How will ongoing judicial overhaul affect Arab citizens of Israel?

Analysis How will ongoing judicial overhaul affect Arab citizens of Israel?
Protests against proposed legislation banning the Palestinian flag. (AFP)
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Updated 27 July 2023
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How will ongoing judicial overhaul affect Arab citizens of Israel?

How will ongoing judicial overhaul affect Arab citizens of Israel?
  • Israel’s Knesset passed on Monday one of a series of controversial laws aimed at limiting the Supreme Court’s power
  • Introduction of the changes in January had drawn a backlash, with hundreds of thousands taking to the streets in protest

DUBAI: On Monday, despite months of massive pro-democracy protests across the country, Israeli lawmakers voted to implement a key element of what proponents have long called “judicial overhaul.”

While the decision met with immediate backlash from various segments of Israeli society, political analysts say that these new limitations on judicial power may serve to eliminate the very few, and often painfully insufficient, means by which Arab citizens of Israel can pursue justice in the country.

Prominent opposition politicians have also warned Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel about the ramifications of what they view as the decay of democracy in the country. During a march commemorating Land Day in March this year, Knesset member Aida Touma-Suleiman, from the Democratic Front for Peace and Equality Party, said Arabs “are going to be hurt the most from these reforms.”

While any country’s Supreme Court is supposed to act as the blind enforcer of justice and strike down laws that are discriminatory or violate human rights, “this does not mean the Israeli courts have been fair to the Arabs,” Palestinian author and commentator Ramzy Baroud told Arab News.




Land Day protests commemorate the events of March 30, 1976. (AFP)

“To the contrary, most of the discriminatory laws, passed by the Israeli Knesset for decades, have been challenged by Arab and pro-Arab civil society and legal organizations and litigated. Yet, every one of these laws (has) been validated by Israeli courts, including the Supreme Court itself.”

Baroud pointed out that the Supreme Court upheld Israel’s Nation-State Law of 2018 declaring Israel a Jewish nation by law, “degrading the rights of Arab and other minorities, including their culture, historical claims, and language.”

The latest changes, introduced in January by Israeli Justice Minister Yariv Levin, are wide-reaching: The government will gain full control of the appointment of Supreme Court justice; courts will not be allowed to hear arguments against the country’s Basic Laws, which serve as Israel’s constitution; and Supreme Court decisions that nullify laws can be overridden by the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, after a reintroduction and majority vote for approval.

Though the reform process was paused in late March to allow for dialogue, the government and various opposition parties were unable to reach a compromise. On July 24, the section of the reform package that canceled the “reasonableness clause,” a mechanism which allowed the country’s Supreme Court to nullify government decisions that it felt were not reasonable or went against public interest, was passed.

In a country such as Israel, where the legislative and executive branches are ruled by the same governing coalition, the judiciary is one of the only powers able to stand against complete subjugation of the government by the former two branches.

“If you have three branches and two are close together, you’re left with the judicial to ensure that the government is not taking complete control and taking liberties. This is why Israelis understand, many Israelis understand, that what the government is trying to do is ensure that most of the power is in the hands of the government,” Yossi Mekelberg, professor of international relations and an associate fellow of the MENA Program at Chatham House, told Arab News.




Benjamin Netanyahu at the Knesset. (AFP)

“It’s moving toward a very authoritarian type of government … if you look at the character, it’s Orthodox, it’s religious Zionism, you can envisage the direction that this will take.”

The reason for the massive outcry against the so-called judicial overhaul, according to Baroud, is that it has the potential to affect more than just minority groups in Israel.

“The current ‘crisis’ in Israel was instigated by the fact that the Israeli government is now manipulating Israeli laws to ensure its superiority over other Israeli Jewish groups — not just the country’s minorities. When this practice was used against Arabs for generations, it didn’t seem to bother most Israelis,” he said.

“When most Israelis become the victims of the misuse of political majority (in) the parliament, they are now protesting en masse.”

INNUMBERS

• After the 1947-1949 war, around 150,000 Palestinians remained inside of what became Israel’s borders.

• Today, there are approximately 1.6 million Palestinian citizens of Israel.

• Total Israeli population, including Jews and Arabs, stands at 9.18 million.

Baroud said that while Israel’s Supreme Court often upheld discriminatory laws, it did occasionally “strike down proposed Knesset laws as illegal, especially when they seemed outlandishly racist, for example.”

In 2006, the Supreme Court ruled Amendment No. 7, which granted the state immunity from compensation claims from Palestinians injured by Israel’s security forces, null and void.

Three years ago, it struck down the Judea and Samaria Settlement Regulation Law, which would essentially legitimize illegal settlements on Palestinian-owned land in the West Bank, and a year later, it froze an amendment which would see parents of Palestinian minors convicted of security-related offenses denied social benefits from the state.

While the future of Arabs in Israel was already far from bright, the extreme limitations on the Israeli judiciary may remove the final legal avenue Arabs have to fight for their rights.

“This will not be possible in the future, now that it is the Knesset itself that plays the role of the monitor of the courts, as opposed to the other way around. Palestinian rights advocates inside Israel are already warning against the worsening of an already bad situation in terms of Arab civil, legal and political rights in Israel as a result of the changes underway,” Baroud said.




A protest at the Tel Aviv University campus. (AFP)

“This does not mean that Palestinians have any illusions about the devastating role played by Israeli courts to validate Israel’s selective democracy. But they are aware that things can, and will, become even worse.”

Baroud’s concerns are shared by Osama Al-Sharif, an Amman-based journalist and political commentator, who believes “the outlook is pretty bleak for Israeli Arabs as the state becomes more ultra-nationalist and ultra religious.”

He mentioned that just a day after the cancellation of the reasonableness clause, the Knesset approved an expansion of the Admissions Committees Law, allowing small communities within Israel to practice discrimination when providing housing.

The law, passed in 2010 as a loophole to a Supreme Court ruling banning discrimination on the basis of race, religion, or nationality when selling land, allowed communities to reject applicants they found “unsuitable to the social and cultural makeup” of the community.

Initially only applied to communities of up to 400 families in certain regions, the expansion approved on Tuesday will henceforth empower admissions committees in many more regions, for communities of up to 700 families, and will allow the law’s application to even larger communities after five years.




Israeli security forces break up a sit-in outside the Knesset in Jerusalem, below, on the eve of the judicial overhaul. (AFP)

“This is a discriminatory law and is aimed at keeping Arab citizens of Israel in ghettos that lack basic services and now suffer from lawlessness,” Al-Sharif told Arab News.

While there has been Arab participation in the Israeli protest movement, with 200 politicians, professionals, intellectuals, and artists signing a petition against the reforms in February, overall Arab participation had been low, according to an April report by the BBC.

Though many Arab citizens of Israel may see the government’s democratic backsliding as a solely Jewish issue, others warn that it will have severe consequences for minorities.

“If this trend continues, it will just make it worse,” Chatham House’s Mekelberg said. “The government will do whatever it likes. If in certain cases they back Palestinians, this will disappear. In the government we experience now, elements of that would like to annex the entire West Bank, or at least parts of the West Bank.”


Iraqi pro-Iran fighter killed in strike on eastern Syria

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Iraqi pro-Iran fighter killed in strike on eastern Syria

Iraqi pro-Iran fighter killed in strike on eastern Syria
“An Iraqi member in the Islamic Resistance in Iraq was killed, and two others were injured in a preliminary toll, as a result of an unknown airstrike,” the Observatory said
The Britain-based monitor said an explosion was heard coinciding with the strike “in Albukamal countryside...”

BEIRUT: An Iraqi fighter from an Iran-backed group was killed in an overnight airstrike in eastern Syria near the Iraq border overnight, the group and a war monitor said on Saturday.
The strike occurred in Deir Ezzor province, where Iran wields significant influence and which is regularly targeted by Israel and the United States, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
“An Iraqi member in the Islamic Resistance in Iraq was killed, and two others were injured in a preliminary toll, as a result of an unknown airstrike,” the Observatory said, referring to a loose alliance of Iran-backed groups.
The Britain-based monitor, which relies on a network of sources inside Syria, said an explosion was heard coinciding with the strike “in Albukamal countryside... a few kilometers away from Syrian-Iraqi borders.”
Iraq’s Sayyed Al-Shuhada Brigades announced the death of a fighter in a strike on “Friday which targeted his vehicle during a reconnaissance patrol on the Iraqi-Syrian border,” accusing the United States of being behind the attack.
Responsibility for the strike was not immediately claimed, but a spokesperson for the US-led military coalition formed in 2014 to fight the Daesh group told AFP that “neither the coalition nor US forces carried out overnight strikes in Deir Ezzor.”
The Observatory said that several hours before the strike, drones flew over the area.
Since the beginning of the Syrian civil war in 2011, Israel has carried out hundreds of strikes primarily targeting pro-Iran groups — which it rarely comments on publically.
In late March, 16 Tehran-affiliated fighters, including an Iranian military adviser, were killed in strikes on eastern Syria.
The strikes also killed one civilian working for the World Health Organization.
Iran has long been a key ally of the Syrian government, most notably providing military advisers.

Iran supreme court overturns rapper Salehi’s death sentence: lawyer

Iran supreme court overturns rapper Salehi’s death sentence: lawyer
Updated 22 June 2024
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Iran supreme court overturns rapper Salehi’s death sentence: lawyer

Iran supreme court overturns rapper Salehi’s death sentence: lawyer
  • Popular rapper Toomaj Salehi was jailed for backing nationwide protests sparked by Mahsa Amini’s death

TEHRAN: Iran’s supreme court has overturned a death sentence against popular rapper Toomaj Salehi who was jailed for backing nationwide protests sparked by Mahsa Amini’s death, his lawyer said Saturday.
“Salehi’s death sentence was overturned,” the rapper’s lawyer Amir Raisian said in a post on X, adding that the supreme court had ordered a retrial.


Jordanian police discover explosives stored in residential apartment

Jordanian police discover explosives stored in residential apartment
Updated 22 June 2024
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Jordanian police discover explosives stored in residential apartment

Jordanian police discover explosives stored in residential apartment
  • The explosives, found in a home in the Marka neighborhood northeast of Amman, were detonated onsite after the area was evacuated

AMMAN: Police in Jordan said on Saturday they had uncovered and detonated explosives stored in a residential area of the capital and were investigating the incident.
The explosives, found in a home in the Marka neighborhood northeast of the capital, were detonated onsite after the area was evacuated, according to a brief statement by public security directorate. Witnesses said the area was sealed by police.
The statement did not say if police suspected it was terrorism related or if arrests were made, or detail the quantity of explosives. It added more details would be published once the investigation was complete.
Over the past year, Jordan has said it has foiled many attempts to smuggle weapons by infiltrators linked to pro-Iranian militias in Syria, who it says have crossed its borders with rocket launchers and explosives, adding that some of the weapons managed to get through undetected.
Iran has denied being behind such attempts.
Most of the clandestine flow of arms into the country has been bound for the neighboring Israeli-occupied West Bank, Jordanian officials say.
There have also been arrests of several Jordanians linked to the Palestinian militant group Hamas suspected of involvement in smuggling arms to the West Bank, they add.


Israel army says Israeli civilian shot dead in West Bank

Israel army says Israeli civilian shot dead in West Bank
Updated 22 June 2024
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Israel army says Israeli civilian shot dead in West Bank

Israel army says Israeli civilian shot dead in West Bank
  • The military and Israeli police were investigating the circumstances of the death, the military said, without offering details

JERUSALEM: The Israeli military said on Saturday that an Israeli civilian died after being shot near the occupied West Bank city of Qalqilya and that troops had launched an operation in the area.
The military and Israeli police were investigating the circumstances of the death, the military said, without offering details.
“IDF troops are currently operating in the area of Qalqilya after an Israeli civilian was pronounced dead, shortly after being found shot in the area,” the military said in a statement.
Israeli media reported that the dead man, who was in his 60s, was a Jewish Israeli citizen.
In recent days, there have been several violent incidents in Qalqilya and its vicinity.
On Friday, Israeli and Palestinian authorities said at least two Palestinians were killed in an Israeli operation in the city.
Israeli authorities said the two were militants from the Palestinian Islamic Jihad group.
Violence in the West Bank, occupied by Israel since 1967, has been on the rise for more than a year, particularly since the Israel-Hamas war broke out on October 7.
At least 549 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces or settlers across the West Bank since October 7, according to Palestinian officials.
Attacks by Palestinians have killed at least 14 Israelis in the West Bank over the same period, according to an AFP tally of Israeli official figures.


Week before presidential election, Iranians divided on whether voting will address pressing problems

Week before presidential election, Iranians divided on whether voting will address pressing problems
Updated 22 June 2024
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Week before presidential election, Iranians divided on whether voting will address pressing problems

Week before presidential election, Iranians divided on whether voting will address pressing problems
  • Iranians head to the polls on June 28 to choose from six candidates, five conservatives and a relative reformist
  • Election comes as Iran grapples with economic pressures, international sanctions, compulsory headscarves for women

TEHRAN: With just a week remaining before a presidential election, Iranians are divided over whether voting will address pressing economic issues and mandatory hijab laws.
Iranians head to the polls on June 28 to choose from six candidates — five conservatives and a relative reformist — to succeed Ebrahim Raisi, who died in a helicopter crash last month.
The election comes as Iran grapples with economic pressures, international sanctions and enforcement of the compulsory headscarves for women.
“They promise change, but won’t do much,” said Hamid Habibi, a 54-year-old shop owner at Tehran’s bustling Grand Bazar.
“I’ve watched the debates and campaigns; they speak beautifully but need to back their words with action,” he said.
Despite his skepticism, Habibi plans to vote next week.
The candidates have held two debates, each pledging to tackle the financial challenges impacting the country’s 85 million people.
“The economic situation is deteriorating daily, and I don’t foresee any improvements,” said Fariba, a 30-year-old who runs an online store.
“Regardless of who wins, our lives won’t change,” she said.

Others, like 57-year-old baker Taghi Dodangeh, remain hopeful.
“Change is certain,” he said, viewing voting as a religious duty and national obligation.
But Jowzi, a 61-year-old housewife, expressed doubts, especially about the candidate line-up.
“There’s hardly any differences between the six,” she said. “One cannot say any of them belongs to a different group.”
Iran’s Guardian Council approved six candidates after disqualifying most moderates and reformists.
Leading contenders include conservative parliament speaker Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, ultraconservative former nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili and the sole reformist candidate, Masoud Pezeshkian.
Keshvar, a 53-year-old mother, intends to vote for the candidate with the most robust economic plan.
“Young people are grappling with economic hardships,” she said.
“Raisi made efforts, but on the ground, things didn’t change much for the general public, and they were unhappy.”
In the 2021 election that brought Raisi to power, many voters stayed away, resulting in a participation rate just under 49 percent — the lowest since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has urged a high voter turnout.
Yet, 26-year-old shopkeeper Mahdi Zeinali said he would only vote if a candidate proves to be “the right person.”
This election comes at a turbulent time, with the Gaza war raging between Iran’s adversary Israel and Tehran-backed Palestinian militant group Hamas, along with ongoing diplomatic tensions over Iran’s nuclear program.
Compulsory hijab laws remain contentious, particularly since mass protests triggered by the 2022 death in custody of Mahsa Amini.
Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian Kurd, was detained for an alleged breach of Iran’s dress code for women, who are required to cover their heads and necks and wear modest clothing in public.
Despite increased enforcement, many women, especially in Tehran, defy the dress code.
Fariba expressed concern that after the election, “things would go back to where they were,” and young women won’t be able to remove their headscarves.
Jowzi, an undecided voter who wears a veil, regards it as a “personal” choice and opposes state interference.
“It makes no difference who becomes president,” she said.
“What’s important is what they actually do. It’s not important to me whether or not they have a turban. They need to act humanely.”