After Arabs Reportedly Removed From Park, Israeli City Told It Can't Bar Non-residents

Deputy attorney general slams Carmiel mayor in the latest of many attempts to restrict access to public space

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A park in Carmiel, northern Israel, September 13, 2020.
A park in Carmiel, northern Israel, September 13, 2020.Credit: Rami Shllush

The mayor of a town in northern Israel acted in violation of the law when he banned non-residents from a public park in the community, the Justice Ministry said Sunday.

“A decision on entry and presence in municipal parks – which is shared public space – cannot be on the basis of considerations of race, religion, nationality, country of origin, gender, sexual orientation or any other characteristic,” Deputy Attorney General Dina Zilber wrote in a letter to Carmiel’s legal adviser.

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Last week, Shas MK Moshe Arbel alerted Zilber to a social media post by MK Sami Abu Shehadah (Joint List) describing how an Arab family from the nearby town of Nahf had been removed from the park a few days earlier. According to Arbel’s letter, when he first approached the town’s lawyer he was told that the legal adviser was not aware of the incident or of any policy barring non-residents. But according to Arbel, the mayor’s bureau chief, Eli Sadeh, later told him that Mayor Moshe Kuninsky had in fact issued a directive barring entrance to the park to anyone who was not a Carmiel resident.

Noting that access to public areas is a fundamental right, Arbel wrote that this was not the first time he had asked for Zilber’s intervention “in keeping with the law and High Court of Justice ruling.” He has previously approached the deputy attorney general over a similar situation at the municipal park in the central Israeli city of Ra’anana. “There is no room in common sense to lock a park to a child, no matter what their origin is,” Arbel continued.

On Sunday, Zilber asked Carmiel’s legal adviser for more information about the mayor’s decision. “In general, public space must remain open and shared by everyone,” Zilber wrote. She also noted that last year, in a similar petition against Afula Mayor Avi Elkabetz, the attorney general ruled that “a local government, in general, may not order the sweeping closer of a municipal park to non-residents, except under extraordinary circumstances.” In response, the northern Israeli city withdrew its ban.

Carmiel has not yet responded to Zilber’s letter. In a written statement to Haaretz, the city government said Kuninsky decided to temporarily close Carmiel’s parks to all non-residents “in light of the rise in [COVID-19 infections] and out of concern for the public welfare.”

The statement continued that the mayor “as chairman of a body of local authorities in the Carmiel area, including the Arab sector ... does a great deal for coexistence and protests any attempt ... to create headlines by means of cheap provocation and demagoguery. The mayor is committed to work for the health of the residents.”

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