Adalah Petitions Supreme Court to Cancel Discriminatory Governmental Decision Designating National Priority Areas


On 22 December 2003, Adalah filed a petition to the Supreme Court of Israel in its own name and on behalf of the High Follow-up Committee for Arab Citizens in Israel and the Follow-up Committee on Arab Education against the Prime Minister. The petitioners' seek the cancellation of a 1998 governmental decision, which divides the country into national priority areas in an arbitrary and discriminatory manner, without legislative authorization or clear objective criteria. While this governmental decision classified 553 towns and villages as national priority "A" and thus eligible to receive a host of lucrative educational benefits, for example, only four small Arab villages were included. Adalah General Director, Attorney Hassan Jabareen, submitted the petition.


This is the second petition filed by Adalah challenging the government's decision. The first petition, submitted in May 1998, was pending before seven justices of the Supreme Court for the last five years, with numerous hearings held and written arguments filed. At a hearing on 2 December 2003, the Supreme Court asked Adalah to submit a new petition so that the Court has one document that includes all the developments in the case since 1998. At that hearing, the Supreme Court also issued an order nisi (order to show cause), in advance of the filing of the new petition, directed the Attorney General's office to reply within 45 days, and decided that the case will be heard by seven justices.


The government decision divided the country into 3 areas - "A", "B" and "no status." Towns that are classified as "A" or "B" priority areas receive substantial benefits from the government such as extra educational funding and tax breaks to local industries. Residents of these areas receive enormous personal economic benefits such as additional mortgage grants and loans, tax exemptions, and educational benefits such as free pre-schools for children, additional hours of schooling, fully funded computer labs by the Ministry of Education, and exemption of fees for exams. The government assigns priority status almost exclusively to Jewish development and border towns, and to settlements in the 1967 Occupied Territories.


In the petition, Adalah argued that the government decision should be cancelled as the government lacks authority to divide the country into national priority areas: it is against the rule of law. The economic benefits provided to these selected towns and individual residents are of such a magnitude as to require statutory legislation that authorizes their provision and sets forth specific objective criteria for their distribution. The government's scheme, Adalah contended, lacks such criteria.


Adalah further argued that the purpose of designating certain towns as national priority areas is to help poorer towns to develop economically. Although Arab towns and villages in Israel rank lowest in all socio-economic indices according to official government statistics, they are effectively excluded.


Adalah also argued that the government's division is based on arbitrary geographical considerations. For example, although the disparity in educational attainment levels and the quality of facilities between Jewish and Arab schools is overwhelming, Migdal HaEmek and Natserat Illit (two Jewish towns in the north of Israel) receive priority "A" educational benefits, while eleven other neighboring Arab towns and villages (Nazareth, Ein Mahel, Reineh, Iksal, Dabburiya, Shibli, Yaffa, Kufr Kanna, Mashad, Tur'an, and Illut) do not receive these benefits. Adalah demanded that these eleven villages be classified as priority "A" for the purpose of receiving educational benefits. The fact that the government did not include Arab towns and villages in priority "A" for educational benefits constitutes discrimination on the basis of nationality, Adalah argued.