Sikkuy-Aufoq - For a Shared and Equal Society (R.A)

The difficult reality of the Bedouin youth made headlines after the violent evacuation of Al-Hiran and the subsequent question: can the Bedouin sector be integrated into Israeli society?

Ofer Livnat

“The starting point for Bedouin is not the same as that of the rest of the population of the country. That’s why they’ll always be lacking things, and in high percentages. For example, there’s a tremendous shortage of schools, classrooms and infrastructure in general. There’s a shortage of local teachers, and therefore many teachers come from the north and the Triangle. Most of the teachers sent to the south are inexperienced or unemployed, or want to live far from their parents and imagine a world of total freedom,” according to Dr. Musa Hujurat, an expert on education and a social psychologist, who studies Arab society in Israel.

The reality of the lives of the Bedouin population made headlines last week after the violent evacuation in the Bedouin community of Umm al-Hiran in the Negev, which is not recognized by the government. In the context of the evacuation, village resident Yakub Musa Abu Al-Kiyan ran over and killed policeman Erez Levy. It is still unclear whether this was a ramming attack or an accident. This grave incident once again raised the issue of the illegal villages in the Negev and the question as to whether it is possible to integrate young Bedouins into Israel society, or whether another generation is growing up here that will always have a sense of being shortchanged and of not belonging to the country.

As part of “Negev Day” in the Knesset, there was a discussion in the Committee on Children’s Rights entitled: “Thousands of children from the Bedouin sector lack an educational framework – risks and solutions.” “In Bedouin Arab society in the south the government doesn’t enable the residents to implement the Compulsory Education Law, and that is reflected in a failure to build a significant number of schools or preschools in the unrecognized Bedouin communities,” noted Member of Knesset (MK) Taleb Abu Arar (Joint List), who initiated the Knesset discussion, in a letter he wrote to the members of the Committee on Children’s Rights. “I estimate that there are thousands of all ages, from elementary to high schools, who lack an educational framework, and in addition there is overcrowding in the classrooms even in the recognized Bedouin communities.”

In the public interest

According to the data of the Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) as of 2014, about 34 percent of the population in the Be’er Sheva district are Muslims (Bedouin). According to CBS figures, the Bedouin communities are in the bottom rankings in terms of socioeconomic classification. In 2014, 36 percent of Bedouin students dropped out of middle schools and high schools. For the sake of comparison, in Arab society the percentage of dropouts that year was 22 percent, and among the population as a whole it was 16 percent.

According to figures brought by MK Abu Arar, about 80 percent of the students in the unrecognized communities in the Negev are transported to the educational institutions, due to the absence of schools near their places of residence, or a shortage of classrooms. According to the Education Ministry, about 5,000 children aged 3-5 in these unrecognized communities are left without an educational framework.

“The reasons for the high dropout rate are as follows: The schools aren’t prepared for modern life, there are too many pupils in each classroom, and the social environment sometimes does not support schooling,” says Dr. Hujurat. “Sometimes relations between the children and their parents are poor. There are girls who live far from the school and have no transportation, and therefore they drop out of the system, especially high school girls from traditional families. There are also students from poor families who will find their way to the job market early in light of their parents’ financial situation.”

To deal with these problems, there are quite a number of non-profits and initiatives whose goal is to promote equality between the Arab population in general and the Bedouin population in particular – and the Jewish population. For example, Sikkuy-The Association for the Advancement of Civic Equality, which operates in cooperation with the Regional Council of Unrecognized Villages, in order to advance education and public transportation.

“In those two areas we’re trying to promote access to education and public transportation services and infrastructure in the unrecognized villages in the Negev,” says Ofer Dagan, the coordinator of the Negev Project at Sikkuy. “We maintain that even if the villages are unrecognized, and there’s a dispute over land and municipal status, the government still has a responsibility and an obligation to provide these services. These are services that are basic and required by law, and it’s also in the public interest that there be an educated population with access to education. In education we also focus on preschools and high schools.”
According to Dagan: “There are not enough informal education frameworks in the unrecognized Bedouin communities. As a result, the dropout rates are high and there are many young people who are unable to acquire a higher education afterwards, and are in effect tracked to blue-collar jobs, unemployment or crime.”

What is the solution for improving the infrastructure and services in those communities?

“There’s no need to create anything revolutionary. There’s a regional master plan for the region called the Be’er Sheva Metropolitan Area, the area where the unrecognized villages are located. Within this planning area there are local authorities, each of which has the right to plan educational institutions within its jurisdiction. About 10 years ago the planning director introduced an amendment to the district master plan, which makes it possible to establish vital service centers – schools, clinics and mosques – in prefab buildings, which provide minimal service to the population.”

“All the schools in the unrecognized villages operate in such structures. On this planning foundation it’s possible to provide service, to make preschools accessible to other unrecognized villages that have no solution as yet. Meanwhile the children will attend preschool in temporary buildings, which will provide the minimal service and offer the children a proper educational framework.”

Why hasn’t that happened as yet?

“In the unrecognized village there’s no unifying regional or local authority, and therefore there’s no body representing them before the Education Ministry building authorities. The ministry has to initiate a mapping process in the villages, assess the need, use existing planning infrastructure and open centers for vital services in those villages that lack preschools, for example.”

A shared fate

According to Education Ministry figures, in 2013 about 2,450 Bedouin students studied in all the institutions of higher education, constituting about 8 percent of all Arab students and about 1 percent of all the students in the system. Of them, 934 studied the humanities, 804 education and teaching, and 401 society, administration and law. The rest studied in other departments. That year about 1,600 students chose to study in the Palestinian Authority, and in Hebron University in particular.

One of the programs designed to provide a solution to the problems of the Arab population in general and the Bedouins in particular is the Rawad (Pioneers) program in the Aluma Association (which specializes in educational activity, mentoring and helping young adults to acquire life skills and integrate them in educational and employment circles). The program is “designed to make higher education accessible in Arab, Druze and Circassian society, in cooperation with the Council for Higher Education. Rawad operates in dozens of Arab communities, and we encourage the young Arabs to study in Israeli institutions,” says Ashraf Jabour, the program director. “Today, after three years, the program has increased the percentage of Arab students in Israeli academic institutions from 13 to 15.3 percent, but the gaps are still great, and most are Arabs, not Bedouin.”

“In Bedouin society we invest great resources in informal education as well. The rate of eligibility for matriculation is low, the dropout rate is very high and the percentage of those who finish with full matriculation is very low, which has implications for employment and for everything. As a national program, we are trying, by means of our staffs, to provide group and individual solutions, to construct an alternative for each student, and if doesn’t have matriculation, we offer him a “machine”, a college prep course. The government invests huge resources in prep courses, and anyone who goes to study in such a course usually doesn’t pay and can be accepted almost free of charge.

“The CHE – Council of Higher Education Planning and Budgeting Committee also sponsors the ‘Iretka Scholarship Fund’, in which about 650 scholarships are granted to Arab students studying for their bachelor’s degree, with a focus on fields for which there is a demand in the job market, and in which Arab society has relatively low representation at present, such as: high-tech and engineering, sciences, economics, arts and more. In addition, last September the CHE launched the new multiyear higher education program, which includes an additional 1 billion shekels ($265 million) for integrating special populations, including the Arab sector, and by 2022 the percentage of minority students will increase to 17 percent.

“Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel also recently launched the five-year plan for advancing the Bedouin sector, in which 3 billion shekels will be invested in building classrooms, improving educational achievements, strengthening local government and solving employment problems, among other things.

“Since the CHE introduced the Iretka program, we can say that the students have begun to consider the country as an option,” says Jabour. “The parents are also beginning to understand that socioeconomic mobility begins with higher education. They want the children to be educated, but they are still afraid to let the girls leave the house. We see that there’s a change in this attitude, but not entirely.”
The NGO Desert Stars, which was started four years ago, is trying to nurture a new generation of leadership in Bedouin society in the Negev. The organization operates a high school for grades 9-12, in cooperation with the B’nei Shimon Regional Council in the northern Negev and the Branco Weiss Institute (an educational NGO), and the school day lasts until 5:30 PM.
“The school selects the students not according to grades, but according to their leadership potential and their motivation – the desire to get up and try to change things,” says Matan Yaffe, the executive director of the organization. At Desert Stars they hope that within a decade there will be 700 graduates, some of whom will be in key positions in Bedouin society. “We want to create a critical mass of leaders, who speak the same language and take responsibility for Bedouin society, and who have the tools and ability to do so,” says Yaffe. “It’s still doesn’t operate smoothly, the way we would like. There’s still a lot of fear and questions, but the moment they meet the group, many of the fears disappear.
“We’ve done things that were once impossible, but there’s still a long way to go. The most unique aspect of Desert Stars is that it’s a project that fosters hope. These days the discourse is so violent, and in my opinion the most important thing that has to happen in Israeli society is for people to stop the violent talk. There are amazing people here, who want exactly the same things that we want, and often in the political discussion that gets lost. We have one common fate. That’s the reality in which we live, and we have to see how to create a situation in which every child in Israel has an equal opportunity. People without hope and without a horizon are frustrated people who choose extremism, and there’s no reason why that should happen.”

The Education Ministry response: “The Education Ministry invests considerable resources to advance the education system in the Bedouin sector, and provides advanced and high-quality educational frameworks for the students of the Bedouin sector. There is an educational solution in the permanent communities and at central service centers, and as a result the dropout rate has declined and the percentage of those eligible for a matriculation certificate has increased.

“There is no student in the [Bedouin] diaspora who is not included in an educational institution, by law. There are educational institutions in recognized communities, and the government invests 120 million shekels annually in order to transport the students from the villages, from the ages of 5 to 18. In order to expand the circle and to transport 3- and 4-year-olds too, in a manner unprecedented on the national level, the Education Ministry and Finance Ministry have decided to add an additional budget of 50 million shekels.”

Silence is Golden