Israeli Towns Move to Ban Arab Workers From Schools

Some local authorities are trying to remove all Arab workers, while others are targeting cleaning and maintentance workers.

Moti Milrod

An increasing number of local authorities are banning Arab workers from schools because of the current security situation. Some cities are trying to block the entrance of all Arab workers, while others are seeking to keep out cleaning and maintenance workers, particularly during school hours. Arab MKs and NGOs have criticized the move.

Last week, Haaretz reported that, following the recent wave of knife attacks by Palestinians, Nes Tziona had forbidden Arab cleaning workers from coming to the schools, while Israel Radio reported on Sunday that other cities are taking similar actions.

On the website of the Hod Hasharon municipality, for example, there is a message to residents that states, “Entrance to cleaning and maintenance workers will be forbidden during school hours.” And in a message posted last week, the Modi’in municipal website said, “The entrance of cleaners to the schools will be after a check by the security guard, with the cleaners to be accompanied throughout the day by school janitors. Entry of cleaning workers to do the daily heavy clean will be from 5 P.M., after the school day is over, and after a check by a security guard.”

The Givatayim municipality has stopped maintenance work at one of the city’s schools, and has demanded that contracting companies employing cleaning workers replace employees coming from East Jerusalem.

Rehovot issued a special announcement saying that “minority workers will not be allowed entry to educational institutions.” On its website, it states, “The contractors responsible for building sites near educational institutions will be contacted and asked to position a guard at the educational institutions near their building sites.”

Rehovot city official Doron Milberg defended his city’s actions. “At first, the instructions that were issued followed demands by parents that no contract workers should enter. Afterward, I issued a correction and stated simply that no development work should be done at the schools. Rehovot’s cleaning workers are not contract workers; they are municipal employees and we don’t have a single Arab. A few days ago, I even got a call from one of the city’s transport drivers from Ramle, who said there were parental objections to his driving [students]. But I calmed the parents down and insisted he continue to drive.”

The Sikkuy association, which works to promote equality for Arab citizens, said it had received reports about changes to Arabs’ work conditions in Jerusalem and also Even Yehuda, north of Tel Aviv.

“Dismissal or worsening employment conditions of Arab workers because of the political situation is wrong and forbidden for a number of reasons,” Sikkuy’s coexecutive directors, Rawnak Natour and Ron Gerlitz, said in a statement. “First of all, it’s against the law and violates the workers’ rights. But beyond that, it’s an immoral and antieducational act taking place in, of all places, schools throughout the country. What kind of message is this meant to convey to young pupils, who are used to seeing Arab workers as part of their usual learning environment and then, during times of tension, they are made to disappear just because they’re Arabs? We must not teach children that every Arab is a threat.”

MK Dov Khenin (Joint Arab List) yesterday asked the Knesset Interior Committee to hold an urgent hearing on the matter.

“As a result of the public anxiety, dangerous racist and exclusionary moves are being made that stain entire populations, violate basic rights and undermine the possibility of building a different future here,” said Khenin. “Moreover, such instructions from the local authorities are clearly illegal and contravene the attorney general’s instructions of 1985, the Equal Employment Opportunity Law, and a series of laws forbidding racial discrimination.”

The Education Ministry has yet to respond to developments.