Almost half the Palestinian children in East Jerusalem are forced to attend private or unofficial schools because of a lack of classroom facilities provided by the Israeli authorities, according to a new report.
Six per cent of Palestinian children are not enrolled in school at all, says Failed Grade, a report published today by the Association of Civil Rights in Israel and Ir Amim, a Jerusalem-based rights organisation.
It estimates that East Jerusalem schools are short of around 1,000 classrooms, and says that only 39 were built in the last academic year. "The continuing neglect of the Arab education system in Jerusalem has caused a severe shortage of classrooms. The result is that in the 2010-11 school year the families of thousands of Palestinian children will have to pay large sums of money to get the education they should have been getting for free," it said.
Alternative education is provided by Islamic organisations, churches and profit-making bodies. Almost 8% of Palestinian children attend schools funded by Islamic authorities. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency also runs schools for the children of refugees.
In May 2001 Israel's high court ruled that the Israeli education ministry and the municipality of Jerusalem were obliged to provide education for every Palestinian child who is a resident of the city. Since then there have been repeated legal petitions concerning the provision of schooling for Palestinian children but, according to the report, the authorities "did not seriously confront the fundamental problems of the system".
In a Knesset debate this year, representative Jamal Zahalka claimed that educational provision for Palestinian children in East Jerusalem was worse than anywhere in the Palestinian territories, including Gaza, or in refugee camps in Lebanon, Jordan and Syria.
The Jerusalem municipality runs classes in the eastern sector of the city in unsuitable rented buildings because of a shortage of purpose-built schools, according to the report. "Rooms are small and crowded and often unventilated," it says. "These rented buildings do not have integrated classrooms, teachers' rooms, libraries or laboratories, nor do they have playgrounds." Many have inadequate toilet facilities.
Many Palestinian children are forced to travel long distances to school. The report quotes Jamal Khalil, who lives in the Shuafat refugee camp and whose 10-year-old son spends four hours each day travelling to and from school, crossing two checkpoints at a monthly cost of 500 shekels (£85). Another son does a three-hour round trip to a different school.
The crisis is resulting in low academic performance and a high drop-out level among a population with an "alarming" poverty rate, according to the report. This can be seen in the "dozens of high-school-age Palestinian boys working in the markets and the warehouses ... to the dozens of grade school-age children scrambling between the cars at some of the city's main intersections selling various goods to drivers."
According to the Jerusalem municipality education budget for 2008-9, an average of 2,372 shekels (£400) was spent on each child in the Jewish elementary school system, compared with 577 shekels on each child in the Arab elementary system.
The drop-out rate for Palestinian school students in East Jerusalem is 50%, compared with 11.8% for Jewish students.