Sherwood, Forest and Trees

Once again (we’re getting quite accustomed to this, aren’t we folks?) Harriet Sherwood was busy focusing on the trees at the expense of the forest in her August 24th article which quoted at length a new report on the subject of the education system in eastern Jerusalem produced by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) and Ir Amim. If you happen to be a British or European tax payer you may like to read the report  in full, because it is more than likely that you paid for its production.

The Association of Civil Rights received $2,671,443 from the New Israel Fund from 2006 to 2008, 231,754 Euros from the EU for the period 2010 to 2012, as well as additional funding from Sweden, the United Kingdom, Norway, the Netherlands, Spain, Belgium, the Ford Foundation and Christian Aid.  According to an article by Professor Asher Maoz of Tel Aviv University, the President of ACRI apparently stated in 2007 that “A Jewish state is a dream, a fiction, a journalist’s romance … to which we have related with excessive seriousness”  and “I think that it [the establishment of Israel] is the most foolish thing that the Jewish people has done in the past 1,000 years. Putting down a stake in a permanent place is an invitation to a new Holocaust”.

The Jerusalem-based organization Ir Amim is funded by the EU (1.7 million shekels in 2007), the New Israel Fund, the Ford Foundation , the Moriah Fund, the Norwegian Government (165,000 shekels in 2007), the Czech Government, the Dutch Government and the British Embassy in Tel Aviv (800,000 shekels in 2007) .

According to the Jerusalem Post, “an Ir Amim official said the group was indeed seeking to advance a political agenda, and was not an organization geared to promote coexistence”; a statement which would probably be of interest  to many a British and European tax payer. Indeed the organization runs a blog hosted by the Huffington Post ; a publication not exactly known for its well balanced views on the subject of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  The subject of education in eastern Jerusalem is not new to Ir Amim however. In 2007 they produced another report on the subject in which their rather bizarre proposed  solution to the problems highlighted in the report was the operation of the system by a Palestinian supervisory board.

So the two above organizations have now come up with a report which concludes that Arab schools in eastern Jerusalem are in a much worse state than those in the rest of the city, and of course Harriet Sherwood is quick to pick up on this to infer discrimination against Israel’s Arab citizens. I contacted the Jerusalem Municipality in order to hear what they have to say on the subject and of course, like most things in Israel, the subject is rather more complex than the Guardian’s simplistic presentation of affairs would imply.

The Jerusalem Municipality is well aware of the serious problems in schools in the east of the city and the lack of some 700 classrooms (as opposed to the 1,000 mentioned in Sherwood’s article). It is investing considerable resources in trying to improve the conditions which are the result of years of neglect together with a serious lack of building space and planning difficulties, combined with a rapid population expansion of 4.2% per annum. The Municipality’s response to the report by ACRI and Ir Amim can be read (HERE) in Hebrew. Taking into account that Arab pupils comprise some 32% of the total number of schoolchildren in Jerusalem, key points include the following:

  • In the last two years a number of new schools have been built in the eastern part of the city totaling some 200 classrooms.
  • At present the Municipality is advancing the building of 248 classrooms and additional projects are at the planning stage.
  • The Jerusalem Municipality invests a considerably higher budget in many spheres of operation in the eastern part of the city than it does in the western part and that in addition to the solicitation of donations and the handing out of computers to pupils.
  • The Municipality invests ten times more in renting educational property in the eastern part of the city than in the western part: 13.6 million shekels as opposed to 1.6 million shekels.
  • In the area of pupil transportation the Municipality invests four times as much in the eastern part of the city than in the western part: 5.4 million shekels as opposed to 1.4 million shekels.
  • For the printing of school books for pupils in the eastern part of the city the Municipality invests around 2 million shekels a year. There is no comparable investment in the western part of the city.
  • The Municipality is working to allocate land for the building of schools within the framework of the city plans, including compulsory purchase of land suitable for the building of educational establishments.
  • Over the past six years (2005 – 2010 inc.) the Municipality’s investment in the eastern part of the city has undergone a cumulative growth of 112%.

The whole issue of schools in the eastern part of Jerusalem has a very complex history. There are four types of schools in the area: schools belonging to Al Waqf Al Islami which are under the authority of the Palestinian Authority’s Ministry of Education (MoEHE), schools belonging to the Jerusalem Municipality, private schools which are classified as ‘unofficially recognised’ and UNWRA schools. According to the spokesperson of the Municipality, the schools in which – for historic reasons – the Jordanian curriculum is taught and the Jordanian equivalent of the Israeli ‘Bagrut’ (Baccalaureate) is the examination of choice, academic achievements are relatively low and dropout rates are relatively high.

In recent years the Israeli government has allocated additional resources to schools with pupils from low-income families, particularly in the Arab sector, in an attempt to reduce inequality and help disadvantaged pupils. In addition, budgets have been set aside for the building of additional new classrooms in sectors with the highest natural growth which includes the Arab and Orthodox sectors.

Of course the well-intentioned plans of any government or municipality do not always go according to schedule and whilst the plight of pupils in cramped classrooms in the eastern part of Jerusalem is very real, the children of Sderot are also still waiting for the reinforced missile-proof schools they were promised.

Given Harriet Sherwood’s track record of highlighting the trees which reinforce her agenda and ignoring the forest which does not, one could be forgiven for being rather skeptical about the possibility of her penning an article anytime soon about the schoolchildren of Sderot and the very real problem of education under rocket fire.

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