Hundreds of Bedouin Parents Strike After School Denies Their Kids Entry

400 kids forced to choose between staying at home and commuting 17km to a different school.

The parents of some 400 schoolchildren from the unrecognized Bedouin village of Sawawin have kept their children home from school this year, protesting the Segev Shalom Regional Council's decision to deny entry to 80 students.

The parents have kept their children home since the start of the school year, rather than send them to their assigned schools in the Abu Basma Regional Council, which are located farther away.

bedouin - Eliyahu Hershkowitz - October 28 2010
Eliyahu Hershkowitz

"We have decided to strike because the Segev Shalom Regional Council would not accept our children," said Sawawin resident Hassam al-Asem. "The solution they came up with was to send them to the Al-Assam school, 17 kilometers away."

Before the school year began, the Segev Shalom Regional Council said that because of overcrowded classrooms, they would not be able to accommodate 80 students enrolled in kindergarten, first grade and 10th grade. The Abu Basma Regional Council placed them in a more distant school.

The parents insist that the commute is too long for such young children.

"We will not send our little children such a long distance," al-Asem said. "We had a meeting with the heads of the regional council and they suggested sending the kids to a different school and we refused. We want all of our children to go to one school.

"Three days ago we went to the Knesset Education Committee whose chairman, Zevulun Orlev [of Habayit Hayehudi], suggested building a school in the village. The Education Ministry is willing to fund it and the Abu Basma Regional Council is also willing to provide funding, but because it is an unrecognized village, we need approval from both the Housing Ministry and the Interior Ministry. We have a meeting next week in the Knesset with representatives of these ministries. Maybe we'll arrive at a solution."

In a Knesset Education Committee meeting on Monday, MK Talab al-Sana (United Arab List-Ta'al ) said 16 schools in these unrecognized villages, up to grade 10, have existed for years, and he sees no reason not to build another one in Sawawin.

Orlev added: "It is the state's obligation to ensure that schoolchildren study in proper conditions and near their homes."

The committee recommended that the parents send their children to the alternative school in the meantime, instead of striking. The committee also decided to hold a joint session with the Knesset Interior Committee to find a solution to the problem.

The Education Ministry said that the local authorities are legally responsible for registering children for school, and that the two regional councils had arrived at a solution for the Sawawin children.

"It should be noted that, in recent years, with the establishment of the Abu Basma Regional Council, schools are under construction for the children of the regional council while existing institutions are being expanded," the ministry said. "The children of Sawawin have been assigned to that school and the local authorities have provided transportation. We regret that the parents have chosen not to send their children to school and are breaking the law."

The Education Ministry also said that "the Knesset Education Committee had told the parents to immediately send the children to the educational institutions in Abu Basma to which they have been assigned."

The Abu Basma Regional Council said that since the Segev Shalom Regional Council announced that it could not take in the kindergarteners and first graders from Sawawin, Abu Basma was prepared to accept them.

"All the students have transportation, teachers and classrooms in the educational institutions of the regional council, which accommodate more than 20,000 students from the unrecognized villages," the Abu Basma Regional Council said.

"Unfortunately, because of the parents' stubbornness, the children are not studying in the regional council's schools. We hope after the Education Committee's special discussion this week, the parents will accede to our request and that of the committee and send their children to school."