Adalah & ACRI: Do Not Bar Nakba Commemoration at Israeli Universities

NOVANEWS

On May 2012, Adalah intervened legally in two instances in which Nakba Day commemoration events were cancelled or other subjected to restrictions at Israeli universities.

On 14 May 2012, Adalah sent a letter to the Education Minister, Gideon Sa’ar, and the Chairman of the Knesset’s Educational Committee, Alex Miller, urging them to uphold the freedom of political expression rights of students at institutes of higher education, and enable them to commemorate the Nakba without obstacles and conditions. Adalah sent the letter before a meeting of the Committee on Parliamentary Learning scheduled to discuss the matter.

Adalah Attorney Sawsan Zaher argued that in past years, institutes of higher learning were required to pay for the guards for political activities initiated by Arab students on campus. For example, the Tel Aviv University initially approved an activity to commemorate the Nakba this year, which will cost NIS 970. Last year, the board of the Hebrew University purchased a political protest permit in order to allow the participation of MK Haneen Zoabi in a related event, and paid the cost of security, which amounted to NIS 5,640.

Tel Aviv University informed the organizers of the 2012 event, “Memorializing the Nakba”, that it must now demand payment for security for the event because of the new “Nakba Law”. According to the university, institutions that receive government support are prohibited from funding activity that aims to commemorate the Nakba. Attorney Zaher detailed in the letter that, according to the Attorney General’s response to a petition filed by Adalah and ACRI against the Nakba Law, this activity is not prohibited by law. (See HCJ 3429/11, The Alumni Association of the Arab Orthodox School in Haifa et al. v. The Minister of Finance, et. al, decision delivered 5 January 2012). She stressed that restrictions and conditions on students’ political activities in universities violates their constitutional right to freedom of expression, a right that must be defended most strongly in times of disagreement, especially in cases like this, of popular and political tensions.

On 16 May 2012, Adalah and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) sent an urgent letter to the President of Haifa University, Professor Aaron Ben-Ze’ev, and the Dean of Students, Hanan Alexander, asking that they reconsider the university’s decision to cancel the artistic and political event to commemorate the Nakba. The activity was an initiative of the student wing of Hadash (Jabha), the Democratic Front for Peace and Equality, Mohammed Khalila, the secretary of Hadash’s student, submitted a request to hold an event to commemorate the Nakba, and received approval two days before the activity was scheduled. The event included the play “Sagh Saleem,” starring the artist Saleem Dou, with the participation of leftist activist Sa’ar Saqali. However, after approving the event, the university began imposing limitations and obstacles on the organizers, including preventing the distribution flyers that included the word “Nakba.” The university also forbid Sa’ar Saqali from participating in the event, preventing him from entering the university, and threatening to expel him if he did.

On the day of the activity, Khalila attended a meeting in the Dean’s Office where he was told that the university was under pressure from the Minister of Education Gideon Sa’ar, and from the General Student Union, and that permission was being withdrawn. Instead, the university decided to postpone it for a week.

Adalah Attorney Sawsan Zaher and ACRI Legal Advisor Dan Yakir argued in the letter that events to commemorate the Nakba are part of students’ constitutional right to freedom of political expression. Cancelling or delaying the activity denies this right and limits students’ freedom. The human rights organizations demanded that the university allow the activity to go forward without delay according to its original permit, and allow distribution of flyers and activist Saqali’s participation.

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