by David Bedein
Jerusalem, Israel - Current discussions about a freeze on expansion of the Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria have direct bearing on the future of the school system in these communities.
Overcrowding in Judea and Samaria school classes is particularly problematic, and pupils often study in classes with leaking roofs. The Israel Education Ministry has granted permission to construct additional education facilities there, but due to the Israel Defense Ministry's building freeze, construction has been prevented.
Israel Education Minister Gidon Saar recently demanded of Defense Minister Ehud Barak that he unfreeze the construction of those kindergartens and classrooms that are recognized by the Education Ministry in Samaria. Residents in Samaria are threatening to put the schools on strike next week. In a letter sent by Samaria Regional Council Chairman Gershon Mesika to the Knesset Education and Culture Committee, Mr. Mesika argues that the children are being used "as hostages of the policy of drying out the Jewish settlements in Samaria."
The director of education in the council, Yohai Damari, said that the freeze was a political act harmful to the children.
"Thousands of students are learning in trailers, detached from their pedagogical environment," Mr. Damari said.
According to Mr. Damari, the Israel Education Ministry has granted approval for 24 construction projects of school and kindergarten classes and even allocated funds for these after deeming them essential.
"Defense Minister Ehud Barak is discriminating against the children of Samaria because of a political agenda," said Knesset Parliament Education and Culture Committee Chairman Zvulun Orlev. "As a result, many children are not being provided with a decent learning environment."
According to Mr. Orlev, the children study in crowded classrooms that do not meet regulations, and often, due to scarcity of schools near their homes, are forced to take transportation that puts their lives in danger to study.
"There are in Samaria certain education facilities where conditions are worse than in refugee camps," added Mr. Orlev. "This is an intolerable situation that cannot be allowed to continue."
The Israel Defense Ministry issued a response saying that Mr. Saar's complaint is "being examined by the professional officials in the Defense Ministry."
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