An Israeli city will end a selective closure at one of its parks that Palestinian citizens of Israel slammed as racist, after a court decision on Sunday.
The northern city of Afula had decided to keep the park open only to its residents during the summer school holiday, saying that as the facility was funded from municipal funds its residents should be prioritised.
However Adalah, a group which campaigns for the rights of Palestinian citizens of Israel, said that the move was aimed at keeping out Arab residents of nearby towns and the Arab city of Nazareth and it filed a lawsuit to overturn the ban.
Lawyers for the sides said that Nazareth District Court, which has jurisdiction over Afula, approved an agreement on Sunday to end the ban though it did not admit to racism.
“We agree to the court’s recommendation to open the park to all its visitors, without accepting the claims of either side,” the agreement stipulated.
Adalah lawyer Fady Khoury said “we hope the message has passed to the Afula municipality as well as the other local authorities in Israel that the public space should be open in an equal manner to everyone regardless of ethnic or other identities”.
“I am glad that the argument about racism didn’t work,” Afula municipality’s lawyer Avi Goldhammer told Agence France-Presse.
While the court did not rule on the racism accusation, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit published a legal opinion on Thursday saying that access to municipal parks “cannot be based on considerations of race”.
Adalah said in a statement that one of its lawyers, Nareman Shehadeh-Zoabi, from Nazareth, recently tried to take her infant son to the park.
Shehadeh-Zoabi said in a video clip that she found a Hebrew-language sign at the entrance reading “the park is open… to Afula residents only”.
A security guard told Shehadeh-Zoabi that her not being from Afula “was a problem.”
When prodded further, she revealed she was a resident of Nazareth, prompting another guard to declare “that’s even more of problem”.
“It’s racial discrimination,” Shehadeh-Zoabi said. “I was prohibited from entering not because I’m not an Afula resident but because I’m an Arab citizen.”
Adalah also posted a clip of Afula Mayor Avi Elkabetz proclaiming during his election campaign, “Afula is in danger… We shall keep Afula Jewish.” Last month Elkabetz took part in a far-right protest against the sale of a house in Afula to a Palestinian family.
On Saturday, guards inspected identification cards at several entrances to Afula Municipal Park, where families strolled past playgrounds and petting zoos while joggers ran along trails lined with Israeli flags.
In the nearby village of Sulem, inhabited by Palestinian citizens of Israel, Shua’a Zoabi said he often brought his children to the park in Afula.
“There is no space for our kids to play in our village. Public investment here is terribly low,” Zoabi said.
The ban, he said, was a “racist restriction” against Arabs.
Palestinian citizens of Israel make up around 21 percent of Israel’s population, are people and their descendants who remained on their land in 1948, when Zionist militias forcibly expelled the vast majority of Palestinians from what is now Israel.
They have regularly suffered discrimination in Israel in areas such as housing, healthcare, and education. The 2019 Israeli “nation-state” law stated that only Jewish citizens of Israel have the right to self-determination in Israel.