In response to Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad’s dedication ceremony at a PA-renovated school in east Jerusalem on Tuesday, MK Danny Danon (Likud) toured a girls’ high school in the capital’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood to check out school conditions in the area.
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Danon, who heads the Committee for the Rights of the Child, had also planned to visit the private school in Dahiyat al-Salaam where Fayyad’s celebration took place, but he decided at the last moment to cancel after security forces warned that the situation would be violent.
“The fact that he wants to come and dedicate schools in east Jerusalem is crossing a line, it’s crossing a red line, and I’m happy that we managed to clear up his visit,” said Danon as he stood on a hill overlooking a renovated school in Shuafat, which is on the other side of the security barrier but still within Jerusalem boundaries. “But we have to understand that the authority of the Education Ministry and the Public Security Ministry inside these areas in Jerusalem is minimal.”
Danon had originally planned to be at the same school dedication ceremony as Fayyad to reassert Israel’s sovereignty over the area, but he decided not to enter the area after police reported that there were 400 residents ready to protest his arrival.
“[Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu] presents a lot of nice suggestions for strengthening Jerusalem, but it doesn’t cover up what’s happening on the ground, that Bibi decided to divide Jerusalem,” said right-wing activist Aryeh King, founder of the Israel Land Fund. “Today is an example – they didn’t let him in! A member of Knesset! That’s the problem.”
King, who lives nearby, met Danon at the overlook to point out all the new roads in the area that had been paid for with Palestinian Authority funds. He recounted seeing construction vehicles from Ramallah all over Shuafat, on both sides of the fence, doing work within municipal Jerusalem.
“We have to understand that if we’re not active, we’re going to lose our place, and we already are today,” said Danon.
Danon also visited Al- Mamunia Secondary Girls’ School in Sheikh Jarrah, a 10th-12th grade high school with 1,452 students. He was shocked at the small amount of Hebrew the students were learning at municipality schools: Students at Al-Mamunia learn Hebrew for three hours per week, compared to five hours per week for English, and fewer than 10% of the students speak Hebrew at even a basic level.
Though Al-Mamunia was well-maintained and a random sampling of students not connected with Danon’s official visit said they were satisfied with their education, Danon agreed that more money needed to be invested in east Jerusalem schools.
The Association for Civil Rights in Israel estimates that there is a shortage of at least 1,000 classrooms in east Jerusalem, and says that the Education Ministry and the municipality are not building classrooms fast enough to keep up with the rapidly growing population.
“There are problems. There aren’t enough schools for many hundreds of students,” Danon told The Jerusalem Post
. “And we know that where we don’t invest, the Palestinian Authority invests. There’s no vacuum. We’re very happy to invest, we’re looking to invest.”
Students at the school said their biggest problems were with the matriculation exams and getting to school in time for classes.
“There are a lot of girls who aren’t close by, and even though we have to be here at 8 a.m., they have to come through roadblocks and sometimes don’t make it here until 1 p.m.,” 12th-grader Safa Abu- Eideh told the Post
. “We want the buses to be here when school starts.”
Abu-Eideh, who is from Silwan and spoke fluent Hebrew, also expressed frustration that the school did not offer Israeli matriculation exams, which are necessary for applying to college. Though the high school is a government school overseen by the Education Ministry, the students take the “tawiji
,” the Palestinian equivalent of the bagrut (matriculation) exams.
“Next year, we want to go to university,” said Abu-Eideh. “We’re in 12th grade now and we want to work hard this year. But where can we go after this?”
Every year, a handful of graduates from the school start a year-long mechina
or preparation year, to take the matriculation exams and the
college-entrance psychometric exams, along with intense language
classes. But the difficulty of completing all those tests while
simultaneously learning Hebrew proves to be an insurmountable challenge
for many Arab students. Many of the students were satisfied with taking
and learning in Palestinian colleges, but said they wanted to be able to chose their educational track.
Danon said he would speak to the education minister about looking into increasing Hebrew requirements in Arab schools.
Tuesday was Danon’s last day as the head of the Committee for the Rights
of the Child. On Wednesday he moves to the Immigration and Absorption