Public Swimming Pool in Negev Separates Arab-Bedouin from Jews

A public swimming pool in southern Israel enforces separate hours for Jews and Arab-Bedouin – a practice that is undeclared but nevertheless familiar to visitors. The Merhavim Regional Council operates the pool in the community of Mabu’im. An employee told Haaretz that the pool has activities for the Bedouin community during the week after 6 pm and on Friday nights, while the rest of the time the pool is open only to members. Several members of a Bedouin family who tried to use the pool on Saturday were refused entry based on this condition.

The swimming pool in the community of Mabu'im that enforces a policy of separate hours for Arabs and Jews

The swimming pool in the community of Mabu’im that enforces a policy of separate hours for Arabs and Jews (Photo: Merhavim Regional Council)

Hadash Lawmaker Yousef Jabareen (Joint List) said he would call for an investigation into the matter. “The separation of those who want to use the pool based of nationality is illegal and immoral,” he said. “Anyone who invents justifications and cloaks this separation in claims of ‘cultural suitability’ will end up descending into apartheid. I will appeal to the attorney general to open a criminal investigation against the owners and operators of the pool and against public places that separate Jews and Arabs. Such separation is against the law that prohibits discrimination in public services.”

The Coalition against Racism said in a statement about the pool’s policy: “Preventing Arab families from Rahat and Segev Shalom from entering the swimming pool in a community in the south is an unacceptable practice that is maintained in a number of recreational venues in Israel. As long as operators and owners do not publically declare it, it continues to be enforced even when it is forbidden. We in the Coalition against Racism call on the Jewish and Arab public in Israel not to remain silent in the face of this phenomenon, but to expose it and bring it to an end because it is immoral as well as illegal.”

The same pool was previously linked to claims of discrimination, with a news channel airing in 2013 a recording in which the manager was heard rejecting a request to allow Bedouin children with cancer to enter the pool because of “problems with the community.”  In 2009, the pool refused entry to a Christian family from Be’er Sheva, allegedly because entry was only for local residents. A member of the family said he approached the manager and was ultimately told “we don’t allow Arabs to enter the pool.” The council apologized for the incident.

Knesset members from both the opposition and the ruling coalition called on the attorney general on Tuesday, June 19, to work towards ending the separation between Bedouin and Jews in the public swimming pool at Mabu’im.

In a letter to Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit, Knesset members called the separation “a disgraceful practice that has no place in a democratic state” and said it violates an anti-discrimination law. They added “it is difficult to stand idly by while children are kept outside of the pool only because of their religion, in a country where they are considered equal citizens.”

The letter was signed by Hadash MKs Jabareen, Dov Khenin, Ayman Odeh and Aida Touma-Sliman,  Meretz MKs Tamar Zandberg, Mossi Raz, Michal Rozin, Ilan Gilon, and Esawi Freige; Zionist Union MKs Eyal Ben-Reuven and Stav Shaffir; Yesh Atid MKs Pnina Tamano-Shata and Yael German, and MK Akram Hasson (Kadima).