A teacher at a Jaffa school accounted encountering a policy of segregation between Arab and Jewish students while attempting to book tickets for his class at the Superland amusement park in Rishon Letzion.
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Khaled Shakra, who teaches seventh grade at the Ajial school in Jaffa, called Superland on Tuesday afternoon with the aim of booking tickets for his class to have a fun end- of-term day out. He says that a Superland representative offered him three options: the 17th, 18th and 19th June.
He asked to reserve 25 spaces for his students on the 18th, but was asked to provide the school's details before the reservation could be confirmed.
Shakra says that the moment the representative heard the name Ajial – and realized it was an Arab school – he was suddenly put on hold. Another representative was put on the line who told him that the dates he was interested in were not available.
A few minutes later he called and introduced himself under the name of Eyal, who was enquiring on behalf of a Jewish organization. The Superland representative offered him the same dates that only a moment before had been unavailable.
Following the reports, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni contacted Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein on Tuesday night with a request that he examine whether Superland has discriminated against Arab students. "If these allegations are proved to be correct, then this is a symptom of a sick democracy. Any incident such as this must be severely dealt with," Livni said.
On Wednesday, Shakra posted a letter on his Facebook page that described the sequence of events and his feelings on the matter. "I have experienced another sickening, racist, event and something within me is screaming to be released. Another stain, another wound has today been etched into the depths of my soul, and I am trying, unsuccessfully, to make sense of what has happened. How can I supress my anger and the deep bitterness I am currently feeling?"
He described the moment the Superland representative discovered the name of the school. "She suddenly fell silent and then asked me in confusion: 'what? What is that?' 'Ajial!A-j-i-a-l,' I answered confidentially. I didn't understand if the letter 'j' bothered her or the city of Jaffa bothered her, but I suddenly had the sober realization of what it was that was going through her head. I panicked and stopped abruptly. She responded "just a moment, sir!' And I suddenly heard the hold music. I can't put into words my feelings and thoughts at that exact moment, but for some reason the faces of my students popped into my head."
After waiting on the line for three minutes, Shakra was transferred to another representative who claimed that there were no free spots on June 17th or 18th, and offered that he come on the 19th. "I didn't hesitate, and told her that the 19th wouldn't be a problem. But less than a minute later she said 'I apologize, but we don't have any free spaces on the 19th either." A few minutes later, he called again. "This time I said my name was Eyal, and that I was interested in reserving some tickets for the Jewish organization I work for. 'Eyal? the 17th, 18th and 19th are free, which option would you like?' was the response."
"I ask myself whether the Arab feels he is discriminated against in all walks of life, is pushed to the sidelines politically, socially, culturally and feels, quite rightly, that he is being controlled instead of being included? No, my question is not [intended to be] provocative, but it is a harsh reality, and therefore it raises tough questions and presents complex and difficult problems," he wrote.
He concluded: "Peace between two peoples, between two national movements, and the ability to heal the wounds both sides have incurred after all the wars are the heart's desire of every Arab. My dear students, I apologize in advance! I have no idea what your reactions will be but I really did try. During a whole year I tried to instill you with values. Acceptance of others is first and foremost, but the reality out there says otherwise."
The Ajial school in Jaffa has a middle school and high school for Arabic speaking students. "This is unacceptable, racist segregation," said the school's principal, Jalal Tuhi, on Tuesday night. "This is a special school in terms of its students and teachers. It has a mixed faculty. There are Jewish teachers, and Muslim, Christian and even Druze teachersthis is how we see the future of this country and this city. I asked the teacher not to remain silent about this because we are fed up of this segregation and this racist treatment, full stop. I want my students to know that they need to fight for their rights, and not give up."
In response, Superland's management told the Walla website on Tuesday: "we open our gates to all of Israel and all sectors of the public all year round. Everyone can buy a ticket through the website, or directly through the ticketing officehowever, in June we hold closed events for the school year end. The schools dictate which schools will enter the event. There are reservations for closed days held by Jewish schools. There are reservations for closed days held by Arab schools."
Six months ago, a similar incident was reported at the Soho restaurant in Rishon Letzion. Arab citizens who tried to place an order at the restaurant recorded conversations with employees that showed that when the couple tried to order a table under an Arab name they were fobbed off with a variety of excuses. A short while later they succeeded in making the same booking using a Jewish name.