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Palestinian children gather at Jerusalem municipality to protest school closure

March 6, 2017 6:45 P.M. (Updated: March 7, 2017 3:35 P.M.)
JERUSALEM (Ma'an) -- After Israeli authorities shut down their school more than two weeks ago over alleged “incitement” in its study materials, students of al-Nukhba -- a private elementary school in the occupied East Jerusalem town of Sur Bahir -- gathered on Monday in the courtyard of Israel’s Jerusalem municipality to attend class and protest the decision to close the school.

Children traveled from Sur Bahir in the morning to the municipality building, and held class sitting in circles on the ground.

The students raised posters with slogans written in Arabic, English, and Hebrew, such as: “al-Nukhba will not be shut down,” and “We have a right to learn.”

School director Luay Bkeirat said that “intensive talks” have been ongoing within the school’s administration, which has contacted different entities in an attempt to transfer the 230 children to other schools, but both the students and their families have refused all alternatives.

The administration, he added, was undertaking all possible legal procedures to reopen the school. The school was opened last year and gained a temporary operating license from the Jerusalem municipality, and that the license was revoked in November for unknown reasons.

According to the Wadi Hilweh Information Center, Israeli Education Ministry officials visited al-Nukhba at the beginning of the school year to observe the curriculum, students, teachers, and employees, “and everything seemed positive.”

The school’s administration was surprised by the ministry’s decision issued at the end of October to revoke the school’s license and shut it down completely.

According to Bkeirat, an appeal submitted to the district’s court was rejected, and another appeal submitted to the Israeli Supreme Court was rejected as well, when the judge also ratified the closure.

The school is currently waiting for a session to be held at the Ministry of Education to discuss another appeal, which contests in particular the lack of transparency in the Israeli decision to close the school, as the precise justification for the move has remained unclear. Bkeirat said Monday that the ministry has yet to discuss the appeal.

According to Israeli media, the school was shut down for being a “Hamas front,” following a months-long joint probe by Israel’s Education Ministry, Jerusalem police, and Israeli intelligence, the Shin Bet.

Israeli authorities from the Ministry of Education reportedly claimed the school was established by Hamas with the aim of teaching “content that undermines the sovereignty of Israel,” and that the school’s aims were “consistent with the ideology of the terror organization, which calls for the destruction of Israel.”

The school’s director highlighted that a protest will be held outside of the Israeli prime minister’s residence to urge him to reopen the school.

Head of the union of parents' committees in the occupied East Jerusalem Ziyad al-Shamali compared the closure of al-Nukhba (which means “the elite” in Arabic), to the Palestinian Nakba of 1948 and Naksa of 1967.

"After Israeli authorities displaced Palestinians during the Nakba and the Naksa, now comes the (decision to) close a school in Jerusalem and displace a group of students, depriving them of attending their school on baseless pretexts."

Al-Shamali said he believed the move was aimed to "fight education in East Jerusalem and make the Palestinian people ignorant."

Al-Nukhba parents committee head Ahmad Hamada told Ma'an, "These pupils are (young and innocent) like roses and they have no idea what terrorism is -- they don't even understand why their school has been closed."

Since the school was closed on Feb. 23, parents have organized a series of actions, including a street protest last Sunday, and a demonstration Thursday in the center of Sur Bahir.

In a video published Sunday by Wadi Hilweh Information Center, one student said he believed that “(Israeli authorities) want to close our school so we won’t learn and be ignorant,” with another boy saying, “I love this school. They closed it because it is a good one.”

Israeli Jews and Palestinians study in separate school systems in occupied East Jerusalem, with the Palestinian schools run by either Israel’s Jerusalem municipality, the Islamic Waqf and administered by the Palestinian Ministry of Education, private institutions, or UNRWA, the UN agency responsible for Palestinian refugees.

According to the Palestinian Ministry of Education, Palestinian children suffer from routine Israeli interference and political pressure to replace Palestinian curricula with an Israeli one in occupied East Jerusalem, where full Israeli military and civil control deprives students from proper and secure educational services.

A 2016 report by Israeli daily Haaretz also said that Palestinian schools in occupied East Jerusalem received less than half the funds that the Jerusalem municipality transferred to Jewish schools in West Jerusalem.

Though Sur Bahir lies beyond the periphery of occupied East Jerusalem, the town remained under full Israeli security and civil control within Israel’s Jerusalem municipality after the territory was illegally annexed in 1967.

A 2011 report by the Applied Research Institute - Jerusalem (ARIJ) said that due to a lack of some levels of education in Sur Bahir, many students were forced to attend schools in neighboring villages.

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