Adalah and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) petitioned the Supreme Court of Israel on 27 April 2010 to demand the cancellation of an amendment to The Regional Councils’ Law (Date for General Elections) 2009 that allows the Interior Minister to indefinitely postpone the first elections in the Arab Bedouin regional council. The petitioners are asking the court to order the Interior Minister to announce the holding of democratic elections in the regional council as soon as possible. Although the council was established over six years ago, it is still headed by an official appointed by the Interior Minister.
The petitioners, who also include residents of the Abu Basmah Regional Council, public figures, the Council of Arab Mayors, the Negev Co-Existence Forum for Civic Equality, the Ma’an Forum, the Forum for Arab Education in the Negev, and the Center for Jewish Pluralism, argue that the law undermines the foundations of a democratic regime, which requires that democratic elections be held regularly and with advance notice. The petitioners argue that despite the law’s general wording about “new regional councils,” its actual and sole objective is to prevent free elections from being held to the Abu Basmah Regional Council.
The Abu Basmah Regional Council was formed in 2003 after a long struggle by Arab Bedouin residents in the Naqab (Negev) for the recognition of their villages. Ten villages, with a total population of approximately 30,000 people, live within its jurisdiction of the regional council. It also provides education, social welfare and environmental services for some 40,000 additional people who live in neighboring unrecognized Arab Bedouin villages.
Prior to the passage of the amendment, the Regional Councils Law stipulated that initial elections in a new regional council should be held within four years of its establishment. In exceptional cases, the law allows the Interior Minister to postpone elections for no longer than two years. However, in this case the Ministry of Interior failed to fulfill its legal obligations. It did not make arrangements to hold elections to the Abu Basmah Regional Council but repeatedly postponed them. As the end of the initial four-year period approached, the Ministry of Interior postponed the elections, and it was then announced that elections would be held in December 2008. The Interior Minister subsequently received approval from the Knesset’s House Committee to postpone the elections for an additional year, until December 2009. However, as this date approached, the Ministry of Interior began to promote an amendment, which was enacted in November 2009, and that allows for the indefinite postponement of elections to the regional council. For now, the law applies only to the Abu Basmeh Regional Council, but in the future it could be relevant to other newly established regional councils. Thus, today, more than six years after the establishment of Abu Basmah, elections have yet to be held in the regional council.
Adalah Attorney Alaa Mahajneh, who co-wrote the petition, stated that, “The Ministry of Interior is trampling the principles of democracy and equality, and instead of helping to conduct elections, it is trying to prevent them. It is hard to believe that anyone would dare to prevent democratic elections in another regional council.”
Attorney Gil Gan-Mor from the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, who also co-wrote the petition, commented that, “In a democratic state, it is not permissible to enact a law that gives a government minister an exclusive and broad prerogative to indefinitely postpone elections. We thought this was obvious, but apparently we were wrong.”
HCJ 3183/10, Hussein Rafeea, et. al v. The Minister of the Interior, et al. (case pending)