Israel's highest court is accused of "rubber-stamping discriminatory practices that contribute to the crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution," following a recent decision by the Israeli Supreme Court to grant tax-exemption status to groups running schools in the occupied West Bank as long as they teach Jews only.
The court's ruling, which was passed late last month, means that Israeli-registered groups operating in the West Bank will get tax breaks if they provide services to Jewish Israelis living in unlawful settlements, but not if they provide services to Palestinians living under military occupation in the same territory.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) called it "rubber stamping" apartheid. The prominent rights group, which published a landmark report in summer detailing the apartheid practices of Israel, said that the Israeli High Court's decision is a precedent-setting decision though it was passed in relation to work of the Society of Islamic Sciences and Cultural Committee, which has run schools in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, including in East Jerusalem,
HRW said that the ruling against the Society imposes financial burdens on civil society groups that are providing services to Palestinians, including groups that step in to fulfil responsibilities that the Israeli government, the occupying power in the West Bank and Gaza, has flouted.
It will mean that schools and institutions that have been providing educational services to Palestinians in the occupied West Bank for the past three decades will be denied tax-exemptions because they teach non-Jews while Israeli institutions teaching only Jews in illegal settlements within occupied territory will continue to enjoy this privilege.
In their judgment, Supreme Court Justices Isaac Amit, David Mintz and Alex Stein said that the Society must pay tax on its rental income because running a school for Palestinian children in the West Bank is not a "public purpose" that the Israeli government will indirectly subsidise through the tax exemption.
HRW explained that the decision was a clear violation of international law. The school in located in 'Area C' – Palestinian land where Israel has both military and administrative control. Under the international law of occupation and international human rights law, Israel is obligated to ensure that Palestinian children in the West Bank are able to get quality education.
Even though Israeli authorities maintain exclusive authority over the school's neighbourhood in Bir Nabala, the court argued that the Israeli government cannot effectively oversee the activities of non-governmental organisations in "areas that are not under its control."
The court rejected the Society's argument that its school in Bir Nabala also serves Palestinians from occupied East Jerusalem who hold Israeli residency and thus they said are "Israelis", Though Israel has claimed sovereignty over all of Jerusalem it has not granted the same rights to non-Jews that live in the occupied city.
"The court decision is a binding precedent and a departure from previous practices," said HRW. "It places a financial burden on Israeli-registered groups that serve Palestinians living under Israeli occupation and is the latest example of Israel's highest court rubber-stamping discriminatory practices that contribute to the crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution, under an overall policy to maintain the domination by Jewish Israelis over Palestinians, even in matters of education."