Separate But Not Equal

October, 27 2011

Most of Israel’s Arab children attend poorly-performing segregated public schools.
What can be done and what does it mean for Israel’s future?

To read part one of our Israel’s Arab Citizens series, click here

This is the second installment of Moment’s series on Israel’s 1.7 million Arab citizens. The first, which ran in our September/October 2009 issue, traced the evolution of one family’s identity from Arab to Palestinian-Israeli. Here Moment explores the separate but unequal education of Israel’s Arab children, who comprise 26 percent of the country’s elementary and high school students. New York Times contributor Dina Kraft reports from Israel.

It’s morning in Jaljulia, a small, sleepy Arab village in central Israel. A bumpy main street is lined with small grocery shops, clothing and hardware stores and the occasional coffee house. Sparse hills are covered with squat, multi-story concrete houses. There are no sidewalks. Beneath bobbing backpacks, students walk in the middle of the roads on their way to school. The older children head to a limestone building, surrounded by a chain-link fence. It’s the Jaljulia Education and Science High School, which serves the village and neighboring Kfar Bara. Its principal is Khalid Arar, a tall, wiry 38-year-old former national karate champion with a Ph.D. in education from Tel Aviv University. He strides into the teachers’ lounge as the school day begins with a bell playing the Disney tune, It’s a Small World.

Schools around the world are microcosms of their societies, and this Jaljulia school is no different. Arar’s world is full of problems. His car was torched and part of the school set on fire by students angry over his crackdown on test cheating. His 460-student school suffers from low achievement, high drop-out rates and violence. There is no gym or money for extracurricular activities for his charges. “So they are in the streets after class is let out,” Arar says, looking out a window, his gaze hardening. “And that is where the violence starts.”

Although fairly new, the building was constructed without air conditioning: Funds were later raised within the village for window units. Teaching materials and equipment are limited: Only seven of 25 computers function. Arar manages to outfit science labs with donations from universities where he has connections. Space is at a premium: In one Hebrew grammar class for 12th graders, 41 students, some without desks, are squeezed into a room. A young teacher in a white headscarf is deconstructing l’gdol, the Hebrew verb for “grow.” The kids are rowdy, and the teacher is forced to raise her voice to be heard.

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