Following a prolonged struggle by residents: Al Zarnouk Bedouin village high school in the Naqab will open

Following a prolonged struggle by residents: Al Zarnouk Bedouin village high school in the Naqab will open; Beer Sheva District Court rejects Regavim’s request for an injunction to prevent its opening


The Court rejected Regavim’s petition and ordered the organization to pay legal expenses to Adalah. The Israeli planning and licensing authorities have confirmed that all necessary permits have been finalized paving the way for the school to open.


Following a prolonged struggle by residents of the Bedouin unrecognized village of Al Zarnouq in the Naqab (Negev) desert, and in light of the long distances that hundreds of village children have to travel each day in order to realize their right to education, the Ministry of Education, in April 2019, approved the establishment of a high school in the village. The Neve Midbar Regional Council proceeded to construct it with portable buildings prior to the start of the 2019-2020 school year.


On the struggle of the residents that was accompanied by Adalah


After the buildings were placed and the school was almost ready for occupancy, and about ten days before the start of the school year, the Ministry of Finance’s Unit for the Enforcement of the Planning and Construction Laws issued a work stoppage order to the local council due to a motion submitted by the Regavim Association. Just prior to this (21 August 2019), the association also filed an administrative petition to the Beer Sheva District Court demanding that the opening of the school be prohibited and that it be vacated. Regavim asked the court to issue an interim injunction against the continued construction to prevent the school from opening. In its petition, Regavim claimed that the very intention of establishing the school does not meet the test of reasonableness as its establishment will constitute a fixed structure in an illegal settlement (Al Zarnouq village) and, in their words, "convey an erroneous message" to the residents.


The petition filed by the Regavim Association (in Hebrew)


The members of the local committee of the village of Al Zarnouk appealed to the Court through Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel to join the petition as respondents. In the request to include a litigant filed by Adalah Attorney Nareman Shehadeh-Zoabi, Adalah argued that the petition does not meet the threshold conditions required to be a petitioner as the Regavim Association has no standing in the matter, and that the petition is not evidence-based. Moreover, the petition seeks to prevent a constitutional right to education on the basis of claims of planning failures, despite previous rulings which explicitly determined that these grounds do not constitute proper reasons to violate fundamental rights. Adalah also argued that there was no planning impediment to obtaining the necessary permits for the construction of a school according to a district planning outline that authorizes construction using portable buildings for the provision of essential services.


The request to add a litigant submitted by Adalah on behalf of the local village committee (in Hebrew)


On 29 September 2019, an urgent hearing on Regavim’s request for an interim injunction was held in the Beer Sheva District Court sitting as an administrative court. The court rejected the request primarily due to the damage that would result from preventing the village children from studying at the school. Additionally, the court noted that it was not convinced that the establishment of a school constitutes a real obstacle to the possibility of forced evacuation of the residents and determined that the State must submit an update on the status of the building permit after a deliberation is held at the district planning committee. Furthermore, the court ordered Regavim to pay legal expenses to Adalah.


The protocol of the hearing and the court's decision (in Hebrew)


At the conclusion of the hearing, Adalah Attorney Nareman Shehadeh-Zoabi stated:


"The Regavim Association once again seeks to further their aspirations for the dispossession of Bedouin residents, this time in a cynical and cruel manner, by targeting the fundamental right of children to education. The court today unequivocally accepted what we have said all along: there is no justification for this wicked request, and the pupils and their families should be allowed to open the gates of the school without further delay. It saddens us that the state has not been able to conclude the bureaucratic procedures in a timely manner as, in our opinion, the importance of these processes do not supersede the right to education and to life with dignity."


Following this ruling, the Regavim Association approached the District Planning and Building Committee. After they submitted their comments and even attended the Sub-District Subcommittee's public hearing, the committee decided to outright reject the association’s claims based on its lack of standing and although it was not required to do so, discussed the claims and decided to reject them.


According to Attorney Shehadeh-Zoabi, this matter constitutes an improper exploitation of legal proceedings: "The Regavim Association tries, allegedly for the sake of the protection of the rule of law, to do as it pleases within the judicial system and to force it to conduct idle proceedings regarding its groundless claims, solely in order to attempt to prevent the provision of essential services to Bedouin residents, with the aim of exerting undue pressure on them to deprive them of their land. The Court determined in its decision that the right to education prevails and did not accept the claim that the establishment of a school in an unrecognized village does not meet the test of reasonableness. The planning committee also found no planning flaw in the establishment of the school. It can only be concluded from these events that their concern is an improper exploitation of legal and planning procedures for the purpose of stealing from the children of Al Zarnouq the right to a school in their place of residence, the necessity of which the Ministry of Education has already recognized.”