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  • Palestinian school children.

    Palestinian school children. | Photo: Wikimedia Commons

School funding for schools in occupied East Jerusalem comes with a caveat: teach Palestinian kids Israeli lesson plans or lose funding. 

Israeli officials have offered US $5.3 million to schools in occupied East Jerusalem on the condition that Palestinians eschew their own educational curriculum for an Israeli one.

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East Jerusalem is home to 180 Palestinian schools that receive Israeli Education Ministry funding. Virtually all adhere to a Palestinian curriculum, adopted in 1994 when the Palestinian Authority was established. Most Palestinian students take the PA's matriculation exam. Previously, schools in the Occupied Territories followed the Jordanian system.

"You cannot condition the allocation of a budget by imposing the Israeli curriculum on Palestinian schools in East Jerusalem, specifically in this area because it is an occupied area, and since 1967 it has maintained a political status quo in schools," Sawsan Zaher, an attorney with Adalah, a legal centre for Arab minority rights in Israel, told Al Jazeera. "Based on international law, the local population has the right to maintain its regular way of life and the occupying power is not allowed to interfere in it unless there is a military necessity."

Israel's recent proposal is just its latest attempt to impose its curriculum on schools in East Jerusalem. In January of this year, the Education Ministry offered additional funding resources for Palestinian schools that adopted the Israeli pedagogy, even in part.

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Indeed, Israel's attempts at coercion are part of a broader effort by both white-settler governments and global finance to retool education and teach colonized and disenfranchised populations "what" to think rather than "how" to think. Dating back at least as far back as South Africa's apartheid regime when Black students in the all-Black township of Soweto organized an uprising in 1976 to protest their classroom instruction, government policies have worked to depoliticize resistance movements before they're even born, sparking a backlash from students, parents and teachers from Chicago to Oaxaca, Jerusalem to Los Angeles.

Civil rights groups both in the occupied territories and internationally have been especially critical of Israel's coercive efforts, and raised questions of the legality of the move given Israel's role as an occupying power.

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Because of the decades-long occupation, the divide between schools in east and west Jerusalem is staggeringly sharp. In East Jerusalem schools, there is a serious shortage of classrooms, while buildings are falling apart.

“The municipality rents old buildings, built for residence and not to serve as schools, instead of building new schools. In these buildings, students are sitting in crowded rooms and the desks are so close, probably around 20cm away from each other," Ziad Shamali, head of the East Jerusalem Parents Committee, said in an interview with Al Jazeera. "Most schools are very old and the buildings need serious renovation. We need proper funding to fix this situation."

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Overcrowded classrooms are such a serious problem in the region, that it has even been weighed in on by the Supreme Court.

"The shortage of classrooms in the official system in East Jerusalem is dire enough that the Supreme Court has ruled it constitutes a violation of the constitutional right to education for the children of East Jerusalem," said Betty Herschman, director of communications and advocacy at Ir Amim. "The new school year will begin with more than 2,600 missing classrooms in East Jerusalem.”

In a revealing gaffe, Arab schools received just US $2.1 million for renovations compared to US $11.1 million allocated for secular and national religious schools. These conditions have led East Jerusalem to have a much higher dropout rate than West Jerusalem schools.

Even by Israeli law standards, this latest proposal meant to indoctrinate a marginalized population, constitutes a violation.

"Based on Israeli law and case law, conditioning the allocation of budget - including on education - will lead to discrimination based on nationality," said Zaher. "The Israelis know that East Jerusalem schools will not meet their conditions of ditching Palestinian textbooks for the Israeli curriculum, so what they are doing now is a violation of the right of equality against Palestinian schools."

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