Letter to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon
August 11, 2004

Human Rights Watch is deeply concerned that despite your statement that “Education is the most effective tool to reduce gaps in Israeli society and provide equal opportunity for every child,” (July 19, 2004), the proposed FY2005 budget fails to address a legacy of decades of systematic discrimination against Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel in the public education system. We urge you to ensure that the final FY2005 budget and actual programs and spending clearly reflect Israel’s obligation to promote the right to education on a nondiscriminatory basis for all Israeli children.

Human Rights Watch is deeply concerned that despite your statement that “Education is the most effective tool to reduce gaps in Israeli society and provide equal opportunity for every child,” (July 19, 2004), the proposed FY2005 budget fails to address a legacy of decades of systematic discrimination against Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel in the public education system. We urge you to ensure that the final FY2005 budget and actual programs and spending clearly reflect Israel’s obligation to promote the right to education on a nondiscriminatory basis for all Israeli children.

In December 2001 Human Rights Watch provided the Israeli government with detailed evidence of systematic discrimination against Palestinian Arab children (see Second Class: Discrimination against Palestinian Arab Children in Israel’s School). Ministry of Education officials largely agreed with our findings, yet the pattern of discrimination we identified continues: the government still allocates less funding per Palestinian Arab student than per Jewish student, and as a result Palestinian Arab children attend schools with larger classes and fewer teachers than Jewish children.1 Palestinian Arab children get far fewer enrichment and remedial programs—even though they need them more—in part because the Ministry uses a different scale to assess need for Jewish children. Building of new classrooms in Palestinian Arab communities has been largely frozen since 2003, despite a shortage of an estimated 1,500 classrooms. Existing schools are often in poor repair, and lack basic learning facilities like libraries, computers, science laboratories and recreational space. Many Arab communities still lack kindergartens for three and four-year-olds, although almost all children in the Jewish public education system are enrolled in such kindergartens by age three. Palestinian Arab children with disabilities and the Bedouin from the Negev Desert are particularly disadvantaged and receive significantly less funding and fewer services.

Israel has a fundamental duty to provide education without discrimination to all of its citizens, including those who are Palestinian Arab. This includes ensuring that overall funding for education is sufficient to create parity between Jewish and Arab school systems, and adopting policies that remedy past and end current discrimination against Palestinian Arab students.

We urge you to give meaning to your stated support for equal opportunity for every Israeli child by taking immediate action to:

    • Create parity between Jewish and Arab education in all areas, with special priority given to the provision of kindergartens, libraries, recreation and other facilities; the availability and physical condition of schools; special education; and vocational education and teacher training,
    • Adopt and implement a written policy of equality that explicitly prohibits discrimination on the basis of religion, race, ethnicity or gender;
    • Restructure the Ministry of Education's resource allocations to fund Jewish and Arab schools on a transparent, nondiscriminatory basis.

    Sincerely yours,
    Lois Whitman
    Executive Director
    Children's Rights Division

    Sarah Leah Whitson
    Executive Director
    Middle East and North Africa Division

(1)For example, in 2003-2004, although 23.6 percent of children enrolled in primary through secondary schools were Palestinian Arab, the Ministry allotted only 20.6 percent of its total teaching hours to them. Per student, Jewish students received an average of 1.97 teaching hours per week, while Palestinian Arab students received 1.63 teaching hours per week. The Ministry also allocates, on average, more teachers per capita to Jewish schools than to Arab schools, providing, for example, the equivalent of one full-time teacher for every 16.0 children in Jewish primary schools as compared to one full-time teacher for every 19.7 children in Arab primary schools in 2003-2004.