Wednesday, October 31, 2007
Three Cheers for Adalah and the Israeli High Court of Justice
The only place where Israeli Palestinians have a chance of having a fair hearing is in court. Even there it has been difficult for them, especially since there is no Israeli constitution. But some of the Basic Laws passed in the last decades have provided the foundation for civil rights in Israel. The struggle for civil rights and equality is an uphill one, and, I have argued, can never be obtained as long as Israel is a state of the Jews, and not of all its citizens. Still, there are sometimes little victories along the way. Israeli Palestinians in principle can live where they like, but in practice are locked out of the best communities because such communities are run like co-ops -- a "suitability committee" decides if you fit in socially with the community. And no matter how educated, acculturated, or Israeli they may be, Israeli Palestinians are excluded. One couple recently won a temporary injunction that directs the community of Rakefet, which had rejected the couple's application, to set aside a lot for them. Now one can sing the praises of homogeneous communities, and one can say, with George Wallace, that the law shouldn't force people to associate with people they don't want to. The problem here is that Israel is very much separate but unequal. You can also argue that Jews are not allowed to live in Saudia Arabia. But who in God's name would support the existence of a Jewish Saudia Arabia? Is that what Israel was supposed to be? Ah, those uppity Arabs who don't know their place...God bless 'em, and God bless Adallah. Their court victory may only be as temporary as the injunction that the High Court has handed out...but every little victory helps. Who knows? Maybe some day, God willing, Israel will become a liberal democracy. Court orders Jewish town to set aside land for Arabs By Jack Khoury, Haaretz Corresopndent The High Court of Justice on Wednesday issued a temporary injunction ordering that a plot of land in the predominantly Jewish town of Rakefet be set aside for an Israeli Arab couple who had been previously denied entry to the community for "lack of suitability." The couple, residents of Sakhnin, said they were denied residency in the town because they are Arab. They added that local authorities in Rakefet and officials at the Israel Lands Authority had found an alternative way to keep them from moving into the town - by stating that according to a "suitability test," the couple was "not socially fit to live in the town, according to expert opinion." The two petitioned the High Court in February, with the aid of the non-profit group Adalah, asking that an order be issued to allow them to live in the town. Adalah, an organization that battles discrimination against Israeli Arabs, represented the couple in their petition to the High Court of Justice in February. The couple, Ahmed and Fathina Zvidat, graduates of the archaeology department at Jerusalem's Bezalel College, tried in 2006 to find a place to live in northern Israel. According to the petition, when the two wanted to move to Rakefet, they were required to undergo a "suitability test", in accordance with Israel Lands Authority decision 1015. In the petition, the couple asked the court to instruct the Israel Land Authority and heads of the Misgav Regional council to ensure their rights to a residential plot in Rakefet. With the aid of several rights groups, the couple also made efforts to outlaw the admission committees, like the one that deemed them unsuitable. The petitioners maintained that the existence of such committees violates the right of every citizen to choose his or her place of residence in any community built by the state, especially if that community was not designated for a population with specific characteristics. Among other things, they argued that the "criterion of social suitability is not supported by any existing laws, is vague and unclear, and gives a wide range of discretion to a small group of citizens who decide the fate of many candidates in regard to their residence." The couple also said in the petition that "our interest is in a public plot of land, in a community for non-specific population, which, by law, must be divvied in accordance with the principles of equality and justice, which dictate that every citizen is entitled to live in this community or that community or any village or city in the state of Israel." Before petitioning the High Court, the Zvidats filed an appeal with the Israel Lands Authority, asking that the admission committee's decision be reversed, but the appeal was denied.