Retired Judge: Israel's Neglected Arab Youth Is 'A Ticking Bomb'

Judge warns that if the neglect of Arab youth is not dealt with, it will become worse.

The neglect of Arab youth in Israel as a whole and in East Jerusalem in particular is "a ticking bomb from the social perspective, and if not dealt with will become worse." This unusual statement was made by Judge Awni Habash, vice president of the Jerusalem District Court who retired on Sunday after 15 years on the bench.

In a retirement interview to the bulletin of the Israel Bar Association in Jerusalem, which will be published in the near future, Judge Habash said that the neglect of Arab youth "is manifested in Jerusalem's urban fabric - especially in East Jerusalem - and throughout the country as a whole."

According to him, "There is a dearth of professional organizations for dealing with Arab youngsters and directing them toward a normative life. Also lacking are institutions for rehabilitating young Arab offenders."

Habash, who lives in Abu Ghosh and holds a doctorate in criminology, told Haaretz that the neglect of Arab youngsters is causing them to feel "there is no future, and when young people have no future time has its effect and negative elements have theirs. When young people are left to become embittered, when they are shunned and not accepted - what do you expect to happen?"

Habash warned that "the day will come when Arab youth and young people will say 'we want our place,' and the question is who will direct the flow. My fear is that it is the extremists who will direct the flow."

Habash attributed the neglect of the sector's youth to discrimination. "We know the stories about young Arabs who hebraize their names so they can get hired, and this makes me very sad," he said. "A person without an identity is a dangerous person; a person who knows what his identity is, is a person with dignity."

Speaking about how upon his retirement there will be no Arab judge in the court system in Jerusalem, Habash became angry. "There is now not a single Arab judge in Jerusalem, not in the Magistrate's Court, not in the District Court and not in the Labor Court. There is only one Arab judge, Justice Salim Joubran, in the Supreme Court," he told Haaretz and asked: "Why? There is hardly a single justice minister who came here and didn't hear from me about the need to appoint Arab judges in Jerusalem. They all said I was right - but they didn't do anything. God knows why."

When asked Monday whether the lack of Arab judges stems from racism, Habash replied: "It's insensitivity, unawareness and a lack of interest. It isn't from ill will. This makes me very sad; there are hundreds of thousands of Arabs in Jerusalem and there are good lawyers who are capable of filling the difficult and responsible position of judge. What are they worried about?"

He added that the absence of an Arab judge in Jerusalem sends a negative message to the Arab population in the capital especially, and in Israel as a whole. "I don't want an Arab judge who will represent the Arab population, just as I don't want an Ashkenazi judge who will represent the Ashkenazi public. But possibilities have to be given to all parts of the population for there to be proper representation," he explained.

"At one time the government even considered affirmative action," Habash concluded, "but ultimately nothing has been done in the Arab villages. This was a declaration, and everything has stayed the same. I hope that someone will take this into consideration."

The chairman of the Jerusalem district of the Bar Association, attorney Asher Axelrod, agrees with Habash's criticism concerning the need for appointing Arab judges. "It's important to remember that the root of the problem doesn't lie in a lack of awareness or desire, but rather in that large parts of the public of Arab lawyers aren't interested in judgeships," he says. "We are looking for willing Arab lawyers who have the appropriate qualifications."

The Courts Administration responded that for several years now presidents of the Magistrates Court in Jerusalem, as well as the court administrator and his predecessor, have worked tirelessly to find candidates from the Arab sector to serve in the Magistrates Court in the capital. "To our regret," said a spokesperson, "the few candidates who have agreed to this have not satisfactorily passed the course or the committee selecting judges."