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East Jerusalem school teaching Israeli curriculum is set on fire

A Palestinian school in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Kafr Aqab was set on fire on Sunday night.

The school, named Ilya, has been the first one in Kafr Aqab to teach the Israeli curriculum. The neighborhood is wedged between Jerusalem and Ramallah and is physically located outside the security barrier, but it is administratively included within the municipal boundaries of Jerusalem and is under Israeli sovereignty.

It is still unclear who set the building on fire. On account of the damage caused to the building, students have temporarily been transferred to an alternate structure, Haaretz reported. The event took place only a few days after armed Palestinians opened fire on the school.

Most schools in East Jerusalem teach the curriculum of the Palestinian Authority in preparation for a final exam, the tawjihi, that grants access to Palestinian and Arab universities but not to Israeli ones.

An increasing number of East Jerusalem schools in recent years have adopted the Israeli curriculum, in response to efforts by the Education Ministry and the Jerusalem Municipality, and have replaced the tawjihi exam with its Israeli equivalent, the bagrut, in order to allow graduates to enter Israeli universities.

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Today, in most Palestinian neighborhoods in Jerusalem there is at least one school teaching the Israeli curriculum, and in several cases schools have opened a separate track preparing for the bagrut. As a result, about 18% of East Jerusalem students today follow the Israeli curriculum, Haaretz reported, a dramatic increase compared to single-digit numbers a decade ago.

A composite image of protesters and strike placards in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Jabal al-Mukabber against a decision by the Jerusalem municipality to transfer an existing Palestinian school and put it in its place a school teaching the Israeli curriculum, September 2, 2023 (WAFA Palestinian official press agency)

The Palestinian Authority considers that the adoption of the Israeli curriculum poses a threat to national identity and separates students in East Jerusalem, which it considers its capital, from the rest of the West Bank. Several prominent political and religious figures have condemned the perceived imposition of the Israeli curriculum in recent years.

The Ilya school in Kafr Aqab was established inside the building of a preexisting Palestinian school that was transferred elsewhere. The project has been accompanied by difficulties since the start. At least four educators reportedly withdrew their application to become principals after receiving threats.

A similar situation in the south Jerusalem neighborhood of Jabel Mukaber, in which the municipality opened a school teaching the bagrut curriculum inside an existing building, forcing a Palestinian school to move out, has prompted an open-ended strike by students and their parents at the start of the school year.