Hundreds of thousands of Palestinian children in East Jerusalem, Gaza, and the West Bank returned to school in late August, but Israeli demolitions, access restrictions, and under-funding continue to have a detrimental impact on their education.
In Area C of the occupied West Bank, which is under full Israeli control, three elementary schools were demolished and had their equipment confiscated by Israeli military forces in the past three weeks, just days before they were due to reopen for the new school year.
One of the EU-funded schools in Jub El-Thib, east of Bethlehem, had only been built three weeks before its demolition. Children turning up for the first day of school had no classrooms or shelter from the blazing sun.
Israeli authorities said the demolished structures lacked permits and were built illegally. Around 95 percent of Palestinian permit requests in Area C are rejected by Israeli occupation forces, which allow Palestinians to build on less than one percent of the area’s land.
At least fifty-six schools in Area C have pending demolition or stop-work orders, creating uncertainty for thousands of Palestinian children in some of the most isolated and impoverished parts of the occupied West Bank.
In East Jerusalem, chronic under-funding has created a shortage of around 2,000 classrooms in public schools serving Palestinians. In 2016, Israel’s municipal authorities only added forty-four new classrooms. As a result, overcrowding is a daily reality affecting the quality of education for Palestinian children in the Israeli-occupied eastern sector.
This, combined with understaffing and a lack of school counsellors, has led to a 12th grade dropout rate of forty percent for Palestinians in East Jerusalem. This is four times higher than Jewish-Israeli students in West Jerusalem.
In Gaza, over two-thirds of schools are forced to operate in double shifts to accommodate shortages, with more than 500,000 children returning this year to crowded classrooms. More than half the schools in the besieged enclave are run by UNRWA, the UN’s refugee agency for Palestinians. Thanks to an unprecedented energy crisis that has left the territory with only four to six hours of power per day, children have been forced to study by candlelight.
In 2016, the United Nations recorded more than 250 education-related violations by Israeli occupation forces in the West Bank, affecting some 30,000 students. Palestinian children face arbitrary delays at military checkpoints, settler violence, and military activity, including tear gas and sound grenades, around or near their places of education. For most, simply accessing school comes with substantial risk and the threat of violence.
“We must all stand up and be counted in defence of the right of Palestinian children to a sound education and in a safe environment,” Robert Piper, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for the occupied Palestinian territory, said last week. “International law is unambiguous here – children and classrooms enjoy unique protections that must be respected by all.”