Human Rights Violations in Israel and Palestine

Human Rights Violations in Israel and Palestine

by Stephen Lendman

The Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI)
publishes annual reports on the state of human rights
in Israel and occupied Palestine. This article is
based on its latest year end 2007 one.

ACRI is Israel’s leading human and civil rights
organization and the only one addressing all rights
and liberties issues. It was founded in 1972, is
independent and nonpartisan, and leads the struggle
for these issues in Israel and the Occupied
Territories through litigation, legal advocacy,
education, and public outreach. ACRI also believes
that civil and human rights are universal. They must
be “an integral part of democratic community building
and….a unifying force in Israeli public life” for
everyone, especially those most marginalized,
disadvantaged and currently persecuted or neglected.

ACRI evaluates the state of human rights annually, and
it’s latest report coincided with the December 10,
2007 International Human Rights Day. Its purpose is to
cite flagrant violations; note positive trends and
developments, if any; and “trace significant human
rights-related processes (affecting) Israeli citizens
and residents.” Reports rely on various information
sources: government publications, NGO reports,
newspaper and other published materials, parliamentary
documents and court litigation.

Human rights violations directly result from
government policies, actions and inactions, and ACRI’s
report is gloomy. It found the Israeli government
derelict for having allowed the “blanket” of rights
it’s supposed to ensure for Arabs and Jews to erode.
As a result, rights violations grow, more people are
affected, and those harmed most are on society’s
fringes. ACRI’s report is comprehensive and documents
them in areas of:

—health;

—workers’ rights;

—the state of Arab Israelis;

—education in Sderot;

—migrant worker rights;

—citizenship and residency status;

—human rights in occupied Palestine, highlighting
neglect and discrimination in Arab East Jerusalem,
Hebron, and the “unrecognized” Negev Bedouins;

—freedom of expression;

—the right to privacy;

—criminal justice; and

—the overall destabilization and erosion of
democracy in the country. Israel claims to be a
democracy. Its record disproves it.

ACRI’s evidence is disturbing and compelling, yet it’s
appalled by the Israeli public’s indifference. It aims
to change this by publicizing its findings so those in
government, the media and general population know them
and will react to reverse an ugly and damaging trend.
Growing numbers of people worldwide know how Israel
harms Palestinians. ACRI’s report shows that Jews are
also impacted.

Health Care in Israel

Israel’s 1994 National Health Insurance Law has noble
guarantees - quality health services for every Israeli
resident in accordance with justice, equality and
mutual support principles. Ever since, however,
Israeli governments violated their obligation, and
unequal access has increased. It’s characterized by
inadequate funding, privatized health services, a
steady erosion in the extent and quality of services
provided, and the crowding out of access for the poor
and many in the middle class. Defunding public health
means private insurance is as essential as it is in
the US. The result is two health systems differing
markedly in quality - one for the well-off and another
for everyone else, including many in the middle class.


ACRI finds it disturbing. The trend undermines
Israel’s social contract with its citizens, violates
basic rights, and reneges on the state’s duty under
the International Covenant of Economic, Social and
Cultural Rights. ACRI focuses on the problem with
special emphasis on a growing hospital crisis, the
need for expensive supplemental insurance, and how
various population groups cope inadequately under very
limited and expensive health service access.

In recent years, budgets have been cut, and the trend
continued in 2007. The Ministry of Health’s per capita
allocation is 14% lower than in 2001, and the
Ministry’s development budget is 43% lower. Public
hospitals have been hardest hit, patient access to
quality health care has eroded, and medical personnel
are understaffed and aren’t able to provide the best
care possible.

The Israel Medical Association January 2007 data
highlight the crisis:

—the hospital beds/population ratio has declined; it
was 3.27 per 1000 persons in 1970; a year ago it
touched 1.94, the lowest figure among western
countries;

—the approved number of beds hasn’t increased, the
need for them has, and it’s been met by adding
“non-approved” beds that comprise up to 30% of the
total in hospital internal medicine units (IMUs); the
result is growing overcrowding and medical staff
unable to cope;

—on routine days, average hospital occupancy is 100%
compared to 85% in the West; in IMUs it reached 130%
and in pediatric units 112%; and

—overcrowding and underfunding force early patient
releases before they’re ready to go; they also
contribute to the spread of infections, viruses and
diseases and require doctors and medical staff to be
responsible for a growing number of patients, more
than they can adequately handle.

Ever since the 1994 National Health Insurance Law
passed, health services have eroded in violation of
its guarantee. The Adva Center advocates for policy
changes favoring disadvantaged Israelis. It tallied
the damage through last year and found a 44% decline
in health service funding with gaps made up for by
supplemental insurance. Over 70% of the public have it
while the rest rely solely on dwindling national
health services that often fail to deliver.

Most disadvantaged Israelis lack supplemental
insurance: one-third are age 65 or older; 53% are
Israeli Arabs; 42% are Jews of Russian origin; while
11% are from the Hebrew-speaking community. A 2007
Physicians for Human Rights report describes how
various population groups are disadvantaged. Those
furthest removed from Israel’s social center got
poorest access. They include: low wage earners;
“unrecognized” Negev Bedouins; East Jerusalem
Palestinians; Israelis married to Occupied Territory
Palestinians; prisoners; Palestinian spouses of
Israeli Arabs; migrant workers; refugees and
asylum-seekers; and victims of human trafficking. In
total, these groups comprise about 1.25 million men
and women.

Income alone is a hugely limiting factor, and two
studies document it. A 2005 Brookdale Institute one
showed that 15% of Israelis forego some medications.
Among low wage earners, the figure was 23%. A 2006
Israel Medical Association survey of Israeli Jews
found 23% of them abstain from some form of treatment
or essential medication with income and family size
the main limiting factors. The same survey reported
that 56% of Israeli Jews fear they’ll be unable to
afford needed medication because of cost, and it
estimated that the situation for Israeli Arabs is far
worse.

The situation is most acute in peripheral areas,
especially in southern Israel that’s populated by
Bedouin Arabs and new immigrants. Here, socioeconomic
status is lowest and so is access to health services
that are far below what’s available in Central Israeli
cities like Tel Aviv and Haifa: fewer hospital beds,
inadequate specialized equipment, fewer specialists,
and waiting periods for appointments can take weeks.
In addition, for more complicated cases, patients are
at risk. Hospitals can only provide preliminary exams,
patients must incur time and expense to get to where
proper treatment is available, and it can be touch and
go in life-threatening cases.

ACRI believes that distributive justice demands that
the state provide local health services where they’re
lacking so all Israelis get equal access to it. That
will require funding boosts not now available or
planned.

Worker Rights and the Unemployed

Subcontracted employment is a growing trend in Israel,
the practice exploits workers, labor laws are
violated, and human rights organizations are taking
note. On average, subcontract wages are 60% of
standard, few or no benefits are gotten, and worker
rights are routinely violated. Most common abuses
include: wages below minimum, illegal overtime without
pay, firings without severance, social benefits
withheld, leave time disallowed or no pay while on
leave, lower pay because of illegal deductions and
fines, and organizing efforts crushed.

The situation is deplorable, organizations like ACRI
are addressing it, and the government tops their
target list. It’s the country’s largest subcontract
employer and the body responsible for making and
enforcing the law. Progress for reforms show promise:

—in March 2007, the Ministry of Finance’s General
Accountant, Yaron Zelekha, directed government
ministries to assure that subcontract bidding includes
all social benefits workers are entitled to under
protective labor laws. ACRI called it a “significant
breakthrough” provided they’re enforced; earlier
efforts failed because they weren’t;

—the same Ministry now requires subcontract
companies to present confirmation they’re complying
with employment laws;

—in June 2007, the Knesset produced a draft bill
requiring organizations using subcontract labor to
assure worker rights aren’t violated; and

—the General Accountant also established a minimum
price for employing subcontract workers.

Earlier in 2005, the government established the
“Mehalev” program that was known as the “Wisconsin
Plan” where the idea originated. In principle, it was
sound, but in practice it failed. The idea was this -
reduce the number of guaranteed income recipients by
integrating them into the job market and thus provide
better opportunities for more pay and benefits. In
fact, the format was unsuitable for many required to
enroll, too little investment went into the program,
and bureaucratic obstacles overwhelmed its
administration.

A June 2007 inter-ministerial report assessed the
plan, concluded it failed, and recommended a new one
be established with a menu of proposed changes. As a
result, revisions were made, and a new program called
“Employment Lights” began in August 2007 with
performance under it yet to be assessed.

The Rights of Israeli Arab Citizens

The Palestinian population (excluding refugees) is
around 5.3 million. About 3.9 million live in occupied
Gaza and the West Bank, and another 1.4 million are
Israeli citizens comprising 20% of the population of
7,150,000. They live mainly in three heartlands - the
Galillee in the north, along the “Little Triangle” in
the center, and the Negev in the south. They get no
rights afforded Jews even though Israeli Arabs are
citizens, have passports and IDs and can vote in
Knesset elections. Even so, they’re nonpersons, are
systematically abused, neglected, and are confined to
2% of the land plus another 1% for agricultural use.

ACRI assesses the damage that shows up in reports and
surveys it reviews. They reveal a disturbing trend -
increasing racism toward and discrimination against
Israel’s Arab citizens. For example:

—the June 2007 Israel Democracy Institute’s
“Democracy Index” reported disturbing results
explained below, and the data are the highest seen
since pre-Oslo;

—a March 2007 Center Against Racism report showed a
26% rise in racist incidents against Israeli Arabs in
2006. In addition, an overall negative trend toward
Arabs is growing, including feelings of discomfort,
fear and hatred. Most disturbing is the government’s
attitude and how the media portrays its Arab citizens
- stereotypically negative, threatening and as state
enemies. Fear and loathing is then sown that, in turn,
is translated into actions - threats, assaults, forced
separation of Jewish and Arab communities and racist
Knesset legislation;

—Knesset members (MKs) and public figures want to
strengthen the Jewish character of the state and do it
legislatively. For example:

(1) to make military or national service a
prerequisite to vote and get National insurance
benefits; Arabs aren’t required to serve in the
military, they’re not encouraged to do it, few of them
do, and Israel’s Ministry of Defence has discretion
under Article 36 of the 1986 National Defence Service
Law to exempt all non-Jews;

(2) to require MKs and ministers to declare their
allegiance to the State of Israel as a “Jewish and
Democratic State;” and

(3) a 2007 draft bill declaring that Jewish National
Fund (JNF) land (about 13% of state lands) should only
be for Jews; the bill passed its “preliminary reading”
by 64 to 16. In actuality, the government owns about
80% of Israeli land, the JNF another 13%, and Jews and
Arabs the rest. The Israel Land Administration (ILA)
administers all government and JNF land, controls who
gets access to it, and pretty much assures that Arabs
can’t buy Israeli land.

These and other measures reveal a disturbing pattern -
state-sponsored racism against Israeli Palestinians.
They’re routinely victimized, punished for being
Arabs, and denied equality, dignity, privacy, freedom
of movement and everything afforded Jews. Their
freedom of expression was also challenged after four
Arab documents were published with clearly stated aims
- to legislatively mandate equal citizenship rights
for all Israelis (Jews, Muslims, Christians and
others). Outrage was the response because Jews believe
these demands threaten state sovereignty. So do
officials like head of General Security Service (GSS),
Yuval Diskin. He called Israeli Arabs a “strategic
threat,” and got Attorney General Menachem Mazuz to
agree.

Palestinian citizens have no say and are disadvantaged
in many ways. They’re routinely denied equal access to
public resources in all areas of life, and ACRI
highlights the northern rehabilitation program budget
as an example. Arab villages there are sorely lacking
because of government neglect. Budgeted funds are
inadequate, they’re improperly used, Arabs in the
north are marginalized, their needs go unaddressed,
and 2008 promises to be worse with planned budget
cuts.

It’s worse still in the south for the Negev Bedouins
who comprise half the area’s 160,000 population. They
live in villages called “unrecognized” because their
inhabitants had to flee their homes during Israel’s
War of Independence, couldn’t return when it ended,
and are considered internal refugees and “trespassers”
on Jewish land.

These villages were delegitimized by Israel’s 1965
Planning and Construction Law that established a
regulatory framework and national future development
plan. It zoned land for residential, agriculture and
industrial use, forbade unlicensed construction,
banned it on agricultural land, and stipulated where
Israeli Jews and Palestinians could live.

Existing communities are circumscribed on a map with
blue lines around them. Areas inside can be developed.
Those outside cannot. Great latitude is shown Jewish
communities, so new ones are added. In contrast,
Palestinian areas are severely constricted with no
allowed room for expansion. Their land was
reclassified as agricultural meaning no new
construction is allowed. It means entire communities
are “unrecognized” and all homes and buildings there
are illegal, even the 95% of them built before the
1965 law passed. They’re subject to demolition and
their inhabitants displaced at Israel’s discretion.
It’s so new land for Jews can be provided with Arab
owners helpless to stop it.

As a result, no new Palestinian communities are
allowed, and existing “unrecognized villages” are
denied essential services like clean drinking water,
electricity, roads, transport, sanitation, education,
healthcare, postal service, telephone connections,
refuse removal and more because under the Planning and
Construction Law they’re illegal. The toll on people
is devastating:

—clean water is unavailable almost everywhere unless
people have access to well water; 

—the few available health services are inadequate;

—many homes have no bathrooms, and no permits are
allowed to build them;

—only villages with private generators have
electricity that’s barely enough for lighting;

—no village is connected to the main road network,

—some villages are fenced in prohibiting their
residents from access to their traditional lands; and

—education is limited, achievement levels are low,
and dropout rates high.

It’s worse still when home demolitions are ordered. It
may stipulate Palestinians must do it themselves or be
fined for contempt of court and face up to a year in
prison. They may also have to cover the cost when
Israelis do it under a system of convoluted justice
penalizing Palestinians twice over for being an Arab
in a Jewish state.

In 2007, around 200 Bedouin homes were demolished,
compared to much lower numbers in previous years: 23
in 2002, 63 in 2003, 15 in 2005 and 96 in 2006. Most
of the homeless are “invisible,” the media hardly
covers them, Jews are largely uninformed, and planned
Negev Judaization assures things will get worse. It’s
to be a “A Miracle in the Desert” with a clearly
defined aim - to populate the area with a half million
Jews in the next decade. Plans are for 25 new
communities and 100,000 homes on cleared Bedouin land.
Unless efforts coalesce to stop them, the human toll
will be horrific.

Various advocacy organizations are trying, and one is
the UN Committee on the Elimination of all forms of
Racial Discrimination. It published its
recommendations in March 2007 that called on Israel to
reconsider its development plans and recognize “the
rights of the Bedouins to own, develop, control and
use their communal lands, territories, and
resources….” ACRI calls them a “national, religious,
and cultural(ly) indigenous minority.” Under
international law, Israel is obligated to respect
their right to preserve their culture and provide them
adequate housing, education, livelihood and dignity.
Israel, on the other hand, disdains international law,
so hoping authorities will respect it looks
impossible.

Education in Sderot, Israel

Sderot borders Gaza and has been struck by Palestinian
Qassam rockets. ACRI’s study focuses on protecting
schools from them, rather than on the education they
provide. It reported that despite the state’s
obligation to defend its citizens, it’s done it poorly
in Sderot, including for its schools. They were built
in the 1970s, have shingled roofs and lack security
rooms. In July 2006, the government adopted the Home
Front Command’s protection plan that called for
reinforcing 24 of the city’s schools. Then after a
Parents Committee of Sderot petition to the High Court
of Justice in October, it was announced that protected
space construction would be provided for all
preschools and first through third grade classrooms in
the Gaza-border region.

In May 2007, the Court ruled that the government must
provide “full protection” for all classrooms by the
start of the 2007-2008 school year. By mid-October,
the Sderot Municipality reported work was proceeding
satisfactorily on seven schools with plans to build 13
news ones by 2010.

ACRI also reported on a shortage of educational
psychologists to provide counseling services to
students, parents and educators because of the trauma
caused by rocket landings in residential areas. A
better strategy would be for Israel to stop attacking
Gazans, they wouldn’t respond in self-defense, and
that would ensure safety on both sides. Israel ignores
that option, however, chooses conflict instead, so the
Ministry of Education and Sderot Municipality need
bigger counseling budgets for what they should never
have to deal with in the first place.

Migrant Worker Rights

In October 2006, Israel enacted legislation
prohibiting trafficking in persons for slavery, forced
labor, prostitution, human organ sales, human
reproduction, or immoral publications. Ignored were
other types of trafficking, such as “binding” workers
to employers and requiring onerous fees to brokers
that are still common. More on that below. A victory
was achieved in part, however, for 63% of those
requesting it in 2007 - granting legal status to
migrant workers’ children who were born in Israel or
have lived there since very young, use Hebrew as their
primary language, and have adopted Israel as their
culture.

The High Court granted another one as well on the way
agricultural firms, nursing care services and other
industries “bind” migrant workers to a single
employer. It ruled this infringes on workers rights,
must be discontinued, and gave the government six
months to draft new a employment arrangement for its
migrant workers. As of last October, nothing was
implemented, 18 months after the Court ruling. Abuses
still occur, and ACRI concludes that evidence about
them paints a “bleak picture for future employment
conditions for Israeli migrant workers.”

Then there’s the matter of brokers’ fees that can be
“astronomical” and a way to earn profits at workers’
expense. Israel allows them even though the law
forbids it. They’re an oppressive burden, can cost
several months wages, and they may require high
interest rate loans to be able to pay them. A solution
may be near, however, under an agreement between
Thailand and the International Organization for
Migration (IOM) regarding agricultural worker
recruitment. Beginning this year, only migrant workers
from countries with which Israel has bilateral
brokerage fee agreements will be allowed into the
country. It remains to be seen if this will work.

Citizenship and Residency Status

Sovereign states are entitled to decide who can
immigrate and get permanent status. But they must
consider human rights, issues of family, and not
exclude refugees, asylum-seekers, stateless persons or
those coming under duress. Israel fails on all counts
and makes things worse. It has no immigration policy
for non-Jews who aren’t welcome, and family member
status rules are changing and becoming hardened.

In 2005, the government appointed Professor Amnon
Rubinstein to head a committee to assess the
immigration issue, examine relevant legislation and
regulations, and propose new policies and laws. In
February 2006 a report was issued, but the committee
wasn’t reappointed, and bureaucratic guidelines
replaced policy with Population Registry civil
servants in charge. An administrative black hole is
the result with policies governing non-Jews stiffened.

Since 2003, the Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law
(Temporary Order) denies legal status to Palestinian
spouses of Israeli citizens. Israeli Arabs suffer the
most as they maintain marriage and family ties with
their relatives in the Territories. In May 2006, the
High Court rejected petitions opposing the law and
determined that it serves an essential security
purpose. As a result, although the law is temporary,
it’s been extended several times, most recently
through July 2008.

In addition, the law’s scope has been expanded and now
prevents family member spouses from Iran, Lebanon,
Syria, Iraq, and other government-designated “enemy
states” from getting status. Tougher immigration rules
for non-Jews were also in a government-proposed draft
bill stipulating that illegal Israeli residents must
leave for a multi-year “cooling off” period before
being eligible to return. The law is far-reaching on
issues of family life; equality for spouses of Israeli
citizens and residents; parents of Israeli minors;
elderly parents;  minor children of Israeli citizens
and residents; indigenous Negev Bedouins with no
formalized status; asylum-seekers; women victimized by
trafficking; and many others.

According to the UN High Commission for Refugees
(UNHCR), the number of asylum-seekers in Israel rose
sharply over the past year. Most arrive through Egypt
under trying conditions, bear scars of physical and
mental abuse, are impoverished and desperate, have no
relatives or friends in the country, and are totally
dependent on aid from their host.

For its part, Israel lacks clear policy directives for
dealing with the situation. Mechanisms in place are
based on Ministry of Interior unpublished procedures,
and inter-ministerial committee asylum determinations
are made on a case-by-case basis with all
deliberations kept secret. The result is the lowest
percent of requests granted in the West, just 1% in
2005. It was even lower in 2006 at under 0.5%. In
2007, 350 refugees got temporary protection, 805
others were denied, and 863 are under review.

Even persons recognized as refugees aren’t granted
permanent Israeli status. At best, they get temporary
permits for limited stays. Provisions allow bi-annual
renewals if hardship conditions remain in countries of
origin, but at times refugees are summarily turned
away and others (including women and children)
imprisoned for extended periods under very difficult
conditions and without having committed an offense.

Israel is morally and legally bound to assist
asylum-seekers. And it has every right to establish
laws and procedures for their admittance. Yet its
record is shameless as the West’s least hospitable
country to individuals in greatest need.

Human Rights Violations in Occupied Palestine

June 2007 was a milestone for Palestinians. It marked
40 years under Israeli occupation, during which time
their democratic rights have been denied and they’ve
endured appalling human rights abuses - to life,
liberty, security, privacy and personal safety, in or
outside their homes. In addition, they have no
property rights or freedom of movement, employment, or
for health care and education. They’re collectively
punished and economically strangled. Their borders are
blocked and routinely violated as are their waters and
air space. They’re also constricted by oppressive
curfews, roadblocks, checkpoints, electric fences and
separation walls, and their homes are being bulldozed
and land taken for illegal settlement expansions. It
gets worse.

Israeli security forces brutally harass, arrest,
imprison, torture and extra-judicially assassinate
anyone with impunity. Palestinians are helpless,
redress is denied them, and when they resist, they’re
called terrorists. The toll has been horrific, it’s
too detailed to recount, so ACRI focused on three
prominent issues: movement restrictions, conditions in
Hebron that symbolize the overall situation, and life
in occupied Gaza that’s more repressive than ever. It
then addressed conditions in Arab East Jerusalem.

Free movement is a basic human right that affects
other rights: to employment, to live in dignity, to
education, health, and the right to family life. Since
the second Intifada began in September 2000, these
freedoms have been constricted, and it’s made life in
the Territories impossible. They mainly affect the
West Bank that’s restricted by hundreds of
checkpoints, roadblocks, barriers and the Separation
Wall that’s taken 10% of Palestinian territory through
a shameless land grab on the pretext of security.

Movement restrictions have split the West Bank into
six geographic units - North, Center, South, the
Jordan Valley, the northern Dead Sea, and East
Jerusalem. Movement is severely restricted within and
between them, it’s had a grave impact on normal
economic life, and Palestinians are effectively
prisoners in their own land.

Consider the checkpoints. They restrict movement and
subject Palestinians to inordinate delays and abusive
searches. They’re supplemented by countless obstacles
further impinging movement: concrete blocks, earth
mounds, and trenches that deny direct vehicular or
pedestrian passage and allow Israelis exclusive access
to 311 kilometers of main West Bank roads connecting
all of Israel and the Territories. Those most harmed
are the elderly, sick, pregnant women and small
children. So are selected population groups according
to gender, age or place of residence. Males aged 16 to
30 or 35 are targeted as well as populations in cities
under assault.

Then there’s the “black lists” called “Police Refused”
or “GSS Refused.” Tens of thousands of Palestinians
are on them for groundless and arbitrary reasons with
no right of appeal. Their lives are disrupted, freedom
denied and movements restricted inside the Territory
or when attempting to leave. The Separation Wall makes
things worse. It’s 80% on Palestinian land, has
nothing to do with security, separates Palestinians
from each other, and violates their fundamental human
rights:

—it separates Palestinian cities, villages,
communities and families from each other;

—cuts off Palestinian farmers from their lands;

—impedes access to health facilities, educational
institutions and other essential services; and it

—obstructs access to clean water sources and
effectively steals them.

The planned route when completed will be immense - 780
kilometers. By October last year, 409 kilometers were
completed and another 72 km were being built. As of
last May, there are 65 gates but Palestinians can only
pass through 38 of them and only for selected hours of
the day and not at all on some days. Around Jerusalem,
the planned route is 171 km; half was completed by
last June and another 32 km were under construction.
The Wall cuts off Palestinians in East Jerusalem
neighborhoods from the remaining West Bank as well as
villages around Jerusalem and some Palestinian East
Jerusalemites from the center of their lives and
livelihoods in the city.

When completed, the Wall will create two types of
Palestinian enclaves:

—villages and agricultural land on the Israeli side
in what’s called the “seam zone;” and

—villages and land on the Palestinian side that are
blocked on three or more sides by twists in the route
or the intersection of the Wall with physical
roadblocks or roads forbidden to Palestinians.

The UN Committee on the Elimination of all forms of
Racial Discrimination published recommendations
concerning Israel in March 2007. It expressed concern
that Occupied Territory movement restrictions have
been “highly detrimental” and have impacted essential
elements of Palestinians’ lives that “gravely infringe
(their) human rights….” They have no justification
for security or “military exigencies.” Yet they’re
maintained, and who’ll challenge Israel to change
things.

The same situation exists in Hebron, ACRI and B’Tselem
jointly documented it, and last year prepared a report
called: “Ghost Town.” It’s a disturbing story of
separation, forced displacement and terror. Israel is
the oppressor, Palestinians the victims, and no one
seems to care. The human toll is horrific -
“protracted and severe harm to Palestinians (from)
some of the gravest human rights violations” against
them that go unaddressed, continue unabated, and
worsen.

Hebron’s City Center was once a thriving commercial
and residential area. Today it’s a “Ghost Town”
because Israel destroyed its fabric of life through a
state-imposed policy of land seizures, extended
curfews, harsh free movement restrictions and
unaddressed violence. Combined, they terrorize
Palestinians and prohibit them from driving or even
walking on the area’s main streets. That, in turn,
makes life impossible. The consequences have been
devastating with peoples’ lives uprooted.

Since Gaza and the West Bank were occupied in 1967,
Israel expelled tens of thousands of Palestinians
overall. In Hebron alone, thousands of residents and
merchants were removed or had no option but to leave
the City Center because of Israel’s “principle of
separation” policy.

Hebron is important as the West Bank’s second largest
city, the largest in the territory’s south, and the
only Palestinian city with an Israeli settlement in
its center. It’s concentrated in and around the Old
City that once was the entire southern West Bank’s
commercial center. No longer.

For many years, Israel severely oppressed Palestinians
in Hebron’s center. It partitioned the city into
northern and southern parts and created a long strip
of land for Jewish vehicles only. In addition, in
areas open to Palestinians, they’re subjected to
“repeated detention and humiliating inspections” any
time, for any reason, and it worsened after the 1994
Baruch Goldstein massacre of Muslim worshipers in the
Tomb of the Patriarchs. Israel’s military commander
ordered many Palestinian-owned shops closed that were
the livelihoods for thousands of people. In addition,
he condoned frequent settler violence as a way to
remove Palestinians from their own land. It worked.

A combination of restrictions, prohibitions and
deliberate harassment devastated Hebron’s residents.
They lost their homes, land, businesses and freedom.
ACRI and B’Tselem documented it in the Old City and
Casbah areas where most Israeli settlements are
located and Palestinians face the harshest conditions
and restrictions on their movements. As a result, they
were removed or had to leave, and what was once “the
vibrant heart of Hebron (is now) a ghost town.”

A senior Israeli defense official explained the scheme
that’s pretty common knowledge today. He called it “a
permanent process of dispossessing Arabs to increase
Jewish territory.” Distinguished Israeli historian,
Ilan Pappe, calls it state-sponsored ethnic cleansing
that’s been ongoing since Israel became a state in
1948. B’Tselem-ACRI document the practice in Hebron’s
once viable City Center.

At least 1014 Palestinian housing units (41.9% of the
total in the area) were vacated by their occupants.
Another 659 apartments (65% of the total) were as well
during the second Intifada. In addition, 1829
Palestinian businesses (76.6% of them all) were lost.
Of the total, 1141 (62.4% of the total) closed after
the year 2000, 440 or more by military order. ACRI and
B’Tselem believe Palestinian apartment abandonments
were even higher than reported because neighborhoods
near settlements collapsed and housing and living
costs declined dramatically there. Poor families took
advantage. Unable to afford more costly housing, they
left distant parts of Hebron for Old City
neighborhoods where they occupied vacated houses.

Overall, the affects were devastating - job loss, poor
nutrition, rising poverty, growing family tensions
from prolonged confinement, severe harm to education,
welfare and health systems, and a mass exodus away
from areas near settlements resulting in lost homes
and businesses. To this day, nothing has changed,
there’s no sign it will any time soon, and things, in
fact, got worse.

Israeli security forces protect settlers who freely
attack Palestinians with impunity. Offenses include
physical assaults and beatings (at times with clubs),
stone throwing, and hurling refuse, sand, water,
chlorine, and empty bottles. Settlers freely loot
Palestinian shops and commit acts of vandalism against
them and other owner property. Killings also occur as
well as attempts to run over people with vehicles,
chop down fruit trees, poison water wells, break into
homes, and pour hot liquids on Palestinian faces. IDF
forces are positioned everywhere in the area. They
witness everything and ignore it.

Soldiers also commit violence and use excessive force
as do police. In addition, they engage in arbitrary
house searches at all hours of the day and night,
seize houses, harass, detain randomly and conduct
humiliating searches and harsh treatment overall.
These actions violate international and Israeli
administrative and constitutional law. They persist
nonetheless.

In Gaza it’s even worse. Life there was never easy
under occupation, but conditions worsened markedly
after Hamas’ surprise January 2006 electoral victory.
Israel refused to recognize it. So did the US and the
West. All outside aid was cut off, an economic embargo
and sanctions were imposed, and the legitimate
government was isolated. Stepped up repression
followed along with repeated IDF incursions, attacks
and arrests. Gazans have been imprisoned in their own
land and traumatized for months. No one outside
Palestine cares or offers much aid, and things
continue to deteriorate.

Hamas is isolated, assaulted and called a “hostile
entity.” Then on September 19, 2007 sanctions were
tightened, electricity and fuel was reduced and so
were supplies of food, medicines and other essential
items. Tighter border crossing restrictions were also
imposed on an area already devastated by years of
repression.

Its industrial production is down 90%, and its
agricultural output is half its pre-2007 level. In
addition, nearly all construction stopped, and
unemployment and poverty exceed 80%. Shops then ran
out of everything because Israel allows in only nine
basic materials, their availability is spotty, and
some essentials are banned, like certain medicines,
and others restricted like fruit, milk and other dairy
products. Before June 2007, 9000 commodities could be
imported. Today, it’s only 20, people don’t get enough
food, and the situation is desperate.

Then there’s the matter of power without which Gaza
shuts down. The Strip needs 230 - 250 daily megawatts
of electricity. Its only power plant supplies around
30% of it, but people in central Gaza and Gaza city
are totally dependent on what can’t be supplied if
industrial diesel fuel the plant depends on is cut
off. The result is critically ill people are
endangered, hospitals can’t function, bread and other
baked goods can’t be produced without electricity to
power ovens, food is already in short supply, so is
fresh water, and sanitation conditions are disastrous.

The situation may now worsen following Israel’s High
Court January 30, 2008 decision in which it upheld
government sanctions on Gaza and its right to restrict
fuel and electricity. Here’s what’s planned on top of
already imposed cuts. Starting February 7, further
reductions will be made incrementally according to a
plan submitted to the Court - 5% on three of ten lines
supplying electricity to Gaza for a total of 1.5
megawatts through around February 21. An additional 25
megawatts have already been cut because of diesel fuel
reductions to Gaza’s sole power plant. The result is
rolling blackouts, hospitals in crisis, and sewage
treatment plants, water pumps and other vital services
can’t operate. Transportation is also disrupted. The
situation is critical, Israel won’t address it, these
punitive measures violate international law, and the
world community is dismissive.

Egypt, however, may provide belated relief. On March
21, the pro-government Al-Ahram newspaper reported
that Cairo is expected to build a power line to supply
about 150 megawatts of electricity to the Strip and
become its main supplier. A senior Egyptian
electricity ministry official apparently confirmed it
by indicating the Islamic Development Bank agreed to
finance the project that will link El-Arish in Sinai
with Gaza.

In addition, an Egyptian oil minister issued “urgent”
directives for his country to provide natural gas to
the Territory and help develop offshore Palestinian
gas fields that British Gas Group (BG) estimates hold
1.3 trillion cubic meters in proved reserves worth
nearly $4 billion. For its part, Israel wants to cut
all ties with Gaza and apparently finds the new
arrangement acceptable or at least won’t prevent it.
However, it remains for it to be implemented, Gaza
remains under siege, and conditions on the ground are
at crisis levels.

East Jerusalem is also victimized by neglect and
discrimination even though Israel granted its
Palestinian population “permanent resident” status
after its 1967 occupation. International law is clear,
and Israeli law as well obligates the government to
treat the population equitably and afford them all
services and rights Israelis get, aside from the right
to vote in national elections.

Israel refuses and for the past four decades has
systematically neglected Palestinian Arabs as part of
a discriminatory policy to drive them from the city
and secure a Jewish majority in it. As a result, East
Jerusalem residents suffer severe distress, conditions
continue worsening, and life for them is an unending
cycle of poverty, neglect, shortages and repression.
In 2003, Central Bureau of Statistics data showed 64%
of Palestinians in the city lived in poverty compared
to 24% of Jewish families. It was even worse for
children - 76% of Palestinians compared to 38% of
Jews.

Other examples of abuse and neglect are also common:

—Palestinians aren’t allowed building permits for
new construction; in rare instances when they’re
allowed, permit fees are too high to be affordable for
nearly everyone;

—their lands continue to be expropriated for new
Jewish neighborhoods and settlements;

—in contrast, Jewish areas get generous construction
and infrastructure investment;

—desperate Palestinians resort to their own devices,
erect homes on their own land, yet live in fear of
frequent demolitions that are patently illegal;

—East Jerusalem sanitation facilities are sorely
lacking; sewage and drainage infrastructure is grossly
inadequate, antiquated and poorly maintained; the
result is frequent sewer flooding and harmful sanitary
conditions that are exacerbated during bad weather; in
addition, trash goes uncollected and piles up in
streets;

—infrastructure is in disrepair, public parks and
recreational facilities don’t exist, the postal
service barely functions, and most Arab neighborhoods
get no fresh water;

—educational facilities are lacking; a severe
classroom shortage exists, and only half of the city’s
children are enrolled in municipal schools that are
overcrowded, poorly equipped and unsafe;

—the toll on Palestinians is horrific in many ways:
family relationships are damaged; violence in them is
common; school dropouts are high; jobs are scarce;
crime and drug use rises; and health and nutritional
problems are severe; in spite of overwhelming needs,
welfare services are inadequate, near collapse and one
consequence is thousands of children and youths are in
acute distress and at high risk;

—police and security force brutality exacerbates the
hardships; harassment is common and so is unrestrained
violence; Palestinians are terrorized, harmed,
frequently killed, and no one outside the Territories
seems to notice or care.

The Right to Privacy

Israel has no formal constitution. It relies instead
on 11 Basic Laws. Section 7 (D) states that “there
shall be no violation of the confidentiality of
conversation.” Authorities ignore it, and data show
police wiretapping abuses are common, thus violating
the right to privacy.

By law, police must formally request a court order to
wiretap. Rarely are they refused, and in 2007 a
Knesset committee investigated the issue. In November
2007, a new bill was drafted concerning the transfer
of data from communications companies to the police
for use in criminal investigations. It provides wide
latitude, and ACRI calls the potential for privacy
violations enormous and possibly unprecedented.
Protests were lodged against the original bill, and
they led to important changes toning down the initial
language.

Privacy issues also affect job applicants and
employees, can be abusive, and individuals get no
choice - accept them, or else. They:

—demand job applicants sign a complete waiver of
medical confidentiality;

—allow employer surveillance of telephone
conversations and e-mail correspondence;

—mandate compulsory polygraphs for applicants and
employees; and

—use video cameras for workplace monitoring.

Criminal Justice

The right to counsel is essential for anyone charged
with a crime. Israel’s Public Defender’s Law (1995)
stipulates that detainees and defendants unable to
afford help are entitled to state-funded
representation, but only for crimes with prison terms
of five or more years. This was amended in December
2006 to prohibit prison sentences for unrepresented
defendants.

Israel’s legal system also establishes the right to a
fair trial and other safeguards. Yet, erosion began in
2007 under a temporary Knesset January 2007 law
infringing on detainees rights: they can be denied
face-to-face contact with an attorney; prevented from
meeting with family members; denied the right to be
present at hearings on their charges; interrogated
without counsel; and unreasonably cut off from the
outside world that creates a feeling of isolation.

In June 2007, the Office of the Public Defender
published a report on detention and incarceration
conditions in Israeli police internment facilities. As
in previous years, it was alarming and indicated basic
human rights violations, some extreme. An Israeli Bar
Association March 2007 report reached the same
conclusions:

—severe overcrowding and highly restrictive living
space in two-thirds of detention facilities examined;
some cells were only two square meters or less;

—larger cells held up to 10 prisoners;

—sanitary and hygiene conditions were poor as well
as ventilation; some cells lacked windows;

—wall peeling and crumbling from dampness and mold
were common;

—prisons had filthy and foul-smelling toilets and
showers as well as infestations of cockroaches, rats
and other vermin;

—lighting was poor and prisoners often sat in dark,
suffocating, fetid cells; the wings of one prison were
described as unsuitable for human habitation; and

—complaints were common about violence at the hands
of guards and wardens; collective punishment was also
inflicted and overall treatment was degrading,
humiliating and invasive.

Police brutality is a major issue, just as it is in
the US. The authorities have great power and too often
abuse it with impunity. Complaints often are
unaddressed. The problem is systemic, it’s within the
Police Service, and specifically in the Police
Investigations Department of the Ministry of Justice
(PID).

PID was established in 1992 and mandated to
investigate complaints against police in cases of
excessive force. However, investigations are rare, and
seldom ever are there prosecutions, regardless of the
complaint’s severity and almost never against senior
officers with authority. The lack of effort assures
continued brutality because officers know they can get
away with it.

The Destabilization of Democracy

The Israeli Democracy Institute (IDI) surveyed Israeli
citizens, published its “Democracy Index” in June
2007, and included some disturbing findings in it. Its
survey showed:

—less than half of respondents believe public
speakers have the right to criticize the government;

—only 54% favor freedom of religion and a bare 50%
feel Arabs and Jews should have equal rights;

—87% rate Jewish-Arab relations poor or very poor;

—78% oppose having Arab parties or ministers join
Israel’s government;

—43% believe Arabs aren’t intelligent;

—55% feel the government should encourage Arab
emigration; and

—75% think Arabs favor violence.

Overall, the results showed democratic values eroding
since the IDI 2003 survey. It doesn’t happen in a
vacuum. It’s part of the cultural environment: from
the home, within families, at school, through the
media and other social contexts from which attitudes
develop. It’s also gotten from the law, the way
Israeli courts interpret it, particularly the High
Court of Justice, and subsequent legislative efforts
to bypass Court rulings and trample on human rights.
The problem is pervasive and worsening as Israel
becomes a very hostile place, much like America. And
it doesn’t just affect Israeli Arabs who get no
justice.

ACRI cites the role of Daniel Friedman since he became
Israel’s Justice Minister in February 2007. He’s since
proposed a number of initiatives and “reforms” that
threaten to undermine the legal system and High Court
in particular. One proposal was to change how justices
are chosen in a way that would curtail their
independence and politicize the entire process. In
August, he then prepared a draft bill to limit public
petitioner rights to the High Court, especially for
human rights organizations.

ACRI ends its lengthy and disturbing report as
follows: History shows that “parliaments tend to
violate human rights in times of crisis. It is
precisely at these moments, however, that (it’s vital)
to preserve the judiciary’s role in the system of
checks and balances.” Israel claims to be a democracy.
It has an odd way of showing it, and when it comes to
its Arab citizens, it’s nowhere in sight.

Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at
.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and
listen to The Global Research News Hour on
RepublicBroadcasting.org Mondays from 11AM to 1PM US
Central time for cutting-edge discussions on world and
national topics with distinguished guests.

http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=8477


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