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Corona and Human Rights: What is ACRI Doing?

© Buddhilakshan4 |

This page is periodically updated with our activities relating to the COVID-19 crisis, focusing on our work:

1. Safeguarding Democracy and Basic Rights

2. Protecting Civil Liberties

3. Protecting Social Rights

4. Human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territories & East Jerusalem

5. Human Rights Education

We are monitoring the government actions to halt the spread of the virus in order to ensure that the damage to human rights is substantive, proportional, for a fit purpose, and as limited as possible, and working to secure the rights of vulnerable populations during the crisis.

Safeguarding Democracy and Basic Rights

1. Use of Technological Means to Track the Movements of COVID-19 Patients: ACRI petitioned the HCJ against emergency regulations allowing Shin Bet to track civilians (18-03-2020).

The petition resulted in an interim order and convening of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. Then, together with Adalah, ACRI submitted to the HCJ our objection to the State’s request to cancel the HCJ temporary injunction in respect of the emergency regulations authorizing the police to obtain, without a warrant, location data of the infected with the intention of enforcing quarantines. When the Foreign Affairs and Security Committee, which was convened to oversee the emergency regulations in Knesset, decided to expand the Shin Bet’s authority, ACRI appealed again and disseminated a position paper to all members of Knesset.

A revised petition to the HCJ was submitted (05-04-2020), against the government’s decision to authorize the Shin Bet to track the location and trajectories of COVID-19 patients and anyone who comes in close contact with them during a 14-day period. In addition, ACRI demanded the repeal of the emergency regulation that allows the police to obtain, without a warrant, the location data from telecommunication companies about civilians with quarantine orders, in order to enforce quarantine.

On April 22nd 2020, the government withdrew the bill authorizing the Police to use cellular data gleaned from phone companies to enforce quarantine before the bill’s second reading. On April 26th 2020, the HCJ ruled in favor of ACRI’s petition, stating that as it stands, the Shin Bet will not have authority to continue its surveillance program beyond April 30th, and that should the government want to continue to utilize the Shin Bet in such a manner they will have to pass special legislation in the coming weeks.

2. ACRI petitioned against the Justice Minister for freezing the court system during the crisis (18-03-2020). In the hearing held 2.4.2020, the HCJ justices proposed that the Ministry of Justice consider regulating the Minister of Justice's authority via the Knesset’s legislative power, instead of in emergency regulations issued by the Minister of Justice.

3. Position paper on the Speaker of the Knesset’s silencing the Knesset (18-03-2020).

4. Letter to Police demanding that peaceful protest outside the Knesset be permitted to proceed (19-03-2020).

As a protest formed outside of the Knesset during the HCJ hearings, police stopped protesters without explanation. We wrote a letter to the head of police immediately to allow the protest to take place. Emergency regulations published after this incident permitted protests and demonstrations as an exception to the emergency restrictions of being a certain distance from one’s home. ACRI successfully used this precedent to: appeal to the Eilat Police Department to allow a demonstration of animal rights activists (2-4-2020); to the Deputy AG against invalid restrictions on the freedom of protest in the Public Health Order (13-4-2020); to the Attorney General about the police not having the authority to impose fines on protesters (2-4-2020); and to the Department of Justice about restrictions to demonstrate in Shiekh Jarah (19-4-2020).

5. Appealed to the AG requesting that he instruct all authorities to work strictly within their given authority (22-03-2020).

6. Appealed to the AG requesting that he instruct the government that it cannot implement emergency regulations from the moment that the Knesset is functioning, and instead must propose bills (22-03-2020).

7. Joined a letter with other human rights organizations to Benny Gantz and the Blue and White party demanding that they fulfill their promise to protect democratic institutions and uphold the rule of law (02-04-2020). Sent a letter to Knesset speaker and chair of the Knesset Arrangements Committee demanding they cancel spring recess and continue to monitor the government’s actions (06-04-2020).

8. Appealed to Deputy Attorney General to require the publishing of administrative procedures and criminal enforcement policies of the various prohibitions recently disclosed in the orders and emergency regulations (06-04-2020).

9. Joined a letter with other experts regarding using drones to track Corona patients and those in quarantine. (16-04-2020)

Protecting Civil Liberties

1. Successfully demanded that the National Employment Bureau translate unemployment benefit forms into Arabic and following our appeal the bureau announced that it would begin to offer services in Arabic (17-03-2020).

2. Joined HaMoked, along with other organizations, appealing to the Attorney General demanding that security prisoners be able to speak with their families and attorneys via phone since visits are not permitted during the crisis (18-3-2020). Following a hearing on April 2, 2020, thus far only limited phone access has been provided for incarcerated juveniles.

3. ACRI wrote to Director of the Population and Immigration Authority demanding they automatically renew family-unification permits for Palestinians living in Israel (18-3-2020).

4. Joined Physicians for Human Rights to reduce the incarcerated population to the minimum possible in order to reduce the risk of infection and ensure the health of the incarcerated (19-3-2020).

5. Successfully demanded the Public Broadcaster provide real-time Arabic translations of evening news (22-03-2020).

6. Joined Kav LaOved and other organizations in a letter to the Interior Minister, Finance Minister, and Labor Minister asking them to allow asylum seekers to receive their moneys accumulated in the deposit fund for so-called “infiltrators” in light of the current crisis (23-03-2020). On April 23rd, three years after ACRI and six other organizations first petitioned against the so-called “Deposit Law,” the HCJ struck down the law as unconstitutional and demanded that the government return the funds to asylum seekers within 30 days.

7. Along with Kav LaOved and Physicians for Human Rights, we contacted the Ministries of Labor, Security, and Health to demand government oversight for West Bank Palestinian workers stuck in Israel for the next 30-60 days, unable to return to the West Bank since it’s been closed, regarding their employment and their stay here, and to safeguard their rights. We specifically called for bearable accommodation and health care (23-3-2020), and Kav LaOved requested an interim order to use the funds accrued from the “sick pay fund” to pay Palestinian workers during this period. (30-3-2020).

8. Appealed to the Ministry of Health to open “drive-through” stations to check for Corona in Arab cities (25-03-2020).

9. Appealed to the legal counsel for the police about officers illegally stopping civilians who were on their way to work without cause and requested that they follow the guidelines (27-3-2020).

10. Following publications regarding the lack of Corona testing in Arab communities, we appealed to the Director General of the Treasury to allocate appropriate resources for the detection of Corona in East Jerusalem and the Bedouin communities in the Negev (29-3-2020).

11. We sent multiple appeals to the Minister of Health and the Director General of the Ministry of Health demanding they publish information about Coronavirus patients from Arab villages and from East Jerusalem and their trajectories on their website in Hebrew and Arabic (29-03-2020).

12. We submitted our comments regarding a proposed change to Criminal Procedure Law establishing a problematic arrangement regarding the extended detention of a suspect when an investigation cannot be conducted because the suspect or a witness is infected with Coronavirus (30-03-2020).

13. We submitted our comments regarding a proposed bill that, if enacted, would allow an automatic postponement of 90 days for administrative decision-making deadlines. One part of the proposal concerns the decisions of government agencies and another part about deadlines that citizens are required to meet (31-3-2020).

14. Along with the Clinic for Human Rights in Society at the University of Haifa, we appealed to the Minister of Education and demanded that they make the online curriculum accessible to all students in Israel; as many of the students in the unrecognized Bedouin villages in the Negev are not connected to the electricity grid; both Arab and Jewish students in East Jerusalem live in a difficult financial situation; and for the children of asylum seekers. We demanded all online lessons be translated into Arabic (01-04-2020). On 4.5.20, we petitioned to the High Court of Justice on the matter.

15. Joined a letter with other organizations to the government and Civil Service Commission demanding the appointment of women to director positions within government ministries (07-04-2020).

16. Petitioned with 13 organizations regarding lack of female representation in National Security Committee (19-04-2020).

17. Joined a petition with the Worker’s Rights Clinic and WIZO against the imposition of emergency regulations that allow for putting pregnant women and women undergoing fertility treatments on sick leave without pay (13-04-2020). As a result, these emergency regulations were canceled. Participated in HCJ hearing with Adalah and WIZO to find a solution for the thousands of women already harmed by the 11 days that this regulation was in place (20-4-2020).

Protecting Social Rights

1. Successfully appealed to the Energy Minister and the Israel Electricity Authority to cease the practice of disconnecting vulnerable persons from the electricity grid (15-03-2020).

2. Successfully appealed to the Construction and Housing Ministry demanding an easing in bureaucracy and a grace period for vulnerable persons paying rent for public housing (15-03-2020).

3. Successfully appealed to the head of the National Insurance demanding a freeze on all debt collection from those receiving welfare or retirement benefits (19-3-2020).

4. Joined other organizations in demanding Tel Aviv Mayor provide a safety net for residents of the city (22-3-2020).

5. Published pamphlets explaining debtor’s rights, privacy and information rights (22-3-2020).

6. Successfully wrote Bank of Israel to make services accessible to customers with restricted accounts (23-03-2020).

7. Contacted the Ministry of Social Affairs and Social Services and the National Employment Bureau to request they ease the criterion to qualify for unemployment benefits during the Corona crisis, for employees who were on sick leave and those who are self-employed (23-03-2020).

8. Joined 23 other organizations in appealing to the Attorney General to cease all home demolitions in unrecognized Bedouin villages (19-3-2020). We received a response from the Justice Ministry that they will freeze home demolition proceedings in the Negev, aside from new construction (24-03-2020).

9. Along with Itach-Maki and Isha l’Isha as part of the “Gun on the Kitchen Table” Coalition, we sent a letter to the Ministers of Defense and Labor to collect security guards’ weapons from their homes during this time (24-3-2020).

10. Along with the Clinic for Human Rights in Society at the University of Haifa, appealed to the Bank of Israel to aid clients in withdrawing their social security allowances. (24-03-2020)

11. Appealed to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon to urgently intervene in formulating an emergency aid package to assist those unable to economically survive the quarantine (25-03-2020).

12. Along with the Clinic for Human Rights in Society at the University of Haifa, we appealed to the National Insurance Institute demanding an ease in the requirement for former employment needed for released prisoners to be eligible for their unemployment benefits (25-3-2020).

13. Along with the Clinic for Human Rights in Society at the University of Haifa, contacted the supervisor of the Postal Bank and the Minister of Communications demanding that Postal Bank services be adapted to receive customers, especially those receiving welfare benefits (26-03-2020).

14. Along with the Clinic for Human Rights in Society at the University of Haifa, contacted the National Insurance Institute requesting an emergency arrangement regarding the postponement of collecting debts, and an additional request to translate all information in respect to the issue into Arabic and other languages (26-03-2020).

15. Sent a letter to the Ministers of Labor and the Interior regarding the need for an emergency arrangement to provide unemployment payments to workers in the process of obtaining legal status in Israel (29-03-2020).

16. Joined a letter with Bizchut to the Ministry of Social Affairs and Social Services, after which the Ministry responded that they will prepare to treat people with disabilities during the Corona crisis (30-03-2020).

17. Joined in a letter initiated by the Women’s Caucus to the Director of the National Insurance Institute to request they allow maternity leave to be paid to mothers who took sick leave because of Corona (01-04-2020).

18. Together with the Coalition Against the Exclusion of Women we put out a position paper on the exclusion of women in the government coalition negotiations (01-04-2020).

19. Petitioned to the HCJ with the Clinic for Human Rights in Society at the University of Haifa against the Banks Commissioner for not opening banks the following Sunday so that pensioners can withdraw their cash. Following the petition, the banks provided debit cards to ease restrictions on withdrawals, and branches were opened to permit in-person withdrawals. The petition was however dismissed, even though the needs of vulnerable pensioners have not all been met. We then applied for contempt of court after not all pensioners received their debit cards and the bank services were limited, and the Banks Commissioner did not know to say how many debit cards were distributed (06-04-2020).

20. Joined several organizations in appealing to the Labor and Social Welfare Committee regarding “Serious and Immediate Damage to Social Services and the Reduction of Social Work during the Corona Crisis” (29-03-2020).

21. Joined a letter with the Center for Clinical Legal Education at the Hebrew University to the Finance Minister and others requesting that they require employers to allow paid sick leave (29-03-2020).

22. Submitted comments to a proposed law on the restrictions on the exits of and visits to residents living in dorms and minors living outside of their parents’ homes due to the concern about spreading the virus (30-03-2020).

23. Contacted the Education and Social Welfare Departments in Lod following the request we received from a family with children that have special needs. We demanded an emergency response to provide psychological services and for the education and welfare departments to guide all those interested parents in dealing with children who lack a therapeutic and educational framework (30-03-2020).

24. We joined a letter from the Gun on the Kitchen Table Coalition to the Public Security Minister, demanding that armed soldiers not be allowed to enforce quarantines in civilian areas(30-03-2020).

25. Appealed to the Mental Health Commissioner at the Ministry of Health to stop the immediate evacuation of the unit housing victims of sex offenders at Beer Yaakov Hospital (31-03-2020).

26. Appealed to the Israel Prison Services and Ministry of Communications to allow the families of prisoners to deposit money online, and received a response that in 2020 deposits can only be made through the Post Office (31-03-2020).

27. We appealed to the Minister of Finance and the Minister of Health demanding that they use their authority under the Product and Supervision Act and impose supervision over products needed to protect oneself from Corona, such as face masks and hand sanitizer (02-04-2020).

28. Urgently appealed to Welfare and Social Services Ministry, the Health Ministry, and the Director of the National Insurance Institute regarding the refusal to allow caretakers into nursing homes and sheltered housing institutions, and received a response that prevention of letting caregivers in was done against the ministry orders (02-04-2020).

29. Appealed twice to the National Insurance Institute following their decision to postpone all medical appeal committees to an unknown date, and their refusal to accept our request for a less harmful arrangement. This decision stops many people from being able to receive their disability benefits (05-04-2020).

30. Appeal with Physicians for Human Rights to the Israeli Prison Service about lack of cleaning and disinfectant supplies in prisons (06-04-2020).

31. Appealed with Itaach-Maaki and Adalah to the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare to extend unemployment benefit eligibility to apply to young people ages 18-20 years (06-04-2020).

32. Joined other organizations in a letter to the Mental Health Commissioner in the Ministry of Health about psychiatric inpatient rights during the Corona crisis (07-04-2020).

33.Joined a letter with other organizations to the Director General of the Ministry of Health urgently requesting the immediate development of dedicated procedure regarding the closure of psychiatric departments and wards and the reduction of the release of patients. The document was also forwarded to the Knesset Labor and Welfare Committee, which held a hearing on the issue (08-04-2020).

Occupied Palestinian Territories & East Jerusalem and West Bank

1. Freezing Home Demolitions - Appealed to the Ministry of Justice and IDF Central Command demanding a freeze of home demolitions during the COVID-19 lockdown (17-03-2020). The Civil Administration agreed to cease all existing demolition orders of populated structures during this time.

2. Appealed with HaMoked: Center for the Defence of the Individual and Physicians for Human Rights to the Minister of Health and head of Magen David Adom (MDA) to demand that ambulance workers be able to enter East Jerusalem neighborhoods beyond the separation barrier in order to test residents for the virus and treat those known to be infected (23-03-2020).

After receiving our letter, MDA published a telephone number for Arabic speakers to call and directly receive services in Arabic. They distributed the number in the refugee camp and Kafr 'Aqab.

3. Along with Kav LaOved and Physicians for Human Rights, we contacted the Ministries of Labor, Security, and Health to demand government oversight for approximately 50,000 West Bank Palestinian workers stuck in Israel for the 30-60 day period during which the West Bank was closed. Partners demanded bearable adequate accommodation and health care for the duration of the closure (23-3-2020). On 28.4.20, after the situation remained unchanged, the organizations petitioned to the HCJ demanding health insurance and livable accommodation for workers, many of whom were sleeping in construction sites. In response to the petition, we are pleased to report (as of 06/05/20) that they key issues we petitioned for have been accepted, and that the workers, many of whom are employed in dangerous industries, will have health insurance in Israel and will be treated by clinics or hospitals if needed, and that the employers’ obligations regarding living conditions that they are required to provide are specified now in the emergency regulations.

Additionally, the government responded that the taking of personal documents from employees to restrict their movement was a mistake derived from old regulations, and will no longer be practiced.

4. Appealed to the Attorney General to examine the behavior of Jerusalem district police in Issawiya, particularly for over-policing local residents and their conduct towards minors (29-03-2020).

5. Urgently appealed to the IDF and the Police to ensure that Palestinians in the West Bank are given full protection from harm to them and their property, in particular, against the taking of their land during the epidemic (01-04-2020).

6. Appealed to Health Ministry and Jerusalem Municipality to open virus testing centers beyond the separation barrier (02-04-2020).

7. Appealed urgently with Bimkom and Physicians for Human Rights to revise the home demolition and planning policy in light of the Corona crisis. The appeal refers specifically to small, disconnected communities in the West Bank that are not connected to infrastructure (05-04-2020).

8. Appealed with Sikkuy to the director of the Israel Postal Administration regarding accommodating postal banking services to the Arab public so they can receive their retirement pay during the crisis (06-04-2020).

9. Appealed with Ma’an to the director of the Post Office regarding Postal Services in East Jerusalem for the filing of unemployment claims (06-04-2020).

10. Along with Clinic for Patients’ Rights at the College of Management, we appealed to the Health Funds demanding that their drug delivery services be extended to Arab communities on the grounds of discrimination(07-04-2020).

11. Appealed to Postal Bank to distribute debit cards to communities beyond the separation barrier so that they too can with draw cash allowances (20-04-2020).

Human Rights Education

1. Filmed four lessons about “Media in the Days of Corona” that to be included in the Ministry of Education’s national lesson plans.

2. Published opinion piece by ACRI consultant Dr. Marcelo Menachem Wexler: International Day for Combatting Racism and the Coronavirus Epidemic.

3. Filmed lessons for middle school students in partnership with Keren Ketko Ayali: “Media in the Days of Corona” series includes topics touching on human rights, racism, information overflow, news and fake news, including two lessons called “media and freedom of speech”, and “youth leading social change.”

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