Advocacy / Advocacy News

Campaign for Reviving Palestinian Culture in Israel: Interview with Samar Hawila

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In addition to the Campaign for Amazigh’s Cultural Rights in the Moroccan Society and the Campaign for Stambeli Tradition in Tunisia, the Drama, Diversity and Development project supported another advocacy project campaigning for the Palestinian Arab community’s cultural rights in Israel. The ‘Cultural Rights for Arab Citizens in Israel’ Project was organized by Mossawa Center (The Advocacy Center for Arab Citizens in Israel), a non-profit organization that aims to promote the economic, social, cultural and political rights of the Palestinian Arab citizens in Israel and supports the recognition of this community as a national indigenous minority, with their own national, cultural and historical distinctiveness. The project, which started in February 2016 and was completed in May 2016, aimed at battling the cultural isolation and oppression faced by Palestinians living in Israel. As the center works to promote a democratic society and acts against all forms of discrimination based on race, nationalism, and religious affiliation, this advocacy project contributed to supporting the Palestinian Arab community in Israel and bringing them a step closer towards eliminating the gaps that exist between the Arab and Jewish communities, as a result of discriminatory state policies that contribute to the cultural inequality they face.

In a recent interview with DDD, Mossawa’s coordinator of international advocacy and development, Samar Hawila, insisted on culture as a basic human right that should be preserved and safeguarded. Viewing the preservation of cultural identity as an integral aspect of the wellbeing of the Palestinian Arab Community in Israel, the advocacy project strived to challenge the systemic laws and policies that prevent the Palestinian minority in Israel of fully expressing its cultural identity.   Specifically, the ‘Cultural Rights for Arab Citizens in Israel’ project was interconnected with Mossawa’s budget analysis project, which revealed that the Ministry of Culture allocates less than 4 percent of its budget to the Arab community, a community that constitutes approximately 20 percent of the population in Israel. As Hawila explained, more than 40 million NIS of the Israeli Ministry of Culture’s budget was allocated under exclusive criteria, giving funds solely to Jewish institutions such as ‘Ben Gurion Institute’ and ‘Jewish Heritage Communities’. With no equivalent funding being given to Palestinian Arab culture organizations, Mossawa and many other organizations consider the criteria to be discriminatory and illegal.

In reaction to the many discriminatory cultural policies, most importantly discriminatory culture budget allocation, the Mossawa Center took action in 2013 and petitioned the Supreme Court. The petition was successful and the Supreme Court called out the Ministry of Culture to conduct a comprehensive survey of the Arab community’s cultural needs. After multiple postponements in the report’s submission, which details the findings of the survey  and was conducted by external experts nominated by the Ministry, the Ministry of Culture finally submitted the findings of the report in 2015. The survey’s findings showed large gaps in services and lack of support given to Arab cultural organizations and proved the discriminatory budget allocation to the court[1]. This demonstrated how policies carried by the Ministry of Culture are purely discriminatory and work to limit Palestinian culture and Palestinian cultural identity, which is incompatible with democratic society’s values, Hawila added.

The ‘Cultural Rights for Arab Citizens in Israel’ Project included three parts that aimed at achieving cultural development within the Arab community and challenging the discriminatory policies of the Ministry of Culture In Israel. The first part of the project focused on legal advocacy, which succeeded in pressuring the Ministry of Culture to submit a plan for increased funding for culture in the Arab community. The second part focused on government advocacy, in which the center lobbied Members of Knesset to take action in regards to the discrimination against Palestinian culture and Arab culture organizations in Israel. Lastly, the third part focused on backing up Arab culture institutions to ensure their sustainability; prepare them to face institutionalized discrimination that threatens the very existence of Palestinian culture organizations in Israel.

When the results of the mapping were submitted to the Court and discriminatory budget allocation to the Arab community was proved, the Supreme Court ordered the Ministry of Culture to submit a plan to increase budget allocations to the Arab community. During the project, Mossawa managed to double the budget allocated to the Arab community of 11.5 million NIS[2] to almost 21 million NIS. As a result of the court case, 3.7 million NIS were added to the budget with another 5 Million NIS being added through the advocacy work of Mossawa Center, in cooperation with MK Dr. Ahmad Tibi. Mossawa Center sees this as a great success, even though the final goal of 20% of the culture budget being allocated to the Arab community is yet to be achieved. Part of the funds that Mossawa managed to lobby for the benefit of the Arab community were allocated to different Arab localities that held several Palestinian culture festivals throughout the country which lasted for days.

When asked about the reaction of the different groups targeted by the advocacy project, Hawila recounted that, on the one hand, the Arab cultural organizations that attended the workshop hosted by the Mossawa Center were enthusiastic and grateful, as the training provided them with the knowledge of how to obtain funding for their projects. On the other hand, Hawila described the reaction of some Jewish Israeli Knesset members, including the Minister for Culture Miri Regev, to not be very progressive as they rejected a bill vouching for proportional budgeting for Arab culture.

On the personal level, Hawila’s favorite part of the project was the amount of awareness the project managed to raise on the discrimination faced by the Arab community in Israel. She also loved helping raise awareness internationally as she was part of the team responsible for the international advocacy in the campaign. Finally, Hawila concluded that the Mossawa Center is committed to continuing this advocacy work in order to empower Palestinian culture in Israel, as they consider it an integral part of their identity, which has to be maintained and protected. The petition filed in the High Court is also still ongoing and the Center will continue to vouch for fair budget allocation to the Arab community in the Knesset, as well as for Palestinian citizen’s cultural, economic, political and social rights and raise awareness on the discrimination faced by the Palestinian community in Israel.

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[1] The survey notes the lack of community centers, theaters, art schools, and culture centers for the Palestinian Arab community. It also demonstrates that in 92 percent of Arab towns and villages, there is no cultural authority or organization providing support for creative artists. In addition, the mapping found that some 83 percent have no orchestral or choral activities; 32 percent have no public library; 50 percent do not host any shows, festivals or children’s activities; and not a single Arab town or village has an arts center that meets the latest ministry standards. Lastly, the report found that only 19 percent of the towns and villages surveyed actually received budgeting for cultural events or activities.

[2] NIS: New Israeli Shekel

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