Rights group warn that advances made in language rights of Israel’s Palestinian minority might be reversed
Palestinian citizens of Israel have criticised an Israeli bus company’s decision to remove Arabic-language announcements in Beersheba, a 200,000-person city in the country’s southern Negev region.
Israel’s Ministry of Transportation instructed the Dan Bus Company to remove Arabic announcements after several local Jewish-Israeli residents lodged complaints to the company and the Beersheba’s city hall.
The company previously had announcements in Hebrew and Arabic, both of which are official languages.
Knesset member Yousef Jabareen, who is a member of the predominantly Arab Joint List electoral coalition, denounced the move as an effort to depict “Arabic as the language of the enemy”.
“It is the duty of transportation companies to respect [the Arabic language] and use it in all their work and projects, including on buses and trains,” Jabareen told Al Jazeera.
Jabareen said the removal of Arabic “reflects the racist climate of the country and the atmosphere of incitement”.
The Ministry of Transportation has defended the move. In a statement provided to Israel’s Channel Two, the ministry announced it would not obligate the company to include Arabic announcements until there is a “uniform criteria” for doing so.
Also speaking to Channel Two, Beersheba Mayor Ruvik Danilovich said Arabic would be included on Beersheba’s buses once “it is implemented in all of Israel”.
Amjad Iraqi, international advocacy coordinator at the Adalah Centre for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, said the bus company “caved in to racism.
“By agreeing to remove the Arabic announcements, the company gave credit to the belief that the use of Arabic – an official language of the state – is a public offence, not a basic human right or practice,” Iraqi told Al Jazeera.
“This is just one example of recent attempts to further erase Arabic language and culture from the Israeli public sphere,” he added, alluding to the ‘Muezzin Bill‘, proposed legislation that seeks to effectively ban mosques from using loudspeakers during the Muslim call to prayer.
“[These laws] are also being spearheaded and legitimised by the ongoing racism and incitement of Israeli leaders against Arab citizens.”
An estimated 1.7 million Palestinians – comprising Christians, Muslims and Druze – carry Israeli citizenship and live in cities, towns and villages across the country.
More than 160,000 Palestinian Bedouins carry Israeli citizenship and live in the Negev region, of which Beersheba is the largest city and administrative seat.
Although Israel’s minority of Palestinians make up around 20 percent of the population, far-right Israeli politicians have unsuccessfully attempted to target Arabic in recent years.
Two years ago, far-right politicians from the Likud, Jewish Home and Yisrael Beitenu parties pushed a bill in the Knesset that would classify Hebrew as Israel’s sole official language.
In 2011, Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz proposed removing Arabic from street signs.
According to Adalah’s online database, more than 50 laws discriminate against Palestinian citizens of Israel by stifling their political expression and limiting their access to state resources, such as land.