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Entry Ban at Israeli City Park provokes apartheid warnings

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An Israeli court will have to decide whether it is reasonable for Afula a city in the country's north to deny non-residents entrance to the main local park
An Israeli court will have to decide whether it is reasonable for Afula a city in the country's north to deny non-residents entrance to the main local park
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The barring of a lawyer and her infant from a public park in the Galilee last week has triggered a legal battle over whether local authorities in Israel can segregate citizens on a racial basis.

Human rights groups have warned that the ban marks a growing trend by local authorities representing the Jewish majority towards explicit separation of public space in ways reminiscent of apartheid South Africa.

An Israeli court will have to decide whether it is reasonable for Afula, a city in the country's north, to deny non-residents entrance to the main local park, which includes a playground, a small zoo, basketball courts and a running track.

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The restriction amounts to a ban on Palestinian citizens from surrounding communities using a public resource, according to Adalah, a legal human rights group representing Israel's Palestinian minority, one in five of the country's population.

These 1.8 million Palestinian citizens are the remnants of the native population expelled from their lands in 1948 during the creation of Israel what Palestinians call their Nakba, or catastrophe.

'Conquest' of the park

Afula's mayor, Avi Elkabetz, has done little to hide his motivation in closing the park to non-residents.

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He won a local election late last year on a platform that he would stop what he termed the "conquest of the park" by Palestinian citizens and has urged Afula's residents to "proudly hoist Israeli flags throughout the park and play music in Hebrew".

In addition, Adalah observed, Elkabetz and other Afula officials have waged a battle over the past three years to block Palestinian citizens from moving to Afula from overcrowded, neighbouring communities like Nazareth.

The mayor has been involved in a series of demonstrations against Palestinian families trying to buy homes in Afula, including one last month arranged by a far-right, anti-Arab group.

After local elections last year, councillors were made to swear a revised oath that they would "preserve the city's Jewish character". Despite protests, the interior ministry did not oppose the change of wording.

Mother and son denied entry

Fady Khoury, an Adalah lawyer overseeing a petition to Nazareth's district court to repeal Afula's decision, said it was important to understand that this was not an isolated incident.

"There has always been a lot of racially based segregation in Israel, but it was done quietly, mostly out of view in rural communities and concealed with ostensibly neutral language so that such policies would not arouse scrutiny or criticism," he told Middle East Eye.

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"But now the discrimination is moving centre-stage, into the big cities. It is being done transparently, even proudly. It is a sign of the right's ever-greater confidence."

Adalah launched the case after another of its lawyers was barred from the park last week. Nareman Shehadeh-Zoabi, a resident of Nazareth, had hoped to take her one-year-old son there to play.

The guard refused them entry after asking her where she lived. Nazareth, the largest Palestinian community in Israel, is a short distance from Afula.

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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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