Around 50 parents in the northern Israeli city of Carmiel have been petitioning the local municipality in recent months to arrange rides to outer city schools so their children can receive education in Arabic.
The parents say that because Carmiel lacks an Arabic-language school, previous court rulings as well as a memo by the Education Ministry director general indicate that the municipality should provide access to educational institutions outside the city. The petition was filed through civil rights group Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights.
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According to data Adalah obtained in a freedom-of-information request from the municipality, some 152 Arab children go to Jewish schools in Carmiel while 326 study in schools outside the city. In 2018, the city reimbursed just 59 students and it used to fund a ride with16 seats from a Bedouin neighborhood but no longer does.
The city’s legal counsel wrote parents in December that the city “acts in accordance with the Education Ministry director general’s memo on rides.” The counsel added that 808 Jewish students learn outside the city, “and they go to school themselves.” However, the counsel ignored the fact that Jewish children have educational options in their own language in the city.
The city’s response also indicates that Arab students study in schools in many outside communities, including Nahf, I’billin, Nazareth, Sajur, Kabul, Yarka, Majd al-Krum, Ma’alot-Tarshiha, Haifa, Tamra and Sakhnin. Attorney Nezar Bakri, one of the organizers of the groups of parents, says he understands it is problematic to organize rides to all the surrounding communities, but says they are asking for rides “to at least the adjacent communities.” He says: “There’s no way the city won’t approve a ride to Majd al-Krum, which lies five minutes from the city. It’s doesn’t make sense.”
The parents’ petition relies on a number of court rulings regarding reimbursing parents for rides. Last September, a resident of Jish who self-identifies as Aramean won a petition against the local government to cover rides for Aramean children to the Jewish school in Sasa, which he says is more appropriate for his people’s cultural and religious identity. After the District Court in Nazareth rejected the petition, the Supreme Court ordered the local council to ensure the children have access to the school in Sasa.
For years Arab families have been moving to “Jewish cities” either for lack of building permits and a housing crisis in Arab communities, or to improve their quality of life. Resident don’t necessarily enjoy the same conditions as Jewish residents. In Nof Hagalil, formerly known as Nazareth Ilit, where about a quarter of the residents are Arab, parents have been fighting for years to build an Arabic-language school.
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Zinat Kadri, a mother of five, three of whom are in the educational system, told Haaretz that since moving to Carmiel 25 years ago she has taken her children to study in the villages of Nahf and Rama. She points at inconsistent city policy regarding ride reimbursements: “I only get reimbursed for the third child, who is in Nahf, because the twins are in a private school even though it is institutionally recognized. Even with the girl, I didn’t get reimbursed yet this year. It’s been delayed.” She says that there are 30 pupils from Carmiel in her twins’ school who don’t get reimbursed, but some Carmiel students who study in other village private schools do get support from the municipality.
Kadri moved to Carmiel because her family couldn’t build a home in Nahf. At first the family lived in a predominantly Jewish area but has since moved to a predominantly Arab neighborhood. She says their social connections are mainly with other Arabs because Jewish neighbors don’t accept them.
Kadri couldn’t understand city policy, and said they went to court over her two older daughters, after which they received a partial reimbursement “I have taken them every day to Rama since they were in kindergarten. Imagine standing in the traffic jam going to Rama and back every day. It’s not easy. The girl in Nahf takes private transportation because I grew tired.”
Ibrahim Sha’aban has two children moved to Carmiel 30 years ago for a better quality of life, and also because he had an office in the city. He says that at first his children went to preschools in Carmiel to learn Hebrew and absorb the culture, “after that I transferred them to villages so they would also learn our culture.”
Sha’aban’s case also points out the inconsistent policy: “There are years they paid us back, sometimes through the courts. In the last two or three years they haven’t paid.” His daughter has already finished school, but he drives his son every morning to Majd al-Krum and brings him back in the afternoon.
“I think that the city doesn’t care about us, we just pay taxes. There are women who don’t speak Hebrew who come to pay at city hall and there is not a single Arab worker to receive them. All ethnic groups are represented there except Arabs,” he added.
Sari Arraf, a lawyer who works for Adalah, said that without a doubt the city’s claims violate the law and legal rulings, which impose joint responsibility on the Education Ministry and the local government to transport the students to their schools. “The city is shirking its obligation in order to create a situation in which families are forced to give up the elementary right of their children to study in their native language. This case is part of an entire fabric of systematic obstacles that do not allow Arab citizens to live in an equal manner in well-off communities. These difficulties are a means to dictate the Jewish character of the communities and to enforce racist ethnic segregation.”
Adalah is now waiting for a further reply from the city, and has not ruled out going to court if an agreement is not reached.
The Carmiel municipality said it acts “only according to and as obligated by law, and shares in the financing of the transport for Arabic speaking students according to the rules of the Education Ministry. In light of the dispersion among various communities and schools, the municipality participates in funding public transport on the basis of reporting and according to the criteria required by the Education Ministry.”
The Education Ministry said it has transferred its share of the budget for school transport for the students to the city. Organizing the rides and operating them is the responsibility of the local government, it said.