Human Rights In Israel
Israel is one of the most open societies in the world.
Out of 5.6 million people, nearly 1.1 million-19 percent of the population-are
nonJews (815,000 Muslims, 163,000 Christians and 96,000 Druze).
Arabs in Israel have equal voting rights; in fact,
it is one of the few places in the Middle East where Arab women may
vote. Today women hold 9 of the 120 Knesset seats. Eleven Arabs and
one Druze are in the current Knesset. Israeli Arabs have also held various
government posts, including one who served as Israel's ConsulGeneral
in Atlanta. Arabic, like Hebrew, is an official language in Israel.
Today, more than 200,000 Arab children attend Israeli
schools. At the time of Israel's founding, there was but a single Arab
high school in the country. Today, there are hundreds of Arab schools.
The sole legal distinction between Jewish and Arab
citizens of Israel is that the latter are not required to serve in the
Israeli army. This was to spare Arab citizens the need to take up arms
against their brethren. Nevertheless, Bedouins have served in paratroop
units and other Arabs have volunteered for military duty. Compulsory
military service is applied to the Druze and Circassian communities
at their own request.
Although Israeli Arabs have occasionally been involved
in terrorist activities, they have generally behaved as loyal citizens.
During the 1967, 1973 and 1982 wars, none engaged in any acts of sabotage
or disloyalty. Sometimes, in fact, Arabs volunteered to take over civilian
functions for reservists.
Some economic and social gaps between Israeli Jews
and Arabs result from the latter not serving in the military. Veterans
qualify for many benefits not available to nonveterans. Moreover,
the army aids in the socialization process. On the other hand, Arabs
do have an advantage in obtaining some jobs during the years Israelis
are in the military. In addition, industries like construction and trucking
have come to be dominated by Israeli Arabs.
Another impediment to the full integration of non-Jews
in Israeli society is the fact that Arab municipalities have historically
received less financial support from the government than Jewish ones.
Efforts are being made, however, to redress the imbalances. According
to the State Department's 1996 Human Rights Report, "Government
efforts to close the gaps between Israel's Jewish and Arab citizens
have resulted in an estimated 160 percent increase in resources devoted
to Arab communities between 1992 and 1996."
The United States has been independent for well over
200 years and still has not integrated all of its diverse communities.
Even today, more than three decades after civil rights legislation was
adopted, discrimination has not been eradicated. It should not be surprising
that Israel has not solved all of its social problems in only 49 years.
"The law provides for freedom of religion,
and the Government respects this right," according to the State
Department report. In fact, each religious community has legal authority
over its members in matters of marriage and divorce. They also control
their own holy places in Jerusalem and elsewhere in the country.
"The law provides citizens with the right to
change peacefully their government, and citizens exercise this right
in practice through periodic, free, and fair elections held on the basis
of universal suffrage for adult citizens," the State Department
observed. In 1996, voters elected the Prime Minister by direct ballot
for the first time.
The State Department report also notes that "Israel
is a parliamentary democracy, with an active multiparty system representing
a wide range of political views. Relatively small parties, including
those whose primary support is among Israeli Arabs, regularly win seats
in the Knesset. Elections are by secret ballot."
"Israeli law prohibits arbitrary arrest of citizens,"
according to the State Department, "and the Government observes
this prohibition....The law provides for an independent judiciary, and
the Government respects this provision in practice. The judiciary provides
citizens with a fair and efficient judicial process."
Israel inherited and continued certain laws adopted
by the British. One is the use of administrative detention, which is
permitted under certain circumstances in security cases. Israel's policy
is that administrative detention is only to be used against violent
offenders. The detainee is entitled to be represented by counsel, and
may appeal to the Israeli Supreme Court. The burden is on the prosecution
to justify holding closed proceedings. Often, officials believe presenting
evidence in open court would compromise its methods of gathering intelligence
and endanger the lives of individuals who have provided information
about planned terrorist activities. Still, many detention orders are
reduced or reversed on appeal.
In addition, Israel's prisons are probably among the
most closely scrutinized in the world. One reason is the government
has allowed representatives of the Red Cross and other groups to inspect
them regularly. The State Department observes that "laws and administrative
regulations prohibit the physical abuse of detainees." The courts
and a variety of Israeli human rights organizations carefully monitor
the treatment of prisoners. Nevertheless, abuses do occur, as they do
in the United States.
The death penalty, which had been used by Jordan,
has been applied just once. That was in the case of Adolf Eichmann,
the man largely responsible for the "Final Solution." No Arab
has ever been given the death penalty, even after the most heinous acts
Alan Dershowitz put the Israeli legal system in perspective
in a speech before the American Israel Public Affairs Committee's annual
meeting (May 23, 1989):
One does not judge a democracy by the way its soldiers
immediately react, young men and women under tremendous provocation.
One judges a democracy by the way its courts react, in the dispassionate
cool of judicial chambers. And the Israeli Supreme Court and other courts-have
reacted magnificently. For the first time in Mideast history, there
is an independent judiciary willing to listen to grievances of Arabs-that
judiciary is called the Israeli Supreme Court.
In the early part of the century, the Jewish National
Fund was established by the World Zionist Congress to purchase land
in Palestine for Jewish settlement. This land, and that acquired after
Israel's War of Independence, was taken over by the government. Of the
total area of Israel, 92 percent belongs to the State and is managed
by the Land Management Authority. It is not for sale to anyone, Jew
or Arab. The remaining 8 percent of the territory is privately owned.
The Arab Waqf, for example, owns land that is for the express use and
benefit of Muslim Arabs.
Government land can be leased by anyone, regardless
of race, religion or sex. All Arab citizens of Israel are eligible to
lease government land.
"Workers may join and establish labor organizations
freely," the State Department noted in its report. "Nonresident
workers in the organized sector, including Palestinians from the occupied
territories, are represented by Histadrut and are covered under its
collective bargaining agreements. They may join, vote for, and be elected
to shoplevel workers' committees. Labor laws applicable in Israel
are applied to Palestinians in East Jerusalem and Syrian Arabs and Druze
on the Golan Heights."
Israel has one of the broadest anti-discrimination
laws of any country. According to the State Department, "The law
prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, marital status, or sexual
orientation. The law also prohibits discrimination by both government
and nongovernment entities on the basis of race, religion, political
beliefs, and age."