Israel guilty of ‘bleak’ and ‘severe’ human rights abuses, local NGO asserts

Civil rights group’s report decries situation in the West Bank, among the Bedouin, and relating to African migrants in Tel Aviv

Raphael Ahren is a former diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

A family of African migrants in the Shapira neighborhood of Tel Aviv (photo credit: Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
A family of African migrants in the Shapira neighborhood of Tel Aviv (photo credit: Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Israel is guilty of “particularly severe” human rights violations, both in the Palestinian territories and Israel proper, according to a scathing new report by one of the country’s premier rights organizations.

According to the 2012 report of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, the situation in Israel is “bleak” in almost every category of human rights, particularly housing. The report does also mention some positive developments, mainly in the area of healthcare.

“Asylum seekers are persecuted relentlessly. The occupation of the West Bank and the regime of discrimination are bolstered by doublespeak and efforts to silence opposition. Affordable housing is nowhere to be found and water has become a luxury. Large social protests are no longer permitted in the public sphere and the police and judicial authority are privatized while the High Court of Justice becomes less accessible,” ACRI said in a statement coinciding with the report’s publication.

The report covers a wide range of topics, such as freedom of expression, the right to demonstrate, the “smart cards” recently introduced in public transportation system, privatization, Arab minority rights, rights of people with disabilities, access to water, healthcare and what it considers “pointless arrests” of African migrants.

“The prevalent attitude toward African asylum seekers in Israel in 2012 was one of racism and xenophobia,” the report asserts. “Over the course of the year, Israeli citizens burned, beat, cursed and looted on a scale and in a manner never seen before. Molotov cocktails were thrown at the homes of asylum seekers and at a kindergarten in the Shapira neighborhood of Tel Aviv. Apartments of foreign citizens in Jerusalem were torched. Three Eritrean asylum seekers were stabbed in the Shapira neighborhood and a demonstration against so-called ‘infiltrators’ in the Hatikva neighborhood of Tel Aviv descended into a display of unbridled violence, including smashing of shop windows and physical attacks on foreign citizens. A small number of assailants were indicted following these incidents.”

A large segment of the report was dedicated to housing rights, especially of Israel’s Arab population.

“Most residents of Arab communities are barred from attaining permits to build legally,” the report’s author, Tal Dahan, charges. “With no other choice, and lacking any residential alternatives, many Arab citizens of Israel are forced to build their homes without permits, which leaves them under constant duress, fearing their homes will be demolished.”

The government’s policies vis-à-vis the Bedouin communities in the Negev are particularly problematic, according to the report. “The government has still failed to recognize 35 villages – home to 70,000 people – and provide them with basic services such as paved roads, running water or electricity, not to mention schools or health clinics.”

Arab communities in recognized cities such as Acre, Lod, Haifa and Jaffa also face discrimination in that the authorities have neglected them for decades, the report finds.

Ramle’s Gan Hakal neighborhood, for example, has more than 2,000 residents, but no banks, post offices, community or commercial centers, municipal offices, branches of the National Insurance Institute, community centers, commercial centers, playgrounds or parks.

Despite the social justice protest of last summer, public housing has also not improved for Israel’s Jewish community. “On the contrary,” the report states: “the government opposed the promotion of affordable housing legislation while continuing to systematically eviscerate the current pool of public housing units.”

The report also harshly criticizes the Israeli military regime in the West Bank. In 2012, the IDF regularly “issued and executed demolition orders for homes and humanitarian structures like cisterns” throughout Area C, which is area where all Israeli settlements are located and some 150,000 Palestinians live.

It decries “a creeping de facto annexation of Area C: through discriminatory legislation, the application of different laws to Israelis and Palestinians and the government-commissioned Levy report, which argued that Israeli settlements are legal under international law.” The current government has expressed its support for the controversial report but has so far not adopted it.

Freedom of expression has “suffered heavy blows this year” both in the Palestinian territories and Israel proper, the report says. New regulations in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv have made it “exceedingly difficult to initiate demonstrations and set up protest tents,” ACRI asserts. “In the West Bank, Israeli authorities pursued a systematic policy of banning all forms of protest and “persecuting activist leaders.”

Still, the report does have some good news. Israeli authorities have been working at closing the gap in life expectancy which currently exists between population groups, such as between rich and poor, and between people living in the center of the country and those who live in the periphery. Positive examples of such efforts were the creation of another medical school in Safed and the expansion of complete dental coverage to children under the age of 12.

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