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Is Israel's High Court the enemy of human rights?

As we mark International Human Rights Day, it is worth challenging the myth that Israel’s High Court is the defender of human rights in Israel. 

By Noam Rotem

Israel's Supreme Court sits as the High Court of Justice, April 1, 2014. (Photo by Oren Ziv/Activestills)

Israel’s Supreme Court sits as the High Court of Justice, April 1, 2014. (Photo by Oren Ziv/Activestills)

When he woke up from his nightmare one morning, Mr. Israeli discovered that the Israeli High Court had turned into a giant insect. Tasked with balancing the sickening populism of the legislative branch and fighting to protect Israeli democracy, the High Court has become the legal rubber stamp for the racist caprices of its overlords.

This week, as we marked International Human Rights Day, Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, published a report on 10 recent decisions by the High Court that violate basic human rights.

The first decision is raising the election threshold, which forced the Palestinian public in Israel to give up on internal pluralism and run as one party in the Joint List. Imagine if United Torah Judaism and Meretz were to run together, along with Yair Lapid and Avigdor Liberman. Logical? According to the High Court, the answer is yes.

The second decision is the support for the “boycott law.” The High Court rejected the petition against the law, which allows Israeli citizens to sue those calling for a boycott of Israel or its settlements. The court even went so far as to label boycotts a form of “political terror,” no less. And not a single word about the disappearance of freedom of speech, especially when it comes to Palestinian citizens, who are subject to arrest or raids whenever they speak out against the regime (what is often labeled “incitement”).

The High Court also supported applying the “present absentee law” in East Jerusalem, which allows the state to confiscate Palestinian property and hand it over to Jewish organizations. The owners of the property are well known to all; the only problem is that they live in the West Bank. This did not prevent the highest court in the land from permitting the confiscation of their property.

And what about discrimination based on nationality? Not a problem. Palestinian security prisoners cannot take higher learning classes, as opposed their Jewish counterparts. The High Court went so far as to announce that this kind of discrimination is “legal and legitimate.”

And what about the legal status of certain towns? The High Court decided that there is no problem with the destruction of Atir/Umm al-Hiran in the Negev in order to build a Jewish town on top of the ruins. Similar decisions were handed down in other cases, when Bedouin who have been on the same piece of land since before the founding of the state are expelled. Even the High Court decision vis-a-vis the Al-Aqoubi family is based in discrimination, after it determined that Bedouin who settled land before the Nakba have no right to that land, in defiance of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Children in the unrecognized Bedouin village of Um al Hiran, Negev, Israel, January 18, 2014. (photo: Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

Children in the unrecognized Bedouin village of Um al Hiran, Negev, Israel, January 18, 2014. (photo: Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

The High Court of Justice also opposes family reunification. That is, if the families in question are Palestinian. If one of the partners lives in Gaza and the other lives in the West Bank (despite the fact that there should be no reason on earth to prevent them from living together) the High Court believes it is completely natural to prevent them from reuniting, even in areas not under the sovereignty of the state. This is an ugly extension of the policy that prevents Palestinians from the occupied territories from living with their partners — who have Israeli citizenship — in Israel. It’s a Jewish state, after all.

One can also add the High Court’s support for the indictment of former MK Said Nafa, who visited Syria in 2007, despite the justices’ recognition that the meetings he held there had nothing to do with security-related issues. This decision establishes that the Arab population in Israel can have no cultural relationship with those beyond the border.

The High Court also approved an administrative detention order to indefinitely imprison a young Palestinian woman from Nazareth using Emergency Regulations. Since there is no witnesses, one can simply jail her without trial. In this case, the court betrayed its central role: to ensure that every man and woman is afforded a fair trial.

Palestinians from the Abu Jaber family sit on the ruins of their home that was demolished by Israeli forces, East Jerusalem, October 6, 2015. The house belonged to the family of Ghassan Abu Jaber, who killed four worshippers in an attack on a synagogue last year. (Activestills.org)

Palestinians from the Abu Jaber family sit on the ruins of their home that was demolished by Israeli forces, East Jerusalem, October 6, 2015. The house belonged to the family of Ghassan Abu Jaber, who killed four worshippers in an attack on a synagogue last year. (Activestills.org)

The High Court has also approved punitive home demolitions — a form of collective punishment against innocents or suspects who have never been convicted in a court of law.

A quick glance at this list should worry anyone who believes in the rule of law and equality. The victims of these violations are, for the most part, Palestinian citizens of Israel, akin to a fatal blow against any state that strives toward democracy. Irrespective of religion, race or sex, says the Declaration of Independence, yet in the face of these violations, each and every one of us must hang our head in shame.

Noam Rotem is an Israeli activist, high-tech executive and author of the blog o139.org, subtitled “Godwin doesn’t live here any more.” This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call, where he is also a blogger. Read it here.

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    COMMENTS

    1. Gustav

      The Author of this article says:

      “…whenever they speak out against the regime…”

      Here is a dictionary definition of the connotations of the word “regime”…

      “Regime takes its militaristic and government feel from the Latin word regimen “to rule.” A political regime has a negative association to it that makes you think of totalitarian governments”

      But it is common knowledge that Israel’s successive governments are elected in democratic elections in which all Israelis, Jewish and Arab Israelis vote. In fact, according to this publication, Israel’s third largest party is an Arab party which has 13 seats in the Knesset (Israel’s parliament). Nuff said…

      So what does that say about the credibility of an author who prefers to use the word “regime” to such a political system? Bias anyone? Polemics maybe? Political agenda? People can make up their own minds…

      Reply to Comment
      • Abe

        You cannot argue with anything the article says, so you fiddle with vocabulary. Even the word “regime” is too strong for Israel apologists now! Israel is just as democratic as apartheid South Africa, it’s basically a nation of white supremacists. “Regime” is too soft a word to describe Israel. “Apartheid regime” is more appropriate.

        Reply to Comment
        • Merkava

          BEN (who is now masquerading as “Abe”) say

          “Israel is just as democratic as apartheid South Africa,”
          Yet in Israel a Muslim-Arab MK sitting as the Deputy Speaker of Parliament throws out a Right-wing Jewish Member of Parliament from the Parliament Floor!

          Yet in Israel a Muslim-Arab Supreme Court Justice denies Jewish suspects to a crime access to their attorneys. http://www.timesofisrael.com/court-denies-legal-counsel-for-jewish-suspects-in-case-under-gag-order/

          Hey BEN, you can hijack other peoples moniker (you already tried that with Pedro X by posing as “Pedro S” and Ginger Eis by posing as “Ginger”, etc.) but, you know, BEN, you can’t be them, BECAUSE, they have intellect that is SUPERIOR to yours. YOU can have the name, but YOU can’t deliver the goods! The only reason you try to steal other’s moniker is because you feel inferior. And the only reason why you SIMULTANEOUSLY respond to Gustav with TWO aliases is because you feel inferior to him and are afraid: ya can’t debate mano-a-mano. You really are a very trouble fellow.

          Poor little BEN. Get help!

          Reply to Comment
        • Gustav

          I am glad you brought up that favorite blood libel of the extreme religious Israel haters. It gives me the opportunity to get you to argue with a South African MP who was a victim of apartheid, watch this you tube video Abe dear. He makes you eat your words…

          http://youtu.be/AcEL-NlxBk0

          Reply to Comment
      • Gearoid

        You’re wrong, and your source is weak.

        The term “regime” is widely used in a value neutral sense in political science and specialist literature. You are dishonestly trying to distract from the substance of the article by inventing imaginary problems.

        Reply to Comment
        • Merkava

          So you say that his source is “weak”? YOUR source then is ….. what?

          And WHAT according to YOU is “the substance of the article”, most part of which has been debunked by Ginger below?

          Reply to Comment
    2. Bruce Gould

      Dedfinition of “regime”:

      http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/regime

      mode or system of rule or government;a ruling or prevailing system;a government in power;the period during which a particular government or ruling system is in power.

      Reply to Comment
      • Yeah, Right

        NR: “who are subject to arrest or raids whenever they speak out against the regime(what is often labeled “incitement”).”

        That would be what sociology and political theory would refer to as the “ruling regime”, which is a concept that encompasses much, much more than simply Who Happens To Be Sitting In Government This Time.

        Gustav: “But it is common knowledge that Israel’s successive governments are elected in democratic elections”… blah blah blah.

        That would be the “government”, which is a concept that is merely a very small subset of the concept which is known as the “ruling regime”.

        Gustav: “Here is a dictionary definition of the connotations of the word “regime””

        Following his link we find a definition that begins with: A regime is the ruling government of a country.

        That definition is nonsense, since it confuses the “ruling government” with the “ruling regime”.

        They aren’t the same thing, Gustav.
        They aren’t even close to being the same thing.

        Think about it this way: it is the difference between complaining about a cabinet decision (that’s a complaint against “the government”) versus complaining about what Zionism has done to Israel and the occupied territories (that’s a complain against “the regime”).

        Reply to Comment
        • Gustav

          YR calls Zionism a regime…

          This is what he is referring to…

          “The term “Zionism” was coined in 1890 by Nathan Birnbaum.

          Its general definition means the national movement for the return of the Jewish people to their homeland and the resumption of Jewish sovereignty in the Land of Israel.

          Since the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, Zionism has come to include the movement for the development of the State of Israel and the protection of the Jewish nation in Israel through support for the Israel Defense Forces.

          From inception, Zionism avocated tangible as well as spiritual aims. Jews of all persuasions – left, right, religious and secular – formed the Zionist movement and worked together toward its goals.

          Disagreements in philosophy has led to rifts in the Zionist movement of the years and a number of separate forms have emerged, notably: Political Zionism; Religious Zionism; Socialist Zionism and Territorial Zionism.”

          …what YR really objects to is the national liberation of the Jewish people (Jewish as in ethnicity). Which os something that people of his political persuasion support for ALL other ethnic groups. NI’ll say it again, they support national leaders be ration me vements of all other ethnic groups except the national liberation movement of the Jewish people. Nuff said…

          Reply to Comment
          • Yeah, Right

            Gustav: “what YR really objects to is the national liberation of the Jewish people (Jewish as in ethnicity).”

            What I object to is someone who does not understand the difference between “a regime” and “the government”, but is too stupid to realize the depth of their stupidity.

            A name comes to mind….

            Reply to Comment
          • Gustav

            Yours, YR.

            Reply to Comment
          • Yeah, Right

            Demonstrably untrue, Gustav.

            The phrase “the regime” is (correctly) used by the author of this article to denote a concept regarding How A Country Is Governed.

            That is very distinct from “the government”, which merely identifies Who Is Actually Having A Turn At Governing.

            It is easy enough to demonstrate that this is true, merely by pointing to Noam’s “(what is often labeled ‘incitement’).”

            Such “incitement” is always alleged to be against “the state” i.e. it is never alleged to be against “Netanyahu”, much less against “the Likud”, let alone against “the government”.

            It is therefore axiomatic that Noam is using “regime” to denote something much, much more than simply “the government”.

            You, on the other hand……

            Reply to Comment
          • Gustav

            Argue with the dictionary YR. Hey, I am only the messenger, LOL.

            Reply to Comment
          • Yeah, Right

            Gustav: “Argue with the dictionary YR.”

            The dictionary you quote is not only incorrect, but your quote from it is quite incomplete.

            Gustav: “Hey, I am only the messenger,”

            No, actually, far from it.

            It isn’t just that you incompletely quote from a “dictionary” that is not authoritative, but you then proceed to pose this question: “So what does that say about the credibility of an author who prefers to use the word “regime” to such a political system?”

            The answer: this says that Noam understands what a “regime” is, even if you do not.

            The term is applicable to, say, the UK where the “regime” includes a Westminster system of government with an hereditary head of state, and that is true regardless of who is PM and who happens to wear the crown.

            The term also applies to the USA, where the “regime” includes a Presidential system of government where the executive branch is separate from the legislative branch. Again, that it true regardless of who is President or which party controls the Congress.

            “Regime” is that and much more: it describes all the areas in which “governance” takes place, including (but not limited to) the courts, law enforcement, the constitution, method of constitutional reform, etc. etc.

            All countries have a “government”, Gustav.

            But all countries also have a “regime”, of which the nature of the “government” – how it is formed, how it functions – is but a small part of the whole.

            This is all news to you, is it?

            Gustav: “LOL.”

            The universally-understood catch-cry of The Happy Idiot.

            Reply to Comment
    3. Ginger Eis

      The Israeli Supreme Court is recognized by legal scholars all over the world as the most activist Courts in the entire Western world and one of the most competent, fiercely independent and impartial. It therefore is quite amusing, isn’t it, that Israelis from the Extreme-Right claim that the Supreme Court is leftist, pro-Arab and supporter terrorists, while Israelis from the Extreme-Left (such as Noam Rotem and his fellow columnists at +972mag and elsewhere) claim that the same Supreme Court “is an enemy of human rights”? Obviously, these two Extremists groups have one thing in common: smearing and delegitimizing the Supreme Court – for their own parochial personal goals.

      Regardless,

      It is a generally held view in Israel and beyond that the Israeli Supreme Court is perceived as “Left Wing”. Professor Prof. Menachem Mautner, a law professor at Left-wing Tel Aviv University explores the reasons for that phenomenon- and explains why the Israeli Supreme Court is more activists in support of human rights than the Supreme Court of the United States Of America here:

      http://www.haaretz.com/why-israel-s-high-court-is-considered-left-wing-1.321187

      To support the claim that the Israeli Supreme Court “is an enemy of human rights” Noam Rotem makes the following false claims:

      2. “The first decision is raising the elceciton threshold, which forced the Palestinian public in Israel to give up on internal pluralism and run as one party in the Joint List. Imagine if United Torah Judaism and Meretz were to run together, along with Yair Lapid and Avigdor Liberman. Logical? According to the High Court, yes.”

      This claim is not only FALSE, but does not remotely support the claim that the Supreme Court “is an enemy of human rights”. What Noam Rotem is apparently unaware of is that (a) the Supreme Court did NOT set the election threshold, the Knesset (Israeli Parliament/Congress) did! (b) the election threshold in Israel is among the lowest in the Western World (lower than that in Sweden, Germany, Norway, Belgium, Italy, Austria, etc.)! (c) the United Torah Judaism is an ALLIANCE of FOUR political parties that have grosso modo the same political views and goals. Likewise, the Joint List is an ALLIANCE of FOUR political parties that have grosso modo the same political views and goals. The same law apply to both Jews and Arabs who want to form political parties. No democracy can sustain a system of – figuratively speaking – “one man, one party”.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Gustav

      YR calls Zionism a regime…

      This is what he is referring to…

      “The term “Zionism” was coined in 1890 by Nathan Birnbaum.

      Its general definition means the national movement for the return of the Jewish people to their homeland and the resumption of Jewish sovereignty in the Land of Israel.

      Since the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, Zionism has come to include the movement for the development of the State of Israel and the protection of the Jewish nation in Israel through support for the Israel Defense Forces.

      From inception, Zionism avocated tangible as well as spiritual aims. Jews of all persuasions – left, right, religious and secular – formed the Zionist movement and worked together toward its goals.

      Disagreements in philosophy has led to rifts in the Zionist movement of the years and a number of separate forms have emerged, notably: Political Zionism; Religious Zionism; Socialist Zionism and Territorial Zionism.”

      …what YR really objects to is the national liberation of the Jewish people (Jewish as in ethnicity). Which is something that people of his political persuasion support for ALL other ethnic groups. I’ll say it again, they support national liberation movements of all other ethnic groups except the national liberation movement of the Jewish people. Nuff said…

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        Poppycock. National liberation has been achieved. National liberation is sustainable without depriving the other people in this land of liberty.

        Sternhell on national liberation:

        http://www.haaretz.com/news/features/.premium-1.678491

        “Anyone who does not accept that Zionism was an operation to liberate a people and not to liberate sacred stones, a rational political act and not a messianic eruption, will condemn Israel to degeneration, if not to annihilation in a bi-national state, or, in other words, to a permanent civil war….The occupation underlies the war with the Palestinians, and as long as the Jewish society does not recognize the equal rights of the other people that resides in this land, it will go on sinking ever deeper into an open colonial and apartheid reality, such as already exists in the territories, and into destructive illusions, such as that of “unified Jerusalem.”

        Reply to Comment
        • Gustav

          Yes, national liberation has been achieved. That is true. The trouble is…

          …that a majority of Palestinian Arabs want to reverse that fact by trying to make us a minority in our own country. And they are waging a relentless 100 year war on us to make it so.

          …in any case, YR referred to Zionism as a regime. I set him straight on it, Benny-leh. I wasn’t talking to you. But now that we are talking, coz YOU adressed me, I hope you won’t accuse me of harassing you, as you did yesterday? Unless you feel that responding to you is harassment? LOL.

          Reply to Comment
          • Mike

            “majority of Palestinian Arabs want to reverse that fact by trying to make us a minority in our own country” Are you trying to acknowledge in some level that ethnic cleansing which was done to Palestinians?

            Reply to Comment
          • Merkava

            “Ethnic cleansing”?

            The Israeli Arab population has exploded 10-times MORE THAN what it was when Israel was created in 1948.

            You aren’t very clever, mikey, are you?

            Reply to Comment
          • Gustav

            Ethnic cleansing? Ok then let’s talk about the ethnic cleansing which various Arab countries committed against the Jews who lived in those countries. There were nearly a million such Jews who ended up being given shelter in Israel. Ya wanna talk about that?

            Reply to Comment
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