Bedouin Leaders Reach Deal With Israel's Education Ministry to Ensure 'Proper School System'

Planned strike called off after funding was secured for 19,000 students in unrecognized villages in Israel's south

Bedouin students protest in front of the Be'er Sheva court, September 2019.
Eliyahu Hershkovitz

Bedouin leaders in Israel's south announced Monday they would back off from their threat to stop school and transportation services for 19,000 students in unrecognized villages, after they reached an agreement with the Education Ministry to ensure funding for two years.

According to the deal, between the al-Kasom Regional Council in the Negev and the Education Ministry, under the supervision of the Be'er Sheva District Court, the council will receive 18.25 million shekels ($5.26 million) a year for the next two years, as well as a one-time grant of 15 million shekels.

The ministry will also immediately hand over an 8-million-shekel down payment to the council's education department, but deduct 15 million shekels from the council's account in undue payments it had already received.

On Thursday the council said it would call a strike for thousands of Bedouin students, claiming the Education Ministry has refused to commit to establish a "proper and quality" school system.

On its part, the ministry said that the council has presented new demands that the ministry cannot meet, adding that the council head, Salameh al-Atrash, "is holding students hostage."

The al-Kasom Regional Council is responsible for providing schooling services for some 19,000 students living in seven villages in the Negev as well as to the students living in unrecognized villages.

About 2,500 students from the unrecognized villages attend classes in al-Kasom and the rest are bused to other communities. As opposed to the practice in the rest of the country, the ministry pays the cost of transportation for children in unrecognized villages in full.

Al-Atrash called a strike for the schools under his jurisdiction at the start of the year, claiming the ministry hadn't properly assessed the budget required for the unrecognized villages.

After the week-long strike, the al-Kasom council head reached an agreement with the Education Ministry that they would transfer a partial sum in exchange for restoring classes and that the sides would try to achieve further understandings. At al-Atrash's request, the ministry paid for an accountant to handle the council's education budget.