Isawiya students strike over classroom deficit

Over 3,000 students in east J’lem neighborhood protest lack of 20 rooms for about 800 students.

Palestinian schoolchildren (R370) (photo credit: REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman)
Palestinian schoolchildren (R370)
(photo credit: REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman)
More than 3,000 students from the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Isawiya went on strike on Wednesday to protest a severe deficit of classrooms in the impoverished Arab neighborhood.
According to Darwaish Darwish, the community mukhtar, or elected leader, the neighborhood is missing 20 classrooms for an estimated 800 students.
Darwish said the community also desperately needs a girls’ high school and that 200 high school girls have nowhere to learn.
“Every year we have the same problem,” Darwish said on Wednesday, ahead of a meeting with municipality officials to try to stop the strike. “Last year the mayor came and said he would build. But we’ve been sending letters telling them we have a serious problem and that they need to build classrooms, and they don’t answer,” he said.
At the heart of the issue was approximately 100 students who needed to be placed in classrooms immediately, according to Isawiya Parents Committee member Muhammad Abu Hummus. He accused the municipality of “denying our children the fundamental right to education.”
A municipality spokeswoman said that at an emergency meeting on Wednesday afternoon with Darwish and the parents committee, the municipality found temporary places for the students at two municipality schools in Isawiya as well as municipal schools in neighboring Shuafat and Beit Hanina.
The spokeswoman added that the municipality would take charge of transporting the students to their new schools.
Abu Hummus said the students would return to school on Thursday, but if the 100 students were not immediately placed in new schools they will resume the strike on Sunday. The parents committee member also said the community is fighting with the municipality to get a local girls’ high school, because many parents are reticent to allow their daughters to travel to other neighborhoods for schooling and therefore keep them at home.
Abu Hummus also slammed the city for ignoring their schools for such a long time. “Forty years ago I learned in a bomb shelter,” he said. “Now they also want to send my children to the same bomb shelter? It’s a shame!” During the dedication of a special needs kindergarten in Beit Hanina on Monday, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat stressed that he is investing NIS 400 million to build 400 classrooms in east Jerusalem over the coming years.
Twelve of those classrooms are designated for Isawiya.
In a scathing report released this week, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel and Ir Amim said that despite municipal efforts, the gaps between east Jerusalem and west Jerusalem schools are staggering.
According to their estimates, east Jerusalem is missing an estimated 1,100 classrooms.
East Jerusalem schools also have one of the highest dropout rates in the country, at 40 percent of 12th-graders; have just one guidance counselor per 2,500 students; and have resources to provide free nursery school for only 5 percent of students between the ages of three and six, despite Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s promise of free schooling starting two years before kindergarten.
The report also highlighted the fact that 20,000 young people in east Jerusalem between the ages of six and 18 are not enrolled in any municipal school framework.