Friday, March 20, 2009

Human Rights (for some)

Homeless refugees in Gaza shelter in the ruins of their home.

Debate goes on in Australia about the need for a Bill of Rights or Charter of Rights. Those for such a document argue that it would guarantee and enshrine the basic rights of all citizens, to be upheld in our courts of law. Those against maintain that our rights are best preserved through the workings of the federal parliament - claiming that our elected representatives, not unelected judges, should be the watchdogs of our freedom and rights.  Some assert that Australia is the only Western democracy without such a bill or charter.

As the "only democracy in the Middle East" Israel would, one imagines, assume responsibility for the basic rights of all its citizens and those living under its military occupation.  But of course it doesn't. Only its Jewish citizens are entitled to the full protection of Israeli laws. Its Arab citizens enjoy only a second-class status. The Palestinians under its protection as an occupying power (in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem) face the theft and destruction of their property, imprisonment without trial, restrictions of movement and beatings and killings by army personnel, with no meaningful recourse to law. Land thefts and extra-judicial killings by agents of the state continue to go unpunished.

Such a debate as we are having in Australia is irrelevant in the context of Israel. When laws are enacted for the benefit of some, and denied to others, then surely this earns Israel the definition of a racist state. While it continues on its present course Israel will increasingly be seen as a pariah nation by the rest of the world.

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