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Human Rights Abuses in Israel and Occupied Palestine

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Human Rights Abuses in Israel and Occupied Palestine
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Founded in 1972, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) is its leading human and civil rights organization through activities involving litigation, legal advocacy, education, and public outreach.

Each year it publishes an annual report covering flagrant violations, positive trends, if any, and 'significant human rights-related processes' affecting Israelis and Palestinians.

Its latest December 2009 one is examined below, discussing "a disturbing (government-sponsored) trend that has (gained) currency in Israel over the past year - both in public discourse and sometimes in practice - to make human rights conditional: on fulfilling some obligation, having financial means, or belonging (or not belonging) to certain groups."

For example, free expression is targeted, and Israeli Arabs threatened, denied equality, education,  employment, and their citizenship without "declaring loyalty" to Israel - in other words, on condition they abandon their national identity, culture, language, and historic heritage that's the equivalent of asking Jews  to renounce Judaism.

Financial means involves regarding social rights, including healthcare and education, as commodities, accessible to those who can pay. And for Occupied Palestinians, Gaza was devastated by war, remains under siege, and sustains near daily assaults, killings, and targeted assassinations.

In the West Bank, security forces enforce land seizures, home demolitions, displacement, segregation, isolation, closures, movement and travel restrictions, the Separation Wall's construction, daily home invasions, arrests, attacks on peaceful protestors, imprisonments, and torture of detainees under a rigid "matrix of control" involving checkpoints, bypass roads, roadblocks, curfews, electric fences, and various other harassments to cow all Palestinians into submission or make them give up and leave.

Since 1948, Israel denied its Arab citizens fundamental human and civil rights and increasingly fewer of them to many Jews. In the Territories, it's far worse under military occupation and Israeli laws affording no protections to Palestinians. Nor has the Supreme Court upheld the law that should be sacrosanct in a legitimate democracy. When it's compromised, no one is immune from abuse and neglect as greater numbers in Israel are learning, including Jews.

Threatening Free Expression

Losing it threatens all other freedoms. It's a basic legal right even Israel's Supreme Court recognizes, but not absolutely having repeatedly ruled that curtailing it is justified in extreme public danger situations or if national security may be undermined.

However, the "true test of freedom of expression lies in allowing the airing of views that are extreme, controversial, or infuriating." It's the state's obligation to protect them, especially in times of crisis, including war. But during Operation Cast Lead, Israel failed the test.

Protest demonstrations were attacked, dispersed, and silenced. Participants were arrested, then intimidated by dubious charges. Against Israeli Arabs, excessive force and preemptive detentions were used, then bogus indictments made based on charges of "participating in unlawful gatherings."

Legally, authorities overstepped so egregiously that harsher measures may follow, and against Palestinians they're commonplace, including targeted killings and torture.

Israel also restricted the foreign media, prohibiting on the scene access to report accurately on the conflict. For their part, the Israeli media largely supported the government. Overall, war coverage restrictions caused Israel's journalistic freedom rating to drop sharply as measured by international human rights organizations. Dissent was minimally tolerated, and repressing it continued post-war. "Not only were critics silenced, they were accused and vilified, and their critiques unaddressed."

During 2009, anti-democratic Knesset bills also limited free expression, including the Nakba Law threatening individuals with imprisonment for mourning on Israel's Independence Day. Organizations risked loss of their public funding for doing it.

The Incitement Law threatens prison for anyone denying Israel's existence as a Jewish, democratic state, and the proposed Loyalty to Israel Law rescinds Israeli citizenship for anyone unwilling to pledge loyalty to the state.

These mostly target Arab Israelis and get strong government backing. Also introduced was a bill almost completely banning demonstrations adjacent to the homes of public officials and service providers, or others responsible for public welfare. After passing its first Knesset reading, the Internal Affairs Committee asked for revisions.

Harassing Human Rights Organizations and Activists

In 1998, the UN General Assembly adopted the "Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms." It obligates all state parties to respect them and protect organizations and activists from violence, threats, retaliatory action and any discrimination connected to their work.

Israel is a signatory, but systematically violates the letter and spirit it expresses. Over the past two years and earlier, anti-democratic and free expression constraints have increased. Targeted senior political figures sought to undermined the legitimacy of their critics lawlessly.

For example, when the discharged combat veterans organization, Breaking the Silence, published a pamphlet critical of Operation Cast Lead, government response was harsh. Instead of investigating eyewitness war crimes testimonies, officials vilified the group to undermine its credibility, and the Foreign Ministry asked the Netherlands, Britain, and Spain to half their funding.

After the July Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) report about physicians' involvement in torture, Israeli Medical Association (IMA) chairman Dr. Yoram Blachar asked its members to sever ties with PHR-Israel.

The Prevention of Inflation Law passed its first Knesset reading in May 2008 - "in brazen violation of the basic precepts of providing protection and care to asylum seekers." One of its provisions includes long prison terms for convicted "infiltrators" and human rights activists helping them.

Harassing Human Rights Activists in the Occupied Territories

Harassment and other measures there are far worse than in Israel, including violence committed by security forces and settlers. IDF actions include:

-- declaring West Bank areas closed military zones to deny activists access to them;

-- arresting, detaining, indicting, convicting, and imprisoning activists as a deterrent; and

-- dispersing demonstrations with excessive force, using rubber-coated metal bullets, at times live rounds, stun grenades, tear gas, and other repressive measures against peaceful protesters

Discriminating Against Israeli Arabs

The Israeli government appointed the Or Commission to investigate early violence at the beginning of the second Intifada in which police killed 12 Israeli Arabs and one Palestinian. It recommended that the state "act to erase the stain of discrimination against Arab citizens in all its various forms and expression," but thereafter they worsened in even more severe forms.

Israeli Arabs enjoy no rights in a state affording them only to Jews. Worse still, they're portrayed as enemies, and in the past year, proposed racist laws threaten their free expression, political participation, language, culture, historic heritage, and all their rights unless they swear loyalty to the Jewish state and Zionist vision.

The Proposed Nakba Law

Public outrage over its original version got it revised to exclude imprisonment, but included is a clause withdrawing public funding from any state-supported body holding activities commemorating the Nakba in any way. It's now removed from Arab school curricula, and banning it denies Arab Israelis their collective identity, memory, and free expression right to their opinions, especially one this important.

Removal of Arab Place Names from Road Signs

In July, Minister of Transportation Yisrael Katz ordered Arab road signs replaced with Arabic transliterations of Hebrew names, but doing so violates the Supreme Court's recognition of Arabic as an official language in Israel.

Conditioning Rights on Military Service

In August, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said the Ministry's diplomatic training will be conditional on completing military or national service henceforth. As a result, the Israeli Railways fired 40 Arab train junction crossing guards when a condition was added to the vacancy announcement requiring all employees to have performed IDF service.

Conditional Citizenship

If passed, the proposed Loyalty to Israel Law will make Israeli citizenship conditional on signing a loyalty oath to "the Jewish, Zionist, and democratic State of Israel, its symbols and values." It will also obligate all citizens to perform military or other national service, and will authorize the Interior Minister to revoke the citizenship of anyone refusing to sign. In late May, the Ministerial Committee for Legislative Affairs rejected the bill.

Globally, citizenship is a basic right, but not in Israel where it's conditional, especially for Arabs. For example, in May, Interior Minister Eli Yishai ordered the citizenship of four Arabs revoked because they were suspected of harming state security. Doing so tells Israeli Arabs that their citizenship is conditional, not guaranteed, and can be revoked for any reason if state authorities wish.

Violating the Right to Housing

At issue again is making it conditional on swearing loyalty to Israel to keep Arabs out of Jewish communities. In addition, a June agreement between the state and Jewish National Fund (JNF) authorizes the transfer of some privately (central region) owned land to the state in exchange for undeveloped Negev and Galilee substitute areas. The idea again is discrimination, treating Jews one way and Arabs another by seizing their land for Jews only development.

Violating Free Expression and Political Involvement

It primarily affects Arabs, one example being in towns and villages where they protested against the Gaza war.  They were met with harassment, violence, and mass arrests, unlike the guidelines for Jews. Also, preemptive arrests were made, targeting Arab activists and public figures on suspicion they might protest the war.

These are police state tactics, reflected in all ways Israeli Arabs and Palestinians are treated. They portray a troubling picture portending worse ahead to deny non-Jews equal rights and strike hard when they peacefully protest. And yet the Orr Commission stressed that:

"It is imperative that we act to uproot manifestations of prejudice against the Arab sector that were demonstrated even by the most respected senior police officers. The police must impress upon its officers the idea that the Arab public as a whole is not their enemy, and must not be treated as such."

They are, worse than in October 2000, proving Israeli Arabs aren't respected or safe under Jewish rule, let alone given equal rights.

Racist Views

By considering Arabs enemies and unwanted, mistreating, excluding, and discriminating against them is sanctioned, and Jews support it. According to the Israel Democracy Institute's 2009 Democracy Index:

-- 53% of Jews support Arab emigration from Israel;

-- 54% of Jews and Arabs agree that only citizens loyal to the state deserve civil rights;

-- 38% of Jews believe Jews deserve more rights than others; and

-- only 33% of native Jews and 23% of new immigrants want Arab parties in the government, even though their members are Israeli citizens.

Overall, the survey authors say the data indicate broad support for revoking Arab political rights, ones only to be afforded Jews as more evidence that a democratic Israel is more illusion than fact.

Bedouin Rights

Tens of thousands live in so-called unrecognized villages, some pre-dating Israel's founding. Yet Israel won't recognize them, excludes them from regional and municipal planning, denies them basic services, calls Bedouin settlements illegal, and forcibly expels their residents from land they own.

Those remaining are given two choices - live under appalling conditions or voluntarily move to one of seven recognized townships or rural villages, live in poverty and unemployment, and relinquish all rights to their land, heritage, and traditional lifestyle.

Yet in December 2008, the Commission for the Resolution of Arab Settlement in the Negev, chaired by retired Supreme Court Justice Eliezer Goldberg (the Goldberg Commission), issued some unprecedented statements. It called Israel's policies against Bedouin citizens inappropriate, saying they're recognized residents, not "trespassers," and the state should legalize their status and allow them to build on their land.

Nonetheless, the report didn't unequivocally say how, and presented impediments that could indefinitely delay or even halt village recognition. Also, it didn't clearly recommend guidelines to assure basic services and essential infrastructure to spur economic development. As a result, Bedouin rights are still denied, and they continue being uprooted from their land.

Criminal Justice Rights

In 2006, a Supreme Court ruling bolstered the right to legal representation by affording persons suspected of a serious crime the right to have all interrogations videotaped, in cases involving a possible sentence of 15 or more years. Otherwise, forced confessions can be extracted through torture or other harsh means.

Nonetheless, due process is ignored if individuals are suspected of a security offense. In these cases, they may be detained and interrogated for several days in isolation, with no access to counsel, their family, or a judge. After arrest, oversight can last up to 96 hours. Afterwards, meeting with a lawyer can be delayed another three weeks and video documentation isn't required, so the most abusive practices can be employed out of sight and unreported, yet confessions gotten this way can convict.

In Occupied Palestine, it's far worse for any offense. Suspects can be held for eight days before being brought before a military judge, not a civil one. In addition, draconian regulations prevent contact with a lawyer, and authorities aren't obligated to document interrogations.

According to the 2002 Incarceration of Unlawful Combatants Law, suspects can be held up to 14 days with no judicial oversight and prevented from attorney contact for up to three weeks during which he or she can, and most often is, brutalized under the most horrific conditions. B'Tselem reported that 85% of Palestinian detainees are tortured, a longstanding practice, unconstrained and unreported.

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