AG backs petition against Afula park banning Arab non-residents

A petition against Afula by a leftist NGO claims that it is discriminating against Arabs by not allowing non-residents to use its park.

Sara Rubenstein ,

Flash 90

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit announced on Thursday that he intends to support the petition against the city of Afula for allegedly discriminating against non-residents of the city from using its park. The petition claimed that the goal of the Afula municipality was to discriminate against Arab residents of the area.

The petition was filed by the left-wing NGO Adalah which strives to protect “the human rights of Palestinians living under occupation, based on international humanitarian law and international human rights law.”

"Serious questions arise about the nature of the motives behind the sweeping decision of the Afula municipality to close the park," Mandleblit wrote. "The decision to enter urban parks, which are common public spaces, cannot be based on considerations of race, religion, nationality, country of origin, sex, sexual orientation or any other inherent characteristic."

"A decision that was ostensibly made on the basis of one of the aforesaid considerations is a totally unacceptable decision that should be annulled," Mandelblit continued, adding that he is striving to place a temporary ban on Afula from discriminating against non-residents from using the city's park.

The Afula municipality announced in June that non-residents of Afula will be banned from entering the city's park during the summer vacation except on Fridays. Afula's mayor Avi Elkabetz, made the decision following his 2018 election campaign promise to ban Arab non-residents from using the park. “The occupation of Afula’s municipal park must be stopped," he said. Elkabetz was elected as mayor of Afula for the third time in October 2018. City council members were sworn in with a promise to guard the city's Jewish character.

“It’s not a political issue, it’s not an election issue, it’s just something essential and fundamental - a park built for the residents of Afula should remain their own," Elkabetz wrote on Facebook last year. "Today, after other cities have been able to significantly reduce non-resident entry into municipal parks, the same can be done in Afula despite the legal difficulties.”

Tensions over the Jewish character of Afula, a northern city known as the "capital of the Jezreel Valley," have been increasingly rising in recent years. Jewish residents of Afula claim that the city is being overtaken by Arabs. Stormy protests took place in 2015 when Arabs were the only ones to win a tender for the construction of 45 housing units in Upper Afula, despite the participation of many Jews in the bid. A Nazareth court disqualified the tender in 2016 on the claim that the bidders clearly engaged in price-fixing. But in 2017, the Supreme Court overturned the decision of the Nazareth court.

Earlier this summer, there was a protest in Afula attended by dozens of people including Elkabetz and other city council members against the sale of a home to an Arab family. A Haaretz report at the time said that council member Itai Cohen told them, "We don't have a problem cooperating with Arab businesses, but we won't have them live here. We stand by the residents in this protest ... Afula must remain a Jewish city."

Following the protest, Amnesty International requested that Mandelblit suspend Elkabetz and his party members but Mandelblit declined the request.

Elkabetz participated in other protests against the sale of homes in Afula to Arabs before his 2018 election.