Hebrew is one of the three official languages of the State of Israel, and laws or decisions that are handed down in the name of the state need to be in Hebrew – and that includes decisions made by the Muslim religious courts, an Israeli attorney contends. Chaim Shtenger, who has represented Israeli Jews on matters that have appeared before the Muslim courts, has petitioned the High Court to require that the Sharia courts that render decisions according to Islamic law publish their decisions in Hebrew, as well as in Arabic.
The source for Hebrew as an official language in Israel is based on the Mandatory-era King’s Order in Council, a set of laws that was used by the British to rule Palestine during the period of the British Mandate. While the Knesset is today the authorized legislator in the State of Israel, many of the Basic Laws and original statutes of the state are based on these laws, including the one regarding the use of language.
According to the statutes, decisions by legislative bodies and the courts “shall be published in English, Arabic and Hebrew.” And while the rule is not strictly enforced in all situations, it is when there is a need and or requirement to do so. Shtenger says in his petition that there is a need for enforcement in this situation, as attorneys and officials who represent Israeli Jews who do not speak or read Arabic in cases appearing before the Muslim courts are at a disadvantage, and are unable to represent their clients effectively.
According to the petition, “previous decisions by the court have required that decisions rendered by Israeli courts be published in Arabic, along with their Hebrew versions. The court is kindly requested to include in that order the publication of decisions published in Arabic in Hebrew as well.”