Dual-language schools in Acre?
Harold F. Schiffman
haroldfs at ccat.sas.upenn.edu
Tue Sep 6 12:31:20 UTC 2005
Tue., September 06, 2005 Elul 2, 5765
Lod's Zevulun Hammer school. Hasnin may become the only Arab student.
These school gates are closed
By Yulie Khromchenko
One day before the start of the school year, Tamir Hasnin does not know
where he will be starting the second grade. If the High Court of Justice
accepts his mother's petition, he will attend the Zevulun Hammer school in
Lod, a few minutes from his house, where he will be the only Arab student.
If the petition is rejected, he will go to the Shalom Aleichem school, a
40-minute walk from home, where half of the students are Arab. Fathya
Hasnin says she will fight for her son's right to attend the school
closest to his house. She says she will go all the way, even keeping him
out of school. "Other parents may give in, but I have no such intention,"
she says. "My child will go to the school close to home because that is
his right, like any other child."
The petition, which has not yet been heard by the court, was submitted for
the Hasnin family by attorney Abir Bakhar of Adalah, the Legal Center for
Arab Minority Rights in Israel. It thrusts into the limelight an issue
that is shrouded in uncertainty - the acceptance policy for Arab children
to Jewish schools. Existing education laws ostensibly prohibit racial
discrimination against children registering for school and determine area
of residence as the only criterion for school registration.
The deputy director of the Education Ministry, who was in charge of the
ministry's "five-year plan" for upgrading education in the Arab sector,
Dr. Yitzhak Tomer, insists there is no policy preventing Arab children
from registering at Jewish (or as they are known, "Hebrew") schools, and
that such a policy cannot exist.
However, no small number of parents and activists in the area of education
in the Arab sector say that either a quota with regard to Arab students
exists in some schools and kindergartens in mixed cities, or that Arab
children are clearly prevented from registering at certain schools. The
quotas or prevention of registration are usually explained by bureaucratic
reasons, such as lack of space. However, Arab parents see it as open
In the case of Tamir Hasnin, the Lod municipality did not hide behind
administrative reasoning, but in answer to a query by Haaretz, stated that
"the good of the child requires that he continue studying at Shalom
Aleichem school." The city even backed itself up with statements by the
supervisor of Arab education in the Education Ministry, Dr. Abdullah
Hatib, who "stressed unequivocally the preference that Arab children,
especially in the lower grades, attend Arab schools, in order to preserve
their language and culture."
Too young to know
Tamir Hasnin is still too young to know that he is walking the same path
as another child, Linda Brown, who was going into the third grade when the
Supreme Court case that bears her name created a storm in the United
States. The year was 1954, and 13 petitioners from Topeka, Kansas,
including Linda's parents, asked the court to allow African-American
students to study at whites-only schools.
The policies of racial segregation in various U.S. states at that time,
including Kansas, forced Linda to walk a long way to the bus that would
take her to school, when the white school was within walking distance. The
Supreme Court ruling, under the leadership of chief justice Earl Warren,
was a milestone in the history of the African-American community's
struggle for equal rights. It stated in no uncertain terms that the
principle of "separate but equal education" was discriminatory by its very
Some 50 years after Brown versus the Board of Education, Adalah attorney
Bakhar quoted from Warren's ruling regarding the damage done by
segregation to African-American students. "To separate them from others of
similar age and qualifications solely because of their race generates a
feeling of inferiority as to their status in the community that may affect
their hearts and minds in a way unlikely ever to be undone."
Tamir Hasnin's story is not unique. According to Education Ministry data,
in 2005, 3,722 Arab children are attending Jewish kindergartens and
schools. Although this number represents only 1 percent of Arab students,
it is on the rise: Last year's figure was 3.400.
The Education Ministry provides data on numbers of students only by town,
but it can be assumed that most of the Arab students are going to school
in mixed cities: Ramle, Lod, Haifa, Acre and Jaffa. Even in Jerusalem,
although it is not considered a mixed city, a small percentage of Arab
students attend mixed schools. According to parents and activists, the
picture varies slightly from city to city, and the acceptance policy is
defined differently, but the principle of segregation is the same: the
vast majority of Arab students attend separate schools; only a small group
is allowed to attend Jewish schools.
In Lod, for example, according to Arafat Ismail, who works for Shatil,
which provides Israeli NGOs with advocacy services, there are schools
where it is known Arab students are accepted, and those that are known not
to accept them. The Ramle-Lod high school, where Ismail's son is a
student, has a few Arab students, as does the Amal school and a number of
elementary schools. At the Shalom Aleichem school, where Tamir Hasnin went
last year, about half the student body is Arab. The Jewish elementary
school in the Ganei Aviv neighborhood of Lod, on the other hand, is known
not to accept Arabs.
The chairman of the Arab parents committee in Lod, Abed Zabarkha, says
many young Arab couples migrate from the Arab neighborhoods of Lod to the
Jewish neighborhoods because of construction limitations. When they start
looking for a school, the closest one is Jewish. According to Zabarkha,
the five Arab elementary schools in Lod are full and the overcrowding
nudges parents toward the Jewish school system. Ismail conceded that he
found the Jewish school to be the best possible educational environment
for his son in light of the collapse of the Arab public school system and
the high cost of Christian private schools in the city.
In Acre, according to the city's Hadash city council member, Ahmed Oudeh,
the segregation of Jewish and Arab students is almost total. Three
thousand of the Arab students - most of the city's schoolchildren - are
concentrated in one educational complex that Oudeh calls an "educational
ghetto." Only in isolated cases, he says, does the city allow interested
Arab students to register at Jewish educational institutions, and in every
case the city will try to convince the parents not to do it. "They come to
the parents and say that such a transition would not be good for the
child," Oudeh says. "They try to scare them by saying that the child will
not acclimate, that he will not learn and that he will lose his
The situation in the kindergartens is slightly different. Because there
are almost no Arab kindergartens in Acre, and because Arabs reside
throughout the city, city hall cannot ignore the parents' demand to send
their children to the kindergarten closest to home. However, according to
Oudeh, every kindergarten has a quota for Arab children. "Although it is
not open policy, parents know it very well. Usually it's about seven Arab
children in a kindergarten class of 53. After the quota is filled, parents
are simply told there's no more room."
Do the kindergartens that have seven Arab children adjust their
Oudeh: "There are teachers who are aware of the Arab children and try to
involve something for them in their teaching, but as a rule nothing much
comes of it," Oudeh says. "In the final analysis, they go according to the
In Jaffa, according to the chairman of the Association for the Arabs of
Jaffa, Gabi Abed, there is a 20 percent quota for Arab children in the two
Jewish schools (the Weizmann elementary school and City High School # 7),
which Arab students attend. Here too, no one will admit it openly, but the
parents know it nevertheless. "The accepted idea in the education system
is that if the Arabs come in, the Jewish students drop out," Abed says.
"That's what happens in housing, too. When Arabs come, Jews leave."
And what happens when an Arab child goes to a Jewish school? Buthania
Dabit, from Shatil in Lod, whose nephew goes to a Jewish kindergarten,
says he came back from school one day singing "Mashiach, Mashiach." Abed
says his daughter came home from the Na'amat day care center wishing them
a happy Purim, and Zabarkha says he knows of a mother whose child
announced he was going to pray on the Temple Mount.
Zabarkha sends his son to an Arab school, although he recognizes the
advantage of the Jewish education system, because he is opposed in
principle to Arab children attending Jewish schools. "Elementary school is
the last chance for my son to study his own tradition in his own
language," Zabarkha says. "In high school he will go to a Jewish school
and everything will be in Hebrew. It's important to me that he learn
Arabic, even though we speak more Hebrew than Arabic at home.
"Children who grow up in a Jewish school will not speak Arabic well to
their children, or be able to help them with their homework, and the
problem will move to the next generation." Still, Zabarkha says he
understands parents who, when forced to chose between a higher standard of
education and preserving their tradition, chose the former.
Fathya Hasnin is herself a graduate of the Jewish school system. Born in
Rehovot, she went to a Jewish elementary school and was accepted at a
religious public high school. She says she wants to send Tamir to a Jewish
school not only because it is close to home, because the classes are less
crowded and there are more ancillary services, but rather because as a
graduate of the Jewish school system, it will be easier for her to help
him in his studies if he attends a Jewish school.
Ahmed Oudeh says he believes the solution to the dilemma of preserving
culture and language versus a higher level of education would be solved by
establishing a dual-language school in Acre, which would also lessen the
overcrowding in the existing schools. He brought up the subject recently
with the mayor, but he doesn't believe his proposal will get much
attention. "The Jews in Acre are not enthusiastic over the idea of their
children studying together with Arabs," he says. "Even some of the Arabs,
at least the religious ones, won't want their girls to go to school with
Jewish girls who wear midriff blouses."
Dual language schools elsewhere in the country, one in Jerusalem, one in
Kfar Kara, and one in the Misgav Regional Council, and the Arab-Jewish
school at Neveh Shalom, have a good reputation and attract students,
although they suffer from bureaucratic difficulties. For example, the Kfar
Kara school had to start a public campaign before the Education Ministry
would allow it to open, and the Jerusalem school had to petition the
Supreme Court recently to allow it to open a seventh grade.
Abed, who opposes registering Arab children in Jewish schools for fear
they will lose their identity, says he believes the solution is to
establish good Arab schools, which will attain or even surpass the level
of the Jewish schools. The Yaffa democratic school, opening this year with
the assistance of the Association of Arabs in Jaffa, has yet to be
officially recognized by the Education Ministry, but it has already
attracted a large number of students. The association also founded a
daycare center years ago. "The Yaffa school makes it possible for parents
to stop wavering between good education and heritage," Abed says, adding
that in Jewish schools attended by Arabs, consideration for them is
minimal. For example, there is no recognition of Arab holidays; the
students have to choose between observing the holiday and missing
Education Ministry deputy director Tomer says he knows nothing about a
policy of quotas in mixed cities, and that he is sorry parents do not come
to the ministry to complain. He believes a school with a large Arab
student body should make allowances for their needs, but as far as he
knows, the ministry has never been asked to build a model for a mixed
school, and no such model exists.
One year after Linda Brown's parents took her case to the U.S. Supreme
Court, the Topeka school system annulled divisions in schools along ethic
lines. Will Lod follow its lead?
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