Although 19 percent of the residents of Upper Nazareth are Arab, municipal libraries in the northern Israeli town don’t have a single volume in Arabic. On Monday, two local residents filed a formal administrative complaint in the hope of changing the situation.
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The libraries in the town, located just outside the predominantly Arab city of Nazareth, have books in Hebrew, Russian, English, Spanish and French, but not Arabic. Moreover, Upper Nazareth’s libraries offer a range of enrichment activities for children, but few are conducted in Arabic for the estimated 2,000 native, Arabic-speaking young people in town.
The Association for Civil Rights in Israel, which filed the petition on behalf of the two residents, said that for some three years it has been in contact with the Upper Nazareth municipality and with the Ministry of Culture and Sport about this situation.
In response, the municipality announced that efforts are under way to establish a separate library for the city’s Arab population at a community center in the Kramim neighborhood. However, ACRI claims that the collection currently consists of books filling a single set of shelves, adding that, even if it were more substantial, “residents are insistent in their demand that Arabic [volumes] be integrated into the other public libraries in the city.”
“Arabic is one of the official languages of the country and as taxpaying residents of the city, it is our right, as adults and children, to funding and resources that enable access to books in our language in every field, as well as leisure and cultural activities in Arabic – just like the other residents for whom Hebrew or Russian is their native language,” said Hani Salum, one of the petitioners.
Failed effort to find a building
In response, the Culture Ministry stated: “The Ministry of Culture and Sports supports public libraries and works to develop them on behalf of all of the country's populations and sectors, without regard to religion, gender or race. The support for public libraries is allocated in an equitable manner, to properly address the needs of the community.
"Accordingly, more than 60 libraries, including the Upper Nazareth public facilities, which are located in Arab and mixed communities and serve the Arab sector, are supported on an ongoing basis by the Culture Ministry. The Upper Nazareth municipality designated a building at the time for a library that would serve the Arab sector of the city, but the building was not found to the suitable and therefore the purchase of books in Arabic was stopped.”
The ministry noted that it was decided to establish an Arabic-language division at one of the local branch libraries, and that the ministry will continue to help underwrite the purchase of books and digital media in Arabic there. The ministry added that there is, in fact, a range of library-based enrichment activity in Arabic for preschoolers in Upper Nazareth, including story hours and musical programs.
“In any event," it concluded, "the petition in question has not yet been received at the Culture Ministry and its response on the subject will be provided to the court.”