The Education Ministry and the Jerusalem Municipality have five years to provide
enough classroom space to provide all children living in east Jerusalem access
to state schools, the High Court of Justice ruled on Sunday.
If they fail
to do so by then, they will have to pay for the tuition of all kindergarten,
primary or secondary pupils who have to study in recognized but unofficial or
private schools by default.
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East Jerusalem 1,000 classrooms short
The decision was made in response to a 2008
petition filed by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel on behalf of five
Arab children, residents of east Jerusalem, who wanted to attend public schools
but were turned away due to lack of classroom space.
information brought before the court by the Jerusalem Education Authority,
roughly 40,000 students, half of the Arab school-age population in east
Jerusalem, do not attend state schools and are registered in either recognized
but unofficial or private schools, or are not registered at
Recognized but unofficial schools in east Jerusalem are private
schools which are recognized by the state and supervised by the Education
Ministry. They also teach the core curriculum required by the ministry of
education. Private schools there do not have permits, are not supervised by the
ministry, and are essentially illegal.
The shortage of classrooms in east
Jerusalem state schools is a result of long-term neglect and insufficient
funding by the state and city authorities, the justices said.
to the right of the children of east Jerusalem to equal access to education due
to insufficient provision of free education to those entitled does not meet the
standard of administrative and constitutional reasonability,” Justice Ayala
Procaccia wrote in her ruling.
“The public authorities failed to present
serious arguments to explain or excuse their failure to provide free formal
education to all who ask for it.”
Procaccia added that the failure of the
authorities to provide access to statefinanced education to all who were
entitled and wanted it violated the Basic Law: Human Dignity and
“This injury to a wide section of the population who are subject
to Israeli law, is not in keeping with the values of a democratic country, does
not serve any worthy purpose and is disproportionate according to any acceptable
threshold,” Procaccia wrote.
She acknowledged that building the missing
classrooms would be a lengthy process. In the meantime, the authorities should
considering running double shifts in schools, setting up mobile classrooms or
renting more buildings as a temporary solution.
The court granted the
state and municipal authorities five years to see if such measures would provide
enough room for any pupil who wished to study without charge in a state-run
If the problem was not solved in five years from the day of the
court’s ruling, the authorities would have to prepare to subsidize the students’
education in recognized but unofficial schools.
Procaccia emphasized, would not apply to pupils studying in private
“The assumption is that the authorities will act determinedly
and consistently to close the gaps from year to year, until none remains within
five years. If after this time period there will be no full solution found for
those interested in attending state schools, the authorities will have to turn
to non-formal schools and arrange payment for the remaining children to attend
them,” Procaccia wrote.
the high cost of the proposed remedies, Justice Yoram Danziger quoted Harvard
University president Derek Bok, who said, “If you think education is expensive,
High Court President Dorit Beinish slammed the city and
Education Ministry for taking too long to build the needed classrooms, despite
the efforts that have been made in recent years to close the gaps, saying
progress had been too slow.
“The progress was too slow, even when
considering the financial and logistical difficulties and the special
circumstances present in east Jerusalem.,” wrote Beinish.
“Either way the
outcome is that many children in east Jerusalem are left without appropriate
educational facilities. This outcome is unacceptable. The
importance of the right to education demands the enlistment of all the relevant
bodies to bring the problem to a quick and efficient solution.”
Tali Nir, who represented the children, said, “The High Court determined today
in an undeniable fashion that free, mandatory education is not a catchphrase,
but a commitment that the state owes all its students – including the children
of east Jerusalem.
“The Education and Finance ministries as well as the
Jerusalem Municipality will now do what they should have done a long time ago:
invest budgets and efforts into turning the longterm neglect of the east
Jerusalem education system into a thing of the past. After so many years of
failure, the authorities ought to start work tomorrow morning towards removing
the financial burden their failure placed on thousands of families tomorrow,”
The municipality issued the following statement in response to
the ruling: “The municipality is aware of the gaps and needs in the east of the
city, which were created by decades of ongoing neglect. As the court indicated,
since the beginning of the current mayoral term, there have been many changes in
the east, investments were substantially increased and widespread efforts are
under way to continue the trend.
“Over the last two years 200 new classes
were opened in new schools in the east of the city. The municipality is
currently advancing the construction of 248 additional classrooms and the
projects are now in the planning and implementation phase...
shortage in classrooms is primarily due to a shortage of available land for
educational institutions in the city plans. Under the special circumstances that
exist, the city is offering solutions by placing portable buildings, renting and
converting existing buildings and constructing new ones.
“Today it is
estimated that there is a shortage of 700 classrooms, for which different
replacements have been found until construction is completed,” the municipal