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Hakam Habash, a 36-year-old man who works in a Nablus factory that manufactures jeans for companies in Israel, hadn’t seen the sea for 20 years. When he received a permit to be in Israel in the daylight hours during the month of Ramadan, which just ended this week – he decided to go to the seashore. But his foray to Herzl Beach in Netanya ended in bitter disappointment.
While he was enjoying himself on the seashore with three friends, he says, a municipal inspector asked to see their entry permits. Even though their permits were valid, he fined each of them 730 shekels ($207). The fine was for violation of an unusual regulation: wearing underpants (albeit of a dark color) instead of bathing suits.
According to Habash, the Israelis who were on the beach in underpants were not fined. Habash’s copy of the ticket states, “The above-mentioned came to the sea without a bathing suit,” referencing “paragraph 99.” The inspector’s name is blurred.
It’s not easy to find “paragraph 99” on the city’s website, but it contains detailed regulations relating to the seashore. For example, one is not permitted to bring bears to the beach. And in regard to attire, “No one shall be at the seashore without regular clothing or a bathing suit.” This is apparently an anti-nudity rule; in any case, children under the age of 6 are allowed to cavort unclothed. Underpants, which are also “regular clothing,” are not specifically prohibited.
The regulation in question is rarely enforced – in the past year only eight people were fined for this offense. The Netanya Municipality chose not to answer my question about whether the other cases involved nudity on the lovely beaches of the City of Diamonds, or rather people swimming in underwear.
A beach inspector in Tel Aviv, a city which has the same rule regarding attire, was surprised. “It’s not logical to give a fine for that,” he said. “What’s the difference between underpants and a bathing suit?”
Whether it’s a consequence of racism or of an inspector with a highly developed fashion consciousness – a fine of 730 shekels is a blow to anyone. Habash, a Palestinian with four children, makes about 950 shekels a month in his work at a textile plant. Thus, for him the fine is like the equivalent of 3,000 shekels for someone earning the minimum wage in Israel.
Habash says he doesn’t have the money to pay the fine, and is afraid that if he doesn’t pay it he won’t be able to enter Israel again or see the Mediterranean.
“I showed the copy of the fine to Jews I know in Samaria and they were amazed,” he says. “This fine changed my opinion about the people of Israel. I thought they were cultured people. I guess I won’t be able to see the sea again, because I can’t make the payment, unless I use my pension or give up eating and drinking. This whole story is very unfair and foolish.”
Asked for a comment, a spokesperson for the Netanya Municipality provided this statement: “The complainant was on the beach in underpants and not in regular clothing. Enforcement on the seashore takes place with the aim of preserving public order and the safety and wellbeing of the beach-goers, and we reject any attempt to attribute racist behavior or discrimination to the municipality and its employees.” The official added that Habash can submit a request to have the fine revoked.
Institutional racism or not, Netanya’s beaches are apparently not very welcoming to Arabs. In 2015, two Arab women were attacked at Sironit Beach as they were waiting for their families in their car, and last year two young residents of Kalansua, an Arab town in central Israel, were attacked on a Netanya beach with sticks and stones by a group of Jewish teenagers.