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Entry Ban at Israeli City Park provokes apartheid warnings

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She noted that land shortages, following widespread government confiscations decades ago, meant Nazareth and other Palestinian communities lacked green spaces and public parks.

Shehadeh-Zoabi told MEE: "It was shocking and humiliating to be told to leave, especially when Jews were being allowed to enter the park without showing any form of identification. It is clear the policy is designed to prevent Arab citizens alone from entering."

She added: "It starts with a ban on entering parks, but if we don't challenge this policy of segregation based on ethnicity it will quickly escalate to bigger things."

Courts wary to intervene

The Afula municipality declined to comment. A spokesman, Kfir Bazak, told MEE that it was not speaking to journalists because the Israeli media had in the past misrepresented its policy.

Adalah hopes it can overturn the park ban using two laws: one that denies municipalities the right to collect fees for public parks, and another that prohibits the denial of services based on various criteria, including place of residence.

Khoury said that, paradoxically, the residency non-discrimination clause was added by the parliament in a 2017 amendment designed to prevent companies from denying services to settlers.

Many Jewish communities in Israel, he added, placed residency restrictions on access to public facilities, such as swimming pools and sports centres, that were covertly designed to exclude Palestinian citizens. The courts had usually been reluctant to intervene.

"In those cases, there is limited space so there is an argument for prioritising local residents. Parks, on the other hand, cannot be treated as an exclusive space.

"The land is given by the state to the municipality and it is designated in city plans as an open area. It's like a public highway. It can't be treated as private property."

He said if the court backed Adalah's argument, those that are denied entry could sue the municipality.

City of 'Arab haters'

On a visit to the park at the weekend, however, Afula residents were mostly supportive of the mayor's move.

Tal Kauffman, aged 41, said he took his young daughter regularly to the park during the summer.

"It's better this way. This city is known for being full of Arab-haters," he told MEE. "I'm not against living together but the reality here is that mixing will lead to tension and fights.

"It's just recognising how people are raised here to hate Arabs. We have to separate the ideals of politics and real life."

Most others, however, were more reluctant to ascribe the policy directly to racism.

Tal Cohen, aged 30, who grew up in Afula but now lives in Tel Aviv, was visiting his parents with his wife and children. He said the restriction was necessary because of "bad people".

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Jonathan Cook is a writer and journalist based in Nazareth, Israel. He is the 2011 winner of the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are "Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East" (Pluto Press) and "Disappearing Palestine: (more...)
 

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