Photo Credit: US Embassy Tel Aviv
Surgery ward or Matzo factory? Former Ambassador Dan Shapiro making his own matzos in Kfar Chabad.

The Haifa-based NGO Adalah (Justice in Arabic), an independent human rights and legal center, is fighting what it calls a ban imposed on Arab citizens because of the Jewish religious law forbidding consumption of leavened bread products during Passover holiday.

Adalah is demanding that Israel end the prohibition “on bringing leavened bread products into hospitals during the Passover holiday.”

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“This ban imposes upon Arab citizens of Israel the Jewish religious law forbidding the consumption of leavened bread products during Passover,” the NGO protests the imposition.

According to Adalah attorney Sawsan Zaher, the group received the first complaint about the no bread policy imposed on an Israeli Arab three years ago, in HaEmek Medical Center in Afula, where, according to Zaher, a hospital official actually searched an Arab man who was visiting his wife. The Chametz products were taken away and he proceeded to have an unleavened visit with his wife.

According to a source we spoke to in another hospital up north which serves a mixed population, the Health Ministry issues ahead of every Passover holiday instructions regarding preparing the public kitchen for the holiday and preventing the presence of bread and bread products. However, our source was adamant that no one in her establishment would dream of challenging a visitor and searching their person for chametz.

The Jewish laws regarding “harboring” chametz in one’s environment are substantially different from the laws regarding kashrut in that non-kosher products must exceed a quantitative minimum or have a qualitative influence on kosher food to present a problem, whereas the presence of chametz on Passover is not similarly limited. In this way, a non Jew who brings with him bread into a chametz-free environment theoretically turns it chametz for everyone else.

But, as environmental and religious tit for tat go, in February Adalah fiercely condemned Israel’s new “Muezzin Law,” which set out to curb the imposition of Muslim calls to prayer on non-Muslims. Adalah Attorney Mohammad Bassam back then wrote the AG that the law’s “true purpose is to prevent calls over loudspeakers specifically from mosques: earlier drafts of the bill explicitly stated that citizens were suffering ‘as a result of noise caused by muezzins in mosques.’ Furthermore, the bill’s authors crafted the legislation to apply to Muslim houses of worship only, leaving other houses of worship unaffected. Mosques are the only houses of worship that make use of loudspeaker systems between the hours of 23:00 and 07:00,” the timeframe when the law bans PA use.

This would be funny if attorney Bassam weren’t so deadpan serious. His argument is tantamount to an Eskimo claiming the ban on clubbing baby seals is an anti-Eskimo measure because, hey, is anyone telling folks in Mexico to leave their baby seals alone?

Adalah notes that 2017 marks the third consecutive Passover the group has initiated efforts to overturn the ban on Israeli Arabs bringing bread products into government run hospitals only to have Israeli officials fail “to provide a substantive response.”

Zaher noted that in 2016 the policy was being practiced at Rambam Medical Center in Haifa, and this year she knows of Carmel Medical Center in Haifa and HaEmek Medical Center in Afula where a similar policy is being enforced.

This report was written on Friday, and we were not able to get a response from the Israeli hospitals in question (the spokesperson’s offices were closed).

In a letter Zaher sent on Thursday to Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit and Health Minister Yaakov Litzman, the attorney noted that this is a “systemic policy implemented annually.”

Established in November 1996, Adalah “works to promote and defend the rights of Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel, as well as Palestinians living in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.” Its annual budget for 2014 was $1.4 million, received from private and government donors in Belgium, Germany, the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark, the UK, and the European Union.

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