ACRI Interns Blog

0 notes &

Yes, in fact, I do know an Arab | Madeline E Sanderford

 It is not unusual to grow up as an educated member of the white middle class of American society and believe that anywhere in the world, this privileged status will follow you. This is especially true when it comes to Israel, a country viewed by most American’s as a sort of 51st state, a country that welcomes American support, that aims to stay on America’s ‘good side.’ I abandoned this belief recently, however, when, for the first time in my life, I experienced what it was like to be a part of the minority, discriminated for something out of my control.


No my life was not threatened; I was not enslaved, deported or jailed. However, standing before three of El Al’s top security team answering for maybe the fifth time “why are you going to Israel?” I definitely received a wake up call.

 It was during my return to Israel this January. I had been here in August for a fall semester with NYU in Tel Aviv, which was cut short in November when NYU chose to evacuate all 11 students for safety reasons following several days of rocket sirens. The experience began with my name being called over the intercom as I waited for my flight from Newark to Tel Aviv. I had asked to verify that my larger checked bag made it onto the plane, as I had not been given a baggage slip in the Richmond Airport when I left on my first flight the previous day. I assumed, incorrectly, that this was the reason, and so approached the counter where I was asked for my passport, which, also an incorrect assumption, I determined was for verifying the bag was in fact mine and that I was in fact me.

 Harmless questions by the counter official turned into questions about a second passport and previous travel. Then backup arrived. The second security official asked me, in a different order, the same questions as the first. Eventually this series devolved into questions about what I was studying, why, and whether I knew any Arabs, to which I responded yes, as I am a student of Arabic and therefore, have an Arab Israeli, Palestinian professor, among other Arab professors and family friends. Of course they needed to know my professor’s name and when I had last contacted him. They then inquired into why I had studied Arabic as opposed to Hebrew (I am now studying both). I answered honestly, more people speak Arabic, and many Hebrew speakers also know some English. I am interested in the region so I thought it was the better choice. Wrong answer.

 I was then led into the unmarked security room, referred to by those who have gotten to visit it as ‘the VIP room,’ which looks much like a dentist’s office. They took my bag to search it, disregarded the scissors I had forgotten and left in my make-up bag, and focused in on the Arabic vocabulary note cards and Arabic textbook I had in my carry-on. They then searched me for explosive residue, asked for proof of my acceptance to the NYU study away program, and verified where I would be living upon my arrival in Tel Aviv. Finally they took my phone, which they searched, packaged and checked under the plane.

I was then escorted to the gate where my documents were once again examined. I had in total been questioned by three male officials, and physically searched by two females, in a procedure that lasted about an hour and a half, ultimately delaying the flight. As the last person on the Israeli plane I, with my blonde hair and very American appearance, made quite the entrance to the flight otherwise almost exclusively Jewish. I arrived at my seat where the woman sharing my row leaned over to ask: “are you on a list?” It took me a moment to answer… “I don’t think so.”

When I arrived in Ben Gurion after 48 hours awake and travelling, I gathered my scattered belongings, and used a payphone to call my parents, trying as hard as I could to hold back tears.

My dad called the airline that day, and was assured by an El Al representative that they would certainly never have done such a thing.

It has taken me some time to digest this experience. I reflect on it now following a story in Haaretz about the potential for an airport security gaff during President Obama’s recent visit to sour relations.

While I highly doubt that Obama had the opportunity to experience this phenomenon, it is surely not unique to me, nor will it be the last time that it happens. Despite being the second official language of Israel, Arabic is certainly a red flag when it comes to security, something the Israelis are seemingly satisfied with, and something ACRI is trying to ensure does not remain unchallenged. While ACRI fights racism across every facet of Israeli society, this is one I am particularly proud of, as I have personally experienced this institutionalized phenomenon.

In a petition in 2012 against racial profiling in Israeli airports, ACRI contested the legality of considering ‘Arab’ an established and acceptable criterion for search, and while the State claimed meaningful changes were being made, this is not the case. In 2013, everyone from Arab school teachers and filmmakers to Arab Knesset party members have made headlines after having their rights severely violated by the Israeli security establishment. Additionally, it was confirmed by the Attorney General just this week, that despite inquiries from ACRI, the Shin Bet is allowed to, under any circumstances deemed relevant by them, demand access to private email accounts of foreigners attempting to visit Israel, and take their denial into account as a contributing factor to deny entry. These are just a few examples of the accepted discrimination and personal invasion allowed under “security measures.” As a result, ACRI diligently presses on.

This event for me, however, is about the bigger issue, not only the commonality of racial profiling and the invasion of personal privacy, but also the powerful undercurrent of racism pervasive within Israeli society, something I have continued to discover throughout my time at ACRI. Despite where I come from, I share with the Arabs in Israel and the Occupied Territories, the fact that I am not Jewish. With both the Arabs and the Jews, I share the fact that I am human. As ACRI president Sami Michael said recent at a conference entitled ‘Racism and the Education System in Israel,’ “there is no superior race, there is no inferior race, there is no pure race, and there is no impure race,” we are all a part of the ‘wonderful human race.’ With this in mind, it is time for the necessary self-reflection of the entire human community required to move towards a more peaceful future, void of harassment, intimidation, and racial discrimination; Israel clearly deserves to be at the forefront of this change.

Madeline E Sanderford | ACRI intern - Spring 2013


Madeline is a rising senior at New York University majoring in international politics with a concentration on Middle-Eastern and Islamic studies. With a passion for human rights, she sought out ACRI as a unique learning opportunity to supplement her junior year in Tel Aviv. A student of both Hebrew and Arabic, she hopes to one day aid in informing the conversation about American policy in this region.

0 notes &

ACRI’s Fourth Annual Human Rights March | Jared Schwalb

December 7th, 2012- As I stood on the grass by Habima Square handing out stickers on the morning of ACRI’s Fourth Annual Human Rights March, I could feel the excitement of the arriving participants as they prepared to take to the streets of Tel Aviv and demonstrate for the common cause of equality.


There was a wide range of representation at ACRI’s Fourth Annual Human Rights March. (Photo:  Yotem Ronen - Dec. 7th, 2012)

I could see that we were a desperate bunch, a diverse group of individuals who understood that human rights were being sacrificed in the name of security, nationalism, and religion. We were angry, appalled, and dismayed; and demonstrators gathered from every ilk— Israelis, internationals, migrant workers and asylum seekers, Jews and Arabs, religious and secular— to express their belief that adherence to human rights is a higher principle that must not be overlooked in Israel. Human rights must be enshrined in Israeli law, and reflected in practice.

Despite our decision to display our malcontent, we understood that one more protest, on top of the thousands of others that occur every year throughout the country, would not directly reform culture or policy. This march was not driven by optimism but rather by the necessity to stand for what we knew to be right, and by our desire to show solidarity with the few in this country with a similar mind mindset.

Encouragingly, the human rights march was no small affair: Approximately five thousand people  and hundreds of organizations came to show their support. I found familiar faces from Rabbis for Human Rights, Ta’ayush, and Solidarity. I was also pleased to see new banners from Meretz, Hadash, Bedouin and refugee rights groups, as well as other pluralistic and pro-democracy entities. 

The wide variety of causes present at the event shows that the human rights march has a real potential to foster change. ACRI has done the hard work of setting a community focal point based on human rights and international law, and for four years now has used International Human Rights Day as a bat signal for thousands to gather the vein of spreading awareness.

But spreading awareness isn’t enough. There needs to be the realization that human rights issues in Israel— be they Bedouin rights, Arab minority and Palestinian rights, LBGT rights, women’s rights, or whatever else— are all symptoms of the same illness: valuing security, nationalist identity, and religion at the expense of human dignity. Our activism must be as much about a woman’s right to sit in the front of a bus in Jerusalem as it is about same-sex marriage, or a Palestinian’s right to farm his or her own land. A small step forward in one issue is often offset by two large steps backward in another, to the detriment of the entire principle.

The challenge in bringing about such a fundamental shift in Israeli activism may seem daunting, but it can start with this march and with those who participated in it. Only as a united front can we overcome our apathy and cynicism, and influence the rest of the country to take the principle of human rights more seriously.

For more pictures of ACRI’s Human Rights March visit our facebook page:                                                                                                                                                          .

Jared Schwalb | ACRI intern in Winter 2012/2013

Jared (pictured here with MK Orit Zuaretz, Kadima) is a recent graduate from the University of California, Los Angeles, where he obtained his BA in Middle Eastern and North African Studies. He was heavily involved with J Street U while at university, and his desire to continue his social justice activism has led him to intern with ACRI.

Filed under human rights march social and economic rights

0 notes &

Landing in Israel: Jerusalem Day | Noah Kulwin

                Jerusalem Day 2007 (photo: Wikimedia Commons)

For my first blog post on the ACRI Interns Blog, I’m going to give a quick rehash of my first day in Israel after landing in Israel at 9:30 am on the festive and bizarre holiday, Yom Yerushalayim (Jerusalem Day). Arriving after a sleepless flight (most of which I spent watching Seasons 3-4 of The Wire), I checked into my hostel and made quick plans to meet up with Berkeley friend and J Street U student-activist Simone Zimmerman. Simone told me about the demonstrations occurring in East Jerusalem next to Sha’ar Shechem (Damascus Gate) and how this was a “can’t miss” opportunity to witness anti-occupation Palestinian protest in action.

I think that in order to fully understand why this particular demonstration is lent a special significance, the full weirdness of Yom Yerushalayim needs to be explained. This holiday celebrates the “reunification” of Jerusalem as a result of the 1967 Six-Day War. This reunification, a celebration of the capture of the Old City and Temple Mount that had been out of Jewish hands since 70 AD, came at the same time as the beginning of the occupation, and was afterward declared a minor holiday by the Rabbinate of Israel. Religious nationalists and right-wingers who shout chants like “Hebron is ours now and forever” and “Mohammed is dead!” dominate the celebration in Jerusalem, as a parade of these people goes around and through the Old City. As I gathered this information, a few immediate questions came to mind about this holiday in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the occupation:

"How can there be a holiday celebrating a united Jerusalem when it is obvious Jerusalem will need to be divided in order for there to be a functional two-state solution?”

"To what extent does a holiday that exalts Jewish nationalist values marginalize Palestinian presence and Palestinian civil rights in Jerusalem?”

Furthermore, the reunification narrative is one that comes from the view that denies that East Jerusalem constitutes an occupied territory because it was directly annexed to the state. However, the international community (including the US) does not recognize East Jerusalem as part of the State of Israel. Israeli politicians have continued to frame East Jerusalem this way, and celebrations like Yom Yerushalayim (on top of the Anti-Nakba Law) minimize legitimate Palestinian claims to East Jerusalem.

After a quick cappuccino and bathroom break, Simone and I were off to Jerusalem, where we met up with Rabbis for Human Rights activist Moriel Rothman, his brother (former ACRI intern) Jesse, and my ACRI co-intern Lauren. The demonstration, largely peaceful and peppered with chants from both the Palestinian and Israeli side, took place just outside of Damascus Gate. In the middle of the road separating Israelis from the Palestinian protestors, there was a large group of soldiers with a group of horse-mounted police in front of them. After a period of time the soldiers began to charge the crowd with horses and batons, yelling for everyone to move back into the neighborhoods and away from the Old City. The police and soldiers shoved their way through the crowd, knocking people over and telling people to move.

After a couple of hairy moments with horses and Israeli police and military forces chasing us, we headed back around towards the Old City on a different road, in order to check out the crowd of the thousands of (overwhelmingly religious and male) Israelis that were making their way toward Damascus Gate. By this time the crowd of Palestinians protesting and the solidarity activists with them had been dispersed and there were thousands of Israelis clad in blue and white headed in a procession toward the area.

The scene wasn’t frightening in the sense that I thought I was going to suffer bodily harm (I made sure not to wear anything that could be perceived as provocative), but it was an overwhelming display of patriotism and gusto in the spirit of Oscar Wilde’s famous quip that “patriotism is the virtue of the vicious.”

Walking away from the crowd and heading toward dinner, I had trouble reconciling what I had just witnessed with the narrative of “Israel: the Democracy” with which I had grown up. It was without a doubt an emotionally and psychologically powerful start to the summer and a new chapter in my ongoing “Israel education.” I am eager to learn more about everything else that is going on here, and I will be sure to keep posting in this blog about my ongoing learning experience.

To learn more about the current situation in East Jerusalem:

Jerusalem Day 2012: Unprecedented Deterioration in East Jerusalem (ACRI)


Noah Kulwin | ACRI intern in summer 2012

Noah (pictured here with Anat Hoffman) is a rising sophomore at the University of California-Berkeley, studying Political Economy with a concentration in economic/political inequality. He is originally from Montclair, New Jersey and is spending his summer in Tel Aviv working on issues of social and economic inequality in Israel. He is a co-founder of J Street U at Berkeley and a dedicated New York Giants fan. Noah will be based in our Tel Aviv office and has already started diving deep into our social and economic rights materials – he will work with our new report, and create some comparative analysis to similar trends in the US.

Filed under east jerusalem

0 notes &

Racism in a Dependent Society | Lauren Donoghue

Riots in south Tel Aviv, May 2012. Photo by Activestills

                   Riots in south Tel Aviv, May 2012. Photo by Activestills.

Waking up to read that violent riots targeted at the troubled refugee populations of southern Tel Aviv was a heart-breaking experience. Did mass crowds actually gather in the streets to abuse, attack, and harass individuals walking in their own neighborhood and children walking home from school? Were African-owned stores and cars senselessly vandalized? Did members of the Knesset publicly spur hate and incite others against individuals seeking asylum from their dangerous war-torn pasts (including calling the refugees “infiltrators” and “cancer”)? Such a night was undoubtedly inexcusable and the violence intolerable.

I felt disgusted and frightened; I also felt surprised and disappointed. And just like a child’s – my innocence is both reason of being disgusted and ignorance of having been surprised. I thought about trying to explain the violent riots to a child. There is charm in the naivety of children that begs us to remind them to not talk to strangers or to not stay out past dark. They still live in the unexposed world of comfort and safety; the world of how things ought to be rather than how they are. I would probably speak to the child about my historical racism in the United States against African Americans that was always the focal point of racism in primary education. The traditional lesson of the story of racism I had been taught was to not judge an entire population by a few individuals and that “meeting the other” was a first step in combating racism.

So, then, I will tell the child that we must bring together the south Tel Aviv rioter and the asylum-seeker so that they can become friends, and the rioter can realize that not all refugees are murders, rapists, thieves, drunks, or people looking for a country even though they have one they can comfortably go back to (all justifications rioters gave for their animosity against the refugees), and end will be put to the discrimination, right?

But wait. What misconceptions will be cleared up? Such an encounter would certainly not solve the problems of poverty, unemployment, and difficulty entering into society from a war-torn past that underlay all of those for mentioned challenges will it? No. Can an honest and open-minded discussion with a rioter do anything to solve those? No. So, what method is going to get society passed this mess? If it’s not addressing a lack of education, the traditional origin of racism my background labeled, then is this really racism? Can the rioters actually fix or be blamed for any of the underlying foundations of their anger?

Later on, I read an online comment from a known anti-occupation critic of Israel describing that the violent riots highlighted just another example of Israelis’ hatred toward peoples who are non-Jews, just as they feel toward the Palestinians. Thinking that roping the extremely complicated, sensitive, and two-sided conflict into the southern Tel Aviv riots was unjustified, I jumped on the defense: “So now Israelis are inherently racist against everyone? Do you not know the problems the southern Tel Aviv community is facing? I don’t know if I’m more upset that you’re comparing terrorist attack victims to the neighbors of refugees or the terrorists to the refugees. They just don’t like the situation the refugees are creating. They have a right to be angry.” And so, I just concluded to myself that south Tel Aviv rioters weren’t actually racists and deflated the significance of the riots and violence for the refugee population.

As I got myself into quite the mind maze over what many easily deemed as racist intolerance, the walls blocking my clear shot to the other side were plastered with numerous articles by various respected authors, collectively drawing various conclusions at, in between, and expanding upon my different conclusions. From all of thoughts and readings, I’ve defused a few things:

The acts that occurred in the riots and the nature of the riots themselves were blatantly racist. The rioters targeted individuals that specifically belonged to the African refugee population because of the actions of a subset of this population and the societal position of them all – regardless of their individual character, occupation, or even age for that matter. Any African seen that night was in danger, refugee or not (even reporters and leftist activists were beaten). What cannot be concluded from the riots, however, is any statement asserting that a portion of the Israeli population is racist toward the African population in general, or the Sudanese or Eritrean populations outside of the refugee status. The “racist misconception” here is seen in that the refugee population was entirely and solely held responsible for the all problems of the community. And herein lies the social complexity.

The racist manifestation seen is layered on top of the refugee, immigrant status of the roughly African asylum seekers in Israel. According to their refugee status, these thousands of south Tel Aviv residents are not allowed to hold work permits. Some refugees may be able to work odd jobs to make money, but do not have any true financial stability or access to the health system (both physical and mental). They may, for example, be living in a one-bedroom apartment with fourteen other individuals and not know the status of their family or friends, who may or may not have survived the dangerous journey to Israel. As this reality plays out by the thousands, it does indeed create an atmosphere of general discomfort that is inductive to crimes.

Is it unjustified for the members of the already impoverished neighborhood of southern Tel Aviv to be upset by the struggle of living with these thousands of refugees? In the perfect world, one would like to imagine that kindness could be bestowed upon these strangers to the land of Israel and that others could understand that like many other countries, their borders would one day deliver refugees whether they like it or not. In reality, however, that threshold of absorption for Tel Aviv long passed, and the local population became incapable of alleviating the situation. The violent riots, therefore, could be more so expressions of the erosion of the community’s security than that of a racist mentality. Unfortunately and to the devastation of us all, the two became entangled when the Israeli government not only failed to provide support and infrastructure for the struggling south Tel Aviv neighborhoods (a problem that existed even before the refugee crisis), but blamed all the challenges to the community upon the refugee population with exaggeration. This incitement became the disturbing permission for a shortage of community resources to turn into hatred and for the problems the community is facing to unjustly be placed on the shoulders of the refugees.

In all the blame that can be passed around to the Israeli government, the rioters, the refugees, and let’s not forget the regimes responsible for displacing these refugees, if you can get past the racism and disgraceful incitement, the most basic lesson can be seen: the stability and rights of a community can only be granted if the stability and rights of other communities are also met. The neglect of any one population in Israel or incapacity to serve a population, no matter if it’s of citizens, residents, or asylum-seekers, will without a doubt affect others. Each individual here is not only entitled to basic rights, to some ability to financially provide for oneself, to adequate housing, and to a sense of security, to name a few, but requires that those rights be met to be productive members of society. On the simplest level, just as we are taught when we are children, everyone is equal. And it’s through those acknowledgements that this unifying status of the “individual” can be seen as the dependent thread forming the fabric of society.

More information about refugees in Tel Aviv (ACRI):

About Going Back to Eritrea…


Lauren Donoghue | ACRI intern in summer 2012

Lauren is an Environmental Health major in the Gillings School of Global Public Health at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and an active leader with the pro-Israel, pro-peace student movement J Street U. Her interests in human safety and justice have led her to ACRI where she aspires to grow as an agent for education and policy on a spectrum of issues.


Filed under refugees and asylum seekers social and economic rights

0 notes &

A Farewell: Reflecting on My Months in Israel | Cason Crane

Basilica of the Annunciation, CC-BY-SA-2.0 Yaniv Ben-Arie Israel is the Holy Land of the three great monotheistic religions: Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. Despite being included in this holy trinity, Christians number only 2% of the Israeli population.

I was born and raised Roman Catholic, which is my mother’s faith, as my father is a non-practicing Episcopalian. We have attended Sunday mass as a family regularly since I was a baby. As I grew older, I developed theological, ethical, and moral issues with the Catholic Church (many of which remain unresolved), but I have continued to seek spiritual guidance through going to church. My experiences at Churches here in Israel have been diverse and varied, much like the community itself.

My weekly routine is unusual in this place. Instead of praying on Saturday, the Jewish Shabbat, I go to Sunday mass. Though Christians are supposed to observe Sunday as their holy day, many cannot afford to do that in Israel because Sunday is a work day. I compromise by working a half-day on Sundays. In my six months here, I have attended mass at a number of churches large and small. The diversity of the churches I have visited is staggering. I have visited churches in Nazareth, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and Bethlehem. I have attended Easter Mass in Arabic at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, seen the spot of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, participated in an incredibly powerful service at Immanuel Church in Jaffa, and seen one of the most beautiful churches in the world, the Basilica of the Annunciation, in Nazareth.

The concept of “going to church” is much more familiar to foreigners than to Israelis. Whereas approximately 76% of Israelis are Jewish, 76% of Americans are Christian, with 42% of them saying that they go to Church every week. Furthermore, because there are so many Christians in the United States, it’s relatively easy for smaller sects and minority groups to coalesce and form congregations. This is not the same in Israel.

The Christians in Israel are diverse, but can be boiled down into four main categories: Arab Christians, evangelical pilgrims, migrant workers, and refugees and asylum seekers. I will briefly describe each of these groups in an effort to paint a more comprehensive picture of Christian society in Israel.

1) Arab Christians

Though Arabs are generally treated as second-class citizens in Israel, Arab Christians—who are roughly 80% of all Christians in Israel—have it slightly better off than Arab Muslims in some ways. Israeli Jews tend to be more comfortable with Arab Christians than with Arab Muslims. Arab Christians are usually Eastern Orthodox, but some are Maronite, Coptic, and other smaller Christian denominations.

2) Evangelical pilgrims

Usually involved with churches or other religious institutions in Israel as pastors, monks, nuns, or priests. They are generally more conservative and religiously zealous than the other groups listed here. The influence of these Christians is buffeted by the large number of Christian religious tourists who make pilgrimages to Israel every year. These Christians are predominantly protestant.

3) Migrant workers

Many of the migrant workers living in Israel come from East Asia and Eastern Europe. There is a large Catholic, Filipino community in Israel; many of its members work as caregivers to the elderly, sick, or handicapped. Interestingly, the Filipino migrant workers community in Israel organizes in part through their church communities as a way to combat the abusive practices they face from their employers in Israel (for more information on this issue, see Ka LaOved or the Hotline for Migrant Workers).

4) Refugees and asylum seekers

I live just off Levinsky Park, which—with the surrounding Neve Sha’anan area— has become a hub of activity for refugees and asylum seekers in Tel Aviv, many of whom come from African countries. The community of refugees and asylum seekers in Israel attend mass at one of many small, non-traditional churches in Neve Sha’anan. What appears at first to be just a simple room with benches is their sacred place of worship—a stark contrast to the massive churches and basilicas elsewhere. But their colorful gospel music is a moving reminder to me of the power of faith. In my conversations with several refugees and asylum seekers, I noticed their Christian faith as a common theme in their stories—many of which feature very difficult and painful experiences.

As a tourist, I obviously do not fit into any of these categories. I am not a member of this 2%, though I have spent considerable time with many people who are. I am grateful for my religious experience in Israel for many reasons, not the least of which is the opportunity it provided me to interact with people from these backgrounds. I have learned a lot from them and am genuinely appreciative of their persistence in their struggles to achieve rights and recognition here – be they migrant workers, asylum seekers, or Christian Arabs.

I have also had other experiences that were more disheartening than encouraging. Going to Easter Mass in Bethlehem, I realized after the fact, was a privilege that I was afforded as a Western tourist. I read later that thousands of Arab Christians in Israel had previously been denied entry to Bethlehem for Easter Mass. I did not appreciate, as I coasted through the checkpoint, that had I been an Israeli Arab, even one living just kilometers away from Bethlehem on the other side of the Green Line, I would have had a much more difficult time.

On a different note, I spent part of my Passover vacation visiting Christian religious sites in Israel, such as the Sea of Galilee, Capernaum (a village that Jesus lived in), and several other places. I was struck by how moved most of the other tourists were. Personally, I define my relationship with God in more spiritual terms than through traditional organized religion. I also don’t view the Bible—New or Old Testament—literally. Subsequently, I was not impacted in the same way most other religious Christians are when they “walk where Jesus walked.” It was fascinating to me to see people crying on one of the ‘Jesus boats’ in the Sea of Galilee, where Jesus supposedly walked on water, or evading security guards to kiss the spot where Jesus was born in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. My own relationship with God and religion is much more personal, and I do not share the same attachment to these religious physical objects that many other Christians do. I respect their beliefs and traditions, and recognize that we each interact with our faith in our own way.

Overall, I come away from my experience in Israel with a new appreciation for the diversity of beliefs and practices within the Christian tradition. As my time in Israel comes to an end, I am only now appreciating how much of a stabilizing force Christianity has been in my life here. Wherever I was, I could always find a Church to go to on Sunday. Whether the mass was in English is a whole other matter; but I’ve learned that, for me, it’s not the priest’s sermon or the specific words of prayer that make a difference. It’s interacting with people from different backgrounds and taking time out of one’s week to come together for a purpose beyond oneself to reflect and to meditate. I owe a debt of gratitude to Israel for revitalizing my appreciation for my Christian faith.

Visit the Christian Information Center online at or by the Jaffa Gate in the Old City of Jerusalem for more information on attending mass in Israel


 Cason Crane | ACRI intern in spring 2012

Cason (19) is currently on a gap year before joining the Princeton University Class of 2017, where he will concentrate in the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. After completing his internship at ACRI, he will continue his endeavor to become the first openly gay person to climb the highest mountain on each continent (the “Seven Summits”). Check out that project at: Follow him on Twitter @casoncrane.

Filed under refugees and asylum seekers migrant workers Arab citizens of Israel religion in Israel

7 notes &

Finding the Heart of Hebron | Cason Crane

                         Hebron’s deserted center. Photo by Yoav Leff

During last week’s Passover vacation, I had the opportunity to explore places in Israel and in Palestine that I had not visited before. Not only was this holiday fantastic, it was also incredibly educational.

Most of my activities were pretty standard. I caked myself in Dead Sea mud at Ein Gedi, sang hymns on a “Jesus Boat” in the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee), attended Easter mass at the Church of St. Catherine in Bethlehem, and participated in an archeological dig at Beit Guvrin, among many other fun, touristy excursions.

But there was one experience during this holiday that stands out above the rest: my visit to the city of Hebron (al-Khalil in Arabic).

Hebron, which is located in the center of the southern West Bank, is the second holiest city in Judaism because it houses the Cave of the Patriarchs. It is also the largest city in the West Bank, with a Palestinian population of approximately 175,000 people, and its Old City was, for many years, a burgeoning Palestinian commercial hub. Additionally, Hebron houses roughly 500 Jewish settlers in the very center of its historic Old City, the same Old City that had formerly been the commercial center for the entire southern West Bank.

Furthermore, among the Israeli settlers in Palestine, those in Hebron are considered some of the most extreme. One cannot forget the tragic 1994 Hebron Massacre, in which an American-born Israeli settler named Baruch Goldstein opened fire on prayer services at the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron, killing 29 Palestinians and injuring 125 more. But what is truly appalling is that Goldstein’s tomb, which is located in Kiryat Arba, the settlement adjacent to Hebron, has become a shrine for settlers, some of whom hold vigils and memorial ceremonies to him there.

So last week I took a taxi from Bethlehem to Hebron to see the state of the city for myself. After driving through beautiful countryside, down some crowded roads, and finally through a maze of progressively narrower streets, the taxi pulled up by the entrance to the Old City. From there, I began my walk into the historic, winding alleys of old Hebron.

At first, I attributed the silence to the weekend. Then I remembered that it was mid-day on Monday. Why was everything closed? I walked to the entrance of the Cave of the Patriarchs hoping to see this historic site, but was denied entry because it was a Jewish holiday. I turned around and walked further into the Old City. As I walked, the motionless rows of padlocked metal doors gave way to at least a little human activity: aging men sitting outside stores overflowing with tourist souvenirs, traditional clothes, rugs, and more.

The shops one might expect to see in a souqvegetable vendors, falafel shops, grocery stores, tailors, and so onwere all missing. What remained were a scarce few stores that relied on the trickle of tourists to make their living. Despite the fact that it was only just past noon, it felt like the Arab souq had been shut for the night. But the issue was clearly deeper and more permanent than that. If the Old City was once the vibrant heart of Hebron, then it had stopped beating long ago.

I met up with a B’Tselem volunteer to go even deeper into the Old City. I noticed that the bright and open alleys through which I had first entered were now dark and shadowed. Above us was strung a metal net with garbage piled up in various places and barbed wire hung across others. Between the wires, I could see a faded Israeli flag flying from the upper floors of the building.

The wire net, my guide informed me, was to protect the Palestinians who walk on the street from the trash, debris, and refuse thrown down by the settlers who now occupy the upper floors of the buildings. The same buildings that, at ground level, houseor used to housePalestinian stores, are now part of the Israeli settlement of Avraham Avinu. We were invited into the home of a local Palestinian and went up to the roof. Barbed wire was piled all around and an Israeli army watchtower was perched on a nearby house. Below, groups of settlers moved around in groups. Israeli flags were everywhere. Even the huge water tanks were painted with Israeli flags.

The wire netimagine a chain link fence stretched horizontally above the roadis like the water level. Above it, settlers live in clean, renovated houses with flowering plants outside their windows, while below the fence, people are drowning. Trash riddles the street, kids beg every passerby to purchase their trinkets for food for their family, and side alleys are barricaded off with rubble and cement. The quality of life is shockingly abysmal.

But the wire net doesn’t protect against everything. I was told stories of settlers dumping refuse and even human waste down on the Palestinians. At first I thought these were exaggerations, but then I noticed a discoloration and egg shells on a scarf hung up outside a nearby store. That morning, the scarf had been perfectly clean. Now, it was dirty, stained with trash that a settler had thrown from his window. This wouldn’t have been as much of a travesty if this Palestinian shopkeeper, facing severely diminishing income (Hebron is generally not considered safe for tourists), had not been so desperately poor. It’s no wonder that so many Palestinians had moved out of their traditional homes and shops; they left because living under the settlement meant drowning, financially and emotionally.

            Hebron. The graffiti reads: “Death to Arabs.” Photo by Yoav Leff

With this thought on my mind, I asked my guide why the Old City was so deserted. He told me that this is a result of the restrictions imposed by the Israeli army on the center of the city since the Second Intifada. According to B’Tselem, since the Second Intifada, “76.6 percent of all the commercial establishments” in the Old City of Hebron have been vacated, many pursuant to mandatory military orders. Moreover, he told me that restrictions on freedom of movement in the area had made it so difficult for Palestinians to live a normal life that many had simply given up and left.

What was left felt like a ghost town.

When I returned to Jerusalem that night, I was still in a state of shock over the condition of old Hebron. How could the West Bank’s commercial hub have turned into this sad, deserted place? Like everything in the Middle East, the answer to that question is not simple and it is not easy. However, one definite part of the answer is the settlements. If there is one thing that my visit to Hebron reaffirmed for me, it is the damage caused by Israeli settlers and settlements to Palestinian life. Both on a practical, daily basis, and on a broader plane, the settlements and settlers cause Palestinians to suffer and sabotage the future of the Palestinian state. Whether it’s causing restrictions to Palestinian movement, throwing trash (or worse) onto them or their merchandise, or forcing Israeli control onto half of their city, the settlers in Hebron are certainly one of the major parties responsible for the city’s current situation.

More specifically, the critical issue that my visit to Hebron brought to light for me was the misconception that Israeli settlers are developing land and property unused or unwanted by Palestinians. Maybe that is true in some cases and in some places. In Hebron, however, that is certainly not the case. What I saw in Hebron was the systematic destruction of Palestinian livelihood and quality of life by extremist settlers. These men and women were able to literally transform an urban center into a sad shadow of its former self.


But the more difficult dilemma is finding the solution to this problem. I won’t attempt to solve that problem here, but I will say that Prime Minister Netanyahu’s approach to and view of settlements is, in a word, terrifying. Just last week, he defended a group of new settlers in Hebron and sought to have their eviction delayed. I believe that, for there to be a legitimate chance of a peaceful, two-state solution in the near future, settlement construction needs to be stopped now. Unfortunately, Prime Minister Netanyahu does not appear to be headed in that direction. The saddest part, though, is whose daily lives are really affected by this policy. It’s not me, it’s not you, it’s the Palestinians living under occupation in the West Bank in places like Hebron. Until the Israeli settlement policy is changed, the Old City of Hebron will deteriorate further, as more Palestinians succumb to the effects of the settlement. For now, we can only hope that the Israeli government will decide to change their approach to settlements. If it does, maybe Hebron’s heart will beat again.


 Cason Crane | ACRI intern in spring 2012

Cason (19) is currently on a gap year before joining the Princeton University Class of 2017, where he will concentrate in the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. After completing his internship at ACRI, he will continue his endeavor to become the first openly gay person to climb the highest mountain on each continent (the “Seven Summits”). Check out that project at: Follow him on Twitter @casoncrane.

Filed under Human right in the Occupied Territories Impact of settlements Freedom of movement

1 note &

Social Justice, One Worker-Friendly Restaurant at a Time | Jesse Rothman

          Rally at UC Davis, photo CC by Talk Radio News Service

A couple of weeks ago I went to the U.S. for vacation. I ended up driving around Northern California and, for a couple of days, stopping in Davis. Because I’d been in Israel since the beginning of the “Occupy” movement in the U.S. and because the Occupy UC Davis group became famous after a sobering video of police abuse circulated on the internet, I was excited to go to the encampment and talk to folks there.


When I arrived at the site of Occupy UC Davis, there was absolutely no one around. There were a few tents still up on the quad and one or two stray signs, “We are the 99%.” It seemed that this small, brave encampment, which overcame administrative opposition and being pepper sprayed from point blank range, was battled into submission by a more formidable foe: winter break. Students left for break and the movement fell apart, because there was no one around to continue the energy. 


Recently I also read an article by an Occupy activist, Charles Lenchner, who (lovingly) criticizes the movement’s interactions with newcomers. His argument comes down to this: Occupy is not good at absorbing new activists, it is not good at helping people find their place in the movement, or activating those supporters who are not natural activists or able to devote all their energy to the movement. Because of this, the movement loses a lot of potential activists and supporters, who simply slide away because they don’t find their place.


I do not mean to be cynical. The problems facing UC Davis – and the Occupy movement in general – are super understandable and, in some ways, unavoidable. UC Davis students cannot stay in their tents forever, they have other responsibilities (and they might return after break, who knows?); and casual supporters of Occupy cannot fight tooth and nail to get involved, they need help and they need to find an easy, low-commitment way to support the movement. Because, in the end, it must be acknowledged that those who have the time and ability to forgo work in order to spend all their time building a movement are (mostly, though not exclusively) a privileged few: students, professional activists, clergy, professors, young people without families. Other people are simply too busy. The thesis, in crude terms, is that you have to work like crazy just to survive, and even then you probably won’t succeed because the economic system is rigged against people; so of course lots of people who are working like crazy to feed and shelter themselves don’t have time to work like crazy also for the movement. The challenge facing Occupy is how to engage people who are not “activists” and who will not spend nights outside. The challenge is using the incredible energy that was built up over the last months and translating it into small, finite actions that people can take to help reduce plutocracy, inequality, and poverty.


This challenge, I think, is exactly the challenge that is facing the J14 crowd in Israel after the summer’s social protests. The energy of the summer is being to feel less palpable. The question is huge and, I think, crucial: how do we realize the promise of the broad anger against the current economic reality and the broad support for change (both in the U.S. and in Israel)?


I think one of the (many) answers is to break down change into tiny, easy pieces. It is important that the people can do something and it is important that these things do not always require a great deal of time, energy, or sacrifice. Otherwise, many people who are supporters and are willing to do some work for social justice simply will not be involved because they cannot pay the high entry price in time and effort.

 One of these small, manageable initiatives that I think is really worthwhile is the Tav Chevrati (Social Seal), established by the organization Bema’agelei Tzedek. This initiative is an effort to get restaurants to comply with labor and accessibility laws. Restaurants are audited, and if they treat their workers according to standards and are handicap accessible they receive the “Social Seal,” which tells consumers that the money they are spending is not supporting the exploitation of workers. Consumers are asked to eat at only “Social Seal” restaurants and to urge the management of restaurants to which they go to join it, if possible. This is a small action: deciding to eat at one restaurant rather than another. Yet it can have truly broad consequences: it creates a social and economic incentive for restaurants to treat workers well and it creates a social expectation that part of consumption decisions should be social- and justice-oriented.


A few weeks ago, the “Social Seal” launched a new pledge for English speakers in Israel. This pledge is a commitment to eat only at “Social Seal” restaurants and to spread the word about the initiative. There are already 130 Jerusalem restaurants certified with the “Social Seal” and there is a full list available on the link provided above. By joining the pledge, you could help change the way workers are treated and create a cultural shift in the way we think about consumer decisions. So do it. It’s not really very hard. In fact, it’s pretty easy to make this pledge. And, just maybe, that’s exactly why it could be so important.   


 Jesse Rothman | ACRI intern in 2011/12

Jesse (20) recently graduated from Carleton College with a degree in Political Science/ International Relations. He is extremely excited to be working at ACRI this year as a NIF/Shatil Social Justice Fellow.

Filed under social and economic rights workers' rights Bema’agelei Tzedek Occupy movement tent protest

0 notes &

"For I was a stranger and you welcomed me" | Jesse Rothman

Refugees in Tel Aviv. Photo by Trillia Fidei-Bagwell

                 Refugees in Tel Aviv. Photo by Trillia Fidei-Bagwell

The projector rolled a movie of a fair, white Jesus walking amongst his disciples. A Sudanese man spoke into a microphone, giving this on-screen Jesus a language incongruent with and probably more appropriate than his white skin. “If someone strikes you on the right cheek,” he intoned softly in Arabic, “turn to him the other also.” About two hundred Sudanese and Eritrean men, women, and children stood watching in the middle of a park in South Tel Aviv. And I watched them, and Jesus, and the Sudanese voice of Jesus, and the handful of my fellow Jews sitting with me, and I sat dumbstruck and overwhelmed.


This was a few weeks ago. I had spent the day learning about refugees and asylum seekers in Israel, going around South Tel Aviv and Jaffa talking to activists and aid organizations about what has been happening since 2005, when African refugees began crossing into Israel following increasingly harsh and violent treatment by the Egyptian government and army. According to estimates, there are currently around 35,000 African refugees and asylum seekers living in Israel. On Sunday, the Knesset passed a law designating these asylum seekers as “infiltrators.” This new law seeks to deter asylum seekers from crossing the border into Israel. Among other harsh measures, it is designed to create a situation where asylum seekers, who cross the border in an illegal fashion, will automatically be put into a specially designated prison for 3 years without trial. Now that this law has passed, the trajectory of asylum seekers and refugees in Israel will become significantly bleaker. However, even before the new law, it was already rather bleak: 

Most of the people I saw in the park, like the vast majority of the refugees now coming into Israel, probably fled from Darfur, South Sudan, or Eritrea, following mass violence or genocide. They probably arrived in the Sinai, where they paid smugglers around $10,000 to get them across the border into Israel. However, it is likely that these smugglers tortured them and extorted the refugees’ families for six months prior to “helping” them across the border. While crossing, they were almost definitely under fire from Egyptian soldiers who have directions to shoot at Africans attempting to seek asylum in Israel. After crossing the border, perhaps these asylum seekers had bullet wounds and were taken to the hospital by Israeli soldiers.

After being treated, Israeli officials probably gave the asylum seekers a permit to stay in the country on the condition that they leave as soon as possible.

This permit, certainly, specified that they are not allowed to work in Israel, that they are not eligible to receive medical attention from the Israeli public system (not even follow-up care to what they received upon arriving in Israel), and that they are not eligible for any public services. Whether or not the asylum seekers themselves are told, the Israeli government has likely made clear why these types of permits are necessary: We do not want them to stay here, the government says. Yes, we have to save their lives. But, we can’t save the world; we can’t take on all of the world’s problems. And besides… what will happen in twenty years when these people want to get married, when they want to receive social security payments? Its 30,000 now, but that becomes 1,000,000 pretty soon. What will happen to the Jewish nature of the State? It’s better that we give them nothing, make things hard and then they will leave. Because, you know, they aren’t Jewish and, you know, they can’t be citizens and, you know… it’s just better that they want to leave. We don’t want them to die, but we don’t want them to live here either.     

The asylum seekers were then, it’s safe to assume, put on a bus to Tel Aviv, dropped off in that South Tel Aviv park with the white Jesus and the black voice of Jesus, and told by the soldiers, “Here are your African friends. Good luck.”

And then, these men, women, and children sit in the park. Pretty soon, they will likely try to find people they know from home who are also now in Israel. They will probably look for work and seek medical treatment for ailments and injuries they “picked up” on the journey. They will almost certainly look for a place to sleep and try to figure out how to eat. They will, very likely, connect with one of the Israeli aid organizations (like ASSAF or Physicians for Human Rights) and, even more likely, with the strong, informal organizing of the refugee community. They will, I assume, start to build their lives: make friends, find lovers, think about their family and their past lives at home, and dream about the future. Some will probably not find work, or homes, or medical treatment, or manage to live normally after the physical and psychological damage of their pasts. Some will probably be homeless and hungry and depressed. But many of them will figure out how to live and operate in this country, they will build lives that function despite the obstacles. They will build businesses and social networks and strategies for circumventing the bureaucracy. However, because their permits say they can’t work, because they don’t have access to medical treatment, because they are widely discriminated against and hated, because even those who don’t hate them will often treat them with suspicion or objectifying curiosity, because the government’s policy is intended to make them want to leave, they will have a hard life here.

But for now, they sit in the park watching white-Jesus walking in green pastures. And they listen to black-Jesus, this time the voice of a man from Sudan speaking in Arabic, “…for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.”



 Jesse Rothman | ACRI intern in 2011/12

Jesse (20) recently graduated from Carleton College with a degree in Political Science/ International Relations. He is extremely excited to be working at ACRI this year as a NIF/Shatil Social Justice Fellow.

Filed under Refugees and asylum seekers Anti-democratic legislation

0 notes &

The Problem with the “Mt. Scopus Slopes Park” | Jesse Rothman

A couple of weeks ago, I went on a tour of Issawiya, a neighborhood in East Jerusalem, which is located opposite the Mt. Scopus campus of the Hebrew University. I went with attorneys from the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), who are helping local residents organize to receive their full rights in education, postal access, and a wide array of other municipal services. Do I even need to point out that residents of Issawiya regularly and systematically do not receive the municipal services they deserve? I’ll point it out anyway: residents of Issawiya, like almost all Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem, are under-served.


On our tour we met with community leaders, who told us about challenges with schooling and other problems. They told us about how there used to be internal checkpoints and the way in which ACRI’s work has eased “freedom of movement” problems in the neighborhood in recent years. Finally, they pointed at a map hanging on the wall and smiled wryly. “And they are building a national park on our land,” they said. “They are taking more land, where are we supposed to build? Where do they think we are going to live?”


In less than two weeks, the Israel Nature and Parks Authority (INPA) will establish a national park on the eastern slopes of Mt. Scopus. This national park will be built on land belonging to the villages of Issawiya and its neighbor, A-Tur. Most of the land on which this park is planned to be built is currently privately owned by Palestinian residents. Moreover, because the planned park is a national park, the residents will not receive any compensation for their confiscated land.  

If the land reserves are taken away from these villages, Issawiya and A-Tur will have nowhere to build or expand. This is especially troubling given that the land on which this park will be built is the only direction in which Issawiya can expand (the neighborhood is surrounded on all other sides by Jewish and Israeli neighborhoods and institutions). Issawiya already suffers from lack of space and hostile planning laws. 


It is extremely, extremely difficult for residents to receive building permits. Also, the current building plan for Issawiya forbids building housing higher than two stories (this, perhaps I should point out again, is not the norm for West Jerusalem building plans). However, because of the lack of space, residents often have no other choice and must build housing without permits, which has created a situation in which many houses are scheduled for demolition and many residents owe huge fines for homes they built without permits because they didn’t have any other option. Over a period of ten years, the residents of Issawiya, in conjunction with the Israeli organization Bimkom – Planners for Planning Rights, developed an alternative development plan in order to improve the situation and to ensure that they wouldn’t have to build without permits. However, after going through a long process of negotiation with the municipality and eventually with the Israeli courts, they were rejected and, instead, the decision was made to build this national park on the only place where residents of Issawiya could potentially build.


With the creation of this national park, it seems almost certain that this situation will not change in the near future: Issawiya will start building inward and upward, illegally because they are left with no other option, and it will quickly and naturally become a wildly overcrowded slum.        


So why was the decision made to build this park in this location, given that it will cause so much suffering and hardship to the 30,000 residents of Issawiya and A-Tur? The planners claim they want to preserve the few open spaces left in the crowded area and to prevent the residents from developing the land illegally.


I believe this is in part true: they want to preserve open space for tourism and they don’t want Palestinians to build in Jerusalem. However, there might be an additional reason. The scheduled park will territorially connect the Old City of Jerusalem with an area known as E1, which in turn will connect with the settlement of Ma’aleh Adumim. The map below shows how this park paves the way for an eventual connection of Maalaeh Adumim and the Old City. If this happens, it will mean an effective annexation of a large amount of land and it will divide the West Bank and severely hurt the chances of creating any future contiguous Palestinian state. The American government has always been strongly opposed to Israeli development of the E1 area, and this park is, perhaps, a cynical attempt to sneak one step of development past that opposition under the guise of environmental protection.

To me it seems like the Jerusalem authorities have given a resounding answer to the question that my guide in Issawiya asked. “Where do we think you’re going to live?” The authorities appear to say, cold and Orwellian. “Simple: We don’t care about you. Maybe you just shouldn’t be living in Jerusalem at all?”



 Jesse Rothman | ACRI intern in 2011/12

Jesse (20) recently graduated from Carleton College with a degree in Political Science/ International Relations. He is extremely excited to be working at ACRI this year as a NIF/Shatil Social Justice Fellow.

Filed under East Jerusalem Planning and Building Rights

0 notes &

Between Social Rights and Human Rights | Jesse Rothman

Human Rights March 2011, Photo by Tom Raviv

                       Human Rights March 2011, photo by Tom Raviv

On December 9, ACRI led the third annual Human Rights March to celebrate International Human Rights Day. In the previous two years, it was one of the largest “rights” gatherings of the year with approximately 10,000 participants. But this year, it was no longer the biggest rally for human rights. There is simply no way to match the 400,000 people who were in the streets demonstrating for social rights in the past summer. For me, this raises a number of questions: What is the relationship between social and economic rights and human rights? What can the language of human rights add to the language of social rights? Why should we push human rights in a time when the struggle for social rights is so powerful?

This is not to suggest that these concepts are somehow essentially opposed to one another. Indeed many, if not all, of the rights that protesters this summer were demanding are included in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: the right to housing, the right to work, the right to education. Moreover, Article 22 of the Declaration explicitly states: "Everyone, as a member of society, has the right to social security and is entitled to realization, through national effort and international co-operation and in accordance with the organization and resources of each State, of the economic, social and cultural rights indispensable for his dignity and the free development of his personality." In other words, social rights protected by the state are in themselves a human right.

But a closer look at the language of the social protests illustrates a meaningful difference between social and human rights advocates. “The people demand social justice,” protesters yelled again and again this summer. Another famous slogan rumbled confidently: “Oooh-aah! Who’s coming? The welfare state!” (This, it should be noted, was meant to be a good thing; the term “welfare state” isn’t the curse word it is in the United States). The two subjects of these slogans (and of the protests throughout the summer) were “The People” and “The State.” The protesters said that as a particular collective (Israelis) they deserve better services from a centralized bureaucracy that is meant to represent them. These rights, they stated implicitly, are dependent on their identity as “Israelis” and can be actualized/are relevant only in relation to the “Israeli State” (even if many protesters wanted to significantly change the manner in which that state operates).

Human rights discourse, on the other hand, takes as its subjects “individual persons” and “the international community.” Human rights are not dependent on anything, on any particular membership. They are guaranteed and earned by virtue of one’s very humanity. Individuals are at the center of the discourse, regardless of political affiliation. Moreover, while human rights discourse is still very (almost exclusively) focused on state actors and responsibilities, the state loses some of its assumed authority and power when talk shifts from social to human rights. States are only free and independent insofar as they meet universal minimum standards. National determinations of interest are trumped by international determinations of rights.

And this rhetorical shift, I believe, from “the people and the state” to “persons and the world” has significant practical consequences. And there are clear dangers in each language:

On the one hand, human rights discourse can sometimes seem toothless and too generic. It is easy to agree that people have the right to housing, but what kind of house do they deserve? What kind of education? Who enforces these rights? Without a particular community, a particular “people,” that can determine the details of those rights through democratic deliberation, human rights become vague platitudes. Additionally, the language of “universal rights” assumes a uniformity in desires, expectations, and obligations that does not seem accurate to real life. Not all people want the same things. People do not owe the same things to everyone (for instance, I do not owe the same things to a stranger that I do to my mother). Many critics have charged that universal human rights language is a Western, white, male invention that was created in order to protect their conception of the good life; a conception that is obviously not truly universal. The language of universal rights has an imperialist-bureaucratic underside that can undermine local control and discourage meaningful, practical action for justice.

However, focusing on the people and the state is also dangerous. For, indeed, who exactly are “the people”? The protests this summer did include a number of strong Arab voices in an unprecedented and impressive way, but it was still primarily a Jewish movement. Also, during the summer, we saw that “the people” certainly did not include Palestinians. In the protests, it was simply outside the range of conversation to criticize the systematic control of the other “people” that is under Israeli military occupation. Talking about the violations of Palestinian rights – social and otherwise - would have broken up “the people” and undermined the movement. Because, to define “the people” one must, by definition, exclude other people. Palestinians might matter, but Israelis matter more, or Israelis matter first. The same thing can be said about the social protests and refugees and migrant workers: if you are not an Israeli your rights are not as important. Moreover, “the state” that was petitioned so thoroughly this summer has particular interests, which often do not include – and certainly do not prioritize - protecting the rights of resident non-citizens. Defining rights in terms of “the people” has a dangerous tendency to lead to ethno-centrism or racism or exclusion; defining rights in terms of “the state” can easily lead to a crude and self-interested nationalism.

The social protests this summer were amazing, beautiful, thrilling. They have changed forever the way people talk about politics and possibility here. They raised a voice of solidarity with poor people, with struggling working families, with all sorts of people all over the country. They revived the idea that the economy does not have to based on a militaristic view of victory and defeat, but rather on cooperation and mutual concern. They should be celebrated and continued. However, the protests were largely (although certainly not entirely) missing a Universalist lens. They set aside, for the sake of in-group solidarity, the suffering of the out-group: the struggles of foreign workers, the disgraceful treatment of refugees, the evils of the occupation, and the trampled rights of Palestinians (It is important to note that the occupation is obviously a local issue in Israel. All of Israeli politics and society are affected and harmed by it. But, Palestinians are “the other,” and outside of “the people.” Therefore, the occupation is also, in some ways, beyond local, self-interested concern. Therefore, while it is only half true, I am constructing Palestinian rights as non-local here. While it is undoubtedly in Israeli self-interest to end the occupation, I believe that a wider acknowledgement that rights are universally applicable – that Israelis and Palestinians have equal rights that are equally important, that the suffering of “the other” is relevant to one’s own life – is necessary to end the occupation and achieve justice.) The social protests could not have done otherwise; Palestine and the occupation are too controversial in Israel to garner the type of support that these protests had. It is a shame that this is true, but it does not negate the amazing accomplishments for justice and equality that the social protest movement has already achieved.

However, the Human Rights March can and should take the position of universal concern. It is important to present the voice that all of our rights our interconnected, all injustice threatens my well-being, all cruelty is unacceptable, everyone’s suffering is meaningful. This means marching against the abuses of the occupation and against the mistreatment of non-citizens living in Israel. This means marching against racism in Israeli workplaces and against anti-democratic initiatives in the Knesset. We should celebrate the social protests and also seek to push the conversation towards universalism, away from an exclusively in-group concern. The language of social rights is crucial and irreplaceable, but alone it is not enough. Human rights language, which rejects the idea that an Israeli’s rights should be valued more highly than a Palestinian’s, is so, so, so necessary here and now. And so, this language of human rights has a lot to offer to a country that has just been through a summer of social protests. 


 Jesse Rothman | ACRI intern in 2011/12

Jesse (20) recently graduated from Carleton College with a degree in Political Science/ International Relations. He is extremely excited to be working at ACRI this year as a NIF/Shatil Social Justice Fellow.

Filed under human rights social and economic rights Human Rights March