HCJ: Authorities Have 5 Years to Provide Public Education in East Jerusalem

EJ-children-at-court-hearing-by-Mirah-Curzer

On February 6, the High Court of Justice ruled in ACRI’s favor in a petition concerning the failure of the authorities to provide free public education for children in East Jerusalem. A fulfillment of this ruling would bring about a cross-the-board improvement in the continued dire state of education for Palestinian children in Jerusalem.

High Court President Dorit Beinish slammed the Jerusalem Municipality, the Education Ministry and the Treasury for taking too long to build the much-needed classrooms: “The progress was too slow, even when considering the financial and logistical difficulties and the special circumstances present in East Jerusalem.”, wrote Beinish. “The outcome is that many children in East Jerusalem are left without appropriate educational facilities. This outcome is unacceptable. The importance of the right to education demands the enlistment of all the relevant bodies to bring the problem to a quick and efficient solution”.

The landmark decision was made in response to a 2008 petition filed by the ACRI Attorney Tali Nir on behalf of five Palestinian families from East Jerusalem who attempted to register their children to public schools but were turned away due to lack of classroom space. Like thousands of families in East Jerusalem, they sent their children to schools where tuition is high and can reach thousands of shekels annually – defying the legal requirement of free public education.

Today, roughly 40,000 students, half of the Palestinian school-age population in East Jerusalem, are registered in either recognized but unofficial schools or private schools. More than 5,000 are not registered in any school.

The shortage of classrooms in East Jerusalem state schools is a result of long-term neglect and insufficient funding by the state and city authorities. Since 2000 the courts have heard several petitions pertaining to the dire state of education in East Jerusalem. These prolonged legal processes resulted in some improvement but did not bring a fundamental change, leaving the classrooms shortage at over 1000 for more than a decade.

“The harm to the right of the children of East Jerusalem to equal access to education due to insufficient provision of free education to those entitled does not meet the standard of administrative and constitutional reasonability,” Justice Ayala Procaccia wrote in her ruling. “The public authorities failed to present serious arguments to explain or excuse their failure to provide free formal education to all who ask for it.”

Procaccia added that the failure of the authorities to provide access to public education to all who were entitled and wanted it violated the Basic Law: Human Dignity and Freedom.

“This injury to a wide section of the population who are subject to Israeli law, is not in keeping with the values of a democratic country, does not serve any worthy purpose and is disproportionate according to any acceptable threshold,” Procaccia wrote.

She suggested that the authorities set up a new working team of experts from all the relevant offices that would oversee the process, including setting a time frame and allocating the budgets. The justice acknowledged that building the missing classrooms would be a lengthy process and said that in the meantime, the authorities should consider running double shifts in schools, setting up mobile classrooms or renting more buildings as a temporary solution.

Regarding the high cost of the proposed remedies, Justice Yoram Danziger quoted Harvard University president Derek Bok, who said, “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance”.

ACRI’s Tali Nir, who represented the children, said after the ruling: “The High Court determined today in an undeniable fashion that free, mandatory education is not a catchphrase, but a commitment that the state owes all its students – including the children of East Jerusalem.

“I hope the authorities will finally do what they should have done a long time ago: invest budgets and efforts into turning the long-term neglect of the East Jerusalem education system into a thing of the past. After so many years of failure, the authorities ought to start working tomorrow morning towards removing the financial burden their failure placed on thousands of families”.

To download “Failed Grade”: A report by ACRI and Ir Amim on the state of education in East Jerusalem:

http://www.acri.org.il/pdf/EJeducation2010en.pdf

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Categories: East Jerusalem, Child Rights, Provision of Services, Right to Education, Social and Economic Rights, The Right to Education, The Right to Equality

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