Demanding Education Ministry to Appoint Counselors for Arab Bedouin Students in the Naqab At Risk of Dropping-Out of School.

HCJ 6671/03, Munjid Abu Ghanem, et. al. v. Ministry of Education, et. al.

Petition submitted in 7/03 in the name of 19 individual petitioners, parents of students aged five to 17, parents’ associations, the Follow-up Committee for Arab Education, and in Adalah’s own name, against the Ministry of Education (MOE), the Rahat Municipality, and the other six local councils in the Naqab. The petitioners demanded that the MOE appoint the required number of counselors for Arab Bedouin students in the Naqab, who are at risk of dropping out of school, in accordance with the MOE's own set criteria. The seven recognized Arab Bedouin towns in the Naqab - Rahat, Lagiyya, Kseife, Tel el-Sabe, Hura, ‘Arora, and Segev Shalom - have the highest drop-out rates in the country and the least number of counselor positions to address the problem. For example, in 2002-2003 in Rahat, ninth-grade students dropped out at a rate of 23.6%, compared with an overall drop-out rate of 6.2% of Jewish ninth graders in the country. According the MOE’s own criteria, Rahat, the largest Arab Bedouin town in the Naqab, should have 15 counselors for at-risk students, while in fact the town has only one counselor. The State Comptroller has repeatedly criticized the MOE for not allocating enough counselor positions for both Arab and Jewish state-run schools. Adalah argued that the MOE’s failure to appoint the required number of counselors violates the Compulsory Education Law - 1949 and the Rights of Students Law - 2000, as well as contributes to the high drop-out rate, and thus, to the wider social and economic problems of the Arab Bedouin towns in the Naqab. Adalah further argued that the MOE is violating the students’ right to education, a part of the right to dignity, which is protected by the Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty - 1992, as well as international human rights treaties to which Israel is a state party.

In 8/03, the Court issued an order nisi compelling the state to explain why the MOE does not appoint the required number of counselors for Arab Bedouin students in the Naqab. In response, the state committed to the appointment of at least 4.5 additional counselor positions in 2004. At a hearing in 9/04, the state undertook to assign a further five counselors to schools in the seven towns. Adalah argued that, although an improvement, the addition of the five counselors still failed to meet the needs of Arab Bedouin students who, according to the MOE's criteria, required a further 32.8 counselor positions. In its final arguments, Adalah argued that, even if an equal percentage of counselors were appointed for Arab Bedouin students in the Naqab as for Jewish students, they would still be discriminated against, since the former are in greatest need of the counselors owing to their higher-than-average drop-out rate.

In 1/05, in a precedent-setting judgment, the Supreme Court ruled that the educational gap, of which the rate of dropping out is a part, between the Jewish and Arab Bedouin sectors in the Naqab requires a policy of affirmative action to bring the Arab Bedouin sector to a similar starting point to that of the Jewish sector, in order to achieve equal opportunities for all social groups. The Court further ruled that there exists an obvious inequality in the assignment of the counselors among the Arab Bedouin and Jewish sectors in the Naqab. The Court noted in the ruling that, while the rate of dropping out of Jewish pupils in Israel as a whole is 4.59%, and among Jewish pupils in the south 4.86%, the percentage of dropping out among Bedouin pupils in the south is 12.56%. The Court further noted that the assignment percentage of counselor positions in Jewish towns throughout Israel is approximately 40% of the recommended number, and for Jewish towns in the south around 35%, whereas in the Arab Bedouin towns in the south the assignment percentage is approximately 25%. The Court then added that in the year 2003, 57% of the pupils in the country were entitled to a matriculation certificate, while in the Arab Bedouin sector there were only 25.6% entitled to this certificate, thereby drawing attention to the damaging impact of the under-assignment of counselors in the Arab Bedouin sector on the educational levels of Bedouin students.

Drawing on these statistics, which were brought before the Court by Adalah, the Court also decided that applying the principle of equality obliges the assignment of more counselor positions to regions and sectors where the problem of dropping out is worse, and might require differences in assignment in order to strengthen needy groups, with less support to privileged groups, in order for all groups to be given equal opportunities. The Supreme Court dismissed the petition, ruling that the state's appointment of counselor positions should be gradual and accomplished within a "reasonable" timeframe. However, the Court ordered the state to pay legal expenses in the sum of NIS 10,000.

H.C. 6671/03, Munjid Abu Ghanem, et. al. v. Ministry of Education, et. al. (decision delivered 24/1/05).