Severe lack of classrooms found in E. Jerusalem schools

Existing facilities in Arab neighborhoods ‘deplorable,’ city councilor says he will turn to Gulf states for funding.

East Jerusalem 311 (photo credit: Melanie Lidman)
East Jerusalem 311
(photo credit: Melanie Lidman)
The Jerusalem municipality announced on Monday that the city will build an additional 42 classrooms in east Jerusalem in the coming school year, despite an estimated lack of approximately 1,000 classrooms.
Last year, the municipality built 39 classrooms in east Jerusalem.
The number does little to satisfy need, since the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan alone needs an additional 50 classrooms, said Silwan Parents’ Committee head Faris Haalas. Additionally, the existing classrooms are in deplorable and dangerous conditions that are not fit for children, he said.
Haalas took The Jerusalem Post on a tour of east Jerusalem classrooms two weeks before the school year is set to start for Arab students. Schoolyards were filled with trash and rubble, some of it due to rocks thrown in clashes between security forces and the neighborhood youth. Leaking pipes, exposed electricity wires, crumbling stairs, rusty fences, and exposed steel rods characterized many of the municipality schools’ courtyards.
Though school begins a week later in Arab schools due to Ramadan, it would be impossible for the city to adequately clean and renovate the eight municipality elementary schools in Silwan, said Haalas.
“We’re just a few days before the beginning of the year and no one is doing anything,” he said.
“The children that learn in these places are the lucky ones, since at least they have a place to learn, because there is not enough space,” said City Councilor Meir Margalit (Meretz), who now holds the east Jerusalem portfolio.
Margalit slammed the poor state of the schools in the eastern part of the city and added that he was putting a lot of pressure on the Education Ministry and the Jerusalem Municipality to properly fund east Jerusalem schools, and if that failed, he would turn to Arab states in the Gulf for additional funding. “We’ll see if [the city] has the courage to deny that funding in public,” he said.
The Association for Civil Rights in Israel won a case in the High Court of Justice over the severe shortage of classrooms in east Jerusalem earlier this year. According to the ruling, the municipality has five years to ensure that every student who wishes to enroll in a municipality school in east Jerusalem can do so.
Currently, more than 40,000 east Jerusalem students are forced to enroll in semi-private schools that the municipality characterizes as “unofficial but recognized.”
Tuition is around NIS 15,000 per year and the schools have more of a reputation as a business rather than an institution of learning, explained Ronit Sela, the spokeswoman for ACRI.
In five years’ time, the municipality must reimburse these semi-private schools for the tuition of any student who does not receive a place at a municipality school.
According to ACRI and Ir Amim, the two NGOs who have followed the lack of classrooms in east Jerusalem closely, the municipality has built 281 classrooms in east Jerusalem in the past decade, which has done little to close the gap due to the high birth rate in east Jerusalem and large percentage of youth.
A spokesman for the municipality said that the city was investing NIS 300 million in the design of an additional 299 classrooms in the eastern part of the city. He added that the city had also renovated more than 40 classrooms in the past year, the majority of which were in the Shuafat Refugee camp.
Jerusalem has the largest school system in the country with more than 250,000 students.
Approximately 100,000 of the students study in haredi institutions.
Ahead of the start of the 2011-2012 school year, the municipality announced an increase of more than 600 students enrolling in kindergarten in the city as opposed to last year, with 9,510 students entering kindergarten compared to 8,882.
The most popular names for girls entering first grade in both secular and religious public schools is Noa, according to municipality records. Uri is the most popular name for boys in secular schools and David is the most popular name for first grade boys in religious and haredi schools. Sarah is the most popular name for girls entering haredi schools. In the Arab sector, the most popular name for first graders is Malik for girls and Muhammed for boys.