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Is Israel A Real Democracy?

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Israel likes to define itself as the only democracy in the Middle East. Democracy means a plurality of views, of voices and of positions; the fact is that Israel is an exclusive racist Jewish state with little interest in real democracy.

The last thing that the Zionist government thinks of is civil rights for Palestinians. There's a racial discrimination of Israel against Arabs. Arabs are treated as second or third class citizens. Today, there are 220,000 displaced Palestinians in Israel banned from returning to their homes. In Israel's much praised "democracy", the law discriminates against more than one million Arabs living in pre-1967 border in all walks of life, simply, because they aren’t Jewish.

Israel took a heavy blow recently by two United Nations separate reports: the first by Amnesty International into Israeli military policies in the occupied territories, and the second by a United Nations watchdog monitoring Israel's commitment to human rights.

Subsequently, both reports were followed by two Israeli reports: the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) annual report, which pointed to serious discrimination against Israel's Arab citizens. This discrimination includes obligatory "amendments" in the designation of "nationality" in the identity cards of immigrants whose Jewishness is suspect in the ministry's eyes and the cancellation of citizenship for Israeli Arab women who marry residents of the territories; and the “Israel Democracy Survey” last month also put Israel close to bottom of 32 countries in terms of the value of democratic participation.

The survey concluded that Israel is basically a democracy in form more than in substance, and that it has yet to internalize fully the concept of democracy. The results showed that more than 53 percent of the Jewish population of Israel is opposed to full equal rights for Palestinian citizens and more than 57 percent want Arabs transferred out of the country. Currently, just 77 percent of Jews in the country agree that democracy is the best system.

The Amnesty’s report concludes that it is "deeply concerned by the continuing differences in treatment between Jews and non-Jews" and notes that Israeli law "does not enshrine the general principles of equality and non-discrimination". It lists many aspects of Israeli life in which the rights of Palestinians and the country's one million Arab citizens are being violated in favor of the Jewish population.

The other report Israel has been dreading is from the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR). The committee monitors land, economic and educational rights. Although it is critical of Israel's performance on a whole raft of human rights tests, including policies towards women and foreign workers, it reserves its harshest rebuffs for the treatment of Palestinians and the country's Arab population.

The CESCR was apparently unimpressed: its final report includes a list of sharp criticisms of Israeli policies towards Palestinian populations on both sides of the Green Line, the pre-1967 border.

The CESCR expressed grave concern about "the deplorable living conditions of the Palestinians in the occupied territories, who -- as a result of the continuing occupation and subsequent measures of closures, extended curfews, roadblocks and security checkpoints -- suffer from the impingement of their enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights enshrined in the Covenant, in particular access to work, land, water, health care, education and food".

On the issue of Israel's Arab citizens, the CESCR finds 10 areas of major concern. These include Israel's continuing policy of excluding Arab citizens from almost all state land, more than 93 per cent of Israeli territory. “It notes -- despite claims to the contrary made by the Israeli delegation -- that a precedent- setting Supreme Court judgment allowing one family, the Kaadans, to move into a Jewish community has still to be enforced three years later.”

Uri Avneri stated in Haartez Daily that the Jewish National Fund (JNF) is used as an instrument of the Israeli Jewish community against the Israeli Arab community. It has become an instrument for institutionalized discrimination. It holds 13% of all the land in Israel.

Its statutes explicitly prohibit the sale or rental of land to non-Jews. “This means that every Jew in the world, living anywhere from Timbuktu to Kamchatka, can get land from the JNF, without even coming to Israel, while an Arab citizen of Israel, whose forefathers have lived here for hundreds – or even thousands - of years, cannot acquire a house or an apartment on its land. In this situation, 20% of the citizens of Israel are denied the right to buy a home in large parts of the country, while this right is enjoyed by Jews living in Brooklyn and Odessa.”

The State of Israel transferred to the JNF millions of dunums of land expropriated from Arabs – those who had remained in the country but were absent on a given day from their villages, as well as Arabs who became citizens of Israel. It is important to keep this in mind, since it disproves the big lie that hovers over the whole debate: “that the JNF land was bought with the money of the Jewish people.

The greater part of the present JNF land was not bought at all, but conquered in war and transferred to the JNF.” In the five decades since Israel took over the land of the Palestinian refugees and rejected their right to return, it has confiscated more than two-thirds of the land of its Palestinian citizens.

Similarly, on land rights, Adalah’s figures, the legal centre for the Arab minority in Israel, showed that Arab municipalities in the Galilee controlled just 16 per cent of the land despite accounting for 72 per cent of the population. In the Negev, Arab councils had just fewer than two per cent of the land despite comprising a quarter of the population. Furthermore, in the past year more than 100 Bedouin homes had been demolished and 3,000 acres of crops destroyed.

The treatment of the Bedouin population, particularly those living in "unrecognised villages", without proper provision of schools, health care, water, electricity or sanitation. The committee observes that the Bedouin "continue to be subjected on a regular basis to land confiscations, house demolitions, fines for building 'illegally', destruction of agricultural crops, fields and trees, and systematic harassment and persecution by the Green Patrol [an Israeli paramilitary police force] in order to force Bedouins to resettle in "townships".

The CESCR says the transfer of the Bedouin population from their villages into concentration townships is being carried out without consulting the villagers and they are being offered "inadequate" compensation. Instead the committee urges that Israel to "recognise all existing Bedouin villages, their property rights and their right to basic services, in particular water".

Also the same report noted "the continuing lower-standard of living of Israeli Arabs as a result, inter-alia, of higher unemployment rates, restricted access to and participation in trade unions, lack of access to housing, water, electricity, health care and a lower level of education".

Adalah also presented information showing that 45 of the 46 communities with the highest unemployment in Israel are Arab and that poverty rates among Arab families were up to three times greater than Jewish families. There is a concern about "the persisting inequality in wages of Jews and Arabs in Israel, as well as the severe under- representation of the Arab sector in civil service and universities".

The Amnesty International in a report published 13 July 2004 has called upon Israeli government to repeal the Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law on family unification which bars Israelis married to Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza from living with their spouses in Israel, and forces families to either live apart or leave the country altogether.

Similarly, Adalah reported that “there was blatant discrimination in education rights, with Arab students faring worse in terms of dropout, matriculation and university-entry rates. Although 90 per cent of Jewish three and four-year-olds attended kindergarten, only 50 per cent of Arab children did. Arab schools also received a small fraction of the truant officers, psychologists and education counsellors needed to address such problems.”

Discrimination continues to reign in many fields. In the last few months alone, the following facts happened to come to light:

  • The Israeli army has decided to demolish a whole Palestinian Al-Mintar quarter (74 houses) in Jerusalem'.
  • ccording to Israel’s Haartez daily, the latest decision, adopted by the cabinet of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in July 2004, affects thousands of private owners and relies on Israel’s Absentee Property Law, which the newly-created Jewish state issued in 1950. The (Israeli) decision will affect much more than half the Palestinian property in Jerusalem.
  • he Treasury Ministry is pondering how to pay allowances to big Jewish families, without paying them to big Arab families.
  • The Ministry of Education confirmed what until now has been an open secret: that the appointment of every teacher and principal in an Arab school in Israel is subject to the approval of the General Security Service (Shin-Bet).

These policies are inspired by both right-wing (Likud Party) and left wing (Labor Party). Moreover, the fact is that most of discriminatory policies came into being when the Zionist left was in control, and continue now with the support of the left-wing (Labor Party) whose representatives serve in the Sharon government.

- Adalah the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, 2002
- Amnesty International, covering events from January – December 2003
- Amnesty International Press Release, July 22, 2004
- Haartez Daily,  February 06, 2005


Saadeh Khalil -

Dr. Saadeh A. Khalil [Sa‘aadah ’Kaleel] has a Ph.D. in education for Oregon University, USA.Read More >>

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