The visit of a prime minister to a high school is enough to excite most students and faculty. The esteemed guest signs the visitors’ book, cuts a ribbon and politely watches a show about the school.
Only in this case the visit by Salam Fayyad, the prime minister of the Palestinian Authority, was highly symbolic because this high school happens to be located on parts of eastern Jerusalem claimed by Israel, and the Israeli government was not happy about it.
“The Israeli prime minister defined these suburbs as suburbs of Jerusalem, the united capital. And we say, yes, these are suburbs, but suburbs of our occupied capital, which will always be the capital of our independent state,” Fayyad told the dedication ceremony.
In a show of muscle, Israel’s Minister for Public Security Yitzhak Aharonovitch issued a ban prohibiting Fayyad and other PA officials from participating in political activities within Israel territory. Fayyad chose not to defy the ban, saying he wouldn’t put on a “publicity stunt” by forcing a confrontation with Israeli police.
Instead, he chose to go to a school in the Dahiyat al-Barid neighborhood that is within the municipal boundaries but on the Palestinian side of the security wall Israel has erected.
The al-Umah Secondary School was renovated in part with Palestinian funds, one of 15 schools and several roads in eastern Jerusalem upgraded in the program. His visit was conducted under heavy security, and he was accompanied by dozens of media crews.
As far as the Palestinians are concerned, Israel was living by a double standard, claiming sovereignty over eastern Jerusalem, but not spending money on the schools and other public services there. Mohammad Abdulqader Husseini, CEO Faisal Husseini Foundation, said international donors also chipped funding in to help renovate schools.
“We lack 1,500 classrooms. Many of our students are winding up in the streets rather than in school. Israel isn’t building new schools. They are putting obstacles in front of us to building new schools. So we have to do something,” Husseini told The Media Line. “We decided to help the current schools to renovate, to restructure and try to add more structures and we succeeded to some extent. Yet it is not enough.”
An official from Israel Public Security Ministry said Fayyad did not violate the ban since it only covered the Arab neighborhoods of Sheikh Jarrah, the Christian Quarter of the Old City, Shuafat and Anata. Ibrahim al-Rifa’i, the head of the Anata neighborhood council, told The Media Line he was disappointed Israel didn’t let Fayyad into Anata.
“What Salam Fayyad did in Anata, the Jerusalem municipality should have done since 1967,” al-Rifa’i said, refereeing to the year Israel acquired the area in a war with Jordan. “Israel considers Anata part of Jerusalem, but gave it nothing— no streets, no water, no electricity, no clinics and no clearing of garbage. So I turned to Salam Fayyad and received a promise, which he realized, and that’s what we came to celebrate today.”
Asked why he didn’t disregard the Israeli ban Fayyad said that the location of the celebrations was secondary.
“There was a clear ban from Israel on celebrating these events and we have celebrated them anyway,” Fayyad said. “What is really important is the substance. We are not here on a publicity stunt. We are here to send a clear message—that we are determined to stick around until the day comes when our people enjoy what is an absolute right for all peoples around the world; to live as free people in a country of our own. That’s what this is about.”