Court Strikes Down Segregation of Eritrean Migrant Children in Israeli City

The ruling was on an appeal against the city’s decision this year to send a few dozen Eritrean children to a separate preschool near the city’s marketplace

A mother and her child outside the separate preschool in Netanya, October 2018
Ilan Assayag

A district court in Lod on Monday struck down Netanya’s municipal policy of sending Eritrean migrant children to separate preschools and ordered that they be redistributed to regular classrooms in the city.

The ruling was on an appeal against the city’s decision this year to send a few dozen Eritrean children to a separate preschool near the city’s marketplace. Many parents had refused to send their children to the segregated preschool.

Judge Varda Meroz said the children in compulsory kindergarten destined to begin the first grade in September would be the first to be sent to integrated classes in the next few days. The city committed to “making an effort” to integrate the preschool at issue next year.

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“We are happy the court has decided against segregation,” one of the parents, Pikariya Tesfamichael, said.

Netanya had sent about 70 children to the segregated preschool, located in a neglected neighborhood. Many of these children had been taken out of integrated schools they attended last year. 

Milka Amisum, 5, “had some very nice friends in the former kindergarten,” her father, Awat, told Haaretz a few months ago. “She loved to go to birthday parties she was invited to. She didn’t understand why she had to move to another preschool and why there were no Israelis in the new one.”

“How will my daughter get used to the Israelis she meets in school next year?” he said at the time.  “I don’t want my daughter to think she’s different, to feel the racism. She hasn’t yet opened her eyes to it.” 
Netanya’s municipality said the separation was done because of an increase in enrollment figures that required them to find an immediate solution, and that the Education Ministry had given them permission to do so.

Attorney Haran Reichman of the University of Haifa appealed against Netanya’s move a few weeks ago.

A city spokeswoman said in court that efforts would be made to send 19 children starting school next year to other preschools “so that they may be exposed to (Israeli) children.” She added that next year the city would do a “correct distribution” of the other pupils.

Tesfamichael said, “We were very glad the court agreed that the children must be with” Israeli children they would go to school with next year. 

Reichman said: “The district court sent a clear message that segregationist policy on the basis of class, color or nationality will not be accepted in the Israeli education system. This message should echo in other localities and the Education Ministry must adapt all school frameworks to absorb a heterogeneous and integrated student body without discrimination.”

The city of Netanya did not issue a response to the decision as of yet.