Six-year-old Adiso Dasa, who immigrated to Israel from Ethiopia three years ago, did not start school on Thursday. Rather than beginning first grade, he stayed home because of an order given by Or Yehuda Mayor Yitzhak Bokovza barring 50 children of Ethiopian immigrant families from registering in local schools.
The families all immigrated within the past three years, and until a few months ago they lived in absorption centers around the country, where they were given a governmental grant to purchase an apartment. Many of the families chose to move to Or Yehuda, where they believed they could integrate into Israeli society, find jobs and make a decent living. But sometimes dreams are dashed.
In Or Yehuda, it appears, the immigrants received a cold welcome. Mayor Bokovza is angry at state authorities, which, he said, do not allow "controlled absorption of immigrants" and allow large numbers of immigrants to end up in the same city, creating "ghettos." Some 1.5 percent of Or Yehuda residents are Ethiopian, according to Bokovza. "If this situation continues, in two years they will be 4 percent," he said.
Because of his actions, the State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss called on Bokovza to allow the students into the city's education system immediately. Bokovza will come today to a meeting of the Knesset State Control Committee, where he said he would hand down an "indictment" against the State of Israel for its conduct regarding immigrant absorption.
Adiso has lived for three years with his family in an absorption center in the Jerusalem area. Two months ago his family moved to Or Yehuda. Over the summer, his parents went to the municipality's education department to register him for class. "They told us the mayor has not yet decided what to do. They didn't tell us where to go. Now my brother is sitting at home, doing nothing. He is very disappointed by the entire situation," said Rahel, Adiso's older sister, on Friday.
Ethiopian Immigrants Association chair Adiso Masala had some words for Bokovza: "If citizens of Israel want to move from one community to another, they can do so freely; we're a democracy. I discovered that this man has no desire to absorb immigrant families. I now call on the government ministries to forbid mayors from denying immigrants the right to be absorbed in their cities, because that would be a dangerous precedent," he said.
Masala also blasted Education Minister Limor Livnat: "I heard her say Thursday that the school year opened with no hitches. Dozens of Ethiopian students who aren't in school is not a hitch?" he asked.
One person has stepped in to propose a solution - Ramat Hasharon Mayor Yitzhak Rochberger, who has already informed the Education Ministry that he has agreed to take dozens of Ethiopian pupils from Or Yehuda into his city's education system and will even offer busing services to the children. "It is not right that someone who doesn't send his kids to school risks being shown an arrest warrant, but a mayor is exempt from this. Because of his refusal 50 kids are on the street. I think Bokovza should be presented with 50 arrest warrants, one for each child who was left outside the school gates," Rochberger said.
Bokovza is convinced that he is only saying out loud what many other local authority heads only think, but prefer not to say so as not to be accused of "racist behavior." "When someone is ready to fight, he gets called racist. I am fighting the State of Israel, not Ethiopians. I'm actually protecting them. The State of Israel is sending them randomly to all sorts of places, and causing them to concentrate in certain places. The process could continue, and it should be stopped. Like in a healing process, sometimes you have to cut into the flesh. The sight of dozens of kids who aren't in school is also distressing for me to witness. Today I will go to the State Control Committee and accuse the government ministries of abandoning certain populations and segregating strong populations from weaker ones," he said.