During a public health crisis, those who are affected disproportionately — the most vulnerable and marginalized communities — need special attention and care. But those who need help the most do not always get it, whether for lack of access to basic health services, virus-related information, or because the government leaves them out of policies for economic recovery.
We’re protecting the people struggling the most by making sure everyone in Israel can access government information and services to get well, stay healthy, and provide for themselves and their families.
These efforts fall into three categories:
A) Ensuring equal access to healthcare and other basic needs
Access to healthcare is a basic right that should be afforded to all. During a global pandemic, the entire society’s health depends on no group or individual being left out of treatment.
That’s why NIF grantees are working to ensure that people who are hit hardest – including African asylum seekers, Bedouin citizens of Israel, and Palestinian laborers – can access government information and services to get well, stay healthy, and provide for themselves and their families.
B) Providing access to coronavirus-related information to help flatten the curve
During a pandemic, all people should be able to find clear information in the language they speak so that they can protect themselves and their families. But Israel’s government is overlooking specific communities and leaving them out of a holistic crisis response.
Israel’s civil society has been working to ensure that members of every community in Israel –including ultra-Orthodox Jews who are not typically online, asylum seekers and Arab citizens who may not read Hebrew, and others – get access to the information they need to protect themselves and their families and help flatten the curve.
C) Advocating for a just and equitable economic policy in the aftermath of this pandemic
The economic implications of this pandemic will be enormous, and it is up to governments to offset the worst of its economic impacts and help people get back on their feet. NIF grantees are working to not only protect the most vulnerable and economically precarious communities from the immediate effects of the crisis, but to ensure that any government policy that addresses the economic impacts of the crisis is equitable and inclusive.
In a major victory for organizations working on behalf of asylum seekers, and following a petition by several NIF grantees — including Kav LaOved — the Worker’s Hotline, the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, and Physicians for Human Rights – Israel (PHRI) — the culmination of a three-year legal campaign, Israel’s Supreme Court struck down the “Deposit Law,” the draconian 2017 law that withheld 20% asylum seekers’ wages, pushing many into poverty. During the coronavirus emergency, the economic burden placed on the asylum seeker community by the Israeli government became unbearable. The Supreme Court ruled that the law was an unconstitutional violation of workers’ property rights, and ordered the state to return the funds within 30 days. The government announced that it will return around $22.5 million to the accounts of some 4,000 asylum seekers.
ASSAF – Aid Organization for Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Israel is providing urgently needed social services and humanitarian assistance to the asylum seeker community who is left without government unemployment support, and Physicians for Human Rights – Israel (PHRI) has continued to be a vital source of medical treatment and care to those without civil status in Israel during the pandemic. PHRI’s Open Clinic has continued to operate throughout the crisis, and PHRI continues to advocate for the Ministry of Health to provide services and treatment to African asylum seekers.
NIF grantees, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), Kav LaOved — the Worker’s Hotline, and Physicians for Human Rights – Israel (PHRI) petitioned Israel’s Supreme Court to demand that Israel’s government require employers to provide adequate housing and medical insurance to Palestinian workers who remained in Israel after the government restricted access to their homes in the West Bank. When conditions did not change, these organizations filed a subsequent petition against the Ministries of Health, Labor and Social Services, Interior, Construction and Housing, and the Minister of Defense, which led to Palestinian workers gaining access to health insurance in Israel and treatment in Israeli clinics or hospitals and stipulating employers’ obligations in the emergency regulations. With the swearing in of a new government, ACRI has called for these rights to health and shelter to be enshrined in legislation for all workers required to stay in Israel.
NIF’s flagship grantee, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) appealed to the Jerusalem municipality and Adalah: The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel submitted a petition to the Supreme Court to open testing stations in East Jerusalem neighborhoods beyond the separation wall. Israeli health authorities committed to opening clinics and testing centers in the Shuafat refugee camp and in Kufr Aqab.
After HaMoked: Center for the Defence of the Individual, ACRI, and Physicians for Human Rights – Israel (PHRI) urged Israel’s largest ambulance service, Magen David Adom (MDA), to enter East Jerusalem neighborhoods beyond the separation barrier to pick up patients suspected of being infected, MDA opened an Arabic-language hotline and has been coordinating with the Palestinian Red Crescent ambulance service to safely bring patients to checkpoints and transfer them to MDA for transportation to Israeli hospitals when necessary.
At the outset of this public health crisis, Israel’s Ministry of Health published real-time public health advisories on coronavirus only in Hebrew, with Arabic updates available only after significant delays. This put the health and wellbeing of Arab citizens – and everyone in Israel – at risk. Adalah: The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel called on the Health Ministry to ensure that these advisories are translated so that all Israeli citizens, including Arabic-speaking citizens, can read them.
Physicians for Human Rights — Israel (PHRI) reported that Israel’s Ministry of Health website did not include information about coronavirus in Tigrine, French, or Amharic, the languages spoken by most asylum seekers living in Israel. PHRI called on the Ministry to provide for the safety of communities who do not read Hebrew and who are not covered by the Israeli healthcare system, including asylum seekers and foreign workers.
As Israel’s unemployment rate rose to nearly 25% in April, the Berl Katznelson Foundation and the Social Economic Academy devised a set of socioeconomic policy proposals called “Full Recovery” to provide Israel’s government a roadmap towards economic recovery that is equitable, inclusive, and based on comparative research into policies adopted by governments around the world. NIF grantees, The Berl Katznelson Foundation are advocating to expand the government’s economic aid package and ensure it addresses the acute needs of vulnerable populations.
NIF grantee, Rabbis for Human Rights, organized a forum of two dozen civil society organizations to lobby lawmakers to increase assistance to the elderly, single-parent families, asylum seekers, people with disabilities, and others who are now coping with ever-increasing economic burdens from the crisis. One key achievement of this advocacy is the Ministries of Welfare and Finance decision to continue funding the National Food Security Initiative, which provides 11,000 families with food support.
Less than a week after Arab local councils announced a general strike protesting discriminatory budgeting and aid for their communities, Adalah: The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights petitioned the Supreme Court on behalf of NIF grantee the National Committee for the Heads of Arab Local Authorities in Israel demanding equitable budgets for Arab municipalities for financial damages caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Arab local authorities continue to demand equitable government assistance.
During the height of the public health crisis, NIF grantees, such as Adalah: The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), and Sikkuy, have been working to ensure equal access to COVID-19 testing for Arab communities. Adalah demanded that Israeli health officials establish a drive-in test center for the Triangle area to serve Arab communities and urged health authorities to publish regular and updated information detailing the number of coronavirus tests delivered in each town and city in Israel. ACRI appealed to the Director General of the Treasury to allocate appropriate resources for the detection of the coronavirus in East Jerusalem and the Bedouin communities in the Negev. Following this advocacy, the Ministry of Health has expanded publication of COVID-19 patient data in small localities.
Sikkuy has been monitoring government services and communications related to the coronavirus crisis for discriminatory practices. Sikkuy and other organizations are cooperating to call upon the Health Ministry to establish drive-through COVID-19 testing sites in the country’s peripheral areas, where most of the Arab Israeli population lives.
Adalah: The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights petitioned the Supreme Court on behalf of the High Follow-Up Committee for Arab Citizens of Israel, the Arab Doctors Association in the Naqab, the Negev Coexistence Forum for Civil Equality, and the Regional Council for Unrecognized Villages in the Naqab demanding coronavirus drive-in testing or mobile test centers be made available in Bedouin villages in the Negev-Naqab and called for the allocation of additional ambulances in the underserved region. Adalah’s petition followed a series of inquiries by representative bodies and civil society organizations that warned that the public health measures to combat coronavirus are not being provided for Palestinian Bedouin communities. As a result of this advocacy, Israel’s health authorities are opening a mobile clinic in the predominantly-Bedouin city of Rahat in the Negev-Naqab.
Given the absence of municipal authorities assuming authority for the needs of Bedouin residents of the Negev, the Regional Council of Unrecognized Villages in the Negev (RCUV) field coordinators are working with the leadership of Bedouin villages’ local committees to address urgent needs and mount a coordinated response of Bedouin communities in this region. Since mid-April, the organization has provided Bedouin residents of unrecognized villages with protective gear, conveyed critical information about regulations and protective measures, distributed 3,400 food baskets to residents in need, and helped those on unpaid leave navigate applying for unemployment benefits.
Adalah: The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights filed a motion to Israel’s Supreme Court seeking to freeze implementation of Israeli criminal code which revokes social welfare benefits from parents of minors convicted for throwing stones. Adalah’s motion stressed that the coronavirus crisis places an undue economic burden on families and argued that no additional disproportionate burdens should be imposed on families facing the pandemic.
NIF grantees are fighting to ensure equal access to education and internet resources. During the height of the public health crisis, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), alongside the Clinic for Law and Educational Policy, called on the Ministry of Education to make distance learning accessible for all Israeli public school students; many Palestinian citizens of Israel lack access to computers or high-speed internet connections, and much of the educational material is only being made available in Hebrew. Advocacy by civil society groups resulted in a decision to upgrade communications infrastructure in recognized Bedouin townships in the Negev-Naqab and a commitment to connect the unrecognized villages to the network as well. This followed appeals and legal petitions by Shatil, the Follow-up Committee for Arab Education, Adalah: The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights, and others, arguing that Bedouin citizens cannot access vital information or remote learning opportunities due to a lack of connectivity. Despite Israel’s reopening of schools, the majority of Bedouin schoolchildren in the Negev-Naqab remain in their homes because of classroom overcrowding and schools’ inability to meet new regulations. More than 50,000 students in 48 villages remain without connections to electricity or internet service, and most don’t have access to computers.
In May, ACRI petitioned to the Supreme Court to demand that the Ministry of Education and Finance make all online lessons available in Arabic, and ensure that lessons broadcast on private television channels be available on Israel’s public television channel in both Hebrew and Arabic.
The Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) appealed repeatedly to the Attorney General, Justice Minister and IDF Central Command demanding a freeze of home demolitions in the occupied territories. During this time of heightened vulnerability, one’s home is often the only refuge from the pandemic, essential for isolation, and vital to preventing its spread. ACRI continues to receive reports of home demolitions by Israeli security services in Area C, and has renewed its appeal to the IDF Central Command.
Early on in the public health crisis, pressure from civil society organizations and Bedouin activists led the Justice Ministry to commit to refrain from issuing fines and demolition orders for Bedouin homes. When Sikkuy discovered that home demolitions and the destruction of fields in the unrecognized Negev village of Al-Baghar were ongoing, despite a near national shutdown and economic crisis, they sent an urgent letter alongside partner NGOs, and successfully halted these operations. However, the government continued to issue fines to Bedouin shepherds who had erected temporary tents to shield themselves from the harsh sun. The Negev Coexistence Forum for Civil Equality has documented six demolition orders issued since mid-March, in some cases to homes in which simple repairs were undertaken.
The Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), appealed to the Supervisor of Banks to open bank branches on Sunday so that retirees can withdraw their pension payments. ACRI and the Clinic for Human Rights in Society at the University of Haifa petitioned the High Court of Justice to demand that all banks allow pension recipients to withdraw money.
Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) petitioned the Minister of Energy and the Chairperson of the Electricity Authority to urge them to instruct the Israel Electric Company not to shut off electricity of those who cannot pay their electricity bills. ACRI also petitioned Israel’s Ministry of Housing not to suspend the provision of assistance for eligible residents who cannot complete the renewal process as a result of the pandemic. ACRI asked the Ministry not to instigate proceedings for the collection of debts from public housing residents who fail to pay rent. On March 25, Israel’s Housing Ministry issued a general directive to mortgage companies to completely cease collecting debts during this time. ACRI and the Shatil-led Public Housing Forum appealed to the Housing Ministry to allow struggling tenants to pay subsidized rent (based on their current economic and employment situation), and to extend a grace period for late payments.
The Shatil-supported Arab-Jewish Citizens’ Forum for the Promotion of Health in the Galilee demanded that the Ministry of Health provide protective equipment to ambulance services serving communities in the periphery. After pressure from Shatil, the Union of Private Ambulances, and MK Jaber Asqala, Israel’s Ministry of Health agreed to provide protective gear for private ambulances services which primarily serve Israel’s periphery, including Arab communities. Previously, funding for protective equipment was available only to the Magen David Adom ambulance service, a fleet which disproportionately serves Israel’s geographic and urban center.
Since Israel’s decision to impose an extensive closure on the movement of people to and from the Gaza Strip in response to the coronavirus, Gisha: Legal Center for Freedom of Movement has called on Israel to uphold its responsibilities as an occupying power to protect the fundamental rights and living conditions of its residents, including the right to healthcare. Gisha called on Israel to end the closure on Gaza, in light of an acute shortage in Gaza of medical equipment such as ventilators, ICU beds, medicine, and protective equipment. Gisha also sent an urgent letter to Israel’s Defense Minister and the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) demanding they take immediate action to protect food security and promote economic activity in the Gaza Strip, and to remove ongoing restrictions imposed by Israel on “dual-use” equipment and materials acutely needed by Gaza’s farming and fishing industries.
Bimkom: Planners for Planning Rights is assesing the needs of Palestinian shepherds in the Jordan Valley to devise, promote, and secure development partners for a plan to connect their residences to the water system.
NIF and our grantees have been advocating for women’s rights during the pandemic. Itach-Maaki: Women Lawyers for Social Justice and others petitioned the Supreme Court, prompting the Ministry of Interior to add advisers on the status of women and gender equality to the list of “essential workers” during the health crisis.Following advocacy by women’s organizations, including the Israel Women’s Network, in the face of a dramatic increase in domestic violence, for the first time in 15 years the government authorized the opening of a new shelter for survivors of domestic violence, able to accommodate women in quarantine. IWN continues to advocate with government officials to secure budget allocations that would address the disproportionate harm the health crisis has caused to women.
A joint digital campaign run by the Israel Women’s Network (IWN) and Women Against Violence – Nazareth, in partnership with other Jewish and Palestinian women’s organizations is raising public awareness about the increased risk of violence against women during the countrywide lockdown and urging the government and local decisionmakers to implement policies to protect women. Following a nation-wide protest against gender-based violence organized by Women Against Violence (WAV), the Social Affairs Ministry announced that it will remove abusive men from their homes and house them in hotels, a policy never adopted before.