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How Israel's nation-state law perpetuates racial segregation

How Israel is using the nation-state law to perpetuate racial segregation
5 min read
15 December, 2020
In-depth: An Israeli court has rejected local petitions to establish an Arabic-language school in Karmiel or fund transport for Palestinian students, arguing that it would damage the city's 'Jewish character'.
The Israeli bill was internationally condemned for discriminating against Palestinians. [Getty]
In 2018, Israel approved the Jewish nation-state law - a controversial piece of legislation declaring that "the right to national self-determination in Israel is unique to the Jewish people." 

The bill was internationally condemned in fear it would serve as a tool to discriminate against Palestinians. Two years on, the law has done just that. 

In November, an Israeli court invoked the law when dismissing a lawsuit against the northern city of Karmiel over funding transportation for two Palestinian Arab students.

In the ruling, chief registrar of the Krayot Magistrate's Court Yaniv Luzon said that establishing an Arabic-language school in Karmiel or funding the commute for Palestinian Arab students would "damage the city's Jewish character." 

He cited Section 7 of the law writing, "The development and establishment of Jewish settlement is a national value enshrined in the Basic Law and is a worthy and prominent consideration in municipal decision-making, including the establishment of schools and the determination of policies relating to the funding of [school] busing [of students] from outside the city." 

The court said that establishing an Arabic-speaking school or funding transportation may incentivise Palestinian citizens of Israel to move into Jewish cities, 'altering the demographic balance'

Court ruling denies Palestinian existence

The lawsuit was brought by Nizar Bakri on behalf of his nephews who have to travel six kilometres outside their hometown of Karmiel to the village of Rameh because no Arabic-language schools exist in their city.

Due to traffic, the drive can take more than 30 minutes and costs the family 1,500 shekels (about $461) per month. The family requested a reimbursement of transportation expenses amounting to 25,000 shekels (roughly $7,683) from the municipality.  

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"The court's decision wasn't based on law, it was based on Jewish existence," Nizar Bakri told The New Arab. For him, the registrar's opinion recognises the Jewish community while denying the existence of the Arab Palestinian community in Karmiel. 

Luzon suggested in his judicial decision that establishing an Arabic-speaking school or funding transportation may incentivise Palestinian citizens of Israel to move into Jewish cities, "altering the demographic balance."

Approximately six percent of Karmiel's 45,000 residents are Palestinian citizens of Israel. About 20 percent of Israel's population are Palestinian citizens of Israel, according to the state's Central Bureau of Statistics

In reacting to the ruling, the children's father, Kasem Bakri, said it confirmed that Israel's nation-state law is indeed racist. "The municipality treat my sons as guests in the best of times and as enemies in the worst of times," he told The New Arab. In addition to losing the lawsuit, the Bakri family was fined 2,000 shekels (about $614) along with paying the court's expenses.

Nizar Bakri plans to file an appeal in the next two months. "It's not a private case anymore. This is a community decision. Now this is the community appealing," Nizar Bakri said, mentioning that all of the Palestinian Arab families in Karmiel with children want to be part of the appeal.

In 2018, Israel approved the Jewish nation-state law - a controversial piece of legislation declaring that 'the right to national self-determination in Israel is unique to the Jewish people'

Earlier this year, 50 parents in Karmiel petitioned the municipality to fund their children's school commutes. "It's not a financial reason," Nizar Bakri said of the appeal. "It's because of the disparate education system." 

According to a 2019 freedom-of-information request submitted by Adalah - The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel - 152 Palestinian Arab children attend Jewish schools in Karmiel and 326 children study outside the city. In 2018, the municipality only reimbursed 59 students. 

Adalah issued multiple letters to Karmiel and the Ministry of Education this year, demanding the funding system change. The municipality denied Adalah's request, saying the aid is sufficient. The Education Ministry told Adalah only local councils can allocate funding so if Karmiel doesn't request a change then reform won't happen. Karmiel did not respond to repeated requests for comment. 

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'I have the right to be here'

Just one month after the nation-state law was enacted, Adalah filed a petition against the bill to Israel's Supreme Court. Now, a panel of 11 justices will hear the petition - including 14 others - on 22 December.  

Knesset member Yousef Jabareen, who is part of the Joint List, an alliance of the main Palestinian Arab political parties in Israel, believes the High Court will merely drag the hearings on before finally reaching a conclusion on the whether or not to overturn the law. 

The municipality treat my sons as guests in the best of times and as enemies in the worst of times

"Will the justices have the courage, amid the right-wing political atmosphere in Israel, to reach the only possible conclusion, which is this law contradicts the basic human rights and equality for all citizens?" Jabareen said. He isn't hopeful, however, that the court will make that determination. 

"Its willingness to be active has changed in the last few years, so everything seems to be unfortunately open in terms of equality and inclusion," Jabareen told The New Arab. The politician is currently working with Adalah on petitioning the Supreme Court over the Bakri family's case.

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Restrictive building policies in Palestinian Arab communities have recently pushed Palestinian citizens of Israel into primarily Jewish areas. Mixed cities are becoming the norm, yet Palestinian Arab residents are often not guaranteed the same rights as their Jewish neighbours.  

Despite the ongoing discrimination related to education, the economy and housing in mixed cities, Kasem Bakri refuses to leave. 

"I exist here as an Arab person and I have the right to be here," Kasem Bakri said. "We exist here like the cactus and the olive trees. We will never be gone away from here."

Jessica Buxbaum is a Jerusalem-based journalist covering Palestine and Israel. Her work has been featured in Middle East Eye, The National and Gulf News. Follow her on Twitter: @jess_buxbaum