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Israel's prosecution authorities 'enabling incitement' against Palestinian citizens

Advocacy group Israel Religious Action Center says the flawed enforcement of the law 'endangers human life'
A demonstrator gestures during the far-right Israeli 'flags march' to mark "Jerusalem Day" outside the old city's Damascus Gate on 29 May 2022. (AFP)
A demonstrator at the far-right Israeli 'flag march' to mark Jerusalem Day outside the old city's Damascus Gate, on 29 May 2022 (AFP)

Palestinian citizens of Israel receive a significantly higher number of indictments, convictions and sentences for incitement to violence than their Jewish peers, a new study by the Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC) has found.

The disparity is caused by the prosecution's "foot-dragging and delays" when it comes to incitement by Jews, the Jerusalem-based centre said, according to Israeli daily Haaretz, adding the "data clearly shows an insufficient enforcement policy".

The report, covering the years 2014 to 2021, said 77 percent of all indictments for incitement to violence and racism were filed against Palestinian citizens of Israel, who make up only 20 percent of the country's population. 

Of those, 51 percent were filed within a month of the alleged violation, while 42 percent of indictments against Jewish Israelis were filed two years after they took place.

When it came to convictions, only two indictment cases against Palestinian citizens did not end in a conviction. In comparison, a third of indictments against Jews did not end in a conviction.

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The same trend is also evident in sentencing. 

Around 99 percent of convicted Palestinian citizens on indictment charges received a jail sentence, while around 54 percent of Jews received no jail time.

Additionally, the courts ruled that jail time can be replaced with community service for seven out of 13 cases in which Jews were technically sentenced to jail. Only one Palestinian citizen out of 69 sentenced to jail was granted community service.

The report, based on the Justice Ministry's replies to freedom of information requests, also highlighted inaction by law enforcement agencies towards investigating public figures. 

The IRAC said it filed 114 requests for public figures to be probed for incitement but only eight were indicted in the seven-year study period. Of those, six were Palestinian citizens, including five preachers indicted for religious sermons.

'Wild, unbridled incitement of rabbis'

Authored by attorneys Ori Narov and Orly Erez-Likhovski, the IRAC report said the lack of indictments against rabbis allegedly inciting violence, compared with Muslim clerics, demonstrates the law is not applied equally in the country.

The law enforcement system suffers from "a long, thunderous silence about the wild, unbridled incitement of rabbis who pretend to base themselves on Jewish law", it said.

The centre stressed it does not call for fewer indictments of Palestinians who make "grave statements that justify filing indictments", but rather doing the same for Jews accused of making similar remarks. 

It accused the prosecution's flawed enforcement of the laws against incitement of "[enabling] many inflammatory activists to continue inciting as much as they please without being called to account for it. This situation both pollutes the public square and endangers human life."

'This situation both pollutes the public square and endangers human life'

- Israel Religious Action Center 

One of the two Jewish Israeli public figures who were indicted was Bentzi Gopstein, founder and leader of the far-right Lehava group. 

Gopstein was charged with incitement to violence, racism and terrorism in 2019, nine years after the first complaints were filed against him. The indictment against him cited several statements he made between 2012 and 2017, including his reference to Palestinians as "cancer" and his praise of Baruch Goldstein, a far-right American-Israeli settler who massacred 29 Palestinian worshippers at the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron in February 1994. 

One of the high-profile cases among Palestinian citizens is that of poet Dareen Tatour. The Nazareth-based writer was sentenced to five months in prison over a poem she posted on Facebook in 2015 called  "Resist, My People, Resist Them", as well as separate posts dealing with Palestinian resistance. 

Tatour's case garnered international support, with many critics accusing Israel of limiting the freedom of expression of Palestinians. PEN International, which awarded Tatour the 2019 Oxfam Novib/PEN International 2019 award for freedom of expression, said she had "been convicted for doing what writers do every day - we use our words to peacefully challenge injustice".

More than 150 American literary figures had also called for Israel to free Tatour during her trial, including Alice Walker, Claudia Rankine, Naomi Klein and Jacqueline Woodson.

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