The Need for an Arab Public School in Upper Nazareth
On October 28, 2019 nine families from Nof HaGalil (Upper Nazareth), along with the Association for Civil Rights in Israel and the Mossawa Center, petitioned the Supreme Court demanding that the court order the Nof HaGalil municipality to open the first public Arab pre-school and elementary school in the town. The petition was filed by ACRI Attorneys Oded Feller and Raghad Jaraisy.
Some 10,500 Arab residents live in Nof HaGalil, comprising one-quarter of the town’s population (higher than the rate of Arab residents in in Ramle). Some 3,000 of those residents are children in pre-school or elementary school, and they constitute more than one-third of the students in the town. Despite this, Nof HaGalil is the only mixed city in the country that does not have at least one Arab public school. More than 90% of Arab students in the city, who are interested in studying in their mother tongue, must enroll in Arab schools in adjacent towns, most of them in Nazareth.
The petition claims that infringing on equality in regards to the right to education is particularly severe, and ultimately infringes on human dignity. Treating students differently based on their belonging to a minority group is humiliating and demeaning. It adversely affects students’ sense of self, their security, and their self-worth.
The petitioners claim that there is no doubt that the Arab students have a right to education in their town, and that the demand is not the sole consideration for realizing the right to equality in education. “The court turned the tables. By default, the authorities must provide children with free public education, and whoever wants to choose other options can do so. Respondents and the court imposed on the petitioners and on the parents of Arab students in the town to prove a ‘demand’ for a public service. According to the trial court’s method, despite the fact that the current situation is discriminatory – both substantively and consequentially – towards the petitioners and all Arab students in Nof HaGalil as compared to Jewish students, they must prove that they are interested in reversing the discrimination.”
The petition goes on to claim that had the municipality approached the situation with an open heart and a desire to establish a school based on residents’ needs, rather than operate in a threatening manner, it would have discovered that demand among Arab parents in the town for an Arabic-language public school was even higher.
In 2013, parents of schoolchildren approached then Mayor Shimon Gapso. Rather than addressing the town residents’ requests for education in their mother tongue, he responded that this was, “a provocative nationalist political declaration,” and that establishing Arab schools in Nof HaGalil would constitute “a final relinquishing of the town’s character as Jewish.” Gapso clarified that whoever decided to live in the town “was informed that they would be burdened with the annoyance of driving or busing their children to an Arab school.”
The issue was raised in the Knesset. That year the Education Committee recognized the rights of Arab residents to a school in their town. Shay Piron, who was Education Minister at the time, instructed that a public Arab school be established in Nof HaGalil. However, the issue remained stagnant, and in 2016 the Education Ministry announced that it had accepted Gapso’s opposition to establishing the school.
The parents petitioned the court together with ACRI and Mossawa Center, after which the municipality and Education Ministry committed to review the need for establishing a school. One year later the Education Ministry announced that its position remained unchanged, causing ACRI and Mossawa Center to petition the court again. Following the second petition, the new mayor, Ronen Plot, pledged to review the issue of establishing the school and to conduct a comprehensive needs assessment to help make a decision.
However, the statements were unrealistic. In practice, the municipality did everything it could to sabotage the planned needs assessment process and used the petitioners and their cooperation as leverage for political gain. At the end of a bleak and problematic process, based on false and partial data, the municipality presented a position that there is no demand for an Arab school in the town.
In July 2019, the Nazareth District Court rejected the petition, determining that the municipality’s decisions not to establish an Arab school in the town and not to advance any other solution to provide education in Arabic for Arab children in the town are “reasonable and are certainly within the respondents’ professional and administrative discretion.” In October 2019 ACRI and Mossawa petitioned against this verdict.
In April 2021, the High Court rejected our claim to compel the Nof HaGalil Municipality to establish an Arab public school in the coming school year. However, the majority opinion in the ruling upheld that children have the right to study in the public education system in Arabic and that the education system in Nof HaGalil represents a serious failure of this right, as it neglects its Arab students and sends them to the education system in Nazareth. The court ruled that the Nof HaGalil Municipality is obligated to check with parents when registering for school if they desire a public education in Arabic for their children. It also stated that the municipality and the Ministry of Education must act swiftly to formulate solutions to bring about the right of Arab children to an education in Arabic in Nof HaGalil.