The right to learn

Government officials must understand that Beduin children who live in unrecognized villages in the Negev are not part of the ongoing land struggle.

311_Beduin children (photo credit: Sarah Levin)
311_Beduin children
(photo credit: Sarah Levin)
In recent weeks, hundreds of thousands of children have returned to school and preschool. Most families take this for granted. By contrast, in the unrecognized Beduin village of Rahme, like in most unrecognized Beduin villages in the Negev, there is no school.
For Rahme at least, this is about to change.
Following a court ruling, a kindergarten will soon be opened there. This unusual occurrence – if it comes to fruition – will be the culmination of a civic and legal struggle led jointly by Beduin residents of Rahme and their Jewish neighbors in Yeroham, under the auspices of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel’s civic action group and Commitment to Peace and Social Justice.
Rahme and several dozen other Beduin villages in the Negev do not have kindergartens and schools. This is because the state has never recognized these villages whose residents are treated as illegal squatters. Some of the villages have existed in their current location since before the establishment of the state, and others are located in an area called the Siyag, where many Beduin citizens were forced to relocate in the 1950s and ’60s.
As a result, the government does not provide them with basic rights and services – electricity, paved roads, water, educational facilities, public transportation and more.
Two years ago, a governmental committee headed by retired Supreme Court justice Eliezer Goldberg recommended that the state recognize these villages. However, the implementation may take a long time. In the meantime, more and more Beduin children do not attend preschools. In light of this, the residents of Rahme and Yeroham decided that they shouldn’t wait any longer to take action.
For the members of the civic action group in Yeroham and Rahme, it took years of lobbying, an unofficial preschool that was demolished by the authorities and a legal petition to force the state to build an official kindergarten in Rahme. The landmark ruling handed down by Beersheba District Court in May forced the authorities to begin establishing a kindergarten by the start of the current school year. Moreover, it served as a decisive statement to the authorities: They cannot hold children hostage in the struggle over unrecognized villages. The right of the children of Rahme to an accessible kindergarten should not be dependent on the resolution of the Negev’s problems.
EDUCATION IS an empty word without accessible schools. The problem is especially acute in preschool education. Although all Beduin children are legally entitled to free education, official kindergartens exist in few Beduin villages, and most children are expected to attend schools far from home. Moreover, there is no transportation enabling three and four year olds to reach existing preschools, and most parents are unable to drive them or to send them alone so far away.
It doesn’t take billions of shekels to remedy this problem; in practice, it is easy. The bigger challenge is a shift in the way the state views the situation.
Politicians and government officials must understand that the children who live in unrecognized villages are not part of the ongoing land struggle and that building a kindergarten is not a political act. Accessible education must come first, regardless of the future solutions – and not vice versa.
Whether the villages are recognized or a future dialogue between the state and Beduin communities ends the conflict differently, accessible kindergartens and schools must be built immediately. Each year that passes not only violates those children’s rights but also reduces the chances for a better future for the Negev.
Let us first hope that the children of Rahme can start attending preschool – close to home – as soon as possible. Let’s also hope that Rahme will serve not only as a model for future successes but as a wakeup call to the Education Ministry and to other government authorities to change their way of thinking about the Beduin and education in the Negev. If this happens, maybe next year fewer children in the Negev will be left without places to learn.
The writer is an attorney with the Association for Civil Rights in Israel.