Apartheid in Israel's Schools. (Human Rights Watch)

By Gordon, Neve | The Humanist, March-April 2002 | Go to article overview

Apartheid in Israel's Schools. (Human Rights Watch)


Gordon, Neve, The Humanist


One would have thought that following the civil rights movement in the United States and the anti-apartheid in South Africa, people would recognize that the idea separate but equal is nothing more than a devious fabrication employed to mask, perpetuate, and sustain inequitous social hierarchies. And yet, despite the victorious struggles of these great historical liberation movements, the conception that an education system can indeed be segregated but equal is ubiquitous in Israel.

The facts, however, point to a different reality. Nearly one-quarter of Israel's 1.6 million schoolchildren are educated in a totally separate, government-run school system. Often overcrowded and understaffed, poorly built, badly maintained, or simply unavailable, schools for Palestinian citizens in Israel offer fewer educational opportunities to their children than do Jewish schools.

The degree and scope of discrimination is indeed alarming. In Second Class: Discrimination Against Palestinian Arab Children in Israel's Schools, a 187-page report recently published by Human Rights Watch (HRW), one reads that Arab children attend classes that are 20 percent larger, with some children having to travel long distances. Arab schools have fewer teachers and their teachers have, on average, fewer qualifications and receive lower salaries than Jewish teachers.

Almost all Arab schools in Israel are underresourced and lack basic amenities like libraries, computers, science laboratories, and even recreation space. Moreover, a study by professors Sorrel Kahan and Yakov Yeleneck from Hebrew University reveals that Arab students receive five times less remedial services even though they need them more. The Education Ministry simply uses a different scale to assess need for Jewish and Arab children. So while the government boasts about its affirmative action program for needy students, it excludes and discriminates against Arab students.

It is therefore no surprise that Arabs drop out of school at a younger age and at three times the rate of Jewish children. In the 1999 school year, the most recent year for which complete figures are available, 31.7 percent of Arab seventeen-year-olds had dropped out, as compared to a 10.4 percent Jewish dropout rate.

Those Arab students who do complete high school are less likely to pass the national matriculation exams (bagrut): 45.6 percent of the Jews pass it as compared to 27.5 percent of the Arabs and 16.8 percent of the Bedouins. Even fewer qualify for university admission: 40.4 percent of the Jews, 18.4 percent of the Arabs, and only 6.4 percent of the Bedouins. While Palestinian Arabs make up 18.7 percent of the country's population and almost one quarter of all school children, in 2000 only 5. …

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