Over 5,000 Israeli Bedouin Children Lack Access to Compulsory Preschool

Lack of transportation funding and state's refusal to grant building permits to unrecognized Bedouin communities bar kids' access to preschool.

Children in the unrecognized Bedouin village of Alsara on May 5, 2016.
Ilan Assayag

More than 5,000 preschool-age Bedouin children are not in any educational setting. That, according to an Education Ministry report.

The ministry does not fund transportation to and from preschool for children aged 3 to 5, despite the expansion of the Compulsory Education Law to this age group. In addition, the state refuses to grant building permits to unrecognized Bedouin communities. Consequently, some 5,200 Bedouin children aged 3 to 5 do not have access to preschool. The ministry’s head of education for the Bedouin community, Mohammad Heib, presented these figures to a session of the Knesset Education, Culture and Sports Committee in March.

Heib told Haaretz that 74 percent of the Bedouin children who are not in preschool live in the jurisdiction of the Neve Midbar and al-Kasom regional councils. These regional governments, which were established in 2012, include many Bedouin communities that are not recognized by the national government.

Heib said the data were presented to Education Minister Naftali Bennett, who responded to a question from the floor of the Knesset.

In a letter to Bennett, Agriculture and Rural Development Minister Uri Ariel, Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz and Union of Local Authorities in Israel chairman Haim Bibas, education committee chairman Yakov Margi demanded a resolution to the problem. The Knesset member from Shas called the figures “shocking.”

“The situation is difficult,” says Ziyad Nasasra, a teacher and father of five, including 3-year-old Talab, who lives in the unrecognized village of Alsara. “I go to work in the morning and even if I want to take the boy to preschool I can’t. Sometimes he cries when he sees his big brothers going to school in the morning. He has nothing to do, he has no framework.”

Nasasra says that as an educator he can see the difference between a child who went to preschool and the children in his village, “who don’t even know how to hold a pen.”

An unrecognized Bedouin village in the northwestern Negev last week took legal action against the regional council and the state.

In a petition filed against the Education Ministry and the al-Kasom Regional Council in Be’er Sheva District Court, residents of al-Sira demand that children aged 3 to 5 receive the education to which they are entitled by law. Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, submitted the petition on behalf of the villagers on Monday.

The petitioners say the 500 residents of al-Sira include 21 children aged 3 to 5 who lack access to preschool. Their petition states that the regional council and the Education Ministry have failed to provide preschools in the community and that residents cannot afford transportation to the nearest preschool. It’s in Kseifa, 12 kilometers away.

The Interior Ministry has permitted some unrecognized Bedouin villages, such as Tel Arad and Al-Fura’a, to establish preschools in temporary structures.

Despite al-Sira’s unrecognized status, courts have ruled against the state’s demand that the village be destroyed. In 2011 the Kiryat Gat Magistrate’s Court revoked a demolition order issued in 2006, and the Be’er Sheva District Court subsequently upheld the lower court’s ruling on appeal. “To uproot 350 people from their home and render them homeless must be based on a powerful, substantial public interest,” the court wrote in its verdict.

Villagers view the rulings as de facto recognition of al-Sira. “Revoking the demolition orders necessarily implies recognition of the villagers’ rights to at least basic, vital services, such as access to education, especially since the state is obliged to provide free education,” the petition states.

In a statement, the Education Ministry said it will respond to the petitioners in court, adding that it does not pay for the transportation of children between the ages of 3 and 4 anywhere in the country.

The Al-Kasom Regional Council said in a statement that the state’s zoning agencies prohibit new building in al-Sira, but added that “if the policy changes, the council will be happy to advance construction of preschools” in al-Sira.