PRESS RELEASE—On Tuesday, 6 October 2015, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat was seen brandishing a mini-assault rifle in the Palestinian-inhabited Beit Hanina neighborhood of East Jerusalem. This morning, Mayor Barkat issued a public announcement encouraging Israelis to carry personal firearms: ‘Those with a licensed firearm who know what to do with it must come out today—it’s an imperative. In a way, it’s like military reserve duty.’
This announcement fell on the 15th anniversary of the events of October 2000, in which Israeli police shot to death 13 Palestinian protesters—including 12 Israeli citizens—and wounded 1,000 more in the span of a single week. In response to those incidents, the state-appointed Or Commission of Inquiry concluded: ‘The police must instill among its officers the understanding that the Arab community as a whole is not their enemy, and that it should not be treated as an enemy.’
Recent events suggest that this mentality has not been properly imbued. In its place there has arisen a hyper-militarized culture of incitement and belligerence—amongst Israeli police and civilians—which views the Palestinian Arab minority in Israel not as fellow citizens, but as enemy combatants.
Both Israeli and international media have spun the current spate of violence in Jerusalem and the West Bank as a wave of Palestinian terrorism against Jewish Israeli civilians. What is missing from this narrative is the ongoing campaign of hostility to the lives and to the rights of Palestinians, both in the occupied territory and in Israel, perpetrated mainly by Israeli settlers and the Israeli military.
Just in recent months, the Arab minority of Israel have witnessed racist vandalism in their cities, arson upon their homes and places of worship, restrictions of access to holy sites and violent attacks upon their persons. The Israeli security cabinet approved recently the use of live ammunition, including .22 caliber Ruger bullets, against Palestian protestors. This measure came with the approval of a four-year minimum prison sentence and increased fines for stone-throwing, as well as expedited demolitions of the family homes of ‘terrorists’.
Meanwhile, Palestinian Arab activists have been arrested not only during, but also after and even before, public demonstrations throughout Israeli cities. At least six Palestinian Arab activists have been arrested in anticipation of a public demonstration set to occur in Nazareth this evening—including Samar Azayzeh, who is actively involved in local human rights education initiatives.
Whilst the Israeli security establishment is swift to respond to the actions of Palestinians, it has done little to demonstrate that it takes seriously the crimes of Jewish Israelis.
These are only the outward manifestations of Israel’s systematic repression of its Arab minority. Violence to the lives of Palestinian Arabs is both a source of the community’s grievances and an obstacle to their realization of full equality and rights.
As agents of law enforcement, Israeli security and police must comply with the standards of international human rights law, as codified in treaties to which the State of Israel has voluntarily assented. These standards require that the use of force be restricted to instances where strictly necessary; that restraint be exercised and damage minimized by use of the least-harmful means; that force beproportionate to lawful objectives; and that non-violent means be attempted first. Arrests and detention must be in full compliance with due process—including access to legal counsel, prompt informing of charges, and prompt appearance before a court—and may never be arbitrarily or discriminatorily enforced. Sentencing must be commensurate with the individual crime and may not be applied unfairly or collectively. In violation of these norms, Israel’s hyper-militarized approach has crossed the line from law enforcement into a state of belligerence with its own citizens.
This development is especially dangerous in the context of Palestinian Arab activism. Israeli security must not repress the lawful activities or expression of activists. Israeli police must also refrain from using force against demonstrators—and, where absolutely necessary, the use of force must comply with the strict requirements of human rights law. Not only does harsh policing jeopardize the rights to liberty and to life, but it intimidates and suppresses another foundational human right: the freedom of expression. Israeli forces are obligated not to restrict these lawful activities, nor to inflict violence upon activists and protestors.
These punitive and severe measures, together with public incitements to violence against Arabs and virtual impunity for Jewish offenders, have fostered a climate of hostility in which the Palestinian Arab minority feel unsafe and unwelcome in their own country. To guarantee stability and security in these tense times, the State of Israel must comply fully with the international standards of human rights to which it is bound.
The Arab Association for Human Rights (HRA) calls upon the international community and civil society to take a firm stance against this escalation of violence and discrimination, in order to secure a lasting and just stability.
8 October 2015