- 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 report 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- -- only 33% of native Jews and 23% of new immigrants
want Arab parties in the government, even though their members are Israeli
- 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
- 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.
- Hatred and Racism
- In mid-2008, the Oz unit replaced the Immigration Police
and began intensifying residency law enforcement against asylum-seekers
and migrant workers invited to work as nurses, in agriculture, and for
construction. Now they're accused of causing unemployment and dehumanized
by being called "burglars, junkies, and street people."
- As a result, human rights activists and others expressed
outrage, and so didn't some cabinet and Knesset members. In July, it forced
Prime Minister Netanyahu to announce a three month expulsion suspension
to provide time to devise a more equitable policy, so far not done for
either refugees, migrant workers or asylum seekers.
- In addition, in the past year, they've been targeted,
called "foreigners," racially slurred, made to feel unwelcome,
and sometimes harmed by violence and killings. Subsets of Israeli society
are also affected, including Arabs, ethnic Ethiopians, Russians, gays and
lesbians, and even ultra-Orthodox Jews.
- Rights of the Elderly
- They're one of Israel's fastest growing groups, the result
of a falling birth rate and increased life expectancy. Yet the collapse
of the Pensioners Party in the last parliamentary election reduced their
status to an excluded and deprived population. As a result, many suffer
from ageism, exclusion, discrimination and poverty. In fact, elder Israeli
poverty ranks among the highest in western countries.
- Pensions are no longer linked to the average wage, but
to the Consumer Price Index, so their future value will likely drop. In
addition, long-term care issues are deteriorating because to qualify, elders
and their adult children must pass a means test. Chronic care facilities
are getting less funding, and growing numbers of institutions can't maintain
minimal medical standards, or must reduce staff and the care they afford.
- In employment, the 2004 Retirement Age Law lets employers
ousts workers who reach retirement age, regardless of their skills, desire,
or need to stay employed. Unlike other western countries, Israel fires
on the basis of age.
- The 1988 Equal Opportunity in Employment Law, prohibiting
discrimination age bias, is now weak and not enforced. In 2007, the Supreme
Court ruled that for persons past their retirement age, the state can deny
them jobs in preference to younger workers - saying this doesn't constitute
- Even persons as young as 50 are affected as employers
illegally get away with discriminating against them on the basis of age.
- Chronic care insurance is another issue. The 1995 National
Insurance Law assured it, but economic pressures weakened it and social
benefits overall as Israel succumbed to the same neoliberal pressures afflicting
all western countries, some more than others, but all heading in the same
direction. The result is society's most vulnerable are greatly impacted,
including seniors. In Israel, elders are increasingly viewed as dependent,
weak, less wanted, and burdensome. The result is less care and more impoverishment
when they most need help.
- The Right to Education
- Private schools have long existed in Israel, but now
they're proliferating at the expense of public ones. The term "private"
refers to ones not under state auspice or regional councils, including
those in the Amal or ORT network, kibbutz schools, Arab schools run by
the Church, and Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) schools.
- Now private secular ones have appeared with specific
educational agendas or philosophies, and others noted for their small class
size, high-quality teachers, or particular distinction making them desirable
to some Israelis.
- Private or not, they're all part of the "recognized
but unofficial" education system and get 75% of the funding given
official state schools. In May 2007, an amendment to the State Education
Law passed requiring regional councils to provide comparable funding.
- "The entire subject of 'recognized but unofficial'
schools is a complex one that raises profound questions about the right
of parents to make decisions about their children's education, equality
in education, the legitimacy of State intervention (in deciding content)
and the character of a given school (by setting conditions for public funding),
- Violating the Right to Equality in Education
- Admissions policies restrict entry to recognized but
unofficial schools to relatively few students. Criteria include entrance
exams, admission committee decisions, and more. Discrimination thus exists,
favoring some over others despite Ministry of Education directives prohibiting
- Because these schools are heavily subsidized, the entire
public must have access without discrimination, but they don't. High tuition
charges create another barrier, leaving out most Israeli children because
- Public schools are also affected. For example, parents
prefer schools offering targeted curricula - such as the Nature School
and School for the Arts, both in Tel Aviv. Despite the prohibition, both
require entrance exams and charge high tuitions.
- Although some specialized schools offer financial aid
to needy families, few, in fact, are helped, even for "specialized
track" public schools that also charge additional tuition and require
a personal interview to determine child eligibility for a special program.
The result is a two-track system - one for well-off families, the other
for those with limited means, unable to provide their children with the
- Decline of Public Schools
- They've declined as recognized but unofficial schools
have grown in popularity. As a result, compared to OECD countries, class
sizes are larger, teacher salaries lower, and student achievement mediocre.
It's no surprise that 61% of parents polled prefer private to public education.
They're publicly funded, have better teachers, and attract children from
more affluent families.
- In contrast, public education is deteriorating, and the
more it does, the greater the incentive for parents to prefer private ones
- if they can afford them.
- Recently, Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar said he'll
introduce legislation to broaden the ministry's discretionary powers "to
weigh whether or not to grant recognition to an institution based on educational
and financial considerations," including if doing so would adversely
affect public schools. It's a positive step, but much more is needed, so
far not gotten to reverse a discriminatory trend showing no signs of being
- The Right to Housing
- The August 2004 Israel Lands Administration (ILA) decision
#1015 created admissions committees to agricultural communities and small
communal settlements. They consider applications from candidates wanting
land to settle there, and recommend whether or not to permit them, using
dubious criteria based on "social compatibility" standards, heavily
discriminating against minority or other unwanted groups.
- "These are up-scale, rural, or private home developments
built on what was once kibbutz and moshav fields, not the property of the
State and offering a high standard of living at an affordable price,"
based on a discriminatory selection process.
- Sectoral Marketing and Acquisition Groups
- Discrimination also affects apartments letting private
developers market them to specific groups of their choosing, thus screening
in "quality neighbors" as a selling point to attract others like
them. It results in closed communities leading to social gaps as wealthier
neighborhoods get the best public services, while others deteriorate.
- The Right to Social Security
- In 2009, the global economic crisis impacted Israel hard,
especially jobs with a sharp rise in unemployment, and those without them
discovered that since 2000, social safety net protections have deteriorated.
- In addition, unemployment insurance has eroded to one
of the lowest among western countries, and eligibility became more stringent.
As a result, those qualifying have decreased by about 50%. In 2007, less
than one-fourth of Israel's unemployed were entitled to monthly stipends.
Those without them struggle for any means of support, making them vulnerable
- "The drastic cut to income-support and unemployment
insurance has been one element in Israel's high ranking in the (OECD's)
- The Wisconsin Plan
- In summer 2005, it began as an experimental pilot project
administered by private companies with the goal of reintegrating income-support
recipients into the workforce. However, its primary focus was to reduce
the number of people on income-support roles, so widespread criticism resulted.
- Private companies have a conflict of interest for being
compensated by the number they remove. They also don't invest sufficiently
in services to encourage employment, such as retraining, on-site childcare,
and programs to complete academic degrees.
- Rather than help the unemployed, they try to "re-educate"
them with sanctions to force them to cope in the current adverse job market
"through means that weaken their ability to stand up for their rights."
Participants thus feel degraded and helpless, with no government measures
to stop this.
- The Right to Health Care
- The 1994 National Health Insurance Law was enacted to
provide all Israelis with universal healthcare coverage. That was then.
This is now under budget cutting pressure and privatization, leaving workers
and the most vulnerable isolated and helpless.
- The public health system most rely on has deteriorated
greatly in quality, forcing recipients to pay more and get less. The result
is two parallel unequal, systems - high quality for the well-off and less
of it for all others, with gaps between them measured by statistical health
indicators across regions, socioeconomic levels, and ethnic groups.
- Several features in particular stand out, showing how
Israeli health care shifted from a right to a commodity based on the ability
to pay, as well as a new proposal to establish another healthcare fund
as a profit-making enterprise.
- Dental care isn't covered at all, forcing many families
to forego it. However, in May 2009, the Health Ministry announced that
it would assume funding of basic preventive dental care for every school
child, thus assuring it regardless of financial means, and funding it from
the allocation for new medicines. It's a small step in the right direction,
but the broader one looks bleak.
- The 1998 Economic Arrangements Law let the national health
funds increase co-payment amounts for medical services and drugs as well
as additional fees. Ever since, they've been rising, and according to the
Central Bureau of Statistics, 32% of 2008 national health expenditures
was funded by direct payments, including dental care.
- The result is greater numbers of Israelis foregoing care
because they can't afford it. The Israeli Medical Association believes
co-pays should be abolished for some services, mainly preventive care,
and proposes other ways "to achieve the appropriate balance between
ensuring medical care for all and efficiency in the system."
- Supplementary Insurance
- They fill gaps uncovered in the standard health basket
for those who can afford it. About 24% of the population doesn't have it.
Of these, 52% declined because of cost. In addition, 32% of those in poor
health have none, including the elderly impacted by higher premiums with
age. Not only does supplementary insurance not provide solutions for everyone,
it's actually "widening the gap between lower and middle classes,
and expediting the process that is turning health care from a right into
- Two trends have thus emerged:
- -- an ongoing decline in services and drugs provided
by the state, and the increase in what individuals receive based on their
ability to pay; and
- -- the promotion of supplementary insurance to well-off
people, leaving the rest disempowered and left out.
- Instead of fixing the system, policy makes it worse by
catering to the needs of people who can afford them, not the rest.
- The Fifth Health Fund
- It's another symptom of commoditization, contradicting
the National Health Insurance Law defining national health funds as public
bodies and declaring new funds must be non-profit. However, spending cut
priorities pressured national health funds to privatize, and got the idea
included in the 2009-2010 Economic Arrangements Law, so far not voted on
in the Knesset, but may be to enhance competition and efficiency. Instead
of solving public healthcare problems, it will further undermine social
solidarity and deepen the existing inequality, the very direction Israel
- Rights in the Occupied Territories
- Israel's preemptive, indiscriminate, Operation Cast Lead
attack against Gazan civilians took a devastating toll, compounding the
existing humanitarian crisis with the Territory under siege. Of course,
medical services were greatly impacted, including willful attacks against
hospitals, other health facilities, ambulances, and providers. In addition,
Gaza's entire infrastructure was savaged, affecting electricity, water
and sewage facilities already severely compromised.
- Israel committed wanton crimes of war and against humanity
continuing to this day, causing incalculable human suffering further impacted
by closure and isolation. Post-conflict, Israel obstructed and vilified
independent investigations, then denied serious charges in their aftermath,
including by their own combat veterans based on their personal experiences
they went public on to reveal.
- A year later, nothing is resolved. Gaza remains under
siege. Sub-minimal amounts of basic goods are allowed in, including construction
materials, essential equipment, raw materials, and spare part necessary
to function and rebuild. Tens of thousands have no shelter, relying on
temporary facilities, crowded quarters with relatives, or tents that aren't
suitable in Gaza's winter. Israel violates every obligation imaginable
to protect civilians under international humanitarian law, and attacking
them indiscriminately is a grievous war crime.