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Jerusalem Church and mosque in West Bank both burned by Jewish extremists

CNN

A day after flames scorched a West Bank mosque, a Jerusalem seminary belonging to the Greek Orthodox Church was torched and defaced Thursday — an act police suspect is the work of radical right-wing Israelis.

Both buildings were defaced with anti-Arab and anti-Christian slurs, including graffiti maligning Jesus on the seminary, said police spokeswoman Luba Samri. And in each case, there was writing in Hebrew referring to the “redemption of Zion” and “revenge.”

The acts drew strong condemnation.

“There is no room for such deplorable activity in Jerusalem,” Mayor Nir Barkat said Thursday. “We must eradicate this behavior and bring those responsible to justice.”

Palestine Liberation Organization official Hanan Ashrawi called the acts “hate crimes (that) constitute a flagrant attack on all Palestinians, whether Muslim or Christian.”

“These are not isolated incidents, but rather they fit a longstanding pattern of deliberate provocation, extremism and violence, and are a vicious assault on all Palestinians and their holy sites,” Ashrawi said. “The recent events indicate that a holy war is already being waged against the Palestinian Muslim and Christian population.”

A possible ‘price tag’ attack

The incident at the mosque may be a “price tag” attack — a term used by radical Israeli settlers to denote reprisal attacks against Palestinians in response to moves by the Israeli government to evacuate illegal West Bank outposts — according to officials. In fact, video from the West Bank shows two letters that translate to PT, for “price tag.”

And authorities suspect a Jewish nationalist motive for what happened at the Greek Orthodox seminary.

Samri, the Israeli police spokeswoman, said that firefighters managed to douse the fire in that building’s restroom and showers before anyone was injured.

But not much more is known than that.

Shortly after the incident, a Jerusalem district court issued a gag order that covered all details of the investigation and anything that identifies suspects.

500 rabbis call on Israel to stop demolishing Palestinian homes

RT

Over 500 rabbis from Israel, Britain, the US and Canada have called on the Israeli prime minister to stop demolishing Palestinian homes. Rabbis for Human Rights (RHR) say Benjamin Netanyahu’s stance is against “international law and Jewish tradition.”

RHR’s open letter came after the Israeli PM announced the destruction of over 400 Palestinian homes in the Israel-controlled part of the West Bank, the territory known as Area C.

“Thousands have been forced to build without permits, and great human suffering is caused when hundreds of homes are demolished each year in Area C alone,” RHR stated in their letter, adding that Israeli planning and zoning laws “severely restrict the ability of Palestinians to build homes, even on the lands that the State recognizes as belonging to them.”

According to the rabbis, there has been “no representation or true ability for Palestinians to determine how to properly plan for their communities since local and district planning committees were abolished in 1971. The army plans for them.”

In late January, the United Nations accused Israel of illegally demolishing the homes of 77 Palestinians, including many children, in East Jerusalem and the districts of Ramallah, Jericho and Hebron.

“In the past three days, 77 Palestinians, over half of them children, have been made homeless,” the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said in a statement, adding that some of the demolished structures were provided by the international community to “support vulnerable families.”

“Demolitions that result in forced evictions and displacement run counter to Israel’s obligations under international law and create unnecessary suffering and tension. They must stop immediately,” the OCHA said.

According to the UN office, during 2014 Israel carried out a record number of demolitions in East Jerusalem and Area C.

“The Israeli authorities destroyed 590 Palestinian-owned structures in Area C and East Jerusalem, displacing 1,177 people — the highest level of displacement in the West Bank since OCHA began systematically monitoring the issue in 2008.”

While Israel insists demolitions are carried out because homes are being built without construction permits, the UN’s OCHA says the planning policies applied by Israeli authorities in Area C and East Jerusalem “discriminate against Palestinians.”

Palestinians are trapped in a vicious circle, where they build without permits to later have their homes razed to the ground.

“Palestinians must have the opportunity to participate in a fair and equitable planning system that ensures their needs are met,” the OCHA said.

Arabs in Israel speak out against racial discrimination

Al Jazeera

As a Palestinian citizen of Israel, 21-year-old Shadan Jabareen says she has experienced institutionalised discrimination since she was a child. In 1994, her parents wanted to get away from the constant noise and the overcrowded Umm al-Fahm and move to a Jewish-Israeli community.

"My dad heard an advertisement on the radio for homes in Katzir," she said, referring to a kibbutz, or Jewish agricultural community, in the country's north. "The admissions committee told my dad that they didn't want Arabs because it would lower the community's value in Katzir," Jabareen, who studies literature at Tel Aviv University, told Al Jazeera.

After a legal struggle, her parents eventually were admitted to buy a home in Katzir, where they lived for seven years. "The neighbours were usually okay with us, but the admissions committee never wanted us."

Admissions committees are common in small semi-cooperative Jewish communities across the Negev and Galilee regions in Israel. In compliance with larger regional councils, these admission committees evaluate potential residents and ultimately decide whether to accept them into the communities.

In March 2000, just a few years after the Jabareen family's struggle, the highly publicised Kaadan case made waves when the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that it was illegal to discriminate in housing admission based on ethnicity or religion. The Kaadans, an Arab couple from a nearby town, waged a long legal battle to protest their being rejected by Katzir's committee.

Fourteen years down the line, on September 17, the Israeli Supreme Court essentially undid that ruling when it dismissed petitions put forward by rights groups challenging the Admissions Committee Law.

Passed in 2011, the legislation legitimises the use of admission committees to reject potential applicants based on "social suitability". If admissions committees view applicants as "harmful" to the "social-cultural fabric of the community town", they are permitted to turn them down.


OPINION: Why 'Jewish state' demand is a non-starter


Falling short of a majority, four judges ruled against the law. Judge Asher Grunis, one of the five judges who sided in favour of the law and struck down the petitions, ruled: "The court does not have a sufficient factual basis for a decision" because the objections raised in the petition are "hypothetical and theoretical claims".  

Nonetheless, several rights groups say it is most frequently employed to block Arab citizens from living in Jewish communities.

 

According to the Haifa-based Adalah legal centre, one of the petitioning groups, the Admissions Committee Law is just one of more than fifty laws designed to discriminate against the estimated 1.7 million Palestinian citizens of Israel, by muzzling their political expression and curbing their access to state resources, most importantly land.

Most Palestinians in Israel live in areas of cities, towns and villages in Israel that suffer from governmental neglect and a lack of economic opportunities. They belong to a diverse community of Muslims, Christians, and Druze.

Salah Mohsen, an Adalah spokesperson, explained that the Admissions Committee Law institutionalises anti-Palestinian discrimination in 434 exclusively Jewish-Israeli communities throughout the Negev region in the south and the Galilee region in the north. "The issue is that the law authorises localities built on public land to have these kinds of committees," Mohsen told Al Jazeera. "Out of the 434 localities, only a few Arab communities live there. And that was only after long petitions and going to the court."

Mohsen added that the law allows admissions committees to decide based on their evaluation of the applicant's "Zionist vision", referring to the country's founding ideology. "This is a way of basically disqualifying all Arabs," he continued. "Zionism or political views shouldn't be part of the criteria, especially in a country with a minority persecuted by Zionism."

Though the admission committees often exclude non-white Jews, same-sex couples, and many other groups, Mohsen argues that the Arab minority is the most discriminated against.  

Supporters of the admissions committees argue that the communities should be bound by common social ethos. Among the vocal supporters is Ron Shani, who is mayor of the Misgav Regional Council, an area that includes some 35 Israeli communities in the Galilee region.

"The admissions committees have nothing to do with Arab citizens," Shani told Al Jazeera. "In small communities, and more specifically in rural and periphery areas, the only reason communities survive is their common social bonding."

Shani says that Palestinian citizens of Israel are not discriminated against on the basis of their ethnicity, arguing that "the only issue is if they live in harmony within the small community".

 

Upon reading about the court's decision to uphold the Admission Committees Law, Jabareen says she "was very disappointed" and that "it just makes the discrimination more official than it already was".

She believes that the discrimination her parents faced during their struggle for a home in Katzir has only worsened in recent years. "Saying socially acceptable is about whether someone is Jewish or Arab."

More recently, she recalls that in July, she was denied a summer job at Israel's Ben Gurion International Airport. "The lady who interviewed me asked if I'm a Muslim or a Christian," she explained. "She told me it's going to take a long time for a security check because I'm a Muslim."

After Israel's most recent military offensive in the Gaza Strip, Jabareen says: "I didn't end up getting the job. She emailed me and said they were overstaffed, even though she had told me they were very understaffed just a couple weeks before."

Jabareen, who believes that she was denied the job due to her ethnicity, pointed out that many Palestinians in Israel were fired from their jobs during Israel's 50-day military operation against the Gaza Strip. According to the New Israel Fund, a group that monitors racism: "Dozens of Palestinian Israelis were fired from their jobs for expressing opposition to the war on social networks."

The Israeli prime minister's office declined Al Jazeera's request for a comment on the court ruling.


RELATED: Israel seizes most West Bank land in 30 years


While the Israeli Knesset was still considering the law in 2009, parliamentarian David Rotem, a cosponsor of the Admissions Committee Law in its bill form, stated that it enables the creation of communities"established by people who want to live with other Jews".

Meanwhile, several political groups and Palestinian activists denounced the ruling.  

 

Jamal Zahalka, a Palestinian member of Israel's parliament, the Knesset, argues that the majority of Israel's political establishment has become increasingly racist. "It is one of many apartheid laws," Zahalkha told Al Jazeera. "They want to create places where only Jews can live, where Arabs cannot live. It reflects the rising of racism … the levels of racism is soaring while the level of democracy and respect for human rights are declining rapidly."

Zahalka says the law is "part of a pattern" that has continued unabated since the 1995 assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, the Israeli prime minister who engaged in negotiations for the two-state solution with the Palestinian Liberation Organisation.

"Every week, we have a new racist law in the Knesset," he said. "I promised my friends if there is a week without a racist law I will throw a big party. Guess what - I haven't thrown a party yet. While they are packaged as regular on the surface, they always somehow manage to take from Arabs' land and give [it] to Jewish Israelis."

Israel's Supreme Court, according to Zahalka, "doesn't differ much from the mainstream [political] establishment", adding that laws regarding the allocation of land and housing are "the most racist" in the country.

Hadash, a communist political party with both Israeli and Palestinian members, also denounced the court's ruling. "The judges legalised preventing the Arabs from inhabiting lands where Israeli cities and communities have been built on land confiscated from the Arabs themselves," member Dov Khenin, a Knesset member,said in a press release.

Omar Barghouti, an influential Palestinian activist and co-founder of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS), said that the court ruling "confirms, yet again, that Israel's so-called justice system is structurally flawed and an indispensable pillar of Israel's apartheid system".

Since the state's 1948 establishment, Palestinian citizens of Israel have lived under a constant state of "racial discrimination" and "this ruling will legitimise what has always been practiced against them: a Jim Crow system that denies them equal rights in all vital aspects of their lives only because they are not Jewish," Barghouti told Al Jazeera.

 

Back in her Tel Aviv dorm room, Jabareen says: "It is much harder now to believe in coexistence," adding that "we are always taught about coexistence and peace and living together, but in reality we [Palestinians in Israel] are second-class citizens".

New Jersey Rabbi advocates for genocide of Arabs in Israel

JTA

The rabbi of a major modern Orthodox synagogue in New Jersey has written a blog post that calls for Israel to collectively punish Arab Israelis and Palestinians until they realize “they have no future in the land of Israel.”

In the post, written Friday and titled “Dealing with Savages,” Rabbi Steven Pruzansky of Congregation Bnai Yeshurun in Teaneck offers suggestions that range from destroying whole Palestinian towns to uprooting the Dome of the Rock.

“There is a war for the land of Israel that is being waged, and the Arabs who dwell in the land of Israel are the enemy in that war and must be vanquished,” Pruzansky writes.

The post has since been deleted, but it’s cached here.

Pruzansky refers to “the Arab-Muslim animals that span the globe chopping, hacking and merrily decapitating,” and then writes, “At a certain point, the unrestrained behavior of unruly animals becomes the fault of the zookeeper, not the animals.”

So what should Israel do? According to Pruzansky, essentially end civil and human rights for many Arab Israelis and Palestinians. Beyond killing all terrorists and demolishing their extended families’ homes, Pruzansky says Israel should destroy entire Arab villages if more than one terrorist comes from them. All the residents of those villages, he writes, should be expelled.

He also writes that rioters and stone-throwers should be shot with live ammunition, and that reporters should be barred from these scenes and have their cameras confiscated.

Pruzansky says Arabs should be barred from the Temple Mount for at least six months, and muses that “perhaps the day will come in the near future when the mosque and the dome can be uplifted intact and reset in Saudi Arabia, Syria or wherever it is wanted.”

Pruzansky writes that Palestinians and Arab Israelis as a whole are Israel’s enemy — “and that enemy rides our buses, shops in our malls, drives on our roads and lives just two miles from us.” (“Us” apparently doesn’t include Pruzansky himself, who leads a congregation 5,000 miles from Jerusalem.)

This isn’t the first time Pruzansky has made the news for his views. Earlier this month, he compared The New York Jewish Week to Der Sturmer, a Nazi newspaper. Pruzansky’s congregation, Bnai Yeshurun, has about 800 member families, according to its website, and has been led by Pruzansky for more than 20 years.

Near the end of his post, Pruzansky wonders why Israelis haven’t come to the same conclusions he has. It’s an “enduring enigma,” he says.

Israelis across the political spectrum support safeguarding the state’s democratic character. Most have consistently backed a Palestinian state. But it bears noting that almost all of those who oppose Palestinian statehood still don’t speak anything close to Pruzansky’s language.

A telling example: Naftali Bennett, who leads the furthest-right party in Knesset and strongly opposes a Palestinian state, came out quickly and vehemently last week against an Israeli city’s ban on Arab construction workers. “Ninety-nine-point-nine percent” are nonviolent, he said, and Israel should not discriminate based on race or religion.

Israel coercing African migrants to leave

Al Jazeera

The Israeli authorities have employed an "unlawful coercion policy" to force almost 7,000 African asylum seekers to leave Israel, putting them at risk of imprisonment and torture upon returning to their home countries, a new Human Rights Watch (HRW) report has alleged.

The report, released on Tuesday, found at least 6,400 Sudanese asylum seekers, and another 367 Eritreans, left Israel for their home countries by the end of June. Home to approximately 50,000 African aslyum seekers, Israel recognised only two Eritreans and one Sudanese as refugees in that same time.

"We’ve documented how some Sudanese are detained, interrogated, tortured, put in solitary confinement and charged with treason for visiting Israel, while Eritreans face detention and torture by officials who consider evasion of indefinite national military service as an act of treason," Gerry Simpson, a senior refugee researcher with HRW, told Al Jazeera.

The report pointed to Israel's indefinite detention of asylum seekers as the primary means of coercion. HRW also documented how nine Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers were deported to third countries - Rwanda, Uganda and Ethiopia - though these countries have not publicly confirmed taking them in.

Speaking to HRW, a 32-year-old man from Darfur was sent from Israel to the Sudanese capital Khartoum in February 2014. "I knew that [Israel] would detain me for an unlimited amount of time and that is a form of mental and physical imprisonment," he said, explaining his reason for leaving.

The man said he was held for eight weeks at Kober prison, including 20 days in solitary confinement, and charged with treason for having been in Israel, a crime under Sudanese law. The authorities released him after his family sold its land to pay $40,000 bail, he said. "They confiscated my passport and banned me from travelling for five years."


IN PICTURES: Israel breaks up African migrant camp


Israel has argued that African migrants leave the country voluntarily, and sign forms to that effect. It maintains that it has not broken its commitments as a signatory to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention, which centres on the principle of non-refoulement, which protects refugees from returning to a country where they could face "serious threats to his or her life or freedom".

"The fact that somebody is looking for a better life, I can understand it. Israel is definitely a better life than many other places in the world, but that doesn't entitle a person to refugee status," Paul Hirschson, deputy spokesman for the Israeli ministry of foreign affairs, told Al Jazeera in January. "Sending a person back home is zero violation of the convention on refugees."

But human rights groups and UN officials have said that returning people under the threat of indefinite detention does not demonstrate freewill. "Where Eritreans or Sudanese are not provided with an adequate protective status and instead are ordered to reside at Holot 'residency facility' for an unspecified period of time, the nature of voluntariness is open to doubt," Walpurga Englbrecht, representative to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in Tel Aviv, told Al Jazeera via e-mail.

"Israel is obliged not to return a person to her/his country of origin if her/his life or freedom would be at risk. The same applies to transfer to third countries if there is the danger that the person would be refouled to her/his country of origin from there," Englbrecht said.

Under the country's Prevention of Infiltration Law, Israel can detain asylum seekers without charge or trial, and hold them in what the government calls an "open resident centre" for unspecified periods of time. According to human rights groups, this facility - the Holot centre in Israel's southern Negev desert - is a detention centre in all but name, and could "result in indefinite detention, with no release grounds".

Mutasim Ali is one of the African asylum seekers currently held at Holot, which can hold up to 3,300 people.

A leader of the Sudanese community in Israel and director of the African Refugee Development Center (ARDC), Ali was transferred to Holot a few months after tens of thousands of African asylum seekers marched across Israel demandinggreater rights and an end to indefinite detention.

"They're making peoples lives more difficult for people [to get them to leave Israel]. When somebody shows the desire to leave the country, [the authorities] are very helpful and try to get them to leave as quickly as possible," Ali told Al Jazeera.

Asylum seekers kept at Holot must check-in three times per day. They are banned from working outside the facility, and are locked in at night. At the end of June, at least 1,000 African asylum seekers left the Holot centre and marched to the Israeli border with Egypt. They set up a protest camp and demanded an end to their detention, but were quickly evicted by Israeli police and returned to the prison.

Ali said that the eviction of the protest camp broke many peoples' morales, and that since then, handfuls of asylum seekers have left Holot every day to return to their home or third countries. "It's not something that the government should be proud of. They are making the lives miserable for people. It's inhumane and people are leaving in pain," he said.


IN VIDEO: The plight of African migrants in Israel


Israel has never formulated a clear policy to determine refugee status, and doesn't officially process refugee claims. Instead, it grants most asylum seekers "temporary group protection", also known as "deferred detention", which allows them to remain in the country, but doesn't provide them with a work permit, healthcare, or other social services.

The government has defended its policies by stating that it cannot absorb the asylum seekers while also preserving the state's Jewish character; Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in July that repatriating African asylum seekers is a goal that "is essential for the welfare of Israel's citizens and for its future as a Jewish and democratic state".

Since its creation in 1948, Israel has recognised less than 200 asylum seekers as refugees, according to human rights groups.

"Israeli and international law obliges Israel to end its coercion policy, especially through indefinite detention, which exposes returning Eritreans and Sudanese to a risk of persecution or other serious harm back home," said HRW's Simpson.

"Israel should also guarantee them access to fair and efficient asylum procedures and officially recognise their right to work so they can look after themselves and live dignified lives until it is safe for them to return home."

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