Opinion

I Refused to Believe Tel Aviv Has Segregated Preschools – Until I Visited One

With the municipality's blessing, the children of African asylum seekers and the children of the upscale Tzahala neighborhood don't play together

A preschool kindergarten in Tel Aviv (illustrative).
Tomer Appelbaum

We didn’t want to believe the woman from north Tel Aviv who told us about the segregation. We thought she was imagining things when she said there are separate preschools for black and white children in the Tel Aviv neighborhood of Tzahala. But she was insistent. So we went to the Tzahala preschool compound and kept going back and forth between the classrooms as the unbelievable sights gradually sank in: One preschool was filled with white children; the other with black children. In Israel, 2018.

When you actually see the segregation taking place in north Tel Aviv, suddenly you understand the argument made by Sheffi Paz – one of the most vocal leaders of the protest movement against the asylum seekers living in south Tel Aviv. For years she has been shouting that no one would agree to have his neighborhood “flooded” with foreigners – and here are the north Tel Avivians doing exactly as she claimed.

There were good intentions at the start. Tel Aviv Municipality was right when it made the decision to “disperse” the children of asylum seekers and not keep them concentrated in the south of the city. In the current school year, the number of preschool-age children of foreigners doubled and the thinking was that, if there are asylum seeker mothers working in north Tel Aviv, it would also be appropriate for their children to go to preschool there. The municipality also provides transportation for the children to and from the preschool.

Well, the location may have changed but the segregation has been completely preserved. There is no contact between the foreigners’ children and the children of this upscale neighborhood. They don’t play together and don’t do activities together. Nothing at all. Black and white.

Our program coordinator, Ayelet Arbel, contacted the preschool and the municipality, prepared with questions to ask as the mother of a child due to join the preschool.

Arbel: “The children from south Tel Aviv are there with them?”

Preschool teacher: “No, they have their own special staff; they’re in separate preschools.”

Arbel: “There’s no mixing between the children?”

Preschool teacher: “There’s no mixing. But they’re fine, too. There’s nothing to be afraid of, they’re good children.”

Arbel: “I’m sure, I’m just asking.”

Preschool teacher: “No, no, no, they’re in their yard, they have their own staff. We’re not together.”

The municipality’s education department provided more detailed answers, even including an “anthropological analysis.”

Tel Aviv municipality service representative: “It’s because in the south of the city there’s a shortage of space and there are a lot of children and we have space, so they are transported each day, and these are preschools that are by definition for the foreigners.”

Arbel: “Why aren’t they mixed with the other children?”

Municipality worker: “Because in principle they are guests. The municipality assigns children based on their area of residence, which means the children who live in this neighborhood are assigned to a school in this neighborhood with children who are their neighbors, who live near them, so they will form their circle of friends in the area.”

Arbel: “That’s sad.”

Municipality worker: “It’s not sad at all, don’t worry. They get the best possible education. Considering how different their culture is and their standards and standard of living – you know, with what they’re used to – there’s no comparison.”

Arbel: “Yes, right.”

Municipality worker: “I’ve been to Africa, I can tell you from experience.”

Arbel: “Did the parents ask for them not to be together?”

Municipality worker: “I couldn’t tell you. There are politicians somewhere up there who decided. Ten percent of the children in the city are from the foreigners, and a suitable framework has to be found. If they were to say, ‘Come, let’s all live in harmony’ and put the children from Tzahala together with the foreigners’ children I think most of the parents would have fled.”

So for the sake of that municipality worker, let us explain that we are not in Africa here. That the asylum seekers live a thoroughly Israeli way of life – or at least try to. That their children are just as smart and curious and innocent as our children. And that if prejudices would be put aside and the children were allowed to “mix,” the Tzahala children would also gain from it, perhaps even more.

What benefit is there for children to grow up in totally homogenous surroundings? For the only black person they ever see to be the street cleaner? And how long will children here continue to be raised on exclusion, hatred and racism?

The Tel Aviv municipality responded: “These are preschools for the children of the foreign community. The increase in their number within a short time created a shortage of classroom space near their place of residence. Therefore, the children are transported to distant preschools, and in the afternoon are transported to after-school centers in the south of the city.”

Full disclosure: The writer of this article is foster-mother to an Eritrean child. He is the only black child in his preschool, but if you ask his friends they don’t see any difference between him and anyone else.