Shaiya Rothberg

One Law for Jews and One Law for Arabs: Israel’s Regime of Discrimination on the West Bank

This blog is a “Human Rights Report Review”. The report I’m reviewing is called One Rule, Two Legal Systems: Israel’s Regime of Laws in the West Bank and it was published by The Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) in October of 2014. In the review, I’ll briefly present the contents of the report. I’ll also say what parts of it I accept and what conclusions I draw from it.

I know that a lot of reasonable people who care about Israel are cynical about “human rights”. They see how racists and fundamentalists sometimes use “human rights” rhetoric as a justification for criminal violence against Israeli Jews. And they see anti-Israel bigotry parading as “human rights activism” on college campuses and other places. And so they write off “human rights” altogether.

But the difference between real and bogus human rights discourse is easy to identify. If you hear people talking about human rights, but they clearly don’t give a damn about the life and dignity of Israeli Jews (including those that live over the green line), then what they are up to has nothing to do with human rights. You should call their bluff. But even your justified anger over bogus “human rights” discourse cannot excuse ignoring real human rights criticism. I think that all decent human beings must take intelligent human rights criticism seriously. If you think that a claim made in this report is not true, I challenge you to show me which one and why it is not true. But to reject the whole report because ‘all human rights organizations are out to get us’ is, in my opinion, a betrayal of your most basic moral responsibility.

[I’ll put references to the chapters of the report in brackets] (Page numbers will come in parentheses).

The picture of the Israeli regime on the West Bank that emerges from this report is not pretty. We have set up a two-tiered legal system, where there is one law for Jews and one law for Palestinians.[Introduction.] The law is almost always good for Jews and bad for Palestinians. For example, Jews and Palestinians have different legal frameworks for building and planning in Area C which includes about 60% of the West Bank and which is under complete Israeli control. The result: almost all land goes to Jews; almost all building permits go to Jews; almost all investment of resources is for Jews. Even though the Palestinians are the majority population, only a pitiful 0.7% of state land has been allocated to them by the Civil Administration (in which Palestinians are not represented). Worse yet, like in East Jerusalem, Israeli “building and planning” policy for Palestinians is more about containing their development (so there will be more land for Jews) than it is about encouraging it. [Ch. 5].

This extreme discrimination in building and planning, together with the radically unfair distribution of public lands, violates the basic human rights of all Palestinians on the West Bank. It is true that most Palestinians live in autonomous “Area A”, where the Palestinian Authority and not Israel is in charge of building and planning. However, Area A is not a continuous territory but rather is broken up into dozens of “islands” surrounded on all sides by Area C. These are often densely populated and are not viable without the lands surrounding them. And so while the roughly 180,000 Palestinians who live in Area C are hit hardest by our systematic discrimination against them, all Palestinians – including those in Areas A and B – are severely damaged by Israeli policy.  [Ch. 5. See here also.]

The regime we’ve set up discriminates in favor of Jews and against Palestinians in many other areas of life also. Palestinians in Area C have essentially no right to freedom of expression or assembly. So it is illegal for them to protest our illegal discrimination against them. [Ch 4]. In criminal proceedings (including those unrelated to security), Palestinians face much harsher conditions, have much fewer rights and are subject to much more severe punishments than their Jewish neighbors. [Ch. 2]. Even in regard to traffic violations (including those with no security component), Palestinians are subject to different laws than their Jewish neighbors. For example, the police may confiscate the licenses and vehicles of Palestinians in circumstances in which they cannot take such severe and debilitating measures against Jews. [Ch. 3]. Last but not least, due to incomplete and substandard translations from Hebrew to Arabic, Palestinians often don’t understand the proceedings against them. Add to all this the fact that their lawyers often cannot be present at their trials due to Israeli restrictions (Pgs. 53-57), and it becomes clear that the “justice” served to Palestinians on the West Bank by Israeli law is a mockery of justice.

While I do not imagine that everything in this report is accurate, I think that the basic facts mentioned above are true. The report seems compelling to me because most of the information is based on official Israeli government statistics. Furthermore, the Israeli Ministry of Justice’s response to the report (pgs. 91-93 in the Hebrew version), does not dispute the basic facts but rather seeks to justify them.

How can such facts be justified? Israel’s line of defense is that the Jews on the West Bank are Israeli citizens, and so they have their rights, while the Palestinians are not Israeli citizens but occupied foreigners. But that is the epitome of hypocrisy: When it comes to Jews, we act as if we are the legitimate sovereign on the West Bank. And so we swallow up land and resources in Jewish settlements. But when it comes to Palestinians in the very same territory, we are suddenly no more than a foreign power engaging in a temporary military occupation, and so the residents are denied equality before the law. Such two-faced behavior has resulted in a discriminatory regime that stands in contradiction to the principles of human dignity that lie at the foundation of any form of legitimate government.

In conclusion, when you encounter anti-Israel bigotry parading as “human rights”, I hope you’ll call their bluff by demanding that they recognize the human rights of Israeli Jews, including those who live on the West Bank. But I also hope that you’ll have the courage to recognize that not all human rights criticism of Israel is bunk. I think that it is clear from this report that when the Palestinians argue that we Israeli Jews have established a regime of severe and institutionalized discrimination against them on the West Bank, they are right. The discrimination documented in this report is criminal and unjustifiable, and it is time we put an end to it.

About the Author
Shaiya Rothberg lives with his wife in Jerusalem Al-Quds. He is a teacher of Jewish Thought and a human rights activist. Shaiya holds a PhD from Hebrew University in Jewish Thought and a B.A. in Jewish Philosophy and Talmud from Bar-Ilan University. He made aliyah in 1988 and served as a soldier and officer in the I.D.F. Shaiya's writing and teaching focus on the transformative potential of Jewish tradition.