Kept Out of Class

On the table in the room of Yagel Barak, 11, and his brother, Eran, 10, there are two school bags. They are filled with notebooks, pencils and everything else the boys need for school.

But the bags sit there unused. Since the school year started just 10 days ago, Yagel and Eran have stayed at home.

The Oranit Regional Council has so far refused to accept the boys, who live with their mother in nearby Kfar Kassem.

"I miss math the most," Yagel said. In his previous school in Tel Aviv he received a certificate of excellence in math. "Since I was little, I loved math more than all the other subjects." His brother still does not want to go back to school. But even Eran says that "sometimes we are sick of playing on the computer and watching television."

Their mother, Limor, 33, has lived in recent years with her partner, an Israeli Arab. Yagel and Eran were born to a different, Jewish father, who Limor divorced a few years ago. Last June, the family moved from Tel Aviv to Kfar Kassem.

Since then, Limor has tried to sign the boys up for grade school in Oranit. The distance between their house to the Jewish school in Oranit is a few hundred meters.

The school says the distance is actually much farther, but the issue is not only geographical: the two boys have studied until now in the Weizmann school in South Tel Aviv and they do not know Arabic.

At the beginning of the summer vacation, Limor went to the Oranit Council offices and asked to sign her boys up for the local school. "I said that while I now lived in Kfar Kassem, the boys are Jewish," Limor said. "The clerk said that there was a problem and it was worth trying other places, maybe even in Kfar Kassem. I explained to her that they do not know Arabic. But she said that it was no big deal, they would learn in time."

Limor persevered, but was told that it had been decided not to register the boys. "One of the clerks asked me how I can live with an Arab," she said. Only a few days before the start of school Limor was informed that there was no room in the Oranit school. At the same time she explored the possibility of the boys learning in Rosh Ha'ayin, but the distance was too great.

The head of the Oranit council, Zvi Ma-Yafit, said yesterday that the decision had nothing to do with whether they are Jews or Arabs. He explained that the school was overcrowded.

The Education Ministry looked into the matter after Haaretz raised the issue.

"It was decided that the students must learn in Oranit. We approached the local council in order for them to accept the students as quickly as possible," the ministry said.

Yesterday evening Ma-Yafit said that he had decided to honor the ministry's decision, even though he thought it was a mistake.