Guess which institution had the following to say about Israel’s human rights record in 2011:
- “Arab citizens of the country faced institutional and societal discrimination.”
- “Resources devoted to Arabic education were inferior to those devoted to Hebrew education in the public education system.”
- “Human rights organizations reported that ‘physical interrogation methods’ permitted by Israeli law and used by Israeli security personnel could amount in practice to torture.”
- “In the West Bank and East Jerusalem, the Israeli Civil Administration, part of Israel’s Ministry of Defense, continued to demolish homes, cisterns, and other buildings and property constructed by Palestinians in areas under Israeli civil control on the basis that these buildings lacked Israeli planning licenses. Compensation was generally not offered in these cases.”
- “In East Jerusalem, under Israeli authority, displays of Palestinian political symbols were punishable by fines or imprisonment.”
- “The [Israeli military] IDF continued its use of a 1967 military order that effectively prohibited Palestinian demonstrations and limited freedom of speech in the West Bank. The order stipulates that a ‘political’ gathering of 10 or more persons requires a permit from the regional commander of military forces. The penalty for a breach of the order is 10 years’ imprisonment or a heavy fine.”
- “The Israeli government obstructed refugee access to [United Nations agency for Palestine refugees] UNRWA-provided humanitarian assistance in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.”
- “Some Israeli settlers reportedly used violence against Palestinians as a means of harassment and to keep them away from land that settlers sought to expropriate … Settlers also exploited religious tensions to harass Palestinian villages by vandalizing, breaking into, or burning 10 mosques.
If you were the typical member of Congress who believes that Israel is a shining beacon of light to humanity and the greatest thing since sliced bread, then you would probably answer one of the following: some anti-Semitic agency of the United Nations, an obviously biased Palestinian organization, or one of those self-hating Israeli organizations.
But you would be wrong.
These quotations come from the US State Department’s Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2011, released on 24 May. Despite the muted language, the report paints a damning picture of Israel’s human rights abuses of the Palestinian people. From governmental and societal discrimination based on ethnicity (the international definition of apartheid), to flagrant violations of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Fourth Geneva Convention, the State Department scratches the surface of Israel’s atrocious policies toward Palestinians in this report.
Falling short of accountability
In her remarks during the release of the report, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton noted: “Now, every year that we issue this, we take stock of ourselves. We say: What more can we do? Where have we succeeded or are succeeding? Where are we falling short?”
Since you asked, Secretary Clinton, let me attempt to answer: you and Congress are falling short by failing to hold Israel accountable for the human rights abuses you document in this report, as stipulated by US law.
The Foreign Assistance Act, which regulates all US bilateral and multilateral foreign aid programs, states quite straightforwardly that “no security assistance may be provided to any country the government of which engages in a consistent pattern of gross violations of internationally recognized human rights.”
Yet this year, even as billions of dollars are being cut from the budget for health, environmental protection, food safety and other essential government services, the Obama administration and Congress will uphold a bipartisan tradition and fail to hold Israel accountable as required by US law for its human rights abuses as copiously documented by the State Department. Even worse, they will likely give Israel more than $4 billion in weapons as its reward, an increase of approximately $1 billion above last year’s appropriation.
Rolling up our sleeves
If only US citizens had standing in federal court to sue their government for failing to apply its own laws, then we might have a shortcut to achieving accountability. Sadly, in the great democracy of the United States, a citizen cannot do so.
To achieve this accountability, there is no alternative other than to roll up our sleeves and continue educating and organizing people to engage in campaigns of boycott, divestment and sanctions, including by joining in our ongoing organizing campaign to end US aid to Israel as a sanction for it misusing US weapons to commit these human rights abuses against Palestinians as documented by the State Department.
And as long as our elected officials continue to try to convince us that the earth is flat and that Israel really is a country that respects human rights, then at least we can wave the State Department’s report in their faces to prove to them that the US government officially disagrees.
Editors’ note: This article has been amended to clarify the US Secretary of State’s and US Congress’ responsibilities the Foregin Assistance Act.
Josh Ruebner is the National Advocacy Director of the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation and the author of the forthcoming book tentatively entitled Shattered Hopes: Obama and the Quest for Israeli-Palestinian Peace (Verso Books, 2013).