An Israeli court cited the controversial nation-state law in dismissing a lawsuit brought by two Arab schoolchildren against their northern town of Carmiel on Monday, ruling that its "Jewish character" must be preserved.
The siblings, age 6 and 10, asked to be reimbursed for expenses they incurred traveling to an Arabic-speaking school outside the city, because there are no such schools in Carmiel. The suit, filed by one of the teens' uncle, Adv. Nezar Bakri, demands 25,000 shekels ($7,500) from the city.
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In March, Haaretz reported that dozens of parents had petitioned the Carmiel municipality to arrange rides to outer city schools so their children could receive an education in Arabic.
“Carmiel, a Jewish city, was meant to establish Jewish settlement in the Galilee,” wrote chief registrar of the Krayot Magistrate's Court Yaniv Luzon in his decision dismissing the suit and ordering the plaintiffs to pay legal fees. “Establishing an Arabic-language school... [and] funding school rides for Arab students... could change the demographic balance and damage the city’s character." Currently, the city’s population is about 6 percent Arab.
Although the registrar provided seven reasons for dismissing the suit, the ruling is drawing criticism for citing the controversial nation-state law passed in 2018, which officially defines Israel as the national homeland of the Jewish people and asserts that “the realization of the right to national self-determination in Israel is unique to the Jewish people.” In addition, it stipulates that the Jewish people alone, as a people, have the right to self-determination in Israel. It also permits judges to give priority to Israel’s Jewish character in their rulings. It caused an outcry among the country’s non-Jewish communities and was condemned internationally.
In his ruling, the registrar listed seven reasons, including the nation-state law, for his decision to dismiss the suit and impose legal fees. The registrar's reasons included the lack of substantive jurisdiction, and specifically that the plaintiffs should have filed an administrative petition rather than a lawsuit; the absence of a legal obligation, that is, that regulations do not require the municipality or the Education Ministry to fund transportation; and that the address for this type of petition is not the local municipality but the Education Ministry.
The decision quoted Section 7 of the nation-state law, which provides that "the state views the development of Jewish settlement as a national value and will work to encourage and advance its establishment and consolidation.”
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According to the ruling, because the principle of Jewish settlement as a national value is enshrined in a basic law, it constitutes “an appropriate, dominant” factor that should be considered in the context of municipal decision-making, which includes the establishment of schools and reimbursement policies for travel outside the city.
The father of the two teenagers, Qassem Bakri, said he had not expected “such racism under the auspices of the law.” Bakri said he feared the decision could be the first harbinger of what awaits the country’s Arab citizens under the law. “It’s appalling, what he is saying,” Bakri said. “What’s terrible is the explanation. ‘It’s a Jewish city,’ as though there aren’t other residents in Carmiel. There are first-class residents and second-class residents. It’s the rotten fruit of [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu and the nation-state law.”
Adv. Bakri said he was shocked when he read a quote from the nation-state law in the registrar's decision and that they would be filing an appeal.
Meanwhile, Adalah - The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel has petitioned the Education Ministry to expand its list of communities considered part of Carmiel so that it accounts for children who attend schools in Arab communities near the city.
A panel of 11 High Court justices is expected to consider 15 petitions against the nation-state law on December 22. Adalah is one of the parties petitioning the court, on the grounds that the law violates international law, and is illegitimate owing to it "being a colonial law with apartheid qualities."
Adv. Nareman Shehadeh-Zoabi of Adalah said the Monday's "ruling states that giving equal rights to the Arab residents of Carmiel will send a message that will invite more Arab residents to live in the city, and through this logic sanctions a racist, discriminatory policy. These are precisely the frightening consequences we warned about when we opposed the nation-state law.”
The court’s decision drew criticism from Joint List lawmaker Mtanes Shehadeh, who said that the “concept of supremacy on which the law is based and that is used to apply it, as in the case of Carmiel, proves how the ‘Jewish and democratic [state]’ narrative will never be more than a false concealment of a reality in which the supremacy of nationalism over democracy is perpetuated.”
The Association for the Advancement of Equal Opportunity in Israel said the court's decision was a reminder of the need to continue protesting the nation-state law and that it was being used to prevent Arab citizens from living in communities throughout the country. “Mixed cities, as Carmiel has become in recent years, are a current reality in Israel” and will only grow in number, the group said.
For years Arab families have been moving to “Jewish cities” either for lack of building permits and a housing crisis in Arab communities, or to improve their quality of life. Residents don’t necessarily enjoy the same conditions as Jewish residents. In Nof Hagalil, formerly known as Nazareth Ilit, where about a quarter of the residents are Arab, parents have been fighting for years to build an Arabic-language school.
In March, the parents petitioning Carmiel said that because Carmiel lacks an Arabic-language school, previous court rulings as well as a memo by the Education Ministry director general indicate that the municipality should provide access to educational institutions outside the city.
According to data obtained earlier this year in a freedom-of-information request from the municipality by Adalah, which had filed the petitions on the parents' behalf, some 152 Arab children go to Jewish schools in Carmiel while 326 study in schools outside the city. In 2018, the city reimbursed just 59 students and it used to fund a ride with 16 seats from a Bedouin neighborhood but no longer does.
The city’s legal counsel wrote parents in December 2019 that the city “acts in accordance with the Education Ministry director general’s memo on rides.” This was echoed by the Carmiel municipality's statement this spring that it acts “only according to and as obligated by law … and according to the criteria required by the Education Ministry."
The Education Ministry said it has transferred its share of the budget for school transport for the students to the city. Organizing the rides and operating them is the responsibility of the local government, it said.