Israeli Children Head Back to School

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JERUSALEM, Israel - Some 1.5 million Israeli children started the new school year Tuesday morning.

More than 120,000 teachers will teach in 56,000 classrooms throughout the nation's 4,000 plus public schools.

Two hundred new first graders started their day with an encouraging word from President Shimon Peres at his Jerusalem residence.

"The whole country starts first grade with you," the president told the children. "We want you to grow up together, study diligently, and I want to send a hug from all of Israel's residents to each and every one of you," he said. "You are our future," Peres told them.

Peres, accompanied by Jerusalem mayor Nir Birkat, visited first graders in the northern Jerusalem suburb of Pisgat Ze'ev. "Study hard and listen to your teachers," the president told the children.

Next on the tour of Jerusalem schools was an Arab girls school in Sheikh Jarrah.

One girl asked about Jewish construction in the neighborhood. "Both Jews and Arabs should be permitted to build, according to their needs," the president said.

Barkat responded to another student who complained about the security barrier and the checkpoints.

"It must be understood that the {security) barrier is aimed at protecting lives," Barkat said. "When the security situation improves, we won't want to see the barrier. We all know it makes life difficult," he said.

Meanwhile, Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar worked to solve a variety of problems in the nation's schools.

At a Monday evening meeting in his office, Sa'ar put the finishing touches on plans to place 108 children of Ethiopian immigrants among three private religious schools in Petah Tikva, seven miles east of Tel Aviv.

Thirty of the Ethiopian children started school on Tuesday, while 18 more will began classes over the next several weeks after their families get settled. The remaining 60 students will be incorporated into classes upon arrival in the city.

In towns and small communities in Judea and Samaria, many children started the school year in trailers.

"The government is discriminating between children elsewhere in Israel and those in Judea and Samaria," Shomron (Samaria) Regional Council Director of Education Yochai Dimri said.

"The Defense Ministry is creating obstacles even though the law requires that students be provided with reasonable buildings," he said.

On the day before the new school year began, Defense Minister Ehud Barak approved four caravans (trailer without wheels) for classrooms, but it will take several more weeks before they're hooked up to the infrastructure, cleaned up and repaired.

"The students are not in one building, creating disciplinary problems during recess," Dimri said, "and the caravans (trailers without wheels) do not provide proper classroom space for learning."

"There is nothing to talk about concerning requests for permanent buildings," the education director said. The complicated process for permanent structures requires Defense Ministry approval, which has been either denied or delayed.

Sources: The Jerusalem Post, Ynet news, israel national news

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