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How do Palestinians feel about a proposal to weaken Israel's courts?


Thousands of Israelis have been protesting a proposal to weaken Israel's judiciary. Earlier this week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agreed to delay the changes that he and his right-wing allies want. But protesters still object to an overhaul that they say would politicize the court system. Many Palestinians and Arab Israelis say the Israeli courts are already deeply politicized. Our co-host, Michel Martin, spoke with Sawsan Zaher about this. Zaher is a human rights attorney and a Palestinian citizen of Israel.

SAWSAN ZAHER: Israelis - some would say that we need to give him a chance. Others are more suspicious and doubtful and have already declared their intention that they are continuing with the demonstrations. However, for Palestinians, you would rarely find a Palestinian among the protesters, not because we support the judicial amendments that the Netanyahu government was leading to, but because we don't regard in the first place Israel as a democracy because it hasn't been a democracy for us. And the Supreme Court wasn't a protector of human rights of Palestinians.


These demonstrations against this judicial overhaul have been huge. And you're saying that the 20% of the population who are Palestinian Israelis - you're saying that it wouldn't have been reflected in those demonstrations. Would that be accurate?

ZAHER: Yeah, yeah, definitely. It's - we - I think that a lot of us tried to check what our role would be as Palestinian human rights lawyers, leaders, whatever, because the issue here is that you cannot talk about democracy when there is occupation. It doesn't matter if you are a Palestinian citizen or a Jewish citizen in Israel. You cannot talk about democratic values when there is occupation. We are regarded as the other without relation to the protests, so all the more so when the protest began. We didn't want to be part in a national protest, when we didn't feel that we are part of the nation.

MARTIN: Can I just stop you for a minute? You were never tempted - I mean, given that - I just want to mention for people who are not, you know, fully aware of your background - you are, as we said, a human rights lawyer. You have argued before the Supreme Court. You were not tempted at all to participate?

ZAHER: No, I - well, frankly, no, because the opposition or the protest did not create an equal basis to include everyone while - I'm explaining that to you, but if you ask me if I was tempted, no, of course I was tempted. The difference between us and the Israelis is that Israelis thought they were living in a democracy. Israelis believed that Israel was a democracy. And so part of it is that they are fighting for the image of democracy that from our point of view, they never really had.

MARTIN: Before we let you go - and forgive me, I'm asking you to speculate - do you have a prediction about what will happen?

ZAHER: Now, it's true that I'm Palestinian, but I still live in Israel, and I'm aware about all the developments. And I think that it's not the first time that Netanyahu says something in order to save time and gain time so that he will be able to reach his own political goals later. And this is what a lot of us think will happen. Netanyahu basically said that he will suspend, knowing that he will have a period of time of rest, gathering himself and his coalition so that later he will be able to pass all what he wants.

MARTIN: Thank you so much for sharing these insights with us.

ZAHER: Thank you very much, Michel.

MARTÍNEZ: That's human rights attorney Sawsan Zaher speaking with our colleague Michel Martin from Haifa, Israel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.