Second-class schools anger Israeli Arabs: Sharmila Devi reports
from Haifa on campaigners demanding Arabs receive the same quality
education as Jews
By Sharmila Devi, Financial Times, 3 September 2004
Amal Jabareen, a physician from the Israeli city of Haifa, has a vision of howArabs and Jews should be educated together. “Our vision is we should all betogether in the same schools, Jew and Arab, but this is considered illogical,” he says. “If you say this, then you are accused of wanting to demolish the Jewish state.” Dr Jabareen is a member of Haifa’s Arab Parents’ Association which, backed by the city’s Jewish mayor, is battling with the ministry of education to raise standards in underfunded Arab schools. The association made headlines with a threat to encourage Arab pupils to turn up en masse and enroll in Jewish schools at the start of the school year yesterday. It backed down and gave the government a year to implement promised reforms. Israeli Arabs, 1.2m out of a population of 6m, are concentrated in the north in cities such as Haifa. They say they still suffer from political and economic discrimination 56 years after Israel was founded. Israel operates two separate state systems – one for Jewish and one for Arab pupils. Many Israeli Arab schools are in poor condition, short of classrooms and with fewer remedial programmes. Examination results show a great disparity between the two systems. Few Arab parents send their children to Jewish schools and those that do must have their children assessed on an individual basis and tested to ensure proficiency in Hebrew and other subjects. Last month Human Rights Watch sent letters urging the Israeli government to “close the educational gap between Israel’s Jewish and Arab citizens”. It also called for a written Policy prohibiting discrimination on the basis of religion, race, ethnicity or
gender. Haifa is Israel’s third-largest city where Arabs make up about 14 per cent of more than 250,000 people. But beneath the apparent calm lie stark polarities, says Yasser Mansour, a paediatrician who is chairman of the Arab Parents’ Association. “If there is no evidence of real change or even of the intention to reduce the gap between the two systems, then we’ll campaign and tell Arab parents their children’s future is in danger and go to the bettersystem,” he says. “But why have two systems – this is the city that flies the flag of coexistence?”
He says Israel has success fully integrated large waves of immigrants from the former Soviet Union and Ethiopia in the last decade or so. But Aharon Zveida, the Haifa district manager at the ministry of education, says a sudden influx of Arab pupils would “require huge structural changes that would take years to implement”. He believes Dr Mansour is misleading Israeli Arab parents and that they would not carry out their threat to swamp Jewish schools.
Dr Mansour says whatever happens to the campaign for better Arab schools, he intends to send his son to a Jewish school because of the better educational facilities. However, he accepts he is in a minority as many Israeli Arabs want their children educated in Arabic and just want to bring their schools up to parity.
Yona Yahav, who was elected mayor of Haifa last year, says he won 91 per cent of the Arab vote and is determined to improve the system. His plans include the teaching of Arabic in Jewish schools from the age of eight.
“We are seeing a new, democratic generation of Israeli Arabs who know their way around the system,” says Mr Yahav, who represents the secular Shinui party.
The city of Ramle, near Tel Aviv, provides a more common example of the problems facing Israeli Arabs. Jewish residents have written to the mayor voicing opposition to a group of Israeli Arab parents who rented a building in a Jewish neighbourhood where they planned to operate primary classes, instead of continuing in their old, dilapidated buildings. The Jewish residents told the mayor the school would “cause great damage to the city” and many of them threatened to leave.
Dr Zeidan Nasser, who helped to establish the school, said most of these residents were new immigrants from Russia. “It seems they weren’t taught that there is a difference between Arab citizens of the state and Arabs from the territories.”