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The State of Human Rights in Israel 2003
by Naama Yashuvi of ACRI
8:07pm Wed Jul 23 '03
The purpose of this document is to warn of the trends and actions in the last year that point to a worrying and dangerous atmosphere in the country. The government`s actions call into question the very basis of democratic principles, the social fabric, and the foundation of human rights in Israel.
July 2002-June 2003. Translated by: Kim Weiss
Israel`s Declaration of Independence promises that the State of Israel will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice, and peace; it will uphold the full social and political equality of all its citizens irrespective of religion, race, or sex; that it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; that it will safeguard the holy places of all religions; and that it will be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.
As the Declaration of Independence reaches its fifty-fifth year, we still have no freedom, no justice and no peace, no equality of social and political rights, no freedom of religion or conscience, and most certainly no loyalty to the principles laid out in the Charter of the United Nations.
The purpose of this document is to warn of the trends and actions in the last year that point to a worrying and dangerous atmosphere in the country. The government`s actions call into question the very basis of democratic principles, the social fabric, and the foundation of human rights in Israel.
Although this government cannot be held solely responsible for the decline, is clearly guilty of perpetuating and even exacerbating the situation through acts such as denying legitimate rights to the Arab minority, devaluing the courts status as a guardian of democracy, favoring the welfare of the few over the many, and delivering an almost fatal blow to vital social services such as health, housing, education, and social welfare. Government actions have also led to the lack of gainful employment, and the right of workers to fight for their working and retirement conditions, and the delegitimization of political rivals at the cost of the fundamental democratic principles of freedom of speech and equality before the law. And in the territories, a complete decimation of human rights has taken place, as well as unprecedented injury to innocent civilians.
The realization of social rights means that the government - as a trustee of the public - accepts the responsibility for providing a safety net to its citizens, and by so doing, ensures that individuals are able to maintain a minimal level of human dignity. Most of the governments of Israel, to one degree or another, adopted the concept of a welfare state and provided services in accordance with universal standards. In other words, the government took upon itself the role of ensuring the welfare of its citizens by creating a social welfare program effective enough to stave off economic crisis and poverty.
By implementing the universally accepted principle of applying the rights and obligations of a social security system to the entire population, health and social welfare rights do not become stigmatized as a handout for the poor only.
In the last decade, and especially in the last two years, the governmental trend has changed toward strengthening the already strong elements of the population, and leaving the weak to fend for themselves. The change in approach represents the difference between a regime that grants charity to the poor according to its resources, and a government committed to the social rights to which every individual is entitled to the same extent as their commitment to protecting civil and political rights. A government that prefers the welfare of the few over the welfare of the many converts social rights from legitimate rights into an act of charity.
The government`s Economic Austerity Plan that was endorsed by the Knesset in May 2003, is the fourth in a series of laws in the last two years that have eaten away and almost completely eradicated access to the full spectrum of social rights. The concept of providing basic needs, like health and education, to all regardless of their socio-economic status, is no longer an automatic right(1).
SOCIAL SECURITY BENEFITâ€™S
Professor Avraham Doron who researches the concept of the welfare state, explains that the establishment of social security was not aimed at building some kind of utopian system of equality. The aim of the policy was much more modest. On the one hand, its ambition was to promise everyone a social security base from which to build and grow and so achieve a better standard of living, and on the other hand, to prevent individuals from falling below this level and by so doing establish the limits of inequality that Israeli society is prepared to tolerate(2).
The attempt to cancel the universally accepted level of benefits which is constantly floated in the government`s legislative proposals (regarding child welfare stipends and pensions) was blocked temporarily by the massive level of opposition the proposed plan aroused. However, the threat to the social security system is ever present.
Unemployment Insurance: Contrary to the image the government is trying to pin on the unemployed, the majority of unemployed individuals are not lazy, and have not chosen to live on unemployment benefits, but have been pushed into it as a result of an economic crisis that they have no part in. Despite this harsh reality, the conditions under which one is eligible for unemployment benefits have become such that they no longer fulfill their proscribed purpose of providing a substitute to a monthly salary in the event of unemployment. Benefits were cut, the required period of prior employment doubled, and the period of eligibility severely curtailed.
Retirement Benefit: This benefit was reduced by 4% and frozen at the rate determined in January 2001, until the year 2006.
Guaranteed Income Benefit: This has been rendered meaningless. 2002 saw a substantial reduction in the level of guaranteed income at a rate of 20-23% for most of its recipients. In addition, substantial cutbacks were implemented in other areas of assistance, such as housing aid and the cancellation of the right to a reduction in municipal taxes, subsidized fares for public transport, and the exemption from television license fees. An additional cut of an average 29% was introduced at the end of June 2003 as part of the Economic Arrangements Law for that year, a reduction that severely impacts on a recipient`s ability to maintain an existence with dignity, since even prior to the reduction, the recipients constituted some of the weakest elements in society.
ACRI, together with the organizations Commitment, and The Movement to Fight Poverty, petitioned the Supreme Court against the benefit reduction. The petitioners claimed that the impact of these cuts would be severe, and considerably diminish the ability of the recipients to survive the month financially. In a Supreme Court hearing in May 2003, representatives of the Ministry of Finance admitted that the government had failed to define the minimum monthly income required to live with a basic level of dignity, and that during the legislative process no statistical data had been made available to the Knesset or taken into account.
THE RIGHT TO SHELTER
The government aid package that was designed to provide housing solutions to sectors of the population that are unable to independently finance apartment purchases, was cut drastically, and transformed far-reaching programs recognizing the right of every citizen to an acceptable housing solution into charitable handouts from the government to the most disadvantaged members of the population.
The continual depletion of government aid for home purchase loans, whose terms had been far more favorable than those offered in the private market.
The drastic reduction in government rental assistance from a previous amount of 1,200 NIS to 576 NIS per month (since April 2002).
The cancellation of government assistance to weaker sectors of the population enabled them to purchase apartments in parts of the country defined as areas of national priority, by rescinding the element of the mortgage that is effectively given as a grant.
The number of public housing units for deprived families decreased from 85,000 to 68,000. The money gained from the sale of public housing to the tenants(3) was not used to replenish the dwindling supply of subsidized accommodation.
THE RIGHT OF ACCESS TO HEALTH SERVICES
The National Health Insurance Law, which was enacted in 1995, was designed to ensure access to quality health care for all separating payment from services. In the last few years, the health service package has disintegrated and there has been a significant increase in charges imposed upon the individual for his/her health needs. Charges for medicine, treatments, new technology, and access to high-ranking medical staff have risen, while discounts were rescinded, and exemptions for disadvantaged populations were reduced. The National Health Insurance Law was thereby rendered meaningless, bringing about a situation in which quality health care is available only to those with enough means to pay for it.
For the first time in Israel since national health insurance was introduced, the government has decided this year not to even discuss the expansion of the health service package, a decision that presents a real threat to the lives of many patients. Medical expertise is growing and developing all the time, old medication is replaced by new and more effective ones, and new methods of treatment and medication are produced to treat diseases that were previously deemed untreatable. In some cases it is discovered that medication that was known to be effective in the treatment of one disease is also effective in treating another disease. The only way these medical advances can reach the general population is by the constant re-examination of the contents of the Ministry of Healthâ€™s basket of services. The issue was of such a compelling nature that a special public committee was set up by the government to deal solely with the issue of which new treatments and medications should be included(4).
ACRI petitioned the Supreme Court together with the Israel Medical Association and the Israeli Health Consumers Association, claiming that the government`s decision severely impedes the constitutional right to life and the defense of the body, which are specifically enshrined in the Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty. The decision also infringes the right to equality as it discriminates between patients suffering from different types of serious diseases, as the treatment for some illnesses are included in the Ministry of Healthâ€™s service package and others are not.
As a result of the petition, the government finally decided to re-activate the committee appointed to deal with this issue, and allocate funds to the expansion of the health package. The money allocated however was only 20 million NIS, about one tenth of the amount allocated in previous years, and as of the preparation of this report even that small sum has yet to be transferred.
UNDERMINING THE DEMOCRATIC PROCESS
A democratically elected Knesset is entitled to rescind the laws that were enacted by previous Knesset plenaries, and can establish new policies that reflect the political outlook of the governing majority. However, the series of economic laws that have been enacted over the last two years(5) have flouted the democratic legislative process.
The procedure by which legislators enshrined legal recognition of the rights of citizens through a range of legislation took place as part of a legitimate process and included an in-depth examination of the subject by the relevant legislative committees comprised of individuals who possess the relevant professional expertise. The revocation of these same rights, however, was executed by a cursory hearing before the Knesset Finance Committee that dealt with dozens of laws bundled together into one package, with no analysis of the issues at stake and no thought as to the possible impact such steps could have on the population as a whole.
INFRINGEMENT OF WORKERSâ€™ RIGHT TO ORGANIZE AND STRIKE
In addition to the string of extreme economic measures taken by the government as part of its draconian Economic Austerity Plan, the government has made an attempt to tie the hands of the workersâ€™ elected union representatives and limit the right to strike. An attempt was made through a bill presented by Yuri Stern and Ruhama Avraham to circumvent the elected union representatives by conditioning the right to strike on securing the approval of the majority of union members through a secret ballot.
The Ministerâ€™s Legislative Committee of the Knesset decided to support the proposed legislation and it was only after Zevulun Orlev, the Minister for Welfare and Social Affairs intervened that the issue was brought before the government as a whole, and the decision made to form a committee to consider the issue of limiting the right to strike. The committeeâ€™s recommendations are due to be presented to the government within two weeks.
Striking is the last resort for workers fighting for decent working conditions, in cases where the workersâ€™ elected representatives have reached the conclusion that there is no chance of reaching an agreement with their employers. The right of workers to organize and strike is recognized in Israel`s legal system and in international conventions signed by Israel.
Countries that have limited the public sector`s right to strike, and in some cases even prohibited it, replaced it with other avenues of relief, namely the obligatory exploration of the issues in dispute. Only a few years ago, doctors agreed to give up the right to strike for ten years as a result of a government commitment to investigate the differences of opinion between the doctors and the government. Very shortly following this undertaking, the government reneged on its commitment.
CONDITIONS OF DETENTION IN ISRAELI PRISONS AND DETENTION FACITLITIES
As part of the Economic Plan, the Knesset decided at the end of May 2003, following an initiative by the Ministry of Finance, to present the Minister for Internal Security and the Minister of Finance with the task of working toward the creation of new detention facilities to be run and financed by private entrepreneurs, and by so doing give private entrepreneurs the authority normally reserved exclusively for monitored public bodies, representing yet another attempt by the government to privatize essential services.
Transferring prison management to the private sector, whose primary considerations are profit and loss, is liable to bring about an infringement of the prisoner`s basic human rights and a deterioration in the level of services they receive:
Private business ventures will try to cut back on the prison`s running costs by reducing the level of services, such as medical care, food, treatment for drug addiction and rehabilitation, and by hiring cheap labor.
Another cost cutting measure is likely to be limiting the training of prison guards. In light of the fact that prisoners and detainees are entirely dependent on the good will of the prison guards, quality personnel is critical to the maintenance of prisonersâ€™ rights.
Unlike public bodies that are accountable to higher legal standards, a prison under private ownership is very difficult to monitor.
The experience of other countries demonstrates that the more prisons that are built, the more prisoners are found to fill them. The principle factor behind the overcrowding in Israel`s existing detention facilities is the large number of detainees. It is far more appropriate to deal with this overcrowding through the reduction in the number of prisoners, and not only by building more facilities to imprison them.
The conditions in the Israeli prison system are extremely harsh. Most of the prisons are situated in facilities that are over twenty years old and in urgent need of renovations. The level of overcrowding exceeds all international and domestic standards, and many prisoners sleep on the floor. There is no effective airflow and the sanitary conditions are substandard, with no separation between toilet and shower. No attempt is made to separate the different types of prisoners (adults and children, or detainees with convicted prisoners)(6). Detainees are held in police holding cells when they should be moved over to a formal long-term detention facility, since the temporary holding cell does not allow for daily exercise, access to phones, family visits, and many other infringements.
According to information presented to the Knesset Constitution and Law Committee in May 2003, the lack of space in detention facilities that has existed for years is a result of the sharp rise in Israel`s population, and particularly the increasing number of security prisoners arrested due to the conflict in the territories(7). The average living space for a prisoner in the Israeli prison system is 3 meters, one-fourth of the U.N. recommendation of 12 meters per prisoner. In Australia, the average area allocated is 7 meters, and Belgium provides 9 meters. (Some 600 prisoners sleep on the floor). Israelâ€™s Arrests and Detention Law establishes that prison cells built since1997 must allocate to each prisoner a living space of at least 4.5 meters, but even this minimal standard is not upheld.
The Arrests and Detention Law obligates the authorities to provide a bed for every detainee. The Prison Authority is content to define floor space as an equivalent, and so fulfill their legal responsibility to the law. This warped interpretation of the law ignores the spirit of the law and the intention behind the original ruling by relating to it in its most literal sense. The right of a prisoner to sleep on a bed, as stated in the Arrests and Detention Law, arises from the legal right to human dignity that is protected by the Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty.
As a result of a petition filed by Physicians for Human Rights that addressed the issue of prisoners being forced to sleep on the floor, the Supreme Court in June 2003 issued a permanent injunction that expressly prohibited this practice, and demanded that every prisoner be provided with a bed (in every kind of detention facility). The implementation of this order was delayed following a special request by the Minister for Public Security, until May 2004, at which point he is legally bound to report to the Supreme Court within six months of that date what steps have been taken to facilitate the implementation of this order. A similar petition was submitted by the Israel Bar Association and remains pending.
UNDERMINING THE FOUNDATIONS OF DEMOCRACY
The formal perception of democracy relates solely to the decision making process of the state. According to this formal definition, there is nothing wrong with a legislator passing a law with a majority that negates a minority`s human rights. The conceptualization of the essence of democracy, however, also relates to the nature of the decision being made and views the protection of the human rights of citizens as a pillar of democracy.
The defense against infringements of human rights, and the limitation of the majority`s power to legislate laws that will infringe human rights, are usually enshrined within a constitution or charter of rights that prevents even a majority from detracting from fundamental human rights. The court is responsible in this case for monitoring the actions of the legislative authority to ensure that the latter is not using its power or exploiting a parliamentary majority without justification. The role of the court in dealing with intrinsic fundamental rights takes on a new urgency in the absence of a constitution.
RETRACTION OF SUPPORT FOR DEMOCRATIC PRINCIPLES
The Israel Institute of Democracy carried out a Democracy Survey designed to clarify the Israeli publicâ€™s relationship to the concept of democracy. The results were published in May 2003 and concluded that Israel is in formal terms a democracy that has yet to define its democratic identity. However, the survey pinpointed an increasing decline in support for democratic norms over the last few years among the Israeli public on all levels. The decline manifests itself in a lack of general support for the democratic system, including the support of specific democratic values, and for the equality and the rights of the Arab minority.
The survey noted the lowest level of support in the last twenty years for democracy as the best form of government: only 77% of Jews agreed with this statement. Of the 32 countries that have data available, Israel together with Poland were registered as having the lowest level of support among its citizens, Jews and Arabs alike, for the desirability of democracy.
More than half the Jews polled (53%) stated that they are opposed to equal rights for Arabs; 77% believe that a Jewish majority is required for all critical decisions of national importance; less than a third (31%) support the idea of the Arab parties joining the government coalition, and a majority of 57% support the emigration of Arabs.
On all the issues the survey results indicate a dramatic retraction of support for democratic norms. If in the past, we were to ask what Israelâ€™s position is in the world regarding the protection of human rights, the answer would have been somewhere in the middle - a good position - however the current survey shows otherwise, and according to all the data, Israel is firmly positioned in the bottom half of the list. Israelâ€™s record of ensuring human rights is low, there is extensive economic and political discrimination against the Arab minority, freedom of the press is on the verge of being reduced to a nominal right at best, there is a great deal less religious freedom than in other democracies, and economic and social inequality is among the highest of the countries sampled and is showing signs of further deterioration.
Israel is unlike other democracies, and has to deal with complex challenges unparalleled in other democracies. The country is embroiled in an external conflict and suffers, at the same time, from deep internal divisions. But it is because of this that the onus is upon us to be especially vigilant and not allow ourselves to justify blatant human rights violations as an unavoidable by-product of the ongoing emergency security situation and the present economic crisis. The Israel Democracy Institute survey provides us with a clear indication that the Israel public is influenced by the emergency security situation. In the past year a number of legislative proposals have been presented that would have been conceived as lunacy in the past, but today are given increasing legitimacy. The following are the most blatant examples of this phenomenon:
SETTLEMENTS FOR JEWS ONLY
In July 2002, the government decided to support a proposal by MK Haim Druckman to authorize the Israel Lands Authority and the Jewish Agency to distribute state land to settlements for Jews only. The principle of the equal division of resources, and the concept of the governing authorities treating each citizen equally is the basis of democracy. The denial of this principle and the allowing the state to treat citizens unequally and discriminate against them on the basis of their national origin, is a blow to the heart of democracy.
The proposed legislation was so controversial that the government passed it on for further consideration to the Committee for the Examination of the Basic Laws headed by Professor Yaâ€™acov Neâ€™eman. The level of seemingly boundless support the proposal received, however, is extremely disturbing.
THE DISQUALIFICATION OF POLITICAL LISTS
Just before the elections for the 16th Knesset in January 2003, the Central Election Committee decided to disqualify Dr. Ahmed Tibi, Azmi Bashara, and the Balâ€™ad list from running in the elections(8). This decision illustrates the danger of granting the authority to impact a fundamental right (in this case, the right to vote and be elected) to a public body comprised of individuals with their own political agendas.
The decision is an attempt to exclude the Arab sector from state institutions and the political arena, and so deny the right of a national minority to participate in the political debate and influence the decision-making process. Although this action was also blocked after the Supreme Court overturned the Election Committeeâ€™s decision, it too received a worrying level of public support.
REVOCATION OF CITIZENSHIP
The call to exclude the Arab minority from political discourse joins with the growing support for the revocation of Israeli citizenship(9) as a form of punishment to all those who are accused of being “traitors”, “cooperating with terrorist organizations”, or are a family member of anyone who is accused of carrying out an act of terror(10). The dangerous ramifications of this trend are self-evident; it is a slippery slope that will lead to the revocation of the citizenship of political rivals, and institutionalize the tyrannical rule of the majority.
The barrier to invoking this excessive authority placed in the Ministerâ€™s hands, was overcome in September 2002 when the then Minster of the Interior signed a special court order to disqualify the citizenship of Nahad Abu Kishak, a 24 year old Israeli Arab, who was born in the Israeli city of Lod, and was suspected of carrying out terrorist actions on behalf of Hamas.
The state authorities are entitled and indeed obligated to act against anyone who undermines the security interests of the country and its citizens. However, the state has at its disposal a number of legal tools provided by criminal law. The revocation of citizenship, especially in cases that leave the individual devoid of any citizenship, is prohibited by international law. This step is even more extreme given that this statutory provision is invoked against the Arab population, and not, for example, against Jews who are convicted of crimes such as selling weapons to terrorist organizations, or providing information to hostile states. This approach towards Arab citizens as conditional citizens, introduces a regime of segregation similar to that which exists in the occupied territories. This constitutes discrimination on an ethno-national basis between two populations residing in the same geographical area, Jews who have rights and Arab citizens who have none.
LIMITING FREEDOM OF SPEECH
As a result of ACRIâ€™s intervention in December 2002, charges were dropped against 10 Arab students who took part in a peaceful protest rally in Lod in April 2002 opposing the actions of the IDF in the territories. The protest consisted of not more than 15 individuals who held signs in a silent vigil. A few minutes after the protest began, the police arrived and declared it to be an illegal gathering. Anyone who refused to disperse was arrested. In addition to the initially flawed functioning of the police, who denied the participants the legal right to free speech and to demonstrate, a decision was also made to file charges against them for gathering illegally. The charges were filed with the approval of the Attorney General himself, who even authorized the additional charges of sedition against two of the defendants.
During the trial, with the aid of material collected during the interrogation, mainly video footage that was shot during the rally itself, it was proven that that the police had no reason to fear a disturbance of the peace and public order. The conclusion is inevitable, therefore, that the youths were detained solely because of their national affiliation.
The same month, the Minister of the Interior announced his intention to close the newspaper published by the Islamic movement in Israel, ‘Zawat el Haq el-Horiaâ€™. The shutdown was based on the antiquated Press Ordinance dating from the period of the British Mandate, that required a Ministry of the Interior license to publish a newspaper and granted the Ministry full discretion to shut down newspapers at will. ACRI managed to bring about the rescinding of this law, and the courts are now charged with the authority to close newspapers. Similarly, and at almost the same time, another law dating from the period of the British Mandate was invoked by the Film Review Council to prevent the screening of the film “Jenin, Jenin”. Like the attempt to disqualify political lists in the last election, this was is an attempt to silence the Palestinian voice that represents Palestinian nationalism, and delegitimize the Arab minorityâ€™s right to take part in the countryâ€™s political discourse(11).
The only legitimate way to deal with publications whose legitimacy are called into question is to bring the issue before the court in a criminal proceeding, where the onus is on the state to prove that a law has been broken, and not by granting a government body the power to close a newspaper.
In January 2003, Haâ€™aretz journalist, Baruch Kara, uncovered an ongoing criminal investigation against the Prime Minister for committing serious criminal offenses. As a result the Attorney General ordered the establishment of a special investigative body to examine the circumstances by which the information was leaked to the press. The investigative committee summoned Kara for questioning under suspicion that he obstructed the legal proceedings by publishing his findings.
The interrogation of a journalist as a suspect is effectively stripping him of his journalistic immunity, and “chills” free speech in a way that is likely to dissuade journalists like Kara from performing their role as the watchdogs of democracy. Journalistic confidentiality is essential to the proper functioning of the press and free speech in a democracy.
THE NON-IMPLEMENTATION OF GOVERNMENT PLANS FOR THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE ARAB SECTOR
Since 1999, government plans for the development of the Arab sector have come and gone. In October 2000, following the violent events and public protest, the government headed by Ehud Barak decided to allocate 4 billion NIS over four years for structural improvements in the Arab sector. The plan was designed to improve the living conditions of Arab citizens and to compensate, to some extent, for the former discriminatory allocation of funds. The plan consisted of three main components: 1) the improvement of existing infrastructure - the establishing new neighborhoods, building public institutions, and providing a system for the effective treatment of sewage; 2) economic development - principally through industry, agriculture, and tourism; and 3) the development of human capital - primarily through professional training courses, and promoting the status of women, education and culture.
The proposalâ€™s publication was received with a great deal of skepticism by leading Arab figures, as it was compiled without consulting any Arab community member or representative, and without conducting a survey about the communityâ€™s specific needs. In addition, it was clear that the amount of money earmarked for the budget represented a mere fraction of the funds needed to implement the change.
The proposal was buried immediately after its publication for two years until October 2002, when the government pulled it out again, and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon even announced that the plan was progressing. The company overseeing the project presented its report in November 2002. The report revealed that a number of government ministries had not even used the negligible amounts budgeted for the program; more than 94 million NIS remained in the 2002 budget of the Ministry of Housing and Construction, the Ministry of Labor and Welfare, and the Ministry of Industry and Trade.
ACRI and Mossawa - the Center for the Rights of Arabs in Israel, and the National Committee of Local Arab Authorities, petitioned the court to demand the transfer of the unutilized funds for inclusion in the upcoming annual budget, and to ensure that they are not diverted for other purposes. During the court hearing, the Attorney General claimed that not all of the data regarding the utilization of the 2002 budget was available and until it was, a decision could not be made as to whether or not it could be carried over to 2003.
Another government program, ‘The Five Year Plan for the Negev Bedouinâ€™ was drafted by a special inter-ministerial committee in collaboration with the Israeli Lands Administration (ILA), the Administration for Bedouin Advancement, various local governmental bodies and the heads of the Jewish municipal and regional councils of the Negev. The Plan allocated a total of 1,085 million NIS to be used to accelerate the transfer of the Bedouin population from the unrecognized scattered villages to the permanent settlements that the state had already planned, to improve the infrastructure and services in the permanent settlements while ensuring the Bedouinâ€™s land rights in the Negev, and to increase the legal protections of these rights. This report was also drawn up without any input from the Planâ€™s beneficiaries, and with complete disregard for the communityâ€™s needs and desires
In addition, in response to a petition submitted by ACRI three years ago to protest discriminatory planning policies, a plan is currently being drawn up for large parts of the municipal area of Beâ€™er Sheba. The outline plan is intended to address the problems facing the local Bedouin population through full consultation with them and by taking their needs into account. The same government that made a good faith commitment to the Supreme Court to begin the process of establishing village settlements is now forming and funding a plan to relocate the residents of the very villages that their representatives are working hard to have included in the plans being developed.
Approximately half of the Arab population in the Negev lives in 7 small towns established by the state, which have become centers of unemployment and poverty. The remaining 75,000 Bedouin citizens live outside these towns in settlements that the government refuses to officially recognize, although the majority existed before the establishment of the state, and the rest were moved to their present location by the Israeli authorities. The governmentâ€™s paternalistic attitude toward the Bedouin continues with the present plan. The Arab population is forced into small towns planned by the government without their participation or any consideration of their way of life, and in complete ignorance of the specific social structure of the Bedouin community. The Israeli government, since the establishment of the state, has never established or recognized rural settlements, despite the fact that rural life is the traditional Bedouin way of life that they have every interest in continuing. By way of comparison, over one hundred village settlements and dozens of private farms in the Negev have been established for the Jewish community.
Fifty-four structures were destroyed in unrecognized villages over the last year. Forty of them were private homes and a mosque (the rest were agricultural and commercial buildings), compared to only eight homes the previous year. In a single day, 150 house demolition orders were issued in the unrecognized village of Atir/Am Alhiran, a village the government wants to evacuate and move the residents thereof to Marit, one of its planned towns, despite the local populationâ€™s opposition.
ACRI plays an active role in the forum “Together” (an organization that promotes equality and development of the Negev), that was established in January 2003 to fight the government plan for the Negev. The forum brings together the Regional Council of Unrecognized Bedouin villages that represents the majority of the councils of the Negevâ€™s unrecognized villages. Arab, Jewish, and human rights organizations are opposed to the plan.
Even when the government has to implement explicit undertakings it drags its feet. In response to a petition filed by ACRI, the state undertook to build 8 health clinics in the unrecognized villages. To date, only two have been completed and another one is in the beginning stages. During the court proceedings in June 2003, The Supreme Court severely criticized the authorities for the serious delays in the establishment of the clinics in the unrecognized villages in the Negev. The court granted the state 60 days to take the necessary steps to build the four health clinics.
CITIZENSHIP AND NATURALIZATION
In May 2002, the government published its decision to freeze all new and pending citizenship applications where the foreign national spouse is of Palestinian origin. The multi-staged naturalization process takes a total of four and a half years, during which the couple has to prove the authenticity of their marriage. Couples that include a Palestinian spouse who is a resident of the territories are granted a permit allowing them to stay for a limited time in the country, and at a later date they receive a renewable annual permit from the Minister of the Interior. As each permit expires the authorities check to see that the family unit is still intact and that there is no security or criminal basis to rescind the temporary residency. ACRIâ€™s petition on the issue is still pending.
In the meantime the government submitted a legislative proposal (The Law of Citizenship and Entry Into Israel (Interim Instruction), 2003) to enshrine this policy in law. The legislation passed its first reading in June 2003, and it is currently being discussed in the Knesset Interior Committee. The proposed law states that no request for a temporary residency permit will be granted to Palestinian residents of the territories who are married to Israeli citizens. Advocates of the bill attempt to substantiate the bill by explaining as follows: “Since the outbreak of the armed conflict between the Palestinians and the Israelis which has led to, among other things, dozens of suicide bombings, there is a growing phenomenon of involvement of Palestinians who reside in the area and possess Israeli identity cards by virtue of the family reunification process. These individuals exploit their Israeli status which allows them freedom of passage between the territory of the Palestinian Authority and Israeli territory”(12).
As a result of family and cultural bonds, there is a natural connection between the Palestinian Israeli population and the Palestinians in the occupied territories marriages naturally develop between these two populations. The proposed legislation discriminates against Israeli citizens who are married to Palestinians, it also infringes the right to family life which is a basic right recognized by international law, Israeli law, and enshrined in the Basic Law: The Right to Human Dignity and Liberty. This right includes the right to marry and the right to parent. These rights are drawn from the right of every individual to dignity and privacy, and the importance of the family unit in society in general, and in Israel in particular.
Sweeping draft legislation that freezes all citizenship applications, pending and new alike, deals a severe and indiscriminate blow to couples and families. For Palestinians who have already married but are denied renewal of their residency permit, the proposed law means the disintegration of their family unit.
The Ministry of the Interior annulled the regulation that allowed an Israeli and his partner to leave the country, marry abroad, and return. When these couples leave the country, the Israeli spouse is allowed re-entry and but his partner must wait months. Recently a new regulation was promulgated that enables the non-citizen partner to return once a request is filed at an Israeli consulate abroad, in exchange for posting a large bond. The Ministry is exploiting the fact that there is no civil marriage option in Israel to keep the foreign spouse out of the country.
In December 2002 the fee for citizenship applications was increased ten-fold, from 135 NIS to 1,325 NIS, and the fees for arranging the return of a partner increased five-fold, from 550 NIS to 2,325 NIS. The fees for naturalization applications not due to marriage have not changed. The increased fees are designed to limit spouses of foreign origin from attaining Israeli residency status. ACRI petitioned against the increased fees.
According to the law, a child who has one parent that is an Israeli citizen is also entitled to citizenship upon birth. In the last few years, the Ministry of the Interior has stiffened the policy of granting automatic citizenship, and has cast doubt on the claims of paternity by Israeli males married to foreign nationals. The clerks assigned to process the declarations of paternity insist that the fathers in question produce a declarative court judgment proving their paternity claim. In order to obtain the court judgment, the father and child must undergo genetic testing. The process is extremely expensive, long, and complicated, and many cannot finance it. Recently, the Ministry of the Interior has agreed to accept the declaration of paternity by an Israeli man who is married to a foreign national. However, unmarried couples (many of whom are unwed simply because they are prevented from marrying in Israel) must still go through the cumbersome process. The result is that the child does not receive Israeli citizenship and is not registered in the Population Registry. Many of the children thus lack citizenship status. As such they are that are not eligible for health insurance or coverage for the check-ups and treatments that all babies require. As time goes on, those who have no official status in the country become, through no fault of their own, illegal residents.
A child that is born to an Israeli mother and a foreign national father does receive Israeli citizenship and is registered in the Population Registry. However, the Ministry of the Interior has on numerous occasions refused to register the foreign national as the babyâ€™s father. The refusal is a result of the Ministryâ€™s fear that the individual will use his position as father of an Israeli citizen to attain residency status in Israel. The child becomes “fatherless”, which undermines his/her self-respect, and makes it very difficult to make a legal claim for maintenance payments.
The Minister of the Interior, Avraham Poraz, who was appointed in March 2003, initiated a number of positive changes regarding non-citizen soldiers in the IDF, and aging parents who are not eligible for automatic citizenship according to the Law of Return. Mr. Poraz also stated that unlike his predecessor, he has no intention of utilizing his authority under the Citizenship Law to disqualify an individualâ€™s citizenship on the basis of breaching the publicâ€™s trust.
Other initiatives proposed by the Minister were thwarted by the Attorney General. Among the delayed initiatives are: solving humanitarian issues by granting residency status to children of foreign nationals who were raised in Israel; formalizing the citizenship status of foreign national parents of Israeli children; granting legal status to women migrants that began the multi-staged citizenship process and were widowed before the process was completed; and devising legal status for parents of individuals who served in the IDF. The Minister also announced his intention to grant citizenship to individuals who are considered to have “made a contribution to Israeli society” (as a consequence of this policy three soccer stars were recently granted Israeli citizenship). Minister Poraz also stated that he does not differentiate between various streams of Judaism with regard to the conversion process, and it is not his intention to grant Israeli residency status solely on the basis of conversion.
On May 25, 2003, the Attorney General Elyakim Rubenstein, in a letter to the Prime Minister, requested the establishment of a committee headed by the Attorney General to assess the positions of the Minister of the Interior. (It should be noted that this initiative was not based on legal considerations, but due to his uneasiness over the Ministerâ€™s position on issues such as immigration and residency status). In the committee meeting that was held on June 26th, the Prime Minister ordered Mr. Poraz to retract his recently stated policy decisions on the issue of granting citizenship to the children of migrant workers, and on the issue of not granting citizenship on the basis of religious criteria, but on the basis of civic criteria for those who have contributed to Israeli society. Sharon determined that all those who undergo an orthodox conversion in Israel are eligible for automatic citizenship.
HUMAN RIGHTS IN THE OCCUPIED TERRITORIES
In the third year of the Al Aqsa Intifada we are witnessing an increase in the scope and severity of human rights violations, and an unprecedented rise in injury to innocent Palestinian and Israeli civilians. More than 700 Palestinians and over 200 Israelis have lost their lives, and many more on both sides of the conflict have been injured.
In the last year, Palestinian terror organizations carried out terror attacks against Israelis. The Israeli populationâ€™s daily life was disrupted, and their quality of life was undermined. The sense of threat hovers over everyone, even those not harmed directly. Unfortunately, this feeling is converted into publicly endorsed legitimacy to trample on the human rights of the civilian population in the territories.
We decided this year to turn our attention to these abuses that have become a day-to-day reality in the Occupied Territories. Most of the abuses occur not as a result of operational necessity on the part of the IDF, but from vindictiveness on the part of the soldiers, who receive implicit approval to denigrate the dignity, life and liberty of innocent Palestinian civilians.
ACRI denounces and condemns every infringement of the right to life, and even more so when innocent civilians on both sides are involved. The embroilment of a nation in a conflict does not justify the terror attacks or the mass killing of Israeli citizens by Palestinian organizations. Likewise, the terror does not justify revenge attacks or exempt Israel, as a democratic country, from its obligation to human rights. The fight to maintain human rights is the fight for the moral identity of the state and Israeli society. Both in a state of emergency and during wartime, both sides of the conflict are compelled to do everything in their power to avoid the abuse of human rights.
In repeated declarations, senior officers in the IDF claim that the army regards any harm caused to an innocent civilian as a matter of great seriousness, and makes every effort to prevent it. The military prosecutor stated that any reports or information about attacks or injury to innocent civilians is thoroughly investigated by senior officers. The findings are handed over to the military prosecutor for further examination and if there is evidence of criminal behavior by the soldiers involved, then the prosecutor initiates criminal proceedings. (The statement was taken from a letter to ACRI Attorney Noa Stein from General Menachem Finklestein, 29.12.02). However, data supplied by the military Judge Advocate General, reveals that in reality that most of the incidents, and the majority of deaths, are not investigated, and no incidents that involve death are investigated if they occur during combat. The military prosecutor justifies this failure to conduct investigations by claiming that other armies behave in exactly the same way.
CHECKPOINTS - ABUSE, INTIMIDATION, AND PREVENTING MEDICAL TREATEMENT
Roadblocks and physical blockades (concrete blocks, ditches, and dirt roads) in the West Bank are situated around every one of the Palestinian villages and are the focal point of human rights abuses in the occupied territories. The abuse begins with the aggressive behavior of the soldiers at the roadblocks, continues with the deliberate delays imposed without military justification on those trying to pass the roadblock by car, and includes arbitrarily holding people for hours by taking away their identity cards. It is not uncommon for these injustices to turn into real abuse: Kassam Avisaâ€™at, a 19 year-old student from Kalkilia, documented the events of 30.4.03 at the Saida roadblock in Tulkarem when one of the soldiers engraved a Star of David onto his throat using cut glass.
Reservists serving at the Kalandia checkpoint concluded that, “after two weeks of searching peopleâ€™s bags as they came and went, and after endlessly checking their identity cards, I came to the conclusion that the Kalandia checkpoint has no purpose, and should be dismantled as soon as possible….a great deal of damage is caused by the superfluous checkpoint, especially if one takes into account the A-Ram roadblock situated close by whose purpose is to prevent any explosive material from entering Jerusalem.” (Anar Atar, Haâ€™aretz 24.11.02).
In a meeting of the Knesset Constitution and Law Committee, the military Judge Advocate General (JAG), expressed his increasing concern over checkpoint incidents and added that he would consider shortening the period of time spent by individual soldiers at the roadblocks. Although this would ease, to some extent, the treatment experienced by the local population, the central issue is and will always be the presence of the roadblocks themselves. (The JAG recognized the fact that the presence of the soldiers among the civilian population is the central cause of the moral dilemmas)(13). A second factor impacting the scope of the abuses at the checkpoints is the lenient view of commanding officers toward inappropriate behavior by soldiers toward Palestinians.
In March 2003, ACRI and Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) petitioned the Supreme Court demanding that the IDF remove the physical barriers preventing the entry and exit of residents from three Palestinian villages in the area of Nablus: Salim, Deir el-Hatab, and Izmut. For the past year the IDF has prevented access to these villages, where over 11,000 residents have been held in complete closure. As a consequence the right to free movement is denied them, as is the right to pursue a livelihood, access to medical services, and the right to education. In July 2003, the petition was rejected by the Supreme Court on the grounds that, although other methods exist for checking the movements of residents from Nablus to the villages and preventing the infiltration of terrorists - the method chosen by the army is not unreasonable and is proportionate. The judges emphasized the need to clarify sharply for the soldiers the appropriate rules of behavior at the checkpoints.
Although the security forces on numerous occasions stated their intent, primarily before the Supreme Court, to allow the passage of Palestinians in the event of a medical emergency, and the army even issued special orders to facilitate this decision, it was never implemented in the field. Individuals are continually prevented from passing through the roadblock either by physical barriers, or by the soldiers guarding the particular checkpoint.
The physical barriers not only prevent pregnant women and civilians in need of medical care from leaving the geographical area they reside in, but also prevent ambulances and doctors from reaching them. If it is hard for healthy individuals to find some way to negotiate the physical barriers, it is clear that a pregnant woman, a sick person, an old person or baby will find it impossible. Even if an individual does overcome the physical barrier then he will very quickly run into a roadblock manned by soldiers preventing - or in the best case delaying -his passage. In an investigation carried out by the organization Physicians for Human Rights, it became clear that in many cases ambulances were delayed up to an hour by security checks, a period of time that is clearly critical when one considers the medical implications of such a delay and the fact that it is probably only one checkpoint among many.
The following is a few examples of individuals who lost their life as a result of delayed medical treatment:
Rawan Harizat, a four day old baby from Hebron who died on 14.10.02, after IDF soldiers delayed her evacuation to the hospital.
Azzam Alawana, an individual suffering from heart disease from the village of Azmut died on 8.12.02, after medical staff was unable to negotiate the ditch blocking access to the village in time to save her.
A chemist from the village of Salam felt pains in his chest and had to go by foot across the fields surrounding his village to reach the road where the ambulance was waiting for him. He died before reaching his destination.
A pregnant woman tried to reach the road from the village of Azmut but soldiers blocked her way and she was forced to give birth on the spot. The baby did not survive.
Muhammed Mahmud el Masimi from the Balata refugee camp, suffered a heart attack during an IDF search of his home on 24.2.03, and died after soldiers delayed his access to medical treatment.
DELIBERATE IMTIMIDATION AND CRUEL TREATMENT
ACRI appealed to the military Judge Advocate General demanding the investigation of a number of incidents involving the intimidation of the local Palestinian population by soldiers stationed in the area of Mount Hebron. The soldiers imposed a reign of intimidation and terror on the local population with no military justification whatsoever. They prevented farmers from working in their fields, harassed those leaving and entering, carried out house to house searches that caused serious collateral damage and terrorized the inhabitants in the early hours of the morning. A number of times the soldiers tore around the village in armored personnel carriers, accompanied by the ear-splitting sound of a wailing siren.
In a few instances the armored personnel carrier parked in front of a house and revved the engine to its maximum creating large amounts of thick smoke that choked the occupants of the house and those in the immediate area. The visits by the armored personnel carrier are documented in writing and one incident, the gratuitous “smoking” was even filmed by a video camera. The fact that the IDF turned a blind eye to the incident and never filed charges sends a message to the perpetrators that there is tacit agreement and support for their actions, even when they clearly had no military value or security purpose.
At the end of 2002, 45,000 people in the old city of Hebron were under curfew for half a year. After a few weeks of a total curfew, the IDF began to organize breaks in the curfew for 4 hours every 48 to 96 hours. However, this policy was not consistent, and sometimes the curfew continued for more than 96 hours in succession. After a few months of almost total curfew, the IDF introduced a few measures to ease the situation. This period of relief lasted only a short time until the full curfew was reinstated and the residentsâ€™ only break was for a few hours every three days.
One of the reasons the army gave for the curfew in the old city was the frequent clashes between the Palestinian population and the Jewish settlers. The curfew it must be remembered discriminates against the Palestinian residents. While the Palestinians are not allowed out of their houses, Jewish residents are free to move around at will.
As a result of the extended curfew, most Palestinians were out of work for a long period of time. According to statements made by some of the families, they have reached starvation levels. Residents living in other areas also lost their source of livelihood since their work places were situated in the curfew area.
The petition submitted by ACRI was rejected after the court was convinced that the IDF was acting in accordance with a coherent policy, and was doing its utmost to ease the situation for the local population.
Since June 2000, the curfew in the old city is only imposed on weekends, except for the houses that are adjacent to those of the Jewish settlers, which are under curfew the rest of the week also.
The total number of hours under curfew: 18.6.02 - 31.5.03
Ramallah - 2,419
Nablus - 4,232
Jenin - 3,046
Hebron - 4,786
Kalkiliya - 2,134
Bethlehem - 2,597
Tulkarem - 4,167
The question is, whether there is any justification for halting the lives of an entire city, chaining thousands of people to their houses, preventing them from working, studying, playing and socializing. If, for example, it was proved that a full curfew on Haifa would prevent the residents from being injured in traffic accidents, or that a full curfew on Herzliya would stop the trade in drugs - would that be enough of a justification to impose a curfew on these cities?
Palestinians found outside their homes during curfew hours because they did not know it was imposed or for any other reason, are liable to pay for the mistake with their life. In some instances, soldiers shot smoke grenades at people outside of their homes when the curfew was imposed, a method of notifying the population that the curfew was being imposed with no prior warning provided.
Thus, between July and October 2002 at least 12 people lost their lives (mostly children and youths) by soldiers opening fire on those considered to be breaking the curfew:
Sohri Fawak Abed el-Aj Dawad, 10, killed in Kalkilya, 7.7.02.
Abed a-Rahim Ibrahim, 40, killed in Hebron, 3.8.02.
Hamza Badawi, 15, killed in the Balata refugee camp, 5.8.02
Ahmed el-Kuraine, 54, killed in Nablus, 1.8.02.
Abed a-Salam Samrin, 12, killed in El Bireh in the district of Ramallah, 19.9.02
Riram Muhamed Ibrahim Mana, 14 months, died of inhaling smoke from a smoke grenade fired Baâ€™ab al Zawia in Hebron, 26.9.02
Rami a-Barberi, 13, killed in the Balata refugee camp, 30.9.02.
Muhammed Zallul, 12, killed in the center of Nablus, 30.9.02.
Muhammed Zayad, 15, killed in Jenin, 5.10.02.
Amar Rajib, 15, killed in the refugee camp in Ein Bet Alma in the Nablus district, 5.10.02.
Shadin Abu Hijala, 60, killed in the courtyard of her house in the Rapidia neighborhood in Nablus, 11.0.02.
The insistence of the family of Shadin Abu Hijala, that the IDF investigate his death resulted, after 8 months, in a change in the policy of opening fire and the ban of firing merely to impose a curfew.
HARMING INNOCENT CIVILIANS DURING TARGETED ASSASINATIONS
In the last year (16.6.02-12.6.03) the IDF assassinated 80 Palestinians (26 in the Gaza Strip and the rest in the West Bank). In at least 20 incidents the IDF admitted to the assassination. During assassination operations in the same period, 90 innocent bystanders, women, children, and men, were killed, and more than 300 people were injured. According to statistics published by the Israel Air Force in June 2003, in 25-30% of instances involving the use of helicopters against fugitives the pilots hit innocent civilians. In urban areas the number is even higher and reaches almost 50%.
In July 2002 the IDF assassinated Hamas activist Salam Mustafa Shahada by firing a rocket from an Israeli Air Force helicopter at his house, in the neighborhood of El Daraj in Gaza. The bomb weighed 1000kg and the force of the blast killed an additional 14 people, including the wife and daughter of Shahada, and injured 150.
At the end of August 2002 the IDF tried to assassinate two fugitives in the town of Tubas, near Nablus. Helicopters fired missiles at the car in which the two were traveling. The blast killed 5 Palestinians, among them a 10-year-old boy, and a 6-year-old girl, and another 10 were injured. The fugitives were not harmed: one of them left the car before the missiles were fired, and the other one disappeared after the first missile hit.
At the beginning of June 2003 the IDF tried to assassinate the Hamas leader, Abed el Aziz Rantissi. The attack killed his wife and baby, more than 20 Palestinian were injured (among them Rantissi himself), and of the injured, 14 were seriously hurt.
At this time a petition is pending regarding the policy of targeted killing that was submitted by the Public Committee Against Torture and LAW (The Protection of the Environment and Human Rights).
In April 2002, during the IDF Defensive Shield operation in Jenin, reports started to filter in that the IDF were forcing Palestinian citizens to act as human shields: to accompany them during military operations, to stand in front of them, to knock on doors, to remove suspicious objects from the street, to order people to leave their houses so that the IDF could detain them, to stand in front of soldiers while the latter were firing from behind them, and other fighting tactics that endangered their lives. The citizens, among them children and old people who were chosen randomly, could not refuse the order of armed soldiers.
In May 2002, ACRI, Adalah and Btselem, and other organizations petitioned the Supreme Court against the IDF use of human beings to achieve military goals. The petitioners claimed that the IDF was denying the right to life, dignity, and freedom of innocent civilians. As a result of the petition the IDF issued an order prohibiting the use of civilians as human shields, but in the field the practice continues as before.
On 5.12.02 the IDF informed the court that it opposes the use of human shields but then issued a new operational order allowing the use of local Palestinian residents when arresting fugitives. The order was allegedly designed “to prevent injury to the local population and the fugitives themselves”. The use of local residents was supposed to give the residents of the fugitiveâ€™s house enough warning that the arrest was about to take place, providing innocent bystanders time to get out of the building and allowing the fugitive to turn himself in. In this way, the IDF would purportedly avoid using force and endangering bystanders. The order was dependent upon the agreement of the individual in question to help the soldiers, and only if in the discretion of the officer in the field no danger would be posed to the life of the Palestinian citizen “volunteer”.
On 21.1.03, the Supreme Court authorized the implementation of the new order. During the hearing in July 2003 the petitioners submitted affidavits demonstrating that the IDF ignores the section of the order that prohibits endangering the individualâ€™s life, and that the condition requiring the residentâ€™s agreement is meaningless.
HUMAN RIGHTS AND DEMOCRACY EDUCATION
As we demonstrated in this report, Israeli society (and the education system as its reflection) has difficulty dealing with equality and difference. If there is one lesson to be learned from the undermining of democracy set forth in this report, it the absolute necessity, from a childâ€™s first day in kindergarten until his last day of high school, of introducing democratic principles, the most important being the moral imperative to respect human rights. The educational system must serve as a model in its methods of dealing with the issue of differences of any kind, be they ones of ethnicity, nationality, gender, social status, or ideology.
In 1995, the Minister of Education, Culture and Sport, Professor Amnon Rubenstein, and the committee headed by Professor Mordechai Kremnitzer, developed a comprehensive program to promote the internalization of principles of citizenship by students as a foundation of values and behavior for all citizens of the state.
The report emphasized the obligatory role of the education system to “generate a sense of commitment to the democratic system and to promote the internalization of the concept of human rights as the birthright of all human beings”. The correlation was also drawn between the commitment to these principles and the strength of the democratic regime. The report also stated that this is an issue of national importance that has to be given top priority on all levels: policy, planning, application and the allocation of resources.
In 1996, the Ministry of Education established a center designed to deal specifically with the implementation of the Shenhar-Kremnitzer report. The center was charged with centralizing all relevant material and promoting the reportâ€™s conceptual approach in the educational system - and in particular, integrating the concepts into all areas of study for all ages as quickly as possible. The plan also included training sessions for teachers. ACRIâ€™s examination of the implementation of these recommendations revealed that the Shenhar-Kremnitzer Center is now limited to presenting teacher training sessions on enhancing understanding of Jewish heritage. The budget for democracy education has been cut to such an extent that it cannot be launched on even a minimal level.
The Shenhar-Kremnitzer Center has not held a single conference on the subject of democracy in the last two years. Two large conferences were held, however, on the subject of Jewish heritage, in June 2001 and June 2003.
An additional hour was added to the educational framework for Jewish heritage studies for all sectors of the education system (secular state schools, religious state schools, and Arab schools). The small amount of residual funds were diverted to the drastically under-funded field of citizenship education. This nominal budget allocation came in place of the proposed Shenhar-Kremnitzer Center plan to imbue the students with an understanding of democracy and human rights.
In the absence of an official system-wide approach infusing the educational system with values education in general and democratic values in particular, most initiatives in this area take place on a local level. Although there is declared commitment to the concepts of human rights among teachers and among senior staff in the Ministry of Education, there is very little evidence of it in the classroom. Local educational initiatives and the efforts of individual teachers cannot effect the widespread recognition of human rights sought. Nor do these limited initiatives reflect any real understanding of the full range of human rights (including the rights of the child), or understanding of the connection between democracy and human rights. Teachers who have not been exposed to this field of expertise feel threatened by the concept of “rights” and are afraid to allow the students to debate openly or raise issues relating to human rights from fear that it may undermine the position of the teacher. The teacher may also be under the mistaken impression that by debating issues relating to human rights there is an automatic identification with a specific political outlook. Thus educators prefer to abandon the subject, and some teachers fail to implement rights in the classroom itself, such as equality, dignity, freedom of speech, and due process.
According to a survey carried out among Israeli teachers that was published in the journal “Panim” (Faces), in Spring 2003, 82% of teachers believe that social issues need to addressed in a much more comprehensive manner, and 59% believe that current affairs should be dealt with in greater depth. The survey did not ask the question why, if that is the case, these subjects are consistently under-prioritized. In our opinion, the lack of attention devoted to these subjects results from a lack of expertise, and the shifting of responsibility to the civics teacher in such a way as to absolve the rest of the educational team from any responsibility for addressing these subjects.
ACRIâ€™s Educational Department offers a number of varied training sessions for educators, such as enrichment programs on the issue of human rights, the development of skills to deal with human and civil rights issues relating to actual events in the classroom and dilemmas in the school, discussing the relationship between rights and obligations in the school, and the role of the teacher as an individual with rights, as well the rights of the students, parents, and other educational staff.
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last updated : 23/07/03
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11:46pm Wed Jul 23 '03
8:41am Mon Aug 25 '03
While we are at it, what about the rights of the chicken that Kentucky fries? I, myself, think that ants should not be stepped on, and roaches should be fed cubes of sugar.
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