School year begins with fiery start

Flag burned in east J'lem, strikes up north.

olmert at school 224.88 (photo credit: GPO)
olmert at school 224.88
(photo credit: GPO)
Some 1.4 million pupils ended their summer vacation and kicked off the 2008/09 school year Monday morning. While the first day of classes appeared to go relatively smoothly across the country, classrooms did remain empty in three towns in the north - Yirka, Beit Jan and Sakhnin - as part of a strike organized by parents together with the local regional council. The Israel Parents Association, following through on previous warnings that children would not arrive for classes in schools where safety code violations had remained unaddressed, was able to organize strikes in the northern communities after reaching an agreement with the local regional council. But, one IPA member alleged, safety code violations were still rife in "many" schools throughout the country, and Monday's strikes in the three Galilee towns were merely a result of those problems having been "uncovered." "But there are other places that haven't been uncovered," said Avi Gur, an IPA member who has been pressuring the government to handle the safety code violations in the country's schools for months. "There are places with problems that are worse than the ones we're seeing here." The only reason strikes had not gone into effect in other schools, Gur explained Monday, was because of the inability of the IPA to come to an agreement with the regional councils or local leadership in those areas. "They're telling parents, 'don't worry, it's going to be alright,'" said Gur, who took part in a Supreme Court petition filed by the IPA and the Secondary School Teachers Organization nearly a month ago in which the two organizations called on the Education Ministry to take care of the safety code issue before kids entered classrooms that could prove potentially dangerous. "All that we're asking is that the Education Ministry stand by the law," Gur said. "If there are electrical problems in the school, so fix the electrical problems. If there's a fire extinguisher missing, so they should get another fire extinguisher. It's not an extra requirement, it's the law." The Education Ministry acknowledged the safety issues on Monday, but gave no concrete plan as to when the safety code checks might be finished. "We are doing everything we can to take care of these issues and to make sure that the students can begin their school year in an orderly and timely fashion," an Education Ministry spokeswoman said. But another ministry spokesman who deals with the Arab sector told The Jerusalem Post on Monday that, "there has been no resolution to these issues as of now." Meanwhile on Monday, another issue facing schools in the Arab sector was brought to light with the burning of an Israeli flag following the setting of a fire at the entrance to a school in Beit Safafa only hours before President Shimon Peres and Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupolianski were to give speeches there inaugurating the new year. While their visit took place as scheduled, Peres spoke about the incident to reporters as he was leaving the school. "This was the act of a minority," Peres said. "And it is my job as president to encourage the majority, who want to pursue peace and equality." Lupolianski said that the incident was a "criminal act" and the result of a gang feud. But other issues highlighting discontent within the Arab sector were present on Monday, as an angry crowd of protesters greeted Prime Minister Ehud Olmert when he arrived in Nazareth to kick off the school year. Some 50 activists from the Balad political party together with students demonstrated against the prime minister's visit outside the Taufik Ziad School. Holding signs that read, "Not welcome, no 'ahalan.' Get out you murderer," the protestors caused a significant disruption to the prime minister's scheduled visit. Balad Secretary-General Wail Omari said the demonstration had been held to protest Olmert's 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 in 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.