Israel Urges Bedouin Town to Allow Mixed-gender Swimming at Local Pool

Deputy Attorney General Zilber tells Rahat that gender segregation at new municipal pool impinges on equality

Swimming pool in Rahat, August 2018
Eliyahu Hershkovitz

Deputy Attorney General Dina Zilber has sent a letter to the council of the Bedouin city of Rahat, asking them to permit limited male-female swimming at the municipal pool, which will open there soon.

Zilber noted that gender segregation in public spaces is a “problematic practice” that impinges on equality. She asked the council to adopt the ruling given in the matter of the pool at Kiryat Arba, where the sides agreed on several hours a week allocated to family swimming, in which husbands and wives can come to the pool with their children.

Last month, Haaretz reported on the first pool to be opened in a Bedouin community, which is slated to run on a totally gender-segregated basis, not including small children. According to the head of the city’s economic council, Mahmoud al-Amour, women will be able to swim there on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays with men-only swimming on other days of the week. It now turns out that the pool will be open initially to Rahat residents only, a practice many Bedouin have called racist when referring to pools in Jewish communities.

This led to an appeal by attorney Itamar Ben-Gvir, a longtime Kahanist from Kiryat Arba, who turned to Zilber asking her to intervene and ask for the same arrangement in Rahat as in Kiryat Arba. Although he supports segregated swimming, a total ban on family swimming constitutes discrimination, he argued. The pool in Kiryat Arba was closed after many subscribers who opposed any family swimming cancelled their subscriptions, leading to deficits in the pool’s budget.

Zilber’s letter to Rahat notes that she is presenting a legal opinion, as the person responsible for preventing segregation. “We believe the arrangement in Kiryat Arba is balanced and proportionate. It allows for separate hours in order to respect those who want this, while limiting the violation of the principle of equality by allowing for some family swimming for the benefit of those wishing to do so,” she wrote.

She added that she believes it would be right to allow this in Rahat as well. Amour told Haaretz that they were considering this request but have not yet decided whether to accept or reject it. The difference between the two cases is that in Kiryat Arba it was secular residents who asked for mixed-gender swimming while no such request has surfaced so far in Rahat. Many residents there go to pools in nearby Jewish communities.