Photo by Tal Dahan
Petitioners claim there is no place for screening procedures in small communities, which lack unique characteristics that would justify such screening, and that the selection process is discriminatory, demeaning, arbitrary, and intrusive. Nearly two years after the law was enacted, the State is still unable to specify which communities are permitted to employ such committees and has failed to establish appeals committees as required by the law.
An expanded panel of nine High Court Justices will convene tomorrow morning (4 December 2012) for a hearing on the petitions to cancel the Acceptance to Communities Law, which ensconces the practice of pre-screening Israeli citizens who wish to purchase state lands marketed in small communities in the Negev and the Galilee and in the extensions of kibbutzim and moshavim in these areas.
The law permits conditioning the allocation of state lands in small communities (of up to 400 families) in the Negev and Galilee upon approval from the community’s acceptance committee. Acceptance committees are authorized to send applicants to intrusive tests at external screening institutes and to ask many personal questions about the lives of applicants. The committees reach their decisions based on their impressions of the applicants in interviews and are authorized under this law to evaluate families using vague tests like “suitability to social life in the community” or “suitability to the community’s socio-cultural fabric.”
A petition against the law was filed after it was approved in the Knesset in March 2011 by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), along with the Abraham Fund Initiatives and members of the group Atid Misgav (residents of small communities in the north, who oppose the existence of such screening procedures in their communities). An additional petition against the law was subsequently filed by the organization Adalah.
The Center for Regional Councils in Israel and the Moshavim Movement joined the petition as co-respondents, admitting in their pleadings that the law is designed to allow the communities to maintain homogeneity and not just “community cohesion” as the State claims. In June 2011, the High Court issued an interlocutory order requiring the State to explain why the law should not be canceled. Likewise, it was decided that the petition would be heard by an expanded panel of nine Justices, presided over by Supreme Court President Asher Grunis.
During the legal proceedings, it was revealed that the State is not even overseeing the activities of the acceptance committees:
- Up until now, the state has refused to list by name the communities which are permitted to employ acceptance committees, and applicants have no way of knowing whether or not the screening is legal.
- The state admits that it has no data regarding the number of citizens who have been refused by acceptance committees, and no data about the composition of the populations in these communities.
- The appeals committee, which is required by the law to ensure that discriminatory decisions are not taken, has not yet been established, despite the passage of almost two since the law was enacted.
- Of 128 appeals held by the Israel Lands Authority under authority that precedes the Acceptance to Communities Law, approximately 70% were accepted, indicating that many of the decisions are arbitrary and cannot survive appeal. Moreover, most of the rejected applicants do not appeal their decisions.
- The state admits that it has never organized oversight of any kind over the sorting apparatuses, their reliability or professionalism. Practically, the so-called objective screening systems are operated in the sole discretion of the acceptance committees.
The Acceptance to Communities Law allows the committees to reject families on the basis of additional criteria that the communities can delineate in their regulations. Following this, many communities began changing their regulations and requiring applicants to sign a “declaration of loyalty” to various values, in an effort to block the ability of Arabs and ultra-Orthodox Jews to enter the community. In the Misgav region, for example, the regulations in some communities were changed such that anyone who wants to be accepted must declare that he shares the fundamental views of the community, including the Zionist movement, the settling of the Land of Israel and the celebration of Jewish holidays.
The law ensconces longstanding practices of screening and discrimination in these communities. In the past, the communities would exclude Arabs openly, but this was outlawed by the Supreme Court in 2000 in the Ka’adan ruling, following which the practice of suitability tests were widely adopted to continue the discrimination. Very few Arabs bother to apply to acceptance committees because they know how low their chances are, and those that try are rejected in most instances.
The petition exposes instances of rejections of various other groups of people viewed as unwanted by the small communities, including disabled people, the elderly, single-parent families, Mizrahi Jews, religious Jews, and many others who fall victim to the arbitrary decisions of the committee members. The new law does not only entrench the exiting illegal system – it expands it considerably.
In the petition, ACRI Attorney Gil Gan Mor points out that the communities in which the law allows these practices have not a single unique characteristic that would justify screening procedures that so seriously violate the rights to dignity, equality, privacy and property. “The purpose of blocking Arabs from the communities was the central purpose of the law, and this is an improper purpose. The Supreme Court is requested to rule that there is no place for screening procedures whose only purpose is to permit the existence of exclusive communities – a practice that not only violates human rights, but is also destructive to society at large and the residents of the Negev and the Galilee in particular.”
The executive directors of the Abraham Fund Initiatives, Amnon Be’eri-Sulitzeanu and Mohammad Darawshe: “The sponsor of the Acceptance to Communities Law, MK David Rotem from the Yisrael Beitenu party, stated explicitly that the purpose of the law is to prevent Arab citizens from living in small communities. This is the harsh message that the state sends to the Arab minority in Israel, which increases the feeling of alienation among Arab citizens. Additionally, this legislation gives backing to racist statements and initiatives. Thus, we expect the High Court to void the law.”
Attached to the petition are testimonies from members and victims of the acceptance committees which reveal the manner in which the screening procedures are carried out.
To read the Acceptance to Communities Law, translated to English, click here.
To read the petition, the State’s response, and the central arguments (all in Hebrew), click here.