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Parks in Israeli city open up to Arabs as court rules against ban on ‘non-residents’

Parks in Israeli city open up to Arabs as court rules against ban on ‘non-residents’
A city in northern Israel was ordered to keep its public parks open to anyone, including those who do not reside there, effectively removing a “racist” practice local rights groups said was used mainly against Arabs.

Israeli Arabs claimed a small legal victory over the city of Afula, which closed its parks to ‘non-residents’. Lifting the ban, a local court stopped just short of calling the prohibition racist, citing a legal opinion by Israel’s attorney general, who ruled that any citizen shall have access to municipal parks across the country.

Afula, home to 50,000 people, imposed the restriction in June, citing the need to preserve the “city’s identity.” The bizarre move came after the mayor lamented“the takeover of our parks,” with rights groups claiming that he was referring to residents of nearby Arab villages who frequented the parks.

As the ban came into effect, security staff began checking IDs, screening out citizens of Arab descent. Later on, two Israeli TV stations sent undercover reporters to the Afula parks, only to reveal that documented Jews had no trouble entering, even after saying they were not residents.

The court ruling says that the Afula authorities have two days to open the parks to everyone. “We don’t argue with the law,” a lawyer for the city told Reuters. “If the law permits everyone to come inside this park, OK.”

A host of politicians hailed the Sunday ruling. Ayman Odeh, an Arab-Israeli MP, said it is a “victory over racial segregation in Afula.” Another MP, Aida Touma-Suleiman, went further, urging the judicial authorities to abolish a discriminatory nation-state law adopted last year.

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The law formally defines a general number of symbols that should stand at the core of the Israeli state, such as the flag, the anthem, its capital, and language. But one clause that raised the ire of Arab lawmakers explicitly states that “the right to exercise national determination in the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish people.”

Critics of the law argue that the wording makes 1.8 million Israeli Arabs – roughly one-fifth of the population – second-class citizens.

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