A regional council in Israel's south said Thursday it would stop providing school services for 19,000 students in unrecognized Bedouin villages, claiming the Education Ministry has refused to commit to establish a "proper and quality" school system.
This would be the third time within one school year that schools in the al-Kasom Regional Council would go on strike. The Education Ministry says 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 10,000 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.
As part of an appeal against the state and the council, which was submitted in November by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel on behalf of the students residing in unrecognized Bedouin villages, much impairment transpired in the council's handling of education services.
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According to the ministry, the council presented funding demands for transportation services that never took place. In addition, reports lacking credibility regarding the numbers of students transported to schools were formulated, resulting in double funding.
Ministry and council officials met on Wednesday to sign an agreement that would arrange the transfer of funds to the council. The agreement, however, wasn't signed after al-Atrash made new demands, which the ministry said it couldn't meet.
On its part, the council said the demands presented at the meeting were not new, accusing the ministry of shirking its responsibility.
Nevertheless, the Education Ministry officials told Haaretz that a solution to the issues in question is "closer than ever" and urged the council head not to shut the schools, adding that the ministry is willimg to meet the council half way on most of the budgetary issues.
"The ministry harshly condemns the decision made by the al-Kasom council head to call for a strike [for schools in unrecognized villages] and his cynical use of the students and their parents to unjustly blackmail money. Holding the students hostage is an aggressive step that will cause great and redundant damage," the ministry said in a statement.
Al-Atrash said in response that the ministry "continues to ignore the children from unrecognized villages and hasn't prepared for what was agreed upon at the start of the year."
Attorney Sana Even-Beri from ACRI said that "The fact that students continue being held hostage in a midst of a budget dispute. This is the third time since the start of the year that schools are being shut to thousands of students whose rights to education, equality and human dignity are being violated."