A lawsuit which charged that a northern Israeli city was violating its obligation to provide transportation for Arab Israeli children to local schools was dismissed out of hand on Monday morning, in part to protect “the Jewish character of the city,” the court said.
Krayot Magistrate’s Court judge Yaniv Luzon wrote in his ruling that providing services to Arabs would change the makeup of Carmiel, which he said was “a Jewish city which is intended to strengthen Jewish settlement in the Galilee.
“The construction of an Arabic-language school or providing transportation for Arab students, wherever and whoever wants it, could change the demographic balance and the character of the city,” he wrote.
Carmiel, a city in northern Israel, has recently seen a growing influx of upper-middle class Arab professionals, one of several cities around the country seeing trends of de facto and de jure segregation fall by the wayside.
Carmiel was one of several cities and towns strategically established starting in the in the mid-1960s as part of a government attempt to expand the Jewish presence in the Galilee, where Arabs made up most of the population.
One such large-scale land expropriation in March 1976, in order to expand several Jewish towns in the area and establish others, sparked deadly riots and remains a particularly painful episode in Jewish-Arab relations in the Galilee.
Some residents — including Carmiel’s deputy mayor — have objected to the demographic changes, even establishing an anonymous hotline which sought to prevent the sale of land to Arabs in 2010.
“We need to prevent unnecessary conflict between Jews and Arabs,” deputy mayor Oren Milstein explained at the time. “We should be living one next to the other and not in such close proximity. Carmiel already has 1,000 Arab residents, and soon they will want a mosque.”
Although Arabs now constitute around six percent of Carmiel’s population — around 2,760 people — there is still no Arabic-language school inside the city. As such, Arab Israeli parents are forced to send their children to various schools in the area.
Attorney Nizar Bakri filed a lawsuit on behalf of his brother Qassem and his two nephews, whose right to education, he alleged in court filings, had been substantially damaged by the difficulty of constantly organizing transport to and from schools outside the city.
Bakri demanded that the municipality begin funding transportation for Arab children to and from schools in the area and refund the costs which families had already paid out of pocket. It is not entirely clear that Israeli law demands that the municipality fund such transportation themselves, however.
According to the Education Ministry’s guidelines: “The obligation to organize and implement the transportation falls on the local authorities in which students live. The Education Ministry does not take part in organizing transportation, only participating in funding them.”
Some of the funding ends up, practically, being covered by local authorities, however, said Emad Jaraisi, a researcher at Injaz, a nonprofit which advances Arab local government in Israel.
“If you ask the Education Ministry, I’m sure they’d say that the funding is sufficient. If you ask the local councils, they say it isn’t enough, and that they end up paying out of their own pocket for students,” Jaraisi said.
Luzon, the presiding judge, gave numerous rationales for dismissing the lawsuit out of hand: the plaintiffs ought to have filed a petition, rather than a lawsuit; that there is no legal obligation by the municipality to provide such funding for transportation; that the petitioners ought to have petitioned the Education Ministry rather than the Carmiel municipality.
Bakri disputed the judge’s criticisms. He said that the decision to present a lawsuit rather than a petition stemmed from a legal requirement to “exhaust proceedings” before a petition could be presented. He added that a petition would be filed in the coming months that would answer most of the judge’s criticisms, and which would include both the municipality and the Education Ministry.
But Luzon’s final rationale immediately ignited controversy: preserving the Jewish character of the city.
Luzon cited the controversial 2018 nation-state law, which enshrines Israel as “the national home of the Jewish people” and says “the right to exercise national self-determination in the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish people.” It also states that “the state considers advancing Jewish settlement to be a national value, and will act to encourage and advance its establishment.”
“The development of Jewish settlement is therefore a national value, one anchored in a basic law. It ought to be an appropriate and dominant consideration in the array of municipal considerations, including for the issue of establishment schools and funding transportation,” Luzon said.
The ruling immediately sparked criticism. Bakri, the attorney who filed the lawsuit, deemed the judge’s final point “far from the matter at hand and racist.”
“To everyone who said that the nation-state law was not dangerous and merely symbolic — today’s ruling in Carmiel shows the direction. With rationales of ‘Jewish character’ it is possible to discriminate against Arabs — under the protection of the nation-state law,” said Joint List MK Aida Touma-Suleiman, who called the law one which “establishes apartheid.”
The High Court of Justice is set to discuss an appeal by the Palestinian legal rights group Adalah in late December against the nation-state law. The court has ordered the government to justify its position in the coming days.
“In the name of Jewish settlement as a national value, Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel cannot even receive equal municipal services,” said Nareman Shehadeh-Zoabi, an attorney at Adalah.
While the majority of Arab Israelis live in Arab-majority towns and cities, a number of “mixed cities” — such as Acre, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Haifa, and Lod — have existed since the beginning of the state.
In recent decades, a number of cities which were previously almost entirely Jewish have seen growing communities of Arabs moving in. Arab towns and cities suffer from a lack of government planning and construction, as well as suffering from
Among them are Nof HaGalil, previously known as Nazareth Illit, which recently elected an Arab deputy mayor. Other cities, such as Beersheba and Carmiel, have become “cities in the process of being mixed,” according to a 2018 report by the Israel Democracy Institute.
“We’ve seen this new phenomenon over the past 20 years, which is Arab Israelis moving into Jewish cities, living outside of Arab towns and cities,” Jaraisi. “They are integrating — but not assimilating — into Israeli society.”