Survey of Bedouin Schools in the Negev.

AuthorAbu-Rabiyya, Salim
PositionStatistical Data Included


More than 100,000 Bedouin live in the Negev and account for about one-fourth of the region's population. Bedouin have inhabited the Negev since the fifth century C.E. (Maddrell, 1990)/They were traditionally organized in nomadic or semi-nomadic tribes that earned their livelihood from animal husbandry (sheep, goats, and camels) and seasonal agriculture (Shimoni, 1947).

Prior to 1948, the Negev Bedouin population was estimated at 65,000-90,000 (Falah, 1989; Maddrell, 1990). During and after the War of Independence (1948), most of these Bedouin became refugees in neighboring Arab countries (Egypt and Jordan) and the Gaza Strip. According to the 1952 census, only about 11,000 Bedouin remained in the Negev (Marx, 1967; Falah, 1989). This remnant was subsequently removed from its lands and, during its years under Israel military rule (1948-1966), was confined to "restricted zones" set aside for them in the northern Negev (Marx, 1967; Lustick, 1980; Falah, 1989). The loss of pasture and farmland effected a radical transformation in the traditional Bedouin way of life (Lustick, 1980; Maddrell, 1990). A spontaneous process of sedentarization ensued at this time (Falah, 1985, 1989).

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the Government of Israel began to implement plans to resettle the Negev Bedouin in seven urban communities -- Rahat, Tel Sheva, 'Aro'er, Kuseifeh, Segev Shalom, Hura, and Lakia. These settlements were established in order to permit efficient provision of services and to concentrate the Bedouin in permanent localities, where they could no longer cultivate, settle, and/or claim ownership of their expropriated lands (Hazleton, 1980). The delivery of services (running water, electricity, paved roads, public transport, schools, community clinics, telephone service, and so on) was an incentive meant to lure Bedouin to the governmentsponsored settlements. Concurrently, the government withheld recognition and services from most of the spontaneous settlements (Ben-David 1991). The sedentarization process and the loss of traditional sources of livelihood made the Negev Bedouin increasingly dependent on the Israeli labor market. However, the sedentarization program did not succeed in f ull. As of 1992, only 45 percent of Bedouin dwelt in the planned settlements; the majority, 55 percent, continued to live in spontaneous localities (Ben-David, 1993).

However "planned" they may be, the permanent settlements lack economic infrastructure and jobs (Ben-David, 1993) because Israel's national priorities are such that most development resources are allocated to Jewish localities (Lustick, 1980; Al-Haj, 1990). The permanent Bedouin settlements have an unemployment rate of 20 percent, the highest in the country. Only 30 percent of the labor force have a regular income; 45 percent work at random jobs. About 80 percent of persons employed spend up to five days away from home at jobs in central Israel (Ben-David, 1991).

General Background[N]

The sociohistorical background of the Negev Bedouin and the extreme changes that occurred in their way of life have had a major impact on their educational achievements. Schools hardly developed in the Bedouin community, because such institutions were poorly suited to the nomadic or semi-nomadic way of life. The first schools took shape in the large Bedouin tribes under the British Mandate (1921-1948) but, practically speaking, only the sons of wealthy sheiks had access to formal education (Abu-Saad, 1991; Berman, 1967). In addition to these schools, a small number "elder teachers" (khutiba'a) in the Negev imparted basic literacy skills but nothing more. The Qur'an was their textbook, and the learning process ended when the entire book had been read (Abu-Saad, 1991). Very few Bedouin were literate and, because survival under the harsh conditions of nomadic or semi-nomadic life required different skills, literacy held low priority for many years. The establishment of the State of Israel transformed the lives o f the Negev Bedouin and made the continuation of their traditional ways untenable. The Bedouin became a landless minority in a Western-oriented country. This transition made formal education a necessity.

The Compulsory Education Law, enacted shortly after the State of Israel had been established, entitled every child to free primary schooling and made education between age six and thirteen compulsory. The state was required to provide personnel, pay wages, create regular positions, and supply a curriculum. However, the Israeli education authorities -- like those who had ruled the Bedouin previously -- did not perceive this community as an integral part of society and, consequently, provided it with scanty education services (Swirski, 1990).

Because of this official indifference, coupled with disinterest in education within the Bedouin community itself, the education system of the Negev Bedouin remained undeveloped long after the Compulsory Education Law was enacted. During the military government period, most schools had only four grades and their average enrollment was 40 (Abu-Saad, 1995). Attendance was poor and no serious effort was made to enforce the Compulsory Education Law. In 1956, for example, only 350 Bedouin were enrolled in schools, out of a school-age population of 2,000. At the end of that school year, only 220 (all boys) were still enrolled -- a dropout rate of 37 percent for the year (Waschitz, 1957; Swirski, 1990). The issue of girls' enrollment was especially problematic. Traditional Bedouin society did not allow women to leave the extended family surroundings. To avoid risking their honor, families did not allow daughters to venture out alone and encounter boys from other families and tribes (Maddrell, 1990). Thus Bedouin were more reluctant to enroll their daughters in school than they were their sons, especially when the schools were far from home.

During the military government period, youngsters who wished to advance to secondary studies were referred to schools in Arab communities in northern Israel. This goal was beyond the reach of all but a few, because tuition was steep and permission to leave the area was hard to obtain. The military government regulations kept the Arab population under curfew and required special permits for Arabs who wished to leave their villages for work, education, commerce, and other purposes (Mar'i, 1978; Rudge, 1988).

Bedouin enrollment remained low throughout this time. The situation did not begin to change until 1966, when the military government and the movement restrictions were abolished. The elimination of the military government enabled Negev Bedouin to interact with Arabs in northern Israel and the "triangle," where the education system was more firmly established. Concurrently, as Negev Bedouin became increasingly exposed to life in the Jewish sector and immersed in its economy, the better they understood the importance of formal education in their adjustment to the new way of life (Abu-Saad, 1985).

After the 1967 war, Negev Bedouin re-established relations with the relatives and fellow tribespersons in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip from whom they had been separated since 1948. They discovered that many of their kin in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip had obtained formal education and worked as teachers, lawyers, doctors, and other professionals, while they had almost no access to formal education and remained illiterate for the most part (Abu-Saad, 1991). They also encountered educated Bedouin women in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, a phenomenon hardly known among Bedouin women in the Negev. Intermarriage between members of the previously separated Bedouin groups brought educated women from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip to the Negev (Abu-Saad, 1985; Ben-David, 1990). These interrelations had a decisive impact on the dynamic of the Bedouin community and led to an increase in school enrollment of girls as well as boys (Abu-Saad, 1991).

As the demand for education grew, the government opened more schools and brought more Bedouin children into the orbit of free education. The Ministry of Education and Culture established schools for all Bedouin tribes by the late 1960s, and the first high school for Negev Bedouin was founded in 1969 (Reichel, Neumann, and Abu-Saad, 1987). In 1972, the Free Compulsory Education Law was expanded to grades nine and ten, to include the 14-15 age cohort (Mar'i, 1978). In the late 1970s, another two high schools were established in government-sponsored settlements.

The number of Bedouin schools and pupils increased over time. In 1993, 23,276 Negev Bedouin were enrolled in 37 schools -- 29 primary, 3 junior-high, 2 comprehensive (grades 7-12), 2 high schools (grades 9-12), and one vocational school (the Amal apprenticeship center) that offered a combined work-study curriculum that did not lead to matriculation (Ministry of Education, Southern District, 1993). In 1994, enrollment increased to 24,790 and the number of schools to 38 (Ben-David, 1994). However, considering the potential of formal education in facilitating this traditional minority's successful adjustment to the new way of life and expediting its full integration into Israeli society, the education system did not receive the extent of support and attention warranted.

The Negev Bedouin schools faced several difficulties that kept them from improving their education services. First, they were short on staff positions and equipment, especially in the "unplanned" tribal settlements, which, not being among the seven created by the government, were regarded by the government as temporary. In the 1992/93 school year, there were ten schools in such settlements, all primary, as against 28 in the permanent settlements. The schools in these spontaneous settlements had almost no equipment and teaching aids, scanty budgets, few facilities, and inadequate buildings and furnishings. Services and facilities such as...

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