School walkout - Tomer Appelbaum - Nov. 21, 2010
Twelfth grade students stage a walkout to protest the arrest of classmates, Nov. 21, 2010 Photo by Appelbaum
Text size

About 90 12th-graders at the Jerusalem High School for the Arts went on strike on Sunday and did not attend school in protest against the arrest of one classmate and the questioning of three others who were sent to house arrest. The students are suspected of having threatened, attacked and stolen from an 11th-grader. The students, their classmates and their parents deny the charges and say the affair has been blown out of proportion.

The affair is an outgrowth of a long conflict between the high school juniors and seniors. The current round in the conflict began after graffiti was spray-painted on the school walls condemning the senior class. In response, four 12th-graders decided to try to find who was responsible for the graffiti, during which the four met with a member of the junior class. According to that student, they threatened him and stole his mobile phone. The student complained to the school principal, Anat Gur, who called the police into the school.

During the investigation on the school premises a conflict developed between one of the students, B., and a police investigator. The student was arrested for attacking the policeman. He spent the night in jail and on Monday was released to house arrest for five days. His three friends were summoned for questioning on Monday and subsequently placed under house arrest, also for five days.

In reaction to these events, the 12th-graders embarked on a series of protest activities, including the strike and demonstration in front of the school building. The students stress this is not a school with problems of violence or juvenile delinquency.

One of the students under investigation is the son of a well-known Jerusalem industrialist. "This is the first time in my life I have been in a police investigation and I hope it's also the last," said the teenager. "There was no physical violence between me and any other boy. The principal called the police without talking to us at all, without checking what really happened."

"The boys weren't great geniuses, but they were boys," said his father. "The stupid behavior is on the part of the principal and the police. This isn't a case of fighting juvenile crime. It's nonsense, but it could turn into a horror movie. The principal picked up the phone to the police in order to give them a scolding, and the police came in full force irrespective of the kind of incident and the kind of kids."

"We are demonstrating because the school has failed in its handling of violence," says 12th-grader Gal Barel. "Instead of dealing with the problem by educational means, the principal called the police. If she had looked into what really happened, there wouldn't have been any need for the police, rather a short conversation to calm the group of students who are fanning the flames."

Ariella Lambert, an 11th-grader, agrees this was dealt with disproportionately: "Most of the students in my class don't think the police had to be involved. It's not a criminal matter, but a game that got a bit out of control. It would have been possible to resolve it within the school, without all the mess the police have created. Though the students who were arrested are from the 12th grade, we too are in shock from this story and are disappointed with the principal's conduct."

A Jerusalem municipal spokesperson, speaking on behalf of the principal, said: "The students' claim that this was a nonviolent conflict originates in a profound and regrettable misunderstanding of the concept of violence. Calling the police onto school premises was done in the wake of violent behavior by students. There is no doubt it would have been preferable had the police not been called in and students not be arrested, but all this could have been avoided had the students not behaved violently. The moment they behaved violently, the school administration had no alternative. Insofar as we know, the student was arrested after attacking a policeman."