Student Muhammad Abu Jafar, 25, has to get to Sapir College at 8:30 A.M. every morning, even when his classes start later. He gets up early, walks 1.5 kilometers (0.9 miles) to the bus stop and waits for almost the only bus from Rahat – a predominantly Bedouin city of 60,000 in the Negev – to the academic college near Sderot, 28 kilometers away. “In the best case, I stand. In the worst case, there’s no place at all,” Abu Jafar says. Sometimes the passengers from Rahat are told to wait and that a minibus will be sent for them, he adds.
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Travel by train is not an option, Abu Jafar notes. Only one or two buses a day go from Rahat to the nearest train station at Lehavim, he says, and then he would have to make a huge circle – from Lehavim to Be’er Sheva to Ofakim and then to Sderot. A look at the map shows the location of the train station, which, despite being called Lehavim-Rahat, is at the entrance to Lehavim – a Jewish town of some 6,000. Ofakim, a Jewish town of 25,000, is as far away from Sapir College as Rahat is, but it has more daily buses to Sapir and more convenient connections.
Abu Jafar’s problem is one shared by many Arab students in Israel: a lack of good public transportation from their residence to school.
The Council for Higher Education mentioned the problem in a report three years ago. “The structure of higher education and the employment usually require Arabs to leave their home areas for academic studies and work,” the report stated, “so a lack of accessible and inexpensive transportation is a significant barrier.”
The report added that the Jewish population has almost double the number of cars than the Arab population has per thousand people. In addition, five public buses, at most, stop in Arab communities daily (except for Nazareth, where the figure is 20), as opposed to “dozens in Jewish communities with similar characteristics.”
The National Students Union conducted a study recently in which it mapped the number of Arab students in every academic institution and their place of residence. The study found that in certain communities, no bus lines go to academic institutions, and “a significant difficulty is created for people in the villages to reach and obtain higher education.”
Another example of the lopsided access to public transportation appears when comparing access from Arab and Jewish communities to Zefat (Safed) Academic College, 60 percent of whose student body is Arab. From the neighboring Arab towns of Sakhnin and Arabeh, with a combined population of some 52,000, there are three daily buses to the college and the ride takes 100 minutes. In contrast, from the central bus station of the Jewish town of Carmiel, with a population of about 45,000, a direct bus to the college departs every 40 minutes and takes 40 minutes. Residents of Sakhnin and Arabeh can take the bus to Carmiel and from there travel to the college, but the ride to Carmiel alone can take up to two hours.
Aslam Abd e-Rahman is a student of behavioral sciences at Zefat Academic College. From the Galilee mountain village of Sha’ab (population 7,000), southwest of Carmiel, she moved to Safed because she couldn’t manage the daily commute. “I wanted to keep living at home because I’m working, too, but it was too hard,” she relates. “I live in a village where there’s no public transportation other than two buses a day Anyway, everybody in the village has to walk two kilometers to the bus stop outside the village.
“I tried to do it for two weeks and decided to move to the dorms in Safed. But I know people who can’t afford the dorms so they take the bus,” Abd e-Rahman adds.
The Transportation Ministry defended its record, saying higher education institutions “are a key destination for public transportation, and this is true for Arab communities as well. For example, new bus lines were opened from Nazareth, Acre, Majdal Krum and Rameh to Tel-Hai Academic College. Four lines were opened from Bara, Jaljulya, Kafr Qasem, Baka al-Garbiyeh, Zamer, Jatt, Umm-al Fahm and Kafr Kara to Beit Berl Academic College 2016 is the first year of a five-year program to close gaps in public transportation between the general population and the Arab population.”