Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

The State Department Human Rights Report

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

The State Department Human Rights Report

Article excerpt

For the second year in a row, the US State Department has strongly criticized the Israeli government for its human rights practices both within Israel itself and in the occupied territories. Although the State Department was accused of "softening" the report to avoid antagonizing the Israeli government, the report nevertheless documented many instances in which Israeli military and security forces deliberately and knowingly violated internationally recognized human rights standards.

The report once again leads to charges of hypocrisy in the US position on human rights worldwide. Sections 502B and 116(a) of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 prohibit the US from providing military and economic assistance to "any country the government of which engages in a consistent pattern of gross violation of internationally recognized human rights."

Violations Within Israel

Not only are there violations of the human rights of Palestinians living in the Israeli-occupied territories, the State Department report concludes, there also are numerous human rights violations within Israel itself.

The report notes restrictions within Israel in matters of freedom of the press, freedom of association, womens' rights, and the right of return. For instance, any press articles dealing with "security-related matters" (a broad definition often loosely applied) must be submitted to Israeli military censors, with the Arabic-language press frequently subjected to much stricter measures. It is a criminal offense to possess or distribute the literature of an outlawed organization, such as the PLO, to encourage "support for that organization or its cause, or publicly to express support for such an organization." Likewise, it is illegal to have contact with any outlawed organizations. In 1989 nine people were charged under this law, and one Israeli peace activist jailed for meeting with PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat.

In Israel, of course, there is no such thing as separation of church and state. Therefore, matters of marriage, legitimacy, inheritance, and conversion are presided over by religious authorities. Since only orthodox Judaism is recognized, this particularly affects womens' rights.

"Domination of personal status law by religious courts means that women are subject to restrictive interpretations of their rights in...crucial areas," the State Department report says. And, while Israel claims to be a democratic state, Israeli Arabs (who comprise 18 percent of Israel's population), face discrimination codified in the law. For instance, while all Jewish immigrants are allowed to come to Israel, very few Palestinians, even those born in Israel or from families that have lived there for generations, are allowed to return to the country, even for purposes of family reunification.

Furthermore, the report states, "Israeli Arabs have not attained the same quality of education, housing, or other services as Israeli Jews." Studies show that Israeli Arab towns are given fewer tax receipts, social services, and municipal services than Jewish towns of the same size. In education, the report states: "Relative to their numbers, [Israeli Arabs] are underrepresented in the student body of most universities, and in higher level professional, academic, and business ranks."

Another major concern is the status of West Bank and Gaza Palestinians imported as menial laborers. There are approximately 100,000 non-residents working in Israel. They are not permitted to remain in Israel overnight, and cannot be members of the Histadrut, the main Israeli trade union. Although they are entitled to union representation, non-resident workers are banned from organizing and collective bargaining. And while non-resident workers have union social contributions deducted from their paychecks, they are ineligible to receive such basic benefits as disability and unemployment payments, long-term insurance, and welfare programs. In compensation for these inequalities, non-resident workers have only 1. …

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