Jerusalem24 – Israeli police and intelligence services raided a parents’ association meeting in Al-Issawiya in occupied East Jerusalem on Saturday afternoon, under the false claim the gathering was funded by the Palestinian Authority.
The Union of Parents’ Committees in East Jerusalem Schools had gathered to discuss a shortage of teachers at local schools, Jerusalemite lawyer Rami Saleh tells Jerusalem24, and have no relation to the PA whatsoever.
Saleh was summoned for interrogation by the Israeli police on Sunday at Al-Maskobiyya Interrogation Center in Jerusalem, in addition to the chairman of the association, Mahmoud Fayez, and the head of the assocation, Ziyad Al-Shamali.
No freedom of assembly
Palestinian schools in occupied East Jerusalem suffer chronic underfunding and staff shortages due to neglect by the Israeli municipality (to whom the Palestinian residents pay taxes). Al-Issawiya Secondary School has been facing a shortage of no less than 12 teachers since September.
Saleh says multiple requests were submitted to the Israeli municipality to address the shortages – to no avail.
“Why hasn’t the municipality done anything?” asks Saleh. “It is the body that is responsible for education in those schools in Al-Issawiya – and they have done nothing. So the Parents’ Association in Jerusalem called for a meeting.”
But on Saturday afternoon, the parents “were surprised, that before the meeting had even started Israeli forces raided the place and hung an announcement signed by Ben-Gvir, calling the meeting itself “illegal” and that it should not take place,” says Saleh.
The contents of the warrant left the parents confused, says Saleh, because it alleged the PA were the direct sponsor of the meeting – a claim Saleh says it patently false.
“The parents’ association itself is a registered organization in the Israeli ministry register, it is a body that can work legally. And they do not need any support or any permission from the Palestinian Authority. Even the Palestinian Ministry of Education, they did not know about this meeting.”
Claiming the meeting was associated with the PA is a common excuse, says Saleh: “This is like the usual cliché they use in order to stop any public meeting in Jerusalem. What happened yesterday is a very good example of how Israeli authorities are dealing with public meetings and freedom of assembly.”
Israeli police then fired tear gas at the parents after they were forced out of the meeting room in order to disperse them, says Saleh.
Ben-Gvir’s warrant debunked
The 1995 Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement, which came two years after the Oslo Accords, bans the PA from organizing or funding events inside Israel. East Jerusalem is occupied Palestinian territory under international law, but Israel annexed it in 1980 in a move not recognized internationally and considers the eastern part of the city an integral part of Israel.
Since 2001, Israeli authorities have frequently accused Palestinian cultural, educational or social organizations in the occupied city of being associated with the PA as a pretext to shutter events and activities, or even entire organizations.
Far-right extremist Itamar Ben-Gvir, who signed the warrant to stop the meeting in his new capacity as Israeli Minister of National Security, went one step further on Saturday evening and called the parent-teacher meeting “a terror summit” on Twitter:
“I signed an order to prevent a Palestinian Authority terror conference in Jerusalem, and the police broke up the conference. It is time to stop the celebration of the Palestinian Authority in Israel, and not allow the members of the PA to hold terror summits in Jerusalem or elsewhere. Thank you to the Jerusalem police for this quick action.”
חתמתי על צו למניעת כנס טרור של הרש”פ בירושלים והמשטרה פיזרה את הכנס. הגיע הזמן להפסיק את החגיגה של הרשות הפלסטינית בישראל, ולא לאפשר לאנשי הרשות לקיים כנסי טרור בירושלים או בכל מקום אחר. מודה למשטרת ירושלים על הפעילות המהירה.
— איתמר בן גביר (@itamarbengvir) January 7, 2023
The entire basis for the warrant signed by Ben-Gvir, visible at the top of this article, rests on the claim that the invitation to the meeting says the conference “is sponsored by the Palestinian Authority”.
However, a copy of the invitation obtained by Jerusalem24 makes no such mention of the PA.
“Peace be upon you. At the beginning of the new year, we wish you happiness and health and an end to the troubles bearing on our hearts, city and nation. We wish the best of luck to our students in their educational lives. Brothers and sisters, you are familiar with the dangers the educational sector is experiencing in our holy city due to the attempts of “Judaization” and altering our narrative. Therefore the Union of Parents’ Committees in East Jerusalem Schools will be holding a public meeting, for all schools and educational institutions and whoever wants to join, to discuss the problems our schools, curriculum, and quality of education are facing. This invitation is public, and extended to all who have an interest in Jerusalem’s education system. The meeting will be held in the meeting hall of Diwaniyat Alarbaiyen in A-Issawiya on Saturday 7 January 2023 at 3:00 PM.”
The parents in Al-Issawiya have been left worried by the intervention, says Saleh, particularly in light of Ben-Gvir and other right-wing elements’ appointment to ministerial positions in the new Israeli government. “What happened on Saturday is a bad indicator.”
The parents’ association doesn’t intend to stop fighting for the welfare of Palestinian schoolchildren in Jerusalem, however. “We are taxpayers, this is one of the rights we should receive.”
Jerusalem schools targeted under 5-year-plan
The shuttering of events and summons for interrogation are part of a wider attack on Palestinian institutions in occupied East Jerusalem – and on the education system in particular – which aims to “push Palestinians out of Jerusalem”, according to rights groups.
The various strategies aiming to fulfill this goal have been laid out in a 5-year-plan by Israeli authorities to “Judaize” the city, in their own words.
As part of the plan, the development of the Palestinian education sector in East Jerusalem is deliberately thwarted by Israeli authorities by means including a lack of funding (which Palestinian Jerusalemites are entitled to as taxpayers to Israel), preventing the construction of new schools, the closure of offices of the Palestinian directorate for education in Jerusalem, or preventing the presence of Palestinian officials in East Jerusalem.
“Since the city has been occupied in 1967 Israeli has been trying to overtake the Palestinian presence in the education sector,” Fadi Al-Hidmi, the Palestinian Minister of Jerusalem Affairs, told Jerusalem24 in a previous interview, “because education is the essence of our presence, identity, generations, children.”
“So it’s one of the Israeli strategies in East Jerusalem, to overtake the Palestinian education sector and to impose the Israeli curriculum – or the Israeli version of the story – in our Palestinian schools.”
Around 50% of East Jerusalem’s 95,000 Palestinian students end up going to Israeli-run schools and learning the Israeli curriculum, since the Palestinian-run schools are plagued with staff, classroom, and supply shortages, and their students face regular harassment and even physical injury from Israeli forces.