Palestinian Studies

2023 Workshop

Alyssa Bivins

Ph.D. Candidate, George Washington University

Re-contextualizing East Jerusalem Education as Resistance: 1967 – 1994

After the Six Day War of June 1967, the Israeli government decided to annex the city of East  Jerusalem, the Palestinian side of Jerusalem that had been part of the Jordanian West Bank since  1948. The occupation of East Jerusalem involved Israel’s Ministry of Education and the  Jerusalem Municipal government taking control of all elements of Palestinian Jerusalemite  society, including the education sector. The education policies Israel enacted in East Jerusalem  were driven by a settler colonial logic that was at odds with the aspirations of Palestinian East  Jerusalemites. Thus, over the past 55 years of East Jerusalem’s occupation, the city’s Palestinian  education sector has become a highly contested domain and an arena for Palestinian anti-colonial resistance to Israeli policies. 

The hardships that the East Jerusalem education sector has faced under Israeli control have been  well enumerated. The most recent comprehensive work on the sector was oriented around its  “deficiencies,” including the “cultural oppression” of Palestinian children and the inadequacy of  its “traditional” teaching methods (Alayan 2019). Other works have highlighted the limited  “quality of education” (Nuseibeh 2015), the lack of vocational training opportunities, overcrowded classrooms (Weiss 2000), and high dropout rates (Yair and Alayan 2009). Although these works accurately reflect the challenges of pursuing education under settler colonial rule, their emphasis on the sector’s flaws creates two problems. First, it risks presenting  the challenges in East Jerusalem as technical issues that can be solved through changed  education policies rather than as inherent byproducts of ongoing settler colonial rule. The  problems of colonial educational inequality cannot be solved by technical solutions, as even  when education is “good,” Palestinian Jerusalemites still face the limitations imposed by Israel’s settler colonial regime. In other words, expanding classrooms, training teachers, and throwing  money into the school system cannot end the problems that stem from the occupation. Second,  focusing on the oppressive policies elides the consistent, creative efforts of Palestinians in East  Jerusalem to resist those colonial education policies. These revolutionary efforts must be  considered as an important example of anti-colonial activity in light of ongoing settler colonialism. 

This paper will centralize the historical educational resistance activities of Palestinian Jerusalemites in the first three decades of the Israeli occupation of the city. It argues that despite  Israel’s colonial policies, Palestinians were able to resist in ways that allowed for limited  individual and community achievements across every decade. Their activities actively responded to Israel’s shifting settler colonial policies and global neoliberal crises from beginning of the  occupation in 1967 through the creation of the Palestinian Authority’s education department in  1994. My paper’s evidence is rooted in both the oral history research I conducted in East  Jerusalem and archival research. It will be organized chronologically and focus on the ways that  schools, teachers, and students formed networks that “undergird[ed] Palestinian revolutionary  anti-colonialism” in the education sphere of East Jerusalem. In exploring these educational  resistance activities, it seeks to respond to the CFP’s interest in addressing “the limits that  constrained Palestinian anti-colonial education efforts without overshadowing its achievements."

Alyssa Bivins is a Ph.D. candidate in the History Department at George Washington University. She recently completed her fieldwork for her dissertation entitled "Contested Classrooms: Education in Palestinian Jerusalem since 1967."  Her research interests include education development history, the effects of colonialism on education, the history of humanitarianism in the Middle East, and Palestinian history. Her advisor is Professor Shira Robinson. Alyssa received a B.A. in History and Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations from the University of Chicago and an M.A. in History through her Ph.D. program at George Washington University.