Following Adalah’s Petition, Education Ministry Commits to Opening the First High School in the Arab Bedouin Unrecognized Villages in the Naqab in 2009
On 23 January 2007, the Supreme Court of Israel approved a settlement reached between the Ministry of Education (MOE) and Adalah, according to which the MOE will establish a high school in the unrecognized Arab Bedouin village of Abu-Tulul - El-Shihabi in the Naqab (Negev). This will be the first high school to be established: to date, no high schools exist in any of the unrecognized villages in the Naqab. Under the settlement, the state is obliged to begin the school’s construction in 2008, and to open and operate it from 1 September 2009. It was also agreed that if the school is not opened for any reason, the petitioners retain the right to approach the Supreme Court again in order to secure its opening.
The settlement was reached following the filing of a petition to the Supreme Court by Adalah Attorney Morad El-Sana, in Adalah’s own name and on behalf of 35 Arab Bedouin girls from Abu-Tulul - El-Shihabi and six other NGOs (The Arab Parents’ Union in Israel, Sidreh: Scope of Action for Bedouin Women in the Negev, The Association of Forty, The Follow-Up Committee on Arab Education, The Regional Council for the Unrecognized Villages in the Naqab, and the Association of Bedouin Women to Promote Education). The named respondents were the Ministry of Education (MOE), the Regional Planning Committee - Southern District, the Abu Basma Regional Council, the Ministry of the Interior, and the Israel Land Administration.
Approximately 12,000 people live in the region of Abu-Tulul - El-Shihabi, in which lie seven Arab Bedouin unrecognized villages. Around 750 female and male students are of high school age. However, only 173 attend high school. The remainder, approximately 577 female and male students (or around 77% of the total), drop out of the system permanently as a direct consequence of the lack of a local high school. The dropout rate at high school level is particularly high among girls, due of the fact that many Arab Bedouin girls are forbidden to travel with “strangers” without being accompanied by a relative, and are prevented from studying with students who belong to other tribes and being in the company of unfamiliar boys. Therefore, in the absence of accessible local schools, the 12-15 kilometer journey to high schools in Segev Shalom poses for many young women an insurmountable barrier to their continued education, and constitutes the main reason for the extremely high rate at which they drop out.
Therefore, the petitioners argued that the situation as it stands prevents girls from realizing their right to secondary education. The state is under a duty to consider prevailing social conventions, which reinforce the gender divide, and to eliminate the ongoing discrimination against Arab Bedouin girls by making education accessible for them, as requested in the petition.
Adalah also argued that the Arab Bedouin girls face discrimination not only on the basis of gender, but also on the basis of national belonging, as the MOE allocates the required resources to establish secondary schools in many other localities for various population groups with fewer residents than Abu-Tulul - El-Shihabi, and with fewer high school-aged children. The neighboring Jewish settlement of Kibbutz Shuval, for instance, which has only 350 inhabitants, has a regional high school which 450 students attend. Therefore, as the petitioners argued, the lack of a high school in the area of Abu-Tulul - El-Shihabi violates the rights of the petitioners to secondary education on an equal basis to secondary school-aged children in other towns and villages.