Both International Humanitarian Law (IHL) and International Human Rights Law (IHRL) provide for the right of detainees to education. In particular, the right to education for all has been recognized in Article 26 of the Universal Declaration for Human Rights. The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, ratified by Israel in 1991, emphasizes that, “education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and the sense of its dignity, and shall strengthen the respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms”. Article 94 of the Fourth Geneva Convention encourages the “Detaining Power” to “take all practicable measure to ensure the exercise” of “intellectual, educational and recreational pursuits”. It further stipulates that, “all possible facilities shall be granted to internees to continue their studies or to take up new subjects. The education of children and young people shall be ensured; they shall be allowed to attend schools either within the place of internment or outside”.
The Arrest and Detention of Palestinian Students
Over the years, the Israeli occupying forces have arrested thousands of Palestinian university students in an attempt to criminalize social and political activism on campuses across the occupied territory. Most students are arrested and convicted on charges related to “membership in” and “provision of services to an unlawful association” as defined by the 1945 (Defense) Emergency Regulations and the 1948 Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance, which were both incorporated into Israel’s domestic laws. Accordingly, all major Palestinian political parties, and a number of non-governmental and charitable organizations have been outlawed by the Israeli authorities.
Importantly, Palestinian student unions have not escaped Israel’s efforts to criminalize every aspect of Palestinian civil, political and cultural life and many have also been declared illegal. In the event that a student union is not explicitly declared unlawful by a decision of the Israeli military commander or a government official exercising his or her authority under Regulation 84 of the 1945 Emergency Regulations, a Palestinian student union member may be arrested on the grounds of membership in an organization having broadly defined “ties” with an unlawful organization. The nature of those ties is never of interest to the prosecution and hardly ever examined by the military judge. In consequence, attending a rally of an “unlawful association” or an association “with ties” to an “unlawful association”, putting up posters of such an association, writing, producing, printing and distributing publications related to the declared “unlawful association” are all activities that are considered to “endanger the security of the state of Israel”, and are prosecuted as crimes under the banner of “hostile and terrorist activities”. In some cases, students were indicted with charges as unreasonable and far-fetched as “dancing dabke”, a traditional Palestinian folkloric dance, at an event organized by a student union “with ties to an unlawful organization”, or attending a film-screening at an “illegal rally”.
On average, “membership in” and “provision of services to” an “unlawful organization”, are offenses punishable by one to two years in prison, irrespective of the fact that such activities are limited to student life only.
For example, the Shabiba Youth Bloc, a student union commonly associated with Fatah, a party that is a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and was effectively governing the Palestinian Authority from 1994 until the legislative elections in 2006, was outlawed through an Israeli military order on 13 March 1988. The Israeli authorities continue to consider Shabiba Youth Bloc as an “unlawful association” until today. The Islamic Bloc, a student union loosely associated with the Hamas party was declared unlawful on 19 May 1998.
One of the practical consequences of the Israeli arrest and detention policies used against Palestinian university students, including their subsequent transfer to Israeli jails outside of the occupied territory, is that they are denied the right to continue their education. Most university students are obliged to suspend their university education for the length of their sentence, as the Israeli Prison Service (IPS) refuses to allow Palestinian political prisoners to study at Palestinian institutions by correspondence.
Education Programs Available to Adults
Palestinian political prisoners may only study in the correspondence program at the Open University of Israel. (1)
It is explicitly made a privilege, dependent on three conditions. First, the official responsible for the relevant prison section must provide a written opinion stating that the prisoner’s behavior is appropriate. Second, the proposed course of study must fall within the approved fields, which include humanities, sociology, business and management, psychology, or political science. The proposed course of study cannot include any of the following disapproved fields: life science, natural science, computer science, physics, chemistry, any course that requires non-paper materials, and any field of study that includes materials that raise a high likelihood of harming prison security or national security. Third, the prisoner must prove that he has enough money in his prison account to pay the tuition fees associated with his course of study.
Importantly, higher education for Palestinian prisoners in Israeli detention is made conditional on security considerations. Accordingly, the prison commander may disqualify a prisoner from studies at any time for security, discipline or other reasons. The Open University is not required to give a refund.
After admission, only paper books are permitted, and the contents of each must be checked for security and noted in the prisoner’s file for surveillance purposes before the prisoners are permitted to receive the book. If improper materials are found, the prisoner’s education privilege may be revoked. All correspondence must be in writing, with a copy forwarded to the branch commander for surveillance. The Open University is directed to appoint two to three advisors or examiners for every course, who generally may visit the prison except when security conditions prevent it.
The complicated application procedures, the restrictions on the language of tuition to Hebrew only, the high university fees (the cost of an academic year at the Open University is roughly 5 times more expensive than the cost of an academic year at the Palestinian Al-Quds Open University), and the high cost of university text books act as disincentives that discourage Palestinian prisoners from continuing their university education while in prison. Many prisoners, especially those who are convicted to shorter sentences (less than five years) prefer to wait until their release to resume their interrupted studies. In practice however, only a few go back to university.
Educational Programs for Palestinian Children
As of November 2010, there were 264 Palestinian child prisoners in Israeli prisons, including 32 under the age of 16. Around 700 children are arrested annually by the Israeli military and police. The arrest of Palestinian children leads to the disruption of their education and, in consequence, to substantial reintegration problems, with many children dropping out of school upon release. Very limited provisions are made for the education of Palestinian child detainees.
In 1997, a number of Palestinian children initiated legal action against the Israeli Prison Service and succeeded in obtaining a decision from the Central Court in Tel Aviv, whereby Palestinian child detainees were allowed to enjoy their right to education on an equal footing with Israeli children. However, the Court determined that any education should be provided subject to security requirements. On the basis of this clause, subjects such as religion, geography, history and civics have been banned. Accordingly, the IPS has since then been providing a limited number of taught classes to children under 16 years of age, allowing them to study mathematics and humanities only.
Amongst other things, Palestinian child detainees face the following difficulties if they wish to pursue their education:
- The IPS does not provide any form of education to children between the age of 16 and 18, which constitutes the largest age group among child detainees. As of November 2010, there were 217 children aged 16-18 who were excluded from the IPS educational programs.
- The curriculum offered by the IPS does not comply with the Palestinian Authority school curriculum.
- On some occasions, the IPS does not allow Palestinian children to complete the general matriculation exam known as “Tawjihi”. The “Tawjihi” exam is currently the only official Palestinian exam available to Palestinian high school students.
- The time allocated daily to teaching children is much shorter than that provided by ordinary schools and education institutions.
- Children are not given appropriate access to education materials. This includes access to stationary, academic textbooks and general reading material. Children are often forced to purchase stationary from the prison canteen at inflated prices.
- Classes are often conducted in environments that are not conducive to learning, such as kitchens or the prison yard.
- Teachers are often unavailable to conduct programs.
- TV sets and radios are often confiscated as part of the IPS “disciplinary punishment” policies.
(1) Commissioner’s Order 04.48.00, “Security Prisoners’ Studies at the Open University” (last update 16/1/2006).