This Bedouin Family Lived in Peace and Quiet. Then They Tried to Enroll Their Kids in School

Widad Hasanat wanted to sign her three daughters up for a local public school, prompting a backlash from municipality, which sought to prove the family had trespassed onto their own territory

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The Hasanat family outside their home in Nes Tziona, November 2020.
The Hasanat family outside their home in Nes Tziona, November 2020.
Bar Peleg
Bar Peleg

The Hasanat family’s troubles began last September. The parents, Widad and Aziz, attempted to enroll their three daughters in schools in Nes Tziona, where they live. To their great surprise, the refusal they met was only the first shot fired in what was to become a string of confrontations with the municipality.

From that day, the family says, the authorities started claiming that they were trespassing on private agricultural land, after they had lived on it for years with no resistance. The municipality, in contrast, claims that the family invaded the area only in the last few months. In any case, local authorities only recently allowed the girls to attend school, after inquiries by Haaretz.

The eight family members live in a dilapidated building built around a well, near the Kfar Aharon neighborhood in the southern part of the city. The neglected brick structure is surrounded by tin sheets, which serve as a fence when needed. It has no running water and a makeshift electricity supply. The kitchen is outside the building and the children sleep on beds beside their parents.

Winter rainfalls drip through the crumbling roof, wetting their bedsheets. The parents recently tried to plug the holes using an election poster bearing the pictures of Amir Peretz, Orli Levi-Abekasis and Itzik Shmuli. Until recently, there was a pergola over the entrance which provided some cover, but the parents had to dismantle it after repeated demands by the municipality.

The exterior of the Hasanat family's home in Nes TzionaCredit: Tomer Appelbaum

Widad and Aziz say they are the third generation to live there, and that their family has been cultivating the land around the building over the last 40 years. Although they don’t have documents to prove this, they have some old family photos that support their claims.

Moreover, neighbors and acquaintances of the family testify that they have been living there for a long time. “My father and her father worked here from 1948 to 1965” confirms Aziz’s neighbor Avi, who owns a plant nursery nearby. “The city never bothered with them, they lived with dignity. They are poor and simple people, living for their daily bread.”

The family's complex, as seen from above, in NovemberCredit: Tomer Appelbaum

Until the current school year, the children studied in the , where most of their relatives live. During the week, the children slept at their grandfather’s house there, going to school and kindergarten in the area. Widad explains that this is why she chose to mark Rahat as her city of residence on her ID card.

However, the grandfather died last year, and the couple decided to transfer the children near their home. They managed to register their son in kindergarten belonging to the Na’amat network, but there was no solution for their three girls, Basma, Lial and Rimas. “My husband wasn’t working, the children wanted to have a life and needed some money, so we sent them to their grandfather” Widad recounts. “Now he has passed away and my father is old, and the children are fed up with being half in Rahat and half here.”

Widad says that ahead of making the change, she went to the Interior Ministry in order to change her address. However, she had difficulties in providing documents such as a contract or property tax bills. “I don’t have any of that” she says. “They asked for a water bill, but I draw water from the well. How can I bring them this document?”

Later, when she did not receive a reply to her request, she tried to find out why. “The municipality kept telling me they didn’t have an answer from the mayor yet.” Shortly afterwards, the authorities started pestering them. The two of them started receiving queries about the pergola at the entrance to their house.

The Hasanat family's home in Nes TzionaCredit: Tomer Appelbaum

Recently, days before , inspectors showed up and demanded that it be taken down immediately. “I told them to let us have this pergola for the rainy season, and that we’d take it down right after the winter” Widad says, “but they refused.”

Widad recently collapsed and was taken to hospital. She says that she received hints that the municipality was trying to do everything in its power in order to evict them. “They were here four or five times in one week” says a neighbor who asked not to be identified. “Inspectors, police, engineers. The city has so many problems and this is what interests them?” Aziz dismantled the pergola by himself in the end.

The Hasanats' outdoor kitchenCredit: Tomer Appelbaum

Last week, Haaretz sent a query to the Nes Tziona municipality regarding the daughters’ education. At first the city said the family are trespassing on the property, so there was no reason to register the girls for school. Furthermore, the city said, the parents had no contract or other documents confirming they were residents of the city, and that the affidavit they had submitted was false. They added that the document showing that the girls unenrolled from the school in Rahat arrived late.

Following a further query as to how the refusal accords with the law – and why the girls were being punished for their parents’ actions – the city replied that they urgently appealed to the Education Ministry, which approved their immediate enrollment. However, a ministry source told Haaretz that the only appeal regarding the girls was sent in the past few days, and that the ministry was unaware of matter.

“The municipality is treating them unjustly, and I hope that the fact that they are Arabs is not the reason for this” wrote attorney Oren Abela to the municipality. Abela, who is representing the couple, also employs Aziz in agricultural work. “The question is whether for every pergola that is built, a city inspector shows up every week, giving demolition orders in such harsh and aggressive enforcement? The city is apparently trying, for unclear motives, to remove my clients directly or indirectly from their home of 40 years.”

Aziz and his three daughtersCredit: Tomer Appelbaum

The city of Nes Tziona says that “the parents of these children are registered as living in Rahat. They trespassed onto private agricultural land. However, after our appeal to the Education Ministry, it approved enrolling the children in the city’s school system. We are now working on integrating them immediately into schools.

"The city operates under the law dealing with enforcement in cases of violations that come under its authority, including planning and construction in public and private spaces. Thus, we operate in accordance with violations that can endanger lives, including taking administrative or legal action.”

The Education Ministry said that the case had been brought to their attention only recently. “Thus, the ministry was in touch with the local authority in order to find a solution. “If the children live within the city’s jurisdiction, they are entitled to an education under the law.”

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