District court of Nazareth.
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Under pressure from the Nazareth District Court, the attorney-general’s office and the NGO Adalah, Afula will reopen its parks within two days to nonresidents, including Arabs, it was announced on Sunday.
The development comes after Adalah sued Afula for discrimination in blocking Arabs from entering its parks, with the attorney-general’s office supporting the lawsuit.
Afula had previously claimed that, while there does exist a law stating that only the city’s residents can enter the parks, there is no law specifically prohibiting Arabs from doing so.
However, following Adalah assembling evidence that the ban on nonresidents was being selectively enforced against Arabs or was motivated by trying to keep them out of the parks, the attorney-general’s office told the court late last week that the ban was illegal.
The state told the court that it could not stick its head in the sand and pretend there was no context to the situation, when it was clear that the nonresidents ban was motivated by a desire to discriminate against Arabs.
At Sunday’s hearing, the court recommended to Afula that it open its parks within two days, and the municipality accepted the recommendation.
On the first day of summer vacation, when the ban came into force, attorney Nariman Shehada Zoabi visited an Afula city park with her infant, Adalah said in a release. She was greeted at the entrance with a sign that read, “The park is open... to the residents of Afula only.” When the gatekeeper learned that Zoabi and her son were residents of the neighboring city of Nazareth, he forbade her from entering.
Zoabi said she felt “humiliated,” according to a release. “Jewish residents passed by me, who freely entered this vast park that I know very well, while I had to trace my steps and return to my car.”
Two different TV stations performed undercover work and documented Jews – nonresidents of Afula – entering the park unbridled, even after telling the gatekeepers that they were not residents.
The move comes only a month after Afula Mayor Avi Elkabetz made statements regarding what he called “the takeover of our parks,” which Adalah representatives said they believe was intended to imply that too many Arabs were coming to them.
The mayor has also said that an Israeli flag should be flown proudly throughout the local park system, and Hebrew music should be played. In the past, Elkabetz took part in demonstrations against the sale of homes in the city to Arabs.
Several Arab-Israeli politicians called the decision on Sunday a victory against racism. MK Ayman Odeh, chairman of Hadash-Ta’al, said it was a “victory over racial segregation in Afula,” and that it “reminded me of Martin Luther King’s wonderful statement: ‘Freedom was never voluntarily given by the oppressor.’”
MK Yousef Jabareen (Hadash) said he hoped that the Afula municipality would “internalize the message. Public parks, and public places in general, should be open to the general public, and to all their visitors.”
He said that as soon as he learned of the decision to keep the parks closed to the public, he appealed for legal help.
MK Aida Touma-Sliman (Hadash) also expressed congratulations to Adalah and the Arab-Israelis who will now have access to the parks, but took the decision a step further, calling on the courts not only to abolish racist decisions derived from the Nation-State Law, but to abolish the law itself.
“The Supreme [Court] must abolish the Nation-State Law,” she concluded.
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