Occupation, Religious Freedom, & Human Rights

August 17, 2017

Photo by SP (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
Photo by SP (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Israeli occupation of Palestine as a result of the Six-Day War. 50 years of occupation, forced displacement, and the appropriation of Palestinian land and resources. Human Rights Watch has documented the two-tiered system Israel maintains in East Jerusalem, where there is effectively one set of rules for Jews and another for Palestinians.

The occupation has penetrated every aspect of daily life for almost 5 million Palestinians living in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem. Due to the occupation and policies relegating Palestinians as second-class citizens, Palestinians struggle to access clean water, food, medical care, education, and to rebuild demolished homes. By restricting people's basic mobility, checkpoints have stunted the Palestinian economy. Some checkpoints turn into 5-hour detentions. Many Palestinians trying to enter East Jerusalem are simply trying to visit family, go to work, or fulfill their religious obligations to pray. The occupation maintains a constant state of conflict affecting both Palestinians and Israelis and denies generations of Palestinians their fundamental freedoms and rights.

Religious Freedom Abuses

Under occupation, Israeli policies restrict Palestinians from their houses of worship, particularly in Jerusalem to the al-Aqsa mosque compound. Entry to the Holy Mosque compound is limited to men over the age of 50 and women over the age of 45, (and married men age 45 to 50 and married women 30 to 45).

Palestinians need a permit to visit the al-Aqsa mosque. During Ramadan in 2016, the Israeli government announced an “easing of restrictions” distributing up to 500 permits to men aged 30 to 40. Palestinian men under the age of 30 cannot visit the mosque. A total of 100 permits were issued to residents of Gaza age 55 and older for Friday prayers.

Full and unhampered access to religious sites is an inviolable right. The closing of religious sites or the imposition of burdensome restrictions to intimidate access in name of security is a form of collective punishment and violation of religious freedom and human rights.

BDS As a Means of Peaceful Resistance

Israeli policies not only defy international human rights, but the Israeli government’s agenda to promote the occupation and silence dissent has infiltrated both U.S. foreign and domestic policy, which aims to violate the First Amendment rights of Americans.

Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) efforts are non-violent tools used to resist the Israeli occupation and settlement expansion. U.S. federal lawmakers recently introduced legislation that penalizes participation in international boycotts against Israel. Similar measures were taken in California and New York.

These measures and tactics will have a chilling effect on the First Amendment rights of American citizens and companies. Referring to federal legislation, the ACLU called them "a direct violation of the First Amendment" and J Street, a pro-Israel, pro-peace advocacy organizations, urged Members of Congress to vote no. Tell your Members of Congress that Americans should be able to exercise their constitutionally protected free speech.

In an attempt to discredit the BDS efforts, opponents conflate some of these efforts with anti-Semitism. The vast majority of BDS proponents aim to end the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land, including the illegal expansion of settlements, and to recognize the Palestinian refugees’ right of return. Many of those involved in these efforts work side-by-side with Jews, Muslims, Christians, and people of no particular faith.

Due to Israel’s human rights abuses, religious freedom violations, and illegal occupation and settlements, the occupation must end - for the betterment of both Palestinians and Israelis. But, this is no longer just a U.S. foreign policy issue. The Israeli occupation of Palestine affects U.S. domestic affairs as described above. The Israeli occupation runs contrary to both American and Israeli values. And by ending the occupation, the peace that results means security for both Palestinians and Israelis.



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