Israeli Court Rules That Aramean Minority Can Choose Jewish or Arab Education

The Aramean minority in Israel was recognized as a nationality in 2014, also following a battle by local activist, until then the state considered Arameans to be Christian Arabs

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Aramean Christians at  the Aramean Heritage Camp in Baram National Park, Israel, in 2014.
Aramean Christians at the Aramean Heritage Camp in Baram National Park, Israel, in 2014.Credit: Gil Eliyahu
Shira Kadari-Ovadia
Shira Kadari-Ovadia

The Supreme Court has ruled that members of the Aramean minority in Israel are entitled to choose whether their children will attend a Jewish or an Arab school – and that the regional council in which they live is obligated to provide them with transportation in the event that the school they choose is far from them.

The ruling was handed down last month after an administrative appeal filed on behalf of Shadi Halul, a central activist in the Aramean community, regarding his two children who attend the school in Kibbutz Sasa. The regional council in Jish (Gush Halav), where Khalul lives, refused to pay for transportation to the kibbutz school, maintaining that the children can attend the Arab school in the his village.

The petition was submitted by attorney Uri Shenhar, associate at Hadad, Roth, Shenhar & Co.

The Nazareth District Court decided about two years ago that the regional council is not obligated to provide transportation: Although the studies in Jish are conducted in Arabic and not in Aramaic, in any case the kibbutz school doesn’t teach in Aramaic either.

Now the Supreme Court has overturned the decision, ruling that the regional council is obligated to provide transportation to the Jewish school. The court did not decide regarding payment for transportation, but the council and the Education Ministry already decided at the start of the school year to subsidize it, prior to the ruling, which was handed down by Justice Neal Hendel supported by Justice Ofer Grosskopf. Justice George Kara supported the District Court decision. The ruling affects another 20 Aramean children who travel daily from Jish to Sasa.

In the appeal Halul claimed that the school in Jish is unsuitable for his son, because it doesn’t actively encourage service in the Israel Defense Forces or promote identification with the values of the State of Israel. This contradicts his values as a member of the Aramean people. The ruling that his son should attend the Arab school forces an Arab national identity on him. After the appeal, the Education Ministry joined Halul’s opinion, adding that an Aramean student should be allowed to decide which school suits him.

“The choice by the appellants – or other Aramean students – in favor of the state education system in Sasa is not a personal whim, but an insistence on the right to preserve and nurture their identity as members of a unique minority group, which has been recognized by the authorities and by professional entities,” wrote Hendel in his decision. “The choice to preserve Aramean identity, and to refrain from studies in an institution that promotes a competing Arab identity, is worthy of consideration as in other cases – and requires the local education authority to ensure the accessibility of the institution taking in the students.”

Hendel said that although the state school in Sasa does not have a unique Aramean identity, just because of the lack of educational institutions designated for members of the Aramean nation there must be sensitivity regarding their rights – and that an Arab identity should not be forced on those of them who believe that it will be easier for them to preserve their unique identity in the Hebrew-speaking state school system.

The Aramean minority in Israel was recognized as a nationality in 2014, also following a battle by Halul. Until then the state considered Arameans to be Christian Arabs. Then-Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar ruled that “the fact of the existence of the Aramean nation is obvious, and that “regarding this nation all the conditions required to prove the existence of a nation exist,, including a shared historical legacy, religion, culture, origin and language.

The decision enabled citizens belonging to specific Christian groups (Maronite, Greek Orthodox, Syrian Orthodox et al) to register as Arameans. Only few requested to be registered as Arameans, but Halul claims that it’s because of the bureaucratic red tape involved in submitting such a request, and that the Israel Christian Aramaic Organization, which he founded, recognizes about 15,000 people who identify as Arameans.

The ruling is very important, because it means that the Supreme Court recognizes the rights of the Aramean minority. “I don’t want my children to attend a school that educates towards separatism from the State of Israel,” he told Haaretz. “It’s our basic right to educate our children according to our beliefs.”

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