In Israel and the occupied territories, discrimination is enshrined in the law
In November five Israelis were killed and eight wounded when two Palestinians attacked a synagogue in West Jerusalem. Israeli police shot the attackers dead at the scene and Benjamin Netanyahu ordered that the assailant’s houses be demolished.
The family of Mohammed Abu Khdeir, the young Palestinian teenager who was kidnapped and burnt to death in July, have also called for the homes of the Israelis who killed Mohammed to be demolished, though it is highly unlikely they will be. Such is the nature of Israel’s unequal application of the law.
News that Israel discriminates between Jewish Israelis and Palestinians is nothing new. Just last month the Israeli government voted to make all ratified Israeli civilian law passed through the Knesset apply to settlers. Most of the legislation on criminal law, tax law and military conscription already does, despite the international consensus that settlements are illegal. Around 350,000 settlers currently reside in the occupied West Bank yet for what it’s worth article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention states: "The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies."
Knesset member Orit Struck, who drafted the bill, lives in one of these illegal settlements in the West Bank city of Hebron. Critics of Struck’s bill have said that applying civilian law to the West Bank would be a solid step towards the annexation of the occupied territories adding that it “legalises occupation”. Presumably, this is Struck’s intention.
In order to justify the bill, senior right-wing MKs have argued that the current split system – that Israelis in Israel are governed by different laws than Israelis in the West Bank - is “unacceptable from a democratic point of view” and have said it leads to discrimination against Israelis living in the occupied territories.
But what about Palestinians living in the West Bank? Article 66 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which Israel has adopted, states that non-political military courts can be established for residents in the occupied territory. Palestinians in the West Bank are therefore subject to Israeli military law. Under the two legal systems, an Israeli settler and a Palestinian, accused of the same crime, will be treated, and sentenced, very differently.
Palestinian children, shackled and accused of throwing stones, have also been brought before these courts. The Palestinian Prisoners Center for Studies says that some 308,000 Palestinians have been detained within Israeli jails since the First Intifada in 1987.
Under military law Palestinians are threatened with arbitrary arrest, detention and are denied freedom of movement. As American-Israeli lawyer Emil Schaeffer points out, whilst an Israeli settler must be brought before a judge in less than 24 hours a Palestinian may be interrogated for up to eight days before he or she sees a judge.
In a military court Palestinians may be denied access to a lawyer for up to 90 days, yet within the Israeli legal system a meeting with a lawyer must be granted immediately. Within the military courts there is little internal supervision and consequently little public scrutiny.
The list continues, as does the system of legalised separation, discrimination and ultimately the guarantee of rights based on nationality. This segregated system goes far beyond the occupied territories of the West Bank.
On the other side of the concrete separation barrier that has sectioned off the West Bank, Palestinians living in Israel face a raft of laws that discriminate against them. According to Adalah, there are 50 laws in place that discriminate against Palestinians citizens of Israel from access to land to state budget resources.
Perhaps the most obvious of these is the Law of Return, which grants Jewish people across the world the right to live in Israel and gain citizenship. In the drive to bump up the numbers, free flights have been offered, as have financial benefits and tax breaks. On arrival accommodation is sometimes offered in annexed East Jerusalem.
Meanwhile, the seven million Palestinian refugees across the world are not only denied the right to return to their land, but also Palestinian citizens of Israel are not allowed to bring their husbands and wives from the occupied territories to live with them. So one group is actively encouraged, whilst the other is denied their basic rights.
In recent weeks a proposed law, which defines Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, has whipped up much controversy thanks to the controversial nature of the bill, part of which would mean the dropping of Arabic as a second language.
Like the bill that seeks to apply Israeli civilian law wholeheartedly to settlers in the West Bank, the Jewish nation-state bill is part of an ongoing system of discrimination against Palestinians, which has long rendered them second-class citizens. Little by little it is being enshrined in the law, which ultimately means discriminatory treatment towards Palestinians can continue.
Israel’s system of formal and informal discrimination reaches into all aspects of Palestinian’s lives, from separate housing in the West Bank to separate roads, schools and hospitals. It even infiltrates personal lives.
Whilst Israel regularly passes discriminatory laws, they clearly have little regard for international law - or at least, the parts of it that don’t suit them. As a signatory to some of the most important human rights and humanitarian law statutes, they should be held accountable for their discriminatory policies; which undoubtedly constitute grave breeches.
Published in openDemocracy