Israel’s draft budget fails to address systematic discrimination against Palestinian Arab school children, Human Rights Watch said today in letters to the Israeli government. Members of the Israeli cabinet are expected to meet on Sunday to finalize the budget proposal before its submission to Knesset.
“Prime Minister Sharon acknowledges that ‘education is the most effective tool to reduce gaps in Israeli society,’ but his budget perpetuates discrimination against children who are Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel,” said Clarisa Bencomo, researcher in Human Rights Watch’s Children’s Rights Division. “This budget does nothing to close the educational gap between Israel’s Jewish and Arab citizens.”
The Israeli government operates separate school systems, one for Jewish children and one for Palestinian Arab children, who make up nearly one in four of Israel's 1.6 million schoolchildren. The funding disparities between the two systems are enormous: Palestinian Arab students receive substantially less funding than Jewish students, and they attend schools with larger classes and fewer teachers than Jewish children.
While the Ministry of Education does not make public its total spending on each sector, this year the gap was the equivalent of one full-time teacher for every 16 children in Jewish primary schools as compared to one for every 19.7 children in Arab primary schools.
The impact of this discrimination goes far beyond overcrowding in classrooms. In its 2001 study, “Second Class: Discrimination against Palestinian Arab Children in Israel’s Schools,” Human Rights Watch found that, by virtually every measure, Palestinian Arab children receive an inferior education to their counterparts in the Jewish public education system. They receive far fewer enrichment and remedial programs—even though they need them more—partly because the Ministry of Education uses a different scale to assess need for Jewish children.
The construction of new classrooms in Palestinian Arab communities has been largely frozen since 2003, despite an estimated shortage of 1,500 classrooms. Existing schools are often in poor repair, and lack basic learning facilities like libraries, computers, science laboratories and recreation space. Many Arab communities lack kindergartens for children aged three to four, although almost all children in the Jewish public education sector are enrolled in such kindergartens by age three. Palestinian Arab children with disabilities and Bedouin children in the Negev Desert are particularly disadvantaged and receive comparatively less funding and fewer services.
Human Rights Watch called on the Israeli government to take immediate steps 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 as well as to the availability and physical condition of schools, special education, 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.