High Court Goes Against Government, Lets Israeli-Arab Author Collect Prize in Lebanon

The High Court of Justice yesterday lifted a ban on an Israeli-Arab author from traveling to Beirut to receive a literary prize at a festival later this week.

In issuing its ruling, the court rejected arguments submitted by state attorneys on behalf of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Interior Minister Eli Yishai.

"It is almost impossible to describe the joy that I feel right now," the author, Ala Hlehel, told Haaretz yesterday. Hlehel is currently in London and is waiting to see whether Lebanese authorities will permit him to enter the country.

"For me, as a Palestinian Arab writer, together with the rest of my colleagues in the field of culture and arts, this step boosts our position as an integral part of the Arab cultural landscape, which is our immediate and natural environment," Hlehel said.

In their ruling, the High Court judges said that "no negative information" could be found in Hlehel's case. "The general policy [of banning citizens from enemy states] is reasonable in and of itself, yet the state's refusal to permit [Hlehel's trip to Lebanon] was reached without examining all of the relevant considerations related to this extraordinary and unusual instance," they wrote.

The High Court also instructed the state to provide an explanation as to why it has not established clearly defined criteria to enable visits by Israeli citizens to countries deemed "enemy states."

Hlehel was invited to the Hay Festival Beirut39 last month, yet Netanyahu released a statement on Monday in which he declared that he would not permit the author to travel to the Lebanese capital.

The prime minister submitted his position after the High Court requested his response to a petition filed by Hlehel, who asked the court to strike down Yishai's order banning him from attending the festival.

In his arguments to the court, Hlehel was represented by attorneys Haneen Naamnih and Hassan Jabareen, who were working on behalf of the Adalah Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel.

"This is a historic, precedent setting decision," Jabareen said. "This is the first time since 1948 that the court handed down a ruling which permits an Israeli citizen to visit a country that is legally defined as an enemy state."

Hlehel is one of 39 Arab authors who were invited to receive an award as part of the prestigious festival, which opens today. This is the first year in which the event will be held in the Lebanese capital, which was declared by UNESCO as the literary capital of the world for 2010.

"I believe that the High Court ruling, which is without precedent since 1948, will serve as a positive step on all matters regarding our relationship, as Arabs in Israel, with the rest of the Arab world," the author said, adding, "particularly with states that Israel regards as enemy states."