Arabs protest PM's school visit

"You're not welcome, get out you murderer," read signs in northern city of Nazareth.

olmert nazareth 224.88 (photo credit:   )
olmert nazareth 224.88
(photo credit: )
Some 50 Balad activists and pupils demonstrated outside the Taufik Ziad School in Nazareth on Monday in protest of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's visit. The protesters held placards, which read, "Not welcome, no 'ahalan.' Get out you murderer." Balad Secretary-General Wail Omari said the demonstration was held in protest of Olmert's aggressive policies. "We are holding this demonstration in Nazareth against the visit of the prime minister who is unwanted in Nazareth. We want to say to all Israelis, that Olmert is also unwanted in the Arab sector, he is unwanted in Nazareth, due to his war policies, because of the massacres he carried out Lebanon and Gaza and because of the starvation of the Palestinian people in Gaza and the West Bank." The Nazareth Municipality declared that it agreed ideologically with the protesters, saying in a statement that its stance against the prime minister and his aggressive polices toward Palestinians was well known. However, it said it would not assist those trying to gain politically from such protests, ahead of the upcoming local elections. The municipality went on to say that it was right for Olmert to visit Nazareth's schools, saying that it gave the town an opportunity to express itself regarding the education system. The prime minister was accompanied by Science, Culture an Sports Minister Ghalb Majadle, and about 300 policemen secured his visit. Earlier, Olmert visited the Ksulot School in Upper Nazareth and said he was happy to be the prime minister under whose leadership a reform plan was being implemented that would restore Israeli education to its position among the top education systems in the world. "It appears that the new school year is beginning with a special vigor and a lot of energy brought about by the changes we have implemented in the education system and because of the fact that teachers can now come to school prouder," he said. "It is very pleasing to see that the results of the reforms are already being felt across the country and in every place, more and more pupils are befitting from them and reaching impressive accomplishments." Olmert was accompanied to Ksulot by Education Minister Yuli Tamir and Finance Minister Ronnie Bar-On. Earlier Monday, President Shimon Peres visited a school in the Arab neighborhood of Beit Safafa and said that the burning of an Israeli flag at the entrance to the school the previous night was "a minority act." He said his job as president was to encourage "the majority" to pursue peace and love Jerusalem. Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupolianski said that the incident was a "criminal act" and the result of a rival gang feud. The new school year began earlier Monday morning with more than 1.4 million pupils attending 4,021 schools. It came despite unfinished safety-code checks in a number of schools and a shaky agreement for security guards set to run out on January 1. The threat of a strike still loomed over more than 50 schools. The Petah Tikva Parents Association held a strike due to safety failures while some 40 Ethiopian-born students demonstrated outside the city's municipality in protest of what they said was failure to integrate them properly. In addition, several schools in the Arab sector, including in Rahat in the South and Sakhnin in the North, did not open due to safety problems and equipment shortages. Nevertheless, Tamir praised the "quiet start" to the school year on Monday morning. Speaking to Israel Radio, the education minister expressed hope that junior high schools would join the New Horizon reform plan, which she said would be a success. The plan, which was adopted by some 500 schools Monday, focuses on smaller classes and greater one-on-one interaction between teachers and students, giving teachers in such schools salary increases. Meanwhile, Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit toured schools in Ofakim and bemoaned what he considers the dearth of Zionist education in the country. "We must amend the current situation where nearly 60 percent of Israeli children in the education system do not receive Zionist education and do not study their heritage," Sheetrit said, according to a statement released by his office. "Sadly, a majority [of the students] does not receive the core curriculum sanctioned by law. We must change the policy so that the employment of the core a precondition to receiving funding." The current policy, Sheetrit said, endangers Israel's existence as a Jewish Zionist state. Abe Selig contributed to this report