Country Reports on Human Rights Practices - 2002
Israel is a parliamentary democracy with a multiparty system and free elections. There is no constitution; a series of "basic laws" provide for fundamental rights. The legislature, or Knesset, has the power to dissolve the Government and limit the authority of the executive branch. In February 2001, Likud Party leader Ariel Sharon was elected Prime Minister and in March 2001 took office as the head of a broad "unity" government that included the Labor Party, the largest bloc in the Knesset. On November 5, after Labor withdrew from the Government, Prime Minister Sharon announced he was unable to form a coalition and asked the President to dissolve the Knesset and call for new elections. New elections for the Knesset are scheduled for January 28, 2003. The judiciary is independent.
Since its founding in 1948, Israel has been in a state of war with most of its Arab neighbors. Throughout its existence, Israel also has experienced numerous terrorist attacks by a number of terrorist organizations that had as their stated objective the elimination of the Israeli State. With the onset of the "Al-Aqsa Intifada" in September 2000, there was a dramatic escalation in the level of violence directed against Israelis. Since 2000 the number of terrorist incidents, and Israeli casualties due to such attacks, rose sharply.
Israel concluded peace treaties with Egypt in 1979 and with Jordan in 1994, and a series of agreements with the Palestinians beginning in 1993. As a result of the 1967 war, Israel occupied the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, East Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights (the human rights situation in the occupied territories is discussed in the annex appended to this report). The international community does not recognize Israel's sovereignty over any part of the occupied territories.
Since 1991, the Israelis and the Palestinians made repeated attempts at negotiating peace. The most recent Tenet Agreement and the Mitchell Plan established a working framework for both parties to reduce the violence and negotiate peace. During 2000 and early 2001, the parties held intensive talks concerning final status issues, including water rights, refugees, settlers, the status of Jerusalem, and border and security issues. They did not reach an agreement. Despite meetings between high-level Israel and Palestinian officials, and repeated declarations of cease-fires on both sides, efforts to end the violence yielded few results. However, during the year the United States, the Russian Federation, the European Union, and the United Nations, (or the Quartet), conducted a series of ministerial-level meetings to develop a roadmap to reach their vision of two democratic states Israel and Palestine living side by side in peace and security.
Internal security was the responsibility of the Israel Security Agency (the ISA--formerly the General Security Service (GSS) and also known as Shin Bet, or Shabak), which was under the authority of the Prime Minister's office. The police were under the authority of the Minister of Internal Security. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) were under the authority of a civilian Minister of Defense. The IDF included a significant portion of the adult population on active duty or reserve status and played a role in maintaining security. The Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee in the Knesset reviewed the activities of the IDF and the ISA. Members of the security forces committed serious human rights abuses in the occupied territories and regarding Palestinian detainees.
The country's population was approximately 6.4 million (including Israeli settlers who lived in the occupied territories). The country had an advanced industrial economy with a relatively high standard of living. During the year, unemployment was approximately 10 percent, but was substantially higher in the country's peripheral regions and among lower-skilled workers. These facts disproportionately affected the country's non-Jewish citizens. The country's economic growth was accompanied by an increase in income inequality. The longstanding gap in levels of income within the Jewish population and between Jewish and Arab citizens increased. Arab citizens populated most of the 17 towns in Israel with the highest unemployment rates. During the year, the country relied heavily on foreign workers, principally from Asia and Eastern Europe, who were employed in agriculture and construction and constituted approximately 10 percent of the labor force.
The Government generally respected the human rights of its citizens; however, there continued to be problems with respect to its treatment of Arab citizens. During the year, terrorist organizations such as the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas), Hizballah, Islamic Jihad in Palestine, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PLFP), among others, committed acts of terrorism in Israel. Nearly 226 terror attacks, including suicide bombings, drive-by shootings, mortar and grenade attacks, and stabbings occurred in the West Bank, Gaza, and Israel proper. Also during the year, more than 469 Israelis were killed and over 2,498 injured, a sharp increase from the previous year. In November 2000, a Legal Commission of Inquiry was established to investigate the demonstrations and riots of October 2000, during which police used excessive force and killed 13 Arab citizens. The Commission completed its investigation but had not released a report of its findings at year's end.
Israeli and international human rights organizations continued to report an increase in the number of allegations that security forces tortured detainees, including using abusive methods prohibited in a September 1999 High Court decision. There also were numerous allegations that police officers beat detainees. Detention and prison conditions for Palestinian security detainees held in Israel were poor and did not meet international standards regarding the provision of sufficient living space, food, and access to medical care. During the year, the Government detained without charge thousands of persons in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza. Some security prisoners were sentenced on the basis of coerced confessions by both themselves and others. According to human rights organizations, the legal system often imposed more severe punishments on Arab citizens than on Jewish citizens, although such discrepancies were not provided by law.
The Government interfered with individual privacy in some instances. The Government imposed severe restrictions on the movement of persons and some restrictions on the movement of goods between Israel and the West Bank and Gaza as well as between cities in the West Bank and Gaza. Also known as "closure," this practice has been in effect to varying extents since 1993 (see Section 2.d. of the annex). The Government claimed that the closures were necessary to prevent terrorism. Discrimination and societal violence against women persisted, although the Government continued to take steps to address these problems. Discrimination against persons with disabilities persisted. The Government did little to reduce institutional, legal, and societal discrimination against the country's Arab citizens, who constituted approximately 20 percent of the population but did not share fully the rights and benefits provided to, and obligations imposed on, the country's Jewish citizens. Trafficking in women for the purpose of forced prostitution was a continuing problem. Israel was invited by the Community of Democracies' (CD) Convening Group to attend the November 2002 second CD Ministerial Meeting in Seoul, Republic of Korea, as a participant.
RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
There were no reports of political killings during the year.
In October 2000, police used excessive force to disperse demonstrations in the north of the country, killing 13 Arab citizens and injuring 300. In response the Government of Ehud Barak established a Legal Commission of Inquiry, chaired by Justice Theodore Or, to investigate the cause of the riots and the police response. In 2001 numerous police officers testified that the police, including snipers, fired live ammunition into crowds of demonstrators. Doctors testified that rubber-coated steel bullets being fired from close range apparently caused several of the 13 deaths. Some police described a few of their colleagues as having engaged in overly aggressive actions. Testimony during the year corroborated previous testimony and also explored alleged inflammatory rhetoric by Israeli Arab politicians during the demonstrations.
In February the Commission warned 14 individuals that it planned to investigate responsibility for the violence and deaths. Among the 14 warned individuals were former Prime Minister Ehud Barak, former Minister of Internal Security Shlomo Ben Ami, former Northern Police Commander Alik Ron, several other police officials, Knesset members Abdulmalik Dehamshe and Azmi Bisharah, and former Mayor of Um al-Fahm Sheikh Ra'ed Salah. All 14 individuals had a right to legal counsel and to call and cross-examine witnesses. In his testimony to the Commission, Ben Ami denied ever having seen a document prepared by his ministry's legal department in 2000 outlining ways he should cover himself if he were investigated over the actions of that month. Ben Ami did not deny that Arab leaders, including members of the Knesset, had warned him prior to the 2000 event of increasing violence and racism in the police force and of incidents of brutality against Arab citizens. In September Barak testified that he had never ordered the police "to use every means necessary to keep roads open" during demonstrations. He said that statements he had made during a radio interview on October 2, 2000, that seemed to support claims that he had ordered the police to take "any action necessary to bring about the rule of law and freedom of movement within the State" were "not relevant," since he had made those statements to calm public concerns. The Commission had not issued its findings by year's end.
During the year, there were no violent demonstrations on the scale of those that occurred in 2000.
There was a sharp increase in the number of suicide bombings, shootings, and other acts of terrorism by Palestinian groups or individuals in the country and the occupied territories, which resulted in the deaths of at least 469 Israelis (also see Sections 1.a. and 1.c. of the annex).
On January 17, a terrorist with an assault rifle opened fire on a Bat Mitzvah celebration in Hadera killing 6 persons and injuring 35. On March 27, a suicide bombing killed 29 persons and injured 140 during a Passover Seder at the Park Hotel in Netanya. On April 12,a suicide bombing killed 6 persons, including 2 foreign workers from China, and injured 104 near Jerusalem's Mehane Yehuda Market.
On May 15 and 31, suicide bombings killed 30 persons and injured 95 in attacks in Rishon Lezion and Haifa. On June 5, a car packed with explosives struck a bus traveling from Tel Aviv to Tiberias, killing 17 persons and injuring 38. On July 31, a bomb exploded at Hebrew University in Jerusalem and killed 9 persons, 4 citizens and 5 Americans. On August 4, a suicide bombing of a bus traveling from Haifa to Safed killed 9 persons and injured 50.
On September 19, a bomb on a bus in Tel Aviv killed 6 persons and injured 70. On October 21, a car packed with explosives crashed into a bus traveling from Kiryat Shmonah to Tel Aviv and killed 14 persons and injured 50.
Attacks by Hizballah in the Sheba Farms/Har Dov area in the northern part of the country resulted in the death of one soldier. On March 12, infiltrators from Lebanon killed five civilians, one soldier, and wounded seven others. It was believed that the attackers acted with the assistance of Hizballah.
At year's end, Elhannan Tannenbaum, who was kidnaped in either Europe or Lebanon in 2000, was believed to still be in Hizballah custody. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) attempted to pass medication and messages to Tannenbaum but was unable to ascertain whether he received the packages. Tannenbaum's family believed he may be seriously ill.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
Laws and administrative regulations prohibit the physical abuse of detainees. During the year there were credible reports that there was an increase in the number of allegations that security forces tortured detainees, including using methods prohibited by a 1999 High Court decision. The Attorney General has the authority to accept a "necessity defense" in deciding whether or not to prosecute. There also were numerous allegations that police officers beat detainees. Although it was not clear if any formal complaints of torture were filed, human rights groups maintained that no GSS agent has been criminally charged with torture or other ill treatment for the past several years. Human rights groups further complained that the investigators who did field work for the Attorney General's office on such claims were GSS agents.
The 1997 Arrest and Detention Law provides for the right to live in conditions that would not harm the health or dignity of the detainee, access to adequate health care, the right to a bed for each detainee, and access to exercise and fresh air daily. Conditions varied in incarceration facilities in the country and the occupied territories, which were administered by the Israeli Prison Service (IPS), the IDF, or the national police. IPS prisons, which generally housed citizens convicted of common crimes, generally met international standards.
Since the 1995 closure of the main IDF detention camps in the occupied territories, all security detainees from the occupied territories who were held for more than a few days were transferred to facilities within Israel. During the year, security detainees usually were held in the IDF's Megiddo prison, in IPS facilities, and in special sections of police detention facilities. Prisoners incarcerated for security reasons were subject to a different regimen, even in IPS facilities, and conditions for them were poor. According to the Government, security detainees may receive financial assistance from the Palestinian Authority (PA); food, including food required for observing religious holidays from their families and other persons or organizations; and medical supplies from the ICRC and other aid organizations. Security detainees include some minors. Detention facilities administered by the IDF were limited to male Palestinian detainees. The total number of Palestinian prisoners held by Israel, which was 1,854 at the beginning of the year, reached 4,672 by year's end. The Government stated that it held 1,007 persons from Gaza and the West Bank, and no Israeli Arabs in administrative detention (without charge or trial) at year's end. The Government detained approximately 10,000 prisoners at some point during the year (see Section 1.d.).
Conditions at the Russian Compound remained extremely poor; however, conditions in other IDF facilities improved in some respects. For example, inmates were provided more time to exercise outside their cells. Nevertheless, recreational facilities remained minimal, and there were strict limitations on family visits to detainees.
Male family members of Palestinian prisoners who were between 16 and 40 years of age and any family members with security records generally were barred from visiting relatives in facilities in Israel. Following the outbreak of violence in 2000, the Government banned all family visits for Palestinian prisoners in jails. However, during the year, the Government intermittently allowed the ICRC to arrange for family members to visit Palestinian prisoners in government facilities (see Section 1.c. of the annex).
Since the Intifada began, only Israeli lawyers or Palestinian lawyers with Jerusalem identification cards were permitted to visit Palestinian prisoners in jails as advocates or monitors, which reduced significantly the availability and timeliness of legal aid for such prisoners.
Conditions at some national police detention facilities remained poor. Such facilities were intended to hold criminal detainees prior to trial but often became de facto prisons. Those held included some security detainees and some persons who were convicted and sentenced. Inmates in the national police detention facilities often were not accorded the same rights as prisoners in the IPS system. Moreover, conditions were worse in the separate facilities for security detainees maintained both in police facilities and in IPS prisons. There were no programs to improve prison conditions by year's end.
Children's rights groups expressed particular concern over the separate sections of holding facilities for the detention of children. Overcrowding, poor physical conditions, lack of social workers, and denial of visits by parents remained problems. In addition to some Israeli minors held in criminal cases, there were Palestinian juveniles among the detainees. There were separate prison facilities for Arab and Jewish children separate from the adult prison population. Men, women, and children were held in separate facilities.
All incarceration facilities were monitored regularly by various institutions including branches of the Government, members of the Knesset, the ICRC, and human rights groups (see Section 1.d. of the annex).
d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile
The law prohibits arbitrary arrest; however, the Government did not always observe this prohibition. Defendants are considered innocent until proven guilty and have the right to writs of habeas corpus and other procedural safeguards. However, a 1979 law permits, subject to judicial review, administrative, or preventive detention (i.e., without charge or trial), which was used in a small percentage of security cases. In such cases, the Minister of Defense may issue a detention order for a maximum of 1 year, which could be extended every 3 months. Within 24 hours of issuance, detainees must appear before a district judge who could confirm, shorten, or overturn the order. If the order was confirmed, an automatic review took place after 3 months. Detainees had the right to be represented by counsel and to appeal detention orders to the High Court of Justice; however, the security forces could delay notification of counsel with the consent of a judge, which was usually granted. According to human rights groups and legal experts, there were some cases in which a judge denied the Government's request to delay notification of counsel. At detention hearings, the security forces may withhold evidence from defense lawyers on security grounds. The Government also may seek to renew administrative detention orders. However, the security services must "show cause" for continued detention, and, in some instances, individuals were released because the standard could not be met. No information was available concerning an approximate percentage of those released because the standard for continued detention could not be met.
On March 4, the Knesset passed the Imprisonment of Illegal Combatants Law, which allows the IDF to detain anyone if there is a basis to assume that he or she "takes part in hostile activity against Israel, directly or indirectly" or "belongs to a force engaged in hostile activity against the State of Israel."
In felony cases and in ordinary security arrests, a district court judge could postpone notifying the detainee's attorney for 48 hours. The Minister of Defense could extend the postponement to 7 days on national security grounds. Moreover, a judge could postpone notification for up to 15 days in national security cases.
The 1997 Arrest and Detention Law more narrowly defined the grounds for pretrial detention in criminal and security cases and reduced to 24 hours the length of time a person may be held without charge; however, this law does not extend to administrative detention cases. Human rights groups alleged abuse of detention orders in cases in which the accused did not pose a clear danger to society.
Since the beginning of the Intifada, children's rights activists have recommended separate legislation to define when and how a child may be arrested and how long children may be detained. However, no action had been taken by year's end.
Some protections afforded to citizens were not extended to Palestinian detainees, who fell under the jurisdiction of military law even if they were detained in Israel. Following IDF redeployment in the West Bank, detention centers there were closed in 1995. As a result, all Palestinian detainees held for longer than 1 or 2 days were incarcerated in Israel (see Section 1.d. of the annex).
At year's end, the Government held approximately 6,700 Palestinians in custody, 3 times as many during the previous year. Those held were a combination of common criminal prisoners (approximately 1,500), administrative detainees (approximately 850), and ordinary security detainees (approximately 4200, nearly 5 times more than the previous year). In April 2000, a High Court ruling declared illegal the holding of Lebanese detainees in Israeli prisons as "bargaining chips" to extract concessions or the release of Israeli prisoners held in Lebanon. The Government has held, without explicit charges, both Sheikh Obeid, a Lebanese Hizballah leader, since 1989 and Mustafa Dirani, a head of security for the Amal militia, since 1994. The Government claimed both were security threats. In 2001 the Government did not comply with a High Court decision mandating that the ICRC have access to Obeid. However, in June ICRC was able to make its first visit to both Obeid and Durani. There was another visit in October. At year's end, Obeid, Durani, and 27 other Lebanese prisoners (20 on security grounds, 7 on criminal grounds) remained in custody.
The law prohibits forced exile of citizens, and the Government generally respected this prohibition in practice.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The law provides for an independent judiciary, and the Government generally respected this provision. The judiciary generally provided citizens with a fair and efficient judicial process. However, in practice, according to some human rights organizations, Arab citizens often received stiffer punishments than Jewish citizens. The judicial system is composed of civil, military, religious, labor relations, and administrative courts, with the High Court of Justice as the ultimate judicial authority. The High Court of Justice is both a court of first instance (in cases involving government action) and an appellate court (when it sits as the Supreme Court). All courts in the judicial system, including the High Court of Justice, have appellate courts or jurisdictions.
The law provides for the right to a hearing with representation by counsel, and authorities generally observed this right in practice. A regional and national system of public defenders operated by the Ministry of Justice employed approximately 700 attorneys through 5 regional offices. Under the system, economically disadvantaged persons who faced sentences of 5 years or longer, and all persons who were accused of crimes with sentences of 10 years or longer, received mandatory legal representation. Judges also had discretionary power to appoint an attorney in all cases. Approximately 70 percent of defendants were represented by counsel. All nonsecurity trials were public except those in which the interests of the parties were deemed best served by privacy.
Cases involving national security may be tried in either military or civil courts and may be partly or wholly closed to the public. The prosecution must justify closing the proceedings to the public in such cases, and the Attorney General determines the venue. Adult defendants had the right to be represented by counsel even in closed proceedings but may be denied access to some evidence on security grounds. Under the law, convictions may not be based on any evidence denied to the defense, although it may influence a judge's decision.
The 1970 regulations governing military trials were the same as evidentiary rules in criminal cases. Convictions may not be based solely on confessions, although in practice some security prisoners have been sentenced on the basis of the coerced confessions by both themselves and others. Counsel may assist the accused, and a judge may assign counsel to those defendants when the judge deems it necessary. Charges were made available to the defendant and the public in Hebrew, and the court could order that the charges be translated into Arabic if necessary. Sentencing in military courts was consistent with that in criminal courts. Defendants in military trials had the right to appeal through the Military High Court. Defendants in military trials also could petition the civilian High Court of Justice (sitting as a court of first instance) in cases in which they believed there were procedural or evidentiary irregularities.
According to human rights organizations, the legal system in practice often imposed stiffer punishments on Israeli Arab citizens than on Israeli Jewish citizens. For example, human rights advocates claimed that Arab citizens were more likely to be convicted of murder (which carries a mandatory life sentence) than Jewish citizens. The courts reportedly also were more likely to detain Arab citizens until the conclusion of proceedings. For example, in the first month after the October 2000 riots in Arab and Jewish locales, police arrested approximately 1,000 persons, including 660 Arabs and 340 Jews. Of the Arabs arrested, 79 percent reportedly were indicted, compared to 21 percent of the Jews; 72 percent of the Arabs were detained without bond, compared to 11 percent of the Jews. A number of Arabs accused of crimes such as stone-throwing during the year received sentences of more than 3 years. In contrast in October 2001, a Jewish man who was convicted of being part of a mob that severely beat a Palestinian man in Netanya in March was sentenced to 18 months in prison (see Section 1.c.). The Government has stated that allegations of systematic discrimination of non-Jews in the courts were unfounded.
There were no reports of political prisoners.
f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The law generally protected privacy of the individual and the home; however, there also were laws that provide that authorities may interfere with mail and monitor telephone conversations in certain circumstances. In criminal cases, the law permits wiretapping under court order; in security cases, the order must be issued by the Ministry of Defense. Under emergency regulations, authorities may open and destroy mail based on security considerations.
Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
The law provides for freedom of the press, and the Government generally respected this right in practice. The law authorizes the Government to censor any material reported from Israel or the occupied territories that it regarded as sensitive on national security grounds; however, authorities rarely applied the law in practice. However, during the year, the Ministry of Interior closed an Arab newspaper, Sawt al-Haqq Wal-Hurriya. The newspaper was affiliated with the northern branch of the Islamic movement in the country, and had previously published articles the Government believed supported terrorism in the country. A censorship agreement between the Government and media representatives applied to all media organizations in the country and provided that military censorship was to be applied only in cases involving national security issues that had a near certainty of harming the country's defense interests. All media organizations may appeal the censor's decision to the High Court of Justice. Moreover, a clause prohibits the military censor from closing a newspaper for censorship violations and from appealing a court judgement against it. News printed or broadcast abroad may be reported without the censor's review, which permits the media to run previously censored stories that have appeared in foreign sources. Emergency regulations made it illegal for persons to express support for illegal organizations. On occasion the Government prosecuted persons for speaking or writing on behalf of terrorist groups. In August 2001, the Attorney General announced that he would file an indictment against Knesset Member Azmi Bisharah for making statements perceived by some as supportive of Hizballah during Bisharah's June visit to Syria (a country still in a state of war with Israel). In November 2001, the Knesset voted to lift Bisharah's immunity so that he could face prosecution. At year's end, the case was still in discovery.
One Palestinian-owned newspaper, Al-Quds, was required to submit its entire contents, including advertising, to the military censor by 4 p.m. each day. The editor claimed that this process caused his journalists to practice self-censorship. During the year, journalists and professional journalist groups claimed that the Government placed limitations on their freedom of movement within the occupied territories, between the West Bank and Gaza, and between the occupied territories and Israel during violent unrest. The Government and security forces have stated that they did not target journalists due to their profession; however, three journalists were killed and at least five were injured while covering events in the occupied territories during the year (see Section 2.a. of the annex).
The Government Press Office, due to security concerns, required foreign journalists to sign an agreement stating that they will submit certain news stories and photographs for censorship; however, they rarely were challenged for not doing so.
Individuals, groups, and the press freely addressed within the limits of the law public issues and criticized government policies and officials without reprisal. Laws prohibit hate speech and incitement to violence. The Government investigated a significantly higher number of Arab Members of the Knesset (MKs) than Jewish MKs for the use of hate speech and incitement to violence.
All newspapers were privately owned and managed. Newspaper licenses were valid only for Israel; separate licenses were required to distribute publications in areas in the occupied territories still under the Government's authority. There were 16 daily newspapers, 90 weekly local newspapers, and more than 250 periodical publications.
Directed by a government appointee, the quasi-independent Israel Broadcast Authority controlled television Channel 1 and Kol Israel (Voice of Israel) radio, both major sources of news and information. The privately operated Channel 2, the country's first commercial television station, was operated by 3 franchise companies and supervised by the Second Television and Radio Authority, a public body that also supervised 14 private radio stations. There were five cable television companies that carried both domestic and international networks and produced shows specifically for the Israeli audience.
The Government generally respected academic freedom; however, in December 2001 the human rights organization Adalah claimed that the Government interfered with the education of Israeli Arab students because a member of the GSS monitored and approved the appointment of teachers and administrators in Arab schools. Adalah claimed that the GSS discriminates against candidates for education positions based on political affiliations, although there have been no credible reports since the mid-1980s of the Government denying a teachers certificate on security grounds (see Section 5). However, a teaching certificate does not ensure job placement. For example, during the year, Minister of Education Limor Livnat supported an unsuccessful attempt to prosecute university professors who supported conscientious objectors to Israeli practices. In addition, there was an abortive attempt to dismiss a historian, Ilan Pappe, at Haifa University who criticized the prevailing interpretation of the 1948 conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. However, at year's end, he continued to teach there.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The law provides for the right of assembly, and the Government generally respected this provision in practice.
During the year, there were a number of peaceful demonstrations for and against peace negotiations with the Palestinians.
The law provides for the right of association, and the Government generally respected this provision in practice. However, during the year, the Government continued to deny registration of a new Palestinian NGO in Israel, Tawasul. The organization works to establish connections between Arab citizens and other cultures around the world (see Section 4). The Government stated that it merely wanted the organization to change its name, due to its similarity to those of other registered NGOs.
c. Freedom of Religion
The law provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respected this right; however, it imposed some restrictions. Approximately 80 percent of citizens are Jewish, although some persons in that group are not considered Jewish under Orthodox Jewish law or are related by marriage to a Jewish citizen. Muslims, Christians, and Druze make up the remaining 20 percent of the population. The Government recognized 5 religions: Judaism, Islam, Christianity, Druzism, and Samaritanism. The status of some Christian organizations with representation in the country heretofore has been defined by a collection of ad hoc arrangements with various government agencies. Several of these organizations sought to negotiate with the Government in an attempt to formalize their status. Each recognized religious community has legal authority over its members in matters of marriage and divorce. Secular courts have primacy over questions of inheritance, but parties, by mutual agreement, may bring cases to religious courts. Jewish and Druze families may ask for some family status matters, such as alimony and child custody in divorces, to be adjudicated in civil courts as an alternative to religious courts. Christians only may ask that child custody and child support be adjudicated in civil courts as an alternative to religious courts. Muslims have no recourse to civil courts in family-status matters.
Under the Law of Return, the Government grants automatic citizenship and residence rights to Jewish immigrants and their families; the Law of Return does not apply to non-Jews or to persons of Jewish descent who have converted to another faith (see Section 2.d.). Members of unrecognized religious groups (particularly evangelical Christians, but also Russian immigrants and others who considered themselves Jewish but were not recognized as such), at times faced problems obtaining marriage certificates or burial services. However, informal arrangements provided relief in some cases.
Many Israeli Jews who wish to marry in secular or non-Orthodox religious ceremonies do so abroad, and the Ministry of Interior recognizes such marriages. However, many Jewish citizens object to such exclusive control, and it has been at times a source of serious controversy in society, particularly in recent years, as thousands of immigrants from the former Soviet Union have not been recognized as Jewish by Orthodox authorities. For example, questions have been raised about according Russian immigrants full Jewish burial rights if their Jewish heritage was not certified by the Orthodox Rabbinate.
Under the Jewish religious courts' interpretation of personal status law, a Jewish woman may not receive a final writ of divorce without her husband's consent. Consequently, there were thousands of so-called "agunot" in the country who were unable to remarry or have legitimate children because their husbands either disappeared or refused to grant a divorce.
Some Islamic law courts have held that Muslim women may not request a divorce but that women may be forced to consent if a divorce is granted to a man.
The Government provided proportionally greater financial support to institutions in the Orthodox Jewish sector compared with those in the non-Orthodox or non-Jewish sector, i.e., Muslim, Christian, and Druze. For example, the budget for the Ministry of Religious Affairs for 2000 only allocated 2.9 percent of its resources to the non-Jewish sector, although Muslims, Christians, and Druze constituted approximately 20 percent of the population. In 1998 the High Court of Justice ruled that the Ministry of Religion budget allocation constituted "prima facie discrimination" but that the plaintiff's petition did not provide adequate information about the religious needs of the various communities. The Court refused to intervene in the budgetary process on the grounds that such action would invade the proper sphere of the legislature. However, in 2000 the Court ordered the Government to allocate resources equitably to cemeteries of the Jewish and Arab communities. The Government began implementing to some degree the decision during the year. For example, some non-Jewish cemeteries reported enhanced financing and some money to complete long-standing infrastructure and improvement projects.
For security reasons, the Government imposed restrictions on citizens who perform the Hajj, including requiring that they be over the age of 30 (see Section 2.d.). The Government justified these restrictions on the grounds that Saudi Arabia remained officially at war with Israel and that travel to Saudi Arabia therefore was considered subject to security considerations.
Missionaries were allowed to proselytize, although the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints voluntarily refrained from doing so under an agreement with the Government. The law prohibits anyone from offering or receiving material benefits as an inducement to conversion; however, there have been no reports of the enforcement of this law.
The Government has recognized only Jewish holy places under the 1967 Protection of Holy Sites Law. However, the Government stated that it also protects the holy sites of other faiths. It also stated that is has provided funds for some holy sites of other faiths. Muslim groups claimed that the Government has been reluctant to renovate mosques in areas where there no longer was a Muslim population. In May the High Court sustained a demolition order for a mosque in the unrecognized village of Husseinya, which was built without a permit in 1996.
During the year, the Government continued to refuse recognition to the duly-elected Greek Orthodox Patriarch, Eirinaios I. Many local Greek Orthodox Christians perceived the Government's actions as interference with the internal workings of their church.
For a more detailed discussion see the 2002 International Religious Freedom Report.
d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation
The law provides for these rights, and the Government generally respected them in practice for citizens, except with regard to military or security zones or in instances in which citizens may be confined by administrative order to their neighborhoods or villages. Since the outbreak of violence in 2000, the Government has imposed some restrictions on the movement of persons between Israel and the West Bank and Gaza, and between cities inside the West Bank and Gaza (see Section 2.d. of the annex).
Citizens generally were free to travel abroad and to emigrate, provided they had no outstanding military obligations and were not restricted by administrative order. During the year, the Government issued an order restricting the right of Sheik Raed Salah, leader of the oppositionist Northern Branch of Israel's Islamic Movement, to travel abroad. The Government claimed to have confidential security reasons for banning the foreign travel of Sheik Salah. For security reasons, the Government imposed some restrictions on its Muslim citizens who performed the Hajj (see Section 2.c.). The Government did not allow persons to return from the Hajj if they left the country without formal permission. The Government justified these restrictions on the grounds that Saudi Arabia remained officially at war with Israel and that travel to Saudi Arabia therefore was considered subject to security considerations.
The Government stated that non-Jewish female citizens who marry noncitizen men, including men from the occupied territories, could retain their citizenship. The law includes provisions that allow a male spouse of a non-Jewish citizen to acquire citizenship and enter the country after the spouse passes a 4½ year, multistage period of adaptation, except in cases in which the man has a criminal record or is suspected of posing a threat to security. A small number of Christian, Muslim, and Druze women who have married men from Arab states or the West Bank and Gaza have made unsubstantiated claims that the Government revoked their citizenship and their right to reenter Israel; particularly after marrying men who are citizens of countries officially at war with Israel. A much larger number of Israeli Arabs, both men and women, were waiting for the Ministry of Interior to admit their spouses into Israel as residents. One NGO, Adalah, claimed to have a list of dozens of couples who were denied the right to unite in Israel, despite laws guaranteeing this right.
During the year, journalists claimed that the Government placed limits on their freedom of movement within the occupied territories, between the West Bank and Gaza, and between Israel and the occupied territories, during violent unrest (see Section 2.a.).
Citizens are required to enter and leave the country on their Israeli passports only. In addition, no citizen or passport-holder was permitted to travel to countries officially at war with Israel without special permission from the Government. During the year, there were credible reports that the Government confiscated both the Israeli and Vatican passports of Archimandrite Theodosios Hanna, an Israeli citizen of the Greek Orthodox Church in Jerusalem. Hanna was held and interrogated by police at the Russian Compound. He was questioned regarding visits he made to Syria and Lebanon, relations with PA President Yasser Arafat, and his position on the Intifada. When summoned to collect his passports, Hanna was informed that he would have to sign a statement promising not to incite violence against the state, make statements in support of terrorist activity, and to visit states hostile to the country without Ministry of Interior permission. Hanna refused to sign and was denied his passports.
The Government welcomes Jewish immigrants and their Jewish or non-Jewish family members, refugees and immigrants, on whom it confers automatic citizenship and residence rights under the Law of Return. Children of female converts to Judaism are eligible to immigrate only if the children were born after the woman's conversion. The Law of Return does not apply to non-Jews or to persons of Jewish descent who have converted to another faith. During the year, several Israeli citizens from the former Soviet Union told diplomats that the Ministry of Interior was attempting to strip their citizenship and return them to their home countries because they had divorced their Jewish spouses. At least one of those potential deportees had served a full term in the IDF.
Other than the Law of Return and the family reunification statutes, there is no immigration law that provides for immigration to the country or for political asylum or refugee status. The law does allow individuals to live in the country as permanent residents. The Government cooperated with the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in assisting Jewish refugees. The Government did not provide asylum to refugees from states with which the country remains in a state of war. Individuals present in the country on tourist or work visas, or those in the country illegally, sometimes filed petitions with the local UNHCR representative as the first step in seeking refugee status. During the year, the Government removed the right to adjudicate status from UNHCR headquarters in Geneva and granted it to an interministerial committee, which reviewed pending cases to determine if the facts merited designation of refugee status. The interministerial committee makes a recommendation to the Minister of the Interior, who has the final authority to determine status. If a person is granted such status, it is government policy to grant renewable temporary visas, provided that the person is not from a state with which the country is at war. In those cases, the Government attempts to find a third country in which the individuals can live. The Government provides refugees all the protections under refugee conventions, although in some instances individual ministries have not complied in an expeditious manner. Some NGOs alleged that the process has been politicized and that decisions of the committee have been disregarded.
The issue of first asylum did not arise during the year.
Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government
The law provides citizens with the right to change their government peacefully, and citizens exercised this right in practice through periodic, free, and fair elections held on the basis of universal suffrage for adult citizens. National elections were held on February 6, 2001, when Ariel Sharon was elected Prime Minister and the governing coalition changed party affiliation. The country is a parliamentary democracy with an active multiparty system in which political views are wide-ranging. Relatively small parties, including those whose primary support is among Israeli Arabs, regularly win seats in the Knesset. Elections are by secret ballot.
There were no legal impediments to the participation of women and minorities in government. Women held 17 of 120 Knesset seats. Of the Knesset's 20 committees, 6 (including the Committee on the Status of Women) were chaired by women. At year's end, there were 2 women in the Cabinet; 4 women served on the 14-member High Court of Justice. There were 11 Arabs and 2 Druze in the 120-member Knesset; most represented parties that derived their support largely or entirely from the Arab community. No Arab or Druze citizens served on the 14-member High Court of Justice.
In May the Knesset amended the Basic Law, which prohibits the candidacy of any party or individual who denies the Jewish and democratic existence of the State of Israel or incites racism, to also prohibit parties and individuals who "support (in action or speech) the armed struggle of enemy states or terror organizations." This amendment opened a door to challenges which were made by the Attorney General to one Israeli-Arab party and one Jewish candidate.
Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and
A wide variety of local and international human rights groups operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials generally cooperated with investigations. However, Human Rights Watch reported increased harassment by IDF soldiers and increased difficulty in gaining permission for expatriate staff to enter the country.
In March the Ministry of Interior issued an order to border officials to bar the entry to all foreign nationals who were affiliated with Palestinian NGOs and solidarity organizations. For example, in April the Ministry of Interior attempted to ban entry into the country of three representatives of international human rights organizations and threatened to deport them within hours. Sidiki Kaba and Driss El Yazami, President and Secretary General of the International Federation of Human Rights Leagues, and Henri LeClerck, former President of the Ligue des Droits de l'Homme, were told they would not be allowed to enter the country. The three had traveled to participate in a press conference regarding human rights violations resulting from Israeli incursions into Palestinian-controlled areas of the occupied territories. All three had proper travel documentation, including visas. The Government stated that it barred these individuals because they were interested in making political statements.
On August 11, Adalah claimed that the Government would investigate the group on the grounds of undertaking activities beyond the scope of its mandate, association with a political party, and financial mismanagement. The group raised concerns and stated that the investigation appeared to be government efforts to hinder or prevent its functioning.
During the year, the Government continued to deny registration to a new Palestinian NGO in Israel, Tawasul. The Government said that it merely wanted the organization to change its name, due to its similarity to those of other registered NGOs (see Section 2.b.).
Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Disability, Language, or Social Status
The law prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex or marital status. The law also prohibits discrimination by both government and nongovernmental entities on the basis of race, political beliefs, and age. Local human rights groups were concerned that these laws often were not enforced, either as a result of institutionalized discrimination, or because resources for implementing those laws, or mechanisms for their enforcement, were lacking. According to a report submitted to the U.N. by the Government in February, allocation of resources to different population groups was not consistent with the law's prohibition on discrimination.
The Government owns and manages 77 percent of the country's land area, and as a matter of policy it does not sell land. The Jewish National Fund (JNF), an organization established in 1897 for the purchase and management of land for the Jewish people, owned 8 percent of the country's land area, including a considerable amount transferred directly from the Government, and managed another 8 percent on behalf of the Government. The JNF's statute prohibits the sale or lease of land to non-Jews. Foreigners and citizens of all religions were allowed freely to purchase or lease the 7 percent of land not controlled by the Government or the JNF. In March 2000, the High Court of Justice ruled that the Government's use of the JNF to develop public land was discriminatory. At year's end, there were no new developments in this case.
In March 2000, the Knesset passed the Equality of Women Law, which provides for equal rights for women in the workplace, the military, education, health, housing, and social welfare, and entitles women to protection from violence, sexual harassment, sexual exploitation, and trafficking. The law prohibits domestic violence; however, violence against women was a problem, despite the steps taken by the Government and other organizations to reduce such violence.
During the year, approximately 20 women were killed by their husbands or other male relatives. According to a prominent women's group, between 150,000 and 200,000 (4 and 6 percent) of women and girls were victims of domestic violence each year; an estimated 12,000 to 14,000 (7 percent) of them were abused on a regular basis. According to women's organizations, approximately 3,000 women and girls were assaulted sexually and approximately 1,000 were victims of incest during the year; an estimated 45 percent of them were girls under the age of 18. Only a small percentage of the victims complained to the police. According to the Domestic Violence Law, a district or magistrate court may prohibit access by violent family members to their property.
Rape is illegal.
Arab human rights advocates formed a coalition to raise public awareness of so-called honor crimes. There were an unknown number of Arab women killed during the year by male relatives in family "honor" cases, a violent assault with intent to commit murder against a woman or girl by a relative for her perceived immodest behavior or alleged sexual misconduct. Families often attempted to cover up the cause of such deaths. NGOs and press accounts reported that the Government investigated and tried the perpetrators of so-called honor crimes.
Prostitution is not illegal; however, the operation of brothels and organized sex enterprises is outlawed. Prostitution was a problem. NGOs reported that an unknown number, possibly between 100 and 200, of the nation's prostitutes were under the age of 18.
Trafficking in women became a significant problem in recent years. According to recent studies, every year hundreds of women from the former Soviet Union were trafficked to the country by well-organized criminal networks to work as prostitutes (see Section 6.f.).
In 1998 the country adopted a comprehensive sexual harassment prevention law; since that time, several prominent cases have increased public awareness of the issue.
In 1996 legislation was adopted that provides for class action suits and requires employers to provide equal pay for equal work, including important side benefits and allowances; however, women's rights advocates claimed that deep gaps remained. Women's advocacy groups reported that women routinely received lower wages for comparable work, were promoted less often, and had fewer career opportunities than their male counterparts. For example, the wage gap between men and women for year-round, full-time employment was approximately 30 percent, and only 2 percent of women served in positions of senior management in large companies.
The adjudication of personal status law in the areas of marriage and divorce is left to religious courts, in which Jewish and Muslim women are subject to restrictive interpretations of their rights. Under personal status law, Jewish women are not allowed to initiate divorce proceedings without their husbands' consent; consequently there were estimated to be thousands of "agunot" who may not remarry or have legitimate children because their husbands either disappeared or refused to grant a divorce.
In accordance with Orthodox Jewish law, the 1995 Rabbinical Courts Law allows rabbinical tribunals to impose sanctions on husbands who refuse to divorce wives who have ample grounds for divorce, such as abuse. Since 1999 a foreign citizen has been in prison for refusing to grant his wife a divorce. However, in some cases, rabbinical courts failed to invoke these sanctions. In addition, there were cases in which a wife failed to agree to a divorce, but rabbinical authorities allowed the man to "take a second wife;" this remedy was not available to wives. Such restrictive practices have been used by husbands to extort concessions from their wives in return for agreeing to a divorce. Rabbinical courts also may exercise jurisdiction over and issue sanctions against non-citizen Jews present in the country.
Some Islamic law courts in the country have held that Muslim women may not request a divorce, but that women may be forced to consent if a divorce is granted to a man.
The Government has stated its commitment to the rights and welfare of children; however, in practice resources at times were insufficient, particularly with respect to low-income families. Government spending was proportionally lower in predominantly Arab areas than in Jewish areas, which adversely affected children in Arab villages and cities. In June the Government passed an emergency economic plan that reduced the child allowance. Children whose parents have served in the army had a cut of 4 percent and children whose parents have not served in the army had a cut of 24 percent. Most Israeli Arabs are exempt from compulsory military service. In addition to the 12 percent cut in February, the decision makes child allowances 37 percent lower for Arab children compared to Jewish children. However, children of Druze or Circassians who are drafted or Christian/Muslims who volunteer for the IDF receive the higher figure. Children from religious Jewish families who do not serve in the IDF receive the lower figure. Ultra orthodox Jews who did not serve in the military faced the same child welfare cuts. However, they were eligible for extra subsidies, including educational supplements not available to others.
Education was compulsory up to the age of 15 or until the child reaches the 10th grade, whichever comes first. Arab children made up approximately one-quarter of the public school population, but historically government resources allocated for them were proportionately less than for Jewish children. Many schools in Arab communities were dilapidated and overcrowded, lacked special education services and counselors, had poor libraries, and had no sports facilities. The Government allocated 26 percent of the school budget for the year for the construction of new classrooms for schools in Arab communities (not including Druze communities). According to the Government's report to the U.N. in February, government investment per Arab pupil was approximately 60 percent of investment per Jewish pupil.
High school graduation rates for Arabs were significantly lower than for Jews. According to 1998 statistics, 58 percent of the teachers in Jewish schools had university degrees compared with 39 percent of the teachers in Arab schools. Preschool attendance for Bedouin children was the lowest in the country, and the dropout rate for Bedouin high school students was the highest.
Arab groups noted that the public school curriculum stressed Israel's Jewish culture and heritage. Israeli Arab students were not eligible to participate in a special education program to provide academic assistance to students from disadvantaged backgrounds. A petition was filed with the High Court of Justice in 1997 charging that the Ministry of Education's refusal to provide this program to Israeli Arab students was discriminatory. The Attorney General's office agreed that the policy constituted impermissible discrimination but asked for 5 years to expand the program to Israeli Arab students. The petitioners rejected this proposal as being too slow. The court held hearings on the case twice in 1999; during the hearings, the Government promised to equalize special education resources by 2004. In July 2000, the Commission to Examine the Implementation of the Special Education Law (the Margalit Commission) published its detailed recommendations on how to improve special education in the Arab sector. At year's end, the Government still had not implemented those recommendations, and the budget for the year did not contain provisions to equalize spending on Arab and Jewish special education.
The Government operated a number of school systems: one for secular Jews, at least two for religious Jews, and one for Israeli Arabs. Most Jewish children attended schools where the language of instruction was Hebrew and the curriculum included Jewish history. Although Israeli Arab children were free to attend "Jewish schools," most chose schools where the language of instruction was Arabic and the curriculum had less of a "Jewish" focus. Israeli Arab children overall received an education inferior to that of Jewish children in the secular system. The Education Ministry allocated money per class, and due to the larger classes of Arab students, acknowledged that it allocated less money per student in the Arab system than in the Jewish systems. In addition, Jewish schools received additional state and state-sponsored funding for school construction and special programs through other government agencies. In its report to the U.N. in February, the Government stated that the discrepancies between the two sectors were reflected in various aspects in the Arab sector; including physical infrastructure, the average number of students per class, the number of enrichment hours, the extent of support services, and the level of education of professional staff. In 1999 the Government decided to implement a plan that would place the budgetary and educational standards of the Arab sector on par with those of the Jewish sector from the period 1999 to 2003. The plan proposed a unified criteria for allocating resources to the Arab sector, relative to the Jewish sector, and proposed integrating the Arab and Druze sectors equally in all new Ministry programs. However, the Follow-Up Committee on Arab Education claimed that the Ministry's implementation was only partial and did not encompass all of the recommendations presented in the original 5-year plan.
In December 2001, Adalah requested that the Government discontinue GSS monitoring and approval of teachers and administrators in Arab schools and claimed that in its role at the Ministry of Education, the GSS discriminated against persons on the basis of their political affiliation (see Section 2.a.).
There has been concern regarding the thousands of children of the country's growing population of foreign workers, many of whom resided in the country illegally. Technically, foreign workers may not enter the country with their spouses or bring their spouses into the country on tourist or work status. Those who did were subject to deportation. Foreign workers who married while in country lost their status and were subject to deportation. These restrictions, however, did not preclude the possibility of children being born to foreign workers while in the country. Those children were entitled to remain with their parent and to receive limited health and education benefits until the age of 18. Children of parents who were in the country illegally live in social limbo, occasionally without access to adequate education and medical care.
The Government has legislated against sexual, physical, and psychological abuse of children and has mandated comprehensive reporting requirements regarding these problems. Although there was a sharp increase in reported cases of child abuse in recent years, activists believed that this largely was due to increased awareness of the issue rather than a growing pattern of abuse. There were five shelters for children at risk of abuse.
Activists estimated that there may be several hundred prostitutes among the nation's children (see Section 6.f.).
Persons with Disabilities
The Government provided a range of benefits, including income maintenance, housing subsidies, and transportation support for persons with disabilities, who constituted approximately 10 percent of the population. Existing anti-discrimination laws do not prohibit discrimination based on disability, and persons with disabilities continued to encounter difficulties in areas such as employment and housing. A law requiring access for persons with disabilities to public buildings was not widely enforced. There was no law providing for access to public transportation for persons with disabilities. Extended protests by organizations for persons with disabilities during the year led to a small increase in government spending in support of persons with disabilities.
The Government did not allocate sufficient resources or take adequate measures to provide Israeli Arabs, who constitute approximately 20 percent of the population, with the same quality of government services, as well as the same opportunities for government employment, as Jews. In addition, government spending was proportionally far lower in predominantly Arab areas than in Jewish areas; on a per capita basis, the Government spent two-thirds as much for Arabs as for Jews. In February the Government noted in a report to the U.N. that "the Arab population is typified by larger families, lower levels of education, and lower income than the total Israeli population."
Municipalities, including Arab municipalities, were responsible for issuing building permits within the municipal boundaries. Some Arab NGOs claimed that outside of Arab-governed municipalities, the Government was more restrictive in issuing building permits to Arabs than to Jews.
The Bedouin sector was the weakest of all the population groups in the country. Bedouin living in unrecognized villages had no way to obtain building permits. In May the Government destroyed 52 Bedouin homes, eliminating all the tents and temporary structures in the unrecognized village of al-'Araqib in the Negev, in which two Bedouin tribes were living. Many ministers publicly acknowledged the continuing disparities in government funding for the country's non-Jewish citizens. Following the demonstrations and disturbances in September and October 2000, the Government approved a $975 million (4 billion NIS) economic assistance plan for the country's Arab citizens to be phased in over 4 years. Most of the money included in the plan was allocated for education and new infrastructure development. Israeli Arab leaders and human rights groups criticized the plan because it was not based on a comprehensive survey of the economic and development needs of the country's Arab population and was considered inadequate to meet that population's needs. Critics also pointed out that only half of the total sum represented newly allocated money. The Government had still not implemented the plan by year's end.
By law, the Israel Land Authority has 18-24 members; half of which represent organizations forbidden by statute to transfer land to non-Jews. In 1999 the Government appointed the first Arab citizen to the board, and in 2001 the High Court of Justice ruled that the Government must appoint an additional Arab to the board. However, during the year, this had not been done. In March 2000, the High Court ruled on a 1995 petition brought by an Arab citizen couple who were barred from buying a home in Katzir, a Jewish municipality that was built on state-owned land. The High Court ruled that the Government's use of the Jewish National Fund to develop public land was discriminatory, since the fund's bylaws prohibit the sale or lease of land to non-Jews. The High Court determined that its ruling in the case would not affect previous land allocations and that differentiating between Jews and non-Jews in land allocation might be acceptable under unspecified "special circumstances." The municipality was instructed to develop and publish criteria for its decisions and a plan for implementation. By year's end, Israel Lands Authority had not fully implemented the ruling, and the Arab couple still had not been able to purchase a home in Katzir.
Israeli Arab organizations have challenged publicly the 1996 "Master Plan for the Northern Areas of Israel," which listed as priority goals increasing the Galilee's Jewish population and blocking the territorial contiguity of Arab villages and towns, on the grounds that it discriminates against Arab citizens; the Government continued to use this document for planning in the Galilee. At year's end, there were no discernible changes.
Israeli Arabs were underrepresented in the student bodies and faculties of most universities and in higher level professional and business ranks. In 1999 Arabs constituted 8.7 percent of the students at major universities in the country. Well-educated Arabs often were unable to find jobs commensurate with their level of education. Arab citizens held fewer than 60 of the country's 5,000 university faculty positions. The Government stated that it was committed to granting equal and fair conditions to Israeli Arabs, particularly in the areas of education, housing, and employment. A small number of Israeli Arabs have risen to responsible positions in the civil service, generally in the Arab departments of government ministries. In 1994 a civil service commission began a 3-year affirmative action program to expand that number, but it has achieved only modest results. In 2000 only the Ministry of Health and Ministry of Religious Affairs had representation of more that 5 percent of Arabs in their workforce. The Ministries of Housing, Transportation, and Trade and Industry, all had representation of less than 1 percent of Arabs in their workforce. Arab composition in the remaining 15 ministries was approximately 5 percent. In October 2000, the Knesset passed a bill requiring that minorities and underrepresented populations be granted "appropriate representation" in the civil service and on the boards of government corporations. The Government took steps toward implementing the law during the year, including setting aside civil service positions for Arab candidates and appointing more Israeli Arabs to corporate boards. For example, during the year, an Arab citizen was appointed to the board of Ben Gurion Airport.
In practice few Israeli Arabs served in the military or worked in companies with defense contracts or in security-related fields. The Israeli Druze and Circassian communities were subject to the military draft and the overwhelming majority accepted service willingly. Some Bedouin and other Arab citizens who were not subject to the draft served voluntarily. Those who did not serve in the army had less access than other citizens to those social and economic benefits for which military service was a prerequisite or an advantage, such as housing, new-household subsidies, and government or security-related industrial employment. NGOs challenged in court a government plan to pay less social security child allowance benefits to families in which at least one parent did not serve in the IDF than to families in which at least one parent did. Until the court decides the case, the child benefits remain equal for all families, regardless of parents' IDF service.
Israeli Arab groups alleged that many employers used the prerequisite of military service to avoid hiring non-Jews. For instance, in August 2001 the municipality of Tel Aviv advertised for parking lot attendants; "military service" was a prerequisite.
There were approximately 130,000 Bedouin in the Negev; of this number approximately half lived in 7 state planned communities and the other half lived in 45 settlements that were not recognized by the Government. The recognized Bedouin villages receive basic services from the Government; however, they are among the poorest communities in the country. The unrecognized villages were declared illegal by the National Planning and Building Law of 1965 when the lands on which they sit were rezoned as nonresidential, and the Government claimed ownership of the land. According to the Government, recognizing these villages would conflict with its attempts to establish new villages in "an orderly manner, and would leave disputes over the land unresolved." Residents of the unrecognized villages paid taxes to the Government; however, their villages were not eligible for government services. Consequently, such villages were denied basic health, education, water, electricity, employment opportunities, and other services. In 34 villages, there was no school at all; under these circumstances, there was little incentive to stay in school. New building in the unrecognized villages was considered illegal and subject to demolition. Private efforts have supplied some unrecognized villages with water, and the courts have ordered the provision of limited health and education services. The Government has yet to fulfill its commitment to resolve the legal status of unrecognized Arab villages. Since 1994, 8 villages have been recognized officially, but nearly 100 more, of varying size and with a total population of nearly 70,000 persons, remained illegal. Following a 1999 High Court decision, the Government agreed to begin a study to determine the infrastructure needed in each village, and that the implementation of plans made by a professional team of researchers would be discussed with villagers. A planning committee was required to submit a report regarding the progress of these plans to the Court in October. No projects related to the planning committee had begun by year's end.
In February the Israel Lands Administration sprayed from the air chemical defoliant over 12,000 dunams (12 sq. km) of Bedouin wheat fields on the Negev that had been planted on unrecognized land. The Minister for National Infrastructure explained that the crops had been illegally planted on state-owned land and that he was acting to return the power of the Land Authority. The Ministry's action was widely criticized, both inside and outside the Government.
There continued to be claims by Arab groups that land expropriation for public use affected the Arab community disproportionately; that Arabs have been allowed too little input in planning decisions that affect their schools and municipalities; that mosques and cemeteries belonging to the Islamic Waqf (religious endowment) have been neglected or expropriated unjustly for public use; and that successive governments have blocked the return to their homes of citizens displaced in the early years of the country's history. The Government has yet to agree with the pre-1948 residents of the northern villages of Bir Am and Ikrit, and their descendants, regarding their long-term demand to be allowed to rebuild their houses. In 1997 a special interministerial panel recommended that the Government allow the villagers to return to Bir Am and Ikrit. The High Court granted the Government several extensions for implementing the recommendation. In October 2001, after the expiration of the most recent extension, under instructions from the Sharon Government, the State Prosecutor's Office submitted an affidavit to the High Court asking it to reject the villagers' appeal, stating that the Government had legally appropriated the land and that the precedent of returning displaced persons to their villages would be used for propaganda and political purposes by the Palestinian Authority. The Court's decision was pending at year's end.
Section 6 Worker Rights
a. The Right of Association
Citizen workers may join and establish labor organizations freely. Most unions belong to Histadrut (the General Federation of Labor in Israel) or to a much smaller rival federation, the Histadrut Haovdim Haleumit (National Federation of Labor). These organizations were independent of the Government. Histadrut members elected national and local officers and officials of its affiliated women's organization, Na'amat, from political party lists of those already in the union. Plant or enterprise committee members were elected individually. Approximately 650,000 workers were members of Histadrut, and much of the non-Histadrut work force was covered by Histadrut's collective bargaining agreements.
Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza Strip who worked in Israel were not able to join Israeli trade unions or organize their own unions in Israel. Palestinian trade unions in the occupied territories were not permitted to conduct activities in Israel (see Section 6.a. of the annex). However, nonresident workers in the organized sector were entitled to the protection of Histadrut work contracts and grievance procedures. They may join, vote for, and be elected to shop-level workers' committees if their numbers in individual establishments exceed a minimum threshold. Palestinian participation in such committees was minimal.
Labor laws apply to Palestinians in East Jerusalem and to the Syrian Druze living on the Golan Heights.
Unions were free to affiliate with international organizations.
b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively
Citizen workers exercised their legal rights to organize and bargain collectively. While there was no law specifically prohibiting antiunion discrimination, the law against discrimination could be cited to contest discrimination based on union membership. No antiunion discrimination was reported.
Nonresident workers could not organize their own unions or engage in collective bargaining, but they were entitled to be represented by the bargaining agent and protected by collective bargaining agreements. It was estimated that there were approximately 300,000 foreign workers in the country. They did not pay union dues, but were required to pay a 1 percent agency fee in lieu of dues, which entitled them to union protection by Histadrut's collective bargaining agreements. The Ministry of Labor could extend collective bargaining agreements to nonunionized workplaces in the same industrial sector. The Ministry of Labor also oversaw personal contracts in the unorganized sectors of the economy.
The right to strike was exercised regularly. Unions must provide 15 days' notice prior to a strike unless otherwise specified in the collective bargaining agreement. However, unauthorized strikes occurred. Strike leaders--even those organizing illegal strikes--are protected by law. If essential public services are affected, the Government may appeal to labor courts for back-to-work orders while the parties continue negotiations. There were a number of strikes in both the public and private sectors during the year by employees protesting the effects of privatization. Worker dismissals and the terms of severance arrangements often were the central issues of dispute. During the year, there were major strikes of municipal workers on several occasions. The workers were protesting wage and benefit issues.
There were no export processing zones.
c. Prohibition of Forced or Bonded Labor
The law prohibits forced or bonded labor, specifically including forced and bonded labor by children, and neither citizens nor nonresident Palestinians working in Israel generally were subject to this practice; however, civil rights groups charged that unscrupulous employers often took advantage of illegal workers' lack of status to hold them in conditions amounting to involuntary servitude (see Section 6.e.). The problem was notable concerning non-Palestinian illegal workers.
Women were trafficked for the purpose of prostitution (see Section 6.f.)
d. Status of Child Labor Practices and Minimum Age for Employment
Children who have attained the age of 15 years, and who fall under the compulsory education law (which applies to all children except those who have completed grade 10), may not be employed unless they work as apprentices under the Apprenticeship Law. Children who are 14-years-old may be employed during official school holidays. Employment of those 16 to 18 years of age is restricted to ensure time for rest and education; and the Government enforced these restrictions in practice.
There were no reliable data regarding illegal child workers. The small number of child workers reportedly was concentrated among the country's Arab population and its most recent Jewish immigrants. Illegal employment was found primarily in urban, light industry.
Children's rights groups have called for more vigorous enforcement of child labor laws, combined with a parallel effort to deal with the causes of illegal child labor.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
In 2001 the minimum wage was raised to 47.5 percent of the average wage. The minimum wage was calculated periodically and adjusted for cost of living increases. At year's end, the minimum wage was approximately $760 (3,266 NIS) per month. The minimum wage often was supplemented by special allowances and generally was sufficient to provide a worker and family with a decent standard of living. Union officials expressed concern over enforcement of minimum wage regulations, particularly with respect to employers of illegal nonresident workers, who sometimes paid less than the minimum wage.
By law the maximum hours of work at regular pay are 47 hours a week, 8 hours per day, and 7 hours on the day before the weekly rest, which must be at least 36 consecutive hours and include the Sabbath.
Employers must receive a government permit to hire nonresident workers from the occupied territories, certifying that no citizen is available for the job. All Palestinians from the occupied territories were employed on a daily basis and, unless they were employed on shift work, were not authorized to spend the night in Israel. Palestinians without valid work permits were subject to arrest. Due to security concerns, the Government stopped issuing almost all permits for Palestinian workers following the outbreak of violence in 2000.
Nonresident workers were paid through the employment service of the Ministry of Labor, which disbursed wages and benefits collected from employers. The Ministry deducted a 1 percent union fee and the workers' required contributions to the National Insurance Institute (NII), the agency that administered the Israeli social security system, unemployment benefits, and other benefits. Despite these deductions, Palestinian workers were not eligible for all NII benefits. They continued to be insured for injuries suffered while working in the country, maternity leave, as well as the bankruptcy of a worker's employer. However, they did not have access to unemployment insurance, general disability payments, or low-income supplements. Since 1993 the Government has agreed to transfer the NII fees collected from Palestinian workers to the Palestinian Authority, which is to assume responsibility for all the pensions and social benefits of Palestinians working in Israel. Mechanisms for providing these services in the PA controlled territories, as well as mechanisms for transferring the funds, have not been established. At year's end, the funds were not transferred and were held in a trust.
Following the outbreak of violence in 2000, the Government implemented a closure policy, which prevented nearly all Palestinians from getting to their places of employment in Israel (see Section 2.d.).
Along with union representatives, the Labor Inspection Service enforced labor, health, and safety standards in the workplace, although resource constraints, such as adequate staffing, affected overall enforcement. Legislation protects the employment rights of safety delegates elected or appointed by the workers. In cooperation with management, these delegates were responsible for safety and health in the workplace.
Workers did not have the legal right to remove themselves from dangerous work situations without jeopardy to continued employment. However, collective bargaining agreements provided some workers with recourse through the work site labor committee. Any worker may challenge unsafe work practices through government oversight and legal agencies.
Public debate continued regarding the role in the workplace and society of non-Palestinian foreign workers, who were estimated to number at least 300,000, about half of whom were undocumented and employed illegally. The majority of such workers came from Eastern Europe and Southeast Asia, and worked in the construction and agricultural sectors. The law does not allow foreign workers the ability to obtain citizenship or permanent residence status, unless they are Jewish, in which case they would qualify under the laws which allow for Jewish persons to immigrate. As a result, foreign workers and their families, especially those who entered the country illegally, experienced uncertainty in addressing legal and social problems, including exploitation or abuse in the workplace.
There have been growing allegations that foreign workers were being lured to Israel with the promise of jobs that in fact did not exist. Many foreign workers paid up to $10,000 to work in Israel. Work visas were tied to specific jobs, and quotas to bring in foreign workers were assigned by the Government to employers. Technically, it is illegal for manpower companies who provide the workers to the employers, to receive payments from the worker, but NGOs and news articles alleged that the companies made thousands of dollars from each worker brought into the country, usually as a payment from the foreign partner. According to NGOs, there have been a significant number of cases where workers have been dismissed shortly after arriving in Israel. These NGOs alleged that the manpower companies worked with deportation authorities to deport the newly arrived workers, who were then replaced with new workers, earning the manpower companies more fees. NGOs argued that most workers expected to work for some time in Israel to recoup their initial payments; often they sought illegal employment for fear of returning home with large debts. According to NGOs, there have been cases where workers have killed themselves rather than face this prospect.
Illegal foreign workers facing deportation were brought before a special court established to deal with issues related to deportation, and workers may contest the deportations. Many workers lacked fluency in Hebrew, which hindered the process. NGOs existed to aid workers facing deportations, and there have been cases in which the worker's status was reinstated. The court also provided a forum where deportable workers can claim that they were not paid or given benefits according to the law. In some cases, the court delayed deportation until all claims, including severance, were paid. However, some NGOs suggested that illegal workers often lived in situations amounting to involuntary servitude, due primarily to their tenuous legal status. NGOs noted several cases in which foreign workers were injured by the police during arrest. In some cases, these NGOs claimed, the workers were so seriously injured that they were not ultimately detained, due to the potential cost of care for their injuries. At least one foreign worker killed himself while in detention, and NGOs claimed that detention facilities did not meet minimum standards.
During the year there were attempts to include foreign workers within the national trade union Histadrut. News articles and some advocates stated that the union was interested only in collecting dues and had not acted to protect key union members who were singled out for deportation. The editor of the foreign worker newspaper Manila-Tel Aviv Times was deported shortly after giving interviews to other publications on the subject of foreign worker rights under the law; foreign worker advocates claimed the deportation was politically motivated. Human rights groups claimed that since foreign worker residency permits were tied to specific employment, even legal foreign workers had little leverage to influence their work conditions.
f. Trafficking in Persons
The law prohibits trafficking in women for the purpose of prostitution; however, it remained a serious problem. The penal code stipulates that it is a criminal offense, punishable to between 5 and 7 years imprisonment, to force or coerce a person to engage in prostitution. The penal code also makes it a criminal offense to induce a woman to leave the country with the intent to "practice prostitution abroad." In 2000 the Knesset passed the Equality of Women Law (see Section 5), which stipulates that every woman is entitled to protection from violence, sexual harassment, sexual exploitation, and trafficking. In June 2000, the Government enacted a law that prohibits the trafficking of persons for the purpose of prostitution. The operation of brothels and "organized sex enterprises" is outlawed, as are many of the abuses committed by traffickers and pimps, such as assault, rape, abduction, and false imprisonment. During the year, the Government reported that it increasingly pursued legal action against traffickers.
Women were trafficked primarily from the former Soviet Union, including Moldova, Russia, and Ukraine. According to Amnesty International (AI), every year hundreds of women from the former Soviet Union were brought to the country by well-organized criminal networks and forced, often through violence and threats, to work illegally as prostitutes. According to some local NGOs, several hundred women were trafficked into the country annually. NGOs reported that the number of trafficked women entering the country fell from previous years because of increased security at Ben Gurion airport, but women still were being trafficked across the Egyptian border.
Activists estimated that there may be several hundred prostitutes among the nation's children (see Section 5).
Traffickers reportedly often lured women into traveling to the country by offering them jobs in the service industry. In many cases, traffickers met women at the border and confiscated all their official documents. Many trafficked women were forced to live and work under extremely harsh conditions and to give most of the money they earned to their traffickers. The women reportedly often were raped and beaten, then auctioned to pimps who repeated the procedure. If the women escaped from their traffickers, they were often afraid to report their situations to the police because the traffickers threatened to hunt them down and hurt them. According to press reports, it was common for trafficked women to be told that they must repay the costs of their travel to the country through servicing up to 25 clients a day. They were paid little or no money for this work and once the debt had been repaid, they were auctioned again.
In previous years, some victims accused individual police officers of complicity with brothel owners and traffickers and the Government worked to review these cases. However, during the year, the Government stated that although there were no specific allegations of police involvement in trafficking, there were several allegations that some police officers were involved in "trafficking-related activity," such as warning brothel owners before police raids.
During the year, the Government opened 67 files for trafficking and related crimes; most files dealt with multiple victims and suspects; the files specifically included trafficking as a charge. A total of 138 persons were detained for trafficking related crimes during the year; 92 persons were arrested and 55 detained until the beginning of legal proceedings. The Government convicted 33 persons and delivered sentences. In 28 cases, the Government settled by plea bargaining with the defendants.
Police often detained trafficked women following raids on brothels; the number of such raids increased during the year. The Ministry of Interior has broad powers to deport illegal aliens and to hold them in detention pending deportation. According to the Ministry of Public Security, through September, the Government deported 264 victims of trafficking, not all of whom were prostitutes who had been living illegally in the country.
Authorities generally kept trafficked women who were arrested in a special section of a women's prison and then deported them. Trafficked women often did not challenge a deportation order because they did not speak the language or were unaware of the appeals procedure. The Government transferred women who testified against their traffickers to a hotel or hostel and provided them funds on which to live. Many women were reluctant or afraid to testify in trials due to threats and intimidation by their traffickers. The country has no witness protection program or close and effective links with primary supply countries, such as Moldova. Trafficked women could not apply for legal status to remain as refugees or protected persons unless they were Jewish and filed under the Law of Return. NGO reports and witness testimony indicated that the Government did not attempt to determine whether or not a trafficked woman or girl would be at risk of abuse if she were deported to her country of origin, even in cases in which the woman or girl had testified in criminal proceedings.
The Government provided limited funding to NGOs for assistance to victims. In November the Government finalized a plan to make a shelter available for trafficked women. The Government provided legal representation to some trafficked women. The Government acknowledged the need to educate trafficked women regarding where to go for help and was developing such programs, but had not finalized any plans for or begun such education programs by year's end.
Source: The Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, U.S. State Department, March 2003