A Stark Lack of Arabic Books in Libraries in Nazareth Illit

The Arabic "Library" in Nazareth. Photography: Nisreen AlyanThe Arabic "Library" in Nazareth. Photography: Nisreen Alyan

 

On March 30, 2015, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) and two Arab residents of Nazareth Illit submitted a legal petition to the Nazareth District Court to demand that Arab residents of the city be allowed to enjoy the services of the municipal library in Arabic. This entails purchasing Arabic books, making the database accessible in Arabic, ensuring that search stations and computers are compatible with Arabic, and launching public enrichment activities in Arabic at the libraries.

 

In the three public libraries in Nazareth Illit, there are a diverse range of literature including fiction, poetry and scientific literature. Apart from books in Hebrew, there are also an impressive collection of books in Russian, English, Spanish and French. Despite the fact that Arabs make up 19% of the population of Nazareth Illit, there is not a single book in Arabic in any of the city’s public libraries.

 

The range of activities offered in the libraries – story time, public lectures and homework assistance – are all offered in Hebrew alone. The Arab residents of the city, and the 2,000 Arab children, are not offered any enrichment activities at these public sites.

 

Since 2012, ACRI has engaged in regular correspondence with municipal officials and the Ministry of Culture on this matter. In response to ACRI’s enquiries, the municipality claimed that is will set up a separate Arabic library at the community center in the city’s Hakeramim neighborhood. It should be noted that the so-called “library” in this neighborhood is actually one cabinet in the community center with a handful of books. The Arab residents of the city would be satisfied with a specifically designated Arabic library in the community center, so long as the quality is relative to other municipal libraries. This should be in addition to the integration of Arabic services within the city’s other public libraries.

 

In the petition, ACRI Attorneys Nisreen Alyan and Auni Banna claim that the lack of public library services violates the rights of the Arab residents to equality and to the use of their language. According to the petition, municipal libraries form a central component of the public space, is funded and maintained by public money, and so should be accessible and available for the benefit of all city residents. Arab residents of Nazareth Illit, who constitute almost a fifth of the city’s population, are excluded from this public space.

 

According to Hani Salloum, co-petitioner and resident of Nazareth Illit:Arabs constitute 20% of the residents of Nazareth Illit and have lived happily side by side with the neighborhood’s Jewish residents since the 1960s. Arabic is an official language of the state, and as residents and citizens who pay taxes, it is our right – both for adults and children – to receive budgets and resources that allow us to access books in our mother tongue, as well as recreational and cultural programs in Arabic, just the same as for residents for whom Hebrew or Russian is their mother tongue.”

 

According to ACRI Attorney Nisreen Alyan: “Arabic is an official language of the state, and it is the duty of the authorities to provide public services to Arab citizens in their own language. The exclusion of the Arabic language from municipal libraries in Nazareth Illit results in the exclusion of Arabs from market square, and a return to the days of the invalidated theory of “separate but equal”. Over a decade has passed since the Supreme Court decision that forced the integration of the Arabic language within Nazareth Illit, and since then the language has become a part of the city’s cultural identity. It is with great sorrow that we are forced to return to a petition to realize what should be taken for granted.”

 

 

Additional Materials

To view the legal submission (in Hebrew), click here.

To view the Nazareth Ililit Library Website, click here.

To view a picture of what the municipality refers to as the city’s Arabic Library, click here.

To see a video of the Arabic library, click here.

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Categories: Arab Citizens of Israel, Arab Minority Rights, The Right to Equality

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