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Separate and unequal: The role of the state educational system in maintaining the subordination of Israel's Palestinian Arab citizens

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The state educational system in Israel functions effectively to maintain the cultural, socioeconomic, and political subordination of Israel's Palestinian Arab citizens through the imposition of aims, goals and curricula to which the students cannot relate, and the substandard and discriminatory provision of educational resources, programmes and services; all of which result in markedly poorer levels of educational achievement and lower rates of students qualified to enter higher education. As with every other aspect of the education system in Israel, these inequitable outcomes are not a matter of chance, but rather a matter of policy. In this paper, I will explore the ways in which racially derogatory attitudes towards the Palestinian Arab minority in Israel have been translated into discriminatory practices in the state-run educational system. I will examine the mechanisms by which these practices have placed Palestinian Arabs on an unequal footing with regard to their social, economic and political development vis à vis the Israeli Jewish majority, and have led to the institutionalisation of an education system that perpetuates racist attitudes and practices.
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Social Identities, Volume 10, No 1, 2004
Separate and Unequal: the Role of the State Educational
System in Maintaining the Subordination of Israel’s
Palestinian Arab Citizens
IsmaelAbu-SaadEducation DepartmentBen-Gurion University of the NegevBeer-Sheva84105Po Box 653Israelabusaad@bgumail.bgu.ac.il
ISMAEL ABU-SAAD
Ben-Gurion University of the Negev
ABSTRACT: The state educational system in Israel functions effectively to maintain
the cultural, socioeconomic, and political subordination of Israel’s Palestinian Arab
citizens through the imposition of aims, goals and curricula to which the students
cannot relate, and the substandard and discriminatory provision of educational re-
sources, programmes and services; all of which result in markedly poorer levels of
educational achievement and lower rates of students qualified to enter higher education.
As with every other aspect of the education system in Israel, these inequitable outcomes
are not a matter of chance, but rather a matter of policy. In this paper, I will explore
the ways in which racially derogatory attitudes towards the Palestinian Arab minority
in Israel have been translated into discriminatory practices in the state-run educational
system. I will examine the mechanisms by which these practices have placed Palestinian
Arabs on an unequal footing with regard to their social, economic and political
development vis a` vis the Israeli Jewish majority, and have led to the institutionalisa-
tion of an education system that perpetuates racist attitudes and practices.
Nearly one in four of Israel’s 1.6 million schoolchildren are educated in
a public school system wholly separate from the majority. The children
in this parallel school system are Israeli citizens of Palestinian Arab
origin. Their schools are a world apart in quality from the public schools
serving Israel’s majority Jewish population. Often overcrowded and
understaffed, poorly built, badly maintained, or simply unavailable,
schools for Palestinian Arab children offer fewer facilities and educa-
tional opportunities than are offered other Israeli [Jewish] children.
(Human Rights Watch, 2001, p. 11)
[Institutional racism is] the collective failure of an organization to
provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of
their colour, culture or ethnic origin. It can be seen or detected in
processes, attitudes and behaviour which amount to discrimination
through unwitting prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness and racist
stereotyping which disadvantages minority ethnic people. (MacPherson
of Cluny, 1999, p. 684)
1350-4630 Print/1363-0296 On-line/04/010101-27 2004 Taylor & Francis Ltd
DOI: 10.1080/1350463042000191010
102 Ismael Abu-Saad
Introduction
According to the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of
Racial Discrimination, racial discrimination is
any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on race, colour,
descent, or national or ethnic origin which has the purpose or effect of
nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on an
equal footing, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the politi-
cal, economic, social, cultural or any other field of public life. (Inter-
national Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial
Discrimination, Article 1, 1965)
In this paper, I will deal with the issue of how racially derogatory attitudes
towards the Palestinian Arab minority in Israel have been translated into
discriminatory practices in the state-run educational system. I will examine the
mechanisms by which these practices have placed Palestinian Arabs on an
unequal footing with regard to their social, economic and political develop-
ment vis a` vis the Israeli Jewish majority, and have led to the institutionalisation
of an education system that perpetuates racist attitudes and practices.
The Framework of Separation
The modern state of Israel is in large part the accomplishment of the Zionist
movement, which began in Europe with the goal of establishing a national
homeland for the Jews in Palestine. From the very outset of the Zionist project,
the indigenous Arab population of Palestine was negatively racialised as
inferior, and except for their numbers might have been disregarded all
together. In 1917, Jews represented only 10 per cent of the population of
Palestine. Due to Jewish immigration, their proportion grew to 31 per cent of
the total population by 1946; however, their minority status was viewed by
many Zionists as an ‘obstacle’ to the fulfillment of their goal (Lustick, 1980).
This obstacle was to a large extent overcome when, during the course and
aftermath of the 1948 war, the vast majority of the pre-war Arab population
was expelled or fled from the territory that became the state of Israel, and only
about 160,000 Arabs remained (Jiryis, 1976; Lustick, 1980; Yiftachel, 1999, 2003).
The new government worked diligently to facilitate the immigration of Jews,
and by the end of 1951 the Jewish population numbered 1,404,000, becoming
the overwhelming majority in the state of Israel.
The foundational basis of this new nation-state perpetuated the negative
racialisation of the Palestinian Arabs remaining within its domain by explicitly
excluding them from membership in the national ethos since Israel was defined
as a state that embodies Jewish nationalism and exists to serve the national
interest of the Jewish people. This emphasis pervades every aspect of the
formal state apparatus, from the national anthem to official emblems, currency
and car licence plates. Beyond the symbolic trappings, David Ben-Gurion
described exactly what he and his fellow founders of the state meant by ‘a
Jewish state’:
State Educational System and Israel’s Palestinian Arab Citizens 103
When we say ‘Jewish independence’ or a ‘Jewish state’ we mean Jewish
country, Jewish soil, we mean Jewish labor, we mean Jewish economy,
Jewish agriculture, Jewish industry, Jewish sea. We mean Jewish safety,
security, independence, complete independence, as for any other free
people. (quoted in Lustick, 1980, p. 88)
Israel was also conceived by its founders as a Zionist state, which meant that
it was a State of a people, the majority of whom were not concentrated within
its borders. Nevertheless, as a Zionist state, it bore responsibility for the
security, well-being, unity and continuous cultural identity of the Jewish
people, and thus maintained a political, economic, social and cultural image of
an immigrant-absorbing state established for the purpose of solving the prob-
lems of the Jewish people (Lustick, 1980; Masalha, 1997).
At the same time, the negative racialisation of Palestinian Arabs as an
‘obstacle’ shifted to that of a ‘security threat’ which needed to be actively
controlled. Thus, in 1948 the Israeli government set up a military administra-
tion in the areas in which the Palestinian Arab population was concentrated,
which imposed severe restrictions on their freedom of movement and econ-
omic opportunities, and subjected them to surveillance and military law
(Lustick, 1980; Yiftachel, 2003). This military administration remained in place
until 1966.
To actualise its control of these indigenous (non-Jewish) Palestinian Arabs,
who remained within the territory and became, as a fait accompli, citizens of the
Jewish State, the government developed an extensive system based on segmen-
tation, dependence and co-option (Abu-Saad, 2003; Lustick, 1980; McDowall,
1989; Seliktar, 1984). The implementation of these policies has perpetuated their
negative racialisation vis a` vis the Israeli Jewish majority, and resulted in
extensive discrimination against them, both individually and collectively, by
effectively excluding them from access to political power, the full benefits of
citizenship, and social and economic welfare (Ghanem, 1998; Lustick, 1980;
McDowall, 1989; Yiftachel, 1999).
The government policy of segmentation involved keeping the Palestinian
Arabs separate from Jews socially, politically and administratively. Though the
military administration, which had maintained physical separation between
Israel’s Jewish and Palestinian Arab citizens, was lifted in 1966, other means
were used to perpetuate their social and economic segregation. This has aided
in maintaining the racist characterisation of Palestinian Arabs as irreconcilably
‘other’, on the one hand, and a ‘security threat’, on the other. Even currently in
the country’s five ‘mixed cities’ (Tel Aviv-Jaffa, Lod, Ramle, Acre and Haifa),
it is nearly impossible to find mixed residential areas.
The physical segmentation has facilitated social and economic discrimi-
nation as well, through the differential development of the majority and
minority communities. Palestinian Arabs are excluded institutionally from
many of the benefits received by Jews. The existence of quasi-governmental
funding organisations such as the Jewish Agency, the World Zionist Organiza-
tion, and the Jewish National Fund provided a structure through which the
Jewish community could benefit while the Palestinian community was
104 Ismael Abu-Saad
excluded, without the state itself implementing the discriminatory policies. The
Jewish Agency is responsible for the social and economic establishment of
immigrants, and its development expenditures for this purpose have at times
even exceeded the total development budget of the State (Lustick, 1980;
McDowall, 1989). It also controls a good portion of the Israeli economy, either
wholly or partially owning some 60 major companies in Israel, through which
it pursues its goals of developing a strong Jewish economy and facilitating the
absorption Jewish immigrants. Together with the Jewish National Fund (JNF),
it owns the Israel Land Development Company, whose assets include large
tracts of urban land, industrial buildings, hotels and resorts (McDowall, 1989).
In addition, public land in Israel is administered by the Israel Land
Authority (ILA), which as a public body has a legal obligation not to discrimi-
nate against any group of citizens. However, 50 per cent of the members of the
ILA’s governing council are representatives of the Jewish National Fund (JNF),
a private agency that by its constitutional definition acts in the interest of Jews
only. Large tracts of land, originally confiscated from the Palestinian Arab
population, as well as areas of public land next to Arab communities, have
been transferred to the JNF to circumvent legal pressures against discrimi-
nation in the administration and development of state lands (Lustick, 1980;
Masalha, 1997; Yiftachel, 1999). According to Yiftachel (1999):
The transfer of land to the hands of … bodies representing the ‘Jewish
people’ [e.g. JNF and Jewish Agency] can be likened to a ‘black hole’
into which Arab land enters but cannot be retrieved … Israel’s Arab
citizens are currently prevented from purchasing, leasing, or using land
in around 80 percent of the country. (p. 373)
As result of these policies, the Jewish and Palestinian Arab populations live in
largely segregated physical, social and economic spheres, in which the latter
were deprived of many of the resources available to the former.
The second technique employed by the Israeli government to control the
Palestinian Arab minority was to make it as dependent as possible upon the
majority Jewish economic infrastructure (Seliktar, 1984). This was accom-
plished through the massive confiscation of Palestinian Arab lands and the
concurrent underdevelopment of the infrastructure and economic base in
Palestinian localities (Gavison, 1999; Lustick, 1980; McDowell, 1989). The loss of
so much agricultural land and the displacement of so many communities made
Palestinian Arabs acutely dependent upon the Jewish sector for employment.
Thus, while a high degree of residential and socioeconomic separation between
Jewish and Palestinian communities was attained, the sphere inhabited by the
Palestinian Arab population was by no means independent. Though their
survival required some level of integration into the Jewish economic infrastruc-
ture, they tended to be separated and subordinate, occupying primarily the
lower strata of the infrastructure. This imposed state of underdevelopment
tended to reinforce the negative racialisation of Palestinians as innately inferior
and backwards.
The third technique used by the government to control the Arab minority
was co-optation through the use of ‘side payments’ to Arab elites, or potential
State Educational System and Israel’s Palestinian Arab Citizens 105
elites, with the aim of extracting resources, maintaining effective surveillance of
the community, and co-opting potential leadership (Lustick, 1980, p. 77). Fur-
thermore, the police and the internal security forces (Shin Bet) were able to
create a network of agents and informers which penetrated virtually every
extended family in the country for this purpose (Jiryis, 1976; Lustick, 1980;
McDowell, 1989). For many years, no Palestinian teacher or civil servant could
hope to be appointed without the sanction of such agents of the state (Mc-
Dowall, 1989).
After over 50 years of the state’s implementation of these discriminatory
practices, the residential, cultural and socioeconomic segregation of Israel’s
Jewish and Palestinian Arab citizens stands out as a characteristic feature of
Israeli society. The Palestinian minority remains subordinate to the Jewish
majority in almost every aspect of stratification, including access to resources,
political power, education, socioeconomic status, and employment (Semyonov,
1988; Lewin-Epstein and Semyonov, 1992; 1993; Kraus and Hodge, 1990;
Yiftachel, 2003).
The concrete impact of this discriminatory legacy can be clearly seen in
Israeli public statistical data, which reveals that the Palestinian Arab popu-
lation has higher levels of unemployment (14 per cent for the Arab sector
versus the national average of 9%), lower average income (4,211 NIS average
income for the Arab sector versus 5,918 NIS national average), and over twice
the rate of children living in poverty than Israeli society as a whole (50 per cent
for the Arab sector versus the national average of 25 per cent) (Mossawa
Center, 2001; NII, 2001). Since these national averages include the Arab sector,
the above figures de-emphasise the extremity of the gap between the Israeli
Arab and Jewish sectors.
The Segregated State Educational System in Israel
Segregation also exists in Israel’s state sponsored educational system, and the
educational disparities are of key importance in perpetuating the broader
socioeconomic gaps between the Jewish and Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel.
According to a report on education rights produced by Adalah, the Legal
Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel:
The [state educational] system recognizes and fosters the development
of academic excellence of only one national group in the state the
Jewish majority. The two primary sources of inequality are the denial of
the right to determine educational goals and objectives, and the discrim-
inatory allocation of state resources to Arab schools and students. (2003,
p. 1)
The current configuration of the state-sponsored educational system in Israel,
including its institutional structure, ideological content and language of in-
struction, was shaped by the thoughts and actions of the early Eastern
European Zionists who settled in Palestine in the 1880s (Swirski, 1999). While
this group and its descendents dominated and continue to dominate the
emergent state and its institutions, Israel’s population expanded to include
106 Ismael Abu-Saad
large new groups of people from Europe and other continents and cultures, as
well as the indigenous Palestinian Arab population that remained after the
establishment of the state in 1948, all of whom were incorporated under
differential terms of inclusion and citizenship. As the educational system
developed, it was shaped by policies of exclusion and differential inclusion of
the various groups that made up the society. This led to the emergence of
separate school systems and separate tracks within the same school system for
different groups defined by ethnicity, race and class (Swirski, 1999). The
resulting differentiation is the outcome of the question of ‘who is in, and who
is out’ as a legitimate party in the collective Zionist project of building the
Jewish state, and goes on to determine ‘who gets what’ educationally. Thus, the
state educational system is divided into a Jewish system (which is further
subdivided into secular schools, religious schools, etc.), and an Arab system.
Each system contains different students, different teachers and a different
educational content. In the Israeli educational hierarchy, secular Jewish schools,
which primarily serve students of European or American origin (Ashkenazim),
form the highest tier and provide their students with high status knowledge
and cultural capital that translate into better future socioeconomic opportuni-
ties. Schools in the lower tiers of the educational hierarchy (e.g., schools for
North African, Middle Eastern and Asian Jews [Mizrachim]; and, on the very
lowest tier, the Palestinian Arab minority) provide their students only with
partial, restricted and elementary knowledge, which places a limit on their
future socioeconomic opportunities, and maintains the society’s current socioe-
conomic inequalities (Abu-Saad, 2001; Swirski, 1990, 1999). An examination of
the structure of the educational system in Israel, from the level of goals and
curriculum to budget allocations for facilities, staff, and services, reveals
systematic and institutionalised discrimination against the ‘out’ groups, and
the Palestinian Arab students in particular, who are not legitimate partners in
the European-based Zionist project or the Jewish state.
Reflections on Educational Aims, Goals and Curriculum
The Jewish and Arab school systems differ on the level of aims, goals and
curricula. The Palestinian Arab educational system has been, and continues to
be, governed by a set of political criteria which Palestinian Arabs have no say
in formulating. The 1953 Law of State Education specified the following aims
for education in Israel:
to base education on the values of Jewish culture and the achievements
of science, on love of the homeland and loyalty to the state and the
Jewish people, on practice in agricultural work and handicraft, on
pioneer training and on striving for a society built on freedom, equality,
tolerance, mutual assistance, and love of mankind. (quoted in Mar’i,
1978, p. 50)
These aims have been consistently reaffirmed through official policy, amend-
ments to the law (as of February 2000), the state-set curriculum, and the
statements of high-level Ministry of Education officials (Adalah, 2003). To
State Educational System and Israel’s Palestinian Arab Citizens 107
illustrate, Minister of Education Limor Livnat stated in June 2001 that she
would like to see that ‘there is not a single child in Israel’ who did not learn
‘Jewish and Zionist knowledge and values’ (quoted in Fisher-Ilan, 2001).
In Jewish schools there is a strong emphasis on the development of national
identity, active belonging to the Jewish people, and furthering of Zionist
aspirations all with little or no recognition of Arab history, and Palestinian
Arab history in particular. Where the curriculum includes reference to Arabs,
it generally tends to take an Orientalist approach, portraying them and their
culture in a negative light. Edward Said analysed this phenomenon in Oriental-
ism (1978) and numerous subsequent works, in which he examined the way in
which Eastern cultures are viewed, described and represented by Western
academic scholarship, politics, and literature. Said’s main critique is aimed at
how the Western (specifically the British, French, and more recently, American
and Israeli) economic, political and academic powers have developed a di-
chotomised discourse in which an inherently superior West is juxtaposed with
an Eastern ‘Other’ according to terms and definitions determined by the West
itself. Orientalism has created an image of the Orient as separate, backward,
silently different, irrational and passive. The Orient is characterised by despot-
ism and resistance to progress, and since its value is judged in terms of, and
in comparison to the West, it is always the ‘Other’, the conquerable and the
inferior.
Not only is the presentation of Arabs in the curriculum of Israeli Jewish
schools highly orientalist, but even the process of educating Jewish students
about the values, traditions and history of the Jewish people is inundated with
racist stereotypes of Arabs that are unquestioningly if not even uncon-
sciously accepted by the formal educational system and Jewish Israeli
society alike. For example, on 15 November 2001, a local Israeli Jewish
newspaper in Netanya, ‘Emtza Netanya’, published a story of a celebration at
a local elementary school under the headline ‘Arabs are used to killing’:
This chilling incident is taken from a script for second-grade students at
a ceremony celebrating their receipt of copies of the Torah at the Hadar
Hasharon Elementary School near Kfar Saba, in the Tel Mond area,
when like many of their fellow students around the country they mark
the start of their study of the Bible … The performance began; the
children went up on stage as a group … representing the different
nations, recreating the legend of how Israel received the Torah. The
student who played the angel held a Torah and walked among the
various nations, offering each one the Torah and the Ten Command-
ments. The only two groups of people wearing representative costumes
were the group of Arabs, who were wearing keffiyehs, and the Jews,
who were wearing yarmulkes.
During the performance, the ‘angel’ met the ‘Arab people’ who asked,
like all the other peoples: ‘What is written in the Torah?’ The angel
replied: ‘Thou shalt not kill.’ The children answered in a chorus: ‘No, we
don’t want it because we are used to killing,’ and they made way for the
next group, the ‘Jewish people.’ The ‘Jewish people’ asked no questions;
108 Ismael Abu-Saad
they simply answered [with a verse from the bible], ‘We will do, and we
will listen.’ (quoted in Sikkuy Report, 2002, p. 51)
The newspaper account of this educational event was published without any
criticism; nor did it elicit comment from the local or national educational
authorities.
A number of studies have been carried out on Israeli Jewish textbooks and
children’s literature and have revealed that Palestinians and Arabs are por-
trayed in many instances as ‘murderers’, ‘rioters’, ‘suspicious,’ generally back-
ward and unproductive (Bar-Tal and Zoltack, 1989; Bar-Tal, 1998; Cohen, 1985;
Meehan, 1999). Bar-Tal (1998) who studied 124 elementary, middle and high
school textbooks on grammar, Hebrew literature, history, geography and
citizenship found that Israeli Jewish textbooks present the view that Jews are
involved in a justified, even humanitarian, war against an Arab enemy that
refuses to accept and acknowledge the existence and rights of Jews in Israel. As
Bar-Tal stated,
The early textbooks tended to describe acts of Arabs as hostile, deviant,
cruel, immoral, and unfair, with the intention to hurt Jews and to
annihilate the State of Israel. Within this frame of reference, Arabs were
delegitimized by the use of such labels as ‘robbers,’ ‘bloodthirsty,’ and
‘killers,’ … [and] there has been little positive revision in the curriculum
over the years. (quoted in Meehan, 1999, p. 19)
Even with the recent and much celebrated revisions in textbooks, Raz-
Krakotzkin states,
in all the textbooks there is not one single geographical map which
shows the [pre-1948 Palestinian] Arab settlements only the Jewish
settlements are shown. Generally speaking, the land itself has no history
of its own, and the history of the land is presented as the history of the
Jewish myth about it. The whole period, between the second temple and
the Zionist settlement is not taught at all. But more precisely, the Israeli
student has no idea whatsoever about the settlement of the country
before ’48, that is to say, has no idea about the history of the expelled
themselves and of their life before the expulsion. And so the mythical
image of the country was created as ‘the Promised Land of the Jews’ and
not as a cultural-geographical entity in which the [Jewish] colonization
took place. (1999, p. 5)
A textbook for Jewish middle school and high school students commissioned
by the Ministry of Education, The Cultural Heritage of the Bedouin in the Negev
(Ben-David and Shohat, 2000), describes Palestinian Bedouin Arabs in a man-
ner that is reshaped to fit the mold of Zionist mythology and provides the
underpinning support for the State’s policy of land confiscation and its
definition of the Bedouin as invaders and illegal inhabitants in their own lands.
In the first page of the chapter the on origin and history of the Bedouin, which
covers the period from Abraham to the present day, the term ‘the land of Israel’
is mentioned over ten times (p. 9). Needless to say, the word ‘Palestine’ does
State Educational System and Israel’s Palestinian Arab Citizens 109
not appear at all. The Palestinian Bedouin Arabs do not exist, and this land has
no history or identity other than as ‘the land of Israel’. Thus the book begins
by erasing the history of the Negev Bedouin as an integral part of the
Palestinian people who inhabited the area for over five centuries. Instead of
ancient inhabitants, indigenous to the land prior to the establishment of the
State of Israel in 1948, the Negev Bedouin are characterised as rootless ‘settlers’
and as ‘immigrants’ to ‘the land of Israel’.
This ‘mythologising’ of the historical curriculum perpetuates the image of
the Arab, and the Palestinian Arab in particular, as an ahistorical, irrational
enemy. A 17-year-old Jewish high school student described the contents of the
textbooks in Jewish schools and viewpoints expressed by some Jewish teachers
as follows:
Our books basically tell us that everything the Jews do is fine and
legitimate and Arabs are wrong and violent and are trying to extermi-
nate us … We are accustomed to hearing the same thing, only one side
of the story. They teach us that Israel became a state in 1948 and that the
Arabs started a war. They don’t mention what happened to the Arabs
they never mention anything about refugees or Arabs having to leave
their towns and homes … Instead of tolerance and reconciliation, the
books and some teachers’ attitudes are increasing hatred for Arabs.
(quoted in Meehan, 1999, p. 20)
The curriculum in Jewish Israeli schools is instrumental in explicitly and
implicitly constructing racist stereotypes and a one-sided historical narrative
that, through the educational system, are internalised in the Jewish Israeli
psyche; and that, in turn, provides the basis for maintaining a deeply divided
society and its many discriminatory practices.
While the 1953 Law of State Education strongly emphasised the develop-
ment of Jewish identity and values, no parallel aims were ever set forth for the
education of Arabs in Israel, though in the 1970s and 1980s some attempts were
made by committees directed by Jewish educators (Al-Haj, 1995). Nor was the
Palestinian minority ever given autonomous control over their education
system or allowed to determine its aims, goals and curricula. This stands in
stark contrast to the state religious schools for Jewish students, which do have
autonomous control over their curriculum (Adalah, 2003; Mar’i, 1978).
The general and specific curricular goals that the central Ministry of
Education developed for Arab education tend to blur rather than enhance the
formation of an Arab identity in general and a Palestinian identity in particular,
as something at best irrelevant and at worst, antithetical, to the overriding
goals and aims of the Zionist educational project. The overall aims of the
educational system, as well as specific curricular goals, require Arabs to learn
about Jewish values and culture, and the results of this can be seen clearly in
the government-controlled curriculum for primary and secondary schools
(Al-Haj, 1995; Mar’i, 1978, 1985; Peres, Ehrlich and Yuval-Davis, 1970). Arab
students are required to spend many class hours in the study of Jewish culture
and history and the Hebrew language (and in total, more than they spend on
Arabic literature and history). Thus, they are required to develop identification
110 Ismael Abu-Saad
with Jewish values and further Zionist aspirations at the expense of the
development of their own national awareness and sense of belonging to their
own people. The Arab national identity is much less emphasised, and the
Palestinian identity goes completely unrecognised (Al-Haj, 1995; Mar’i, 1978;
1985). The basic goal of Jewish studies in Arab education is not the develop-
ment of cultural competence as a bridge to Jewish Israeli society but is rather
to make Arabs understand and sympathise with Jewish/Zionist causes and
blur their own national identity in Israel (Al-Haj, 1995; Mar’i, 1978, 1985;
Swirski, 1999). In response to this one-sided curriculum, shaped to meet the
goals of a movement that explicitly excluded Palestinian Arabs, Rashid Hus-
sein, a Palestinian Arab intellectual, issued the following warning in 1957:
It is a known fact that he who has no self-respect will not respect others.
He who has no national feeling cannot respect other nationalities. If the
Arab student is hindered from learning about his people, his nationality
and his homeland in school, he will compensate for the lack in his home
and on the street. He will eagerly accept anything he hears from other
people or reads in the newspaper, and this may lead him into a wrong
and distorted view of nationalism. The school, which has deprived him
of something in which everyone takes pride, will be regarded by him as
an enemy. Instead of learning in school the meaning of nationalism
imbued with humanism, he will absorb only a distorted version. What
will the school have achieved? What kind of generation of Arab youth
will it have educated? Instead of educating its students to believe in
fraternity and peace and to believe in the sincerity of its teachers, the
school will bring forth a bewildered and confused generation, which
looks at the facts in a distorted manner, and considers other nations to
be their enemies; a generation filled with inferiority complexes, feelings
of abasement, unable to take pride in its youth, in its homeland and its
nationality. (1957, p. 46)
Hussein’s warning went unheeded, however. In the 1970s, a group of Jewish
Israeli researchers, Peres, Ehrlich and Yuval-Davis, addressed the same issues.
They criticised the curriculum imposed upon Arab schools by the Ministry of
Education for attempting to instill patriotic sentiments in Arab students
through the study of Jewish history, and pointed out the absurdity of the
orientalist expectation that the ‘Arab pupil … serve the state not because the
latter is important to him and fulfills his needs, but because it is important to
the Jewish people’ (Peres, Ehrlich, and Yuval-Davis, 1970, p. 151).
Nevertheless, this suppression of Arab identity, culture, and political con-
cerns has incessantly been maintained in the curriculum for Arab schools.
Consistent with the orientalist approach of imposing the ‘superior’ Western
(and in this case, Zionist Israeli) perspective, interpretations and priorities upon
the ‘inferior Other,’ the curriculum for the Arab educational system reflects the
very low priority given to the development needs of Palestinian Arab students
and their broader group identification by the Israeli government. The system
itself appears almost as an afterthought, if at all, in most of the state-sponsored
State Educational System and Israel’s Palestinian Arab Citizens 111
educational reform and development efforts, as well as in the public statements
of top education officials. As a Palestinian Arab student acknowledged:
Everything we study is about the Jews. Everything is Jewish culture. We
study Bialik [Jewish nationalist poet] and [the biblical] Rachel. Why do
I have to study them? Why don’t they teach me Mahmud Darwish
[Palestinian nationalist poet]? Why don’t they teach me Nizar Qabbani
[Arab nationalist poet]? Why don’t they teach me Edward Said? Why
don’t they teach me about Arab philosophers and Palestinian poets? I
know that my Arabic language is not very strong, because I know if I
don’t speak fluent Hebrew I can’t function in this country … I know that
the Arabic language in Palestine is endangered. Schools, not individu-
ally, but the educational system as a whole has a very negative impact
on our identity. The whole world now recognizes the existence of
Palestine and that there is something called the Palestinian people. So
why are they still teaching me about Bialik and Rachel? What is the
problem in teaching us Palestinian history? The problem is that they are
afraid. They don’t want us, Palestinian Arabs, to develop an awareness
of our national identity. (quoted in Makkawi, 2002, p. 50)
In 1978, the late Arab educator and researcher, Sami Mar’i, described the status
of Palestinian Arab education within the Israeli state school system in the
following terms which, unfortunately, still provide an accurate description
some 25 years later:
Arab education is a victim of Israeli pluralism not only in that it is
directed and managed by the majority, but it is also a tool by which the
whole minority is manipulated … [It] is not only an example of the
Israeli pluralism by which Arabs are denied power, it is also a means
through which the lack of power can be maintained and perpetuated.
Arab citizens are marginal, if not outsiders … The Arab Education
Department is directed by members of the Jewish majority, and curric-
ula are decided upon by the authorities with little, if any, participation
of Arabs. Arab participation does not exceed writing or translating
books and materials according to carefully specified guidelines, nor does
it extend beyond implementing the majority’s policies. (Mar’i, 1978,
p. 180)
Reform efforts have repeatedly failed to bring about change, since none of the
recommendations of the many committees appointed by the government to
study or improve the Arab educational system have ever had any binding
power (Abu-Saad, 2001; Al-Haj, 1995). As such, Palestinian Arab students
continue to be subjected to a curricular and educational programme designed
to address the needs and meet the concerns of the ruling majority, while at the
same time suppressing their identity development as a part of the Palestinian
and Arab peoples.
112 Ismael Abu-Saad
Discrimination in Budget Allocations
The state school system’s separate and unequal aims, goals and curricula are
delivered to students via the differential and inequitable allocation of financial,
infrastructural, material and human resources. The greatest source of funding
for state education in Israel comes from the central government, which is
legally responsible for providing free education to all children, aged three to
seventeen. A look at the distribution of the Ministry of Education budget
reveals that the Palestinian Arab education system receives much less than the
Jewish education system (Education Budget for 2003; Sikkuy, 2003). For at least
the last ten years, Israeli government bodies have acknowledged that the
government spends more on Jewish students than on Palestinian Arab students
(Human Rights Watch, 2001). The State Comptroller documented this gap in
several annual reports in the 1990s, revealing enormous discrepancies in every
criterion measured (Abu-Saad, 1995; Swirski, 2001; Comptroller’s Report, 1992;
Human Rights Watch, 2001). To compound the differences, the majority’s
schools also receive additional state and state-sponsored private funding for
school construction and special programmes through other governmental and
non-governmental agencies.
In the last decade, the government has attempted to correct, at least in part,
certain blatant inequalities in government funding to Palestinian Arab schools
by allocating lump sums of money through what it has called ‘five-year plans’.
In plans passed in 1991 and 1998, allocations were made for Arab education,
but these plans have been implemented only partially. In July 1999, the
Ministry of Education announced that it was activating a five-year plan to
allocate NIS 250 million ($62.5 million) NIS 50 million ($12.5 million)
annually to correct imbalances in education. Following demonstrations in
early October 2000, in which thirteen Palestinian Arab citizens were killed, the
Prime Minister’s office ratified a plan to allocate NIS 4 billion ($1 billion) over
four years to 74 Arab localities that included some funding for Arab education.
Because the funds for these plans are not separately designated, it is impossible
to determine whether they were allocated in the 2001 budget (Awawdy, 2001;
Human Rights Watch, 2001; Swirski, 2001).
Even if all aspects of the 1991, 1998, 1999, and 2000 plans were to be fully
implemented, the monies allocated are insufficient to equalise the two systems
or correct past discrimination against Palestinian Arab education (Awawdy,
2001). Most importantly, none of the plans address the most significant struc-
tural problems in the Palestinian Arab educational system. For example, the
education provisions of the 1999 plan consist of supplementary programmes
for only a limited number of schools, implemented by private contractors, not
by the education system itself. The plan does not address the schools’ physical
conditions and focuses on only a small minority of Palestinian Arab students.
More generally, it fails to change the way the education system works. Swirski
concluded,
[T]he Ministry of Education’s decision to focus in its five-year plan
on the advancement of a minority of Arab pupils is mis-
guided … Apparently the Ministry of Education would like to attain this
State Educational System and Israel’s Palestinian Arab Citizens 113
worthy goal at minimum cost, without undertaking to improve the
[Palestinian] Arab education system on a permanent basis. If the Minis-
try out sources the programme, the funds earmarked for it will not be
added to the budget base of the Arab education system. In other words,
the privatization of the five-year plan makes this allocation a non
recurrent and replaceable item that, in all probability, will not have a
sustained effect. Furthermore, the project will not enhance the capabili-
ties of [Palestinian] Arab teachers, because most of the contractors will
probably be Jewish agencies that have already participated in similar
projects for the Education Ministry. As privatization continues apace,
the Ministry and the contractors become interdependent. As the contrac-
tors prosper, gather strength, and become permanent fixtures, the Minis-
try accustoms itself to tackling education problems not by making
substantive and long-term change but by putting out fires by means of
private firefighters. (2001, p. 15)
Facilities
School buildings are the joint responsibility of the Ministry of Education and
the local governments, with the Ministry providing most of the funding (and
the costs of construction directly), and local governments purchasing furniture
and equipment, with both sharing maintenance costs. Other central govern-
mental, quasi-governmental and non-governmental bodies also contribute,
such as the Ministry of Housing, which constructs pre-schools in some com-
munities, and organisations like the National Lottery and the Jewish Agency,
which finance auxiliary facilities and equipment. In addition, parents also
contribute funds directly to the local schools in some instances, particularly in
communities of high socioeconomic status.
The Follow-Up Committee for Arab Education estimated in 2001 that the
Arab education system needed 2,500 additional classrooms (Follow-Up Com-
mittee on Arab Education, 2001). The principal of a Palestinian Arab primary
school explained,
We need more classrooms. The teachers and students complain. We are
getting more and more pupils every year. We have tried for three years
to get approval to [expand] the school grounds, and we have been
refused. Even for disabled students we just don’t have it. (quoted in
Human Right Watch, 2001, p. 80)
As a result of the classroom shortage, many classes in Palestinian Arab schools
are held in rented spaces, in some cases only a room in a private home, or in
prefabricated buildings, locally called ‘caravans’. In addition, more than one-
third of Arab children are studying in schools with flammable and dangerous
structures. The situation is particularly severe in the Negev Bedouin Arab
sector, especially in the unrecognised villages, where few classrooms have been
built.
The physical differences between Jewish and Palestinian Arab schools,
including both classrooms and auxiliary facilities (e.g., libraries, laboratories,
114 Ismael Abu-Saad
Table 1: Average Weekly Teaching Hours per Grade
by School Level and System, 2001–02
Jewish Arab
Total 51.5 47.4
Primary 45.9 44.5
Intermediate 55.8 48.3
Secondary 61.0 55.4
Source: Sikkuy Report, 2003, p. 13.
gymnasiums, and art rooms) are striking. More Jewish than Arab schools have
libraries (80.7 per cent vs 64.4 per cent). The Human Rights Watch (2001) report
found the quality of the libraries in the Palestinian sector to range from a single
shelf holding 10 books in an elementary school, to a small room in a high
school for which the students had raised money for books, but over a third of
the shelves remained empty; while in Jewish schools, the libraries were much
better equipped and also included English language libraries. Where laborato-
ries exist in the Palestinian Arab schools, they are also poorly equipped, often
with outdated equipment. This contrasted sharply with the laboratories the
Human Rights Watch found in Jewish schools, even at the elementary level
(Human Rights Watch, 2001).
Distribution of Teaching Hours
At every grade level, the Arab education system receives proportionately fewer
teaching hours than the Jewish education system. In 1999–2000, although 21.4
per cent of children in kindergarten through secondary schools were
Palestinian Arabs, only 18.4 per cent of total teaching hours were allocated to
Arab education. Palestinian Arab kindergartens received 11.5 per cent of the
teaching hours for kindergarten education, while Jewish kindergartens re-
ceived the remaining 88.5 per cent (Human Rights Watch, 2001). In the
2001–2002 academic school year, Arab primary school classes received an
average of 44.5 teaching hours per week, intermediate school classes received
48.3 teaching hours per week, and secondary school classes received 55.4
teaching hours per week, compared with 45.9, 55.8 and 61 teaching hours per
week in Jewish primary, intermediate and secondary school classes, respect-
ively (see Table 1).
Over the course of the school year (40 weeks), this represents 56 fewer teaching
hours per grade in Arab primary schools, even though Arab students are
required to study 3 languages from the 3
rd
through 6
th
grades, while Jewish
primary students are only required to study two languages. For intermediate
and secondary schools, in which the school year is 38 weeks, Arab schools
receive 285 and 213 fewer teaching hours per grade than Jewish schools yearly,
respectively.
The Ministry of Education also allocates more total teaching staff per child
State Educational System and Israel’s Palestinian Arab Citizens 115
Table 2: Allocation of Teaching Staff: Children Per Full-Time Teacher
1999–2000
Jewish schools Arab schools
Total 14.8 18.2
Kindergarten 19.8 39.3
Primary 16.6 19.4
Intermediate 13.5 16.4
Secondary 11.0 11.3
Sources: Ministry of Education, Proposed Budget for the Ministry of
Education 2001 and Explanations as Presented to the Fifteenth Knesset, no.
11, October 2000, p. 144; and CBS, Statistical Abstract of Israel 2000, no.
51, tables 22.10, 22.27.
to Jewish schools than it does to Palestinian Arab schools, particularly at the
lower grade levels. For example, Table 2 shows that in 1999–2000 the Ministry
of Education allocated the equivalent of one full-time teacher for approximately
every 17 children in Jewish primary schools and every 20 children in Arab
primary schools. The number of children per full-time teacher (or teacher’s
aide) was twice as high in Arab kindergartens (roughly 40 students per teacher)
as in Jewish kindergartens (20 students per teacher).
The consequence of this discrepancy is that for all funds allocated equally
by class, each Palestinian Arab child receives less on average than each Jewish
child receives because their classes are larger. Moreover, there are more
teachers (of all kinds) per child in Jewish schools at every grade level. Given
that teachers themselves are a critical resource, Palestinian Arab students, on
average, receive less at every level (Human Rights Watch, 2001).
Staffing and Political Control
The staffing of the Palestinian Arab school system is another focal point of
discriminatory resource allocation and state control. In some areas of the
country, Palestinian Arab schools suffer from a serious shortage of qualified
teachers, particularly in the southern Negev Desert, where the District Ministry
of Education Office reported that 23 per cent of the district’s Arab teachers lack
basic training and credentials (Katz, 1998). In addition, approximately 50 per
cent of the teachers in the Negev are not local, but come from Arab communi-
ties in the central and northern regions of Israel, where there is a surplus of
teachers since the school system is the country’s main employer of Palestinian
Arabs with higher education (Abu-Saad, 2001). Arab teachers from the north-
ern and central regions of the country come to the Negev to find teaching
positions, but tend to return to their home communities as soon as teaching
positions open up for them there, resulting in very high teacher turnover rates
in the Negev schools.
The shortage of local teachers with professional training is becoming an
116 Ismael Abu-Saad
increasingly serious problem for the Negev Bedouin Arab schools, as local
teacher-training institutes are unable to close the gap, and are falling even
further behind due to the burgeoning population growth. The Katz committee
appointed by the Ministry of Education in 1998 (Katz, 1998) to investigate the
needs of the Palestinian Arab schools in the Negev estimated that the shortage
of teaching personnel would reach over one-third (978) of the total required
teaching force (2,765) by the 2002–2003 school year. Despite these predictions,
no major efforts were made to avert this crisis (e.g., increased positions for
Arab students in the local teachers colleges, special academic and/or financial
assistance programmes for Arab teachers college students in the Negev).
State control of the Palestinian Arab schools includes control over the hiring
of teaching and high-level administrative staff, which is determined first and
foremost by political considerations, despite the great shortage of qualified staff
in some parts of the Palestinian Arab sector. The hiring of teachers, principals
and supervisory staff ultimately lies in the hands of the Ministry of Education
Deputy Director for Arab Education, who is actually an official of the General
Security Services (GSS) (Abu-Saad, 2001; Adalah, 2003; Al-Haj, 1995).
Qualifications and training alone are not enough for Palestinian Arab citizens
in Israel to get a teaching job; rather, they must also undergo a security check
before they can be hired; and can be denied the right to work on the basis of
‘undisclosed state security reasons’ because of their political views. For jobs
requiring a public tender, such as senior teaching, supervisory or management
posts, Jewish candidates need to present only education, qualifications, and
experience. Palestinian Arab candidates, however, must also obtain the ap-
proval of the GSS representative, in a process from which they are completely
excluded and have no means to appeal (Ha’Aretz, 2001; Sa’ar, 2001; Lustick,
1980; Al-Haj, 1995). By targeting Palestinian Arab educators based on their
political views and affiliations, the state reduces the possibility of freely
participating in society for both teachers and students. Instead the educational
process is conducted in an atmosphere of suspicion, and students are denied
exposure to a wider range of views and perspectives that would enable them
to cultivate the Israeli educational system’s purported values of ‘understand-
ing, tolerance and friendship’. At the same time, there is a discriminatory
impact on the teachers because they are not free to fulfill their duties for fear
of repression by the state (Adalah, 2003). The precedence that political concerns
take over professional educational concerns makes the school system an
alienating place for Palestinian Arab teachers and students alike. As a young
Palestinian Arab teacher stated,
I belong to the state of Israel only in the geographical sense. According
to an agreement they imposed on me. I am an employee of the Ministry
of Education. Receive a salary. Live here. But in the spirit, in the soul,
I belong to the Palestinian people. So you tell me how I can educate
children in these circumstances. A simple example I’ve run into a lot
of students here who draw, let’s say, a Palestinian flag. Now I’ve got to
tell the student that this is forbidden. But the student will consider me
a traitor. And maybe I’ll also feel that I’m a traitor. But if I show any
State Educational System and Israel’s Palestinian Arab Citizens 117
approval of his drawing maybe they’ll fire me, or summon me for an
investigation. So what do I do? I don’t tell him anything. I pretend that
I don’t notice. (Grossman, 1992, p. 50)
While the political nature of the hiring and promotion processes means that
Arab staff members in the Palestinian Arab school system are very tightly
controlled, Jewish staff members may be openly hostile to the populations they
serve, with impunity. The Jewish director of the Bedouin Education Authority
(BEA), established by the Ministry of Education to manage the education
system in the unrecognised Palestinian Arab villages in the Negev, provides an
example of this. The BEA director, who has responsibility for physical facilities,
also sits on the committees responsible for hiring teachers, principals and
professional staff for the schools in the unrecognised villages. When a group of
Palestinian Arab community leaders and parents from the unrecognised vil-
lages organised to improve their schools, the BEA director called them ‘blood-
thirsty [Bedouin] who commit polygamy, have 30 children and continue to
expand their illegal settlements, taking over state land’. When questioned
about providing indoor plumbing in the schools, he responded, ‘In their
culture they take care of their needs outdoors. They don’t even know how to
flush a toilet’ (Berman, 2001, p. 3). In response to a public outcry and lawsuit
brought against the Minister of Education and the BEA director, the Ministry
of Education’s initial response was that it appreciated the BEA director’s work
with the community and had no authority to dismiss him. On the basis of an
internal investigation, the Ministry of Education later announced that it
planned to dismiss the BEA director, not because of his racist statements, but
rather due to financial irregularities in his administration (Adalah, 2003).
In-Service Training and Professional Services
The Ministry of Education has given a low priority to teacher training for the
Palestinian Arab school system and provides less in-service training to
Palestinian Arab teachers already within the system than is routine within the
majority system. Palestinian Arab teachers on average have lower
qualifications and receive lower salaries than non-Palestinian Arab teachers.
The largest gaps between Jewish and Arab schools in teacher training and
experience occur at the kindergarten level (Abu-Saad, 2003; Human Rights
Watch, 2001).
Regarding professional services, fewer Palestinian Arab than Jewish schools
have any type of counsellors, and those schools that do offer some counselling
provide fewer services; despite the higher school drop-out rates and lower
academic performance in Palestinian Arab schools (see Table 3). For example,
18.7 per cent of Palestinian Arab primary schools, 64.4 per cent of intermediate
schools and 74.4 per cent of secondary schools have educational counsellors as
compared with 67.4 per cent, 95.7 per cent and 94 per cent of Jewish primary,
intermediate and secondary schools, respectively. The gap is even wider for
educational psychologists who require more extensive educational
118 Ismael Abu-Saad
Table 3: Educational Counsellors and Psychologists in Palestinian Arab and Jewish
Schools
Educational Counsellors Educational Psychologists
Jewish Arab Jewish Arab
Primary 67.4% 18.7% 91.3% 44.4%
Schools (772 of 1,145) (61 of 326) (1,045 of 1,145) (145 of 326)
1994/95
Intermediate 95.7% 64.4% 81.0% 27.4%
Schools (308 of 322) (50 of 78) (261 of 322) (234 of 322)
Secondary 94.0% 74.4% 65.8% 34.8%
Schools (464 of 494) (68 of 91) (325 of 494) (32 of 91)
1995/96
Source: CBS, Survey of Education and Welfare Services 1995/1996: Secondary
Schools, Hebrew and Education, Jerusalem: CBS, May 1999.
qualifications and are responsible for the identification, diagnosis and treat-
ment of learning and behavioural disabilities.
The services provided by truant officers, who play a crucial role in reducing
dropout rates in Israel, are also seriously under-resourced in the Palestinian
school system. According to the Israeli government’s report to the Committee
on the Rights of the Child in 2001,
Truant officers play a key role in addressing the problem of irregular
attendance … Their job is to reduce dropping out by identifying and
reporting visible and hidden dropping out, by returning students who
have dropped out to school, and by involving educational and thera-
peutic agents in preventing students from dropping out. (quoted in
Human Right Watch, 2001, p. 98)
The State Comptroller’s Report of 2002 indicated that in the year 2000, only 15
per cent of Palestinian Arab schools had a truant officer, compared with 43 per
cent of Jewish schools, despite the higher dropout rates among Palestinian
Arab students (27 per cent vs 17 per cent among Jewish students). The State
Comptroller has criticised the Ministry of Education in several of the office’s
annual reports (Nos. 45, 45, 48 and 51b) for not allocating the number of job
positions required by national standards to Palestinian Arab Schools.
Special Education
One of the largest and most tragic gaps between the Jewish and Palestinian
Arab school systems is in special education, where disabled Palestinian Arab
children receive less funding and fewer services, have limited access to special
schools, and lack appropriate curricula. Thus, these children are particularly
State Educational System and Israel’s Palestinian Arab Citizens 119
marginalised, deprived of the highly developed special education programmes
in the Jewish school system. Israel’s Special Education Law explicitly requires
special education teachers to be qualified and to have special education
training or a temporary permit from the Ministry of Education. Likewise,
psychologists, paramedical professionals, and other non-teachers employed in
special education must be qualified or licensed according to the standards of
their profession (Shatil, 2000).
Despite these legal requirements, Palestinian special education teachers had
the highest rate of uncertified teachers in Arab education 19 per cent in
1995–1996. An even higher proportion of the Palestinian teachers in the Negev
were uncertified. The non-governmental organisation Shatil reported in 2000
that:
Of ninety special education teachers in special education schools for
Southern Palestinian Arabs, 40% to 44% are not certified. In the school
in Kseife, eleven of twenty-eight teachers are not certified. In the school
in Rahat, only three teachers gained certification. … Of six paramedical
workers in physiotherapy and speech therapy in the southern Arab
areas, five work without certification from the Health Depart-
ment … Two of the speech therapists do not speak Arabic. (p. 7)
The government acknowledged this gap to the Committee on the Rights of the
Child in 2001:
Many special education teachers [of Palestinian Arab students] lack
appropriate training, although their number is diminishing due to the
opening of suitable frameworks of study. (Human Right Watch, 2001)
The State Comptroller also critiqued the lack of a proper system for Palestinian
Arab children with special needs in his 2002 Report:
The percentage of children with special needs is higher in the minorities’
sector than in the Jewish sector. A lot of children with special needs,
especially in the area of learning and behavioral disabilities, are not
identified. This is as a result of the lack of suitable identification and
diagnostic systems in the minorities sector. The percentage of children
who received services, as compared with those who were recommended
to get particular services, is much lower than their percentage in the
Jewish sector (generally half and even a third of it). Children are not
succeeding in getting the required treatment in the earlier stages of their
life, and as a result of the lack of treatment, their functioning, medical,
psychological and social problems, become more severe. (p. 541)
The commission to examine the Implementation of the Special Education Law
published its findings in July 2000, which confirm the evaluation of the
Comptroller. The commission found that ‘the most conspicuous and
significant’ inequality in the allocation of special education resources was
between Arab and Jewish schools (Ministry of Education and Culture, 20 July
2000).
120 Ismael Abu-Saad
Technological and Vocational Education
To provide vocational technological education, the government contracts with
two major bodies, namely ORT and ‘Amal. ORT is a vocational and technologi-
cal training organisation founded in Russia in 1880 for needy Jewish communi-
ties and currently operating around the world (Sharon, 1987/88; Human Right
Watch, 2001; Swirski, 1990, 1999). ‘Amal is a vocational and technological
school network run by the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, established in
1928. The Ministry of Education gives the money it would otherwise give to
local authorities for secondary education directly to these organisations; in 1997
this constituted 20.8 per cent of the funds it allocated for secondary school
budgets (Ministry of Education, 2000).
For many Palestinian Arab students, vocational education is not the buffer
against dropping out that it is for Jewish students. By any measurement, a
smaller proportion of Palestinian Arab students than Jewish students partici-
pate in vocational education. Of all students enrolled in vocational schools in
2001–2002, 11.8 per cent were enrolled in Arab schools and 88.2 per cnet were
enrolled in Jewish schools, despite the fact that 19.1 per cent of all students in
general secondary schools were Palestinian Arabs. Only 29.2 per cent of
students in Palestinian Arab secondary schools were enrolled in vocational
programmes, compared with 42 per cent of students in Jewish secondary
schools (Statistical Abstract of Israel, 2002).
Not only is the availability of vocational education an issue, but there are
also disparities in the quality of what is offered. The Israeli government
concedes that the level of vocational education varies significantly among
schools. It reported to the Committee on the Rights of the Child in 2001:
The level of education offered to students in technological/vocational
tracks varies widely from school to school. Some technological tracks are
on a very high level and prepare students to take matriculation examina-
tions … while others provide only low-level vocational training, and
prepare students for matriculation examinations only in part, if at all.
(Ministry of Justice, 2000, p. 264)
Palestinian Arab students have fewer vocational technological subjects to
choose from than Jewish students do. According to a 1996 study, 19 vocational
subjects were offered in Arab schools in Israel, compared with more than 90
offered in Jewish schools (Human Right Watch, 2001).
The distinction between vocational and technological education is critical,
as Sherrie Gazit, ORT/Israel’s spokesperson, explained:
ORT’s principle is to equip a student with the tools to enable him to
provide a living for himself once this related to vocations such as
carpentry, joinery, mechanics. Nowadays this is not vocational as the
skills which are in demand … (in Israel at least) are related to hi-tech
professions. Consequently we emphasize advanced science and technol-
ogy subjects in our schools. (quoted in Human Right Watch, 2001,
p. 104)
State Educational System and Israel’s Palestinian Arab Citizens 121
However, according to Zafer Shurbaji, of the Fund for the Development of
Technological Education in the Arab Sector in Israel:
Vocational education is doing by hand; technological education is doing
by mind, like programming the computer. We can see technological
education in the Jewish sector. They say it is there in the Arab sector but
it is not. It is called the same thing but inside, it is different, the
programme is different … In the Arab sector there are not the same
books and not the same projects as the Jewish sector … ORT and ‘Amal
are teaching both vocational and high-tech education, called ‘technologi-
cal education’. They prepare Jewish students for the army. They don’t
teach the same things in the Arab and Jewish sectors because the level
is different. We see the consequences in the university there are fewer
Arab students in technology. (quoted in Human Rights Watch, 2001,
p. 104)
Palestinian Arab students in vocational technological education do much more
poorly than Jewish students on the matriculation examinations. In total,
Palestinian Arab students made up only 9.6 per cent of all students passing
technological matriculation examinations in 2002, of whom only about half (5.5
per cent) met university entrance requirements (Statistical Abstract of Israel,
2002).
Consequences of Educational Segmentation
The separate Palestinian Arab educational system has been, and continues to
be, directed by members of the Jewish majority and governed by a set of
political criteria that Arabs have no part in formulating (Al Haj, 1995; Mar’i,
1978; Said et al., 1987; Swirski, 1999). The effects of this educational system,
from the level of goals and curriculum to budget allocations, staff, services and
facilities, are considerable with regard to keeping Palestinian Arabs in their
‘proper’ place in the social, economic and political hierarchy.
Approximately 27 per cent of Palestinian Arab children drop out before
graduating from high school, compared with 17 per cent in the Jewish sector
(Ministry of Education and Culture, 2001). To compound the problem of high
dropout rates in the Palestinian Arab schools, the success rates of the children
who do stay in school and complete the 12
th
grade are very low. Table 4 shows
that in the 1999–2000 academic year, only 27.5 per cnet of the population of
Arab 17-year-olds passed the matriculation exams, compared to 45.6 per cent
of Jewish 17-year-olds. Of the Palestinian Arab students who passed, only 66.9
per cent achieved the minimum scores required for university admission,
compared with 88.6 per cent of the Jewish students who passed the exams. This
left only 18.4 per cent of Palestinian Arab 17-year-olds eligible to attend a
university in 2000, compared with 40.4% of Jewish 17-year-olds (Ministry of
Education and Culture, 2000).
Many Arab students who might otherwise have academic or professional
aspirations are barred from higher education the point at which the two
unequal systems converge by an examination system designed for the
122 Ismael Abu-Saad
Table 4: Educational Performance of Jewish and Arab Students 2000
Jewish Students Arab Students
17 year olds enrolled in 12
th
grade 83.3% 71.2%
17 year olds who passed the
Matriculation exams (Bagrut) 45.6% 27.5%
Passing students who also qualified
for university admission 88.6% 66.9%
17 year olds who qualified for
university admission 40.4% 18.4%
Source: Ministry of Education, Statistics of the Matriculation Examination (Bagrut)
2000 Report.
Jewish majority’s school system. Based on their performance on the matricula-
tion exams, less than 20 per cent of the Palestinian Arab age-appropriate cohort
is qualified to apply for university admission. Others are weeded out by a
required ‘psychometric’ examination, or aptitude test, which Arab educators
describe as a culturally-biased, direct translation of the test given to students of
the Jewish school system (Abu-Saad, 1996; Al-Haj, 1995, Human Rights Watch,
2001). As a result, Arabs seeking admission to the university are rejected at a
far higher rate than are Jewish applicants. Only 5.6 per cent of the students
receiving their bachelor’s degree in the 2001–2002 school year were Palestinian
Arabs (Israel Statistics Abstract, 2002). In the 2000–2001 academic year, all but
9.6 per cent of first degree students, 4.6 per cent of second degree students, and
3.4 per cent of third degree students were Jewish (see Table 5). The category of
‘other religion’ includes not only Palestinian Arab students, but also other
non-Jewish students (e.g., resident Russian non-Jews and foreign students)
enrolled in Israeli universities. Thus, the percentage of Palestinian Arab stu-
dents registered in the universities is even lower than these figures indicate.
According to the Human Rights Watch Report (2001) on Palestinian Arab
education in Israel:
Discrimination at every level of the education system winnows out a
progressively larger proportion of Palestinian Arab children as they
progress through the school system or channels those who persevere
away from the opportunities of higher education. The hurdles Arab
students face from kindergarten to university function like a series of
sieves with sequentially finer holes. At each stage, the education system
filters out a higher proportion of Palestinian Arab students than Jewish
students. Children denied access to pre-school do less well in primary
school. Children in dilapidated, distant, under-resourced schools have a
far higher dropout rate. Children who opt for vocational technological
programme are often limited to preparation for work as ‘carpenters,
machinists, or mechanics in a garage … (p. 3)
State Educational System and Israel’s Palestinian Arab Citizens 123
Table 5 : Students in Universities by Degree and Religion
2000–2001
First Degree Jewish 90.4%
Other Religion 9.6%
Second Degree Jewish 95.4%
Other Religion 4.6%
Third Degree Jewish 96.6%
Other Religion 3.4%
Source: Statistical Abstract of Israel, 2002, Table 8.35.
Clearly, the separate Palestinian Arab system aims at and succeeds in keeping
the vast majority of Palestinian Arabs in subordinate, dependent positions in
Jewish Israeli society.
Conclusion
The separate and unequal state school system is functioning effectively to
maintain the cultural, socioeconomic, and political subordination of Israel’s
Palestinian Arab citizens through the imposition of aims, goals and curricula to
which the students cannot relate, and the substandard and discriminatory
provision of educational resources, programmes and services; all of which
result in markedly poorer levels of educational achievement and rates of
students qualified to enter higher education. As with every other aspect of the
education system in Israel, these inequitable outcomes are not a matter of
chance, but rather a matter of policy. A former Advisor on Arab Affairs to the
Prime Minister of Israel explained the following:
Our policy towards the Arabs is to keep them illiterate by preventing the
Arab students from reaching the universities. If they were educated, it
would be difficult to rule them. We should make them wood-cutters and
water-carriers. (quoted in Khalifa, 2001, p. 25)
The State school system’s aims, goals, curricula and structures of control are
designed to serve the aims of the Zionist national project, and as such,
perpetuate racist and hostile images of Arabs to Jewish students, and silence
the Palestinian Arab story while reshaping regional history for both Jewish and
Arab students to fit the Zionist myth. While the sense of Palestinian Arab
belonging to the Zionist national project e.g., building the Jewish state can
only be partial and incomplete, if it exists at all, the development of
identification with the Palestinian people and Arab peoples more broadly is
suppressed. The required study of extensive curricular materials is used to
make the Palestinian Arab student understand the history and empathise with
the suffering of the Jewish people. Thus, the policy and content of the
state-controlled educational system for Palestinian Arabs aim to re-educate the
students to accept the loss of their history and identity. Together with discrim-
124 Ismael Abu-Saad
inatory resource allocation, it prepares them ideologically and practically
to accept the superior status of the Jewish people, and the subordination of
their needs and identity to the needs of the national Zionist project.
Within the context of the ongoing Israeli/Palestinian conflict, the state
educational system is by and large effective at maintaining the cultural and
socioeconomic separation between Israel’s Jewish and Palestinian Arab citi-
zens. The stereotypical and ahistorical picture of Palestinian Arabs fostered by
the school system serves not only to encourage Jewish Israelis to maintain a
sense of distance from and superiority over the Palestinian Arabs who are
citizens of Israel. It also serves to cripple any efforts to resolve the conflict over
land, nationality and the basic rights of Palestinian Arabs (whether those
holding Israeli citizenship, living in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, or
living as refugees) since they are portrayed as a non-people, without a history.
The state educational system is less successful in its efforts to re-educate the
Palestinian students to forget or deny their history and identity. Rather, it
provides them with a highly alienating educational experience, which also
serves to maintain the goal of separation between Israel’s Jewish and
Palestinian Arab citizens by fostering bitterness and enmity. As one Palestinian
Arab student stated:
I went to a very poorly developed and very poorly resourced high
school that provided us with such limited, second-class opportunities for
the future. Every day for 3 years we were bussed past a wealthy Jewish
suburb built on our land and we watched the construction of a
beautiful, modern, state-of-the-art high school for that community. In
ways like this, the State has planted bitterness in our hearts. We weren’t
born with this feeling; it is the harvest of the discrimination we’ve
experienced. (personal interview, May 2003)
One can only question whether this situation of discriminatory and antag-
onistic separation is, indeed, in the long-term interests of the State, which,
notwithstanding its ideology and mythology, is in fact a multi-ethnic state,
with an indigenous minority that makes up nearly one fifth of the population.
For the present, the situation seems to be satisfactory to the Jewish majority,
and the state-sponsored education system will continue to aid in perpetuating
it, with considerable impact. However, as the sense of bitterness and alienation
grows within the Palestinian Arab population, so does the threat of political
and civil instability.
The state educational system has been essential in creating and maintaining
the cultural, social and economic subordination of Palestinian Arabs in Israel,
and a deeply divided society. Should the political will arise to change this
situation, either due to ideological changes or political instability, no effort will
be successful without making radical changes in the educational system. The
Orientalist bent not only of the curriculum, but also of the system’s overall
aims and goals, must be uprooted and replaced with aims, goals and curricula
that recognise the history and identity of all of the ‘Others’ who make up Israeli
society; and, most importantly, must allow them to speak for themselves,
rather than being misrepresented through racialised Eurocentric perceptions.
State Educational System and Israel’s Palestinian Arab Citizens 125
This is essential for building a more equitable society, not only between Jews
and Palestinian Arabs, but also between the Jews of different ethnic back-
grounds. In addition, radical measures must be taken to eliminate the socioeco-
nomic gaps that have been created by the discriminatory allocation of
educational resources and opportunities, so that in fact, all members of society
have equal access to the means of development.
Ismael Abu-Saad may be contacted at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Education
Department, P.O.B. 653, Beer-Sheva, 84105, Israel, e-mail: abusaad@bgumail.bgu.
ac.il.
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