Ahlan wa sahlan! Thank you for taking the time to visit us at the Arab Association for Human Rights (HRA), and we hope you have a wonderful stay in Nazareth. The HRA is a grassroots Palestinian NGO, devoted to protecting the civil, social, and economic rights of the Palestinian Arab minority living in Israel. Founded in 1988, the HRA is one of the oldest established organizations focused on these issues from an international human rights perspective. The HRA’s activities are divided into the following three programs:
- Research and Reporting
The idea of establishing a Research and Reporting program in HRA was first developed in the aftermath of the events of October 2000, when thirteen Arab citizens of Israel were shot dead by the Israeli Police. Thus, in 2003, HRA expanded its activities, launching a new project to monitor human rights violations against the Palestinian minority in Israel. The methodology relies on field research – interviews with victims, collection of testimonies – and analysis of domestic and international law concerning human rights
- International Advocacy
Through advocacy the HRA aims to speak out on issues of concern of the Palestinian Arab minority in order to inform the international community about the human rights violations this national minority suffers from. In doing so, the HRA protects the local community, as well as empowering the community so they can advocate on their own behalf. This approach is based on the belief that the international community needs to be aware of the realities that exist within the state of Israel with regards to the Palestinians, as it is our conviction that our efforts are most effective when combined, and that the international community carries weight in making change to the current human rights situation in Israel. Furthermore, over the years, HRA has become a reliable resource for diplomats to assess the situation inside Israel regarding the Arab minority. HRA is in contact or tries to establish correspondence with national and internationals institutions related to human rights. One example of a successful campaign on this front was the HRA joint publication with Adalah under the umbrella of the EMHRN of a report entitled “The EU and the Palestinian Arab Minority in Israel”. This report became a centerpiece of the HRA international advocacy campaign in 2011.
- Human Rights Education and Community Outreach
The Palestinian minority in Israel continues to face an increasing atmosphere of discrimination that is escalating constantly with the passing of new laws. Therefore, in such an environment it is of paramount importance to educate people about their rights and mobilize them in order to defend these rights. That is why the HRA sponsors and administers various community outreach and human rights awareness-raising projects. These projects include human rights forums, the “Creativity in Culture and Arts for Human Rights” group, the “Zagel” youth project, facilitator training, semester-long courses in high schools, teacher training, and the “Haq” youth group. In 2011 the education and community outreach program increased in relative importance and was duly expanded. The program reaches around 12,000 people per year and will continue to grow. The HRA recognizes that youth play a fundamental role in society under normal conditions, but that role becomes even more critical in times of unrest. The world witnessed the revolutions of the Arab Spring and saw that a youth driven to fighting for justice, freedom, and equality can make powerful changes. In Israel, the HRA tries to harness the collective energy of the Palestinian youth to make similar changes to the status quo.
The Palestinian Arab Minority in Israel – Current Condition and History
As a human rights organization, we understand the founding of Israel as a “Jewish state” to be fundamentally discriminatory to the Palestinian minority in Israel. This exclusive definition represents the basis for discrimination which follows along legal, societal, and institutional frameworks. The definition of Israel as a Jewish state in Israel’s Basic Laws serves to legitimize all racist policies that are faced by minorities in Israel and automatically excludes the Palestinian Arab minority, which makes up more than 20% of the Israeli population, almost 1.5 million people as of 2012.
In 1948, the state of Israel was founded after what is known by Israelis as the War of Independence, and by Palestinians as the Nakba (catastrophe). At this time, more than 700,000 people were expelled from their homes, and more than 500 Palestinian villages were destroyed inside the pre-1967 borders of Israel. In 2012, the Palestinian minority has been banned from even recognizing the Nakba in public demonstrations in Israel for fear that it would sully the celebration of Israeli independence.
Today, more than 50% of Palestinians in the world are refugees. This includes Palestinians living in refugee camps in neighboring Arab countries, those living in the diaspora, and also those people internally displaced within Israel who are not allowed to return to their property. Making up more than 25 % of Palestinians in Israel, these people are popularly known as Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), and are categorized by the Absentee Property Law of 1950 as “absentees”, although they are deemed present by the conflicting Citizenship Law. The state of these present “absentees” is unique to Palestinians within Israel, as the right to return to one’s property is universally acknowledged in post-conflict situations the world over.
From 1948 to 1966, Israel operated under martial law, which can be understood as a clear system of apartheid between the Jewish majority and the Palestinian minority. During this time, Jewish citizens enjoyed a civilian justice system while Palestinians were tried and prosecuted by military courts which lacked the most basic liberties expected of democratic legal systems. In these years the State confiscated more than 60% of the land that had been owned by Arabs before 1948.
Additionally, the Palestinians who remain in Israel are largely those in villages living a primarily agricultural lifestyle. When Israel confiscated the land from these people, they stripped from them their livelihoods and shattered the social fabric of rural Palestinian society. The theft of this land was used as a tool of community control over the Palestinian minority; crippling the self-determination of rural people by removing their means to earn a living.
Palestinians in Israel endure systems of discrimination that affect all facets of everyday life. In understanding the reality faced by Palestinians after martial law was ended in 1966, it is important to differentiate these systems and examine how they function together. This discrimination can be understood in four broad categories.
- Legal Direct Discrimination
This category describes laws and policies that are written explicitly to elevate the Jewish majority over the minority. Examples of this discrimination are the Israeli Citizenship Law and the Law of Return (1950), which grant Jewish people, including their descendants and the spouses of their descendants, the right to return to Israel as Israeli citizens. Because citizenship is the foundation of basic citizen rights for democratic states, this system of legal discrimination inherently creates two unequal classes of citizenship within Israel.
- Legal Indirect Discrimination
This category includes laws that result in exclusion of the Palestinian minority from basic rights while not explicitly worded to elevate Jewish Israelis. An example of this discrimination can be found in the system of qualifying citizen rights using criteria of obligatory military service in Israel. All able-bodied Israeli citizens are officially required to serve in the military at age 18. Since the founding of Israel, the Defense Minister has de facto excluded the Palestinian minority from military service, all the while rights of citizens, and basic human rights, have been increasingly tied to this service. As most Palestinians do not serve in the Israeli military, this enforces another class system in which the minority is excluded from a wide variety of benefits and citizen rights enjoyed by the Jewish majority. By treating the Palestinian minority as an enemy, this system institutionalizes inequality while encouraging exclusion of Palestinians from society by different criteria.
- Institutional Discrimination
Because Israel has no constitution and no provision in its Basic Laws that promotes equality, ministries and bureaucracies are allowed to ‘prioritize’ funding towards Jewish municipalities with no real system of fairness or oversight. This highly-visible and ongoing inequality in basic state services articulates the State’s dehumanization of its Palestinian citizens.
- Public Societal Discrimination
The final and perhaps most dangerous form of discrimination applies to how Palestinians are treated on the street, in the workplace, and traveling in Israeli society. This is the basic discrimination between people that is both reinforced and encouraged by the racist policies of the State. Recent opinion polls of the Israeli public only confirm the entrenched racial discrimination experienced by Palestinians everyday. One such poll of students at Haifa University, which is commonly associated with Arab/Jewish coexistence, revealed that more than 60% of students believe in ‘population transfer’ of Arabs from Israel, and more than half do not believe that Arab citizens should enjoy equal rights to Jewish citizens. Another recent poll of Jewish schoolchildren revealed that more than half do not wish to see an Arab child studying with them in the same classroom.
This kind of institutionalized racism reflects upon the future of Israeli society, and reveals how the racist policies of the state are deeply rooted in the perceptions of the Israeli public. Importantly, this is not something that is simply happening now. It is a conscious, historical radicalization of Israeli society towards an ultranationalist mentality. When fascist opinions become mainstream in Israel, racism and fascism are implemented in legislation and policy.
Internationally Recognized Offenses
The international community has taken strides towards recognizing the struggle of Palestinian Arabs living in Israel. Many governments in Europe and around the world have made public statements denouncing the Israeli failure to protect all its people’s rights. This global community of progressive thinkers and decision makers is the focus of the HRA’s International Advocacy program and we believe that fostering healthy relationships with those wishing to help is a critical part of our work. By harnessing the energy of our allies in the battle for human rights, the HRA will be able to continue to work towards peace and equality.
In particular the United Nations Human Rights Committee (UNHRC) has made noteworthy public critiques of Israel’s policies towards the Palestinian Arab minority. The following quotations come from the UNHRC’s concluding remarks in a report about Israel’s duties as signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and general discrimination in Israel:
On Due Process:
“The Committee is concerned that the use of prolonged detention without any access to a lawyer…”
“The Committee is concerned that interrogation techniques incompatible with article 7 of the Covenant are still reported frequently to be resorted to and the “necessity defence” argument, which is not recognized under the Covenant, is often invoked and retained as a justification…”
On Hate Speech:
“The Committee is concerned by public pronouncements made by several prominent Israeli personalities in relation to Arabs, which may constitute advocacy of racial and religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility and violence.”
On Family Reunification:
“The Committee is concerned about Israel’s temporary suspension order of May 2002, enacted into law as the Nationality and Entry into Israel Law (Temporary Order) on 31 July 2003, which suspends, for a renewable one-year period, the possibility of family reunification, subject to limited and subjective exceptions especially in the cases of marriages between an Israeli citizen and a person residing in the West Bank and in Gaza.”
“The Committee is concerned about the criteria in the 1952 Law on Citizenship enabling the revocation of Israeli citizenship, especially its application to Arab Israelis. The Committee is concerned about the compatibility with the Covenant, in particular article 24 of the Covenant, of the revocation of citizenship of Israeli citizens.”
On Public Service:
“The Committee notes with concern that the percentage of Arab Israelis in the civil service and public sector remains very low.”
The HRA believes that the issue of human rights inside Israel is not less important than the peace process. In even the most optimistic of scenarios, any theoretical removal of the occupation from the Occupied Palestinian Territories cannot result in the Palestinian minority leaving their homeland in Israel. We will be here no matter what. We fight for 100% equality and human rights between Jews and Arabs in Israel. This is the way that we want the world and the Israeli government and people to treat us, because we believe all people are entitled to these basic human and citizen rights.
We believe in making this information available to the international community, because much of the world simply does not know about the reality of the Palestinian minority in Israel. It is rare to hear the Palestinian minority discussed by the EU or the US when discussing the peace process. So, please spread this information and our message where you go.
We hope that people like you can bring this information back to your home countries and alert the world before it’s too late.
We believe that sustainable peace in the Middle East will not be realized if it is not based on JUSTICE AND HUMAN RIGHTS FOR All.