(NEW YORK)— In response to reports that the Israeli government has frozen higher education preparation funding for Palestinian students in Jerusalem, PEN America issued the following statement:

“The Israeli government’s decision to withhold funding designated to support Palestinian students’ college education fits within a broader, ongoing assault on Palestinians’ free expression and right to education. This is a further effort to entrench a separate and unequal system of education that deprives Palestinians of their fundamental rights. The Israeli government should reverse this decision, and start the process of reversing similar arbitrary laws that repress Palestinians’ right to education and free expression,” said Justin Shilad, research and advocacy lead for the Middle East and North Africa at PEN America.

On Monday, Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich sent a letter to Israeli Interior Minister Moshe Arbel saying that he would not release approximately 200 million shekels (US$54 million) in funds to help Palestinian students in East Jerusalem pursue studies in Israeli academic institutions. The funds already were budgeted as part of the Israeli government’s largest public investment in East Jerusalem since the beginning of the ongoing Israeli occupation of the area. Smotrich claimed that funding the programs would encourage “radical Islamic cells” at Israeli universities.

The move comes after the Israeli Ministerial Committee on Legislation moved forward in May 2023 on a bill that would cut funding for schools in East Jerusalem that teach the Palestinian curriculum. Israeli attempts to interfere in Palestinian schools’ curriculum last year resulted in around 150 schools in East Jerusalem going on strike in protest. Last month, the Israeli Knesset also advanced legislation that would bar the display of Palestinian flags on university campuses. The proposed restrictions on curriculum and Palestinian free expression on universities add to the already formidable obstacles Palestinians face in accessing education under occupation, with Palestinian students regularly being detained and having their studies interrupted and Palestinians regularly facing barriers in accessing higher education.

The Israeli government’s proposed laws concerning Palestinian access to education come amid a broader right-wing legislative push, which has resulted in unprecedented protests throughout Israel this year. This push would allow the Israeli government to further encroach upon and outright annex Palestinian territory while also further marginalizing Palestinians, even as Israeli authorities already broadly deny Palestinians their rights to free expression.

About PEN America

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. To learn more visit PEN.org 

Contact: Suzanne Trimel, [email protected], 201-247-5057