|Faced with tremendous obstacles to learning, over 40 per cent of the Bedouin drop out of school [EPA]
Expressing his support for the controversial loyalty oath bill - legislation that will require non-Jews to pledge allegiance to Israel "as a Jewish and democratic state" - Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, remarked: "Zionism established an exemplary national state, a state that balances between the national needs of our people and the individual rights of every citizen in the country."
But a look at the Israeli education system offers a very different picture.
Rawia Aburabia, an attorney with the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), says that schools attended by Palestinian citizens of Israel are missing "9,000 classes, 300 [officials who enforce school attendance], 200 psychologists, and 250 educational consultants".
As a result, the dropout rate for Palestinian citizens of Israel is almost double that of their Jewish counterparts. Classes in the Arab school system are also larger than those attended by Jews - and this means reduced instruction time per student, increased disciplinary problems and lower achievement rates.
"In the Negev, the situation is catastrophic," Aburabia says. "There are 37 unrecognised [Bedouin] villages with no high schools and they barely have elementary schools. Eighty thousand people live [in these villages]."
There the dropout rate is over 40 per cent, in part, Aburabia explains, "because they have to travel to get to high school, walking many kilometers by foot to the highway".
Faced with tremendous obstacles to learning, only two per cent of the Bedouin go on to university. According to a report released by Sikkuy, a Jewish-Arab NGO that advocates for equality, Israel's Arab population as a whole does not fare much better - just over three per cent enter academia, compared with nine per cent of Jews.
If Israel were indeed a state where all citizens are treated equally, Aburabia says, "I don't think I'd have to go to the High Court of Justice so that the ministry of education will close the gap of 9,000 classes".
'Frustration and despair'
The Israeli government is well aware of the tremendous disparities between the two school systems, says Yousef Jabareen, the director of the Arab Center for Law and Policy, Dirasat.
"Much of the statistics are from the government itself," Jabareen says.
And over a decade ago, Zvi Zameret authored a government report detailing the many gaps between Arab and Jewish schools. "[T]he average quality of teaching in the Israeli Arab sector is lower than in most Jewish schools," he wrote.
Zameret continued: "[T]he resources allocated to Arab education are not keeping up with the growth in population. Arab schools - more than any other educational sector - suffer from a shortage of classrooms and substandard classrooms."
In the report, Zameret admitted that there "exists a disparity between the Arab and Jewish educational systems".
But more than a decade later those same gaps remain. And Zamaret, now chairman of the pedagogical secretariat, is forging ahead with a plan to edit civic textbooks, deleting sentences like: "Since its establishment, the state of Israel has engaged in a policy of discrimination against its Arab citizens."
That the state both admits to problems plaguing the Arab educational system and ignores them creates "a sense of frustration and despair," Jabareen says.
Another point of contention is the National Priority Areas [NPA], of which Jabareen remarks: "If this is not clear ethnic-based discrimination, then I don't know what discrimination is."
Known as the national priority map, and drawn in 1998, it marks 533 towns and villages for economic and educational incentives. Despite the fact that Palestinian citizens of Israel make up 20 per cent of the population - and are disproportionately represented in the lowest socioeconomic rungs - only four Arab villages are NPAs.
Deeply concerned about the NPA's impact on educational funding, Adalah - a human rights organisation and legal centre that advocates for Palestinians who live within the Green Line as well as those who live in the Occupied Territories - took the state of Israel to court. In 2006, a panel of seven high court justices ruled that the NPAs constituted illegal discrimination and ordered the state to amend them.
But not only did the state circumvent the high court's ruling, it expanded the national priority map to include six illegal West Bank settlements. Jewish settlers number half that of Palestinian citizens of Israel. And, generally, they are more affluent.
Israel's 'fifth column'
Regarding the gaps between Israel's Jewish and Arab educational systems, Gabi Salomon, a professor of education at the University of Haifa and a co-director of Sikkuy, remarks: "I don't think there is any sinister intention behind it."
The neglect, Salomon explains, comes from considering Palestinian citizens of Israel "as a potential fifth column not to be trusted too much or counted too much".
As such, many Jewish Israelis think that there "isn't an absolute necessity to share taxes with them," Salomon says. "The feeling is that 'why do they need everything that the Jews need?'"
This sentiment is apparent both in the lopsided allocation of resources and students' attitudes.
A recent poll conducted by Tel Aviv University professor Camil Fuchs found that 50 per cent of Jewish teenagers do not want Arabs in their classes. And while nearly two-thirds of those surveyed acknowledge that Palestinian citizens of Israel do not have equal rights, 59 per cent are fine with that.
Gaps are also perpetuated by the fact that Palestinian citizens of Israel are not represented in the ministry of education. Even the head of Arabic and Islamic education is Jewish.
"Adequate representation is very important to protect the interests of the minority," says Sawsan Zaher, an attorney with Adalah. "And there are almost zero Arab professionals in the decision-making process."
Zaher adds that those who do aspire to move through the ranks of the ministry of education must hold a certain ideology. For example, Adalah recently learned that "positive values towards the Jewish state" is one of the listed requirements for a high-status position.
Zaher compares such criteria to the existence of some kind of "thought police".
In the past the ministry of education also conducted security checks on Arabs who applied to work as school principals.
After Adalah contested this, the high court struck the policy down. "But I am aware that, unofficially, they're still doing the checks," Zaher says, adding: "You can only be a principal if you comply with the mentality and the politics of the state."
"Eventually everything is related to the [the concept of Israel as a] Jewish state," Zaher reflects. "You don't learn about the nakba because it's a Jewish state. You don't get funded because you're not Jewish. You get appointed only if you are loyal to the state."
Source: Al Jazeera