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Rights group begins legal action after Israel park bans Palestinians

Afula City Hall in 2010 [Wikipedia]
Afula City Hall in 2010 [Almog/Wikipedia]

The Legal Centre for Arab Minority Rights in Israel – better known as Adalah – has begun legal action against the northern Israeli city of Afula, after it banned non-residents from using a local park in a bid to prevent Palestinian citizens of Israel from using the facility.

Two of Adalah’s lawyers, Fady Khoury and Sari Arraf, submitted an administrative petition to the Nazareth District Court last night, demanding the court rule as null and void the Afula municipality’s ban on the entry of non-residents to the park.

The municipality announced the ban last week “following an explicit election promise made by Afula Mayor Avi Elkabetz to act against what he deigned the ‘conquest of the park’ by residents of surrounding Arab communities,” Adalah’s press release explained.

One of Adalah’s lawyers, Nareman Shehadeh-Zoabi, experienced the ban first hand yesterday when she tried to take her young son to the park. A new sign had been placed outside the park which read “the park is open […] to Afula residents only”, while Adalah explained that “upon learning that [Shehadeh-Zoabi and her son were] from the nearby Arab city of Nazareth, a security guard posted at the park entrance forbade them from entering”.

The legal centre argued the ban “violates Arab[-Israeli] citizens’ constitutional right to equality [and] is racist and discriminatory.” It added that the move “is just one symptom of a worrisome growing trend of physical segregation backed by Israel’s Jewish Nation-State Law,” which last year declared Israel the national home of the Jewish people and effectively rendered Israel’s some 1.8 million Palestinians second-class citizens.

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This is not the first time Afula has enacted anti-Palestinian measures.

Last month, tens of thousands of protesters – including members of the Afula City Council, Mayor Elkabetz and Deputy Mayor Shlomo Malihi – demonstrated against the sale of a home to an Arab-Israeli family. Council member Itai Cohen said the municipality would continue to “ensure that Afula preserves its Jewish character,” telling Israel’s Army Radio that “anyone looking for a mixed city — Afula is not the address. We are a right-wing place with Jewish characteristics”.

The Times of Israel reported that the protest was organised via a Facebook page called “Otzma Yehudit Afula”. Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power) – a political party which agreed to work with the Union of Right Wing Parties (URWP) ahead of Israel’s April election – draws its ideological inspiration from extremist rabbi Meir Kahane and his outlawed Kach party, which advocated for the forcible expulsion of Palestinians from Israel and the occupied territories.

In April, it emerged that Afula’s Haemek Hospital was one of four Israeli hospitals facing a lawsuit for its policy of segregating Jewish and Arab-Israeli women giving birth in the hospital’s maternity ward.

Kupat Holim Clalit – the health maintenance organisation representing Haemek – told the Jerusalem District Court that separating mothers in labour is part of life in Israel, explaining: “Not respecting the wishes of mothers for specific placement creates an ‘enforced communal hospital stay’ when both sides are not interested in this. The purpose of their stay is not to create an artificial melting pot.”

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