NIF and our grantees are fighting to ensure that, amidst this public health crisis, Israel’s democratic institutions remain strong and civil liberties are protected.
During the pandemic, the Netanyahu government has tried to infringe on civil liberties by pushing the use of far-reaching cellphone surveillance. This is not a public health policy to flatten the curve, this is government overreach to roll back basic rights during a pandemic.
The prospective government’s intention to quickly annex parts of the West Bank shows how Israel’s current leadership is trying to take advantage of the pandemic to make unilateral moves that could cause irreparable damage to Israeli democracy and make the occupation permanent. NIF is supporting organizations to mobilize, educate, and sound the alarm about this danger to Israel’s future.
Protecting the Judiciary
The Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) filed an appeal with the Supreme Court to prevent the interim Minister of Justice from shutting down the judicial system due to the state of emergency. As a result, the Supreme Court encouraged the Minister of Justice to propose a law within 12 months for consideration in the Knesset to define the Justice Minister’s authority in this regard.
Combating Sweeping Government Surveillance
When Israel’s interim government ordered the Shin Bet security services to track the cell phones of civilians infected or suspected of being infected with COVID-19, NIF grantees, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) and Adalah: The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, challenged the measure in the Supreme Court. After multiple hearings, and in the first Supreme Court hearing ever broadcast live online, ACRI and Adalah delivered arguments. The Court ruled that any government surveillance of citizens must have legislative oversight.
However, the government received provisional approval from the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense committee to continue Shin Bet monitoring of citizens as part of its COVID-19 response. ACRI has opposed the new government’s proposed law to legalize the Shin Bet tracking program, warning that using these “tracking capabilities for needs other than preventative security sets a dangerous, severe precedent.”
Ensuring Government Transparency
As Israel’s government rapidly issued emergency regulations, NIF grantees worked to ensure government transparency. The Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) petitioned the Attorney General to make public the government’s rules for enforcing the new emergency regulations, and the Movement for Freedom of Information petitioned the Supreme Court, demanding greater transparency around government deliberations and decisions related to the crisis.
Ensuring the Rights and Safety of Prisoners and Suspects
The Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) joined Physicians for Human Rights (PHRI) to reduce the incarcerated population to the minimum possible in order to reduce the risk of infection and ensure the health of the incarcerated. HaMoked: Center for the Defence of the Individual joined an appeal with 37 other civil society organizations from across the Middle East and North Africa, calling on the region’s governments to protect the health of prisoners and detainees and to reduce the size of prison populations during the crisis.
ACRI also appealed to the Israel Prison Service (IPS) to allow security prisoners to call their attorneys and family members since current regulations prevent any form of visitation. Adalah: The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights appealed to the IPS and Israel’s Health Ministry calling to find a solution for the overcrowding of Gilboa prison, which exposed incarcerated people to a heightened risk of infection with coronavirus. Along with Physicians for Human Rights – Israel (PHRI), ACRI appealed to the IPS to address the lack of cleaning and disinfectant supplies in prisons, which put incarcerated people at risk. HaMoked filed an urgent petition to the Supreme Court demanding that Palestinians who remain in Israeli custody and who face full isolation due to COVID-19 restrictions are allowed phone contact with their families.
Ensuring Rights of Incarcerated Palestinian Minors
HaMoked: Center for the Defence of the Individual petitioned to the Supreme Court to instruct the Israel Prison Service (IPS) to allow Palestinian minors incarcerated inside Israel to be allowed regular telephone contact with their parents.
Protecting Freedom of Protest
When Israel’s Speaker of the Knesset triggered a constitutional crisis by refusing to allow the Israeli parliament to convene, demonstrators who had organized a convoy of cars calling for the Knesset to be opened and for democracy to be reinstated were prevented from entering Jerusalem by the police. The Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) appealed to the head of the Israel Police to allow the protesters to reach the Knesset, and the demonstration was subsequently permitted. Subsequent emergency regulations restricting movement and gathering, exempted protests and demonstrations, provided health precautions are maintained. Israeli citizens have subsequently exercised their right to assembly in accordance with social distancing.
After protestors acting in compliance with Health Ministry regulations were issued large fines by the Police during a protesting in East Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, Human Rights Defenders Fund (HRDF) and ACRI’s appeals to the Attorney General and Israeli Police led to the fines being canceled. The protesters had received training provided by NIF’s Freedom and Speech and Assembly Center and were equipped to effectively document the police’s improper conduct.
Demanding Accountability for Settler Violence against Palestinians.
Yesh Din: Volunteers for Human Rights has documented a significant increase in incidents of settler violence and vandalism during the period of the coronavirus pandemic. In light of a surge of settler violence against Palestinians in the West Bank, Yesh Din sent a letter to the Military Commander in the West Bank and to the Legal Advisors for the police and army in the West Bank demanding immediate and increased protections for Palestinians in known areas of friction in the West Bank. Yesh Din is demanding that Israeli offenders be held accountable.
After a years-long legal battle supported by Yesh Din, Israel’s Supreme Court denied the appeals of five young Israelis convicted of taking part in a series of so-called “price tag” attacks, ruling that these acts constituted membership in a terrorist organization. The verdict was a rare victory for those fighting against impunity for settler violence against Palestinians in the West Bank.
Organizing to Protect Democracy
With the backdrop of the coronavirus, the interim government of Benjamin Netanyahu, and the Speaker of the Knesset Yuli Edelstein moved to shut down Israel’s courts and parliament. More than 10,000 members of Zazim – Community Action signed an urgent letter to President Rivlin and all Knesset members to do everything necessary to protect democracy.
Omdim Beyachad (Standing Together) is bringing together an unprecedented coalition of groups around coronavirus-era economic causes and demands. With the easing of restrictions in Israel on public gatherings, the protest movement led by Omdim Beyachad (Standing Together) recently staged demonstrations in twelve locations around the country, bringing Jewish and Arab protesters together to demand for economic security for all.
Demanding Representation of Women in Government
The Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) joined a letter with other organizations to the government and Civil Service Commission demanding the appointment of women to director positions within government ministries, and petitioned alongside 13 other organizations regarding lack of female representation in the committee advising the Israeli National Security Council on the coronavirus, in spite of the law stipulating the appropriate representation of women on public commissions.
Ensuring Arab Representation in the Government’s Coronavirus Response
Following advocacy and a media campaign led by the Shatil-led Arab-Jewish Citizens’ Forum for the Promotion of Health in the Galilee, as well as petitions by Sikkuy and the National Committee of Arab Local Authorities, the government’s interdepartmental coronavirus emergency decision-making team added its first Palestinian committee member, Prof. Bishara Basharat, President of the Arab Society Health Development Association.