Amnesty International was established in 1961 by a lawyer from London named Peter Benenson.
Benenson was shocked to find out that a group of students in Portugal had been arrested after toasting for freedom in a café. In reaction to this event, he called out for a campaign on behalf of “conscience prisoners”, as they were later termed, who were rotting in prisons around the world. He called out for people around the world to join a mass letter writing campaign, and pressure the governments into releasing conscience prisoners. Within months, local action groups were established around the world.
Eventually they united and established the Amnesty International. Amnesty is now the biggest human rights group in the world – an international movement with more than 3 million supporters, friends and activists, from more than 150 countries and districts. During its first years, Amnesty International focused on the protection of civilian and political rights, campaigns against torture and the abolishment of death sentences for conscience prisoners.
Later on, with the change in public debate regarding human rights, Amnesty International expanded its scope of activities to include economic, social and cultural rights. In 1977 a Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Amnesty International for its activities.
Amnesty International Israel
The Israeli section of Amnesty International, established in 1964, is one of the oldest branches in the movement. The branch has expanded rapidly over the years, with various activities for protecting human rights, campaigning for victims of human rights violations, and promoting the culture of human rights in Israel.
We are a movement of ordinary people from across Israel standing up for humanity and human rights. As part of Amnesty’s international movement, we have the expertise to mobilise the international community on pressing issues within Israel.
Unlike many human rights organisations, we are dedicated to empowering rights holders to take control of their reality, rather than working on their behalf. Our team comprises of an expert team of campaigners, activists, rights holders, advocates, and volunteers who are fully committed to realising campaign objectives, promoting human rights in Israel and mobilising international and local campaigns in the fight against human rights violations.
Our current campaigns have been focused on being a leading force in the struggle for fair and equal rights for asylum seekers and refugees, combating discrimination against Palestinian citizens of Israel, and confronting human rights abuses which occur within the occupied Palestinian territories.
- Amnesty International Israel has seen impressive growth – in 2014 our 2000th member joined our movement. This growth in members is realised in both our sheer volume of activities and in the impact those activities have on human rights issues.
- Among the many impacts that Amnesty International Israel’s work has had with and on the Negev Bedouin, our success in internationalising the issue of forced displacement stands out prominently. In addition to fostering positive change with regard to how members of the Israeli government view the issue of Bedouin housing rights according to Israeli law.
- Amnesty and its volunteers provide constant support to the asylum seeker community in Israel. We have established several volunteer focused activities in Holot and Tel Aviv. A sharp increase has been observed in the number of RSD applications for refugee status, training for community representatives and volunteer work.
- In 2015 we ran two successful session of the popular Activism United course in which Israelis and asylum seekers meet each other, learn about human right and activism and learn how to develop and conduct their own activist programs.
- Amnesty International Israel is a member of the Refugee’s Rights Forum which meets on a monthly basis and formulates joint lobbying action.
- Initiated at the beginning of 2015, our research and policy promotion programmes conduct effective research regarding the deportation of asylum seekers to third countries. This has been a difficult and ongoing struggle with the High Court of Justice.
- We collected over 1000 signatures to end the demolition of the Negev villages.
- We have collaborated closely with Human Rights Watch and joined forces with the RIGHT NOW coalition in a solidarity campaign with imprisoned asylum seekers, which had substantial support in Israel and abroad.
- During 2015 we increased our public work, including working in cooperation with other organisation that deal with administrative detention, excessive use of force and force feeding.
- To lobby relevant Israeli officials and army bodies, demanding them to implement the Turkel Commission recommendations and address hate crimes and price tag attacks
- Coordinate with foreign diplomats and representatives to stop the practice of force feeding, to hold Israel accountable to international standards and laws, and end the practice of administrative detention
- Collaborate with relevant partners to address and prevent the systematic practice of child arrests, interrogation and implement rehabilitation systems for children involved in criminal activity
- To raise awareness on the challenges of force feeding, child arrest, conscientious objectors, administrative detention and the problem of accountability through media work, online activism and reports.
In the last six years, three major conflicts between Israel and armed groups in the Gaza Strip have been conducted with an overarching impunity for respect for human rights and international humanitarian law for civilians on both sides.
The Palestinian territories’ ascension to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (1st April, 2015) has meant that there is an opportunity to challenge this culture of impunity. In violation of international law, the State of Israel continues to construct illegal settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. More disturbingly, there has been an increase in settler violence against the Palestinian people and their properties which the Israeli state have persistently failed to investigate these acts of violence and secure justice for the Palestinians victims suffering at the hands of Israeli citizens living in these illegal settlements.
The Israeli authorities have made limited changes to the system of military investigations in accordance with some of the recommendations made in the Turkel Commission’s second report (February 2013). However there is little evidence to suggest that the fundamental conflict of interest, including investigations into violent incidents and violations of human rights, have been addressed. The system is neither independent or impartial.
The Israeli authorities continue to prevent Amnesty International Israel and other NGOs from accessing the Gaza Strip despite the repeats requests of these various organisations to gain access.
Paralleling this grave humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip, the Israeli military and governmental authorities continue to insist on the imprisonment of citizens who refuse to serve in the armed forces, despite their declaration that they are conscientious objectors. The Israeli military refuse to accept conscientious objection as a legitimate reason to be free from compulsory service. Amnesty International Israel considers that conscientious objectors are prisoners of conscience and demands their release.
Administrative Detention and Force Feeding:
The Israeli Knesset recently passed a law which allows the Israeli prison services to force feed Palestinian prisoners on hunger strikes when their lives are at risk. This new development is accompanied by an increase in the number of Palestinians who are being held in administrative detention. Numerous hunger strikes started in protest against the savage practice of administrative detention while there are currently
The hunger strikes, which was deemed the only viable option for many detainees to express their right to protest, has attracted significant attention from both the Israeli and international media.
Child Arrest in Jerusalem:
Amnesty International Israel has been alarmed by the increase in the number of arrests of children accused of throwing stones by Israeli police and security forces. The police have been arresting children without notifying their parents and interrogations them without the presence of parents. The Israeli government has also failed to provide a rehabilitation system for children who have been effected by these various methods to quell stone throwing, protests and activism. In parallel to these developments, the Israeli government approved the changing of rules regarding opening fire procedures towards Palestinians suspected of stone-throwing.
Contact and Further Information
- To build and nurture a more active and widespread asylum seeker community in Israel by the end of 2017
- To gain at-least two new local authorities and service providers who can provide and protect some Economic, Social and Cultural (ESCR) rights to their local asylum seeker communities by the end of 2017
- To ensure Israeli governmental and state authorities provide and protect the ESC Rights of asylum seekers in Israel by the end of 2018
- To change the public and media discourse, terminology and coverage of asylum seekers by the end of 2016
- To ensure that the Israeli government and public hold accountable those who commit human rights violations against asylum seekers and provide, protect and grant these rights to asylum seekers by the end of 2017
The Israeli government is engaged in a relentless and vicious campaign against the 45,000 African asylum seekers and refugees currently situated in Israel. Utilising a variety of methods including detention, deportation, discrimination and the denial of basic ESC rights, the Israeli government is pressing to, as coined by former Minister of Interior Eli Yishai, “make their lives miserable.”
Government incitement exists at the highest levels of the state. This has manifested itself in the use of the inflammatory term ‘infiltrator’ to describe asylum seekers while authorities and public figures alike have sought to turn public opinion against these communities. They have largely succeeded as the majority of Israeli society largely views the asylum seekers as illegal migrants (rather than refugees and/or asylum seekers), criminals and, as mentioned above, infiltrators.
This negative perception and discourse amongst Israelis has been exacerbated by politicians, public figures, activist groups, and mainstream media organisations.
Laws and Policies
The actions of Israeli authorities against African asylum seekers residing in Israel has left the majority in a legal limbo which has included the constant denial of rights and the threat of detention and deportation. Below are a number of laws and policies which have been introduced:
Prevention of Infiltration Law:
In December 2014, the Knesset approved the Fifth Amendment to the Prevention of Infiltration Law. This amendment approves the imprisonment of newly arrived asylum seekers in Israel for a period of three months in Saharonim. Similarly this law approved the imprisonment of asylum seekers within Holot detention centre for a period of 20 months.
Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ESCR):
The temporary protection provided by the Israeli government under the “conditional release visa” has persistently made life hellish for asylum seekers. This visa, which needs to be renewed every two months, grants these communities and individuals extremely limited access to healthcare, welfare, education and work rights.
Holot detention centre:
Constructed in 2013, Holot is an open detention facility for asylum seekers and refugees in the Negev. According to a ruling by the Israeli High Court of Justice in August 2015, asylum seekers can be detained in Holot for a maximum of 20 months. After this ruling, the Ministry of Justice enacted a new policy that prohibits those released from the facility to take up residence in Tel Aviv or Eilat. In the same month, the Population Immigration and Border Authority (PIBA) released a new criteria which, with few exceptions, made every Sudanese and Eritrean man subject to arbitrary detention in Holot for a year.
Since 2013, approximately 9,000 asylum seekers have left Israel “voluntarily.” This arrangement is legal if done in accordance with international law. However the alleged agreements and arrangements with the countries in question have yet to be revealed to the public eye. The asylum seekers who left have arrived to their new countries with neither proper documents nor rights as refugees or asylum seekers.
Refugee Status Determination
Sudanese and Eritrean asylum seekers and refugees in Israel have only been allowed to file individual asylum claims since 2013. In 2014, according to UNHCR, there was worldwide recognition for and a responsibility to protect these refugees. Despite this, the Israeli authorities have granted refugee status to 4 Eritreans and 1 Sudanese since the refugee status was confirmed by UNHCR.
Amnesty International Israel has continued to working in establishing productive and long-lasting relations with the asylum seeker and refugee communities, the IS, EIO and partner section. Eight refugee organisation and ten Israeli human rights organisations also work with these communities in the fight to promote the rights of these communities within Israel.
Contact and Further Information
Our Campaign Objectives:
- To reduce discriminatory and identity-based violence against the Palestinian citizens of Israel.
- To raise awareness on the plight of unrecognised villages in Naqab and highlight the lack of accountability and adequate planning for uprooted Palestinian and Arab-Bedouin communities.
- To ensure Israeli authorities respect and enforce the housing rights of the Palestinians citizens of Israel.
- To help the Palestinian citizens of Israel in asserting their right to freely express their opinions and to protest without fear.
- To raise awareness in Israel and abroad on the incitement by Israeli officials against Palestinian and curb hate speech.
- Ending discrimination in the employment sector concerning nationality, sexual orientation or physical condition, including disability discrimination.
- To tackle the culture of impunity and demand accountability in regards to criminal activity within Palestinian communities
Palestinian communities inside Israel have been subject to direct and indirect discrimination, eviction, dispossession and consistent violations of their right to adequate housing since the establishment of Israel in 1948.
This is demonstrated by laws and bills that aim to confiscate rights or prevent access to right relating to:
- Land planning and property
- Land allocation and planning procedures
- Expropriation of land and compensation offered
- Recognition or regularisation of existing communities
- Enforcement of sanctions against “illegal” construction
- Housing Policy
The Palestinian community are under-represented in the relevant government bodies, completely excluded from powerful quasi-governmental institutions like the Jewish National Fund (JNF) and Jewish Agency, and not included in planning consultation at a national, district and local levels. They also face significant barriers in accessing remedies through the courts.
More troubling is the ongoing competition between parliament members in their efforts to harm the rights of Palestinians citizens of Israel. This has led to numerous discriminatory bills like the Nakba Bill (insert link), The Entering Committee Bill (insert link), and more. In regards to freedom of speech and the right to peaceful assembly, the Israeli policy and other security services are treating the Palestinians in a different manner to other Israeli citizens including threats, interrogation and intimidation to quell dissent and protest.
68 years after the establishment of the State of Israel, Palestinian citizens of Israel continue to face significant housing problems. These problems include lack of land, difficulties in obtaining permits to construct buildings, and access to resources and infrastructure such as running water and electricity.
The draconian demolition of housing by Israeli authorities has become a recurrent theme in recent years across the state. While Israeli decision makers in government are dealing with lowering housing prices for other Israeli citizens, they disregard the needs of the Palestinian citizens while failing to provide legal remedies and solutions to the issue of housing for the communities effected by their actions.
In the Naqab area, 36 unrecognised Arab-Bedouin villages are under the threat of forced eviction while in 2015 numerous villages have been demolished. The new policy of building Jewish-only settlements on the rubble of Arab-Bedouin villages is an alarming development in the violation of housing rights in Israel.
This has not only been prevalent in unrecognised villages in the area of Naqab. It is a pattern that has developed in mixed cities in the centre of the country (including the ‘Triangle’ area and northern Israel. The process undertaken by government, security and its supporters has largely dismissed and/or turned a blind-eye to the needs of these societies including the right to housing, respect for the delicate socio-cultural fabrics that make up these communities and protests against actions such as demolition.
Attempts to protest against these demolitions has been undermined by the marginalisation and lack of representation of Palestinian and Arab-Bedouin political representation at different levels of government and state planning bodies.
Restrictions on Freedom of Expression of Palestinians:
During anti-war protests, Amnesty International Israel documented several incidents in which police and security forces attacked citizens who happened to be in areas of protests, including children and minors. Instructions towards dealing with children and minors were dismissed as were the rights of people taken into custody by security. The Israeli government have also given permission for the use of live ammunition against protestors suspected of throwing stones.
Incitement by Officials:
In times of conflict, escalating protest and war, our campaigners have seen an alarming escalation in incitement against and restrictions on freedom of expression of Palestinian citizens of Israel.
Incitement has included call to boycott Arab businesses, attacks (verbal and physical on Palestinian citizens, and warning the public about the dangers of political participation by Arab, Bedouin, and Palestinians (most recently the 2015 Israeli elections).
Increase in Criminal Activity within Palestinian communities:
In the last decade their has been a surge in criminal activity within Palestinian communities within Israel. The flow of arms and equipment into districts plagued by crime combined with a lack of accountability has exacerbated criminal violence.
The government has acted with relative impunity and failed to take necessary measures to impose a sense of law and order in these communities. Actions and policies to combat criminality including education and rehabilitation of criminals in Palestinian society have largely been absent and the consequences have been stark. In the last decade 500 Palestinians have been killed in acts of criminal violence and security forces have done little to deal with the rise in criminality in these communities.
Contact and Further Information:
OPT Campaigner – Helal Alosh
Activism and Community Coordinator – Yousef Asfour
Activism – Shir Sternberg