In shadow of COVID-19: Adalah demands Israeli Education Ministry solve severe overcrowding, dangerously unsanitary conditions in Bedouin schools

Israeli Health Ministry report: Do not allow any staff or student activity in the school until sanitation issue is resolved.

Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel has sent an urgent letter to Israeli education authorities demanding they act immediately to resolve severe classroom overcrowding and unsanitary conditions threatening public health in an education complex in a Bedouin community in the country’s Naqab (Negev) region.


Overflowing dumpsters adjacent to the educational complex in Wadi al-Na’am. (Photo: Adalah)


In the letter sent on 6 December 2020, Adalah attorneys Aiah Haj Odeh and Sawsan Zaher demanded that Ram Zahavi, the Israeli Education Ministry’s Southern District director, and Hanan Affouta, director general and head of the education department in the Neve Midbar Regional Council, act to immediately remedy the overcrowding and sanitation problems.


Al-‘Azazmeh A and Al-‘Azazmeh B schools, located in the unrecognized Bedouin village of Wadi al-Na’am, house a total of some 2,230 students. There are 41 classes in these complexes, with an average of 43 students in each class, pre-COVID-19, and half as many now.  


These schools face a severe classroom overcrowding problem and currently, even with half of the number of students, they do not adhere to Israeli Health Ministry guidelines imposed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.


On 9 July 2020, Adalah commenced a series of legal actions demanding a solution for students, but Israeli authorities have not yet taken effective action.


The regional council likewise failed to fully resume sanitation and janitorial services in the two schools after an initial halt in classroom studies due to the COVID-19 outbreak.


In May 2020, the Israeli Health Ministry issued a report on cleanliness and hygiene in the Al-‘Azazmeh educational complex, concluding that “operating the school in such a situation could lead to an outbreak of a morbidity event among the students and staff. Do not allow any activity in the school (staff or students), until the issue is resolved.” [Emphasis in original]


Mohammad Danfiri, who is being represented by Adalah on these issues, had, in fact, approached the Israeli Education Ministry on four different occasions in an effort to improve the cleaning and sanitation services at the schools, but the ministry failed consistently to address the issue.


The current situation constitutes serious harm to the right to education guaranteed by law for the thousands of students in Wadi al-Na’am.


Adalah demands Israeli education authorities add 15 classrooms to the Wadi al-Na’am education complex and act to ensure routine cleaning and sanitation services are provided – as required by law – in order to ensure a safe and healthy environment for students.


CLICK HERE to read the letter [Hebrew]