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‘Orr Panel’ Finds Decades Israeli Discrimination

‘Orr Panel’ Finds Decades of Discrimination Against Palestinian Israelis

‘Police Should Not Use Live, Rubber Bullets to Disperse Protesting Crowds’

In a landmark report, an Israeli commission of inquiry found on Monday a pattern of government “prejudice and neglect” and decades of discrimination against Israel’s more than one million Arab minority, or the Palestinians who were not forced out of their ancestral homeland when the Jewish state was created in 1948, and concluded that police used excessive force in quelling Arab demonstrations in solidarity with the Intifada of their Palestinian brethrens in the West Bank and Gaza Strip three years ago.

The report said that insensitivity by the Israeli “establishment” permitted widespread discrimination against Israeli Arabs and the buildup of a “combustible atmosphere,” The New York Times reported on Monday.

The three-member panel was charged with investigating the deaths of 13 people from police fire in October 2000, when thousands of Palestinian Israelis choked streets and threw stones in solidarity with Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, who had just begun their uprising against the 36-year-old Israeli occupation. A Jewish motorist was also killed by a thrown stone.

After hearing 377 witnesses over almost three years, the Orr Commission released on Monday a report of several hundred pages that, among other things, finds decades of discrimination against Israel’s Arab minority.

The panel also found that Ehud Barak, prime minister at the time, misread the charged atmosphere in Israel’s Arab minority, which makes up about one-fifth of the country’s 6.6 million people.

Orr Commission criticized former Labor PM Barak for failing to show sufficient awareness about the Arab sector "which created the possibility of widespread riots breaking out," which led to the deaths of 13 Palestinian Israelis, the official inquiry found.

The panel did not block Barak’s possible return to politics, but said that his police minister at the time, Shlomo Ben-Ami, could not return to the post.

Barak was defeated by Ariel Sharon in 2001 elections.

"The state and its various governments failed in dealing with ... the problems of a large minority within the Jewish majority," the panel wrote. "The government treatment of the Arab sector was characterized by prejudice and neglect," the report said.

"The events were the results of deep-seated factors which created the combustible atmosphere among the Israeli Arabs," the report reads.

The report added that the state had failed to "budget resources on an equal basis to the (Arab) sector (and) ... did not do enough to promote equality in the Arab sector and did not act to uproot the phenomenon of discrimination."

The committee said improving the lives of Israel's Arab Palestinians through more equal budgetary allocations for education, housing and job creation was an issue that the required personal attention of the prime minister.

Israeli Police Used Excessive Force

The report also found that Israeli police used excessive force.

Lethal weapons, particularly live fire and rubber-coated steel bullets should never have been used, except in specific conditions where life was in danger, it said. In most incidents where life was lost that was not the case, the report added.

"The committee determined that it is important that it be pointed out in a completely non-ambiguous way that the use of live fire, including live fire by snipers, is not a means of dispersing large crowds by police."

"In regard to rubber bullets, the committee found that this means is not appropriate for use because of its dangers. It was determined that the police must take this weapon out of their inventory," it added.

The panel urged the formation of a riot police squad that would dump rubber-coated steel bullets and live ammunition from its crowd-control arsenal and instead use water cannons and tear gas to disperse demonstrators.

"It is important that it be pointed out in completely non-ambiguous way that the use of live fire, including by snipers, is not a means of dispersing large crowds by police," the panel said.

Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) use live rounds and rubber-coated steel bullets against Palestinian civilians protesting the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said his cabinet would discuss the report as soon as possible.

The panel called on Sharon’s government to outline a plan of action and a timetable for narrowing gaps between Jews and Arabs.

In Israel’s 55-year history, there have only been four other major state-ordered inquiries: A 1974 investigation into the 1973 Mideast War, the 1983 commission into the massacres of Palestinians at the Sabra and Chatilla refugee camps in Lebanon, an inquiry into the 1994 killing of 29 Palestinian worshippers by a Jewish terrorist at al-Haram al-Ibrahimi in Hebron, and an investigation into the 1995 assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

The Orr Commission,s recommendations are not legally binding, but carry much weight. The 1983 findings forced Sharon to resign from his post as defense minister.

After the Palestinian-Israeli protests of October 2000, then premier Barak ordered a commission of inquiry. In his testimony to the commission, Barak said the violence had taken him by surprise.

"When these events erupted, they erupted with an intensity and force and energies and motives that were not expected by us, and according to my assessment, could not have been expected," Barak told the panel in November 2001.

His testimony was interrupted by the Palestinian-Israeli mother of a teenager who was killed by the police fire. She stood up and screamed, “Murderer!” before being pulled from the courtroom by security guards.

Ben-Ami said in his testimony that there were no intelligence warnings ahead of the outbreak of violence. He said Israel’s police failed the country’s Arab citizens.

Palestinian-Israeli MP Criticizes Orr Report

Azmi Bishara, one of 10 Arab legislators in Israel’s 120-member parliament, criticized the report for not going far enough to recommend punishment for police officers and Israeli leaders.

"The commission didn't deal with all the policies of racism against Arab citizens," he said.

He however praised the report for criticizing the police as treating Arabs as though they were not citizens, but said, "There is a real problem, and it has its roots in the attitude of the police toward the Arab citizens of the state of Israel. It's getting worse, it's not getting better."

Bishara and another Israeli-Arab legislator, Abdulmalik Dehamshe, were criticized in the report as making statements before the clashes that conveyed "support for violence as a means to reach the goals of the Arab sector." But the panel recommended no sanctions against them.

Israeli Cabinet minister Tsipi Livni acknowledged government discrimination in the Arab sector and said efforts to channel more funds for schools and infrastructure in their communities were underway but moving slowly because of bureaucracy.

She added, however, that Israel’s Arabs must work to stop growing extremism in their community.

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