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Israel Is Not Comparable to "Advanced Western Democracies"

By Shaw J. Dallal, Washington Report May 1990, Page 14

The Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1989 relating to Israel and the occupied territories is replete with contradictions. These contradictions stem from two opposite and irreconcilable findings: One is that "Israel's Arab citizens have ... not shared fully in the rights granted to Jewish citizens." The second is that "Israel is a democracy...whose citizens have a range of civil and other rights generally comparable to those in advanced Western democracies."

If the State Department's finding that Israel's Arab citizens do not have equal rights with their Jewish counterparts is correct, it is hard to accept its finding that Israel is comparable to advanced Western democracies. The Department of State has observed that "Israel welcomes Jewish immigrants ... to whom it gives automatic citizenship and residence rights," while it denies such citizenship and residence rights to Palestinians living in refugee camps in the West Bank and in Gaza who were born in Israel, and whose very lands Israel has expropriated and holds "in trust for the Jewish people."

The Department of State's finding that Israel gives automatic citizenship and residence rights to Jewish immigrants is related to "a series of basic laws" of the state of Israel, which define "the responsibilities of government institutions."

The first such law is Israel's 1950 law of return, which allows any person "born to a Jewish mother," or one "who converts to Judaism and who is not a member of another religion," to immigrate to Israel.

The second basic law is Israel's 1952 citizenship law, which allows Jewish immigrants to Israel to acquire Israeli citizenship automatically upon their arrival.

The third is Israel's registration law, which classifies Israel's citizens as either of "Jewish nationality," or of "Arab nationality." Israel has no Israeli nationality. Citizenship and nationality are not equivalent in Israel.

The fourth basic law is Israel's status law, which gives Israel's citizens with "Jewish nationality" certain rights and privileges which are denied to Israel's citizens with "Arab nationality." Several of these rights and privileges have been enumerated in this year's and in prior years' reports. Chief among these rights is the ownership or use of the very land which was expropriated from the Palestinians.

It is these laws which compelled the UN in 1975 to describe Zionism as a "form of racism and racial discrimination" in view of the 1965 UN resolution 2106, which defined racism as "any distinction, exclusion, restriction, or preference based on race, color, descent or national or ethnic origin." The denial of citizenship to Palestinians reported by the State Department is based on descent and is thus patently racist. The Department of State does a grave disservice to "advanced Western democracies" by suggesting that Israel, with its legalized racist structure, can be favorably compared to them.

Congress has chosen to reward Israel's racist policies

The Report contains several objective observations about Israel's human rights violations in Israel and in the occupied territories which should be noted. The "emergency regulations," which have been in force since 1948, have been enforced primarily against Israelis with Arab nationality, permitting their mail "to be stopped, opened, and even destroyed on security grounds." In 1979, Israel enacted a law, applied mostly against Israel's Palestinian Arab citizens, allowing "tapping of telephones for security reasons." The Report states that "Israel's Arabic-language press is censored more strictly than the Hebrew-language press." It observes that "in 1989 the license of an Arabic-language newspaper was revoked on the grounds of links to an outlawed organization."

The Report also observes that, although the Israeli Palestinian Arabs comprise about 18 percent of Israel's citizens, out of a total of 120 seats in the Israeli Knesset, the Israeli Arabs have only six. The Report states that the Israeli Arabs "have less access than do other Israelis to such social and economic benefits as housing and new-household subsidies, and government or security -related industrial employment, for which military service is either a prerequisite or an advantage," but which the Israeli Arabs "are not subject to."

As in prior years, however, the harshest part of the Report is reserved for the occupied territories. The Report states at the outset that it "deals with lands under foreign military occupation," and that "Israel has not been recognized to have sovereign rights over any of the occupied territories: the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, the Golan Heights and East Jerusalem." It asserts that the United States "considers Israel's occupation to be governed by the Hague Regulations of 1907 and the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War."

The report states that the "human rights situation in the occupied territories remains a source of deep concern to the United States." It reports that "there were more Palestinian deaths in 1989 than in 1988," and condemns the "use of live fire." The Report describes "harsh and demeaning treatment ... as well as allegations of beating during house searches ... At least ten deaths can be attributed to beatings."

The Report states that according to "IDF figures, 9,138 Palestinians were being held in IDF prison facilities as of January 1, 1990." Some prisoners have died "while under Shin Bet interrogation."

The Report condemns the number of administrative detainees, totaling "1,271 as of January 1, 1990," who were detained without charges.

The Report states that Israel "refuses to renew laissez-passers of Palestinians from the occupied territories who live or work abroad." These restrictions do not apply to Jews resident in the occupied territories, whether or not they are Israelicitizens.

Violating Our Own Laws

Despite the above findings of the State Department, the Congress of the United States appropriated more than $3 billion in foreign aid to Israel in 1989. This appropriation is a clear violation of US laws prohibiting foreign aid to countries engaged in the very human rights violations enumerated in the Department of State Report.

To its credit, the Congress of the United States has imposed sanctions against South Africa for its racist policies and for human rights abuses of its citizens. These sanctions have been said to be at least partially responsible for South Africa's recent reforms. Yet the Congress of the United States has chosen to reward Israel's racist policies and its flagrant human rights abuses. This double standard is a credit to neither the United States nor to its citizens.

Shaw J. Dallal is adjunct professor of international relations at Utica College of Syracuse University. He is a former legal adviser to the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries (OAPEC). Born in Jerusalem, he came to the US in 1951 and earned a doctorate in jurisprudence at the Cornell University Law School.

(c) Copyright 1995-1999, American Educational Trust. All Rights Reserved.

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