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On 8 December 2010, Adalah petitioned the Supreme Court of Israel on behalf of 70 school children and their parents from the unrecognized Arab Bedouin village of Sawaween in the Naqab (Negev), demanding that the court compel the Ministry of Education (MOE) to provide a suitable school for 350 children who have not been going to school since September 2010, the start of the current school year. Adalah further demanded that the MOE and the Interior Ministry establish the first elementary school in the village. The petition was submitted by Adalah Attorney Sawsan Zaher
Around 1,200 Arab Bedouin citizens of Israel live in Sawaween, including 350 children of compulsory education age, including 126 children of preschool and first-grade age. In previous years, school children from Sawaween (which falls within the jurisdictional borders of the Abu Basma Regional Council) and neighboring villages attended school in the government-planned Arab Bedouin town of Shageeb al-Salam (Segev Shalom). However, huge overcrowding in the schools in Shageeb al-Salam has led to deterioration in the quality and conditions of the education provided and in the learning atmosphere in the classes. As a result, the local council of Shageeb al-Salam, in coordination with the MOE and the Abu Basma Regional Council decided to transfer children from Sawaween to schools outside of Shageeb al-Salam, without consulting the children’s parents.
The parents were asked to transfer their children to elementary schools in the villages of Al-A’sam and Abu-Tulul, both of which lie around 20 km from Sawaween. This distance in the Naqab desert is very great for the children and it takes an extremely long time to travel to/from school. Moreover, schools in the two villages are also very overcrowded, with each school accommodating over 1,000 children and at least 40 children to a class.
The parents then decided not to send their children to the school and began a popular protest against the move, which was discussed in the Knesset. During these discussions, various governmental ministries absolved themselves of responsibility for the situation, with the result that the children are still at home and not attending school.
In the petition, Adalah emphasized that the duty of the relevant authorities to provide free compulsory education in reasonable conditions is clearly anchored in the Compulsory Education Law (1949). In addition, the Students’ Rights Law (2000) stipulates that every child in Israel has the right to education. Furthermore, the right to education does not depend on the provision of other conditions, such as the child’s place of residence or the official status of the town or village in which he or she lives. Therefore the failure to open a school in the village of Sawaween, or at least to find a suitable school for the children violates their right to a free compulsory education, their constitutional right to equality with other children of their age, and the right of their parents to choose where their children go to school.
The lack of close and accessible schools leads to a further deterioration in the state of Arabic-language education in the Naqab – which is already poor – and greatly hinders educational attainment. According to a report issued by the Knesset’s research center, for example, just 25% of Arab Bedouin students pass the matriculation exam, and only 15% receive high enough grades to be accepted to university.