[Update: The director of the organization who culled the information below, Dirasat and Israeli law professor Yousef Jabareen respectively, published an op-ed in the Jerusalem Post today highlighting how him, his village and his human rights are threatened by Avigdor Lieberman.]
The US State Department’s 2008 report on Israel and Human Rights is available online. Below the fold are excepts identified by Israeli NGO Dirasat, the Arab Center for Law and Policy. I haven’t read the whole thing myself yet but figured many would be curious what our government says about their government.
Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
2008 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices
February 25, 2009
“The government generally respected the human rights of its citizens, although there were problems in some areas. There were several high-profile cases involving corruption by political leaders. Institutional, legal, and societal discrimination against Arabs, non-Orthodox Jews, and other religious groups continued, as did societal discrimination against persons with disabilities. Women suffered societal discrimination and domestic violence. The government maintained unequal educational systems for Arab and Jewish students. Trafficking in and abuse of women and foreign workers remained a problem, as did societal discrimination against persons with disabilities”.
Arab Israelis continued to suffer various forms of discrimination in public and private life. Tensions between Arabs and Jews also remained high in areas where the two communities overlap, such as the Galilee and Negev, and in certain mixed cities with separate Jewish and Arab neighborhoods.
According to press reports, Jewish residents of Jerusalem perpetrated at least 20 violent assaults against Palestinian residents of Jerusalem during the year, most often using knives, clubs, and other weapons. Many of these attacks were reportedly premeditated.
On March 14, a policeman from the town of Kfar Saba attacked two Arab Israelis while shouting, “Death to Arabs.” Another police officer who witnessed the attack intervened to prevent injury.
On October 8, violence erupted between Israeli-Jews and Arabs in the city of Acre (Akko) at the beginning of the Jewish Holy Day of Yom Kippur after an Arab resident drove into a predominantly Jewish neighborhood. Driving on Yom Kippur was generally prohibited in Israel. Rioting ensued for several days, as Jewish and Arab extremists incited their communities against one another. While the inflammatory rhetoric was mutual, the majority of those inciting to violence were Jewish, according to the Northern District police commander. According to press reports, both communities suffered significant property damage, and several Arab families were displaced from their homes in or near Jewish neighborhoods. Police continued to pursue and arrest the chief instigators after the violence subsided. On October 20, police arrested six young Jewish men in Tel Aviv for allegedly firebombing two Arab homes in an attempt to spread the anti-Arab incitement to Jaffa and other mixed neighborhoods around Tel Aviv.
On September 9, a number of Jewish local and district-level government leaders held a conference under the banner of the Renewing Zionism Movement in the Galilee town of Kfar Tavor, during which the leaders urged the need to “Judaize” the Galilee and warned of dire consequences if Jews lose their majority in the Galilee.
In contrast the neighboring Gilboa Regional Council actively promoted Jewish-Arab coexistence, including by holding a Gilboa Coexistence Festival in August and cohosting, with the NGO Abraham Fund Initiatives, an interfaith breaking of the Ramadan fast on September 11.
During the year the Israel Land Fund NGO launched a program to purchase Arab land in the Galilee and market it at discounted rates to Jewish buyers by distributing flyers to synagogues throughout the region stating the time was ripe to redeem the “Land of Israel.”
Public debate continued over the idea of “transferring” Arab-Israeli communities from Israel to the Palestinian territories (in return for transferring Jewish settlements in the West Bank to Israel) as part of a negotiated solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Arab Israelis overwhelmingly condemned the proposal, while Jewish opinion ran the gamut from support to condemnation. Members of Yisrael Beiteynu, a right-wing party headed by Knesset Member Avigdor Leiberman, advocated the idea in media interviews at public gatherings throughout the year. In a March poll commissioned by the Knesset television station, 75 percent of the Jewish public supported the transfer of at least some Arab Israelis as part of a peace deal with the Palestinians, including 28 percent who believed all Arab Israelis should be forcibly transferred.
Although Arabic is an official language, the National Insurance Institute requires that documents submitted for claims be translated into Hebrew.
Approximately 93 percent of land was in the public domain, and of this approximately 12.5 percent was owned by the Jewish National Fund (JNF), whose statutes prohibit sale or lease of land to non-Jews. In 2005 the attorney general ruled the government cannot discriminate against Arab Israelis in marketing and allocation of lands it manages, including those of the JNF. As an interim measure, the government agreed through the Israel Lands Administration (ILA) to compensate the JNF for any land leased to an Arab by transferring an equal amount of land from the ILA to the JNF. Legal petitions against the JNF policy of leasing public land only to Jews were ongoing at year’s end.
Arab-Israeli advocacy organizations have challenged the demolition of illegal buildings in the Arab sector on grounds that the government restricted building permits, limiting Arab natural growth. New construction is illegal in towns that do not have master plans and in the country’s 46 unrecognized Bedouin villages. In 2004 the Supreme Court ruled that omitting Arab towns from specific government social and economic plans was discriminatory. At year’s end, according to the government, master plans were completed for 29 of the country’s 128 Arab communities. According to the Harvard International Human Rights Clinic, between January and August, authorities demolished 97 Bedouin homes. On December 15, authorities demolished the entire Bedouin village of al-Atrash, consisting of at least 12 homes.
At year’s end the government had not complied with a 2006 Supreme Court ruling that government development policy making impoverished areas eligible for special funding was discriminatory because it included only four Arab communities among the 539 communities slated for enhanced assistance.
Arab Israelis were underrepresented in most fields of employment, including government, despite a five-year-old affirmative action program to promote hiring Arab Israelis (including Druze and Bedouin) in the civil service. According to the government, 6.2 percent of government employees in 2007 were Arab.
A 2000 law requires that minorities have “appropriate representation” in the civil service and on the boards of government corporations. As of December 2007, Arabs (including Druze and Circassians) filled 51 of 528 board seats of state-run companies. Of the 55,000 persons working in government companies, 1 percent were Arab.
The law exempts Arab Israelis from mandatory military service. Citizens who do not perform military service enjoy less access to social and economic benefits. Arab Israelis generally were ineligible to work in companies with defense contracts or in security-related fields. In June the government started a civilian service program for citizens not drafted for military service, giving Arab Israelis and Haredi Jews the opportunity to serve and be eligible for the same benefits accorded military veterans. According to press reports, the National Service Administration registered almost 600 Arab-Israeli volunteers during the 2007-08 academic year.
The Israeli Druze community comprised approximately 8.3 percent of the minority population, and the Circassian community numbered some 3,000. Males of both communities were subject to the military draft, and the majority accepted willingly. Some Bedouin and, to a lesser degree, other Arab citizens not subject to the draft also served voluntarily. Non-Jewish military veterans complained that they continued to receive fewer benefits from their service than Jewish veterans.
The Bedouin population was the most disadvantaged. Half of the 160,000 Bedouin lived in seven state-planned or eight recognized communities, which were impoverished but received basic state services. The seven state-planned townships were among the eight poorest communities in the country, according to a March 31 report by the NGO Human Rights Watch. The other half of Israel’s Bedouin lived in at least 46 unrecognized villages, which did not have water and electricity and lacked educational, health, and welfare services. The unrecognized villages, made up mostly of tents and shacks, evolved as a result of the government’s refusal to recognize Bedouin land claims based on traditional usage prior to the establishment of the state.
Government planners noted there were insufficient funds to relocate Bedouin living in unrecognized villages to new townships, and the average Bedouin family could not afford to purchase a home in existing townships. Many Bedouin also complained that moving to government-planned townships required giving up claims to land they had lived on for generations. On December 11, the government-appointed Goldberg Committee for Regulation of Bedouin Settlements in the Negev urged the government to recognize officially and extend services to unrecognized villages where existing structures were not obstructing regional master plans, and to provide assistance for the relocation of others.
On April 1, the government acted on a 1993 pledge by the late Prime Minister Rabin to authorize the construction of a permanent community for members of two Bedouin tribes in the Negev who had appealed to Rabin for assistance to overcome their unrecognized status.
In 2006 Adalah petitioned the Supreme Court to overturn a Water Tribunal decision not to connect unrecognized villages to water service. The Supreme Court’s ruling was pending at year’s end.
The approximately 20,000 non-Israeli residents of the Golan Heights are subject to Israeli authority and Israeli law. Israel accords them permanent resident status, but most of them are Druze and citizens of Syria who largely have refused or been denied Israeli citizenship. As legal residents, they received Israeli travel documents and held identity cards that entitled them to many of the same social benefits as Israeli citizens. However, Druze communities in the Golan Heights received little or no support for municipal services or infrastructure maintenance (see Annex for discussion of Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem).
The government prohibits Druze citizens, like all citizens, from visiting Syria; the government allowed noncitizen Druze from the Golan Heights to visit holy sites in Syria through the ICRC-managed pilgrimage program.