Vast Majority of Ner Etzion Students Still Looking for Somewhere to Learn

Unable to go to work because of the need to take care of their children, many Ethiopian parents spend most of their time in a narrow, stuffy corridor, leaning on the walls since there are not enough chairs for everyone.

Dozens of parents of Ethiopian origin spent yesterday, as they have the past four days, at the doors of the Petah Tikva municipality's education department, seeking placement for their children.

Unable to go to work because of the need to take care of their children, they spend most of their time in the narrow, stuffy corridor, leaning on the walls since there are not enough chairs for everyone.

Ethiopian parents, students
Alon Ron

Only 20 of the 160 students have been enrolled in the city's schools over the past five days since the school year started, after the Ner Etzion school was shut down last week at the demand of parents who wanted their children better integrated.

Community leaders had been saying the matter would be resolved soon. After all, they were the ones who had pushed for the closure of the school. But their patience is wearing thin.

"Every morning I come here and say, 'please, give us a school, Help me. I have work,'" said Tedesa Stuato, whose son was to have started the fifth grade.

"I've lost two work days and now they tell me to go home," shouted Turiya Aynalem. "In all Petah Tikva there's no room?" she asked.

In a corner sat Zanebu Kinada, who should be going into sixth grade. "I feel like they don't want us in any school," she said.

Most of the students who were assigned to schools outside Petah Tikva began trickling back. "We want to study here in town. Why is that not allowed? We pay taxes here like everyone and they send us to another town," one parent complained.

Some 50 children have been sent to schools out of town, to Moshav Nehalim and Rosh Ha'ayin. According to city officials, two private Orthodox Petah Tikva schools, Shuvu and Netivot Moshe, continue in their refusal to accept the children from Ner Etzion who have been assigned there.

MK Nitzan Horowitz (Meretz ) said yesterday that he would reintroduce the bill prohibiting discrimination against school children, which would deny funding from schools that discriminated. Horowitz said that the failure of the bill was directly responsible for the refusal of the private Orthodox Petah Tikva schools to accept children of Ethiopian origin, although these schools receive most of their funding from the state.

Not far from the municipality, a group of parents from the former Soviet Union are protesting because the city refuses to enroll their children in the Gordon school, most of whose students are of Russian origin. Among them is the director-general of Yisrael Beiteinu, MK Fania Kirshenbaum, whom they hope will be able to exert more pressure.

"I came to check what is happening ... The municipality did not even make time to meet with me," she said.

In a letter to Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin yesterday, Petah Tikva Mayor Yitzhak Ohayon demanded that the chairman of the Knesset Education Committee, MK Alex Miller (Yisrael Beiteinu ) be replaced. "It is inconceivable that the Education Committee serve as a tool for the political struggles of MK Miller and his colleagues from Yisrael Beiteinu," Ohayon wrote, adding that the municipality would not attend the meetings as long as Miller was chairman.

But Rivlin responded that while the committee chairman is political, he also serves the Knesset as the supervisory authority, and the mayor should appear before the committee where he can speak his peace.

The Petah Tikva municipality said that by the end of yesterday, 50 percent of the Ner Etzion children would be enrolled in other schools and that "we believe the rest will be enrolled by the end of the week."

With regard to the Gordon school, the municipality said it would not attend today's Education Committee meeting on the matter.