violation of their human rights in general.
In 2021, 76 Palestinian children were killed by Israeli forces and 2 by armed Israeli civilians.
In 2022, Israeli forces and settlers shot and killed 36 Palestinian children with live ammunition in the occupied West Bank.
Israel is the only country in the world that automatically and systematically prosecutes children in military courts that lack fundamental fair trial rights and protections. Israel prosecutes between 500 and 700 Palestinian children in military courts each year. In testimony given to Defense for Children Palestine (DCIP) by children who have been imprisoned between 2016 and 2021, DCIP found that:
- 75 percent experienced physical violence following arrest
- 88 percent were blindfolded
- 59 percent were detained from their homes in the middle of the night
- 67 percent of children were not properly informed of their rights
- 97 percent were interrogated without the presence of a family member
- 55 percent were shown or signed documents in Hebrew, a language most Palestinian children don't understand
As anthropologists of education and educators committed to social justice, we want to call attention to the routine and systematic violations of Palestinians’ right to education—violations that are imbricated with, not accidental to, Israel’s unjust and oppressive treatment of Palestinians. These violations of the right to education are one of the key reasons we continue to support the academic boycott of Israeli academic institutions and we urge our colleagues to vote in favor of the AAA resolution to boycott Israeli academic institutions.