Every year, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) publishes report entitled “Situation Report: The State of Human Rights in Israel and the OPT” (“OPT” is an abbreviation for “the Occupied Palestinian Territories.”) We publish the report to mark International Human Rights Day on December 10 – the date on which, in 1948, the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The report reviews the current situation and key developments in selected human rights issues in Israel and in the OPT over the preceding year. ACRI’s goal in publishing the report is to warn about particularly severe human rights violations; to recognize positive trends, when these can be identified; to highlight human rights issues that do not usually receive public attention; and to note key processes in the field of human rights that impact on the lives of all those who live in Israel and the OPT.
Unfortunately, 2016 brought very little good news when it comes to human rights. The wave of violence that has been dubbed the “intifada of individuals,” which began in the fall of 2015, continued throughout 2016, at varying levels of intensity. Acts of violence violated the basic right to life and personal security, spread terror among the public, destabilized everyday life, and left mourning families and broken communities. During this difficult period, the authorities often showed a tendency to select extreme means in their response to the situation, including the unnecessary violation of rights and liberties and the disproportionate use of force.
Freedom of expression and democratic space in Israel faced severe attacks this year. It is extremely unfortunate that elected representatives – Members of Knesset and ministers – played a leading role in attempts to curtail freedom of expression (particularly freedom of artistic expression), restrict the free media, silence criticism, damage the separation of powers, and hamper the actions of those who opinions or actions are contrary to the positions of the political majority. As in previous years, the attack on freedom of expression was accompanied by the delegitimization of political rivals, minorities, and human rights organizations.
Three groundbreaking state reports into aspects of discrimination offered some hope of positive change this year: A report on the economic integration of the Arab minority (which served as the foundation for the adoption of a five-year plan on this issue); the report of the Palmor Committee on discrimination against Ethiopian-Israelis; and the Biton Report on empowering Sephardi and Mizrachi culture. The publication of these reports is important in itself in terms of recognizing the protracted discrimination faced by these groups, but the real test will come in the allocation of resources to implement the recommendations presented in the various reports. As of the time of writing, the discussions relating to the state budget for 2017-2018 suggest that the government will not implement most of the recommendations.
The report also discusses other issues that were prominent over the year: The intention to increase enforcement and punishment of building violations in Arab communities, while ignoring the planning situation in these communities and the responsibility of the planning system itself for the current situation; ongoing discriminatory planning processes in the Negev; the continuing harassment of refugees and asylum seekers; and the violation of the rights of migrant workers. Above all these issues hovers the cloud of the ongoing occupation of the West Bank. Within the same area, and under the same power, two separate legal systems are imposed on two distinct populations. One population enjoys rights, while the rights of the other population are constantly violated. As described in the final chapter of this report, this discrimination is becoming increasingly institutionalized as we approach the fiftieth anniversary of the occupation, and is becoming an integral feature of the governmental systems in Israel.
Alongside human rights violations, we are pleased to report some positive developments in the fields of health, housing, and the rights of persons with mental or cognitive disabilities. These positive changes did not emerge out of thin air, but are the product of vigorous activities by organizations, groups, and individuals over many years. Each achievement of this kind gives reason for optimism and encourages us to continue to struggle to change the current situation and to promote human rights in Israel.
Change does not happen overnight. It requires thorough work with all sections of society – from the political echelon through the governmental bureaucracy and the courts, the media and social networks, public opinion leaders, and the education system. Despite the difficulties, all of us at ACRI are committed to continuing this long-term struggle in all the different arenas. Even when our activities meet with criticism and hosti