Israel/Palestine: Educators planting the seeds of hope

published 31 January 2023 updated 8 February 2023

During a four-day solidarity mission to Israel and Palestine, elected leaders of Education International (EI) and the US National Education Association (NEA) leaders met with governmental authorities, trade union activists, UN agencies and teachers. They also welcomed the agreement on the timely payment and increase of Palestinian educators’ salaries.

From 10-14 January, the mission allowed the EI-NEA delegation to take stock of social and political realities for Palestinians and Israelis and gain a better understanding of the situation and the politics in the region.

Most importantly, It left with the understanding that engaging in dialogue, promoting trade union and human rights, education, peace, and security and speaking out are essential to resolve conflicts.

The delegation met with EI member organisations in Palestine and Israel, i.e. the General Union of Palestinian Teachers (GUPT), the General Union of Workers in Kindergartens and Private Schools (GUWKPS), the General Federation of Palestinian Workers (PGFTU), as well the Association of Secondary School Teachers in Israel (ASSTI) and the Israel Teachers Union (ITU).

Meeting with Palestinian Ministers

During its meeting with Prime Minister Dr. Mohammad Shtayyeh and Minister of Education Dr. Marwan Awartani in Ramallah, the union delegation emphasised that the main objective of this meeting was to show solidarity with sister education unions.

Recognising the ministry’s engagement in an open and constructive dialogue, it also welcomed the agreement signed by the Ministry providing for the timely payment and increase of educator’s salaries.

“Teachers in Palestine went over a year without pay and were then only paid 80% of what they had been promised,” said EI General Secretary David Edwards, adding that “even in the most difficult of situations a society and government must keep its word to the teachers who are asked to do so much.”

Education unionists stressed that teachers deserve to be paid fairly at a time when they have had to adapt to new and difficult environments, especially during the pandemic. They also recalled that teachers’ working conditions will always have a major impact to a child’s learning conditions and that funding education should be a key priority for policymakers.

Edwards further underlined that EI had sent out in December 2022 an urgent action appeal on Palestine calling on all its member organisations to take action to urge the Israeli Government to immediately halt all school demolitions, provide protection for Palestinian children against violence and ensure their right to education with education institutions that are safe havens for Palestinian children and their teachers.

Meeting with UNRWA

At the meeting in Jerusalem, United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) representatives explained that the right to education for Palestinians is constantly undermined by Israeli authorities, among others, due to attacks on educational establishments; confiscation and censorship of educational materials; segregation; and control over curricula for Palestinians inside Israel and in the occupied territories.

UNRWA has been working for nearly 70 years to ensure that Palestine refugee children have access to quality education. Quality education helps young Palestine refugees understand the world in which they live and promotes values of tolerance, cultural identity, and gender equality.

Recently, the Israeli Ministry of Education revoked the licenses of six schools in East Jerusalem, they also reprinted Palestinian textbooks after removing everything related to the Palestinian identity.

They also mentioned that the UN agency faced the greatest financial predicament in its history in 2018. Following the abrupt end to funding by the United States, $300 million in funding was cut. This threatened general education for 525,000 students in primary school.

The EI-NEA delegation insisted that international organisations need to be adequately funded and should be fully engaged in resolving the education crisis. This includes UNESCO, UNICEF, the ILO, and the UNRWA.

NEA President Becky Pringle said that the union is putting pressure on the US government to restore financial support to those UN agencies.

Participants also welcomed the fact that the Biden Administration has restored the U.S. funding to UNRWA. In April 2021, the administration announced that it would provide $235 million for aid to the Palestinians, including $150 million for UNRWA.

Hope and inspiration

The delegation was also very much inspired by its visit of the Samiha Khalil School, where Hanan Al Hroub, the second winner of the Global Teacher Prize, is also an active member of GUPT and a dedicated teacher.

At this school located in al-Bireh, just outside Ramallah, Hanan’s pupils – aged between six and 10 – live in an environment where violence is rife.

The 2016 Global Teacher Prize winner explained: “My students are the true winners of this prize. My inspiration came from children.”

“I teach traumatised students,” Hanan said. “Because the education system is part of society, our students are paying a very heavy price. As a result, students’ well-being, performance and completion rates are severely affected, and this has negative implications for their expectations about their future.”

Despite all challenges faced, she strives to give those children hope through her play-based method.