nakba day_311 reuters.
(photo credit: Sharif Karim / Reuters)
A week before Independence Day, a day that many Arab Israelis mark as their day
of “Nakba” (“catastrophe”), Arab rights group Adalah and others filed a petition
asking the High Court to annul the recently passed “Nakba Law” as
The petitioners also asked for an interim injunction,
preventing enforcement of the law in the upcoming commemoration day.
law, which was approved on March 22, following vigorous debates in the Law
Committee and in the plenum, allows the government to penalize any state-funded
institution that commemorates the Nakba or denies the existence of Israel as a
Jewish and democratic state.
Formally an amendment to the Budget
Principles Law, the law enables the finance minister to cut government funding
to such institutions by three times the amount that the institution spent on the
The petition was submitted by Adalah – The
Legal Center for Arab Minority Right in Israel as well as the Association for
Civil Rights in Israel, the alumni association of the Orthodox High School in
Haifa, parents of children who attend the Galil Jewish- Arab school in Misgav
and geography professor Oren Yiftachel of Ben-Gurion University.
petitioners contended that the law violates a long list of constitutional
rights, first and foremost freedom of expression and the right to equality, but
also artistic freedom and academic freedom.
“The law produces
unprecedented harm to historical memory by using the power of the majority to
erase the memory and depress the narratives of the national minority regarding
events, facts, feelings and ideologies. In stark contrast to basic democratic
principles and basic rights, the law aims to smother essential ideological
disputes that touch on the foundations of Israeli society,” read the
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The petitioners also asked the court to issue an interim
injunction, suspending the implementation of the law until a ruling is reached.
An immediate order, they argued, would prevent the possible self-censorship of
institutions and the monetary damage they may suffer, since Independence Day and
Nakba Day will be marked in the coming days.
“The immediate outcome of
passing the law is to spread a chilling effect over a large portion of the
Israeli society and smothering much needed debate over the foundations of
Israeli society. The level of harm is extenuated by the fact that the law’s
vague phrasing creates uncertainty as to how it will be enforced by the finance
minister and the judiciary,” the petition read.
The petitioners claimed
that the law negatively affected them directly. For example, the alumni of the
Orthodox High School in Haifa claimed that they were unsure if they could hold
the school’s annual educational activity about state identity and minority
status in Israel and about Palestinian history, fearing that it might fall under
the law and that their school’s budget would be cut as a result.
parents of the Jewish and Arab students who attend the bilingual and bicultural
Galil school’s annual Independence Day activities - when they mark both the
Israeli remembrance day and the Palestinian Nakba in educational activities and
ceremonies - fear that not holding the event would severely harm the aim of the
school, which is to educate students on tolerance, mutual respect and democratic
values. They claimed that the law relayed a message that the type of education
that the school offered is unwanted.
Yiftachel claimed the law violated
his academic freedom to teach students about Israel as a model of ethnocracy,
which he describes as a political regime that facilitates expansion and control
by a dominant ethnicity in contested lands, and which may be construed as a
denial of Israel’s democratic nature.
Adalah lawyer Sawsan Zaher said the
law is “an ideological law, aimed against the national identity of the Arab
citizens and against their collective memory, undermining their legitimacy as
equal citizens. The law punishes the Arab citizens for their different identity
and may increase their alienation and incitement and racism against
“A law that seeks to limit public discourse over matters
pertaining to its very nature does not just harm the freedom of expression of
all its citizenry, but also the public interest of society as a whole,” said
Association for Civil Rights in Israel lawyer Dan Yakir.
free discussion, even on sensitive political matters, are vital for the
existence of a democratic society. The silencing of the minority by the majority
contradicts basic democratic principles.”
Arik Kirshenboim, whose
daughter attends the Galil school said, “Our daughter is studying in this unique
school because we did not wish her to grow up in a climate of ‘we are right –
they are wrong,’ which unfortunately prevails in both Jewish and Arab societies
in Israel. This is not about politics, but about education without censorship.
There were people who suffered when the State was founded; why should we hide
it? Why not choose to acknowledge the pain and heal it?”
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