The Association for Civil Rights in Israel
Civil and Human Rights
Meet four incredible individuals driving some of the New Israel Fund of Canada’s projects this year and blazing trails for inclusion, for equality, and for social change: Batya Kahana Dror, Edan Ring, Ghebrehiwot Tekle, and Nisreen Alyan. Click here to read about all four of their stories.
What does her work entail?
Read the list of cases Nisreen Alyan is working on, and you’ll wonder how the director of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel’s East Jerusalem Project finds time to sleep.
Nisreen’s caseload addresses a range of issues in East Jerusalem that ACRI has flagged as human rights violations. They include access to water, police brutality, a shortage of school classrooms and the impact of the separation barrier on neighbourhoods nearby.
“The state of Israel does not relate to the Arab residents of East Jerusalem as people with equal rights,” Nisreen says. “Israel conquered and annexed the territory of East Jerusalem, but ignored the people living there.”
For example, the water system planned for communities along the separation barrier was created for the 20,000 residents who lived there in 1967. Today, there are 80,000 residents.
Nisreen, who has a law degree, divides her time between preparing legal cases, talking to people in the field and appearing in court. When it comes to her cases, she’s scrupulous, noting, “I don’t submit any legal document until I check the facts myself.”
Nisreen often visits East Jerualem residents’ homes, to collect statements and take photographs. She gives residents pamphlets with information on their rights, and conducts workshops to help empower them.
“The state of Israel does not relate to the Arab residents of East Jerusalem as people with equal rights”
Residents tell her about the lack of garbage collection where they live, or about children waking up before dawn to get to school on time, because of check points and road blocks.
Whose lives does she impact?
East Jerusalem residents are officially considered residents of Israel, but not citizens; they can’t vote in national elections. Since Israel annexed the territory in 1967, Israeli law applies in East Jerusalem – at least in theory. In practice, Nisreen says, Israel neglects the population and often turns a blind eye to residents’ problems.
Nisreen has brought many issues to ACRI’s attention, like the violation of women’s privacy in Arab neighbourhoods where guards protect Jewish buildings, and the incarceration of children.
“People are afraid the authorities will take revenge. For the most basic things, they have to be willing to be exposed”
She’s discovered that public services in East Jerusalem, like sewage treatment or public parks, are often organized and funded by the residents themselves.
When she asks residents to sign off on legal documents containing their testimonies on such issues, they sometimes get cold feet.
“People are afraid the authorities will take revenge…for the most basic things…they have to be… willing to be exposed. I understand why they don’t want to. I’m not sure I would want to.”
What adversaries does she come up against?
Nisreen’s adversaries are the Israeli authorities. She often goes to bat against government ministries in areas like health, education and culture.
People like the CEO of the national water authority, for instance, make things hard for her. “[The company] wants as much as possible not to lose water, and we want to connect people to water. We try to appeal to their human side…we bring them into the field so they can see the situation for themselves.“
Who are her allies?
Nisreen’s work is dependent on building trusting relationships with East Jerusalemites. Over the past 10 years, she’s developed a strong network of resident representatives – they are her strongest allies. “We consult with them on everything, and they turn to us all the time,” says Nisreen.
Other allies are civil society organizations like Ir Amim, Bimkom and Emek Shaveh. These groups meet regularly to update one another and divvy up work that needs doing. Some Knesset members, especially those belonging to the parties Meretz and the Arab Joint List, stand behind ACRI’s work.
Written and reported by Ruth Mason.
Meet three other trailblazers who are working to make Israel a better, fairer, more equal place. Click here to read about all four of their stories.