Tuesday, December 13, 2011

How we celebrated International Human Rights Day

December 10, 1948. Sixty-three years ago, the nations of the world gathered in Paris to adopt the Declaration of Human Rights, which states that all human beings everywhere have inalienable rights, which were set down and enumerated in great detail, and that every state and every government is bound to maintain and preserve them. In commemoration of  this event, the date of December 10 has been marked, ever since, as International Human Rights Day.


The young State of Israel, founded only a few months before, was among the first to sign this declaration, though its actions - both during the harsh war that accompanied its creation and in later years of its existence – did not always match what was said in that Declaration. In fairness it should be noted that Israel is not the only signatory to be open to such charges. Nor is Israel the only country where the government is angry and furious at the actions of human rights organizations which conduct research and dig up and reveal to the world the human rights violations perpetrated by the government and army and police and security services of their country.

This year, the Human Rights March in Tel Aviv was more than just another of the annual events which take place every year on this date. It was a challenge to an all-out assault by right-wing Knesset Members, in whose mouths 'Human Rights' became a dirty word and Senator Joe McCarthy -  an admirable man who was "right in every word he said." At the Rothschild Boulevard, the same place where the Social Justice protests began last summer, Human Rights activists gathered in their thousands - Jews and Arabs as well as hundreds of the African refugees for whom the Prime Minister of Israel intends to build new, large prisons (sorry, "staying facilities") and spend on it no less than 650 million shekels from the state budget.

"The Right Wing will not gag us!" read signs carried in the procession along Ibn Gvirol Street. There were activists for workers' rights, women's rights, the rights of the Arab minority, of the gay community and of the Palestinians in the Territories, as well as advocates of the right to housing, health, and education. Also members of the "Legal Aid Center for the Aged" were to be seen in the crowd, with their special logo showing a judge's gavel becoming a walking stick. Even MK Ofir Akunis would not find anything wrong with that (or would he?...)

And at that same moment, the villagers of  Nabi Saleh demonstrated in protest of settlers from Halamish taking over the spring which had provided water to their village over centuries. Every Friday they demonstrate, and every Friday Israeli soldiers disperse them. But not every Friday there are fatalities. Last Friday, in order to honor International Human Rights Day, an Israeli soldier sighted directly at the head of protester Mustafa Tamimi and shot him from a close range. Tamimi was mortally wounded and died in hospital the next day.

The next day, at about the time when Mustafa Tamimi died from his wounds and soldiers started shooting tear gas on Palestinians and Israelis taking part in his funeral, Prof. Dan Shechtman of the Haifa Technion delivered a speech in Stockholm when receiving the Nobel Prize in Chemistry from the King of Sweden. In the speech he said that it is the duty of scientists to promote education, rationalism and tolerance, in order to create a better world for all of us, and to keep their eye on the actions of the politicians. For their part, our politicians praised Professor Shechtman for an impressive and well-delivered speech and for having brought upon Israel a lot of honour, and went on to discuss the bill which would prohibit Muslims in Israel from calling the faithful to prayer from the top of minarets.