National Insurance Institute Must Accept Official Documents in Arabic and Stop Asking Citizens to Translate them to Hebrew at their Own Expense
On 28 November 2006, Adalah sent a letter to the National Insurance Institute (NII) requesting the issuance of administrative directives to mandate that official documents written in the Arabic language be accepted by all branches of the NII, without requiring that they be translated in Hebrew at the personal expense of those submitting the documents. Adalah emphasized in the letter that the NII has been employing a policy for several years.
Adalah Attorney Noor Alatownh sent the letter after Adalah received numerous complaints of the NII’s refusal to accept documents in Arabic, including Shari’a court decisions regarding issues of personal status. Ms. Hana Fahim Jabareen, for example, an Arab citizen of Israel from the town of Umm al-Fahem, who is divorced and the mother of two children, went to the NII office in Hadera with a decision from the Shari’a Court, which determined her right to receive maintenance support payments from her former husband. However, the NII office refused to deal with her request unless she had the decision translated into Hebrew. Ms. Jabareen stated that, “Every application to the National Insurance Institute is followed by a series of nightmares. My economic situation does not allow me to pay for the translation of documents they demand.” Attorney Shadi Jabareen, who handles Ms. Hana Jabareen’s application and who has dealt with many similar cases, told Adalah that he was forced to approach the Shari’a Court for a second time for Ms. Jabareen in order to obtain a summary of the decision, which would be less expensive to translate.
Adalah argued that the NII is obliged to accept documents from official institutions in Israel. The Shari’a courts are official institutions which operate as legal authorities in accordance with the law, and therefore their decisions are valid, legally-binding documents. Thus, the NII is obliged to accept Shari’a court decisions without condition. Adalah also argued that the NII’s policy impairs the dignity of Arab citizens of Israel and discriminates against them on the basis of national belonging. Further, Adalah contended that since Arabic is an official language in Israel, the public authorities are duty-bound to accept documents in Arabic and to use Arabic in their public notifications. Ultimately, the NII’s policy sends a message that Arabic is an inferior language which does not deserve respect or protection.
Moreover, as Adalah argued, the NII’s policy violates the right of Arab citizens of Israel to receive services from the NII. This violation is particularly severe since the majority of applications to the NII are made by poor individuals for the purpose of obtaining payments to secure a minimal livelihood. As a result, the NII’s demand to translate documents from Arabic to Hebrew imposes a heavy financial burden on the Arab poor, and could deter them from approaching the NII to realize their rights.