Adalah, The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, is demanding an end to the prohibition of bringing leavened bread products into hospitals during the week-long Jewish holiday of Passover (Pessah). This ban imposes upon Arab citizens of Israel the Jewish religious law forbidding the consumption of leavened bread products during Passover.
In her letter sent last Thursday, April 13, to Israel’s Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit and Health Minister Yaakov Litzman, Adalah Attorney Sawsan Zaher noted that the ban is a “systemic policy implemented annually.”
This marks the third consecutive year that Adalah has initiated efforts to overturn the ban on bringing leavened bread products in hospitals during Passover, but Israeli officials have failed to provide a substantive response. Adalah intends to file a legal appeal against the ban.
In April 2015, Adalah sent a letter to the Attorney General, the Ministry of Health, and HaEmek Hospital in Afula, demanding an end to the policy of imposing kosher food restrictions during the Jewish holiday of Passover on Arab-Palestinian citizens. These policies prevented Arab patients from bringing in and consuming bread, or any other type of leavened food that is forbidden to by Jewish Law during the holiday. In the absence of a policy change, Adalah will take further legal action.
The 2015 letter was written after Sa’id Mahameed, a Palestinian citizen of Israel from Mu’awiya (located in the center of Israel), who was visiting his wife and newborn child at the HaEmek Hospital in Afula, was denied entry to the hospital because he was carrying leavened foods. Mahameed claimed that his wife could not leave the hospital because their child was ill, and so he had prepared some meals for her. The security guards confiscated the food, threw some of it on the ground, and placed the rest in a special cupboard for leavened foods.
In the letter, Adalah Attorney Sawsan Zaher wrote: “My client and his wife were offended by the confiscation of their food and from being prevented from consuming their desired meals. Mahameed was offended in particular because he deliberately placed the food in a sealed opaque bag out of respect for Jewish persons who were observing Passover.”
Attorney Zaher added that this policy is an especially troubling practice for Arab citizens, who have to relinquish their food upon entry into a hospital and submit to such coercion over religious impositions that are not their own. This policy violates laws pertaining to Patients’ Rights, which prohibit the differentiation between patients based on religious affiliation and ethnicity, and protects the patient’s right to privacy and dignity.
Attorney Zaher further emphasized that the law prohibits hospital stores from selling any foods forbidden during Passover, but it does not in any way prevent patients from bringing their own food into the hospital. Additionally, the law recognizes that in towns where the majority of residents are non-Jews, leavened foods should be permitted in stores. Attorney Zaher argued that the law itself is a balance between the sanctity of holidays on the one hand and religious freedoms on the other, but the policy imposed by the hospital is overreaching and unfairly burdens Arab citizens.