54% of Arab children 'in danger'

Researchers say Arab kids at far greater risk in life than Jewish counterparts.

arab kids 298ap (photo credit: AP)
arab kids 298ap
(photo credit: AP)
Arab children in Israel are at a much greater risk of being uneducated, turning to violence, getting ill and even dying compared to Jewish children, said lecturers at a conference at the Hebrew University School of Social Work on Sunday. According to Prof. Hillel Schmid, dean of the school, of the approximately 60,000 Arab children living in Israel about 10,000 are defined as being in danger and crisis. Statistics show that 54 percent of these children are living below the poverty line, 2.5 times the percentage of Jewish children. The School of Social Work hosted a day-long conference Sunday at which 13 lecturers described the results of their research into the health, education and welfare of Arab children and youth in Israel. "Poverty causes children to leave school and it negatively affects the ability of the Arab family to provide for their children," said Prof. Muhammad Haj-Yahia, also of the School of Social Work. "It has negative consequences not only on education and health, but also on the rise of crime and violence in Arab society." Infant mortality among Arabs in Israel is twice as high as among Israeli Jews. Prof. Ilana Shoham-Vardi, of the Faculty of Health Sciences at Ben-Gurion University, said the problem is particularly acute among the Negev Beduin, a great number of whom live in unrecognized villages and therefore have less access to health services. More than 15% of Beduin babies die within one year, compared to 8.8% of all Muslim babies in Israel and 5.4% of Jewish babies. Particularly important, said Shoham-Vardi, "is the need for primary prevention before pregnancy: [Beduin] women need education, to learn to use folic acid, [to be taught] not to marry cousins or at least to have medical checks to make certain there are no [genetic] problems." The state of education for Arabs is no less worrying. Only 4% of Arab two-year-olds are in an educational framework, as opposed to 30% of Jewish two-year-olds, according to Schmid. Reem Zriq, a kindergarten coordinator on the Yafia Local Council and a member of the Follow-Up Committee for Arab Education for Toddlers, presented the results of a joint research project made with Nabeah Abu-Saleh, chairman of Follow-Up Committee for Arab Education. According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, 56% of Arab children aged three to four are in an educational framework, compared to 90% of Jewish children. However, according to the statistics of the Follow-Up Committee for Arab Education, only 46% of the Arab children in this age group get an education. "One of the most extraordinary statistics is the number of preschools [in the Arab sector]: there are 1,500. We are missing another 2,250," Zriq said. What is more problematic, she said, is that there are fewer government-run preschools and more and more privately-run ones where the supervision is substandard. "Anyone can open one now," she said. "The law states that there needs to be one supervisor for every 80 to 100 preschools," said Zriq. "But in all of the Arab sector there are only 6.5 allocated posts for supervisors for 1,500 preschools. This means that there is one supervisor for every 300 preschools." To exacerbate the problem, there is a lack of permanent buildings for the schools. "More than 90% of the buildings used for preschools are rented and the Education Ministry contributes very little to this," said Zriq, according to whom the ministry pays NIS 8,600 towards an annual rent of NIS 30,000, leaving the local council to pay the difference. "The result is it eats into local budgets meant for other things." Zriq and Abu-Saleh accused the government and local councils of shirking their responsibility to give accessible education to toddlers. Dr. Aziz Haidar, a senior researcher at both the Van Leer and Truman centers, put responsibility not only on the government, but on Arab society in Israel. "We understand there is a deficit in the government infrastructure to deal with this crisis," said Haidar, "but there is also a lack of local organizations within the Arab society that can themselves deal with the crisis."