HAIFA, Tuesday, March 10, 2020 (WAFA) - Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel sent an urgent letter to Israeli Health Ministry officials on Sunday on behalf of Arab lawmaker Sami Abu Shehadeh (Balad/Joint List) demanding that the ministry provide all real-time coronavirus-related updates and information also in Arabic.
Palestinian citizens of Israel constitute approximately 20 percent of the country’s total population, according to 2019 data from the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics.
Adalah and member of the Israeli parliament, Knesset, Abu Shehadeh, in the urgent letter addressed to Health Ministry Director General Moshe Bar Siman-Tov, demand that all information and directives relating to coronavirus be immediately made accessible to the Arabic-speaking public on all its communications platforms, social media, and smartphone apps.
An examination of the Israeli Health Ministry’s website revealed that ongoing updates related to coronavirus are being issued only in Hebrew; Arabic-language updates are issued only after significant delays. In addition, the ministry’s social media posts and smartphone app are accessible only in Hebrew.
Adalah Attorney Aiah Haj Odeh stressed in the letter that Israel’s failure to provide up-to-date virus-related information in Arabic not only violates the right to equality but also constitutes an immediate danger to public health.
"The Israeli government has been discriminating against Palestinian citizens for years, failing to provide essential information and services in Arabic. There is now an urgent public interest in regular, real-time updates – accessible in all languages – relating to coronavirus. Inequality in access to information can harm all citizens. The coronavirus does not discriminate according to the ethnic identity of its victims, and the Israeli Health Ministry must therefore provide equal services for all citizens,” said Odeh.
"The handling of this epidemic requires access to information for the entire public – certainly also in Arabic for Arab citizens. Unfortunately, the lack of Arabic-language updates and information on all platforms – and the concurrent investment in dissemination of only Hebrew-language information – highlights the depth of inequality even when it comes to the right to health. Now – in the midst of a global epidemic – we must all do everything we can to eradicate coronavirus, and the primary tool at our disposal is accessible information," commented Knesset Member Sami Abu Shehadeh.
Adalah said later today that over the past several hours there has been an increased effort on the part of the Israeli Health Ministry to retroactively supply Arabic-language information on coronavirus. Adalah Attorney Aiah Haj Odeh emphasized, however, that the information is not transmitted in real time and it is still missing essential details, including the latest guidelines for individuals required to remain in quarantine.
In addition, Adalah stressed that there is still no information in Arabic on Health Ministry social media platforms and the ministry’s coronavirus app is not offered in Arabic.
"We demand that the Israeli Health Ministry unequivocally commit to providing all information in Arabic - just as it is in Hebrew - before we turn to the courts," said Adalah Attorney Aiah Haj Odeh.