Negev School Kicks Out Two Bedouin Students, Citing New Enrollment Policy

On September 1, hours after she had returned from her first day of school in Omer, the school called Wajdan Abu Alian's parents to ask them not to bring her to school anymore.

In one of her bedroom drawers, Wajdan Abu Alian keeps the textbooks she received from Omer Comprehensive High School before the start of the school year. The books are meticulously ordered: "Crescent and Cross" for history class; "A Good Word" for Hebrew literature.

But Abu Alian, a 13-year-old seventh-grade student from the Bedouin town of Tel Sheva, will probably never open them. On September 1, hours after she had returned from her first day of school in Omer, the school called her parents to ask them not to bring Wajdan to school anymore.

From then on, she and her friend Dina Abu Rabia have sat at home, waiting for permission to attend school in Omer. The Abu Alian home is at on the outskirts of Tel Sheva, near its border with Omer, an upscale town of 7,000 a few kilometers from Be'er Sheva that consistently ranks among the top Israeli communities based on socio-economic parameters. Tel Sheva, founded in the 1960s in a government attempt to settle Bedouin in permanent locales, has for the past decade been ranked at the bottom of socio-economic standings with a per capita income half the national average.

"I want to get ahead in life, and to do that I need to go to a good school," Abu Alian says. "Tel Sheva doesn't offer that kind of opportunity. School here is horrible - students leave in the middle of class and no one says anything. I just want to study and develop myself. It's my right, whether I'm Bedouin or Jewish."

Last year Abu Alian completed sixth grade in Tel Sheva. She proudly shows off her report card: 100 in Arabic, 100 in English, 95 in math.

Wajdan Abu Alian and Dina Abu Rabia Oct. 7, 2010 Eliahu Hershkovitz
Eliahu Hershkovitz

This summer her parents registered her for school in Omer. After passing a Hebrew test, her parents paid the school NIS 1,300 for her to enroll. Shortly thereafter she received her textbooks and a sticker bearing the school's logo to be worn at all times on its uniform. On the first day of class, Abu Alian attended orientation. "I got along great with the students and teachers," she says. "They told us about the school, gave us the schedules and signed us up for the electives we wanted. I signed up for cinema and hip-hop dance."

'Suddenly not good enough'

Abu Alian's father, Abed, recalls getting a call from the school principle. "She said not to bring the girl to school the next day. When I tried to figure out what had happened, she said she had received instructions, apparently from the local council, for me to get authorization from the Tel Sheva council and the Education Ministry. I couldn't understand how, after my daughter was admitted, she was suddenly not good enough."

He obtained the necessary permits, but as he tells it, "The Education Ministry said it wasn't its issue, and it sent me running back and forth between two local authorities." Two weeks later, he got official notice from the Omer local council that his daughter had been removed from the student roster.

The town's mayor, former MK Pini Badash, said things had changed this year. "There are a lot of new families in the community and I don't have room for all of them," he says.

Registration for seventh grade is under the supervision of regional authorities. In the past, the school in Omer has accepted Bedouin students as well as Jewish students who don't live in the town's school district.

"We split up classes so that they wouldn't be so full, but it cost a million and a half shekels," Badash says. "I won't clog up classes now with students from outside the school district."

A statement from the Education Ministry said, "Transferring a student from one local authority to another requires the authorization of the district in which he lives, and in which he intends to study. In the instance in question, the Omer council did not authorize registration."