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Report: Classroom shortage hurts East Jerusalem children

By the CNN Wire Staff
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Report says children in East Jerusalem are disadvantaged by a shortage of classrooms
  • The City of Jerusalem says the shortfall is about 700 classrooms
  • The city says it has found alternatives
  • Report alleges the city is failing to provide court-mandated public education

Jerusalem (CNN) -- Palestinian children in East Jerusalem are being put at a disadvantage because of a dire shortage of classrooms in the east side of the city, according to a report published Tuesday by two Israeli human rights groups.

The report, titled "Failed Grade," was published ahead of the school year and accuses Jerusalem authorities of failing to provide court-mandated public education to the residents of East Jerusalem.

"We call it discrimination ... discrimination in budget allocation and a severe neglect of the entire system," Ronit Sela, a spokeswoman for the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), told CNN. ACRI is one of the two organizations, along with the group Ir Amim, that published the report.

"This school year is going to start with a shortage of about 1,000 classrooms for Palestinian children in East Jerusalem, and only 39 classrooms have been built this year despite promises made in past years to build 645 by 2011," said Sela.

Asked to respond to the report, a spokesman for the city of Jerusalem provided a statement which said in part, "As of today, there is a shortfall of 700 classrooms but we have found alternatives for them until the completion of the building."

According to the ACRI-Ir Amim report, the shortage is forcing Palestinian parents to pay to send their children to alternative schools, instead of them receiving a free public education.

More than 40,000 pupils of the 82,250 in East Jerusalem have to turn to private schools while approximately 5,300 school children do not study at all, the report said. In addition, about 647 of the total of 1,398 classrooms in East Jerusalem are in "inappropriate conditions," Ir Amim and ACRI said.

"There are standards by the Ministry of Education... in terms of how many children are in the classroom, ventilation, bathrooms, etc... and half of these classrooms do not meet that bar," Sela said.

"The authorities claim that Israel is unified, but at the same time they continue to ignore the legal commitments to the children of East Jerusalem," said Ir Amim director Yehudith Oppenheimer.

"The severe neglect of the education system in East Jerusalem is brewing a catastrophe," said Tali Nir, a lawyer with ACRI.

The city statement provided in response to the report said, "City Hall is aware of the discrepancies and the needs in East Jerusalem that have occurred through neglect over the past years. Since the beginning of the current term, many changes have been made in relation to East Jerusalem.

"Investment and staff have been significantly enlarged and in the past two years several new schools have been built in East Jerusalem housing 200 new classrooms. City Hall is currently building additional classrooms and 248 projects are under construction.

"City Hall is investing in East Jerusalem beyond the norm by its investments and fundraising for the distribution of computers to close the gaps with the Ministry of Education."

In addition to the schools it has built, the city said others are planned, including renovations plus added facilities in two neighborhoods north of Jerusalem.

"In 2007/2008 two schools were built in the Sur Bhar neighborhood -- one primary, one comprehensive. In addition, there is planned construction of new building of two wings of schools in Shufat and new structures in Umm Tuba, which are in the advanced planning stage," according to the city.

"The Jerusalem municipality is currently working on renovation on structures in the north of the city to house 18 classes for special education. It should be noted that we have approved a program to build five new schools in the neighborhoods of Beit Hanina and Shufat north of Jerusalem. The city is working to regulate the allocation of land for the building of the projects according to the needs of the population."

The ACRI-Ir Amim report notes that some of the problems in East Jerusalem come from internal Palestinian conflicts.

"The ongoing neglect of the education system in East Jerusalem has a very severe impact on the Palestinian population of the city," the report said.

The Palestinian community of East Jerusalem, which until the 1980s was considered one of the most educated and affluent Palestinian communities, has been undergoing negative processes for the last two decades.

"Some of them stem from Israeli policies, and others are related to internal Palestinian developments, and they are becoming poorer, less educated and subject to ever-rising levels of violence and delinquency. The catastrophic condition of the education system has a very significant impact on those negative processes, especially among youth."

Israel captured East Jerusalem from Jordan during the 1967 Six Day War and annexed the area into the city.

That annexation is not recognized by the international community, but Israel considers Jerusalem the eternal undivided capital of the Jewish people, while Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital for their future Palestinian state.

CNN's Kareem Khader and Paul Colsey contributed to this report

 
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