Israel's High Court Orders Jewish Galilee Town to Accept Arab Couple

Jack Khoury
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Jack Khoury

An Israeli Arab couple from Sakhnin won a six-year battle yesterday to build a home in the Galilee community of Rakefet when the High Court of Justice ordered its community association and the Israel Lands Administration to provide them with a plot of land within 90 days.

The couple, Fatina and Ahmed Zabeidat, had been rejected twice by the Rakefet community association in their bid to move to the Jewish Misgav area village but they were told that they were not compatible with the life of the community.

Fatina and Ahmed Zabeidat with their daughter.Credit: Abdullah Shama

Earlier this month, the Israel Lands Administration consented to provide the couple a plot in the community, finding that the couple was in fact compatible. At that point, it was expected that the court would confirm that decision. Yesterday, it did.

When the couple applied to live in Rakefet, the admission committee found Fatina Zabeidat too individualistic and said she would not be committed to the community, Her husband "lacked interpersonal sophistication and has difficulty integrating naturally into society," the committee said.

The couple are graduates of the architecture department of Jerusalem's Bezalel-Academy of Arts and Design. After their attempts to move to Rakefet were denied, they petitioned the High Court with the support of nonprofit organizations. They argued that the decision to bar their move to the community was a denial of their fundamental right to dignity, freedom and equality.

"It is not possible to limit an Israeli citizen's right to build his house on public land when the provisions of public law require their equal distribution," their petition said, adding that the decision by the Rakefet community association constituted "discrimination for reasons connected with personal characteristics, social and personal status, political outlook, skin color and communal or national origin."

Upon hearing yesterday's High Court ruling, the couple said their case showed what they called the scandalous nature of admissions committees in small communities. Earlier this year, the Knesset passed legislation that allowed admissions committees to function in smaller communities in the Galilee and the Negev, with some constraints. It did not allow committees to bar applicants based on their race, religion or nationality.

Although the Zabeidats' petition raised the issue of the legality of the committees in general, the court in its ruling on the case chose not to address the issue directly and instead is awaiting the attorney's general's opinion on the issue. The step was also taken because there is a case pending before the court challenging the propriety of the committees.

Reacting to yesterday's court ruling, the Misgav regional council issued a statement saying that it accepts the court's ruling and will implement it.

Suad Bishara, an attorney for of Adalah, the legal center for Arab minority rights, expressed the hope that the Zabeidats' case would buttress prospects for the court to invalidate the admissions committee law itself. "We regret that the couple had to go through about six years of legal battle after they were not accepted into the community just because of their Arab background," the lawyer added.