NGO Monitor Analysis (Vol. 1 No. 1) 17 January 2003
Do Arab Students Face Police Discrimination?
How HRA's Weekly Press Review Distorts Facts to Advance Political Goals
Introduction and Mission Statement
Founded in 1988, Nazareth-based Human Rights Association (HRA) is one of the oldest and most-established nongovernmental organizations in the Arab sector in Israel. It is headed by a well-known Israeli Arab politician, Muhammad Zeidan. It was created:
to protect the political, civil, economic and cultural rights of the Palestinian minority in Israel and to further the domestic implementation of international human rights principles.
Its mission statement, found at http://www.arabhra.org/, states that it seeks:
to further the domestic implementation of international human rights principles.
HRA produces a regular weekly review of the Arab press, published every Tuesday, sent out by e-mail to thousands of people all over the world. It details subjects of interest in the Arab sector in Israel. Many of its chosen news items are relevant and are of important public interest. For example, its end of November edition includes a title, "Exclusion of Arab Towns from the 'Ofeq' Program." This program aims to improve conditions in regions with high unemployment rates and poor socio-economic conditions.
In this section, we will examine three separate reports of discrimination against Arab students in Israeli educational institutes that were published in three separate issues of HRA's weekly press round-up.
Articles Claiming Discrimination in Israeli Academic Institutes
The first is an article, entitled "Arab Students Live in Fear." This piece lists a number of alleged attacks against Arab students and declares, quoting Israeli Arab-language newspaper Sawt Al-Haqq Wal-Hurriya (Arab-language newspaper, published in Israel) on November 29, 2002:
these attacks been held for the last two years, and they became a kind of routine
which does not need any response or censure
Another is from the December 9 edition, containing a similar report, this time quoting a different Israeli Arabic-language newspaper, Al-Sinnara, which reported that a group of Jewish students in the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology have established a new political movement on campus. The group's principal goal is to expel Arab students from this Institute. Jamal Kadria, a member of the Arab Students Committee in the Technion, in an interview with Al-Sinnara said:
The Institute's administration is a right-wing administration and is supporting this group; as proof, some Arab students have been investigated by police and Shabak Security Services lately because they have learnt about TNT and other explosives.
A third reference to Arab students living in fear was featured in the October 11 edition of the press review. This report covered demonstrations outside the college in Safed where two Israeli Arab girls who were warned by a suicide bomber "that something terrible was going to happen" on the bus on which they were traveling, simply disembarked without warning the police or other passengers. Families of the nine people killed demonstrated outside the college for the girls to be expelled.
It is interesting that the weekly press review reported the incident in the following way:
Bakri and her friend got off a bus on Miron Junction on 4 August [it was actually September] 2002, out of fear, before a bomber blew up the bus causing deaths and injuries among the passengers. Bakri was accused and investigated for not reporting the police on time.
How the Reports Could have Presented a More Balanced Perspective
These three reports imply that Israeli Arab students of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the Haifa Technion and Safed College live in constant fear. Some 30% of the Hebrew University student population is Arab. Indeed, the proportion of Arab students at the school rises every year. In the Givat Ram campus, almost half of students in some courses are Arab. These students are given full access to all facilities and have an active Arab Students Union.
The reports present a distorted and superficial perspective. No one would deny that the situation of the Arab students in the Hebrew University after the bomb attack in its caf? that murdered seven and wounded dozens more, impacted on their situation in the university. Is Israel to blame? More importantly, did Hebrew University implement discriminatory policies? The answer is clearly no. Instead, Hamas has repeatedly declared its goal of aggravating relations between Jews and Arabs in Israel as a whole. That is a very sad state of affairs but the onus for violating human rights onus falls directly on Hamas and its supporters and not on Israel.
When extremist Palestinian groups are improving their bomb techniques and attempting to recruit Israeli Arabs, are the Israeli security services being irresponsible by investigating whether Arab students are learning about explosives? Again, this is an unpleasant state of affairs but not one that came about through an active policy of discrimination. Rather, it is the direct and necessary result of the twisted attempt of Hamas to sow havoc and despair throughout Israeli society. Can the bereaved families of Israeli terror victims be blamed for exercising their rights to protest by marching outside of Safed College?
Moreover, the Hebrew University report seems particularly bizarre. Criminal activity is a fact of life throughout the world. The report implies that the incidents under discussion were racially motivated and that the authorities are oblivious to the plight of Arab students. Racial attacks against any citizen or any nationality are illegal in Israel. When such acts occur, the Israeli police force invests time and resources investigating hate crimes. There is even a unit in the Jerusalem police dedicated to countering Jewish extremist groups. Recently, an attempt to blow up an Arab school in East Jerusalem was foiled and the suspects arrested and tried. There are members of the police in Jerusalem from the Arab communities (overwhelmingly Christian or Druse and not from East Jerusalem). To claim that there is active police discrimination against Arab students is a gross and unfair distortion. Should this indeed be the case, Arab residents of Jerusalem, even those who are not citizens, have full rights to appeal to the courts.
To reiterate, the vast majority of Israeli Arab students are law abiding and are studying for all the right reasons. Unfortunately, the attempts by the Palestinian leadership to involve all Arabs in the struggle against Israel, puts them in a compromised position. For a human rights NGO to blame Israel for this state of affairs is irresponsible and distorting. One can only conclude that HRA is doing this not to implement universal human rights principles, but rather to gain political currency to present Israeli academic institutions and the police as discriminatory.