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Entry Ban at Israeli City Park provokes apartheid warnings

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"It's not about Arabs and Jews. It's to stop troublemakers coming here and using the park. There's a problem with alcohol and rubbish."

'Socially unsuitable'

Adi Aviram, aged 34, was watching over her three young children playing on a slide. She believes non-residents should not be banned but should pay a fee to use the park.

Referring to the widespread segregation in housing between the Jewish majority and Palestinian minority, she said it was good for children from different ethnic groups to meet in the park.

"The fact is if they don't mix here, they won't come across each other until they're grown-ups when they have already developed prejudices. It's good for the kids to meet each other, play together, hear different languages."

Some 90 percent of Israelis live in communities that are almost completely segregated on a racial basis, noted Hana Swaid, a former Palestinian member of the Israeli parliament who now heads the Arab Centre for Alternative Planning.

Hundreds of smaller Jewish communities employ admissions committees to bar Palestinian citizens from living there, he added, using the pretext that they are "socially unsuitable".

"Even the rest who live in the larger, so-called 'mixed cities' like Jerusalem, Haifa, Acre, Lod and Jaffa are mostly living under a system of partial segregation, with Jewish and Palestinan citizens divided into separate neighbourhoods," he told MEE.

Fear of mixing

According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, Palestinian citizens comprise less than 1 percent of Afula's population.

However, small numbers of arrivals from neighbouring Palestinian communities over the past three years have triggered a backlash. The mayor has capitalised on fears among Afula residents that the city is in danger of becoming mixed.

That has effectively happened close by, in Nazareth Ilit, a Jewish city built in the 1950s on the lands of neighbouring Nazareth, the reputed site of Jesus' childhood and the only Palestinian city to survive the Nakba.

Swaid said the proportion of Palestinian citizens living in Nazareth Ilit may now be as high as 25 percent. Israeli authorities have been reluctant to issue official figures.

Last month, residents of Nazareth Ilit voted to rename their city Nof Hagalil (View of the Galilee) in a move the city's mayor described as distancing the Jewish city from its neighbour.

Nazareth Ilit's mayors have refused to build a school teaching in Arabic in violation of Israel's Education Law forcing Palestinian parents to send their children to Nazareth's schools. Education is almost entirely segregated in Israel.

Compared to immigrants

A father with his children in Afula's park who would only give his name as Nick said he lived in Nazareth Ilit for a time after arriving from Russia in 1992 before moving to Afula.

He warned that Afula would face a similar influx of Palestinian citizens if it did not act to stop it quickly, and compared the native Palestinian population to immigrants.

"Here is like everywhere else. People in London don't want immigrants coming to their city. We feel the same."

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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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