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At 8:45 A.M., Balta Zalka stood outside the Da'at Mevinim private religious school in Petah Tikva, waiting for a government official to confirm that his two daughters would indeed study there this year, as the municipality had promised. He was disappointed.

"The secretary took down our details and promised to call. I don't know what happened. They told us to come to register, but they're not accepting us," Zalka said. Meanwhile, an Israeli-born mother and her young son walked out of the school. From their conversation, it was apparent the child was allowed to enroll.

Private religious schools in Petah Tikva said this year they would not accept the students assigned by the municipality, and would enroll only those they felt were a good fit.

The scenes were strikingly similar outside the city's three private religious schools: parents and children waiting outside, accompanied by municipal officials, simply waiting their turn.

At each school - Da'at Mevinim, Darkei Noam and Merhav - the principal failed to show up, each for a different reason. Only one or two secretaries came, even though the municipality announced last week that school officials would be there to greet the students.

School representatives responded, "Nobody coordinated the visit with us," adding that the buildings were still closed for summer vacation.

The Zalka family moved to Petah Tikva several weeks ago from Safed. The two daughters, 6-year-old Habatam and 7-year-old Ambata, are among 100 or so Ethiopian-Israeli students who don't know where they will be attending school next week.

"We thought the problems of 'blacks' in Petah Tikva had been solved, or we wouldn't have bought an apartment here," Zalka said. "I tell the kids not to think about there being 'whites and blacks,' but to be good students, and then they'll be viewed as 'normal,'" Zalka said.

One official described the families' crisscrossing between the private religious schools as "a humiliation parade."

"The heads of the [educational] institutions are under tremendous pressure. They are citing different excuses and trying to buy time, and in the meantime pressuring the Education Ministry," said one official. "Only an unambiguous position by the ministry can solve the crisis. This is war," he said.

Darkei Noam is a large, impressive building. In the entrance hangs a huge poster bearing the line from Proverbs that is the religious school network's motto: "Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace."

"What does it matter that we're black?" asked Beza Waldahi, who is trying to enroll his son at the school. Waldahi's family immigrated to Israel three years ago, and last month moved to Mevasseret Zion.

"The kids always ask what will happen, and why they don't have a school. I don't know what to tell them. In a few years they'll go to the army," he said. "We're like everyone else in Israel - this is our school, our city, our country."