Despite 'Concerns About Discrimination,' Court Dismisses Appeal for Arab School in Israeli City

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Children biking in Nof Hagalil last year.
Children biking in Nof Hagalil last year.Credit: Gil Eliahu

The Supreme Court on Tuesday dismissed the appeal of Arab parents from Nof Hagalil who were demanding that the court order the municipality and the Education Ministry to open an Arab elementary school in the city. Justices Yosef Elron and Ofer Grosskopf ruled to dismiss the petition, with Justice Daphne Barak-Erez dissenting.

The nine Arab families were appealing a ruling by the Nazareth District Court, which had also rejected their demand. However, the justices said that the municipality and the education minister must work to uphold the rights of the Arab residents to education in their language in their hometown.

The demand to open a state Arab elementary school in Nof Hagalil – formerly Upper Nazareth – had been raised since the 1990s, but it was only in 2013 that the first formal request was submitted, and it ran into strong opposition from then-Mayor Shimon Gapso. In 2016 the Arab parents filed a petition with the district court, after which the city and the Education Ministry promised to evaluate the need to open an Arab school.

In mid-2017 the ministry said it had not rescinded its objection to opening the school, and the parents submitted another petition, with the help of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel and the Mossawa Center. In 2019 the District Court rejected the petition, saying that there was no undermining of the Arab residents’ rights, and that the municipality was acting in accordance with the demand, which justified the opening of appropriate preschools, but not a school.

In the ruling Tuesday, Elron wrote, “One cannot base a decision on setting up a new state school in which the language of instruction is Arabic on the ‘potential’ that students might register for it.”

He noted that until a few years ago there were three state preschools in the city, and despite the opposition of the previous mayor, “natural processes” in the city led to the opening of another state preschool for Arabic speakers, and it was also decided to introduce a multicultural, multilingual curriculum with no judicial interference.

Grosskopf added, however, that not all was well with the state of education in Nof Hagalil. “A reality in which educational services for a third of the city’s students are supplied by private schools or public schools outside the local authority is not reasonable, and requires the authorities to work toward changing it. Even more so when the third in question is made up of residents from a single social group, [which] raises serious concerns about improper discrimination. Our rejection of the appeal must not be interpreted as saying that everything is fine in the Nof Hagalil educational system.”

Barak-Erez believes that a school for Arabic speakers should be opened for the coming school year. After eight years in which such a school was on the agenda and after the district court already sent the parties for a “round of consultations” that yielded nothing, “Sending [the appellants] on their way with no operative remedy is likely to perpetuate the existing situation.” Equality, she said, must have a practical expression.

The Association for Civil Rights in Israel called the decision “saddening,” but noted that the majority ruling had spoken to “the serious failure of the education system in Nof Hagalil, which neglects Arab students, who constitute a third of the city’s students, and sends them to the education system in Nazareth. According to the majority opinion, this situation is unacceptable and the municipality is obligated to change it.

“The ruling states that children have the right to study in Arabic in the state system, so the municipality is obligated to ask parents at registration if they want state education in Arabic for their children. The ruling also states that the municipality and the Education Ministry must act as soon as possible to formulate solutions to allow Arab children to realize their right to education in Arabic in Nof Hagalil.” The court has thus paved the way for the eventual opening of an Arabic state school, the organization said, “and such a school, which exists in every mixed city, will open.”

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