Civil Rights

The Jewish people have a long history of persecution, and this persecution has led to a Jewish commitment to civil rights.

The Jewish people have a long history of persecution. This persecution has led to a Jewish commitment to civil rights. This commitment is seen in several instances throughout the U.S. Civil Rights movement, including when Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel marched alongside Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (see photo above). Jewish and other Americans remain committed to promoting human rights for all people.

A Commitment to Civil Rights

In A History of Jews in America, American professor and author Howard Sachar writes that Jews “made up at least 30 percent of the white volunteers who rode freedom buses to the South, registered blacks, and picketed segregated establishments.” In The South, Jews also made up a high percentage of civil rights attorneys throughout the 1960s.  In 1964, Jews made up over 50 percent of the Whites who challenged Jim Crow Laws in Mississippi.

Even in the early 1900s, Black-Jewish relations were particularly strong in the United States. It was W.E.B. Dubois, Lillian Wald, Stephen Wise, Julius Rosenthal, Rabbi Emil G. Hirsch, and Henry Malkewitz that created the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1909.

Outside of the United States, Jews were also participants in the South African Anti-Apartheid Movement. Nelson Mandela’s defense attorney, Isie Maisels, was Jewish, and in his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, Mandela writes that he found the Jews in South Africa “to be more broadminded than most whites on issues of race and politics, perhaps because they themselves have historically been victims of prejudice.”

Jews have a visceral commitment to support civil rights for all people, including equal treatment under the law. But are Palestinian families treated as equals?

Unequal Access to Water

Equal access to water—a basic, fundamental resource—is a critical human right. Through Resolution 64/292, adopted in 2010, the United Nations General Assembly recognized “the right to safe and clean drinking water and sanitation as a human right that is essential for the full enjoyment of life and all human rights.”


In Israel and Palestine, Israel controls access to water. The Center for Economic and Social Rights (CESR), an international human rights organization that focuses on economic and social rights, states that “the Israeli confiscation of water resources is a defining feature of the Israeli occupation and a major impediment to a just resolution of the Israel-Palestine conflict.”According to the Coalition for Peace with Justice (CPWJ), water in Gaza “comes from a coastal aquifer. Because of the refugee overpopulation it has been over-pumped and is now infused with salt as the Mediterranean Sea has crept in making the water unfit for human consumption. Gazans now spend an average of one quarter of family income on water supplied by Israel.”

Effects of the Gaza Blockade on Water

Amnesty International’s 2013 Annual Report notes that “as Israel’s military blockade of the Gaza Strip entered its sixth year, its impact on basic infrastructure, including water, sanitation and power supplies continued to be severe.” Israel’s myriad restrictions on both Gaza and the West Bank, include not only the movement of Palestinian people but the movement of resources for the Palestinians as well.

Due to Israel’s continued control of planning, zoning, and security, in part of the West Bank known as Area C, Amnesty International recognizes that “some 604 structures, a third of them homes, and including 36 water cisterns, were destroyed, resulting in the forced eviction of some 870 Palestinians from their homes and affecting at least 1600 others.”  According to Amnesty International’s recent executive summary of the report on Apartheid in Israel/Palestine, “In areas under full Israeli control such as the Negev/Naqab, East Jerusalem and Area C of the West Bank, the denial of essential services is inherently linked to discriminatory planning and zoning policies, and is intended to create unbearable living conditions to force Palestinians to leave their homes to allow for the expansion of Jewish settlement.”

Water cisterns are vital to Palestinians who do not have continuous running water in their homes and who use the cisterns for storing their limited water used for their everyday drinking and sanitation – including washing dishes, laundry, bathing, and pre-prayer washes.

Violations of Palestinians’ Right to Water

Two neighboring Palestinian communities in South Hebron, As-Samu’a (20,000 people) and Imneizel (500 people) suffer from restrictions imposed by Israel on the development of their basic water infrastructure. After years of negotiations, As-Samu’a was permitted to access some limited additional quantities of water, but only on the condition that this water not be distributed to residents through their existing internal piped water distribution network.

30 rainwater-harvesting cisterns have been isolated from the Imneizel village by the Segregation Wall. Israeli limitations on Palestinians’ human right to water make it difficult for Palestinians to access the basic necessities for life and to stay on their land.

Asymmetric Abstraction and Allocation: The Israeli-Palestinian Pumping Record

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 Ground Water Case Study

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A Perspective on the Palestinian Experience

Anna Baltzer is a Jewish-American who gained a new perspective on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict after traveling through the Middle East during her time as a Fulbright Scholar based in Turkey. During her travels in Syria, Lebanon, and Iran, Baltzer began to witness a different perspective of the history of the Palestinian experience. Many of the families hospitable to her were Palestinian refugees. The stories that played out before her were far different from what she had learned growing up in the United States. She decided to find out more herself.

After working in the West Bank for 8 months, Baltzer continued her research, which culminated in her book, Witness in Palestine. She writes that “to understand the effects of the Occupation one must look not just to the dramatic moments of violence that are represented (or misrepresented) in the news, but also to the small, everyday acts of violence and humiliation, and next to them the small, everyday acts of resistance and human dignity.”

Witness in Palestine documents several of these everyday humiliations Baltzer witnessed in the West Bank, including threats and detainment at checkpoints. Baltzer sharply analyzes the religious, political, and historical aspects of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Witness in Palestine, Baltzer sharply analyzes the religious, political, and historical aspects of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and ultimately her case is one for human rights

Witnessing the Oppression

Below are some excerpts from Witness in Palestine:

“Situated on the outskirts of Mas’ha, Munira and Hani’s house posed a problem for the Israeli army, who implored the family to move so that the Wall could annex the house and neighboring area to Elkana. Munira and Hani refused. They also refused financial compensation, insisting that all they wanted was to remain in their home, to live and work on their land in peace.

The army responded by building a 25-foot concrete wall in front of Munira’s house, separating the family from their land, village, and community. The Wall continues in both directions, leaving Munira’s family on the Israeli side of the fence, even though they are on internationally recognized Palestinian territory, well east of the Green Line.”

“Rabbi Arik Ascherman, the director of Rabbis for Human Rights, was recently tried for standing on the roof of a Palestinian family’s house about to be demolished because it did not have a building permit. Although he lost in court, Rabbi Ascherman used the lawsuit to publicize the difficulties Palestinians face in obtaining building permits. The situation is most dire in Jerusalem, where Palestinians with Israeli citizenship account for a third of the total population but have access to only 7% of urban land. According to the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD), the Jerusalem Municipality has constructed 100,000 housing units in Jewish areas since 1967, compared with only 500 in Palestinian areas.”

The South African Perspective

Several South African leaders like Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu were drawn to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. During an address at the International Day of Solidarity with Palestinian People in 1997, Nelson Mandela said that “we know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians.”

During a Christmas visit to Jerusalem in 1989, speaking about the apartheid regime in place, Archbishop Desmond Tutu said that “I am a black South African, and if I were to change the names, a description of what is happening in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank could describe events in South Africa.”

Apartheid in Palestine

More recently, in 2014, following Israel’s Operation Protective Edge, Tutu wrote a letter exclusively for the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, “My Plea to the People of Israel: Liberate Yourselves by Liberating Palestine.”

Tutu writes that “the pursuit of freedom for the people of Palestine from humiliation and persecution by the policies of Israel is a righteous cause. It is a cause that the people of Israel should support. Nelson Mandela famously said that South Africans would not feel free until Palestinians were free. He might have added that the liberation of Palestine will liberate Israel, too.”

In turn, Palestinian activists have also used South Africa’s rise out of apartheid as their source of inspiration. This is seen in the example of Kairos Palestine.  Kairos Palestine is a Christian Palestinian movement which advocates for ending the occupation and achieving a just solution to the conflict. Its founders are a range of Palestinian Christian theologians and the group was born out of Kairos Document.

The organization explains that “the 1985 Kairos Document written in South Africa was a theological statement and a call to churches around the world to work to end apartheid and has served as an example for others writing from their own contexts to call attention to unjust and oppressive practices.”

There are currently a number of organizations that have recognized Israeli apartheid policies. A few of of these include:


A Separation Barrier

Weekly demonstration against the Israeli Separation Wall in the West Bank village of Ni’lin, September 17, 2010. Around 50 demonstrators marched from the village to the wall to protest against it. When the demonstrators reached the wall, the army shot tear gas canisters directly into the crowed. Later the army crossed the wall and approached the village outskirts where it used live ammunition as well.

Protest against the Israeli Separation Wall and occupation, Ni’lin, West Bank, 17.9.2010Share buttonsProtest against the Israeli Separation Wall and occupation, Ni’lin, West Bank, 17.9.2010 Photographer: Shachaf Polakow,

Protest against the Israeli Separation Wall and occupation, Ni’lin, West Bank, 17.9.2010 Photographer: Shachaf Polakow,

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The separation barrier is located between Israel and the West Bank. At over 400 miles in length and 25 feet tall, the wall was supposedly built by Israel for security purposes. However, rather than being built along the 1949 Armistice line, the Wall extended into the West Bank, taking farmland and water supplies in the process and restricting the movement of Palestinians.

It is common to see graffiti and art painted on the wall by protesters with statements against the wall’s existence. On July 9, 2004 the International Court of Justice declared the construction of the wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory to be illegal under international law.

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Second Friday of Ramadan, Qalandyia checkpoint, West Bank, 26.6.2015Share buttonsPalestinians cross the Qalandiya checkpoint between the West Bank city of Ramallah and Jerusalem on their way to pray at the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, on the second Friday of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, June 26, 2015. Photographer: Oren Ziv,

Illegal Settlements

Also declared illegal under international law are Israel’s Jewish-only settlements. This illegal status is based on Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention which prohibits an “Occupying Power” from transferring “parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.”

Settlements are Israeli civilian communities that are built upon lands that Israel occupied in the 1967 Six-Day War.

According to B’Tselem, there are over 500,000 settlers in the West Bank alone and 100 “outpost” settlements which have been built without Israeli government’s official approval. Even the Israeli government considers these settlements illegal, yet continues to provide them with resources. These settlements and outposts control over 40% of the West Bank’s land. Additionally, there are nearly 300,000 settlers living in East Jerusalem. Israeli settlements remain a constant point of contention  during United States-brokered peace talks and are considered a hindrance to negotiations.

Some believe that instead of trying to defend its land, Israel is just trying to take the land of the Palestinians who already live there. Many Americans in the United States— who perceive that Palestinian families are not being treated as equals— are now boycotting Israel.

West Bank, 07.06.2010, Photographer: Keren Manor,

How Checkpoints Prevent Moving Freely

Before returning to Palestine, Palestinian Fulbright Hijazi Isaili said in an interview at Wake Forest University that when he returned home to Hebron, he would most miss “freedom…moving freely.”

“You can go from one state to another state here without checkpoints and without carrying your ID,” Isaili said, sharing his thoughts on the differences between The United States and Palestine.  “Since I came here,” Isaili continued, “I haven’t had to show any ID. In Hebron, I live next to a settlement, just ten meters from the fence, so I have to go through checkpoints even in my neighborhood.”

Isaili’s experience is not unique. Checkpoints manned by heavily armed Israeli soldiers are commonplace in Palestine. By restricting the movement of Palestinians and goods—even ambulances —checkpoints can turn what should be a short trip into hours of waiting.

Checkpoints, along with the separation barrier, limit and control the movement of goods and workers, which has caused the Palestinians to suffer a severe economic recession. A 2014 World Bank report states that the poverty levels in Gaza are at 39 percent with unemployment at 41 percent.

Life or Death Consequences

Beyond economic consequences, checkpoints have also become matters of life or death for pregnant Palestinian women and their newborns. The Palestinian Ministry of Health reported that since the beginning of the Al-Aqsa Intifada in 2000, at least 68 pregnant Palestinian women have given birth at Israeli checkpoints. This ultimately led to 35 miscarriages and the death of five women.

However  The 2009 UN Human Rights Council report  acknowledges that “limiting the scope of the issue to births at checkpoints fails to account for the consequences of the entire closure regime imposed on the occupied Palestinian territory (e.g., the closure of Gaza, the Wall, as well as other impediments to the freedom of movement of Palestinians, such as roadblocks, trenches, earth mounds, etc.), which severely impact on the daily lives of Palestinian women. The entire closure regime leaves Palestinian women particularly vulnerable with regard to their health-related needs and rights, posing severe difficulties for them in accessing necessary health-care services during childbirth.”

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UN Human Rights Council Report Excerpts

On 27 July 2008, the IDF closed the Beit Kahil Bridge with an earth mound for one day, effectively cutting off the population of Beit Kahil, Tarqumiya and Idhna (with a combined population of 60,000) from Hebron City. Consequently, a 24-year-old woman from Tarqumiya was forced to give birth in a car while waiting for an ambulance to transport her to a hospital.

Another incident involved a 21-year-old woman, married with one child, resident of Qusra in the Nablus District. On 4 September 2008, seven months pregnant, she started to bleed severely. At close to 1 a.m., she and her husband left for the nearest hospital in Nablus, but Israeli soldiers did not permit them to pass through the Huwara checkpoint because they did not have the requisite permit to cross by car. As a result, she delivered at the checkpoint a stillborn baby.

In January 2009, a 25-year-old pregnant woman from Al A’sawiya (Jerusalem) was delayed by soldiers at Zayem checkpoint, which controls access to East Jerusalem through the Barrier. The woman, who held a Jerusalem ID and was travelling in a car with Israeli plates, informed the soldiers upon arrival that she was in labour. According to the woman, she was delayed for two hours, during which her waters broke. After being allowed through, she delivered in the car while on route to the hospital, where she was rushed into the emergency room.

Palestinian Authority Passports

The United Nations recognized Palestine as a non-member observer state in 2012, but this recent status does not change difficulties in travel faced by Palestinians. Palestinian passports, first issued in 1995, are labeled “the Palestinian Authority” (PA) and are available to individuals with a birth certificate proving birth in Palestine as well as a valid Palestinian identity card.

These passports cannot read “Palestine” since Israel does not recognize the name. Only Palestinians who live under areas of Palestinian Authority rule are permitted a PA passport, and Palestinians in other areas like East Jerusalem are allowed only a laissez-passer—a travel document issued to them by Israel.

If a PA passport is obtained, it is also considered viable travel document, but countries like the United States do not view these passports as conferring citizenship. In the case of stateless Palestinian refugees, some have obtained Palestinian Authority passports, some have temporary Jordanian passports, and others hold Refugee Travel Documents from other countries in the Middle East.

What it means to be a present absentee…

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Palestinian Detainment

Although Israel is considered a democracy, it continues to hold Palestinian prisoners. Some of these are without trial and others for indefinite periods of time. Amnesty International reports that “Palestinians held by Israel have used hunger strikes over the years to protest detention conditions and demand respect for their human rights, but in the wake of the wider protests which have taken place since early 2011 across the Middle East and North Africa, this recent wave of hunger strikes have had a greater resonance. Their non-violent protests – which brought several detainees close to death – drew global attention to the fact that Palestinian prisoners held by Israel continue to be starved of justice.”

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The numbers of Palestinian prisoners remain in the thousands. According to B’Tselem, 5,528 Palestinian security detainees and prisoners were held in Israeli prisons at the end of 2014. Many of these detainees cannot see their families and do not know when they will be released.

 Not only do the number of detainees remain high, detainment in general is extremely commonplace for a Palestinian male. This infographic from 972mag shows that “40% of Palestinian men living in the occupied territories have been detained in Israel at some point in their lives.”

Ireland-Palestine Solidarity Campaign

Peaceful Protests

Non-violent and peaceful protest are a means of action against oppression taken by Palestinian communities, often alongside Israeli and international activists. One example is found in the regular, nonviolent protests in a village called Bil’in in the West Bank.

In 2005, Israel began its construction of the separation barrier, cutting into Bil’in and cutting it from its main source of revenue, agriculture. PBS notes that “every Friday since 2005, protesters have gathered in Bil’in for demonstrations against the barrier’s route, making the village a symbol of resistance. Other villages followed Bil’in’s lead, staging demonstrations as the barrier approached. In response, the Israeli army stepped up its defense. Hundreds of protestors have been arrested since the demonstrations began, and dozens of protesters and Israeli security officers have been injured.”

Protesters that have taken part in the peaceful protests in Bil’in have written about the use of violence against them by Israeli security forces.  The conflict in Bil’in inspired the 2012 Emmy Award nominated documentary, 5 Broken Cameras, where Palestinian Emad Burnet recorded his village’s resistance to the encroachment of Israeli settlements beginning in 2005Outside of the Palestinian territories, a worldwide campaign, The Boycotts, Divestments, and Sanctions Movement (BDS) has emerged against Israel. The organization has vowed to maintain peaceful protest until Israel complies with international law and Palestinian rights. BDS has commonly taken the form of consumer boycotts of certain companies like Soda Stream and Caterpillar, but it has also taken the form of academic and cultural boycotts.

In 2014, after another onslaught in Gaza, hundreds of Middle Eastern scholars signed a boycott against Israeli academic institutions. In 2015, over 100 United Kingdom-based artists published a letter announcing a cultural boycott of Israel in The Guardian stating that ““in Tel Aviv, Netanya, Ashkelon or Ariel, we won’t play music, accept awards, attend exhibitions, festivals or conferences, run masterclasses or workshops, until Israel respects international law and ends its colonial oppression of the Palestinians.”

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Home Demolitions

In 2014, Reuters published an article stating that the Israeli demolition of Palestinian homes was at a five-year high, with 663 Palestinian structures demolished. The article noted that the International Red Cross announced that “it would stop delivering tents to Palestinians made homeless by demolitions in the Jordan border region of the Occupied West Bank, citing Israeli obstruction and confiscation of aid.”

More recently, self-demolition of homes has become commonplace, particularly in East Jerusalem where there are no options for Palestinians to build additions on their homes legally. An AlJazeera article recognized the predicament of Palestinian families in East Jerusalem, like that of Naem Rabaya. Supporting his wife and seven children on a taxi driver’s salary, Naem built the extra three rooms on his property in 2000 to accommodate his growing family.

A year later the family received a demolition order from the municipality. He fought it for over a decade, paying 80,000 shekels ($23,000 USD) in fines to the Jerusalem municipality, and tens of thousands more for engineers and lawyers. His son dropped out of school to help his father with money. In the end it was too much, and on March 9 Naem was compelled to destroy the building himself. The family of nine now lives in one and a half rooms.

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Fighting Home Demolitions in Israel Courts

Demolition orders are often fought by Palestinians in Israeli courts. However, the fees and fines can be overwhelming. There is also no guarantee that a building permit will be granted. On the contrary, building permits for new construction are readily available for Jewish settlers.

Human Rights Watch writes that “Israel usually carries out demolitions on the grounds that the structures were built without permits, but in practice such permits are almost impossible for Palestinians to obtain in Israeli-controlled areas, whereas a separate planning process available only to settlers grants new construction permits much more readily. Settlers also continued to take over Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem, based in part on laws that recognize Jewish ownership claims there from before 1948 but bar Palestinian ownership claims from that period in West Jerusalem.”

While some international aid organizations work to rebuild demolished Palestinian homes, including the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, without policy changes in place there is no guarantee that the home will not be re-demolished by the Israeli government.

Rachel Corrie’s Story

The Rachel Corrie Foundation for Peace and Justice describes Corrie as “a 23-year-old American peace activist from Olympia, Washington, who was crushed to death by an Israeli bulldozer on 16 March 2003, while undertaking nonviolent direct action to protect the home of a Palestinian family from demolition.” The Foundation now promotes grassroots efforts for peace and justice.

Rachel Corrie’s case was ruled in February 2015, over 10 years after her death. Below is an excerpt from AlJazeera, Corrie’s family was pursuing a case against Israel’s defence ministry, alleging the army was guilty either of intentionally murdering Rachel, or of negligence while operating the bulldozer. The family appealed a 2012 ruling delivered by a lower court in Haifa that declared Corrie’s death an accident.

Israel’s Supreme Court on Thursday upheld that decision, which employed the “combat activities exception” clause of the Civil Wrongs (Liability of the State) Law, noting the State of Israel cannot be held accountable for events that take place in a war zone.

“Our family is disappointed but not surprised,” Corrie’s family said in a statement after the ruling. “We had hoped for a different outcome, though we have come to see through this experience how deeply all of Israel’s institutions are implicated in the impunity enjoyed by the

Alice Walker declines request to publish Israeli edition of The Color Purple

Palestinian Civil Rights Today

Jews have always had an interest in and participated in civil rights. Whether it be the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa or the civil rights movement in the United States, the Jewish people have leveraged their history of being persecuted to do good in the world. Now, however, there are Palestinian people in The Holy Land who are struggling to improve their lives. Can the Jewish commitment to Tikkun Olam – in Hebrew this roughly translates to “repairing the world” – extend to the Israel–Palestine conflict? Judaism teaches us that the suffering of any people is a tragedy.

Interested in learning about the Israel-Palestine conflict and how it’s affected the lives of the people that lived in the Holy Land?

Check out our final exhibit, “And Evolving View” and visit the Promised Land Museum to see how you can host an exhibit.



Below is an excerpt from Palestinian Arab-Israeli author, Father Elias Chacour.

“You who live in the United States, if you are pro-Israel, on behalf of the Palestinian children I call unto you: give further friendship to Israel. They need your friendship. But stop interpreting that friendship as an automatic antipathy against me, the Palestinian who is paying the bill for what others have done against my beloved Jewish brothers and sisters in the Holocaust and Auschwitz and elsewhere.

And if you have been enlightened enough to take the side of the Palestinians — oh, bless your hearts — take our sides, because for once you will be on the right side, right? But if taking our side would mean to become one-sided against my Jewish brothers and sisters, back up. We do not need such friendship. We need one more common friend. We do not need one more enemy, for God’s sake.”

-Father Chacour

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