Issue 37: The Arabic Language
Please provide information as to whether the Arabic language is systematically used, in addition to Hebrew, in public administration at the local and national level, in the court system, as well as with regard to road signs.
The Usage of the Arabic Language
Arabic is an official language in Israel. Both the status of Arabic here and the status of Israel's Arab minority necessitate that any use of Arabic employ correct spelling according to the conventions of the language, while preserving the national-cultural context of the language. Any other use of Arabic, including its use for transliterating other languages, contravenes this obligation and runs counter to the provisions of law and the instructions of the Israeli Supreme Court regarding the special status of the Arabic language. The obligation to respect the minority language and to use it as part of the cultural-national identity has been recognized in various other multi-national countries throughout the world.
Despite its official status, the Arabic language does not appear in many public places and spaces, such that it is impossible for Arab citizens to equally enjoy and utilize the full complement of public services and facilities. Recent years have seen various initiatives, both from public figures and government officials, which have damaged the official status of the Arab language and, consequently, the right of the Arab minority to its language and to the preservation of its culture. For example, it was reported recently that several major commercial chains had forbidden their employees to speak Arabic at work or play Arabic music in malls and in franchise stores.
Another example concerns road signs. Despite a decade-old Supreme Court ruling directing mixed cities to add Arabic to all municipal signs, there is still no full compliance in these communities. ACRI has time and again contacted the cities that were mentioned in the Supreme Court's decision, seeking their compliance with the court ruling. In January of this year ACRI again filed to force the city of Nazareth Illit to follow the ruling (request for a contempt of court), after numerous direct appeals to the city did not bear fruit. As of now, the Nazareth municipality is formulating a plan to implement the ruling.
In addition, the outcome of a program proposed by the Minister of Transport two years ago remains unclear. According to the plan, Arabic language road signs would be revised from their current version to a transliteration of the Hebrew location name. The implication of this decision is the removal of the Arabic language from road signs and effectively the transformation of all signs into solely Hebrew references. This proposal defies the status of Arabic as an official language and furthermore violates Arab citizens’ rights to equality and to dignity. The difficulty of this program is compounded by the fact that it serves to undermine the Arab minority in Israel, violating its right to its language and preservation of its cultural and historical character. This decision is just one of a long list of recent statements and proposed legislation designed to deny the legitimacy of the Arab minority. It should also be noted that over the years various bills have been introduced seeking to cancel the official status of the Arabic language in Israel. Some of these proposed bills would designate Hebrew as the sole official language of the State of Israel (with other languages receiving special status but no official designation).
The vast majority of the Jerusalem Municipality forms are unavailable in Arabic. In 2007/2008, ACRI found that only 13 out of 91 official Jerusalem Municipality forms and documents exist in Arabic, 9 of which refer to the payment of city taxes. Following ACRI’s repeated requests to translate the forms, the Jerusalem Municipality agreed in April 2009 to do so, but only a few were translated by the end of 2009. The Jerusalem Municipality notified ACRI that it is working on classifying and translating the forms. In early 2011, after several meetings on the issue were held with the professional echelons in the Jerusalem Municipality, and after ACRI threatened to file a court petition, the forms are now being translated. ACRI keeps monitoring the issue that is far from completion.
Translation of Jerusalem Municipality Forms into Arabic
Changing Jerusalem Street and Neighborhood Names
Ever since the 1950's, the Jerusalem Municipality has been waging a joint struggle with the Prime Minister's Office in an attempt to change the Arabic names of several Jerusalem neighborhoods into Hebrew ones. This trend gained momentum in recent years.
A ministerial committee has been established recently whose role is to unify the spelling of place-names on road-signs, maps, and textbooks. For example, Likud MK Israel Katz, transportation minister and committee member, wished to erase the name Ursalim al-Quds, that is written in Arabic letters, from the road-signs in and around the city and replace it with Yerushalayim in Arabic script, disregarding that no such word exists in Arabic.
Likud MK Tzipi Hotoveli and Israel Beiteinu MK Zvulun Orlev have recently filed a legislative proposal that, if adopted, would obligate the Jerusalem Municipality to give Hebrew names to neighborhoods that do not have one yet, and refer to all neighborhoods with their Hebrew name only. This bill greatly upset the Jerusalem residents as it increases the alienation between the authorities and the Arab residents of the city. Moreover, it would further downgrade the Arabic language and carry a clear message concerning Jerusalem’s Arab history and culture.
Issue 38: Peaceful Access to non-Jewish Holy Sites
Please indicate how the State party effectively guarantees the preservation of non- Jewish holy sites and their protection from desecration, as well as peaceful access to these sites by their respective local and international religious communities.
Parking Arrangements for Old City Worshipers
There is a lack of public transport to East Jerusalem, especially compared to the western part of the city, in addition to a lack of official parking spaces. These deficits can especially be felt on Muslim or Christian holidays when worshipers visit the holy sites in the Old City of Jerusalem and see themselves left with no alternative but to park illegally and subsequently get fined for parking illegally. Ever since 2009, ACRI has been repeatedly appealing to the Jerusalem Municipality, asking it to arrange public transportation for Muslim worshipers, make it accessible to them, and arrange parking spaces for Muslims and Christians who visit holy sites in the Old City of Jerusalem - following the model of arrangements made on Jewish holidays.
Last year, the Jerusalem Municipality decided to arrange a shuttle service from the northern entrance of Jerusalem to the Old City during the month of Ramadan. Worshipers were able to park their cars in a public parking space and take busses to their places of worship. For this year a similar arrangement was a made. This arrangement does however not satisfy all the needs and leaves for example the South of the city without any solutions.
Temple Mount Entry Restrictions
Under some circumstances, the Israeli police puts entry restrictions on worshipers, who want to visit the Temple Mount. In 2010, ACRI asked the Jerusalem Police to provide a list of the type of restrictions imposed on worshipers and the circumstances under which they apply. In the response of December 2010, the police stated that when in possession of intelligence of an intended riot, after undertaking specific situation assessments and after the approval of the political echelons, Muslims under a certain age are denied access to the Temple Mount. According to police data, such restrictions were in effect for 15 days in 2009 and for 11 days in 2010.
It further emerged, based on ACRI's correspondence with the coordinator of government activities in the territories, that during the month of Ramadan of 2009, Israel allowed 58,600 residents of the west bank to pray on Temple Mount on Fridays, while in 2010 it allowed the entry of some 100,000 residents from the west bank. Men under 55 and women under 50 were denied access, regardless of their marital status. It should be noted however, that Israel views these [group] entry permits as a generous gesture on its part, as the residents of the territories normally do not have the right to enter Israeli territory without personal permits.
Issue 39: Protection of Cultural Heritage
Please provide information on measures taken to guarantee the protection of the cultural heritage of the various population groups in the State party. Please also provide information on how the cultural heritage is reflected in the school curriculum as well as in the cultural events and activities in the State party.
The cultural heritage of the Arab minority is not fully guaranteed within the school curriculum of the Arab schools. Therefore, in recent years, voices within the Arab public in Israel have demanded the establishment of a separate pedagogic secretariat for Arab education, in order to recognize the status of the Arab citizens of Israel as a national and cultural minority.87 This structure would be similar to that provide for state-religious and Haredi education, reflecting recognition of the fact that distinct population groups have the right to a degree of autonomy in determining the content of studies.
This issue was discussed by the Knesset Education Committee at the beginning of 2008. A statement issued by the committee after the discussion quoted the chairman of the committee, MK Rabbi Michael Melchior: “My sense is that in reality, different streams are being granted more and more independence – until it comes to the Arabs. In their case, the ministry says, ‘That’s it! Now education must be statist and uniform.’ In my opinion, we should recognize in structural terms the strong desire of the Arab public to express and consolidate its identity.”88 A commitment to the values of equality and respect for minorities should have led the Ministry of Education to examine this initiative seriously; it could make a real contribution to advancing Arab education and promoting the substantive equality of Arab school students in Israel.
“The first thing we will do is to remove the Nakba,” declared Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ahead of the beginning of the new school year in 2008, referring to the intention to remove the subject from the curriculum.89 In May 2009, the government supported an amendment to the Independence Day Law. In the form approved at the Preliminary Reading, the amendment, which came to be referred to popularly as the “Nakba Law,” stated that no institution which receives state support will be permitted to finance activities marking the Nakba. Ahead of the present school year, Minister of Education Gideon Sa’ar decided to remove any mention of the events of the Nakba from textbooks in the Arab sector. He also decided to reexamine a history book for the Jewish sector presenting both narratives, which had already been approved by the ministry.
Another significant issue that undermines the preservation of the cultural heritage of the Arab minority is the war the Israeli government has declared on the Nakba over the past two years. The Nakba, in Arabic, is the disaster experienced by the Palestinian people when Israel received independence. Many of the facts relating to the events that occurred in this country in 1948 have been the subject of debate among historians and others for many years. Unsurprisingly, interpretations have emerged that reflect at least two key narratives, one Israeli and the other Palestinian. What is undeniable is that the Nakba forms a central part of the experience of a large part of the population of Israel, and has the character of a traumatic, seminal, and formative event.
Once again, as in other cases, the official measures are accompanied by an atmosphere of intimidation and the delegitimization of anyone who dares to address the subject of the Nakba, even if this is only on the historical level of recognizing the Palestinian narrative. For example, after the Ministry of Education ordered the managers of the Common Denominator website of the Center for Educational Technology to remove the emblem of the Ministry of Education, and under right-wing pressure, it was decided to remove the subject of the Palestinian refugees from another site of the Center, “by way of a preventative measure”.90
Forbidding mention of the Nakba has grave ramifications. Palestinian citizens, including students, have a right to learn their history and to express their identity and collective memory. Marking the Nakba does not threaten the security of the State of Israel or of Israeli residents: it manifests the legitimate and fundamental right of all individuals, groups, and peoples to express their pain for what they perceive as a disaster. For Arab citizens, the measures discussed here reflect a lack of recognition on the part of the state and the negation of their formative narrative. This can only distance them still further from a sense of identification with the state in which they live. For Jewish students, these decisions reflect the negation of the identity of the other, and deny the students the opportunity to hear the story of the Palestinian people. For all of us, Jews and Arabs alike, this approach damages the prospects for mutual understanding and coexistence. In this context, it is interesting to note that preliminary studies have found that young Israeli Jews are capable of addressing and containing different narratives, and are highly motivated to become acquainted with the other.91