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Israel systematically discriminates against Palestinian Arab citizens in its public school system, Human Rights Watch said in a new report released today.

The 187-page report, Second Class: Discrimination Against Palestinian Arab Children in Israel's Schools, is based on Human Rights Watch investigations at twenty-six Arab and Jewish schools and on nationwide statistics compiled by the Israeli government. Nearly one-quarter of Israel's 1.6 million schoolchildren are Palestinian Arab citizens and are educated in schools run by the Israeli government, but operated separately from those of the Jewish majority.

"Government-run Arab schools are a world apart from government-run Jewish schools," said Zama Coursen-Neff, counsel to the Children's Rights Division of Human Rights Watch. "In virtually every respect, Palestinian Arab children get an education inferior to that of Jewish children, and their relatively poor performance in school reflects this."

Palestinian Arab children drop out of school at three times the rate of Jewish children and are less likely to pass the national matriculation exams for a high school diploma. Only a handful make it to university. Among Palestinian Arabs, the Bedouin from the Negev Desert fare the worst in every respect. "Discrimination is cumulative, and at each level, more Palestinian Arab children are winnowed out," Coursen-Neff said.

The report found striking differences in virtually every aspect of the education system. The Education Ministry does not allocate as much money per head for Palestinian Arab children as it does for Jewish children. Their classes are 20 percent larger on average. They 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. Their school buildings are in worse condition, and many communities lack kindergartens for three and four-year-olds. Palestinian Arab schoolchildren do not have the same access to counseling and vocational programs. One of the largest gaps is in special education, where disabled Palestinian Arab children get less funding and fewer services, have limited access to special schools, and lack appropriate curricula.

Arabic is an official language and the language of instruction in Israel's Arab schools. Nevertheless, the government devotes inadequate resources toward developing Arabic curricula in general, and Palestinian Arab teachers have far fewer textbooks and teaching materials at their disposal than their Jewish counterparts. Some of the content, especially the mandatory study of Jewish religious texts, alienates students and teachers alike.

"The government has admitted that it spends more per Jewish child, but it hasn't changed its policies," said Coursen-Neff. "The children who need the most-Palestinian Arab and, especially, Negev Bedouin-are getting the least." Last fall the government promised extra money for Arab education. This year it is not delivering on that promise in the 2002 budget.

Human Rights Watch called on the Israeli government to immediately end discrimination in its schools system:

  • The Ministry of Education should adopt a written policy of equality that explicitly prohibits discrimination on the basis of religion, race, ethnicity, or gender. The ministry should immediately begin distributing all funding and programs to schools on a non-discriminatory basis and allocate additional funding to close the gaps between Jewish and Arab education.
  • The Knesset should amend the education laws to prohibit discrimination by the national government.
  • The government should measurably improve Palestinian Arab citizens' participation in all aspects of decision-making about education policies and resources.

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