Israeli City Promises to Remove Beach Fences in Wake of Claims of Racism

The mayor of Acre asserted last week that 'buses coming from the West Bank are a serious health problem,' since 'we know that almost nobody in the West Bank is vaccinated'

Adi Hashmonai
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Argaman beach in Acre, Israel, August 2021.
Argaman beach in Acre, Israel, August 2021.Credit: Rami Shllush
Adi Hashmonai

Acre said Tuesday it would remove fences it erected at the city’s Argaman Beach in the wake of a decline in coronavirus infections.

The fences had elicited charges of discrimination against Palestinians, after the mayor asserted last week that “buses coming from the West Bank are a serious health problem,” since “we know that almost nobody in the West Bank is vaccinated.”

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As Haaretz reported last week, the municipality claimed the fences – which infuriated Acre residents – were there to prevent unvaccinated people from entering the beach, since incidence of the virus in the city had recently “soared.” Yet the government’s Green Pass regulations, which require people to prove they have been vaccinated, recovered from the virus or recently tested negative before entering certain venues, don’t apply to beaches. Moreover, the law prohibits restricting access to publicly owned natural resources.

And despite its claims of concern about the virus, the next day the city’s Facebook page urged the public to come enjoy the beach.

In response to questions about the fences, the city said it had an obligation to protect the public’s health. Nevertheless, its decisions don’t seem to be correlated in any way to data regarding the virus.

On the day it decided to set up the barriers, Acre had only 137 coronavirus cases. Yet on the day it decided to remove them, the caseload was up to 162. Moreover, the pace of new infections had started declining five days before it decided to set up the barriers.

The city responded that while the pace of new infections indeed started declining in late July, it takes two weeks to determine whether this is a real trend or just a blip

Adalah – the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel had protested the original decision to set up the barriers. Its letter of complaint to the municipality was accompanied by a video showing a minibus full of Palestinians apparently being forced to turn around and escorted out of the city by a municipal inspector.

The next day, the organization also asked the attorney general to intervene in the city’s “illegal, racist measures.”

On Tuesday, a few hours after deciding to remove the barriers, the municipality wrote back to Adalah denying that it had done anything illegal and insisting that “the decision is general and doesn’t distinguish between residents and nonresidents, and certainly doesn’t distinguish between swimmers based on their nationality.” It also vehemently denied that it was “expelling Palestinians from the city” and said the video clip “takes the situation out of context.”

A sign near the beach in Acre, announcing it will be cleaned, Israel, August 2021.Credit: Rami Shllush

Nevertheless, it added, “the massive entry of tourists from the Palestinian Authority into the city was one of the considerations the municipality weighed in making its decision to require a green pass.”

As of now, the letter continued, the green pass is being enforced at the beach “only on special occasions, when there’s a large crowd that creates fear of mass infection.” If the number of cases in Acre continues to decline, it will scrap the green pass for entry to the beach entirely.

Rabea Eghbariah, a lawyer for Adalah, responded that “while the municipality is feigning innocence and claiming it doesn’t expel Palestinians from Acre, it stationed a barrier on the overpass at the city’s southern entrance this weekend and did exactly that. Inspectors were documents escorting minibuses with Palestinian passengers outside the city. Thus, by dint of this illegal order, which utterly violates the Coronavirus Law, not only did they deny Palestinians’ entry to the beach, but to the entire city."

“Even now, when the municipality is trying to retreat from this move, it continues to say that it intends to impose similar restrictions as it sees fit,” he added. “Since other local governments are trying to copy this behavior, the attorney general must stop this precedent immediately.”

The Attorney General’s Office said it had told Adalah that it must first exhaust efforts to persuade the city, including by talking with the municipality’s legal advisor, before asking the office to intervene. Since the city has now changed its mind, “the issue seems to be moot in any case,” it added.

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