A woman surveys the damage done by a rocket on her home in Ashdod on July 14..
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Restrictions on freedom of speech and increased violence and racism within Israeli society were enhanced following Operation Protective Edge, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel said on Wednesday.
The organization released its annual 2014 State of Human Rights Situation Report to coincide with International Human Rights Day, observed on December 10.
The report reviewed human rights in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza over the past year, analyzing violations as well as improvements.
A distinguishing feature of this year’s report was the impact of Operation Protective Edge on human rights inside Israel and its continued impact following the end of the fighting.
“During the summer of 2014, and still today, we witnessed the fragility of Israeli society and its democracy. The tendency to suppress criticism and controversy in times of emergency caused severe harm to freedom of expression,” the report stated.
ACRI listed numerous examples of violations of freedom of speech during the operation, most notably the arrest of some 1,500 demonstrators, the attempt by city mayors to prevent public protests, universities limiting freedom of speech of students and teachers, and Arab employees who were fired as a result of statements they made about the conflict.
In addition, the report cited an upturn in racism and violence directed toward Arab citizens. It noted that the level of tension between Israel’s Arabs and Jews has remained at an elevated level.
“We witnessed a frightening escalation in racism, incitement to violence, and silencing against the Arab minority – a trend that spread throughout a large proportion of the Jewish public and was reflected in both public and virtual spaces. This racist public environment was at times further bolstered by senior government officials, whether by act, omission, or silence,” the report stated.
In Jerusalem, it seemed that the level of tension and violence reached its peak during the summer of 2014, but the number of victims continued to climb, along with a rising number of complaints and evidence showing excessive police violence against east Jerusalem residents, the report found.
Operation Protective Edge additionally exposed the fact that socioeconomic inequalities are also reflected in the right to security.
The report highlighted numerous examples: leaders of municipalities in the South were made to seek donations to finance protective shelters; Gush Katif evacuees, immigrants, and other vulnerable population groups living in caravans were left without protection from the rockets; and foreign agricultural workers and Beduin residents of the Negev were left entirely without protection.
The report also noted that these phenomena “did not form in a vacuum,” but are rather the result of ongoing processes in Israeli society that have taken place over several years.
“These processes include a growing trend toward nationalism, extremism, and fear of the other; the conditioning of rights on obligations – primarily the duty of loyalty to the state; the weakening of democratic values and the values of human rights; and the notion that a man is not an individual entity entitled to equal right, but should be judged according to his ethnicity, gender, or class. These processes are endangering the future of Israeli society,” the report said.
ACRI executive director Sharon Abraham-Weiss said: “Violent and racist trends and the weakening of freedom of speech has been enhanced as a result of Operation Protective Edge. The events of the summer revealed the difficulty Israeli society has in coping with a plurality of views and opinions, and showcased the existence of a nationalistic and ideological minority. This is a destructive trend for democracy and Israeli society.”
On a positive note, the report also noted that the impact of the social protests and civil society were felt this year in the government and in Knesset activities.
It commended the establishment of the Committee to Fight Poverty, the German Committee tasked with investigating the future of the public healthcare system, the work of the Knesset and Water Authority to reduce instances of water disconnections owing to debt, affordable housing measures added to government legislation, and actions to reduce financial gaps between rich and poor municipalities.
“Even if they have yet to mature in order to exert real change, this would indicate new winds blowing in the Israeli public and among elected officials,” the report said.