Legal rights of Arabs in Israel: two illustrations

London - published on 1 November 2004
Beyond Images Ref: 109

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It is often alleged that Israel is an “apartheid state” in which Israeli Arabs have no legal rights. This Briefing provides two recent illustrations of how the legal rights of Arabs have prevailed in the Israeli courts against the interests of the Israeli security establishment, demonstrating the absurdity of the “apartheid” claim. One court decision concerns the land rights of an Arab woman; the second concerns the controversial film ‘Jenin, Jenin’

The security needs of Israel’s Defence Minister treated as secondary to the land rights of an Arab widow

Security experts recently recommended that a row of trees in an orchard thirty meters from the private residence of Israel’s Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz in the Israeli town of Kochav Yair posed a security threat to the Minister (they could be used to conceal a terrorist attack, for instance). The Defence Ministry issued an order that the tangerine and guava trees, owned by a 72 year old Arab widow, be uprooted. The Arab orchard owner applied to the Israeli court to suspend the uprooting. On 23 September her application was successful. The State was ordered not to uproot the treespending a final decision and within 30 days to present a plan which would minimise damage to the Arab woman’s orchard (source: Jerusalem Post 24 September 2004).

The right to freedom of expression of the Israeli Arab director who made the film ‘Jenin, Jenin’ prevails over Israel’s military establishment and the interests of Israeli army reservists.

In 2003 Israeli Arab film-maker Muhammed Bakri made ‘Jenin, Jenin’ a self-styled ‘documentary’ about Israel’s military operation in Jenin in April 2002.

In the film, Bakri accuses the Israelis of war crimes. Israelis, especially army reservists who fought in Jenin, were outraged. They alleged that the film contained lies, defamed the Israeli Army, relied on false testimonies by Palestinians, and incited hatred against Israel and the Jews. The Israeli Film Censorship Board banned the film.

In November 2003 the film’s director Bakri succeeded in obtaining an Israeli High Court decision to lift the censorship decision. The Court concluded that the censorship violated the right of Israeli Arab Bakri to freedom of expression inside Israel.

Israeli Army reservists who fought in Jenin took the matter to the Israeli Supreme Court, but in August 2004 the Supreme Court upheld the decision of the Court below: the censorship order must be lifted, and ‘Jenin, Jenin’ could be shown. The Deputy President of the Court stated that while he “understood the pain and the rage” of the families of Israeli soldiers who had fallen, there was no legal justification to ban the film. (He incidentally accepted the argument that Bakri’s film included lies). (Source: Jerusalem Post 30 August 2004).

Our comments:

These court decisions shatter the myth that Israel is a country where Arabs do not have rights. The reality is the opposite (and there are many other illustrations to show the same point). These decisions uphold the human and property rights of Israeli Arabs, at the expense of the wishes of Israel’s security establishment, and no doubt against the wishes of the majority of the Israeli public. These are events which could only happen in a sophisticated liberal democracy.

Some related Beyond Images resources:

Briefing 98: Israeli Army and Palestinian civilians: Israeli judges clarify the humanitarian rules (May 2004)

Briefing 53: Israel as an “Apartheid State”? The Israeli Court and leading Israeli Arab politicians (May 2003)