Staff at Kfar Sava's Meir Medical Center.
Staff at Kfar Sava's Meir Medical Center. Photo by Alon Ron
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Arab teachers and students working in Kfar Sava's Meir Medical Center have been forbidden to speak to each other in Arabic, which is an official language in Israel. Haaretz learned that three Arab families whose children were hospitalized in the center filed a complaint with the hospital management.

The Education Ministry operates an education department in the Meir Medical Center, where hospitalized children between the ages of 3-17 partake in lessons and educational activities, if their medical condition permits it. The lessons are intended to at least partially make up for the children's absence from school.

Three teachers are in charge of instructing the Jewish children and one teacher, sometimes assisted by a student, teaches the Arab kids, according to the Arab parents. The lessons to the Arab children are given in Arabic. But recently, the assistant teacher asked the Arab teacher, in Arabic, for an explanation about a children's activity in the center. To everyone's surprise the department's supervisor ordered them to stop talking in their mother tongue.

"We don't speak Arabic among the staff here, at the [Education] ministry's instructions," the supervisor said.

The parents wrote to the hospital management demanding an explanation. "As parents we felt humiliated and alienated," they wrote, referring to the supervisor's comment. "This is supposed to be an ideal place for coexistence, where the two peoples can meet, and need each other's support to get through the ordeal in one piece. We expected to hear Jewish teachers talking Arabic, not preventing Arab teachers from talking in their own language, which would make it easier for the children from the Arab community and make their stay in the hospital more pleasant," they wrote.

The hospital commented that the classroom in the children's ward was operated by the Education Ministry and the hospital had no say in the teaching content, staff or any other matter. The hospital said it had asked the Education Ministry to deal with the situation, and asked the education department's supervisor whether she needed any help from the hospital regarding this matter. The supervisor said no, the hospital said.

The Education Ministry insists there was no instruction forbidding teachers to discuss things in Arabic and said the allegations were untrue. Every Arabic-speaking child receives treatment and lessons from Arab teachers, according to his needs, ministry officials said.

The Mossawa Center equal rights advocacy group has demanded explanations from the hospital, noting that Arabic is an official language of Israel. The center's attorney, Sameh Iraqi, said the supervising teacher's conduct and alleged ministry instructions are racist and forbidden by law. The center also asked who was responsible for such instructions and demanded that person be reprimanded and punished.

"In view of the racist atmosphere prevailing in Israeli society lately, Mossawa's legal department is making efforts to monitor racist incidents in state and public institutions," Iraqi wrote.

A report prepared by the Mossawa Center shows that state and public institutions are the most racist institutions in the country, and practice the worst discrimination against members of the Arab community, he said. Only about 6 percent of the state's budget is allocated to the Arab community, and the center's report for 2012 found a rise in the number of racist incidents in state and public institutions, compared to the previous report, he said.

"We'll continue to fight racism both locally and globally in legal and public measures," Iraqi said.