A December 2009 Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network "Monitoring Report on Freedom of Association in the Euro-Mediterranean Region" assessed it in EU and Middle East countries, including Israel and Occupied Palestine, the topic of this article.
Freedom of Association in Israel
Instead of improving in 2009, it deteriorated even though Israel's Supreme Court recognizes it as a fundamental human right. However, three statutory law types restrict it, the first includes the 1980 Law of Associations that regulates the formation and operation of NGOs, corporations, and cooperative associations, and the 1999 Companies Law.
The second involves criminal laws, including the 1948 Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance, the 1994 Law Implementing the Interim Agreement on the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and 2005 Law on the Prohibition of Terror Funding.
The third involves direct or indirect freedom restrictions to form professional associations, requiring certain professionals belong to one to practice. For example, the Bar Association for lawyers.
Relevant International Law and Israeli Defiance
Israel ratified all core international human rights conventions relating to free association rights, including the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). It requires signatories to respect the right to life, due process, judicial fairness, fair elections, and freedoms of expression, assembly and religion.
While the UN's 2008 Universal Periodic Review of Israel mentioned no freedom of movement restrictions, information released in January 2009 covered East Jerusalem Palestinian organization closures.
No Israeli law prohibits an unregistered group or organization from operating, but those doing it need prior Registrar of Associations authorization. According to Israel's Ministry of Justice, around 25,000 organizations are registered as of March 2009.
Yet Palestinian free movement is greatly impeded - in and out of the Territories, between Gaza and the West Bank, and by Israel's Separation Wall and hundreds of checkpoints and barriers.
During the Gaza war, 832 mostly Israeli Arabs were arrested for protesting, one-third of them minors, often violently. In Kufr Kanna, for example, armed police attacked demonstrators with tear gas, rubber bullets and beatings. During and after the conflict, General Security Service (GSS) officials threatened dozens of Israeli Arab political leaders and activists with criminal prosecutions for breaching public order, thus infringing their free expression and assembly rights, including ones to organize and demonstrate.
On April 26, 2009, six New Profile members, an Israeli feminist/pacifist organization were arrested, their homes searched, and computers seized. Five were then released on condition they have no contact with other organization members, and 10 others were subsequently investigated.
Police made arrests for violations of Article 109 of the Israeli Penal Law pertaining to "incitement to evade military service," which carries up to five years in prison. The Attorney General claimed "offenders" aided and abetted draft-dodgers who lied to the IDF to receive exemptions from mandatory military service. The criminal probe was the first ever on this charge, following Defense Minister Ehud Barak and IDF Chief of Staff General Gabi Ashkenzi's "war on draft evasion."
Since early 2009, Israel also prohibited numerous Palestinian East Jerusalem cultural and educational activities, notably ones organized to mark the declaration of Al Quds (E. Jerusalem's Arab name) as the "Capital of Arab Culture 2009." Events were banned under the Law Implementing the 1994 Interim Agreement on the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Events scheduled for March 21, 2009 were banned, including a light the opening flame ceremony, another at the Nazareth Mahmoud Darwish Cultural Centre, and an Al-Mutran school soccer match. In addition, all East Jerusalem neighborhood marches and assemblies were prohibited. The Minister of Public Security's sweeping power is hard to challenge legally as orders are usually issued right before an event.
Under Articles 43 - 54 of the Law of Associations, organizations may be dissolved two ways - voluntarily or by District Court order, on request of the Attorney General or Registrar of Associations, but only after failing to comply with written warnings.
In September 2006, Israel's Defense Minister, Amir Peretz, declared Ansar Al-Sajeen (The Prisoners' Friends Association) illegal, ordered it shut down and its computers, files, documents and furniture seized - to protect state security, public welfare and public order.
In July 2009, the Nidal Centre for Community Development was closed, pursuant to the 1948 Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance. The Centre provides educational and cultural services as well as skill-building opportunities for Palestinian youths. Israel claimed it was affiliated with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), a falsely designated terrorist organization under Israeli law.
According to the Civic Coalition for Defending the Palestinians' Rights in Jerusalem, at least 26 Palestinian organizations have been closed, including the Orient House, the Jerusalem Chamber of Commerce and Arab Studies Association.
Short of closure, Article 40 of the Law of Associations empowers the Registrar "to appoint an investigator to investigate the activities, management, functioning, and financial position of the association based on the law, and to deliver a report thereon." Article 64 authorizes fines and criminal penalties for individuals and associations on two kinds of offenses - fraud and administrative, such as failing to submit a financial report.
Freedom of Association in Occupied Palestine
The Palestinian 2000 Law of Charitable Associations and Community Organizations (LCACO) No. 1 guarantees the right to form associations and civil society organizations. Groups don't need permission. They must only register their existence and planned activities with the Palestinian National Authority's (PA) Ministry of Interior.
In August 2009, 2,100 registered associations operated in the West Bank. In Gaza, 899 functioned in 2008. Other applications are pending and some were rejected. By law, any organization may appeal administrative decisions to deny registration, dissolve an association or replace its governing body. Yet numerous PA decrees, decisions and instructions violated LCACO provisions. For example, the Minister of Interior's 2007 Decision No. 20 requires associations to submit registration procedures to security agencies.
On August 1, 2008, Fatah's Palestinian General Intelligence forcibly entered a Qalqilia, West Bank association's prosthesis factory. On August 6, it raided the Tafouh Organization for Culture and Arts and Althaheryeh Charitable premises, confiscating its property. On August 8, the Nablus-based Forum of the Faith had its furniture confiscated. In 2009, the Qublan-based Medical Organization board of trustees were replaced.
Other reported incidents violated LCACO's Article 41, stipulating that "closure, inspection and seizure of funds of any organization or commission or its branches or affiliated centers are prohibited unless authorized by a prior decision issued by a competent judicial body." Articles 41 and 39 of Palestinian Procedural Law also state that associations' premises are the same as private homes and may not be entered or searched without judicial authorization.
In 2009, 11 interim committees were appointed to run associations. Most of them violated LCACO's Article 22. In 2008, 28 others were appointed, and administration and financial control were exercised over dozens of organizations, in violation of LCACO's Articles 6 and 13. In addition, association directors and governing body members were harassed and a number arrested.
In the West Bank in 2008, the Tafouh Center for Culture and Arts president and treasurer were arrested, Mohammed Ahmed Izaiqat and Harb Izraiqat. Ramallah's Islamic Charitable Organization members were detained, and in 2009, a criminal lawsuit charging "public defamation" was filed against Ms. Maha Abu-Dayyeh, Director of the Women's Center for Legal Aid and Counseling. It followed a December 1 and 2, 2008 conference calling for the adoption of a law to protect families from violence, after a participant described how police harassed her.
In 2008, 59 associations were dissolved and another 22 through July 2009, some for their political affiliations or "national security" reasons. Affected ones included the Society for the Promotion of the Virtue and Suppression of Vice, the Iqra' Society, and the Rabe'a Al-Adawiyya Society for Development and Education.
Nearly all dissolutions and/or boards replaced occurred after the June 2007 political split between Fatah and Hamas.
Discrimination Against Disabled Israeli Arabs
The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel (Adalah) addressed the problem of individuals designated "handicapped," "disabled," "people with special needs," "people with unique needs and challenges," and "people with capabilities and various impairments." These terms reflect confusion and the degree of exclusion affecting the disabled.
Israel signed the December 2006 UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities on March 30, 2007 but hasn't ratified it. It uses the term "persons with disabilities" for people with physical, sensory, mental, and/or emotional ones. It needs redefining to express greater equality, fairness and justice.
About 1.5 million Israelis have moderate to severe disabilities, but the percent of afflicted Israeli Arabs is double the level for Jews - 17.2% compared to 8.7% of their adult populations. In addition, disabled Arabs are greatly disadvantaged given that 19% of them didn't complete elementary school compared to 5% for Jews, and only 21% are employed compared to 49% for Jews.
Overall, disabled Israeli Arabs face multiple discriminations - for their faith as well as physical or emotional limitations. As a result, the quality of services provided them is poor and in some cases unavailable. For example:
-- documents are seldom translated into Arabic (including application forms for essential services) even though it's an official Israeli language along with Hebrew;
-- many services aren't provided in Arab areas, so burdensome travel is required to get what's available;
-- although Israeli law mandates that public places be accessible to disabled persons, few buildings in Arab communities comply, including National Insurance Institute (NII) branch offices providing services for the disabled;
-- many NII diagnostic committees have no Arabic speakers;
-- lacking medical services, Arabs with chronic disabilities eventually risk more severe ones;
-- most employed disabled Arabs work in subsidized or special work environments, limiting their potential development;
-- disabled Arab women are worse off than men with the added burden of gender discrimination; and
-- less educated disabled Arabs are disadvantaged in the labor market, making them more vulnerable to poverty, isolation, dependency and low self-esteem.
Israel has done little to help, including providing adequate services, making them accessible, and helping the disabled make the best use of their personal, intellectual and emotional potential. In other words, treating all its citizens equally, Arabs and Jews, the privileged and the poor.
Besides religious and ethnic discrimination, disabled Arabs face more in their own communities by being perceived as unfortunate people with inferior abilities. "At best, the prevailing attitudes toward them are pity and a desire to act kindly toward them."
Too often, however, they face neglect, exploitation and oppression. "Discrimination on the basis of national belonging and exclusion by their own group combine to create a reality in which most disabled (Israeli) Arabs are relegated to the social margins."
Yet this population is a significant portion of society, deserving the same rights as others, and needing relevant government ministries to assure them. The need is urgent, but so far unaddressed.
Discrimination Against an Arab Knesset Member
On January 26, 2010, Arab KM Sa'id Naffaa was stripped of his parliamentary immunity so that Israel's Attorney General can criminally indict him for various political offenses surrounding his visit to Syria in September 2007.
Naffaa believes the charges are political and discriminatory, not issued in good faith because he's an Arab. Before the Knesset House Committee, he said:
-- the first charge was over his Syria trip as head of a Druze religious leaders delegation planning a pilgrimage to Syrian Druze holy sites;
-- it was related to religious discrimination against the Druze in Israel;
-- the 1951 Knesset Members Immunity, Rights and Duties Law explicitly permits foreign travel without a permit, except in time of war; it's to afford KMs unlimited freedom of movement independent of the executive branch;
-- invoking executive authority through the Interior Minister is illegal with regard to telling KMs where they may travel and with whom they may meet;
-- Druze clerics have been prevented from traveling and performing their religious duties; Naffaa's trip was to support religious freedom and oppose discrimination;
-- Jewish KMs haven't been indicted for making similar trips;
-- the indictment is entirely political, arbitrary and discriminatory, and doesn't accuse him of harming anyone or "causing material harm to a protected interest;"
-- the second charge claims he met with Talal Naji of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), a (falsely) designated terrorist organization; he denied it immediately after it was alleged;
-- the prosecution's evidence is based on one witness "whose credibility is very problematic;" yet according to the witness, the meeting was political, regarding a way to stop Hamas - Fatah bloodshed;
-- the charges don't involve criminality with regard to fraud, theft, or actions of a security or military nature;
-- when KM Muhammed Mi'ari spoke at a memorial assembly for Fahd Qawasmeh, a former PLO leader, Israel's Supreme Court ruled he was protected by "substantive immunity;"
-- it applies as well to the current charges related to the right of an elected Palestinian KM serving the interests of his constituents;
-- KMs are afforded "substantive immunity" to pursue a broad range of activities to properly fulfill their role as elected officials without fear of political recriminations;
-- Israel's Basic Law: Knesset and the Knesset Members Immunity, Rights and Duties Law affords all KMs, including Palestinians, "substantive immunity" in their positions.
Jewish ones have it. Illegally, Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein wants Naffaa's stripped for political and discriminatory reasons.
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network Thursdays at 10AM US Central time and Saturdays and Sundays at noon. All programs are archived for easy listening.