APN COVID Report #9: Upholding human rights in the courts

The Israeli supreme court has been the focus of much media attention recently, most notably for giving the go-ahead to the new coalition government between Netanyahu and Gantz. This decision was undoubtedly a great disappointment and a blow to Israeli democracy, allowing a man with three charges of corruption to serve at the highest level of government. However, there have been some smaller human rights victories in the courts recently surrounding the coronavirus.

APN’s COVID-19 report on East Jerusalem detailed the work of Adalah in opening testing centers in East Jerusalem. The High Court made the decision to open centers on account of Adalah’s petition over three weeks ago. There are now six centers in East Jerusalem where daily confirmed cases, like in all of Israel and Palestine, are falling. Problems have persisted regarding the Coronavirus response in East Jerusalem, where Palestinian police have been barred from enforcing the lockdown in areas beyond the separation wall, which Israeli forces have refused to do. Although the response certainly could have been handled better, this does not detract from the importance of the work of Adalah in improving the quality of this response.

The Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) has also been conducting much important work, most notably curbing the role of Shin Bet in contact tracing. ACRI has argued that the powers given to Shin Bet ‘are bringing us to a slippery slope when it comes to the invasion of privacy and democracy’. It is clear that contact tracing is an indispensable tool in fighting COVID-19 but this cannot be at the expense of civil rights. Many countries are developing their own apps for contact tracing and others are relying on Apple and Google to develop one. Like is the case in many of these countries, privacy and security should be the priority for Israel.

ACRI, along with other organizations, has been conducting important work in securing health insurance for Palestinians working in Israel. The organization has petitioned against injustices these individuals have suffered such as: only being given insurance for work-related injuries in Israel and not for any COVID or other medical emergencies, and being forced to live in construction sites, having their personal documents held by their employer. The High Court ruled in favor with these organizations, granting health insurance to Palestinians in Israel during the pandemic and setting up a supervisory procedure to enforce the decision. This decision is sensible and important both for the Palestinians it directly affects and for Israelis who fear a second spike of the virus.

The future may look bleak now that the Supreme Court has allowed Netanyahu to remain in his position and make moves toward West Bank annexation, but we cannot give up on organizations like Adalah and ACRI that do such essential work. Israeli and international civil society can make a difference to the COVID-19 response and beyond, but we have to be brave enough to try.

Prepared by Thomas Sweeney, APN Intern


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