Adalah and partners petition Israeli Supreme Court: Connect Bedouin students in Naqab to distance-learning system

More than 50,000 Palestinian Bedouin children in Naqab (Negev) villages are not connected to electricity or internet, most don’t have computers. Since school was stopped on 15 March due to coronavirus, their right to education has been denied.

Adalah - The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel submitted a petition to the Israeli Supreme Court on 5 April 2020 demanding that the Israeli Education Ministry immediately connect Arab Bedouin students in the Naqab to the Internet, and/or alternatively provide them with mobile routers and provide them with the equipment needed to connect to the educational distance learning system, as all schools have been closed since 15 March 2020 due to the coronavirus crisis.


The petition was filed by Adalah Attorneys Sawsan Zaher and Aiah Haj Odeh on behalf of the Follow-up Committee for Arab Education, the Regional Council for Unrecognized Villages in the Naqab, the National Association of Arab Parents' Committees for Education, the Negev Coexistence Forum, Hamleh - The Arab Center for Social Media Development, Adalah and five children from the unrecognized villages in the Naqab who do not have a computer and are not connected to electricity or the Internet because the state does not provide basic infrastructure in their villages.


While there is currently no estimated date for the resumption of the school year, about 26,000 elementary and middle school students living in 37 unrecognized villages in the Naqab, and another 25,000 pupils living in 11 newly recognized villages are not connected to the educational distance learning system, as these villages have no internet infrastructure and are not connected to the electricity network. Most of these children also do not have a computer. Despite repeated inquiries by Adalah, the Follow-up Committee for Arab Education, and other organizations, the Education Ministry has so far failed to provide educational services for these students.


For decades, official reports have documented that Arab Bedouin pupils suffer from large gaps in the quality of education and low educational attainment, as compared with their Israeli Jewish counterparts, and among this group, the poverty rate reaches an astronomical 70 percent. The petitioners argue that given that the current state of emergency, schools will likely continue with distance learning, at least by the end of the current school year 2020, and that this approach will severely impair Arab Bedouin students’ right to education and personal development, and later increase existing socio-economic disparities.


Surveys conducted by the Follow-up Committee on Arab Education indicate that about 50 percent of Arab students are not connected to educational distance learning programs in some villages in Naqab; and   about one-third do not have computers, tablets, or other means of connecting, and/or live in places that do not have Internet-enabled infrastructure. The situation of Arab Bedouin students in the Naqab are even more severe than in the rest of the country.


Adalah added:


"What is now revealed during the state of emergency is merely a reflection of the state's tendency to routinely ignore the needs of citizens of Israel living in the Arab Bedouin villages. The state's continued refusal to connect the unrecognized villages to infrastructure such as electricity prevents the children from connecting to the Internet, and thus blocks them from receiving education during the coronavirus crisis emergency. Denying the right to education arising from these conditions joins an overall picture of exclusion, as the state has for decades refused to provide essential and basic services. The reason for this deliberate neglect is to pressure the Bedouin residents to comply with their forced evacuation, and to establish Jewish-only settlements in their place only, a racist policy that Adalah has been fighting against for 25 years. Even after the state decided to recognize some of the villages and began planning processes, the severe discrimination continues. The result is that thousands of students who live in these 11 “recognized villages” cannot even study now. The low educational achievement of Arab Bedouin students in the Naqab is clearly known to the Education Ministry, but it does not appear to have been taken into account by decision- makers when determining to close the schools and to operate the remote learning system.”


The Follow-up Committee for Arab Education emphasized that:


"The fact that distance learning is now inaccessible to all Bedouin students, only continues to deepen the huge gaps in education that are based on socio-economic factors in general, and national belonging. The inaccessibility of the online learning system stems from barriers that the state has brought about due to its discriminatory policies that have severely violated the right of education of Arab children, which also harms their future in all ways.

“The Education Ministry must make distance learning accessible to students who live in communities that do not have the infrastructure to enable continuous Internet connection, especially children from unrecognized villages in the Naqab, which are particularly distressed. Computer for the students and the appropriate technology for distance learning is important not only in the current emergency, but also on the day after, in view of the proliferation of the use of digital tools and computers, as the education system has become accustomed to them in the current crisis.”


Update note: The Court ordered the state to respond to the petition by 26 April 2020.


Case Citation: HCJ 2398/20, Adalah et al v. The Prime Minister et al (case pending)