Following Adalah’s petition: Israeli Health Ministry adds Arabic to COVID-19 certificates

Following a petition by Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel to the Israeli Supreme Court, the Ministry of Health agreed to issue the COVID-19 “Green Pass” certificates in Arabic, alongside Hebrew. The “Green Pass” certificates represent official proof of vaccination for or recovery from the coronavirus.


The government’s “Green Pass” policy limits access to certain areas and facilities to certificate holders, following a regulation passed on 19 February 2021. Immediately after the announcement of this policy, on 23 February, Adalah sent a letter to the Health Minister demanding that the documents include Arabic. Following the ministry’s refusal, Adalah petitioned the Supreme Court on 18 March 2021.


In its petition, filed by Adalah Attorney Wesam Sharaf, Adalah argued that excluding Arabic from the certificates is contrary to existing law and Supreme Court rulings regarding the status of the Arabic language. Adalah also claimed that the obligation to provide essential information in Arabic is particularly crucial when it comes to documents that affect citizens’ ability to exercise their constitutional rights, including freedom of movement, among others. The petition also noted that the decision not to include Arabic violates previous directives issued by the Israeli Health Ministry’s director general regarding cultural and linguistic accessibility in the healthcare system.


CLICK HERE to read the petition [Hebrew]


In its response to the petition, on 2 May 2021, the Attorney General, on behalf of the Health Ministry, claimed that there was no reason for the Court to consider this matter, as the government has no legal obligation to issue the certificates also with Arabic. The State also disclosed that technical difficulties prevented it from meeting Adalah’s demands. Nevertheless, the ministry stated that it would consider including Arabic in future “Green Pass” certificates “in preparation for other amendments that would be required in the certificate and certificate production systems.”


CLICK HERE to read the State’s response [Hebrew]


Despite its statement to the Court, the Health Ministry presented a sample of a new design for the certificates -- updated due to a change in eligibility criteria – although the design was only in Hebrew and without Arabic. In response, Adalah Attorney Nareman Shehadeh-Zoabi filed a motion for an injunction on 29 September 2021, as the new certificates were to be issued on 3 October 2021. The first hearing on the petition was scheduled for 11 October 2021.


CLICK HERE to read Adalah’s request for an injunction [Hebrew]


Although the Court denied Adalah’s request for the interim order, the Health Ministry subsequently changed the design of the new certificates to include Arabic, shortly before issuing them. On 5 October 2021, the AG updated the Court on the amended certificates and detailed that some further additions in Arabic that would be implemented in the near future. While he did not withdraw the initial claims that the ministry is not legally obligated to issue the “Green Pass” certificates in Arabic, the AG requested that the petition be deleted, as all of the remedies Adalah demanded were eventually fulfilled. The Court accepted the request, with Adalah’s consent, and awarded court fees to Adalah.


CLICK HERE to read the State’s update of 5 October 2021 [Hebrew]

Adalah’s petition is among the first cases regarding the status of Arabic and the language rights of Palestinian citizens of Israel since the Supreme Court ruled to uphold the Jewish Nation-State Basic Law in July 2021. Section 4 of the Basic Law provides that Hebrew is the state language, while Arabic has a special status. According to the Supreme Court, the Basic Law itself did not downgrade the existing official status of Arabic, as provided by British mandatory law and backed by Supreme Court rulings. 


Adalah commented:

“The fact that Adalah needed to file a petition to the Supreme Court in order to compel the authorities to comply with their obligation under the law is a testament to the influence of the Jewish Nation State Law, the racist values it enshrines, and its harmful effects. Adalah will continue its fight to ensure that the Arabic language rights of the Palestinian citizens of Israel will not be violated further.”


Case Citation: HCJ 1935/21 Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel v. Ministry of Health (decision delivered 7 October 2021)


Related Press Releases

Israel fails to provide real-time coronavirus updates in Arabic for Palestinian citizens 10 March 2020


Adalah demands Israel include Arabic on COVID-19 vaccination certificates 25 February 2021


Adalah petitions Supreme Court: Israel’s emergency medical service must make vital COVID-19 information available in Arabic 2 March 2021