A Safe Space for Everyone

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Osher Band, 15, in her home in Ashkelon, Israel, April 15, 2019.
Osher Band, 15, in her home in Ashkelon, Israel, April 15, 2019.Credit: Ilan Assayag

At the start of the school year, Osher Band, a transgender girl, was physically and verbally attacked at her high school, ORT Henry-Ronson in Ashkelon. She was also threatened with a knife. According to her mother, the school said it couldn’t protect her, so she could stay home.

Since then, for more than six months, Band hasn’t gone to school. So far, no other educational framework has been found for her, yet her mother recently received a letter warning her of possible criminal proceedings if she didn’t send her daughter to school.

Last week, Band returned to school and was promptly attacked by one of the girls in her grade. She was hospitalized with traumatic brain injury. The school added insult to injury by accusing Band of provocative behavior.

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“Unfortunately, on the few occasions on which Osher did come to school, her behavior was provocative,” Principal Orna Gul said. “She uses harsh, defiant language with the teachers and students and doesn’t accept authority.” Gul also denied that the staff had ever asked Osher not to show up looking like a woman, adding that Osher had never complained of any such thing.

In addition to the principal’s comments, the school noted that both attacks were reported to the Education Ministry and the police, and that in both cases, the students were “dealt with and punished” in line with directives issued by the ministry’s director general.

Band’s case epitomizes the education system’s haplessness and its abandonment of teens whose welfare is its responsibility. Knesset members and organizations representing the LGBT community were right to contact the Education Ministry on Tuesday and demand that it help Band. It’s unreasonable, they said, for a girl to have no school to go to, thereby depriving her of her basic right to education, just because the school she attended failed to meet its basic obligation to ensure the safety of all the students enrolled there.

Band’s case also proves that violence against members of the LGBT community requires systemic treatment. In a letter to the Education Ministry, the heads of several organizations demanded that it urgently arrange training for school staffers and local government officials to help them deal with students from the LGBT community. Israeli schools must provide a safe space for everyone, irrespective of religious, racial or gender identity.

We must hope that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu takes this fundamental obligation into account when the time comes to appoint someone as education minister. In this regard, the fact that the Union of Right-Wing Parties – one of whose leaders, Bezalel Smotrich, is a declared homophobe – has demanded the education portfolio should sow fear in the hearts of anyone concerned about cases like Band’s.

The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.

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