Israel may have to soon forfeit its long-touted claim to being the Middle East's only democracy. The new coalition government agreed to March 15 between Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu and Habayit Hayehudi is calling for a rewrite of Israel's Basic Law that would officially make the state's democratic character subservient to its Jewish character. Earlier versions of the bill, pushed by Kadima MK Avi Dichter, contained controversial measures that sparked an outcry, leading to it being shelved. These included a mandate for the state to invest resources to promote Jewish settlement with no similar obligation to do so for other ethnic groups. Another stated that Arabic would no longer be considered an official language, but rather would merely have a "special status." (Haaretz, March 17)
UNICEF on March 6 reported (PDF) that Israeli practices concerning the detention of children may violate international legal standards. The report claims approximately 700 Palestinian children are detained every year in Israeli military facilities. Further, UNICEF suggests mistreatment of these children in these facilities is "widespread, systematic and institutionalized." According to the report, the mistreatment includes:
Hundreds of people took to the streets in the West Bank and Gaza Strip on Feb. 25 in the second day of protests following the death of a Palestinian prisoner who PA officials say died as a result of torture. The PA Minister of Detainee Affairs said that results from an autopsy of Arafat Jadarat's body indicate that he died after being tortured in Israeli custody, and not from a cardiac arrest, as Israel's Prison Authority had claimed. Hundreds of people marched from Birzeit University and gathered outside Ofer prison in Ramallah, where Israeli forces fired rubber bullets at the crowds, injuring 11 people. An Israeli army spokeswoman said "500 rioters hurled rocks, firebombs and burning tires at Israeli forces, who responded with riot dispersal means." Six people were hit by rubber bullets, she added.
Residents of the Jerusalem neighborhood of Beit Safafa will appeal next week to Israel's Supreme Court to halt construction of a highway that is to divide the district, community activists said at a press conference Feb. 18. Work on the six-lane artery, an extension of the north-south Begin Expressway, is sparking opposition in Beit Safafa, a quiet, middle-class Arab neighborhood that lies among Jewish areas in southern Jerusalem. Aluminum walls along the construction site are covered in graffiti against the expressway, with slogans such as "Don't run over Beit Safafa." Said Mohannad Gbara, a lawyer for residents: "The road in its current format cannot go ahead. It would be a disaster for Beit Safafa."
Violence broke out between Palestinian protesters and Israeli soldiers on Feb. 21 during a rally in the West Bank near the town of Beitunia. At least 1,000 protesters were marching to Ofer Prison in support of four Palestinian inmates on a hunger strike. As Israeli forces obstructed the march protesters threw stones and burning tires, at which point the Israeli forces utilized rubber-coated bullets and tear gas to break up the crowd. At least 29 Palestinian protesters were injured in the incident. The recent clash is only one of many incidents in the last few days. There was a similar incident two days earlier in which Israeli soldiers used the same measures against protesters. The four inmates have been under administrative detention, which is renewable and permits detention for up to four months without charges. They have been protesting against such detention through hunger strikes. Among them are Tarek Qa'adan and Jafar Azzidine who have been on hunger strike for 78 days and Samer al-Issawi who has been on partial hunger strike for 200 days. A Jerusalem court on Feb. 19 rejected al-Issawi's request to be released on bail.
The Israeli firm SodaStream made a splash earlier this month when its ad was bounced from the Super Bowl—alas, for the wrong reason. CBS deemed that the content of its planned commercial was a direct swipe at two other Super Bowl sponsors, Coke and Pepsi, Advertising Age noted. SodaStream bills itself as environmentally correct, selling machines that carbonate water at home and obviate the need for soda bottles, under the corporate slogan "Set the Bubbles Free." We wish CBS had been more concerned with the boycott that has been called of SodaStream, a firm illegally operating on the occupied West Bank.
A civilian committee tasked with investigating Israel's 2010 flotilla raid on several Turkish ships headed for the blockaded Gaza Strip concluded (PDF) on Feb. 6 that investigations by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) of alleged war crimes violations meet the standards proscribed by international law, but that there is still room to improve "the system of reviewing and investigating." In Part II of its overall report, the Turkel Commission made 18 recommendations (press release, PDF) to various branches of the Israeli government for improving its response to future incidents like the raid. Among its most imperative recommendations, the commission stressed the need to "establish a unit specializing in the laws of armed conflict...at the Ministry of Justice."