arab university housing
Taymur Mansur sitting outside student accommodation in Tel Aviv Wednesday. Photo by Tali Mayer
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Dozens of Arab students at Tel Aviv University were denied spots in college dormitories for the coming academic year, due to preference given to students with military records, students said a secretary in the dean's office told them.

There are fewer beds allocated for Israeli citizens this year because more overseas students, mainly from the United States, have registered for classes, the students said.

The dorms are normally divided about equally between Arab and Jewish students, with each group getting about 40 percent of the beds, and another 20 percent going to the overseas students. But because of the influx of students from abroad, the university changed the points system it uses to assign dorm rooms to students and is now granting more weight to military and national service records, the students said.

"We spoke to the dean's office and one of the secretaries clearly marked out the military or civil service slot on the dorms form, telling us these clauses significantly increase the point value," said Mohammed Awad, chairman of the Balad party's campus chapter.

Hundreds of Arab students at the university live in the north of the country, making it difficult for them to commute to class.

Tel Aviv University would not comment on the breakdown of the dorm allocation system. It said 600 beds are going to Israeli students, 300 to overseas students and 50 to new immigrants.

The university confirmed that there are fewer available spots in the dormitories this year, but said that was because of extensive repair work.

Balad chairman MK Jamal Zahalka has asked Yoav Ariel, the dean of students, to reexamine the application criteria. Zahalka said the criteria are unfair because Arab students are legally exempt from military and national service.

Taymur Mansur, a Druze student who is about to begin his second year studying for a degree in social work, said he got a dorm room last year but that the university rejected his residency request for the coming year.

Mansur did not serve in the army for religious reasons, and is convinced that is what's keeping him from university-provided housing.

Some students whose dormitory requests were rejected have appealed the decision and are expecting an answer in the coming weeks, while others have begun looking for an off-campus apartment to share with roommates. But not all the students can afford the additional cost of paying the rent, and said their failure to secure a dorm room may mean they have to quit school.

This isn't the first time the issue has come to national attention.

In 2006 the Haifa District Court ordered the University of Haifa to strike military or national service from its residency application form, citing discrimination against Arab students. The university appealed to the Supreme Court, but before it could rule on the case, the Knesset passed an amendment to a law providing financial benefits for veterans that explicitly granted veterans university housing benefits.