London, [22nd of Dec 2012): Earlier this month, Lord Singh of Wimbledon the Director of the Network of Sikh Organisations (NSO) contributed to a debate moved by the Lord Bishop of Exeter, regarding the rights of Israeli Arabs in the state of Israel.
The full text is given below:
“The April 2012 report of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on human rights and democracy reminds us of the some of the injustices suffered by Arabs living in Israel, with Israeli NGOs reporting a denial of basic hygiene, sleep deprivation and violence in interrogations; allegations of unequal treatment of Arabs by the Israeli judicial system and allegations of abuse of Arab detainees during arrest and in Israeli prisons.
It is to the credit of Israel that the country’s constitution guarantees freedom of religion for Christian, Muslim and other Arab minorities and in general they are allowed to get on with their own lives-although as the noble Lord, Lord Parekh, reminds us, generally in lesser employment. Non-Jewish citizens are exempt from compulsory service in the Israel Defence Forces, a concession that also underlines a lack of trust over possible divided loyalties. Politically, Israeli Muslims are part of the state, but loyalties are bound to be influenced by what happens to their kith and kin in Palestinian areas.
Concerns over evidence of aggressive Israeli policies in Palestinian territories affect and add to tensions and mistrust between Jews and Arabs in Israel. These
include the expansion of illegal Jewish settlements in Palestinian areas, with the demolition of Palestinian homes and the eviction of Palestinians from East Jerusalem and the West Bank; the use of military courts to try alleged breaches of the peace by Palestinians, which contrasts with the use of civil courts to deal with the same offences by Jews; concerns that cases heard by the military courts system are frequently based on secret evidence that is not available to defendants’ lawyers, on dubious confessions or on the evidence of minors who themselves face detention; and the fact that cases of wrongful killing by the Israel Defence Forces are investigated by the forces themselves rather than by independent investigators.”
However, Israel is not alone in the abuse of human rights. Palestinians, too, are frequently involved in gross abuses of the rights of other faiths. These include arbitrary detention, restrictions on the freedom of non-Muslims and the use of the death penalty. Palestinian human rights NGOs point out that senior court positions in Gaza are often filled by political appointees. There are also reports of violence against detainees.
When one considers the history of the formation of Israel, with the arbitrary displacement of the Palestinian population and the subsequent history of continuing conflict, it is easy to understand allegations of divided loyalties in the Arab Israeli population, the anger and bitterness of surrounding Palestinians and the hostility of the wider Muslim world. It is also easy to understand, and have a measure of sympathy for, the siege mentality of Israeli Jews. It is only when we look to and understand the difficult environment in which they work that we begin to understand the incredible courage and commitment of both Israeli and Arab NGOs, of international human rights groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, and of humanitarian organisations such as the Red Cross and the UK-funded NGO, Defence for Children International. They deserve our appreciation and support for their near-impossible work.
It is frequently said that the only way to secure peace and the respect of human rights in this troubled part of the world is a two-state solution, with a fully independent Palestine. I may be in a minority of one in preferring to see positive initiatives for closer integration between the different communities, based on mutual interest. I am not convinced by the feasibility of artificial boundaries dividing an area of land which in part is historically and culturally entwined, with a shared history and culture. Recent history reminds us that rigid partition of a country where different groups share a common heritage inevitably leads to resentment and continuing conflict. The partition of the subcontinent of India cost millions of lives, and the stand-off over Kashmir continues. We should also remember the continuing threat to peace arising from the partition of Korea, the genocide resulting from the partition of the former Yugoslavia and, nearer home, years of conflict in Northern Ireland.
I know that religion gets a bad press, but with the constant failure of political initiatives it might be worth looking at religious teachings in a search for elusive peace. At a time of similar conflict between Hindus and Muslims-and different factions of those religions-in the subcontinent of India, Guru Gobind Singh reminded warring factions that despite their different religious and cultural practices, Hindus and Muslims, and Shias and Sunnis, were all members of the same human family, with similar concerns and praying to the same God. Leviticus, chapter 20, verses 33 to 34, stresses the same sentiment:
“The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as one of your citizens; you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt”.
In the Koran, sura 14, verse 6 says much the same thing.
A few years ago, I was invited by the noble Lord, Lord Sacks, the Chief Rabbi, to join him on a visit to Israel to help look for ways to peace. We talked to university professors and office and manual workers in both the Jewish and Palestinian communities, and everywhere found a common desire in people to be allowed to just get on with their lives and look to their families in safety and security. They simply wished for the opportunity to live in peace and harmony with their neighbours in the ways taught by their different faiths.
In what now seems like a previous incarnation, I studied the works of Mary Parker Follett on conflict resolution in industry and used what she called “the law of the situation” with success. It is a concept that gets away from the usual two sides of a conflict or dispute and invites those involved to look at the different facets of common problems with a view to getting the best outcome for all concerned.
The signing of peace accords that ignore basic underlying concerns is like building grandiose structures on uncertain foundations, and is unlikely to lead to lasting peace. The more I look at that sad and beautiful land, sacred to the world’s major faiths, the more convinced I become that the only way to true and lasting peace is for members of those different faiths to look beyond the trappings of religion to the common imperatives of respect and generosity to others contained in actual teachings. The NGOs working to highlight human rights abuses and provide humanitarian assistance are doing just this. It is important that we in the international community do all we can to support them. Addressing entrenched attitudes and prejudices is not easy and does not capture many headlines, but it is a challenge that can be met. A Christian hymn reminds us that, with faith, a weak arm “may turn the iron helm of fate”. “
Other members who contributed to the debate, included Lord Warner, Lord Steel of Aikwood and Lord Bew.