This publication is a collection of essays written by young Palestinians and Israelis. For most of them, it is their first publication in a professional forum. They are united in their concern over the human rights situation among Israelis and Palestinians and over the continuing violent dispute between the two peoples.
The anthology grew out of two separate projects: The Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD) initiated a project aimed at encouraging academic institutions - universities and colleges - to offer courses on human rights and conflict resolution. In a parallel initiative, the Palestine-Israel Journal (PIJ) launched a competition after the Gaza War for essays dealing with the same two topics.
The idea of offering university courses arose from the realization that these two subjects are not being sufficiently taught at academic institutions, which we attributed to funding problems. We knew that these were relatively new fields and, thus, few lecturers from the older generation were familiar with them. On the other hand, younger lecturers who specialize in the fields find it hard to join academic institutions due to the budgetary cuts affecting both the older universities and the newer colleges.
However, during the first year of the project, we discovered that the problem lay far deeper. Most students do not understand the language of human rights - not because of a lack of education, but due to the difficulty in their grasping the nature of the issue and seeing it as a problem affecting them personally. The prevailing reaction among Israeli students was one of surprise: "You mean there's a problem, here?!" they often asked, with raised eyebrows. As they saw it, human rights violations happened in distant places and in dubious regimes, not in Israel. As a result, the problem does not impact them directly. Although most students are aware that something not totally right is happening in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) "due to security needs," they see no direct link between events in the Territories and the image of Israeli society. Not only that, they also believe that Israel has proved it can exist quite well without honoring human rights. They note, for example, that the economy is flourishing, restaurants and leisure sites are packed, Israelis go abroad every year, and life goes on even without human rights in the Territories - so where is the problem?Human Rights - Value, Not Need
Indeed, one difficulty in explaining why people must respect human rights lies in its being not a question of a "need" but of a "value" - as Prof. Yeshayahu Leibowitz often wrote. Decisions based on values are unconnected to physical and material needs. They are tenuous and, in times of crisis, are the first to vanish. This rule is true of countries with a deep-rooted democratic tradition, such as the United States and the United Kingdom after the 9/11 attacks. It is even truer of Israeli society where, since 1967, values have been eroding constantly.
Israeli society has developed a mechanism for repressing values that clash with what takes place in the territories, a mechanism which Prof. Dan Horowitz aptly called "constructive hypocrisy." It enables Israelis to successfully cope with the cognitive dissonance the continued suppression of Palestinian society in the OPT entails. The process of denial, which is necessary to preserve the collective mental health, leads to the total disregard of decisions based on values or the debate on questions of human rights. Israeli leaders can claim without batting an eyelid that the State of Israel is the "only democracy in the Middle East" and that "the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) is the world's most moral army." I can personally attest to the fact that, during the 2008 negotiations to set up a municipal coalition in Jerusalem, the Meretz faction requested a new portfolio which would deal with the protection of human rights in Jerusalem, and the mayor, Nir Barkat, objected strenuously and refused to even admit that human rights violations occurred in Jerusalem.
Another difficulty which prevents the average Israeli from understanding the significance of human rights lies in the fact that the human rights discourse clashes with the basic Zionist nationalistic and ideological values. Like any nationalist perspective and organization which flourished in the late 19th century, Zionism places the national interest above all other values. As an ideology that sanctifies the land, Zionism places the ethnic-religious-cultural framework highest and subjugates human rights to achieve its nationalistic goals. It is hard for it to take into account the national rights of minorities and the individual rights of other ethnic groups, especially when the dominant nation feels threatened by the a rival national minority.
Zionism had a humanistic stream, with sensitivity to human rights, of the kind crystallized by Prof. Martin Buber, Dr. Judah Magnes, Prof. Akiva Ernst Simon and Prof. Hugo Bergman, members of the 1920s Brit Shalom and the 1940s Ihud movement. Despite their intellectual status, this stream was not relevant politically and was crushed by the militaristic Zionism of David Ben-Gurion and the Labor movement.
So the average Israeli student who absorbs the values of statist Zionism, both in the school system and during army service, is puzzled when we say that the human being is the center of experience, not the nation, nor the land.Human Dignity and Liberty
Unlike Israeli society, which simply ignores human rights, the Israeli judicial system has taken a step in the opposite direction. It has legislated several important Basic Laws, such as the Basic Law on "Human Dignity and Liberty," which was certainly a milestone in preserving human rights in Israel. But the direction taken by the court has not filtered into Israeli society - which remains indifferent, if not actually hostile, to these values. The judicial system has come a long way in legislating for human rights and everyone involved in human rights owes it thanks. However, our appreciation for the court cannot ignore the fact that its rulings do not always comply with the definitive test of human rights. Alongside courageous and unequivocal rulings, such as the opening in December 2009 of Road 443 to travel by Palestinians and the November 2009 revoking of the law for the privatization of prisons, out of concern for injury to the prisoners' rights, there are other more shameful decisions. Among them is the court's consent to amend the Citizenship Law, preventing the family reunification of Arab citizens with spouses from the OPT; and rulings which confirm penalizations, administrative detention without trial, house demolitions in the OPT, restrictions on movement and arbitrary expropriation of land - and all these in the name of "state security," a concept that has long become a sacred cow to which all human rights must bow. Indeed, the court has become the last refuge in the battle to preserve Israel's democratic character and to maintain human dignity and liberty, but it sometimes consents to go along with a flawed policy which severely damages human dignity and liberty. Even if the court is a more enlightened aspect of Israeli society, it is still part of the system and cannot free itself from it completely.Not Just a Left-Wing Value
Because the human rights discourse is identified with the left wing, it has a strong impact on the attitude of alienation that much of Israeli society experiences. In the public imagination, people working for human rights are perceived to be chiefly concerned about Arabs, or homosexuals, or "haters of Israel," if not worse. International human rights organizations such as Amnesty International contribute to this, as do international commissions tracking the situation in the Territories, such as the Goldstone Report in November 2009. The Report was considered by government spokespeople and many media figures as embodying modern anti-Semitism, even a threat to the state's existence. Every human rights activist encounters the defiant question, "Why don't you worry about Jews instead of worrying about Arabs?" - a question with an inherent assumption that concern for human rights undermines Israel's position. As a result, most of the public shuns the subject.
Human rights organizations in Israel are also responsible for the prevailing lack of interest in human rights in the country. They have done little to capture the hearts of the wider public and most of their efforts are directed at combating gross human rights violations against Palestinians in particular. The average Israeli does not feel that the issue concerns him or her and is not convinced that fundamental rights are at risk. We can seek in vain for Israelis to come to the realization that the violation of the human rights of the Arab minority can easily spill over into a violation of the human rights of anyone who is not a Jew, and from there to the left wing, to Reform Jews, to homosexuals and, ultimately, to the entire public in Israel. There is no process-based thinking among the general public which could encourage an understanding of the direct link between human rights violations in the OPT and violence in Israel itself. Thus, human rights violations in the territories are considered necessary and few take issue with them - certainly not as a cause for alarm.The Danger of Conformity
Israelis cannot generally understand that hurting a national minority under their control leads to a downhill path which, sooner or later, will damage the very essence of Israel's social fabric. Perhaps this is because most Israelis were born into a society where their basic human rights were assured and are unaware of the fragility and ease with which they can dissipate and lead a country into dark, undesirable situations. Most Israelis are conformists. They find no problem with the fact that the pivotal rituals in human life - birth, marriage, divorce and burial - are conducted according to rules enforced by the Orthodox Rabbinate. This is a gross violation of the human rights of Israelis to live each according to his or her worldview. Similarly, they cannot understand that accepting to serve in the army for a three-year period violates the basic right of every human being to control his or her own fate, and not to serve as "cannon fodder." That is why many Israelis do not understand what exactly we mean when we discuss human rights and they see no link between the conditions in which they live and the damage to human rights.In the Name of Security
Security concepts are the chief obstacle where human rights are concerned. In the name of "state security" every human right can be violated, every human being can be trampled underfoot, and every crime justified. This phenomenon is inherent in a situation of warfare and it is found in every nation subject to all kinds of hostile situations - ranging from a civil war to a small-scale invasion - in order to "restore order" or to "preserve democracy." This is even more so when it is a matter of occupation, which by nature arouses violence and, in turn, calls for measures that systematically oppress and damage human rights. After 42 years of occupation, it is unsurprising that Israel has a star role in human rights violations in the Western world. That image is unavoidable because occupation goes hand-in-hand with the violation of human rights and, as time passes, the repertoire of violations tends to increase. Israel's presence in the OPT has made it a leper in the eyes of much of the world - and its only option is to withdraw from there.
The comparison with apartheid South Africa, or with murky South American regimes during periods of dictatorships, has become a consensus in many places around the world. Army officers and Knesset members fear arrest in certain countries, and many Israelis refrain from speaking Hebrew overseas to avoid angry reactions. Israeli society has not yet begun a serious, principled debate on the question of the unavoidable price we are paying on the international arena for continuing the occupation - not to mention the inevitable leakage of violent behavioral norms into the social fabric.The Occupation and Shameful Internal Israeli Phenomena
Israeli society does not grasp the direct link between corruption in government and the massive violation of human rights in the OPT. It cannot see that the shameful occurrences among the highest echelons in recent years - a president on trial for the sexual harassment of his female employees, a prime minister accused of fraud and breach of trust, a finance minister jailed for theft of funds from a Holocaust survivors foundation, and a health minister serving a prison sentence for financial offences - are all the direct and inevitable outcome of those human rights violations. In the OPT, where the prevailing approach is that "Israel can do anything," red lines are constantly crossed and boorishness and violence thrive during military service there. There is no Green Line for these phenomena, which seep unchecked into Israeli society. No concrete wall can stop them, not even a thick eight-meter-high cement one. If a soldier in the OPT can do as he pleases there, why should the country's president be prohibited from doing as he pleases with his secretary?
Since the average Israelis see no connection between these matters, a serious debate has not yet begun on the image of Israeli society and the connection between Israel's moral image and the unending occupation. Indeed, occupation and human rights are strange bedfellows. There is no such thing as a semi-democracy - where Jews have full rights while the neighbors they control are under a military dictatorship. And so the damage to the human rights of the OPT residents strikes at the very heart of Israeli democracy and is eroding the state from within. Without human rights, there can be no true democracy, even if the state holds periodic elections and other external signs of democracy are maintained. Respect for human rights is the very basis of democracy. What is at stake is not just a "luxury" but the image and future of Israeli society. Honoring human rights or failing to do so is what makes a state enlightened or malevolent. When there is less than maximum sensitivity to the human rights of each individual under the state's responsibility, it is easy to cross the lines and become an apartheid state.Basic Social Rights: The Other Gross Human Rights Violation
In Israel and Palestine alike, the human rights discourse focuses on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and tends to ignore another gross and brutal violation - that of basic social rights, such as the right to well-being, shelter, decent wages, a dignified old age and an appropriate standard of living. Such a violation is perceived as normative in Israeli society and accepted as a heavenly decree - like the weather, nothing can be done about it. When no attempts are made to rectify social deprivation, the corporate elite is allowed to crush the most fundamental human rights underfoot.
These two maladies - occupation and poverty - certainly go hand-inhand and feed off each other. Social justice is the twin sister of human rights. The physical occupation of the territories and the social divides within the Green Line are interconnected and, until we eliminate both of them, human rights will not be honored. Ending the occupation is a vital condition, but not enough to create a regime of respect for human rights. Until we free human beings from the fetters of poverty and exploitation by the corporate elite and from worries over eroding wages, having a roof over their heads, health and a reasonable standard of living for their households, Israelis will not enjoy human rights in the broadest and deepest sense of the term.Hope from the Next Generation
Out of concern for the situation of human rights in Israel, the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions has launched a series of courses in academic institutions. The courses deal with human rights from different perspectives, ranging from architecture and human rights, to arts and education and human rights. This publication was made possible with the generous support of the editors and Editorial Board of the Palestine Israel Journal , which held an essay competition by young Israeli and Palestinian high-school graduates, as well as college and university students. This publication contains the articles written by the students who participated in the courses and those who took part in the competition. Our aim is to provide a platform for young authors and to learn fresh approaches from them, hoping that the next generation will succeed where we - the older generation - have failed so far.