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Israel's Bedouin are opting for West Bank universities

Knesset Research and Information Center says most Bedouins mainly opt for Muslim studies and education.

Hundreds of young Bedouins from the Negev are flocking to universities in the Palestinian Authority, mainly Hebron and Jenin. According to data released by the Knesset Research and Information Center, some 1,300 Israeli citizens study in the PA. In 2006-2007 there were 14 Israeli students in Hebron University, 70 by 2009-2010, and in the past two years the number has risen to 502. The Arab-American University - Jenin is also gaining popularity among Bedouins, from 252 students in 2009-2010 to 800 last year.
The report states that the Bedouins mainly opt for Muslim studies (Sharia) and education.
Two months ago the Knesset's Education, Culture and Sports Committee, discussed the issue, following a request by Bedouin education officials. Yuval Vurgan of the Knesset Research and Information Center said that this was a "relatively new phenomenon, occurring in the past year or two. The PA can identify the origin of the students and the vast majority arrives from southern Israel."

Mohammad Tzair, 19, from Ar'ara in the Negev, began his studying Arabic Language in Hebron last year. "Every Saturday and Sunday, busses take us from Ar'ara, Rahat, Hura, Kseifa and almost all the other Bedouin villages in the Negev, there are some 800 of us," he says, adding that most of them including himself wanted to stay and study in Israel but found it impossible. "It's very difficult to be accepted to universities in Israel." The psychometric tests prevent many students from studying in Israel, "he says, "the tuition is very high and so are the travel expenses. In Hebron I pay NIS 7,000 a year for studies on Saturday and Sunday, which leave me the rest of the week for work."

Suleiman, 24, will soon begin his third year of studies in Hebron. "Here in Israel we face many difficulties; in Hebron it is much easier, not only due to the low price but also because of the acclimation. There is no language barrier, which encourages hundreds of students to study there," said Suleiman.

According to Mohamed al-Nabari, who heads the Hura local council, there are several parameters that explain the attraction of the Palestinian Authority academic institutions: "there is a large group of students studying in Hebron, and they choose two fields absent from Negev universities – Arabic language and Islam. A third group chooses the PA universities because they don't require psychometric exams, but only a matriculation certificate, which facilitates the whole process."

Attorney Suleiman Altalkat, director of the Central Negev College, now offering professional courses for young Bedouins hopes to transform the college to an academic institution, the first of its kind for Bedouin society in the Negev. Altalkat approached the Education Ministry and Council for Higher Education explaining that the number of Bedouins studying in the PA is expected to double in the next few years. "Academically, there is currently no solution for Bedouin students in the Negev, and the Government ministries must find a solution so that the students stay in Israel. In the PA they receive grants and benefits. Many Bedouin students face difficulties when trying to be accepted to Israeli institutions, the fields they wish to study aren't taught in the colleges in southern Israel and that's why they choose to study in the PA."

A spokesperson for the Council for Higher Education responded: "As part of the multi-year plan of the council, one of the major goals is making higher education accessible for minorities including Arabs, Bedouins, Druze and Adygs. The budget for this goal was increased threefold this year to NIS 25 million, in order to assists high school minority graduates to be better integrated in the academic institutions."

By Yanir Yagna