Hundreds of Asylum Seekers in Tel Aviv File Petition Against School Segregation

Bar Peleg
Bar Peleg
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Elementary school in Tel Aviv, Israel.
Elementary school in Tel Aviv, Israel.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Bar Peleg
Bar Peleg

Hundreds of asylum seekers filed a petition in the Tel Aviv District Court against the Tel Aviv-Jaffa municipality’s practice of separating children of foreigners from children of Israelis in the city’s schools. The separation, which was reported in a Haaretz investigation in December, revealed that 91.5 percent of the asylum seekers’ children study in schools without a single Israeli pupil.

The petitioners are 325 parents of children in compulsory education frameworks in kindergartens and elementary schools, most of them Israeli-born. They are demanding a ban already this coming academic year against separate educational frameworks for asylum seekers’ children, and want the court to require the municipality to conduct a process of registration and placement to ensure that their children will study alongside Israeli children. Joining the petition were human rights organizations, social welfare activists, and about 100 parents whose children study in the city schools.

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According to the Haaretz investigation, out of 2,433 children of asylum seekers and migrant workers in elementary schools, 2,228 (91.5 percent) studied last year in schools for foreigners only, with the other 205 placed in seven schools alongside Israeli children in their own neighborhoods, as long as they didn’t exceed the “permitted quota.”

The percentage of foreigners’ children in a school can be up to 30 percent of the total number of pupils. The municipality claimed that registration is done on the basis of place of residence – but in recordings received by Haaretz, senior education officials said: “We have built schools for the foreign population.”

The petition included affidavits of asylum seekers. Elsa, the mother of a girl from the Hatikva neighborhood, wrote: “In the kindergarten in which my daughter Salihom was placed, there are only children who are not Israeli citizens, despite the fact that there are kindergartens in the Hatikva neighborhood. When she started compulsory education, we had to take her on foot to a kindergarten in the Neveh Sha’anan neighborhood, where there are no Israeli children.” Two other petitioners declared that they are forced to walk about 1.5 kilometers from their home to a kindergarten in Neveh Sha’anan, even though there are Israeli kindergartens in the Hatikva neighborhood, where they live.

Kindergarten in Tel Aviv, Israel.Credit: Hadas Parush

Leila, mother of 8-year-old Amir, wrote that her son “Is very preoccupied with the meaning of his separation from children with citizenship, regarding his identity and his life in the country. He understands that although he was born and grew up here like any Israeli child, he is not wanted here and doesn’t belong. I see that it bothers him.”

Attorney Haran Reichman from the Clinic for Law and Educational Policy at the University of Haifa, and Tal Hassin from the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, who are representing the petitioners, wrote that “Separation in education based on origin and race, and the existence of different educational institutions for white children and dark-skinned children are illegal, contradict the instructions of the law and the rulings, ignore the knowledge accumulated in Israel and worldwide about the situation of the children of asylum seekers, are morally unacceptable and do not accord with the models for placing them in education and society that are practiced in developed countries, which are dealing with waves of migration at far higher rates than Israel.”

The Tel Aviv-Jaffa municipality said that the petition had not yet been received. “When it is received, it will be examined and the municipality will respond to it in court as required. The municipality rejects any claim of ostensible separation, in light of the fact that the placement of all the city’s children is carried out according to the registration districts, in accordance with the applicable law and the directives of the Education Ministry.”

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