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.


Diana said...

I can't write something totally logical about this, but here are my feelings.

Of course, a liberal democracy doesn't enshrine race/ethnicity as a deciding factor in allowing access to housing.

And personally, using race/ethnicity alone as a criterion is abhorrent to me.

But you know as well as I do that (a) it goes on all the time in the US and (b) you don't have to be George Wallace to want to associate with "your own kind."

The definition of "your own kind" differs from person to person. I can easily imagine, living in NYC, "my own kind" being an Arab, whereas I have nothing in common with most Orthodox Jews.

The thing about Israel is that "your own kind" is heavily dependent on religion. (Of course, after that criterion is met, there are many other factors.)

Do you think that it would be "kosher" to ask a prospective Arab couple questions like, "Would you like to have a mosque in the center of town? Would you like to wake up to the sound of the call to prayer?"

I think that excluding someone from a town in Israel simply and only because they are Arab is wrong.
But excluding someone from a town because they are Muslim and believe in the public expression of Islam is totally, well, kosher. When we choose to live in a community, we have a right to freedom FROM religion and freedom FROM certain modes of behavior. Not ethnicity - behavior. But ethnicity is sometimes an indication of behavior, which is where things get sticky.

And please don't say that in a true liberal democracy such as the US such discrimination would be against the law. The two countries are wholly dissimilar in terms of space - which makes a huge difference. And in the US there are zoning regs, etc., which could make certain public expressions of religion forbidden.

Although church bells are everywhere in the US. I love church bells. Church bells are a comforting reminder that the bedrock of my country remains secure....Call me brainwashed.

Jerry Haber said...


I like church bells, too. In fact, you are preaching to the choir, since I agree with almost everything you wrote. The issue of group-association is especially sensitive in Israel because of the secular-religious divide. That impacts on more people's decision to purchase a place than the Arab-Jewish divide, which is rarely violated...although perhaps now we are seeing change.

As you yourself noted, the problem is not so much 'what you do', as 'who you are', when that is defined by your ethnic origin. The adalah decision is not merely significant for Arabs, but for Russian, Ethiopian, and sefardi Jews. They should not be excluded solely on the basis of ethnic origin, especially when they are indistinguishable culturally and socially from the ashkenazi group.

So, yes, I am a communitarian, but there are limits to what the law can protect. As I wrote in my post, if the situation were "separate but equal", then I could perhaps concede. But here the situation is "separate but vastly unequal". Why shouldn't these highly intelligent and cultured graduates from Bezalel Art School (my daughter is also an alumna) live where they fit comfortable and where their kids would fit in. Who's talking about mosques?

Shabbat Shalom

Anonymous said...


We recently had a simmilar "problem" in our community, a new yishuv for secular and orthodox jews (within the green line) I might have been naive thinking a place like this would be more tolerant, seeing as many people moved here to get away from homogenic societies they had previously lived in. After what happened in misgav, the question was raised: what would we do if an arab famiy wanted to join our community?
In the discussion that followed I used the word "racism" much to the dismay of my neighbours, adding that jews wanting to live only with other jews was racist as much as say, germans wanting to live with only germans. These double standars always amaze me!
In the end, it was decided that although no one would want a situation where arabs would join the community, we wouldn't be able to not accept people on acount of there ethnniciy.
So for now, my husband and I can keep living here....

sister of child of Abraham

Jerry Haber said...

Dear Sister of Child of Abraham,

I am very, very proud of you and your yishuve, which I plan to feature in my next post.

Jerry (osmetimes called "Abe")