Legal Encounter Presents Shortcomings of New Gaza Education Law

The Gaza office of the Birzeit University Institute of Law (IoL) organized a legal encounter on April 22, 2013 on a new Gaza education law and its impact. The presentation on the law was made by lawyer Hazem Haniyeh, coordinator of the Policy and Studies Unit at the Independent Commission for Human Rights (ICHR), Gaza Strip Programme. The legal encounter brought together representatives of human rights organizations, members of the legal community and other interested individuals.
Coordinator of the Gaza office of the IoL Lina Al-Tounisi said that this legal encounter was of particular significance in light of the related problems affecting Palestinian society.
In his opening remarks, Haniyeh questioned the significance of the Education Law and whether or not it was needed at this particular time. Any recently enacted law should introduce positive changes, he argued. He also emphasized that the new Gaza-issued Education Law compromises the education system itself, as well as children, women, and broad segments of the Palestinian society.
Providing an overview of the law, Haniyeh said that the new Education Law No. 1 of 2013 is made up of 60 articles covering nine major aspects. These include definitions, general principles on compulsory and free education at the basic school stage, scope of enforcement of the law, and goals of the education system. The law stipulates that it “shall be applicable to public and private, foreign and international educational institutions that operate in Palestine.” It also establishes professional codes of conduct, prohibits mixed-sex education after the age of nine, and feminizes girls schools.
An overall assessment of the Education Law shows that the majority of its provisions adopt an ideological, religious stance, Haniyeh said. Though it does not provide clear definitions, the law uses terms imbued with political meaning, such as “normalization”. It further provides protection for administrative decisions, rendering them definitive and incontestable. In a grave change in current regulations, Haniyeh said, the law endows the general certificate of secondary education with the power of a definitive court ruling. The law also introduces new streams of secondary school education, including vocational and technical education. However, it does not regulate these newly-introduced disciplines.
Haniyeh went on to say that the Education Law contravenes the principle of free education. The Law allows the Ministry of Education to collect a fee from participants attending the general secondary education examinations. It also uses the term “persons with special needs” in relevant provisions, contradicting the international preference for “persons with disabilities”.
Also tainted with gender-based discrimination, the law impinges on the principle of equality, Haniyeh argued. It bans mixed-gender education in educational institutions after the age of nine. Moreover, the Ministry of Education of the Gaza government is also working towards feminizing girls schools.
Highlighting ICHR’s vision of the Gaza-issued Education Law, lawyer Haniyeh explained that, in terms of form, the law violates well-established legal norms and standards. Encroaching on the consolidated legal framework of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the law was approved despite the Palestinian political division between the Hamas government in the Gaza Strip and the Fateh-dominated government in the West Bank. When it was endorsed, the Gaza-based Palestinian Legislative Council did not convene in full. The law was approved by members of the Hamas affiliated Change and Reform Bloc only.
The law also impinges on respective international treaties and conventions, gravely violating safeguarded rights that are also duly protected by the Palestinian Basic Law, said Haniyeh. By imposing a particular religious ideology, the law infringes on legal and social structures, adversely impacting citizens’ rights and freedoms enshrined in both domestic legislation and international conventions.
In the discussion following Haniyeh’s presentation, the audience made a number of significant comments. Participants stated that the new Gaza-issued Education Law No. 1 of 2013 should be suspended because it is incompatible with domestic laws and international conventions. Provisions of the law should be reconsidered, audience members argued, and amended as soon as possible. National human rights actors and educational stakeholders should also take part in this lawmaking process. Approved regulations will be consistent with both domestic and international legal norms and standards that make up the legal framework in force in the Palestinian Authority-controlled territory.
This legal encounter was organized in partnership with the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, Ramallah Office.