Colonizing the Mind: Israel’s Assault on Palestinian Education

Yesterday, I stumbled across a title in Ma’an that shook me to the core:

Palestinian schools switch to Israeli curriculum in Jerusalem

To anyone who knows the Israeli curriculum, this is one of the most chilling statements anti-colonialists can imagine. The Israeli school curriculum is what allows millions of Israelis to enlist to the army, to cheer on as it slaughters Palestinians en-masse, and to be OK with being “a little bit fascist” .

I want to make a very important stop here, before we continue examining the article and the questions which it raised in my mind, so my readers, who didn’t grow up through Israel’s public school indoctrination, can get a basic idea of how it works. So sit back for 28 minutes and get to know the incredibly important research of Nurit Peled-Elhanan about the colonialist racist discourse in Israeli textbooks:

 Education Under Threat of Ethnic Cleansing

It’s important to note that Jerusalem (al-Quds) Palestinians are identified by the state as citizens of Israel. They carry the blue identity card, which affords them certain benefits over green ID card carrying Palestinians, who are under military rule. But let us not get carried away with counting the benefits, as the Jewish state identifies them in the card as being of Arab nationality, while their Jewish counter parts are identified as Jewish. An additional major problem for the al-Quds Palestinians is the policy of de-citizenizing them, which started in 1994 and has recently been escalated. Within 2.5 election periods, the Palestinian East Jerusalem population will no longer be part of Israel’s citizen life, but under its military rule.

The Ma’an article starts off as follows:

The director of education in Jerusalem has urged families with schoolchildren in Jerusalem to be aware that at least five Palestinian schools are switching to Israeli education materials.

Already 5 Palestinian schools are using Israel Education Ministry sanctioned materials:

Sameer Jibril said the Ebin Rushd and Abdulla bin Hussain schools were using Israeli education materials in the seventh and eighth grades. The Sour Baher school is using them for fourth, fifth and sixth grades, and the Ibin Khaldoun school uses it for seventh graders.

But now the switch is being made official:

An education official told Ma’an that a meeting took place on Thursday in Herzliya near Tel Aviv for Palestinian and Israeli principals and teachers to discuss switching from Palestinian Authority to Israeli curricula.

If you’ve watched the above interview with Peled-Elhanan, you’ll recognize some of the colonialist, racist discourse she describes:

Among the concerns Palestinian teachers have about the materials are maps purporting to depict the state of Israel which include the West Bank and identify Palestinian territory by Jewish Biblical names.

It also includes history lessons about the destruction of a Jewish temple in Jerusalem, which the texts separately identify as the capital of Israel despite an international consensus that the city is occupied.

Another section depicts a conversation between three Arab students who praise Israel’s development of Palestinian cities and decide to sing the Israeli national anthem.

Other points of concern include a photograph of the separation wall along with a caption identifying it as Israel’s “security fence,” and another referring to Israel as a bastion of human rights and democracy.

Education Under Apartheid

In 2001 Human Rights Watch published the report “Second Class: Discrimination Against Palestinian Arab Children in Israel’s Schools”. It describes the Israeli education system, which illustrates how important schooling is for the state:

Israel heavily finances and regulates the education of almost all children in Israel. Under Israel’s Compulsory Education Law, the state is responsible for providing free education and bears joint responsibility with state and local authorities for maintaining school buildings. The Ministry of Education develops curricula and educational standards, supervises teachers, and constructs school buildings. Local authorities maintain the buildings and provide equipment and supplies, in some cases with support from the ministry. The ministry directly employs and pays kindergarten and primary school teachers, and provides the funds for secondary school teachers’ salaries to local authorities who employ them directly. The ministry also provides additional educational funding to local authorities and in 1998 allocated 20.8 percent of its budget–NIS 3,903,666 ($975,916.50)–to local authorities for educational and cultural services.

It also describes the historic importance of separation between the Palestinian students and the Israeli students :

After the war in 1948 following Israel’s establishment as a state, the Israeli Ministry of Education took over most schools [from the British Mandatory Government], maintaining separate systems for religious Jews, secular Jews, and Palestinian Arabs…

Until Israeli military rule was ended in 1966, Palestinian Arabs could not travel from their residences without a permit from authorities, which severely limited their ability to seek education. They were excluded from high level positions in the Ministry of Education, and the security services screened applicants for teaching and administrative positions and influenced appointments, a practice that continues today. There were no Palestinian Arab teacher, parent, or student organizations during this period. Only in the 1970s, after the cessation of the military government and the rise of a small middle class, did community organizations begin to emerge. These later established a Follow-Up Committee on Arab Education “which has since acted as the main Israeli Palestinian spokesperson on educational matters…

Until 1987, there was a separate department for Arab education within the Education Ministry. When the department was dissolved in 1987, its employees were spread out among the ministry’s various branches.

But don’t let the facade of integration fool you:

Despite this reorganization, Palestinian Arabs continue to be significantly under-represented in the ministry. At the time of writing, none of the top positions in the Ministry of Education were held by Palestinian Arabs. Altogether only 127 (4.8 percent) of the 2,662 employees of the Ministry of Education (excluding teachers) were Palestinian Arab in the 2000-2001 school year. Thirty-seven of these 127 were women.

The highest ranked Palestinian Arab in the education system is Ali Assadi, the head of the Arab education department, a department of the Pedagogical Secretariat. He oversees a team of inspectors who monitor Arab schools, including inspectors for subjects unique to Arab schools: Arabic, Arab history, and Hebrew as a second language. Suliman Al-Sheikh heads a similar department for Druze. A small department–six full-time positions–develops curricula for Arab schools. Curricula for Druze are also developed separately.

The aforementioned Followup Committee on Arab Education in Israel published a “A Snapshot of the Arab Education System in Israel” , in 2005, which indicated that separate is not only unequal, but also hazardous to Palestinian childrens’ lives:

For the academic year 2000-2001, the government invested a total of NIS 534 per student on average for Palestinians, compared with NIS 1,779 per Jewish student… A significant number of Arab schools are operating under sub-standard physical conditions, including safety and health-related hazards, which cause accidents and pose a real threat to pupils’ lives. In our estimation, there are currently around 2,000 hired classrooms and regular classrooms which are not suitable for learning in the Arab education system.

Bribing the Schools or Extortion at the Barrel of a Gun?

So the question that comes to mind is what could possibly compel Palestinian schools to teach their children a curriculum bent on their own erasure, which one anonymous teacher defined as “violation of Palestinian culture and history” and an “effort to brainwash the Palestinians of Jerusalem, especially the young”? The article gives only little hint to this:

The Israeli municipality in Jerusalem offered to increase salaries for teachers and principals who agree to implement the plans in their schools, the official said. The proposal would add about 2,000 shekels (about $550) per student enrolled in schools using Israeli curricula.

One might be tempted to think by this short paragraph that the schools are willing to sell their students for an extra air conditioner in every class. Unfortunately, the reality of Palestinian schools under Israel’s regime, both in occupied territories and inside the 1948 armistice line, is much starker. In the 2007 report, “Education Under Occupation”, an impossible picture emerges, which personally left me wondering if within 5 years from the time that I’ve read it, an education system for Palestinian children, beyond Israel’s Education Ministry, would even exist. Pertaining to al-Quds, the report says:

…the Wall and enforcement of movement restrictions have divided the education system in Al-Quds into five separate areas. Palestinian teachers with green West Bank ID cards are no longer allowed to exit the Palestinian areas, designated by the Israeli government.

The Palestinian Ministry of Education has had to find 152 teachers who carry the blue Al-Quds ID cards to teach in the areas on the other side of the Wall in Israeli-annexed Jerusa- lem. Teachers suffer daily from having to go through the gates in the Wall. Some have started to consider leaving their houses to live on the other side of the Wall in the West Bank…

According to OCHA, “of the 33,000 students and 2,000 teachers in East Jerusalem schools, 6,000 pupils and more than 650 teachers face difficulties reaching their schools.

So on top of the discrimination in the basis of the Education Ministry system, there’s also that little issue of ongoing military land annexation, which deeply effects the functioning of schools in the area. The report also elaborates on the military aspect of humiliation at checkpoints and settler harassment and violence on the way, endured by teachers and students alike:

Young Palestinians attending schools and universities in the West Bank face routine attacks at checkpoints. They are commonly held for hours, forced to take off their clothes or simply denied passage. The issue of genderized harassment is often hidden because of the stigma attached to such incidents. However Palestinians report that this sexual harassment is frequent and traumatic. One student told us: “They keep searching me, it makes me feel nervous and confused, and sometimes when I see the Israelis searching the Palestinian girls, it makes me wish that I would die before I see them doing this to the Palestinian girls.” Here youth activists report stories of harassment.

Al-Quds Palestinian School System Under Attack

The latest report I’ve found about Palestinian education under the Israeli regime is quite current, from 2010, by Ir Amim, and focuses on al-Quds, “Failed Grade: Palestinian Education System in East Jerusalem 2010“. Though Israel’s government and supreme court have already acknowledged the discriminatory policies as far back as 2001, not much has changed in the past decade, and due to life not being static, that which has changed has only expressed itself in erosion and a worsening of conditions.

Ir Amim opens with explaining the economical implications of Israel’s educational discrimination against Palestinians under its jurisdiction:

It should be stressed that the Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem are entitled to receive public education, as well as enjoy all of the social benefits afforded by the state, by virtue of the residency bestowed upon them after Israel annexed East Jerusalem in 1967. A decade ago, the High Court noted this and obligated the Ministry of Education and the Municipality of Jerusalem to provide education to every Palestinian child who is a resident of the city…

The parents of tens of thousands of children who are entitled to receive free education by law thus are forced to pay thousands of shekels a year for private education because there are no municipal schools to absorb them. For example, the Sakhnin College, which is a commercial enterprise in every sense, operates 11 “recognized but unofficial” schools, and the number of students in them has been constantly growing over the last years.

Just so we’re clear on the meaning of “recognized but unofficial”, the 2001 Human Rights Watch report states the following:

Arab state schools fall under the state secular framework; there are no state religious schools for Palestinian Arab children. Most children, Jewish or Palestinian Arab, attend state schools within this framework. However, private associations consisting primarily of ultra-orthodox Jewish groups and, for Palestinian Arabs, Christian churches, also run schools that are considered “recognized but unofficial schools.” The Ministry of Education regulates and provides most of the funding for these schools, which, in turn, are supposed to use the ministry’s prescribed curricula. Only a very few students, mostly “ultra-ultra orthodox” Jewish students, attend completely private schools in the sense that they receive no government funding. Even these are still legally subject to the Ministry of Education’s supervision.

So basically, as long as the colonizer’s Ministry of Education is OK with the curriculum, it will fund the school. If you’re Palestinian with an OK curriculum, it will fund the school much less. With very little choice left, Palestinian children are sent to these “recognized but unofficial” schools. Ir Amim reports a dropout rate of 50%, and with a lack of a standardized curriculum, it’s no surprise, due to the fact that Israel’s Education system is geared towards the holy grail of standardized matriculation exams.

However, it seems that no matter how many private schools spring up in the al-Quds area, there’s an endless shortage of facilities:

The Ministry of Education and Municipality of Jerusalem do not update and publish the exact number of missing classrooms in the East Jerusalem education system, but agree that the number is higher than 1000 classrooms… Next May it will be ten years since the beginning of the legal proceedings during which the authorities promised again and again to build hundreds of new classrooms in East Jerusalem. The proceedings began with the parents of 26 children from East Jerusalem who did not have places in the official Manhi-run schools, who decided to appeal to the High Court of Justice and ask its help in exercising their children’s right to free public education. Two months later, a second petition was submitted, this time on behalf of more than 900 children for whom no place was found in the municipal schools in East Jerusalem.

The report also quotes Knesset member Jamal Zahalka in saying:

The condition of the education of Palestinian citizens in East Jerusalem is the worst, and their situation is the worst… In terms of student achievement it is worse than in Gaza, worse than in Nablus, worse than in Ein al-Hilwa (a refugee camp in Lebanon), worse than in al-Wihdat (a refugee camp in Jordan), worse than in Yarmuk (a refugee camp in Syria).

The Dividing and Conquering of the Palestinian Mind

Even though the Ir Amim report mentions in one line that “some parents also prefer that their children be educated outside of the Israeli education system for ideological, religious or nationalist reasons”, it’s pretty clear that the whopping majority have no choice in the matter. They know their children will endure dangerous long walks on makeshift paths, exposed to military and settler violence, on their way to schools which’s conditions endanger their lives, and the curriculums will brainwash them to think that they deserve this kind of extreme neglect and oppression, but they want to do what they can to promise their children a chance at competing for a future in the capitalist-colonial state, whatever that may mean for a people under a process of ethnic cleansing.

After this deep examination of the situation of the education system in the East Jerusalem district, it’s easy to understand that in fact, the headline that prompted me to research the issue is hardly news. The colonial curriculum is already inside the indigenous schools:

On 7 March 2011, the Israeli Municipality of Jerusalem’s Ministry of Education issued a resolution ordering all non-public Palestinian schools in East Jerusalem to purchase textbooks only from the Municipality for the 2011 – 2012 academic year. In June the Municipality revealed the changes to be made to the books they would distribute. These changes, as changes made before, meant erasing any and all references to Palestinian identity, culture, and heritage.

The most recent statement brings the curriculum of private schools under Israeli control. Whereas pubic school curriculum was always subject to the Municipality, the private schools are now being targeted. The majority of these schools are Christian schools, under the authority of international church groups.

A clarification of the Ma’an article comes in a post on

An educational official revealed a meeting that took place in “Hertzilya” near Tel Aviv that included directors of Arabic and Israeli schools in which the idea of implementing “Bagroot” [standardized matriculation exams] was suggested. The idea was immediately welcomed by the Israeli side.

In actuality, what the al-Qudsi Palestinian schools are trying to do, aside from squeezing an additional drop of funding out of the colonial municipality, is what the Ir-Amim defined as a problem of “education system devoid of homogeneity, both in terms of curricula and in terms of teaching methods, and therefore also devoid of a backbone and center of gravity. Such an education system produces very few graduates sufficiently educated to achieve meaningful personal development as adults and creates a civil society of very low resilience.”  In other words, Israel’s Ministry of Education is abusing its powers and, mirroring Israel’s policy in every other aspect of control of Palestinian life, administering its divide-and-conquer rule.

The situation of the colonized’s “agreement” to indoctrinate themselves with the colonizer’s mythos, is one that should send alarm bells echoing throughout the world. Somehow, the terms Ethnic Cleansing and Colonialism are still contested by pundits commenting on Palestine. But when the word Palestine itself is contested, one can’t really be surprised that it’s on the verge of being eradicated from Palestinian history books.

3 thoughts on “Colonizing the Mind: Israel’s Assault on Palestinian Education”

  1. Let me get this straight: you are MAD at Israel for not letting the Palestinians teach kids to hate and want to KILL all the Jews. Oh, and by the way, in the tags, you say “terrorism” and “identity” and “apartheid” about ISRAEL when the Muslims have 22 (if not more) dictatorships where they kill everyone who isn’t a Jihadist and oppress women. And I’M the racist. WOW. I’m 12 and I have more common sense then you.

    1. PS. you also said ethnic cleansing. Isn’t that what the Palestinians want? They say kill all the Jews (and Christians). They want to nuke Israel. Now THAT’S ethnic cleansing/

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