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Journal of Middle Eastern Politics & Policy

Topic / Education, Training and Labor

Towards a Study of Citizenship Education Among Non-Citizens: The Case of Palestinians in East Jerusalem

The city of Jerusalem, Israel’s capital, is located at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It is unique in that it is both the largest Jewish and Arab city in Israel and the only one where the inferiority of the Palestinian population over the Jewish population is enshrined in law, since East Jerusalemites are not Israeli citizens but its ‘permanent residents.’ The non-citizen status of East Jerusalem’s Palestinians has caused integrative problems for both the Israeli state authorities and the Palestinians. Following over five decades of systemic neglect, the Israeli government passed a decision (Government Decision 3790) committing substantial resources to the socioeconomic amelioration of the inhabitants of East Jerusalem, with the goal of narrowing existing gaps between its 330,000 Palestinian residents and the nearly 600,000 residents of Jerusalem’s well-funded, predominantly Jewish western half.  More than 20 percent of this budget was directed towards educational projects, expressing an understanding at the national level that education is an effective way for creating social mobility.[1]

Consequently, after nearly 55 years, the Israeli education system is replacing the tawjihi educational system, which was originally introduced by the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. For the 2022 school year, approximately 20 percent of East Jerusalem’s students attended schools that adhered to the Israeli curriculum, a number which is increasing every year.[2] The main reasons for this change are, on the one hand, the aspirations of some of East Jerusalem’s Palestinians to integrate into Israeli academia, a process that requires an Israeli matriculation certificate and a high level of proficiency in Hebrew,[3] and, on the other, the Israeli government’s desire to strengthen its sovereignty over East Jerusalem.[4] This is a long-term, difficult, and complex process that presents both the Israeli Ministry of Education and the Palestinian community with a set of pedagogical, national, and personal dilemmas.

One of the main dilemmas touches upon the issue of citizenship education. How should citizenship be taught to non-citizens? In this short essay, I will discuss the case of citizenship education in East Jerusalem. My main claim is that the distinctive characteristics of East Jerusalem, both as a geographical and political space, constitute a gap in scholarship that calls for further research.

I firmly believe that this research is crucial, as it addresses a significant gap in the existing literature on citizenship education in East Jerusalem. However, my interest in this subject extends beyond mere theoretical curiosity. I recognize the transformative power of education in liberating the mind and fostering a more just and equitable society. By providing new insights and perspectives, this paper contributes to a more comprehensive understanding of the issue, with significant implications not only for research, but also for policy and practice.

Citizenship Education: A Brief Theoretical Overview

In the past, citizenship education was used to suppress cultural differences and achieve social uniformity.[5] The approach to citizenship education in the United States historically aimed to shape students into a perceived ideal of a “good citizen,” which was often framed around a mythical Anglo-Saxon Protestant model.[6] Up until the 1990s, Israeli citizenship education focused on implementing the “melting pot” policy, which aimed to assimilate Jewish immigrants from diverse countries and cultures into a single, uniform culture.[7]

Nowadays, most democratic nation-states are characterized by cultural, sociological, religious, and ethnic diversity. While it is important for individuals to be able to express and maintain their cultural identity both in private and public settings, it is equally vital for the state to cultivate a sense of solidarity and promote a normative framework that transcends individual group boundaries.[8] According to Banks, civic education should aim to strike a balance between diversity and unity.[9]

Ho and Barton emphasize the importance of formal curricula in systematically preparing students to critically engage in civil society as they work toward social justice.[10] This preparation includes providing students with the knowledge necessary for evaluating the work of such organizations, as well as experience in the sorts of collaborative deliberation that takes place in such organizations. Bickmore suggests that citizenship education should not only seek to impart knowledge and information to students, but also encourage them to be active enquirers and critical thinkers about past and present events.[11]

Citizenship Education in A Global, Changing World

Up to this point, I have tried to provide a basis for comprehending the concept of citizenship education. Let us challenge this framework, however. For several decades now, political fracturing and economic inequalities between states have led to waves of migration that have in turn changed political space beyond recognition. These trends indicate that the Gordian Knot between territory, citizenship, and rights is unraveling.[12] According to scholars and educators, citizenship education has traditionally been situated within a national context and shaped by common socio-political circumstances at the national level.[13] Accordingly, the values, skills, and positions that citizenship programs aspired to nurture were traditionally set considering a (future) social vision that now seems near obsolete.[14] Concurrently, the validity of traditional conceptions of citizenship education has been slowly eroding. A new perspective is required for questions of citizenship education in today’s day and age, as states are now home to not only citizens, but a wide array of residents with different legal statuses.

How can these challenges be addressed practically within the theoretical understanding presented above? A framework that can provide a potential direction for our discussion is refugee education which I elaborate on below in some detail.

Refugee Education

Dryden-Peterson examines the significant obstacles that arise when integrating non-citizens into national education systems, particularly in the context of refugees.[15] She begins by examining the dilemma of nation-state-centric curriculums that ignore refugees’ culture, perspectives, and history. She then examines the marginalization of refugees within national education systems, as well as the implications of this marginalization for refugees’ ability to participate in civic life. She emphasizes that “including refugees in national education is a critical foundation for addressing inequalities in access to school, yet it exacerbates other inequalities in terms of what and how children learn, and how they harness resources and opportunities as civic actors.”[16]

It is of significant importance to acknowledge that the education of refugees serves a purpose beyond the mere preparation of young individuals for integration into a host country’s society. Rather, it seeks to establish the groundwork for the students’ eventual repatriation, cultivate their distinctive identity, and furnish them with the knowledge and skills required to aid in the reconstruction of their homeland.[17] In other words, citizenship education in refugee settings prepares students to become citizens elsewhere. Furthermore, it is often the case that refugees have little say in the curricula that is imposed upon them. In response, informal learning spaces are created within many refugee communities by educators and family members. In these spaces, refugees may resist the national curricula because they do not find themselves adequately represented within them.[18]

As outlined above, the question of how citizenship is taught to non-citizens poses considerable challenges to educators, both theoretically and practically. The particular characteristics of East Jerusalem and the anomalous legal status of its Palestinian residents create a unique case for scholars, one which, I believe, highlights a lacuna in the scholarship and calls for future research. The subsequent paragraphs illustrate how East Jerusalem presents a distinctive setting for conducting research and implementing educational practices of citizenship education.

1. Palestinian’s Legal Status in East Jerusalem and Its Native Nature

The residents of East Jerusalem did not come under Israeli control as a result of displacement or immigration, but rather had political sovereignty and cultural reform thrust upon them with the Israeli occupation of the eastern half of Jerusalem during the Six Day War in 1967. The exigencies of military occupation and de facto annexation set East Jerusalem’s Palestinians apart from refugees or displaced peoples, who are expected to adopt the values and ethos of host states they willingly or involuntarily migrated to.[19] Moreover, following Jordan’s renunciation of its claims to the West Bank and East Jerusalem in 1988, the majority of East Jerusalem’s residents were left without Jordanian citizenship, or indeed any citizenship at all; unlike most immigrant/refugee groups, East Jerusalem’s Palestinians are not citizens of any country. That also means that they have nowhere to go back to; they are physically at home (Israel/Palestine) but politically in exile and stateless.

2. The Absence of Political Equality as a Deliberate, Continuous Situation

The Palestinian inhabitants of East Jerusalem have found themselves in a state of limbo since the War of 1967. While the Israeli government has endeavored to incorporate them into the political system by annexing the area and conferring permanent residency status, they have been simultaneously marginalized by being denied political rights.  The lack of political equality translates to diminished political participation. With a few exceptions on the right and left, Israeli politicians have not promoted the political participation of East Jerusalem’s Palestinian residents[20] and East Jerusalem Palestinians, for their part, have shown little interest in participating in Israeli politics. Despite being eligible to vote in municipal elections, a minuscule proportion of Palestinians residing in East Jerusalem opt to exercise this right. As evidenced by the 2018 municipal election, where less than 1.5% of Palestinians voted,[21] it is apparent that their political participation is exceedingly low. It is almost unnecessary to mention that this community has no political representation on the city council.

The rationale for boycotting municipal elections varies, but the vast majority of Palestinian Jerusalemites agree that the costs of electoral participation in an institution that is part and parcel of a deepening Israeli occupation – including a sense of national betrayal and likely social sanctions from fellow Palestinians – far exceed its limited potential advantages.[22] In any case, the lack of political equality in Jerusalem should be considered from two different perspectives: the resistance of the Israeli sovereign to grant the Palestinians full civil equality and the initial reluctance of the Palestinians to integrate into any political order in which the Jews are the sovereigns.

            3. The Ongoing Israeli – Palestinian Conflict

The third distinguishing feature of the East Jerusalem scenario is the ongoing national conflict between Israeli and Palestinians. This struggle poses a significant challenge for educators and policymakers dealing with citizenship education in East Jerusalem, where the educational sphere is a fiercely contested political battleground in which both Israel and Palestine have a vested interest in cultural supremacy. Israel’s five-year plan (Government Decision 3790) is viewed as a threat to the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) control and influence in East Jerusalem. Additionally, the PA fears that the increasing prevalence of Israeli curriculum in East Jerusalem schools will further widen the gap between East Jerusalem residents and the rest of Palestinian society.

Civic Education in East Jerusalem

What does citizenship education look like when political equality is denied? Students in East Jerusalem schools who adhere to the Israeli curricula are assigned the same citizenship textbook— ironically titled, To be Citizens in Israel— as Jewish students in West Jerusalem, despite their diametrically opposite civil statuses. The status of East Jerusalem’s residents is not discussed anywhere in the textbook, nor is the anomaly so much as mentioned. In fact, the Israeli citizenship textbook is being used as a powerful tool to tie future employees to Israel’s labor market and detach Palestinians from their culture and national values. Unsurprisingly, the East Jerusalem community is strongly opposed to the use of this textbook.

A letter sent to the Director of Education at the Municipality of Jerusalem by the parents’ committee of Tzur Baher (May, 2020), a Palestinian neighborhood in East Jerusalem, expressed their feelings of anger. In the letter, they claimed: “The significance is that this book didn’t mention the status of East Jerusalem’s residents and didn’t recognize their presence in any way, something which denies their rights and creates a situation of permanent conflict with the Jerusalem Municipality.” In addition, they came out in opposition to the Jewish-Zionist ethos that dictates the content of the textbook and denies a place to the Palestinian narrative: “With regards to parents and pupils, history teaches exactly the opposite, since the Palestinians populated this land and were the majority before the establishment of the State of Israel and the French and British colonialism. After the Balfour Declaration and the Sykes-Picot Agreement, they were the ones who allowed and supported the Jews emigrating from Europe to Palestine after World War II.”

Putting the historical disagreements aside, the case of this textbook is a vivid example of both the extent of the absurdity of the situation and the unwillingness of the state to shape citizenry in the full sense of the word. Textbooks reflect the knowledge considered legitimate by those in power at any given time and their focus on the creation of well-informed citizens.  Palestinian students not only face exclusion from the imposed curricula but also have their identity erased, given the inherent conflict with the dominant Jewish identity.

Moreover, when it comes to pedagogical questions, one must ask the following question: where does power reside? What political purposes does this power serve? In East Jerusalem, Israel exercises complete control over the curriculum, and therefore aspects of Palestinian identity that threaten or contradict the Israeli narrative are excluded from it. In her work, Hooks distinguished between “education as the practice of freedom” and education that serves to reinforce domination.[23] This concept provides a useful framework for understanding Israel’s desire to exert control over Palestinian curricula and its reluctance to provide effective citizenship education. It begs the question: what governing body would willingly provide its subjects with the tools to challenge its rule?

In this setting, the concept of citizenship education holds little meaning. In the absence of the ability to resist the political order, the relationship between classroom instruction (of civic values and practices) and community-based experience is severely impaired. With Israeli control over the curriculum and the extreme limitation of political opposition on the one hand, and in the absence of the possibility of full political integration (i.e., becoming an Israeli citizen) on the other, is it even possible to provide an effective citizenship education in East Jerusalem? What is the point of citizenship education (as political education) when the avenues for political resistance are limited? In essence, can citizenship education in East Jerusalem exist without being a form of re-education

Civic Education in Post-Colonial Societies

An investigation of the matter through the lens of post-colonial societies bears some merit. It is not about taking a side in the question of whether the State of Israel is the rotten fruit of a colonial project, but rather arguing that East Jerusalem, as an area under Israeli control, contains elements that exist in countries that were ruled by Western colonizers (such as military rule, shared life between native and immigrant populations from the West, lack of political representation of the indigenous group, and more). This, to me, justifies an examination of civic education through the lens of education systems in post-colonial societies. I believe the post-colonial framework can serve as a useful tool in two regards: first, it can aid in examining the conceptualization and delivery of citizenship (and civic) education. Secondly, it can shed light on the exceptionalism of East Jerusalem.

In her article, “History Education in Post-Apartheid South Africa,” Teeger examines the challenges faced by South Africa in teaching a truthful and unbiased history curriculum ( a central component of civic education) in the aftermath of apartheid.[24] The author tries to explore the complexities of teaching a history curriculum that reflects the diverse experiences and perspectives of South African communities. Teeger points out that teaching history in post-apartheid South Africa is complicated by the need to reconcile the country’s painful past with the goal of promoting national unity and social cohesion. In a different article, Vinitzky-Seroussi and Teeger show that commemoration is used in South Africa as a tool for political legitimation, with different groups seeking to claim ownership of the narrative of the past.[25]

The challenges that Vinitzky-Seroussi and Teeger present are challenges that exist in the Jerusalem area, including groups’ diverse experiences and narrative struggles. It is important to note that when they speak of different groups seeking ownership of the narrative, they argue this based on two assumptions that do not exist in East Jerusalem: the first is that the socio-political relations between the groups are equal in power (or close to equal, or at least there is a formal aspiration that power relations will be equal) and that the groups play by the same (political) rules. The second assumption is that the debate is about shaping the memory of the events that happened in the past and are shaping the country’s present.

Neither of these assumptions exists in Jerusalem. Firstly, the political power of East Jerusalem residents is restricted, as they possess a lower legal status compared to their Jewish counterparts. In the absence of political equality, and given the fact that they have no political representation in the municipality of Jerusalem, Palestinian residents of the eastern part of the city are at a disadvantage in the struggle over the historical narrative that their children will be taught. Secondly, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict continues to shape the daily reality in East Jerusalem. History is still happening. The unstable, volatile reality in East Jerusalem makes it almost impossible to come to terms with the past and incorporate it into an agreed-upon curriculum.

Final note and author’s biography:

A final note before we conclude. Jerusalem is also my hometown. Prior to my graduate studies at Harvard Graduate School of Education, I was the director of Albashair— a program for excellence that trained outstanding Palestinian youth from East Jerusalem. My work in East Jerusalem brought me face-to-face, on a daily basis, with the difficult implications of Israeli rule in East Jerusalem in general and with the absence of effective citizenship education in particular. The young Palestinians I have met regularly, cognizant of their exclusion from the political centers of influence and their subsequent inability to influence public discourse, run the gamut of emotions, ranging from anger, to alienation, to political apathy. In one way or another, each of these constitutes a threat to the future of Jerusalem as a city of two peoples and the future possibility of coexistence between Jews and Palestinians there.


[1] Ir-Amim (2020). Monitoring Government Decision 3790 for Investments in East Jerusalem 2019 Implementation Report.

[2] Ir-Amim (2022). The State of Education in East Jerusalem, Annual Report.

[3] Ramon, A. (2017). Residents, Not Citizens: Israel and the Arabs of East Jerusalem, 1967-2017. Jerusalem Institute for Policy Research, (Hebrew).

[4] Shtern, M. (2022). A Civic Policy on East Jerusalem: Towards a New Theory of Change. The Van Leer Jerusalem Institute.

[5] Patterson, O. (1977). Ethnic chauvinism: The reaction an impulse. New York: Stein and Day.

[6] Banks, J. A. (2001). Citizenship Education and Diversity: Implications for Teacher Education. Journal of Teacher Education, 52(1), 5–16. https://doi.org/10.1177/0022487101052001002.

[7] Ya’ar, E. (2005). Continuity and Change in Israeli Society: The Test of the Melting Pot. Israel Studies, 10(2), 91–128.

[8] Kymlicka, W. (1989). Liberalism Community and Culture. Oxford: Calderon Press.

[9] Banks, J. A. (2001). Citizenship Education and Diversity: Implications for Teacher Education. Journal of Teacher Education, 52(1), 5–16. https://doi.org/10.1177/0022487101052001002.

[10] Ho, L.-C., & Barton, K. C. (2020). Preparation for civil society: A necessary element of curriculum for social justice. Theory & Research in Social Education, 48(4), 471–491. https://doi.org/10.1080/00933104.2020.1763880.

[11] Bickmore, K. (2014). Citizenship education in Canada: ‘Democratic’ engagement with differences, conflicts and equity issues? Citizenship Teaching & Learning, 9(3), 257–278. https://doi.org/10.1386/ctl.9.3.257_1.

[12] Shachar, A. (2021). Unequal access: wealth as barrier and accelerator to citizenship. Citizenship Studies, 25 (4). 543-563.

[13] Schugurensky, D. (2003). Citizenship education: Theory, research and practice. Encounters on Education, 4.  1-10.

[14] FitzGerald, D, C-M, (2015). Culling the Masses: A Rejoinder. Journal of Ethnic and Racial Studies, 38 (8). 1319-1327.

[15] Dryden-Peterson, S. (2020). Civic education and the education of refugees. Intercultural Education, 31(5), 592–606. https://doi.org/10.1080/14675986.2020.1794203.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Karam, F. J., Monaghan, C., & Yoder, P. J. (2017). ‘The students do not know why they are here’: Education decision-making for Syrian refugees. Globalization, Societies and Education, 15(4), 448–463. https://doi.org/10.1080/14767724.2016.1222895.

[19] Galston, W. (2004). Civic Education and Political Participation. Political Science & Politics, 37(2), 263-266.

[20] Ramon, A. (2017). Residents, Not Citizens: Israel and the Arabs of East Jerusalem, 1967-2017. Jerusalem Institute for Policy Research, (Hebrew).

[21] Shargai, N. (2022). Will Mansur Abbas’ precedent bring eastern city residents to the polls?. Public and State Affairs Center of Jerusalem. https://jcpa.org.il.

[22] Prince-Gibson, E. (2018). Why There’s No Palestinian Protest Vote in Jerusalem?. Foreign Policy Magazine.https://foreignpolicy.com/2018/11/19/why-theres-no-palestinian-protest-vote-in-jerusalem-israel-municipal-palestinian-authority-ramadan-dabash-aziz-abu-sarah/.

[23] Hooks, B. (1994). Teaching To Transgress (1st ed.). Routledge.

[24] Teeger, C., 2015. Both Sides of the Story: History Education in Post-Apartheid South Africa. American Sociological Review 88(6): 1175-1200.

[25] Vinitzky-Seroussi, V., and Teeger, C., 2007. Controlling for Consensus: Commemorating Apartheid in South Africa. Symbolic Interaction 30(1): 57-78.

Banks, J.A, (2017). Failed Citizenship and Transformative Civic Education. Educational Researcher, 46 (7). 377-366.

Banks, J.A, (2019). Civic Education for Noncitizens and Citizens Students, A Conceptual Framework. In: Banks, J.A, Humanitarianism and Mass Migration. California: University of California Press.

Beitz, C. R. (1990). Political Equality: An Essay in Democratic Theory. Princeton University Press.

Image Credits: Wikimedia Commons, “East Jerusalem – The Old City”