I remember in the winter I couldn't grab the pencil because I was so cold.Arab schools need more classrooms, and those they have are often in poor condition, especially in the Negev. Compared with Jewish schools, Arab schools have fewer libraries, sports facilities, laboratories, and other auxiliary facilities.--Negev Bedouin woman, Be'er Sheva, December 15, 2000
School buildings are the joint responsibility of the Ministry of Education and the local governments, with the ministry funding most construction,239 the local governments purchasing furniture, and both sharing maintenance costs. Other central government bodies, such at the Ministry of Housing, which constructs preschools in some communities, and the National Lottery, which finances auxiliary facilities, also contribute, as do parents in some instances.
Under international law, one component of the right to education is the "conditions under which it is given," and states must ensure that "in all public education institutions of the same level . . . the conditions relating to the quality of education are also equivalent."240
The Follow-Up Committee for Arab Education estimated in 2001 that the Arab education system needed 2,500 additional classrooms.241 The principal of an Arab primary school in a village in the Triangle region explained: "We need more classrooms. The teachers and students complain. We are getting more and more pupils every year. We have tried for three years to get approval to widen the school grounds, and we have been refused. Even for disabled students we just don't have it."242
Although the Israeli government built new classrooms for the Arab system in the 1990s, the overall proportion of Arab school classrooms out of the total number of classrooms increased less than 1 percent from 1990 to 1998.
Source: State of Israel Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Initial Periodic Report of the State of Israel Concerning the Implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), February 20, 2001, p. 307.
As of 1998, the proportion of Arab school classrooms--19.5 percent--still failed to reflect the proportion of students in the Arab system. Since 1998, the Ministry of Education has promised to build additional Arab school classrooms. In 2000, excluding kindergartens, 31 percent of the budget for new classrooms and continued building was designated for Arab education and 69 percent went to Jewish education.243 In 2001, the ministry planned to build 2,000 classrooms, 585 of which (29.3 percent) were to be for Arab education.244 The Development Administration of the Ministry of Education, which is responsible for building classrooms, did not respond to Human Rights Watch's inquiry as to how many classrooms were actually built in 2000 and 2001.
As a result of the classroom shortage, many classes in Arab schools are held in rented spaces, in some cases only a room in a private home, or in prefabricated buildings, locally called "caravans." We visited one Arab school for physically disabled children where about half of the children were deaf or hearing impaired. The school was in a rented building, which, one teacher told us, was acoustically bad for hearing impaired children because the hard stone walls, ceilings, and floors created echoes.245 The school had placed acoustic paneling over some of the walls but could not make needed structural changes or additions. "Everything is as it is," the principal explained. "We try to improve it, but it is rented."246
In the unrecognized Negev Bedouin community of Al-Azazmeh, three elementary schools use forty prefabricated buildings to teach more than 1,300 students.247 Shaqib Al-Salaam elementary school in the Negev also consists of ten prefabricated buildings.248
Arab school classrooms are also more crowded than those in Jewish schools. As stated above, Arab school classes have more students on average than Jewish ones. While this does not in itself mean that Arab classes are overcrowded, the Arab schools that Human Rights Watch visited, in contrast with the Jewish ones, were visibly short of space.
In 1998, the government-appointed Katz Committee found that "most" of the permanent schools in government-planned localities for Negev Bedouin were overcrowded and concluded that 146 new classrooms would be needed each year from 1998-1999 to 2002-2003.249
Human Rights Watch visited Arab schools in varying physical conditions and new schools as well as old schools. Overall, the physical differences between Jewish and Arab schools were immediately visible. A Palestinian Arab high school student noted: "Jewish schools are different. Two weeks ago I went to a sports event in a Jewish town. I saw courts and buildings-there was a special building for the eighth grade. It was the same as other Jewish schools in Akka [Acre]. There was a big building for only 700 students."250More than one-third of Arab children study in flammable and dangerous structures. The situation is particularly severe in the Bedouin sector, especially in the south of the country and in the unrecognized settlements, where few classrooms have been built.
We visited an Arab primary school in a village in the Triangle region made of concrete block and with a stench of urine in the halls. One hallway was blocked off at the end and filled with trash. In another school in the region that we visited, the parents' committee had just built a new addition with five new classrooms. "If we waited for the municipality to support it, it could have taken years," the principal explained. "I didn't sit and wait."251
School buildings are worse in the Negev, especially in the unrecognized villages, although Human Rights Watch saw also schools in poor condition in recognized Bedouin towns. Israel reported to the Committee on the Rights of the Child in 2001 that:
Schools attended by the Bedouin children are located in both permanent settlements (where they were established by the State), and in unplanned, unrecognized encampments and settlements. The latter are well below par: Their budgets are low, they lack appropriate buildings or even electricity and water, in some cases, and they lack appropriate supplies and equipment. Schools in permanent settlements are better equipped and in better physical condition, but they lack equipment such as laboratories, and the level of crowding in them is very high. 252Similarly, the Katz Committee in 1998 found that in Negev Bedouin schools:
In April 1998, the Israeli High Court of Justice ruled that the government must provide electricity to all government schools in unrecognized villages.254 Since then, the government has provided generators to at least some of these schools.Facilities and equipment are insufficient, and in some cases, altogether lacking. This is especially true for the schools in spontaneous tribal settlements which the government considers temporary. Currently there are eleven temporary and eighteen permanent Bedouin primary schools in the Negev. These temporary schools in unplanned settlements are poorly equipped, have low budgets, inadequate facilities, poor buildings and furnishings, and few teaching materials. They often suffer from a complete lack of facilities and materials such as audiovisual, computers, laboratory and sports equipment, etc. They are mostly housed in tin, wooden, or concrete buildings with insufficient classroom and office space. In general, they are not supplied with running water and electricity, although some are found next to water pipes or electric lines. As a rule, these schools are not expanded and are poorly maintained. In contrast to temporary schools, permanent schools are located in government planned settlements or on the sites of future developments, and are better equipped. Most of them are housed in modern buildings, and have electricity and running water. But even they do not have sufficient laboratories, libraries or other teaching materials.253
Although the magnitude of the problem is difficult to quantify, it is generally recognized that a school's physical condition affects its students' academic performance.255Travel Distances
Many unrecognized Bedouin villages lack a school of any kind, and according to some reports, more than 6,000 Bedouin children must travel dozens of kilometers to school every day.9 In October 1999, a journalist reported:
Similarly, Human Rights Watch visited a school near an unrecognized village in the Negev where the children came from as far as fifty kilometers away.11 A first grade teacher told us that some of her students travel more than an hour to reach the school.12 A municipal official in the recognized Bedouin town of Kseife, told Human Rights Watch that 42 percent of children attending school there come from outside the town.13 Students also travel as far as fifty kilometers to reach elementary schools in Al-Azazmeh, another unrecognized village.14 Saud al-Haroumi, a teacher at a school in the recognized Bedouin community Shaqib Al-Salaam/Segev Shalom noted: "What do you expect a student to learn, when he has to get up early in the morning and travel for an hour or more by bus," asks.15Every morning, 8-year-old Yasser and 9-year-old Saalem, of the Azazma tribe, wake up at 5:00 a.m. and hike two kilometers from their corrugated tin shack to the main road. There, a bus picks them up for the 100-kilometer ride to their school in Segev Shalom. At the end of the day, they make the return trip. The two travel over 200 kilometers every day. "It's hardest in winter, because Mom wakes us up in the dark," Saalem says, "it's really cold and raining and we run very fast to catch the bus. But if we're a little late, the bus doesn't wait."10
In response to this situation, Moshe Shohat, the government head of the Bedouin educational system in the Negev, told a journalist that it is not possible to build a school "on every hill and under every luxuriant tree where the Bedouin are dispersed. We have 14 schools located in centers of temporary residences and they're spread out all over the Negev."16
In July 2000, Adalah and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) filed a petition on behalf of the Regional Council for the Unrecognized Villages, Parents' Committees, and residents of Be'er Hadaj against the Minister of Education and the Ramat HaNegev regional council demanding they establish schools in the unrecognized community of Be'er Hadaj.17 Local children were traveling thirty-two to forty kilometers each way to reach their schools, and 33.9 percent of children (215 out of 635 children) between the ages of three and eighteen did not attend school. In 1998, only two of thirteen eighth graders were girls. Although the Ministry of Education provided transportation, only one out of seven buses entered the village. To reach the other six buses, children walked four kilometers to unmarked bus stops along the highway.18 The Israeli High Court granted an order nisi in July 2000 ordering the government to respond and then accepted the government's promise to build a temporary school closer to the community than the old school. However, the new school would not be located in the community, but rather in an area where the government planned to resettle the community but where no town yet existed.19
The situation in Be'er Hadaj and the low numbers of girls who made it to the eighth grade demonstrate the disparate impact that long travel distances have on girls' education: parents are often more reluctant to send their daughters on long bus rides and so keep them at home. We visited a primary school in an unrecognized Bedouin village that continued through the ninth grade. The head of the local parents' committee told us that for many of the girls, this would be their last year of school because they would not travel the longer distance to the nearest high school.20 Similarly, a Bedouin teacher told us that his eighteen-year-old sister had dropped out of school after the eighth grade. "The long distance between home and school makes it difficult for a girl to walk alone in the desert," he explained.21
International law requires that schools be physically accessible for the right to education to be fulfilled. The United Nations Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights has stated that to be physically accessible, schools must be "within safe physical reach, either by attendance at some reasonably convenient geographic location (e.g. a neighbourhood school) or via modern technology (e.g. access to a `distance learning' programme)."22 In addition, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, to which Israel is a party, obligates states to "eliminate discrimination against women in order to ensure them equal rights with men in the field of education and in particular to ensure, on the basis of equality of men and women . . . [t]he same conditions . . . for access to studies."23
The lack of auxiliary facilities in Arab schools--libraries, laboratories, gymnasiums, and art rooms--compared with those we saw in Jewish schools was especially striking. For example, we went from an Arab school where children played on the roof for lack of even an empty parking lot, to a Jewish school with a separate gymnasium with tiered stadium seating; from an Arab school where the special education classroom contained only desks and chairs, some of which were missing their plastic backs leaving bare metal rods, to a Jewish school with an art therapy room. While not all Jewish schools have art therapy rooms, national data from the Israeli government documents the shortage of auxiliary facilities in Arab schools compared with Jewish schools.
The problem is compounded by the fact that many Palestinian Arab communities lack services such as local libraries and recreational facilities that might compensate for shortages in schools. This is especially true in Negev Bedouin localities, both recognized and unrecognized. But a parent in Haifa and a representative of a parents' committee in Acre both complained about the lack of Arabic libraries with children's literature in their cities as well.24
More Jewish schools than Arab schools have libraries. According to Israel's Central Bureau of Statistics, 64.4 percent of Arab schools, compared with 80.7 percent of Jewish schools, had libraries.There is no library, no room with books in it that the students can use. And a laboratory. Students need a way to do research for themselves and collect material--it is necessary for university. We can't train them to do research because we don't have a library. There was one in the village but it is closed now, so most pupils only have the ministry's book, and they don't get any more information than that.
Sources: CBS, Survey of Education and Welfare Services 1994/1995: Primary and Intermediate Schools, Hebrew and Arab Education (Jerusalem: CBS, October 1997); and CBS, Survey of Education and Welfare Services 1995/1996: Secondary Schools, Hebrew and Arab Education (Jerusalem: CBS, May 1999).
No data was available on the quality of libraries in schools that had them. We visited an Arab primary school in the Triangle region where the "library" consisted of a single shelf on which about ten books were propped flat against the wall, held in place by a length of string. We visited a secondary school with over seven hundred students in a recognized Bedouin town in the Negev. The building was new and had a small room designated as a library. Although over a third of the shelves were empty, the principal told us proudly that the students had raised NIS 50,000 ($12,500) that had paid for the books. "The ministry brings the workers and the tools and just builds the building," he explained. "The school must bring the books and the furniture."25 We also visited a primary school in an unrecognized Bedouin village and an Arab primary school in a village in the Triangle region that had no libraries. In contrast, we visited the English language library in a Jewish primary school in Haifa which had a large closet with shelves of books in English.
According to its annual budget, the Ministry of Education provides funding for library services, including librarians.26
The Arab schools Human Rights Watch visited often lacked sports facilities. For example, a Palestinian Arab first grade teacher of thirty-one children told us that while she did teach a sports class, she usually taught it inside.27 When we went to see her school in a small village in northern Israel, we understood why. The class was taught in a single-room prefabricated building at the edge of a rocky dirt road. Next door was another prefabricated building. In between were several pieces of playground equipment in a yard smaller than the classroom itself. The entire area was on a steep hill and thickly carpeted with spiny bushes. The only place where a child could run was in the road.One week a month we can use the gym because of the rotation. Girls and boys are separated for sports, and often we give up our time to the girls. The building itself is good, but there is not much equipment for sports. There are two balls and two baskets-basic equipment. It is hard to arrange games.
The principal of a primary school in Nazareth told us that his students received two hours of sports instruction a week. The school did have balls, but no other sports equipment.28 A physical education teacher at a primary school in a village in the Triangle region told us: "We need a gym for every school. In the kibbutz I see a gym. We don't need one like the N.B.A., just a little one, suitable for the needs of the school."29
Human Rights Watch visited another primary school in the region where the physical education teacher came two days a week, which was not, he said, enough time to teach every class.30 The school did not have a gymnasium. The only recreation space was a concrete parking lot with soccer nets at each end. The building was built on the side of a hill. Except for the parking lot, the surrounding area was steep, full of trash, and fenced off.
We visited a Jewish intermediate and high school that shared a large new gymnasium built with money from the national lottery (Mifal Hapayis).31 In another building was a dance studio with mirrored walls, a ballet barre, and lighting.32
The Israeli government in its initial submission to the Committee on the Rights of the Child acknowledges that there is "a lack of sports and games facilities for [Palestinian Arab] elementary school children, for whom the streets are a favored playing field. . . . Arab youth tend to explain their lack of involvement in informal activities as being due to a lack of services, not a lack of interest."33
Human Rights Watch visited Arab schools with full computer labs, and schools with no computers at all. At a primary school in Um El-Fahm, the Education Ministry had just provided NIS 50,000 ($12,500) for computers and a science lab.34 Previously, the school had three computers that only the staff used. We also visited a primary school in a village in the Triangle region that had enough computers for one class of students to each use a computer, and secondary school for Negev Bedouin with thirty-four computers for over 700 students.
In contrast, a teacher at another primary school in the Triangle region told us, "[m]ost of all we need computers--the children don't even know what they are."35 A second grade teacher at a school in a recognized Bedouin community in the Negev showed us the computer supplied to her class. It didn't work. "We should just throw it away," she said.36 Another school in northern Israel that we visited had eight computers for one hundred students.
Many Palestinian Arab principals, teachers, and students told us that their schools' computers were old or that there were not enough computers for students to spend much time on them. "In our school we don't have time to use the computers," an eleventh-grade girl explained.37 A high school teacher told us:
Human Rights Watch visited a Jewish primary school in Haifa with a large computer lab with a color printer. "Computers are fun. We can play on the computer at recess," a fifth grade boy commented.39 We visited another Jewish primary school in Nazareth Ilit with thirty-five computers for 300 students.40There is no internet. The textbooks assume a familiarity with it, but hardly any students know about it. I had to copy websites on a disk and put them on the computer. It couldn't show pictures, but I tried to give them an idea of what the internet is. Two students out of twenty-two knew what "www" and "e-mail" stood for.38
Human Rights Watch also toured the science laboratory of a secondary school in a recognized Bedouin locality. The lab had a storage annex for equipment; however, the shelves were empty. When we asked why, the science teacher told us that there was nothing to put on them.41
The Israeli government reported to the United Nations Human Rights Committee in 1998 that the Ministry of Education had built laboratories in forty Arab primary schools, thirty-five Arab intermediate schools, and forty-seven high schools and had sent science and technology instructional kits to fifteen Palestinian Arab localities.42
Human Rights Watch visited Jewish schools with communications facilities far beyond what we saw at any Arab school. For example, we visited a primary school in Haifa with a school radio station that the students used to broadcast inside the school. In Nazareth Ilit, a development town with a large immigrant population, we visited a primary and secondary school, each with television studios, complete with editing equipment, and dark rooms for developing photographs.43 The principal of secondary school showed us several rooms he called the "communications studio" that students used for filming and computerized editing. The studio cost NIS one million ($250 thousand)--"very expensive"--which came from the municipality and the Ministry of Education, he said.44 In addition, we visited two Jewish primary schools with school newspapers and one with a separate drama room, with racks of costumes, several mannequins, and lighted mirrors.
None of the Arab schools that Human Rights Watch visited had similar facilities.
241 Atef Moaddi, Follow-Up Committee on Arab Education, e-mail to Human Rights Watch, July 30, 2001. The Follow-Up Committee calculated the number of classrooms needed based on the number of classes being held in rented rooms, the number of classrooms held in buildings the Education Ministry has determined are dangerous and ordered torn down (including classrooms built with asbestos), the number of classrooms needed for the natural annual increase in the student population, and the number of classrooms needed for kindergarten for three and four-year-old children. Ibid.; and Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Atef Moaddi, Follow-Up Committee on Arab Education, Nazareth, July 12, 2001.
244 Ministry of Education, "Classroom Construction for the Education System, 2001," www.education.gov,il/minhal_calcala/download/19.pdf (accessed June 8, 2001) (citing the Ministry of Education's Development Administration). The other classrooms planned were for Jewish education, special education, kindergartens, and Holocaust education museums. Ibid.
249 The Investigatory Committee on the Bedouin Educational System in the Negev: A Report Requested by the Late Minister of Education, Culture and Sport, Zevulen Hammer ("Katz Committee Report"), submitted to the Director General of the Ministry of Education, Ben Zion-Dal, March 19, 1998 (English translation downloaded from the Center for Bedouin Studies and Development website, http://www.bgu.ac.il/Bedouin
/Excerpts%20from%20Katz%20report.html (accessed on September 20, 2000)), table 1.
255 For example, a New York state court, finding that the conditions of New York City schools negatively affected students' performance, relied on testimony from the former Commissioner of State Education Department Thomas Sobol:
If you ask the children to attend school in conditions where plaster is crumbling, the roof is leaking and classes are being held in unlikely places because of overcrowded conditions, that says something to the child about how you diminish the value of the activity and of the child's participation in it and perhaps of the child himself. If, on the other hand, you send a child to a school in well-appointed or [adequate facilities] that sends the opposite message. That says this counts. You count. Do well.Campaign for Fiscal Equality, et al., v. New York, 719 N.Y.S.2d 475 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. 2001).
1 It should be noted that not all Jewish schools in the Negev have air conditioning. For example, as of September 2000, schools in Ofakim, Dimona, Sderot, Yeroham, and Eilat lacked air conditioners. See Gil Hoffman, "Eleventh-hour Talks to Avert Teachers' Strike," Jerusalem Post, September 1, 2000.
4 Eitan Michaeli, Coordinator, Negev Coalitions, Shatil (The New Israel Fund's Empowerment and Training Center for Social Change Organizations in Israel), e-mail to Human Rights Watch, April 12, 2000.
18 Adalah, "Adalah and ACRI Submit a Petition to Supreme Court Calling for the Establishment of Arab Schools in the Area of the Ramat HaNegev Regional Council," July 20, 2000, http://www.adalah.org/news32000.html#9 (accessed on May 31, 2001).
31 The national lottery (Mifal Hapayis) was frequently cited as a source of funding for auxiliary buildings. According to the principal of an Arab primary school in the Triangle region that received funding from the lottery for computer programs, the national lottery administers funding on a discretionary basis and "only gives to schools that are recommended by counselors and social workers." Human Rights Watch interview, village in the Triangle region, December 6, 2000.