June 19, 2000

School violence prevalent in Israel

EDITORS: Long and short versions of the report are available on the Web at http://atar.mscc.huji.ac.il/~pbssw/eviolence.html

ANN ARBOR—Although weapons violence in Israeli schools is low compared with the United States, school violence is nevertheless a serious problem among Jews and Arabs in Israel, according to a new study conducted by researchers at the University of Michigan and Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

In one of the most comprehensive studies of school violence ever conducted in any country, Prof. Ron A. Astor of the U-M School of Social Work and Profs. Rami Benbenishty and Anat Zeira of Hebrew University's School of Social Work found high rates of physical violence (fighting, threats of physical harm, bullying) and verbal abuse (cursing, insults, humiliation) in Israeli schools.

The National Survey of School Violence in Israel, sponsored and funded by the Israeli Ministry of Education, is based on two waves of questionnaires given to a nationally representative sample of more than 16,000 students in grades 4 through 11 in about 240 schools. In addition, nearly 200 principals and more than 1,500 teachers from the same schools were surveyed.

The study identified groups that are at high risk for specific types of victimization, finding that rates of specific kinds of violence are especially high among different cultural and religious groups, and varies by age and gender of the students.

"Our findings indicate that Israel has a serious school violence problem and suggest that levels of violence are high among many student groups across Israel," says Astor, U-M associate professor of social work and education. "While the rates of using different types of weapons within school is relatively low, students carrying weapons should not be neglected because the rates are high among specific sectors in Israeli society."

A sizable proportion of both Arab and Jewish students in the study said that they had seen a peer with a knife, although significantly more Arabs than Jews reported being personally threatened with a knife at school.

"On the other hand, rates of violence for low-level acts, such as cursing and pushing, are very high and present in all age, religious and ethnic groups," says Benbenishty, the study's lead author. "For these more prevalent kinds of low-level violence, there is an immediacy to act because they affect children's sense of safety and freedom in school."

According to the study, nearly a third of elementary and middle school students perceived violence to be a big or very big problem in their school, while about a fourth of high school students thought so. These rates were higher for Arab students than for Jewish students in middle school (38 percent vs. 31 percent) and much higher in high school (44 percent vs. 20 percent).

About 80 percent of elementary and middle school students and two-thirds of high school students said that they had been cursed in the month before the survey, and roughly two-thirds of the former and half of the latter reported that another student had mocked, insulted or humiliated them during that time.

Physical violence was more frequent among younger students than older students, the researchers say. About 58 percent of elementary school students, half of middle school students and a third of high school students said that they had been grabbed or pushed by another student at least once in the month prior to the survey.

Elementary students also reported more incidents of getting kicked or punched (48 percent) or getting hurt by another student using a stone or other object (about a third), they add. Similarly, a greater number of elementary students (about half) than middle school students (a third) or high school students (a fourth) indicated that they had received verbal threats from another student.

The researchers found that roughly 10 percent of middle school and high school students had brought weapons (guns, knives, clubs, etc.) to school in the month before the survey, with Arab students twice as likely as Jewish students to report weapon use.

"The comparison between pupils in the various sectors of Israeli society indicates clear differences in dominant types of violence," Zeira says. "Among Arab students at all levels, there were strikingly more reports of extortion with threats, more cases of threatening with a knife, deliberately cutting with a knife or sharp object, and seeing a gun at school. In contrast, among Jewish students, there were many more reports of physical fighting, cursing, mocking, insults, humiliation, and vandalism."

In all, a "meaningful" percentage of all students—16 percent of elementary students, 10 percent of middle school students and 5 percent of high school students—said that they missed at least one day of school in the month preceding the survey for fear of violence either at school or on their routes to and from school. Again, this was true more for Arab students than for Jewish students.

The study, which included more than 100 questions on various aspects of school violence, also addressed issues of sexual harassment, verbal and physical violence by school staff toward students, and teachers' and principals' perceptions of school violence. In addition to ethnicity and grade comparisons, the study also compared student responses by gender and school type.

Other findings included:

—Roughly 10 percent of students reported some form of sexual harassment, with rates higher among Jewish middle school boys in Orthodox schools than among those in secular schools.

—About 13 percent of elementary students, 11 percent of middle school students and 8 percent of high school students said that a school staff member deliberately grabbed or pushed them.

—About 45 percent of high school students said that vandalism occurred frequently at their school, while 20 percent of their teachers and less than 5 percent of their principals agreed.

—Nearly 37 percent of elementary students perceived violence to be a severe problem at their school, although only 11 percent of principals and 6 percent of teachers at those schools agreed.

Overall, there are huge differences between schools and between the rates of violence and the characteristics of the schools that have violence, the researchers conclude.

"We need to find better ways to distinguish between different forms of violence in schools with different characteristics," Benbenishty says. "Policy and intervention should be matched to the needs and specific problems prevalent in each group. Monitoring of school violence should be continued and expanded to provide the data necessary for planning and evaluation."

Contact: Bernie DeGroat
Phone: (734) 647-1847
Email: bernied@umich.edu