RAMALLAH – Arab and Israeli organizations expressed anger at an Israeli amusement park for refusing to host Arab students.
Khaled Shaqra, a seventh-grade teacher at the Ajyal school in Arab city of Yaffa (Jaffa), said that he tried and failed to book a day at the Superland park in the Israeli city of Rishon Letzion for a group of his students.
Shaqra said that when he first telephoned to reserve the visit he was told that the dates of June 17, 18 and 19 were set aside for group visits and that he could choose any of those dates. But as soon as he revealed the obviously Arabic-sounding name of his school, he was relayed to a second Superland employee who informed him that no dates were available. When Shaqra offered to change the date of visit, his request was rejected.
Shaqra said that he called the park again half an hour later. This time introducing himself as “Eyal” — a Hebrew name — and saying he represented a Jewish NGO. He was told that the dates were in fact open for his group. “I felt many things all at once. I felt frustration, despair… I’ve experienced racism in the past, but this was the most severe incident,” the teacher said.
Ahmad Tibi, Knesset Member of the United Arab List party, called on Israeli police to close the park.
Issawi Fraij, MK of leftist Meretz party, said: “Instead of the Devil’s Train at Superland, we have the devils of racism and hatred. If we thought that at least at an amusement park our children could forget for a few hours that they are a minority suffering discrimination, it turns out that at Superland we’re also second-class citizens.”
Israel Education Minister Shai Piron called Shaqra to express his indignation, the minister’s office said in a statement.
“I’m shocked by such discrimination, which has no place in Israeli society,” Piron said, extolling the virtues of “equality, partnership and tolerance.”
Tzipi Livni, Israeli Justice Minister, has asked Israel’s attorney-general to look into the claim that the park has a policy of segregating Arab student groups. “If the facts are correct, then it is a serious symptom of an ailing democracy and every instance must be severely dealt with,” Livni was quoted by the Hebrew news site Walla as saying.
MK Amram Mitzna of Livni’s Hatnua party, said that “the behavior of the owners is a stinging slap in the face to efforts to deal with the phenomenon of racism in Israel society.” Mitzna is the chairman of the Knesset’s Education, Culture, and Sports Committee.
Meanwhile, the park on Friday said it had merely sought to accommodate requests from certain Jewish and Arab schools which wanted to hold separate end-of-school events at the park and that while it may have erred in judgment, it did not act out of malice.
The park said it would appeal to the Education Ministry for guidelines in such cases in the future.
“There has never been, isn’t and never will be expressions of racism at the Superland,” a statement from the park said. “We apologize before Jews and Arabs who were offended by the Superland’s agreement to the schools’ requests and will act to implement guidelines on this issue on a national level.”
Arabs make up about 20 percent of Israel’s 8 million residents and often complain of being treated as second-class citizens.
The amusement park uproar comes just days after a hawkish Israeli lawmaker submitted a controversial bill that would prioritize Judaism over democracy in matters of religion and state in Israel, a move widely perceived to be a swipe at Arabs.