Marginalizing Palestinians in Historic Palestine (Israel) Through Education
Marginalizing Palestinians in Historic Palestine (Israel) Through Education
- Ilham NasserIlham NasserInternational Institute of Islamic Thought
- and Mohammed Abu-NimerMohammed Abu-NimerDirector, Peacebuilding and Development Institute, American University
The article is an analysis of the Palestinian Arab education system, in particular the curriculum, and ways it was dealt with after the Nakba (Catastrophe) and the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948. The relevant Israeli government policies that impacted the Palestinian minority who remained in historic Palestine are introduced. The authors delve into methods in which the Israeli state managed, and is still managing, the education of this national minority within a Zionist ideological framework embedded with Jewish religious and national values and themes. We describe the mechanisms through which Israel maintains a tight grip on the Palestinian minority through a security management apparatus employed in the education system to monitor teachers’ employment and staffing of those who are friendly and submissive to the policies of the government. Evidence for the continuous attempts to erase the Palestinian national and cultural identity through the curriculum, and textbooks is provided in content such as history, civics, and Arabic language. The authors address the initiatives taken by the Palestinian minority allies to react, resist, and organize. These include efforts to claim back the education space, as in the case of parents offering alternative schooling and nongovernmental entities and initiatives with a purpose of moving the community into a Palestinian self-steering education system. Recommendations on steps and initiatives to elevate the educational experiences and academic attainment of the next generations of Palestinian youth are provided, without denying them their right to learn their national and cultural heritage.
- Curriculum and Pedagogy
- Education, Cultures, and Ethnicities
- Educational Politics and Policy
The old will die and the younger will forget (Ben- Gurion in May 1948)1
Many would claim that the educational issues faced by the Palestinian minority in 1948 historic Palestine are typical to other minorities around the globe. This is true to some extent; the reality is that this minority, like other Indigenous groups, has a complex internal and external conflict environment. For example, it belongs to a majority that is larger than the Israeli state and due to the Israeli Arab conflict, it was in total isolation from the Arab and Muslim worlds between 1948 and 1967. For 29 years, members of this minority were not able to communicate or interact with Palestinians in the West Bank or in the remaining Arab countries. Obviously, the special religious status of this land for all three Abrahamic religions makes it a unique case for minority–majority politics and relations. The statement made by the first prime minister of Israel still reflects the government’s approach to the Palestinian people in general and those who remained in Israel after the Nakba in 1948 (Catastrophe) and displacement of most of the Palestinian natives of the land.2 In fact, the first half of this statement by Ben-Gurion reiterates his strong belief that they should not allow any of the Palestinians to return after 1948.
The Zionist movement propaganda introduced and spread the slogan “a land without people for a people without a land,” to justify the Jewish militia campaigns to take over Palestine, with the help of the British mandate and support of the United States and other countries. The Palestinian Nakba resulted in the destruction of more than 450 villages and the displacement of the whole population as refugees in the West Bank, Gaza, and neighboring Arab countries. Those who remained were a little more than 150,000 and were immediately placed under military rule until 1966, which restricted their daily movement in and out of their villages and towns. Overnight, relatives, friends, and neighbors of many members of this minority became refugees and lost contact with them. Today, this population constitutes 21.1% of the total population (without Jerusalem, which holds a special status despite the annexation to Israel in the early 1980s) which is close to 1,956,000 people who are holders of Israeli citizenships (Central Bureau of Statistics, 2020). Declared by its founders as a Jewish ethnic democracy, the state of Israel did not regard the Palestinians as equal citizens; on the contrary, they placed the minority under military administration till the old dies and the young forgets as Ben- Gurion had hoped. Even in the years after the removal of this military administration, state laws remained discriminatory and prohibited the full integration of Palestinians as equal citizens especially that the two populations remain segregated (Kretzmer & Halabi, 1987).
These policies and laws of discrimination affected and intentionally marginalized the Arab education system too (see graphs on domination and discrimination in Figures 1 and 2).3 However, there have been several attempts to respond to challenges in the Arab education system (for example after the Oslo accord in 1993), to remedy the deteriorating conditions in the Palestinian schools, and to improve educational attainment. Nevertheless, the Arab education sector achievements and status remain much lower when compared to Jewish schools. In fact, Israel ranks lowest on minority students’ achievement among countries who have ethnic minorities among them (Israel Drops in International Ranking for Student Achievement in Math and Science). Like other minority groups in conflict areas and Western countries such as the United States, governments’ discriminatory policies, such as biased curriculum, contribute to higher rate of school dropout and alienation (Johnston-Goodstar & VeLure Roholt, 2017).
The Israeli governments’ formal policies, which are designed to treat this population as a group of religious minorities rather than an ethnic or national one, has been consistent since the establishment of the state (Sabin, 2004). This approach may have shifted a little based on security and intelligence reports and pressure from within and abroad to allow more freedom to Palestinians to express their national identity and govern their schools. Prior to the Israeli expansion and the occupation of the rest of Palestine, in 1967, Palestinian education in the 1950s and 1960s was subject to the Jordanian educational system in the West Bank and the Egyptian in Gaza (Abu-Duhou, 1996). In the Palestinian areas under a military administrative system within the borders of Israel, the state excluded Palestinians from educational programs and intentionally and consistently used education as a control mechanism to keep them in check (Mar’i, 1978). Two different approaches surfaced regarding how to educate this population in the early 1950s: (a) to ignore them and hope they will disappear and (b) observe and control them through a security lens and implement policies that emphasize the Jewish rights to the land and the aspirations of its people to settle in Palestine (Lustick, 1980; HRW Report – A Threshold Crossed). Since the first approach did not work, it became clear that education was and is still utilized as a mechanism to keep control of the Indigenous people and prevent them from organizing toward civic and educational autonomy, a right articulated by international agencies and the United Nations as documented by Agbaria et al. (2014).
The minority control system is not new to Israel, it has proven to be successful in some other cases where education was utilized to erase the national identity of Indigenous groups such as the Indigenous peoples of the United States and Canada, among other examples (Emery, 2012; Ugwuegbula, 2020). In fact, following a supreme court decision in 2022, the Canadian government issued an order to compensate about 200,000 First Nations children and their families for taking them away from their families and communities, placing them in state institutions (such as residential schools), as well as denying them medical care and social services because of their Indigenous identity (Lindeman, 2022).
Friere’s work in Latin America, among others, on empowering the oppressed reminds us of the goals of education and ways these are used to oppress, marginalize, and maintain the status quo (Freire, 1973). This article highlights practices and policies aimed at controlling the Palestinians and goes further to document ways this community reacts and organizes to take some control over their children’s education. Taking a Freirian approach that is proactive, possible directions to constructively move forward before it is too late are offered. Even though Palestinians were not taken from their families, the experience of the Nakba in 1948 and onward and the attempts to ethnically cleanse the Palestinians, where some children were displaced or left behind (because of the destruction of 450 villages), is similar in many ways to the Indigenous peoples of North America. The main difference between these cases and the Palestinian is that there are national, historic, and religious connections between this community and the rest of the Palestinians as well as the Arab and Muslim world (; Pappe, 2011).
According to scholars examining the policies of the Israeli governments over the years toward the Palestinian minority (Abu-Saad, 2004; Lustick, 1980; Sa’di, 2014), three strategies of marginalization and erosion were followed since 1948:
Segregation (segmentation) and keeping the Palestinian population concentrations separate from the rest of the country, i.e., early Jewish settlements.
Creating a total dependency on the Jewish majority and its economic infrastructure through, for example, the confiscation of farmlands—the main source of life for Palestinians—through Jewish agencies rather than just the government. Since 1948, about 80% of the lands that were confiscated, including those around Palestinian cities and villages, are managed by the Jewish National Fund and its affiliates (Yiftachel, 1999) as a method to prevent Palestinians from fighting the government through legal channels.
Approaching the community through a co-option policy of benefiting the “good Arabs,” including potential leaders, and maintaining an effective surveillance system through them and the Unit for Arab Education led by Jewish internal security forces in the Ministry of Education. This, in addition to a lack of investment in infrastructure, leaves the education of the next generation in a system that is overcrowded, lacks resources, and is mismanaged or managed by corrupt collaborators with the Israeli security apparatus (Abu-Saad, 2004, 2006a). Recent studies have indicated a shortage of 4,500 classrooms, and only 57% of Arab schools have libraries compared to 83% of Jewish schools (Halabi, 2016; Sikkuy, 2014). Since the focus here is on education and not infrastructure, economic and social resources, or services, delving into the segregation and co-optation methods followed by the state of Israel for over 70 years is beyond the scope of this article despite the importance of economic development and social services to education.
Education as a Surveillance Mechanism
The transition from the pre-Nakba Palestine controlled by the British mandate into a militarized new entity was shocking and traumatic to the Palestinians. In a few months, they went from being a majority into a minority because some Palestinians were killed, forced to leave, or, believing that the conditions were temporary, ultimately become refugees who could not return; even several generations later, some families in neighboring countries still hold the keys to their homes in Palestine (Masalha, 2008). This by itself was a major event in the history of the Palestinians as a national and ethnic group that they are prevented from learning about by an Israeli law and a court order (Kretchmer & Halabi, 1987). Since the beginning of the Arab education policies, two problematic issues emerged and were ignored for few years. One is the need to immediately control the messages regarding the legitimacy of Palestinians to see themselves as an ethnic group and a national minority, and second, is spreading the discourse about the biblical rights of Jews to the land. In the early 1950s, the governments of Israel experimented for few years until the translation of Hebrew textbooks into Arabic and the hiring of those who support the state were put in place. All along, the security and surveillance policies were at the heart of any experimentation that took place in education (Sadi, 2014). The military administration imposed on this minority officially ended right before the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza in 1967 and by then, a new curriculum and new teachers were hired in the so-called Arab sector (see graphs on Palestinian populations in different locations in Appendix A).
The education system, until today, remains heavy on security clearances in hiring of teachers and supervisors and is still under the management of a Jewish official heading the Arab education office in the Ministry of Education. Although, textbooks were translated into Arabic, Hebrew became a mandated second language in Arab schools and English became a foreign one. Surveillance was the main objective of education, especially of teachers who were supposed to be apolitical. This meant that they should not criticize the government but be either silent or explicitly endorse the policies of the current ruling political parties and governments. This continues today as an agenda of education policies toward the Palestinians (Agbaria et al., 2014). The fact that attempts were made to change this over the years did not solve the issue of surveillance and continuous attempts to use teachers, pupils, and school leaders (in government and private schools) as security informants for the Israeli security agencies.
Another method of surveillance was the hiring of Jewish teachers who immigrated from Arab countries to work in Arab schools early on because they were natural collaborators and disseminators of the Zionist ideology messaging. Of course, all upper leadership of the education system remains in the hands of Jewish officials until today. The original idea in the sixties was to keep the system as one, especially in mixed cities, to maintain Israeli control and a unified curriculum for all mixed schools, hoping that this minority will somehow assimilate as expressed by Ben- Gurion in 1948. This included teacher preparation colleges that were by design maintained mixed according to the education plans (by Hushi in 1960). As for university students, in 1962 there were less than 80 Palestinian students in Israeli universities (Sa’di, 2014). The same surveillance system existed in universities and students were often threatened if found to be involved in political activities.
The beginning and end of early military control was marked by the occupation of the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem and the annexation of both sides of the city to Israeli control in 1980. This is significant to the Palestinian minority because it not only maintained their status as second-class citizens but made it clear to them that their aspiration for an Arab led resolution of their situation diminished with the occupation of 1967. Within this political framework, the 1976 Land Day on March 31 marked the early, fully nonviolent organized resistance of this population and their reaction to the confiscation of their lands, which was done under Israeli laws and security reasons as well as the Jewish National Fund. Schools were closed and a call for a general strike was issued. Since then, Land Day is celebrated or commemorated in all Palestinian territories inside 48 and outside (in the occupied territories and the diaspora). On Land Day in 1976, Israeli snipers killed six young demonstrators with live ammunition and wounded dozens of others, ignoring any international laws or the fact that these were citizens of Israel. A similarly violent military and police campaign was repeated in 2000 when 13 young Palestinian citizens of Israel were killed by Israeli forces, denying this group the right to protest peacefully (Peled, 2007).
Israeli governments maintained the status quo and continued to keep tight control over the education system through security checks on teachers, administrators, and parents while keeping those who speak up away from schools (Sa’di, 2014). Universities continued to be selective about students they accepted and kept a tight hand on Arab student committees and their activities. During the first intifada (uprising) in 1987, Palestinians stood in solidarity with their people but did not actively participate in the daily confrontations with the Israeli military. The closure of schools and universities in the Occupied Territories meant that those who crossed to seek education must go back to their towns in Israel. In 1993, the Oslo accords put the last nail in the Palestinian national aspirations for self-determination as Oslo excluded the 1948 Palestinians from any future resolution. The Oslo accords determined the fate of this population and created a shift in the thinking of some in the leadership, such as the Israeli Progressive Front, that the Palestinian minority’s interest is tied to the Israeli state and this population should use all available legal channels to protect its interests (Ghanem & Mustafa, 2018).
Control Through the Curriculum
Local scholars from within the academy in Israel reviewed and analyzed the curriculum from the early years of the state (Abu-Saad, 2019). They reiterated the state policy and the declared and hidden goals of educating the Arab student to learn a great deal of information on the history of the Jewish people and their right to the land (see Appendix B for examples). This means to learn none or much less about their Arab and Muslim history and events and, if they do, it should be framed within the Zionist ideological framework. In the examples provided, the map in a history book shows Israel and its neighbors and the Palestinians do not exist at all. This right and invisibility of Palestinians is also repeated in the second example where the Arab student learns about the unique link of Jews to this land and their thousands of years of connections.
As mentioned earlier, by 1971, 128 schoolbooks were translated from Hebrew to Arabic, so the Arab students would get the same Zionist ideology (main messages included: Jewish people exclusive rights over the land; exclusive historic link of Jewish people to the land; Israel is the home of Jewish people; Arab countries and people are enemy of the state and they aim to destroy the state of Israel; Israel is the only democracy in the region and it treats its Arab population fairly; Sa’di, 2014). Controlling who teaches subjects such as history, language, and civics was a priority (Halabi, 2021). This was complimented by TV and radio programming targeting this population. In addition, until today, the civic education curriculum and history textbooks are the main tools that Israel uses to control and confuse. As illustrated in the examples, the textbooks only tell the Zionist narrative and exclude any Palestinian narrative or stories. Analysis of the textbooks conducted by several scholars provides evidence for this (see Agbaria & Pade, 2016; Halabi, 2021). It is made very clear that Israel utilizes education and the curriculum to serve the majority’s domination and political national Jewish ideology and create and spread a new collective narrative to replace the Palestinian minority national narrative, a practice that is widespread in many majority-minority dynamics (Simmons & Die, 2012).
History was and still is taught with a focus on the Jewish experiences in various periods of history, while the Palestinian Arab history is marginalized or totally absent from the curriculum. In geography (Khamaisi, 2008) sees a dominance of the avoidance and erasure policy in the textbooks. Examples range from avoiding naming some areas or naming the borders of Israel or using the biblical terms to rename Palestinian territories and cities (Hebron is Jihuda’s desert). Further, in the textbooks, there is no mention of the 1948 Nakba, nor the 450 villages destroyed by Israel in 1948 and causing many in the community to become internally displaced, nor even a mention of historic maps of historic Palestine. On the contrary, 1948 is presented as a war of liberation and celebration of the creation of the Jewish State (Peled-Elhanan, 2013).
This is also true in the Arabic language curriculum which aims to empty the Arab education system from its national and ideological identities and components (Al-Haj, 2012). This tight control and erasure of the youth’s sense of identity and their belonging to their land was effective for a while, especially in the first decade, but at the same time it sparked a resistance movement that intensified in the last few decades with the repeated calls on the government to reform the Arab education system and revise the curriculum. Early on, in the standards for learning, the revised civic education curriculum specifically referred to Israel, for the first time, as a Jewish and democratic country and the existence of minorities within its borders (usually religious minorities and not a national minority). The first standard for Arab schools was to strengthen the belonging and allegiance to the state of Israel. There is no mention of the connections between Palestinians in Israel and others in the West Bank and Gaza or other groups in the diaspora. Halabi (2021) states that
Control of the Arab education system is reflected in the educational programs and goals involving questions of identity. Here the resources are invested in constructing a student who identifies with the Jewish state and its goals—a student who is obedient and alienated from his/her Palestinian Arab identity. (p. 6)
The attempt to blur Palestinian identity in the curriculum, especially textbooks, was part of the general system of control imposed by the government over this Palestinian minority. Thus, it contributed to creating a sense of confusion regarding the definition of the national identity of this minority. For example, the Israeli government formally labeled and named this Palestinian community as Israeli Arabs or Arab Israelis and this is how students were taught in school to refer to themselves. Ministry of Education officials refused to accept other ways of self-definitions such as Palestinian Arabs or Palestinians (Ghanem & Khatib, 2017).
The curriculum functioned mainly as a mechanism to institute the separation of the Palestinian national minority as a cultural and religious group of minorities; the most outrageous example of this is the creation of a separate curriculum for the Druze minority, which is treated as a sect of Islam in neighboring Arab countries (Halabi, 2018, 2021). Israel created the so-called Druze curriculum and institutionalized it in villages where Druze were a majority. Many of the Christians were already receiving their education in Christian missionary schools although in addition to religious education they had to follow the same curriculum for Arab schools, which was different from the Druze (Halabi, 2018). The Palestinian students in public schools do not have religious education classes and are prevented from learning about Islam and Christianity in their public schools, while Jewish religious schools benefit from special religious education arrangements and a generous allocation of resources. In fact, Arab students are required to spend many more class hours on Hebrew and Jewish culture and history than they spend on Arabic literature or history. Abu-Saad (2004) and others concluded that the goal of this policy was to require students to “develop identification with Jewish values and further Zionist aspirations at the expense of the development of their own national awareness and sense of belonging to their own people” (p. 110). The research of Apple (2013) and Al-Haj (2012) are also supportive of this claim regarding the curriculum and its goal to serve the ideology of the group in power.
In an exclusive ethnic majority system, one may think that it is legitimate for the majority to focus on promoting their own narrative, but the danger in such a policy is that it negates and contradicts the assumption of Israel being a democratic state and feeds the Jewish exclusivist nature of the state. This tension between democratic and Jewish has been pointed out by several political leaders who warned that the state is losing its democratic foundation and institutions by virtue of discriminating, denying the Palestinians’ history, and not acknowledging the harm done to its minority (Ravid, 2016). However, as progressive educators such as Shor and Freire (1987) assert, it is naïve to think that ruling majorities holding on to power will do it differently. They add that it is up to the minority to demand its power back through active and intentional education and dialogue.
As in other sectors of Palestinian’s lives that suffer from discrimination and lack of adequate resources, the curriculum in civic education and history focuses more on the Jewish state and less on its being a democratic one (Abu-Saad, 2006b). In a study conducted by Halabi (2021), Arab civic education teachers were aware of how the textbooks’ narrative aimed to serve the establishment, but they still learned out of fear for their jobs and careers (at least some of them). The education supervisors in this case have a tight hand on teachers and they can easily dismiss them as they act on behalf of the state education machine. There have been many cases of teachers who were dismissed and sanctioned by the ministry for expressing their political views or not abiding the Ministry’s political ideology (Skop, 2013). Those who do not follow the textbook word by word try to carefully supplement the students’ learning with additional materials that counter the official narrative, thereby risking losing their jobs. In some cases, as expressed by teachers in Halabi’s study and others, the students demand that, and they do not buy the story that Israel wants them to believe. The release of documents from the Israeli archives testifies to these polices of segregation, surveillance, and manufactured curricula (Abu-Saad, 2006b;). For example, Abu-Saad (2014) published lists released by the ministry of who is “good” and “bad” to employ as an educator. Although education was part of the control system imposed on the Palestinian minority in Israel, political, civic and community activists proactively engaged in initiatives to resist and advocate for improving Palestinian students’ access to better education opportunities.
Community Initiatives and Responses
The Israeli policy of separation, cooptation, and segmentation, and the colonial expansion through occupation of about four million additional Palestinians, resulted in shifting the Palestinians’ attention and priorities inward to survival and de facto separating them from their families in the Occupied Territories and the diaspora. Community activists and political organizers began to look for ways to influence the system from within, which resulted in several failed initiatives to improve the education sector among the Palestinians. The main concern of the leadership became to advocate for a meaningful curriculum, to hire based on qualifications, and include the Palestinian voices in the educational decision-making, at least. Unfortunately, despite all the effort, little has been accomplished on all these demands and many of these initiatives did not go far (Magadley et al., 2019).
The Arab student is, by default, in the most disadvantaged position because of the historic and continued policy of marginalization and discrimination. This is mostly expressed in the achievement gaps when compared to Jewish students, such as gaps in scores on matriculation exams and university entry exams and enrollment. Many scholars point to the lack of transparency in Israeli government policies for allocation of funds and resources when comparing Jewish and Palestinian systems. Jabareen and Agbaria (2010) called on the “Ministry of Education to publish a statistical report each fiscal year on specific national education budget allocations made with a comparison between the Jewish and Arab education systems” (p. 8). Multiple government committees established over the years to improve the “Arab sector’s education system” pointed out the existence of gaps, but their recommendations have mostly not been implemented (Abu-Asbah, 2007; Agbaria, 2015; Saban, 2002). Some of the Palestinian Arab youth, along with their parents, resisted the marginalization and discrimination in the curriculum and the lack of improvement in education conditions and achievement and as a result utilized community activism to advocate and find solutions (Al-Essa, 2019). The lack of improvement inspired parents and community activists to search for alternative education, such as establishing new private schooling (secular as opposed to missionary private schools that are partially subsidized by the Ministry of Education). They, of course, were faced with hurdles and rejections from government agencies. Two successful schools have been operating despite all odds in Haifa and Nazareth cities. The school in Haifa fought in courts for its right to exist (“Hewar—The Arab Association for Alternative Education”). In addition, many of the private schools encouraged or at least did not prevent students and some teachers from engaging in informal activities and programs to raise their political awareness and enhance their national pride.
The Palestinian community also resisted the continuous educational deprivation of their national identity through engaging in citizenship rights campaigns and organizing specialized non-governmental educational organizations. Several initiatives were established to serve the educational needs of the community, such as the Arab Higher Monitoring Committee on Education which functions as a steering and advocacy committee for the Palestinian community within the 1948 borders. A milestone was reached when, in 2008, the Arab Pedagogical Council was established by the Follow up on Arab Education Committee to propose a comprehensive program of reform of the Palestinian Arab education, including the call for an autonomous system (Agbaria & Pade, 2016; Halabi, 2021). Despite its role in peacefully negotiating and representing the needs of students, parents, and educators, this council was accused by Israeli government agencies of being radical and has been struggling to function since then. Agbaria (2015) argues that this council and others are acts to secure equal citizenship and necessary when the majority ignores the minority’s basic needs. Agbaria (2015) also finds similarities between the acts of resistance of the Palestinian community through these nongovernmental initiatives and the act of “interruptive democracy” coined by Davies (2008). Much effort and criticism were directed to the textbooks as they prioritized the loyalty to the state ideology through the Arab Higher Monitoring Committee, which came up with their own curriculum for Arab students that was rejected by the Ministry of Education in 2016 (Magadley et al., 2019). Centers that advocated for the rights of the Arab minority, including the right to education, were also established. Some of them have been calling for transparency and legal recognition of the Palestinian minority as an ethnic and national group for decades, such as Adalah (Justice), the Arab Center for Law and Policy, and Mussawa (equality) to name few.4
Recently (on October 11, 2021), Adalah won a legal case against the Ministry of Education that allowed the subsidies for after school care for Arab children (Adalah, 2021). In another case, Adalah demanded that the regulations of the Ministry of Education that govern the rights and obligations of pupils, parents, and teachers should be translated and made available in Arabic, in a letter sent on April 29, 2010. The letter followed a request made by the chairperson of the Arab National Parent’s Committee, who stated that some parents were unable to read Hebrew and therefore were unable to access this information. On May 27, 2010 the Ministry of Education (MOE) replied that there was a technical problem with translating such regulations to Arabic, but that the ministry was considering conducting a pilot scheme to translate the regulations in the field of violence in schools.
A major step in the direction of self-definition was a document called the “Future Vision” put together by a group of Heads of Arab localities, academics, and community advocates in 2006. The document included a section on education and the demand that Israel should provide “a guarantee of self-rule of the Palestinian Arabs in the fields of education, religion, culture and media and recognizing their right to self-determination with respect to their collective life complimenting their partnership within the state” (Agbaria, 2015, p. 15). This document was faced with government resistance and the group was accused of seeking political autonomy from Israel, an idea that shakes the core of the ethnic Jewish state.
In higher education, attempts and proposals to establish a Palestinian university to serve the needs of Palestinians in Israel did not pass any of the Israeli Knesset votes ; Magadley et al., 2019). This is of critical importance as Arab university students only constitute 10.6% of the higher education population in Israel (Central Bureau of Statistics, 2016). In Jewish universities, Palestinian students have not integrated and, to some degree, feel alienated (Halabi, 2016, 2018). Due to language barriers and a lack of sense of belonging to the university system in Israel, Arab students only interact with each other outside the classroom and much less with Jewish students, especially in politics. One should note that this is also a result of the segregated education experiences in K–12 and the fact that a typical student will not see or have contact with the Jewish Israeli side until college.
Arab students do not have many choices in seeking higher education and the constant rejections and discrimination that they experience motivate many of them to seek education in Jordan and the Palestinian territories (the most affordable options in comparison to places such as Europe or the United States). Previous research, although limited, suggests that there are not programs in place to meet the Palestinian student’s needs. Halabi (2018) argues that Arab students have “negative attitudes towards their universities” (p. 563). Arab students deal with racism at all universities in Israel. For example, a common sentiment expressed by many students in several studies is that faculty and staff treat them unjustly in grading and assignments (Lazarowitz et al., 2004, 2008). In a study by Halabi (2016), students expressed a strong sense of absenteeism and a feeling of being “unwanted guests.” Nevertheless, they still had a high sense of identity as a distinct national group, but they prefer to hide that on campus if possible.
The university education system is of great importance to the Israeli establishment because it provides access to ruling and maintaining the existing socio-political order (Freire & Macedo, 1995; Halabi, 2016). This may explain the continuous resistance to an Arab university in the Galilee, which has the largest concentration of Palestinian villages and towns. As one advisor on Arab affairs to the prime minister said, they aim at keeping the Arabs illiterate to prevent them from reaching universities because if they get educated, they will be difficult to rule (Khalifa, 2001). He added “we should make them wood-cutters and water carriers” (quoted in Khalifa, 2001, p. 25).
Imagining a New Approach to Correct the Wrong
Today, most Palestinians in Israel do not see themselves as part of the national Palestinian liberation movement and to some extent, they have reconciled with the Israeli government’s often repeated slogan “it is our destiny to live together,” a sentiment famously expressed by the Israeli minister of education (Y. Navon in 1986). This does not mean they do not stand in solidarity with their people elsewhere, but the majority believe that their future as citizens is most important and is a priority until something changes in the majority-minority dynamics. They also do not believe in the sincerity of leaders in Israel in the peace process (Pew Research Center, 2016). In fact, the recent attacks in May 2021 of Jewish settlers on Palestinian homes in mixed cities of Lude, Jaffa, and Haifa only illustrates the vulnerability of this minority in facing growing militant Israeli Jewish forces who call for their expulsion from their homes and communities. There are currently several Israeli Jewish Knesset members who advocated for transferring Palestinians outside of Israel. It is most urgent that immediate steps are taken to reform the education system and revise the curriculum for Palestinians because of the grim reality and the picture of a failing education system. These immediate steps to be initiated by the Israeli governments are way overdue:
Allocate resources to improve education, create new curricula and textbooks for Palestinian Arab schools and establish policies to accept Arabic as a formal and recognized language and Palestinians as a national group.5 Do that as other countries did to illustrate good faith and intentions toward the minority group to safeguard democracy and protect the rich diversity in the country. In fact, the call to revise the curricula came earlier in the 2000s by a group of new historians who requested to change the curriculum including the usage of the Arabic word Alnakba to commemorate the “exodus of the Palestinians in 1948” (Pappe, 2018).
Open the education dialogue on the historic harm done to Palestinians during the 1948 Nakba and after. Make schools a safe space for Palestinian youth to talk about these topics and engage in dialogue with other schools among themselves and with the Jewish sector. These types of dialogues have been ongoing for years, yet they do not aim at seeking justice or reconciliation but stand short of that (Abu-Nimer, 2001).
Create public spaces to discuss the loss of land, compensation, refugees, and other political and social issues and to seek truth and reconciliation at the leadership levels and grassroots. It is as important for the Jewish sector, secular and religious, to come to terms with the history of the state, and to directly resist the government’s manipulations and policies of fear.
Accept the fact that Palestinians deserve and need to be part of the education decision-making based on successful models of Indigenous education that support self-steering and internal autonomy. Some of the ideas put forward by Indigenous education experts suggest changing the educational leaders “through indigenous teacher training initiatives, altering school decision-making structures, infusing cultural content into classrooms, strengthening teacher and student relationships by enabling culturally responsive classroom pedagogies, and making the school more affirming of indigenous cultures through community engagement efforts” (Pewewardy et al., 2018, p. 49). Scholars such as Sarra (2011), Ladson-Billings (2005), and others also advocate to promote high expectations among Indigenous and marginalized students, such as the African American minority in the United States, and to acknowledge students’ identities.
Advocate for a change in the leadership of the Arab community to bring new voices and expertise in education on national committees to speak on behalf of the students and families. There is no shortage of legal documents and international convention to protect the rights of the Indigenous groups and those who are part of ethnic minorities, especially the right to education and legal protection for minorities based on international legal laws that most of which were formally ratified by Israel. The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (United Nations, 2007) was groundbreaking for the indigenous Palestinian minority in Israel because it highlighted the rights to “internal autonomy, self-steering, and the independence to run their affairs including running their education system” (Jabareen & Agbaria, 2017, p. 34). Many others emphasize the rights of children to receive education and the rights of parents to choose the education they want for their children, as well as preserve the right of minority groups to learn their own language, culture, and history. For example, the Convention on the Rights of the Child stipulates that all children need access to equal education opportunities and the collective right of minorities to culturally appropriate education as well as the rights to identity.
According to an analysis of the international laws and conventions that Israel ratified, Jabareen and Agbaria (2017) concluded that Israel does not practice those toward the Arab Palestinian minority. They state,
all of the international agreements outlined, each ratified by Israel, explicitly mention the right to education, including three crucial components of this right: the right to receive education, the right to equality in education, and the right to impact educational content and aims.(Jabareen & Agbaria, 2017, p. 33)
Abu-Asbah (2007), calls for a synergy model that is based on an alignment between the needs of the sector and the competencies of educators and the right relationship with the education system. Unfortunately, considering the nature of the Israeli education ministries since 1948, and the current political forces in Israel, such a synergy model might not be feasible or attainable at all. As Agbaria (2019) asserted, too, the many years of right-wing governments unfortunately put the Palestinian Arab education on a downward trajectory and a back burner.
It is the responsibility of the education community to pull itself together and reactivate the committees that were established. Such a process can be based on the enormous amount of research and analysis that have been completed by Palestinian scholars on the topic. Their contribution can be instrumental in the call for a process led by the local leaders and community organizers. In addition, it is the duty of the Indigenous scholars to not only examine but to put back in the community (Pewewardy et al., 2018). Borrowing from Indigenous researchers in the United States, insurgent research is needed in historic Palestine too. According to Guadry, insurgent research “is situated within a larger indigenous movement that challenges colonialism and its ideological underpinnings and is working within indigenous frameworks to imagine the world by putting indigenous ideals into practice” (Guadry, 2011, p. 48). The same calls for Western colonial settlements such as the United States to reform and decolonize the curriculum for Indigenous children (Pewewardy et al., 2018), should also be made in historic Palestine and should challenge the Israeli governments and change the discourse. Regardless to where one stands on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict resolution and settlements, there is enough evidence to show the historic wounds caused by the Israeli control system and the dire situation of this community.
Today, this community is struggling with increased urban and inner community violence, and many correctly blame the education system for that as well as the Israeli governments’ lack of response to the random and targeted shooting and killings of innocent people among this community. “The prevailing assumption, an official said, was as long as they are killing each other, that’s their problem” (Kershner, 2021).
In the same article in the New York Times, the public security minister states that the shootings are a result of years of neglect by the Israeli governments of this sector. Indeed, the historic failing of the education system, its lack of contribution to genuine moral and ethical education and reducing its function in the mind of the community and students as mainly a gate to securing jobs for minority members in the Israeli Jewish state has certainly contributed to alienation and fragmentation of the Palestinian community in Israel. Creating alliances with progressive forces among the Jewish intellectuals and educators as well as similar minority groups is an important step to change the Israeli Jewish governmental discourse of domination into an inclusive and pluralist discourse which will allow the Palestinian education system to assume its normal function as a place to nurture safe and healthy identity among its students.
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1. David Ben-Gurion, May 1948, to the General Staff. From Ben-Gurion, a Biography, by Michael Ben-Zohar, Delacorte, New York, 1978.
2. The population that remained in historic Palestine, is often referred to as Israeli Arabs by Israeli government officials. Here, it will be addressed as the Palestinian-Arab or Palestinian community.
3. This is the Israeli government’s label of the Palestinian-Arab education system.
5. The Israeli Knesset voted on July 19, 2018 by a margin of 62–55 to approve the Jewish Nation-State Basic Law, constitutionally enshrining Jewish supremacy and the identity of the State of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people. The law puts the democratic laws as irrelevant when they stand against Jewishness of the state/excluded Arabic as an official language in the country.