Israeli Arab writer seeks Israel's permission to collect award in Beirut
Israeli law prohibits residents and citizens from visiting countries designated as enemy states.
Adalah, The Legal Center for Miniority Rights in Israel, petitioned the High Court Thursday against the interior minister and the prime minister so writer Ala Hlehel may travel to Beirut and attend a literary festival, where he is to be honored. He is one of 39 writers in Arabic under the age of 40 to be so honored at the first Beirut 39, sponsored by UNESCO and honoring Beirut as 2009 World Capital of the Book.
Hlehel was named a a winner in the competition last August. It is cosponsored by the international Hay-on-Wye Festival, the Lebanese cultural ministry and the British Council.
It is absolutely forbidden, according to Section 5 of the Extension of Validity of Emergency Regulations Law, whose broad powers have been in force since independence, for residents and citizens to leave Israel for any country designated by law as an enemy state, including Lebanon. According to the regulation, only the interior minister or the prime minister is authorized to permit travel to such a country.
After Hlehel was chosen for the prize, Adalah approached Interior Minister Eli Yishai and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Hlehel's behalf, but did not receive a response.
The Adalah petition, handled by attorneys Hassan Jabareen and Haneen Naamnih, argues that the absence of a decision on whether Hlehel may travel to Lebanon violates his rights, including freedom of livelihood and freedom of speech. And refusal to grant permission without a hearing violates Hlehel's right to due process, says the petition.
The petition requests the disclosure of fixed criteria on which the ministers base their administrative decisions about travel to countries defined as enemy states.
Hlehel says: "As a member of the Arab people, it is my right to take part in its culture and artistic circles. From my point of view, it's the state who must solve its conflict with the law."
Hlehel, 35, was born in Jesh in the Galilee and lives in Acre. In addition to writing, he is program director for the Palestinian television channel Mix. Well-known Arab world publishers have brought out his books recent years, and some of them have been translated into foreign languages, but not into Hebrew. "The High Court will do well to raise awareness about this law," Hlehel told Haaretz Wednesday. "I think the prohibition is clearly illegal. I don't know if I am essentially optimistic or pessimistic about my chances of getting to the festival, but if we at least raise the issue on the legal level, that will be great."
The Population Administration, part of the Interior Ministry, responded to Haaretz that "requests of this type require examination; a decision will soon be made regarding Mr. Hlehel."
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