In 1948, the British government ceded its rights to Palestine and the Jewish state of Israel was formed. Israel has a citizen population of approximately 6.4 million, with an average citizen income of $24,600 per year. Israel also occupies territories in which between 2.5 and 3 million Palestinian non-citizens live, with an average income of approximately $1,300 per year.
The State of Human Rights in Israel:
Israel is a liberal democracy with universal citizen suffrage and an independent judiciary. But while its Declaration of Independence (1948) guarantees basic human rights to all inhabitants, there is a clear distinction between the way Israel treats its citizens and the way it treats Palestinian residents living in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.
The Promised Land:
Israel is defined primarily in Jewish cultural and religious terms. All Orthodox Jews may claim Israeli dual citizenship, regardless of the country they live in. Hebrew, which had fallen out of favor as a conversational language by the early 20th century, has received a new lease on life since Israel adopted it as its official language. By reinforcing elements of global Jewish culture, Israeli leaders feel that they can protect it from assimilation.
Most Jewish courts are secular in nature, but religious courts--both Jewish (enforcing halakha) and Islamic (enforcing sharia)--are available for some civil cases. Israel's religious courts deal primarily with divorce cases, but also address issues regarding Jewish conversion and immigration. Citizens who would prefer to work through the secular court system may do so.
A Conscripted Military:
Every young Jewish man and woman is required by law to serve for two years in the Israeli Defense Force (IDF). There is no conscientious objector policy, except for members of the Haredi sect, but rabbinical students and pregnant women are exempt. Non-Jewish Israeli citizens are allowed to serve in the IDF, but not required to do so.
The Rights of Women:
Israel is by and large one of the most progressive nations on Earth with regards to gender equality. Israel co-founder Golda Meir became one of the first female heads of state when she was elected prime minister in 1969, and women frequently serve at high levels in both military and civilian life. The one exception is in the religious courts and other religious institutions, where women still face discrimination.
The IDF's chief military censor has extraordinary power
to restrict Israeli press coverage of events that pertain in any way to "national security" issues, power that is often used to protect the image of the Israeli government and the IDF.
The Palestinian Occupation:
If the only consideration were the way Israel treats its own citizens, it would be one of the most progressive nations on Earth with regards to human rights. What complicates matters is the Israeli occupation of Palestinian cities in the Gaza Strip and West Bank, and the way Israel often deals with Palestinians (who are not considered citizens) in a manner that violates international human rights standards.
Israel's War on Terror:
Israeli citizens are frequently victimized by Palestinian terrorists, and Israel's attempt to respond to same has cost the lives of over 4,000 Palestinians (including 600 children) over the past six years. Israel does not extend any significant human rights protections to suspected Palestinian terrorists, who are subject to warrantless searches, torture, and assassination.
Israel has unlimited potential for growth and improvement. The public's lack of concern regarding the civil liberties of Palestinians is comparable to the U.S. public's lack of concern regarding the civil liberties of Afghan detainees in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. This apathy will fade if terrorism ceases to remain a persistent threat.
Israeli politics has been dominated in recent years by the conservative Likud Party, which favors a tough-on-Palestinians platform, and the progressive Labour Party, which favors a strategy that tends to be more in keeping with international human rights standards. In 2005, Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon (Likud) established a new group called the Kadima Party, which would blend many of the domestic political priorities of the Likud Party with the peace-focused strategy of the Labour Party. In Israel's 2006 elections, Kadima came up clearly ahead of both other parties, with Likud fading into near-irrelevance.
What is needed in order for Israeli to craft or accept a solution to the Palestinian crisis is sustained nonviolence and a willingness by leaders on both sides to work together. With the recent conflicts between Israel and Lebanon, this outcome may be further delayed.