School children on their way home pass Israeli riot police after a Palestinian teenager’s funeral near Silwan, East Jerusalem, May 14, 2011. (Photo: ActiveStills / Oren Ziv)
It’s a regular day at Al-Nithamieh Girls’ School in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Beit Hanina. When a teacher calls for order, the students squeeze themselves into one of the school’s most overcrowded classrooms.
“Nadeen, Nadeen, move the book!” the teacher calls to a student. Schoolgirls instinctively pull books and papers off their desks as another girl scrambles across desktops to reach her seat. They are sardine-packed five to a table that is just wide enough to fit a textbook. Walking space between the desks is nonexistent.
The school is among eight recently visited by DCIP across East Jerusalem, six public and two private. Every administrator reported that they struggle with severe overcrowding and have done so for decades.
Jerusalem’s municipality estimates a shortfall of 2,000 classrooms for East Jerusalem students, rights group Association for Civil Rights in Israel
(ACRI) reported. As a result, municipal public schools only serve 41 percent of the Palestinian student population, according to ACRI. And they are bursting at the seams.
In the tightest classroom at Al-Nithamieh Girls school, a 15-square-meter (161-square-foot) classroom holds 26 students and 1 teacher, yielding approximately half a square meter (6 square feet) per student.
Administrators told DCIP they are forced to turn new students away.
“I can't really say that I receive a good education, despite the teacher’s great efforts,” said Reem Ghuneimat, a 16-year-old student at the school. “The classroom is really not suitable. It’s a stressful environment because of overcrowding.”
Under international law, access to education
is a human right for children. Israel, as the Occupying Power in East Jerusalem, must ensure this right for Palestinians there.
Israel does not deny responsibility for Palestinian children’s education in the city, either. Israel’s High Court of Justice
in 2011 stated that both the Jerusalem Municipality and the state had repeatedly failed to build enough public school classrooms to serve East Jerusalem students, in violation of Palestinian children's’ right to education.
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat famously called Jerusalem’s residents “ all my children” in a 2017 interview and pledged
to “close gaps for all neighborhoods.”
So why are classrooms still so hard to come by?
Israel’s discriminatory development plans and budgeting toward the Palestinian education sector in East Jerusalem have effectively barred proper growth. As a result, Palestinian children end up in some mix of sub-optimal scenarios: packed into overflowing schools, studying in inadequate or unpermitted facilities, pushed into tuition-based schools, or out of education all together.