JERUSALEM: At least four Israeli cities, including the commercial capital Tel Aviv, have banned Arab labourers from their schools, struggling to calm public fears fuelled by the worst surge of Palestinian street attacks in years.
Israel’s Interior Ministry, which oversees municipalities, declined immediate comment on Sunday on the decision, condemned by a party representing the country’s Arab minority as racist.
Israel’s cabinet also imposed more security measures on Sunday after further Palestinian stabbings on Saturday, widening police stop-and-frisk powers that will effectively allow them to search anyone on the street.
Forty-one Palestinians and seven Israelis have died in recent street violence, which was in part triggered by Palestinians’ anger over what they see as increased Jewish encroachment on Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa mosque compound.
“We are preserving the status quo, we will continue to do so,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in public remarks on Sunday to his cabinet, referring to the site that is also revered by Jews as the location of two destroyed biblical temples.
Netanyahu is to meet U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in Germany in the coming week as part of an effort by Washington to restore calm.
The Palestinian dead include attackers wielding knives and protesters shot by Israeli forces during violent demonstrations.
The Israelis were killed in random attacks in the street or on buses, and with parents demanding swift action to safeguard schools, cities have added more armed guards at their gates and police have increased patrols.
Citing security concerns, Tel Aviv and the nearby cities of Rehovot and Hod Hasharon avoided using the word “Arab” in announcing on their websites and emails to residents that maintenance workers and cleaners – many of whom are Arabs – would not be allowed into schools.
Another city, Modiin-Maccabim-Reut, midway between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, said “minority members” – a term Jews in Israel often use for Arab citizens who make up 20 percent of the population of eight million – would be banned from working in its schools.
Dov Khenin, a legislator from the Joint Arab List, the largest Arab party, said on Israel Radio that “under cover of anxiety, dangerous measures of racist exclusion are being advanced”.
Spokesperson for Tel Aviv and Rehovot insisted the ban would apply to Jews and Arabs alike. But Doron Milberg, director-general of the municipality of Rehovot, acknowledged that Arabs would be most affected by the decision because “those who work construction … are the minorities”.
Two of the alleged assailants in attacks on Israelis over the past two weeks were Israeli Arabs. The others were Palestinians from occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank.
Israel, which has poured hundreds of troops into its cities and set up roadblocks in Palestinian neighbourhoods of East Jerusalem, said that on Saturday four Palestinians were shot dead and a fifth seriously injured in thwarted knife attacks.
Pope Francis on Sunday appealed for an end to violence in the Holy Land, urging Israelis and Palestinians to take concrete steps to ease tensions.
“In this moment there is a need for much courage and much fortitude to say ‘no’ to hate and vendetta and make gestures of peace,” he told tens of thousands of people after a Mass in St. Peter’s Square.