Supreme Court Supports Arabic, but Court Museum Shuns It

Only in 2010, five years after the Jerusalem museum opened, are Arabic labels scheduled to be added.

The Court Heritage Museum in the Supreme Court Building has labels in Hebrew and English, but not in Arabic. There is also no Arabic version of a short film that is shown there. Arab sector educators say this harms students who come to visit the museum, and sends "a negative message of alienation."

Only in 2010, five years after the Jerusalem museum opened, are Arabic labels scheduled to be added.

"Given the priorities and the budget constraints, the translation is being done in stages," said court sources.

In the past, the High Court of Justice has ruled that Arabic is an official language, in response to petitions submitted by the Adalah Legal Center for Arab Rights in Israel against the Transportation Ministry and the Tel Aviv-Jaffa Municipality.

The Court Heritage Museum contains documents and other legal items from the Ottoman era, the British Mandate and modern Israel. These include a 1554 order prohibiting harm to the Jews of Jerusalem, British Mandate Supreme Court Justice Gad Frumkin's wig and gown, and pictures and legal documents from major trials when the state was being established.

Work on the museum began about 10 years ago, and it officially opened in 2005. Hundreds of Arab citizens visit every year, many of them high school civics students.

"These are important tours but there are always difficulties, because all the exhibits are written in Hebrew," said H., a civics teacher at a school in the Wadi Ara area. She has been taking students to visit the court building for the last two years.

"Some of the students sometimes have questions or take an interest in a specific issue, but they have difficulty expressing themselves in Hebrew. The short film they show the students doesn't even have an Arabic translation, and this is a great pity," she said.

Another teacher from the north said, "Arabic is an official language in Israel, and it could be expected that the Supreme Court museum, of all places, would have acknowledged this. Though you can ask for a guided tour in Arabic, this is less common ,and it also doesn't solve the matter of principle ... It's sad that the only documents the students really understood are those from the Ottoman period, which are written in Arabic."

"Justice must not only be heard, but also seen - and this is especially true at the Supreme Court," said Dr. Khaled Abu-Asba, director of the Masar Institute for Educational Research, Planning and Counseling. "The current state of things sends a negative message to Arab students who visit the Supreme Court. They feel alienated from their natural space. Arabic must be represented at the museum."

Translations have been completed for most of the exhibits and the film, but none have been installed yet. The museum will get the budget necessary to finish the project next year.

The museum's curator, Dr. Orna Yair, has "repeatedly requested the funds, ever since the museum opened, but the court system did not make this a high priority," sources said. "Instead, it kept promising to offer funding the following year."

The translation project will cost tens of thousands of shekels. The courts spokeswoman said, "No one disputes the importance of the Arabic translation. The display and multimedia materials are currently being translated into Arabic, and the museum's work plan for 2010 contains the budget."

Moreover, "At the Supreme Court, tours in Arabic are held on a regular basis," she added.