Petition to End Segregating Educational Institutions for Children of Asylum Seekers in Tel Aviv
Today, Attorney Tal Hassin of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel and Attorney Haran Riechman of the Clinic for Law and Educational Policy within the Law Department of the University of Haifa petitioned to the Tel Aviv Administrative Court on behalf of 325 children of asylum seekers, A.S.S.A.F., the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, The Levinsky Garden Library, members of the Tel Aviv City Council and nearly 100 Israeli-born children who are residents of Tel Aviv, against the Tel Aviv Municipality and Ministry of Education demanding the development of an integration policy in the city.
In the early 1950s, African-American and white protesters took to the streets to protest the policy of segregation between Black and White students in the United States education system. A few years later, in 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court, in the founding judgment of the Brown V. Board of Education of Topeka, ruled that racial segregation in education was unconstitutional, and anchored the principle that separate is not equal. Almost seventy years later, in the city of Tel Aviv-Yafo there are separate schools and kindergartens for children of asylum seekers, the vast majority of whom are from African countries. In this petition the Court is asked to re-anchor the principles of the aforementioned precedent-setting judgment: the very separation in education is discriminatory; separate is not equal even if the different groups receive similar budgeting and resources.
The petition alleges that the city of Tel Aviv-Yafo has four elementary schools and about 60 kindergartens in which solely children of asylum seekers are educated. The severe damages caused to the children of asylum seekers due to their segregated registration and placement in separate educational institutions include, among other things, severe humiliation and social labeling, educational and cognitive damages, and harmful damage to their healthy development. This policy ignores the circumstances of the lives of the asylum seekers' children and their present situation, and even encourages intolerance and racism towards this population, an already vulnerable population in Israel today.
The petition is supported by numerous opinions from experts in education and pedagogy, cognitive psychology, child neurology and child development that indicate the urgent need to integrate children of the foreign population in schools alongside children who are citizens of Israel. The tremendous benefits inherent in this move are not limited to the children of asylum seekers. Opinions and research in the field further show that an informed integration policy contributes to the entire student population, and further dismantles racist stereotypes and patterns in society as a whole. The integration of asylum seekers' children in integrative schools may even save a significant amount of money for the public, as such children are often eventually sent to special education frameworks, even though the vast majority of their development potential is perfectly normal.
The petition is also supported by an affidavit of Ms. Dafna Lev, Director of the Education Administration in the city of Tel Aviv in the years 2007-2016, who declared the success of the integration that took place in educational institutions in the north of the city at the beginning of the previous decade.
In order to fully comprehend the sense of humiliation, inferiority and anxiety that accompanies segregated education, parents of children seeking asylum were quoted in the petition. Here are just 3 examples:
Lila Abdullah Ibrahim, mother of Amir, eight and a half years old:
"My eldest son, Amir, 8 and a half years old, is in third grade at Keshet School [...] Amir is very busy with the meanings of separating him from children with citizenship regarding his identity and his life in the country. He understands that although he was born and raised here like any Israeli child, he is unwanted here and does not belong, and I see that it bothers him. When we walk in the street sometimes and he points to something and asks me if it is ‘only for Israelis’ and if he is not allowed because if from an African family…”
Kabhat Tesgargawi, mother of three, a one and a half-year-old, six- and eight-year olds:
“When they were in separate city kindergartens they felt very bad, they asked ‘why are we apart? Why not mix us up?’ They felt less than and not equal […]"
Letamskal Desta, mother of three, aged 7, 8 and 11:
“My children are always placed in separate educational settings [...] This makes it very difficult for them academically, socially and emotionally. My children constantly ask me why they are separated from the other children in the country. They were born in Israel and they ask what is different about them and children with Israeli citizenship? Their self-esteem is low because it is difficult for them to read and write in Hebrew and they think they are considered less smart than white children. Although there are children in the neighborhood with Israeli citizenship, they are unable to connect with them and their social connections are limited to the community of individuals without citizenship. It hurts my heart to see the effect of separation on my children. They talk about being born in Israel and not understanding the meaning of the separation between them and white children, children who have citizenship [...] Some time ago, people came to the entrance to the school where my children study and sprayed pepper spray there. I think segregation really endangers our children, making them an easy target for racist aggression.”
Alongside describing the damage of separation, the petition highlights the importance of integration. Dr. Hagit Gur Ziv, a pedagogy expert who has accompanied students from Kibbutzim College whose training included time in kindergartens in Tel Aviv-Yafo in general and in asylum seekers' kindergartens in particular for many years, states in her opinion the importance of integrative learning for normal development. Dr. Gur Ziv writes:
In integrated kindergartens, the staff does not lower the educational level and the children adjust to a high level. In the integrated kindergartens the level of expectations is adjusted for children from good backgrounds, and the level of education meets the high standards of the system. In integrated kindergartens, the children of asylum seekers learn from Israeli children and close the language and development gaps quickly. Their levels of development in all aspects - verbal, mental and educational - and the realization of their potential are high. Also the racism and the racist attitude towards them on the part of the staff in integrated kindergartens is much less than in the segregated institutions. In these kindergartens, solidarity is also created between the children.”
Dafna Lev, former director of the Education Administration, emphasizes the great benefits of integration on behalf of the children who are citizens of Israel, who have absorbed asylum seekers into their classes:
“Not only the children of asylum seekers are benefiting from integration. The integration program also provided significant benefits to Israeli children. .... The encounter of these students with a different population, who have different life experiences and a different culture, opened up for them an opportunity to get to know a vulnerable population whose lives are completely different from anything they have known. This has led to a lot of feelings of solidarity, recognition of the other and an understanding that the world is more complex than they know when they grow up in a homogeneous society. The processes of acquaintance and friendship with the children of immigrants have given the Israeli children invaluable and significant educational and human experiences.
Melet Miklef, a native of Eritrea, studied at the “Magen” school from 7th -twelfth grades, and is currently studying at the IDC:
“We were a small group of asylum seekers at “Magen” school, and each of us entered a different class, that is, we were scattered among the classes in which there were Israeli students. Thanks to this, we were exposed to the Israeli community a lot. This affected our form of speech, behavior, learning habits, language level and even our mentality, dreams and aspirations as human beings.
... The fact that I was in an Israeli school was very significant and managed to bring me a spark of success and self-belief. If I had studied in a segregated school, I doubt I would have succeeded .... If I had studied in an environment where everyone thinks the students will not succeed it would have been difficult and challenging to get to where I am today. The integrated studies aroused in me a strong desire to study at the university and gave me the confidence required to achieve this goal.”
The petition alleges that the Ministry of Education, which has a declared policy against segregation in education, is obliged to intervene and even assist in financing the transportation system of children of asylum seekers to educational institutions in the city.
The response of attorneys Riechman and Hassin:
“Every first-year law student learns the principle embodied in the Brown case - populations cannot be separated on the basis of origin, class or color. It is sad and alarming to see that this basic rule is not internalized by the Tel Aviv Municipality and the Ministry of Education. The collection of affidavits and the conversations with the petitioners seeking asylum again raised the humiliation involved in this policy of segregation, the humiliation that children feel already in kindergarten. We hope that the authorities will correct the situation soon, and if not, the court will instruct them to act in a way that respects a democratic society.”
Administrative Petition 7240-08-21
Attornies: Tal Hassin (ACRI), Haran Riechman (The Clinic for Law and Educational Policy)
For further Information (Hebrew)