Country Reports on Human Rights Practice - 2003
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. On January 28, elections for the Knesset were held. Likud Party leader Ariel Sharon was re-elected Prime Minister. The judiciary is independent.
Since the Intifada began in September 2000, and during the year, Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza continued to perpetrate terrorist attacks against Israeli targets. 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 numerous acts of terrorism in Israel and the occupied territories. Between January and November, approximately 130 terrorist attacks occurred within Israel and Jerusalem, killing more than 145 Israelis and injuring more than 720. Israeli security forces prevented numerous terrorist attacks against citizens on a daily basis.
Israel occupied the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, East Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights after the 1967 War. (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. Despite meetings between high-level Israeli and Palestinian officials, efforts to resolve the conflict yielded few results.
Internal security is the responsibility of the Israel Security Agency (ISA), formerly the General Security Service (GSS) and also known as Shin Bet or Shabak, which is under the authority of the Prime Minister's office. The police are under the authority of the Minister of Internal Security. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) is 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. Security forces were under effective government control. Members of the security forces committed serious human rights abuses in the occupied territories and against Palestinian detainees.
The country's population is approximately 6.7 million (including Israeli settlers in the occupied territories). The country has an advanced industrial economy with a relatively high standard of living. During the year, unemployment was approximately 11 percent, but was substantially higher in the country's peripheral regions, among lower-skilled workers and the country's Arab 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, Africa 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 its Arab citizens. Israeli and international human rights organizations continued to report allegations that security forces tortured detainees during interrogation and that police officers beat detainees. The conditions in military detention camps and Israeli interrogation centers for Palestinian security detainees held in Israel remained poor, and did not meet international standards. Human rights groups issued complaints regarding torture, insufficient living space, and inadequate medical care for those detained in interrogation centers. During the year, the Government detained without charge thousands of persons in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza. According to human rights nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in the country, some security prisoners were sentenced on the basis of coerced confessions.
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. The Government interfered with individual privacy in some instances. The Government interfered with an individual's ability to marry within the country by not recognizing Jewish marriages other than those performed by the Orthodox Jewish establishment and by prohibiting civil marriages. Discrimination and societal violence against women persisted, although the Government continued to take steps to address these problems. Discrimination against persons with disabilities persisted. Trafficking in women into the country for the purpose of forced prostitution was a continuing problem. There was evidence of labor trafficking among the country's estimated 236,000 foreign workers. Abuse of foreign workers, including prostitutes, some of whom were trafficked to and employed illegally in the country, continued.
RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom From:
a. Arbitrary or Unlawful Deprivation of Life
There were no political killings in Israel during the year.
On September 1, the Orr Legal Commission of Inquiry (COI), established in 2000 to investigate the demonstrations of October 2000, during which police killed 12 Arab citizens and 1 Palestinian, released a report of its findings. The report criticized then Prime Minister Ehud Barak and then Minister of Internal Security Shlomo Ben-Ami for their handling of the situation and recommended personnel action and, in some cases, criminal investigations, against several government and police officials. The report also criticized police practices with regard to the Israeli-Arab population and noted the historical, societal, and governmental discrimination against Arab citizens.
On September 14, the Government established a ministerial committee to advise the Government on implementation of the COI recommendations within 60 days. By year's end, the committee's tenure had been extended.
Several Israeli-Arab advocacy groups alleged that police and security forces wrongfully killed other Arab citizens since the killings of the 12 Arab citizens in the October 2000 demonstrations. On July 22, Israeli Border Police shot and killed unarmed 28-year-old Morassi Jibali, a passenger in a car that the police claimed had failed to stop upon order. The police claimed the victim had been mistaken for a terrorist. It was later discovered that the driver had tried to avoid the roadblock as he was driving without a license. On July 24, the police shot and killed an unarmed Bedouin man, Nasser Abu al Qia'an, who was behind the wheel of a car near a junction. Several witnesses reportedly stated that the victim's car had stopped in traffic, and that a police officer shot Qia'an at point blank range. Police claimed that the victim had tried to run them over. Commenting on a pattern within the Israeli police forces, the COI wrote in its report that the "police must learn to realize that the Arab sector in Israel is not the enemy and must not be treated as such."
On September 11, police and residents of an Arab community, Kfar Qassem, clashed when police reportedly searched for Palestinians who allegedly entered Israel illegally. The police shot and wounded one Israeli Arab when, according to police reports, village residents began to throw stones at them. At year's end, the police were still investigating the incident.
According to the Government, there was a 50 percent decrease in the number of terrorist attacks in the country by Palestinian groups or individuals as compared to 2002. The Government reported that these attacks resulted in the deaths of about 213 Israelis, including about 50 members of the IDF (see Sections 1.a. and 1.c. of the annex). Terrorists injured approximately 900 Israelis during the year. The Government and Israeli society continued to function on a heightened state of alert due to continuous and numerous threats of attacks from these groups.
On January 5, a double suicide bombing killed 23 persons, including 15 Israeli citizens and 8 foreign nationals, and injured approximately 120 persons near the Tel Aviv Central Bus Station. On June 11, 17 people were killed and over 100 wounded in a suicide bombing on a bus on Jaffa Road in Jerusalem. On August 19, 23 persons were killed and over 130 wounded when a suicide bomber detonated a bomb on a bus in Jerusalem. On October 4, 20 people were killed and more than 60 wounded in a suicide bombing at Maxim's restaurant in Haifa.
There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances during the year.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
Laws, judicial decisions, and administrative regulations prohibit the physical abuse of detainees. During the year, there continued to be allegations that security forces tortured Palestinian detainees from the occupied territories during interrogation. The Attorney General has the authority to accept a "necessity defense" in deciding whether to prosecute those accused of alleged abuses. There also were numerous allegations that security officers beat Palestinian detainees from the occupied territories during arrest and on the way to interrogation or detention facilities.
The Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (PCATI) submitted approximately 80 complaints of alleged torture by the ISA to the State Prosecutor during the year. According to the PCATI, the Government did not respond to 27 complaints, and approximately 30 cases were still under investigation. The Government, according to PCATI, claimed that 3 detainees had since been released from detention, and 12 others either withdrew their complaints or refused to meet with the investigator. Human rights groups maintained that no ISA agent has been criminally charged with torture or other ill treatment for the past several years. NGOs and international organizations reported government use of sleep deprivation, prolonged shackling and tightening of shackles, enforced positioning, forcing the detainee to run blindfolded and then tripping him, threats of violence, humiliation, threats against detainees' family members, and threats of house demolition against detainees held for interrogation. Human rights groups further complained that the investigators who did field work for the State Prosecutor's office on such claims were ISA agents and, therefore, biased in favor of their colleagues.
The law provides for the right to live in conditions that do not harm the health or dignity of the detainee, access to adequate health care, a bed for each detainee, and exercise and fresh air daily. Conditions varied in incarceration facilities in the country and the occupied territories that were administered by the Israeli Prison Service (IPS), the IDF, or the national police. IPS prisons, which generally housed citizens accused or convicted of common crimes, generally met international standards. There were some enlargements of IPS facilities to address overcrowding during the year, including the addition of 400 prison cells since June. Expansions and initiatives to renovate and repair existing facilities were underway at year's end.
In July 2002, Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) filed a petition with the Supreme Court calling for improved prison conditions. In June, the Supreme Court issued a permanent injunction prohibiting prisoners from being forced to sleep on the floor and demanded every prisoner be provided a bed. The Minister of Internal Security stated publicly that all persons held in the IPS would receive a bed, daily outdoor exercise, telephone and visitation rights, and less crowded facilities. During the year, the Government has begun to ease overcrowding in some facilities thereby freeing up more bed space.
Conditions in interrogation facilities for Palestinians were generally poorer than those of detention facilities and prisons.
In Israel, security detainees were held in IDF detention camps such as the Megiddo and Ketsiot facilities, and in special sections of police detention facilities. In August, hundreds of Palestinian prisoners at Megiddo Prison rioted against the Government's decision to transfer some of them to the Ketsiot detention camp in the south. Ketsiot is further away from most prisoners' homes in the West Bank, making it difficult for families to visit. However, the Government transferred the prisoners.
Conditions in IDF facilities for security detainees were more basic than those of IPS facilities. Detention camps were mainly open-air, makeshift facilities, composed of tents on concrete floors with no heating. Beds were composed of mattresses on wooden palettes on the floor. A new wing opened at the Ketsiot facility alleviated overcrowding to some degree. According to the Government, security detainees may receive financial assistance from the Palestinian Authority (PA), including food required for observing religious holidays from their families and other persons or organizations and medical supplies from the International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC) and other aid organizations. The IDF detention facilities held mainly male Palestinian detainees. The total number of Palestinian prisoners held by Israel on security grounds reached approximately 6,000 by year's end.
Approximately 650 Palestinians from Gaza and the West Bank were held in administrative detention (that is, not charged or tried and considered security threats) at year's end.
Conditions at the Russian Compound interrogation center in Jerusalem remained extremely poor. According to a PHR report released in November, prisoners in the Russian Compound holding cells were routinely handcuffed with their hands behind their backs to their feet, sometimes for hours. A major Israeli newspaper further reported that the Jerusalem police confirmed the use of this practice but noted it was used only in "extreme cases." According to the PHR, the Israeli Supreme Court has prohibited the use of painful handcuffing. In response to a petition by the PHR, the Attorney General notified the PHR that the Police Commissioner had been instructed to stop the use of this handcuffing position. The PHR report also stated that medical examinations given to arriving prisoners were used to determine if the prisoner could withstand "the application of violent approaches to those jailed." In addition, the report claimed that the Russian Compound was overcrowded.
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 individuals 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.
Women were held separately from men, and children were held separately from adults. Israeli citizens 18 years and over were treated as adults within the criminal justice system. Military orders, however, provide that Palestinian youth age 16 and above are treated as adults. According to one international organization, as of November, about 180 Palestinian minors were held by Israeli authorities for security violations. In September, according to media reports, the IDF detained a 12-year-old Palestinian boy for security reasons. He was released in December. Overcrowding, poor physical conditions, lack of social workers, and denial of visits by parents remained problems for Palestinian youth. According to the National Council for the Child, detention centers for Israeli juveniles had problems with poor infrastructure and overcrowding.
Various institutions, including government ministries, the Knesset, the ICRC, or human rights groups regularly monitored incarceration facilities (see Section 1.d. of the annex). However, in August, in response to a Supreme Court petition, the Government admitted the existence of a secret IDF detention facility. The Government prohibited the media from publishing the exact location of the prison, the names of persons held, and prison conditions. The Government has not allowed the ICRC, Knesset members, or the media access to the facility. Prisoners, their lawyers, and their families did not know the prison's exact location. On December 1, Supreme Court ordered the Government to release information on this prison by February 20, 2004.
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. The law permits, subject to judicial review, administrative or preventive detention (i.e., detention 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 can be extended every 3 months. Within 24 hours of issuance of a detention order, detainees must be brought before a district judge who can confirm, shorten, or overturn the order. If the order is confirmed, an automatic review takes place after 3 months. Detainees have the right to be represented by counsel and to appeal detention orders to the High Court of Justice; however, according to the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) and Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, the police can delay a suspect's meeting with counsel for up to 48 hours in certain extreme cases. If the detainee is suspected of committing a "security offense," the police can delay notification of counsel for up to 10 days with the consent of a judge, which was usually granted. The court can delay the suspect's meeting with counsel for an additional 21 days. The Government may withhold evidence from defense lawyers on security grounds.
The 1997 Arrest and Detention Law limited 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 noted abuse of detention orders in cases in which the accused did not pose a clear danger to society.
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.
At year's end, the Government held approximately 8,400 Palestinians in custody. Those held were a combination of common criminals (approximately 1,250), administrative detainees (approximately 650), and ordinary security detainees (approximately 5,650). In 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. Since 1989 and 1994, the Government has held, without explicit charges, both Sheikh Obeid, a Lebanese Hizballah leader, and Mustafa Dirani, a head of security for the Amal militia. The Government claimed both were security threats and that Dirani personally oversaw the detentions of Israeli MIA Ron Arad, to whose release the Government linked Dirani's detention. In 2002, in response to the High Court's 2000 decision that detaining Lebanese captives indefinitely as "bargaining chips" violated the administrative detention law, the Knesset passed the Illegal Combatant Law. This law 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." Detainees can be held indefinitely and without charge or trial. This law allowed for Dirani's continued incarceration. In June 2002, the ICRC began regularly visiting both Obeid and Durani. At year's end, Obeid, Dirani, and some 25 other Lebanese prisoners (3 on administrative custody as illegal combatants, 19 on security grounds, and 5 on criminal grounds) remained in custody. In October, the Tel Aviv District Court disclosed that a Lebanese citizen imprisoned in the country for 5 years but eligible for release, had been detained under administrative detention for the past year because the IDF decreed him an illegal combatant.
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 in practice. The judiciary generally provided citizens with a fair and efficient judicial process. However, in practice, Arab citizens often received harsher punishments than Jewish citizens did. Palestinians from the occupied territories are prosecuted under a separate system of military law and courts.
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 of jurisdiction.
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. The Public Defenders Office represents all eligible persons, including Palestinians from the occupied territories. Under the system, all persons who were accused of crimes punishable by sentences of 10 years or longer received mandatory legal representation. Defendants who lack means and who are facing possible prison sentences of 5 to 9 years are provided with a public defender on a discretionary basis. Judges also have discretionary power to appoint an attorney in all cases. Counsel represented approximately 70 percent of defendants. All nonsecurity trials were public except those in which the interests of the parties were determined to be 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 have 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 that evidence may be used to influence a judge's decision.
The 1970 regulations governing military trials are the same as evidentiary rules in criminal cases. Convictions may not be based solely on confessions; however, according to PCATI, in practice, some security prisoners have been sentenced on the basis of the coerced confessions made 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 are made available to the defendant and the public in Hebrew, and the court can order that they be translated into Arabic if necessary. Sentencing in military courts was consistent with that in criminal courts. Defendants in military trials have the right to appeal through the Military High Court. Defendants in military trials also can 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 harsher punishments on Israeli-Arab citizens than on Israeli-Jewish citizens. A study released in December by Haifa University indicated that there is serious discrimination against Israeli-Arabs in the criminal justice system, including a tendency to render heavier prison terms to Israeli-Arabs. For example, human rights advocates claimed that Arab citizens were more likely to be convicted of murder (which carries a mandatory life sentence for adults) than Jewish citizens. The courts reportedly also were more likely to detain without bail Arab citizens until the conclusion of proceedings. According to the Government, as of December 1, of the 3,572 citizens held in detention, 1,177 were Arab. In May, the former mayor of the Israeli-Arab city of Umm al-Fahm and leader of the Islamic Movement-Northern Branch in Israel, Sheikh Raed Salah, was arrested for allegedly funneling funding to charity organizations associated with a terrorist organization. The current mayor of Umm al-Fahm and other leaders of the Islamic Movement were also arrested. Despite Salah's and the serving mayor's status and ties to the community, they were detained without bail. At year's end, they remained imprisoned pending conclusion of their trial. Human rights groups have criticized their remand during trial as discriminatory.
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 Ministry of Defense must issue the order. Under emergency regulations, authorities may open and destroy mail based on security considerations. The Government indirectly interferes with an individual's ability to marry by recognizing only religious marriages in Israel. Muslims may marry through the Shari'a court system, and Christians under church jurisdiction. Israeli Jews can only marry in Orthodox Jewish services. Those who wish to have a civil marriage, Jews who wish to marry according to Reform or Conservative Judaism, those not recognized as being Jewish, and those marrying someone from another faith must marry in civil marriages abroad. While civil marriages are available in nearby Cyprus and are recognized by the Government, this requirement presents a hardship to those seeking such an alternative or having no other choice but to marry in a civil ceremony.
Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
The cumulative rulings of the Supreme Court provide for freedom of speech. The Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance of 1948 prohibits persons from expressing support for illegal organizations. On occasion, the Government prosecuted persons for allegedly speaking or writing on behalf of terrorist groups.
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 12 daily newspapers, 90 weekly newspapers, more than 250 periodical publications, and 8 Internet news sites.
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. There were two privately owned commercial television channels. The Second Television and Radio Authority, a public body that also supervised 14 private radio stations, supervises both channels. There were five cable television companies that carried both domestic and international networks and produced shows specifically for the Israeli audience.
In 2001, the Attorney General announced that he would file an indictment against Knesset Member Azmi Bishara for making statements perceived by some as supportive of Hizballah during Bishara's June visit to Syria (a country still in a state of war with Israel) and during a 2000 visit to the Israeli-Arab city of Umm al-Fahm. In November 2001, the Knesset voted to lift Bishara's immunity so that he could face prosecution. In November, the Nazareth Magistrate Court decided in a preliminary hearing to uphold the charges against Bishara. At year's end, the case was still pending.
The law prohibits hate speech and incitement to violence and individuals, groups, and the press freely addressed public issues and criticized government policies and officials without reprisal. In the past, the Government has 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; however, during the year, there were no reports that the Government investigated any Arab or Jewish MK.
In November, a three-member Supreme Court panel unanimously ruled that the Film Censorship Board's decision to prohibit the screening of the film "Jenin, Jenin" violated freedom of speech. The film depicts fighting in the West Bank refugee camp of Jenin during April 2002. In response to an appeal by the Attorney General, the State Prosecutor, soldiers who fought in Jenin, and families of soldiers who died there, the Supreme Court issued a temporary injunction in December barring the screening of the controversial film until the court decided whether to rehear the case before an expanded panel. Critics claimed that the film contains lies about the events and incites violence against Israel.
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 regards as sensitive on national security grounds. Foreign correspondents and news agencies complained of harassment by the Government Press Office (GPO), which falls under the Prime Minister's office. Specifically, foreign agencies complained that their Palestinian employees, whom the agencies claimed were necessary for adequate coverage of events in the territories, were denied press cards (and thereby unable to travel unhindered in the occupied territories) for no valid reason. Since January 2002, the Government has denied press credentials to all Palestinians, based on security grounds. Press credentials were not required in Israel or the occupied territories; however, they were important to facilitate access to official events. As a general rule, Israeli journalists/technicians cover the occupied territories only under IDF protection.
Foreign and domestic media harshly criticized the GPO's proposed eligibility rules for Israeli and foreign journalists as a Government attempt to control the press. The new eligibility rules published in November would have required Israeli and foreign journalists to fill out a 25-page application as well as to a pay a fee. The GPO would provide copies of the applications to the ISA for security checks while the GPO examined them. The GPO indicated that it could revoke passes already granted if the ISA found unspecified derogatory information. In the past, only Palestinian journalists were subject to a vetting process by the ISA. After meeting with press representatives, the GPO rescinded the controversial rules.
The security forces detained without charge several foreign media employees. On April 24, security forces arrested without charge Agence France-Presse photographer Hossam Abu Alan, and on April 30, Reuters cameraman Yusri Al Jamal. Both were released 6 months later without charge. Abu Alan's equipment was confiscated and never returned. Security forces also detained without charge other Palestinians working for foreign agencies. Most were released shortly thereafter. None were charged and they were told only that their detention was based on their alleged assistance to terrorist organizations.
In 2002, the Ministry of Interior closed an Israeli-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. The newspaper has since been allowed to open and continued to publish regularly during the year. A censorship agreement between the Government and media representatives, and applicable to all media organizations in the country, 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 judgment against it. News previously printed or broadcast abroad may be reported in Israel without the censor's review, which permits the media to run previously censored stories that have appeared in foreign sources.
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 GPO, on security grounds, required foreign journalists to sign an agreement stating that they would submit to the military censor certain news stories and photographs; however, they rarely were challenged for not doing so. In practice, foreign and Israeli journalists sometimes submitted articles and photographs for military censorship; however, the requirement was not systematically followed or enforced, live broadcasts precluded such submission. The military censor decides whether a violation has occurred after the fact. In December, two major Israeli papers were fined for failing to submit material to the censor.
The Government generally respected academic freedom; however, the Government continued to interfere with the education of Israeli-Arab students because a member of the ISA monitored and approved the appointment of teachers and administrators in Arab schools.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The law provides for freedom of assembly and association, and the Government generally respected these rights in practice. During the year, there were a number of peaceful demonstrations for and against peace negotiations with the Palestinians. According to an Israeli-Arab advocacy NGO, Mossawa Center, on December 27, security forces dispersed a small demonstration in Tel Aviv by surrounding the group and arresting many of the participants. The security forces then declared the demonstration, which had been approved, illegal.
The law provides for the right of association, and the Government generally respected this provision in practice.
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 consider themselves 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 law recognizes certain "religious communities" as carried over from those recognized under the British Mandate. These communities include the Eastern Orthodox Church, several Catholic orders, Maronites, and Jews. Three additional communities have subsequently been recognized by the Government--the Druze, the Evangelical Episcopal Church, and the Baha'i. Several other religious communities are not officially recognized. According to the Government, this lack of official recognition does not affect the ability of these communities to practice their religion freely or to maintain communal institutions.
Each recognized religious community has legal authority over its members in matters of marriage and divorce. For so-called "unrecognized religions," there were no local religious tribunals that had jurisdiction over their members in matters of personal status. The principle consequence of non-recognition is that they do not receive government funding for their religious services, as do many of the recognized communities. The fact that there was no recognized Muslim community is a vestige of the Ottoman period, during which time Islam was the dominant religion, and does not affect the rights of Muslims to practice their faith. Legislation enacted in 1961 afforded the Muslim courts exclusive jurisdiction to rule in matters of personal status concerning Muslims. 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 may ask only that child custody and child support be adjudicated in civil courts as an alternative to religious courts. Despite not having legal recognition, Muslims, since 2001, also have the right to bring matters such as alimony and property division associated with divorce cases to civil courts in family-status matters. However, paternity cases remain under the exclusive jurisdiction of the Muslim or Shari'a Court.
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 those not officially recognized by the Orthodox establishment as Jews or to persons of Jewish descent who have converted to another faith (see Section 2.d.). Persons qualifying under the Law of Return as Jews may, nonetheless, fail to meet stricter criteria defining who is a Jew by some government organizations. Members of unrecognized religious groups (particularly evangelical Christians, but also Russian immigrants and others who considered themselves Jewish but were not recognized as such by all Israeli institutions) at times faced problems obtaining marriage certificates or burial services. However, informal arrangements provided relief in some cases.
Many Jewish citizens objected to exclusive Orthodox control over Jewish marriages, 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 (see Section 1 f.).
The 1996 Alternative Burial Law established the individual right to be buried in an alternative civil cemetery and that these cemeteries were to be located throughout the country. The Orthodox Rabbinate must certify the Jewish heritage of Russian immigrants in order for them to receive full Jewish burial rights; however, many Russian immigrants could not obtain approval to be buried in a Jewish cemetery. Several non-Orthodox Jewish and secular groups have complained, however, that the Ministry of Religious Affairs has been slow to implement this law and that there have been an inadequate number of civil cemeteries designated. According to one organization advocating the timely implementation of the 1996 law, many persons who would like a civil interment were forced to finance civil burials privately through a kibbutz, which was costly.
At year's end, the Israeli Religious Action Center, a civil rights NGO in the country, petitioned the Supreme Court to overturn the government practice whereby the Adoption Service of the Ministry of Social Affairs places non-Jewish children only with Orthodox Jewish homes. Pursuant to law, the adopted child must be of the same religion as the parents who adopt him or her. Since conversions to non-Orthodox forms of Judaism are not recognized in the country, the Government argued that by placing these children with Orthodox parents, they would not face any limbo periods during which their conversions could be questioned.
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.
In April, the Women of the Wall, a group of more than 100 Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform women, lost their 14-year legal battle to hold formal women's prayer services at the Western Wall. The High Court ruled that the group instead would be permitted to hold such services at nearby Robinson's Arch.
Some Islamic law courts have held that Muslim women may not request divorces but that a woman may be forced to consent if a divorce is granted to the husband.
The Government provided proportionally greater financial support to Orthodox Jewish institutions than to non-Orthodox or non-Jewish groups, such as Muslim, Christian, and Druze groups. For example, the budget for the Ministry of Religious Affairs for 2000 (the most recent available) allocated only 2.9 percent of its resources to the non-Jewish sector, although Muslims, Christians, and Druze constituted approximately 20 percent of the population. In 2000, the High Court of Justice ordered the Government to allocate resources equitably to cemeteries of the Jewish and Arab communities. During the year, some non-Jewish cemeteries reported enhanced financing and some money to complete long-standing infrastructure and improvement projects. However, Muslim groups complained that the Government still did not equitably fund the construction and upkeep of Muslim holy sites in comparison to Jewish Orthodox sites, and, that it has been reluctant to refurbish mosques in areas where there was no longer a Muslim population.
In previous years, for security reasons the Government imposed restrictions on citizens who performed the Hajj, including requiring that they obtain permission from the Ministry of Interior and that they be over the age of 30. 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. However, Israeli Muslims were no longer required to obtain permission from the Ministry of the Interior to travel to Saudi Arabia on the Hajj. Because Israel and Saudi Arabia have no diplomatic relations, Israeli Muslims must travel through another country, usually Jordan, to obtain travel documents for Saudi Arabia. The average number of pilgrims from Israel is 4,500 per year.
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 1967 Protection of Holy Sites Law protects holy sites of all religions, and the penal code makes it a criminal offense to damage any holy site. In May, the Government demolished a mosque in the Bedouin village of Tal el-Malah in southern Israel that was constructed without a building permit. This action forced approximately 1,500 residents to travel over 12 kilometers to the nearest mosque. Difficulties in reaching more distant mosques prevented some residents from engaging in public prayer, as required by their religious beliefs.
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. During the year, the Government appointed a ministerial committee chaired by Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom to determine the status of the Patriarch.
For a more detailed discussion, see the 2003 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 Intifada began in September 2000, the Government has imposed 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. Citing confidential security reasons, in 2002, the Government restricted the right of Sheik Raed Salah, leader of the Northern Branch of Israel's Islamic Movement, from foreign travel. The Minister of Interior repeatedly renewed the 6-month travel ban and it remained in effect at year's end. Since imposition of this travel ban, Sheikh Salah has been arrested, detained, and put on trial for allegedly funneling funding to terrorist groups in the occupied territories. His case remained pending at year's end.
The law provides that a male spouse of a non-Jewish citizen may acquire citizenship and enter the country after the spouse passes a 41/2-year, multi-stage period of adaptation in Israel, except if the man has a criminal record or is suspected of posing a threat to security. Non-Jewish female citizens who marry non-citizen men, including men from the occupied territories, generally were allowed to retain their citizenship.
In May 2002, the Government stopped processing all residency and citizenship applications for Palestinian spouses, as well as family unification applications in general, on security grounds. The Government stated that 23 Palestinians who received some sort of status prior to May 2002 were suspected of being involved in terrorist incidents. Spouses and children who have resided in the country legally since that time have done so via a series of temporary residency permits. On July 31, the Knesset enacted the "Citizenship and Entry Into Israel Law," which bars Palestinians from the occupied territories from acquiring residence or citizenship rights through marriage to Israelis. The law requires annual Knesset renewal in maximum 1-year increments. According to one human rights organization, the El-Sana family is representative of the group of newly married couples who would be affected by this new law. In March, Morad El-Sana, an Israeli Arab, married Abeer El-Sana, a resident of Bethlehem in the West Bank. Pursuant to the new law, the Ministry of Interior denied El-Sana's request for his wife to receive status in Israel. Several advocacy groups have submitted petitions to the Supreme Court to challenge this law. The law would have an adverse impact on the country's Arab citizens, since they are more likely than Jews to have married Palestinians from the occupied territories. Advocacy groups claimed that approximately 16,000 cases--either approved or pending applications--could be adversely affected by this new law. The Government may issue permits to children under the age of 12 to reside in the country to prevent them from being separated from their parents who were lawfully staying in the country. The law provides for the extension of residency and other permits to remain in country that were obtained by the resident prior to the commencement of the law, and allows for the granting of a permit for temporary stay to a resident who submitted an application for citizenship prior to enactment of the law but had not yet received a determination. In November, the Supreme Court ordered the Government to further justify this citizenship law and issued injunctions preventing the deportation of three Palestinian spouses married to Israeli Arabs, until the Court delivered a final judgment on the petitions. At year's end, the Supreme Court had not issued a decision on the legality of this law.
During the year, the Government placed limits on journalists' freedom of movement within the occupied territories, between the West Bank and Gaza, and between Israel and the occupied territories (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 is permitted to travel to countries officially at war with Israel without special permission from the Government. In 2002, there were credible reports that the Government confiscated both the Israeli and Vatican passports of Archimandrite Theodosios Hanna, an Israeli citizen and official of the Greek Orthodox Church in Jerusalem. Credible reports from the media and an NGO indicated that while in several Gulf countries, Hanna gave clear endorsements of terrorist activities, including suicide bombings. The police held and interrogated Hanna at the Russian Compound on his travel, 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, or to visit states hostile to the country without Ministry of Interior permission. Hanna refused to sign and was denied his passports. The Government continued to deny Hanna his passports at year's end.
The Law of Return provides automatic citizenship and residency rights to Jewish immigrants and their Jewish or non-Jewish family members. 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. In 2002, several non-Jewish 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. The Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC) reported that it had successfully petitioned the court to block the removal of several of these individuals and that it did not have information about all the cases. The IRAC reported that it had represented cases during the year of non-Jews or those whose Jewish identity was in question who immigrated to the country with their Jewish spouse but then divorced shortly thereafter. These persons were then threatened by the Ministry of the Interior with having their citizenship revoked. The IRAC reported that it during the year had successfully petitioned the High Court to rescind the Ministry's decisions in some specific cases.
The law does not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status in accordance with the 1951 U.N. Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol. In practice, the Government provided protection against refoulement and granted refugee status or asylum to Jews. The law does allow non-citizen Jews 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 does not return refugees against their will to their home countries; solutions are determined on an individual basis in observance of 1951 treaty obligations and in cooperation with the UNHCR. 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, and there was individual adjudication of those with genuine claims to refugee status. Before 2002, refugee status was adjudicated in Geneva; beginning in 2002, a Government interministerial committee reviewed pending cases to determine if the facts merited designation of refugee status. The Minister of the Interior has the final authority to determine status, but within the past year has generally accepted the recommendation of the committee. If a person is granted refugee status, it is government policy to grant renewable temporary visas. However, the Government attempts to find a third country for persons 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.
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 January 28, when the Likud Party led by Ariel Sharon again won a plurality of Knesset seats, and Sharon was asked to form a government of which he became Prime Minister. The country is a parliamentary democracy with an active multi-party system in which political views were wide-ranging. Relatively small parties, including those whose primary support is among Israeli Arabs, regularly won seats in the Knesset. Elections were by secret ballot.
There were 18 women in the 120-member Knesset, and women chaired 5 of the Knesset's 21 committees (including the Committee on the Status of Women). There were 3 women in the Cabinet and 4 women on the 14-member High Court of Justice. There were 8 Arabs and 2 Druze in the 120-member Knesset; most of these 10 represented parties that derived their support largely or entirely from the Arab community. One Arab Christian served on the 14-member High Court of Justice. No Muslim or Druze citizens served on the court.
In August, the ministerial committee on Arab Affairs, headed by Prime Minister Sharon, approved a plan to appoint "at least one Arab board member to every government company within one year."
The Basic Law prohibits the candidacy of any party or individual who denies the Jewish and democratic existence of the State of Israel, incites racism, or supports (in action or speech) the armed struggle of enemy states or terror organizations. The Central Election Committee decided under provisions of this law to disqualify Dr. Ahmed Tibi, Azmi Bishara, and the Arab Bal'ad Party list from running in the January elections; however, the Supreme Court overturned this decision.
The Knesset Elections Committee for the 16th Knesset denied MK Azmi Bishara's right to run in the January 29 elections for expressions and other statements he made in public appearances and in the newspapers, for his opposition to the status of Israel as a Jewish state, and for supporting armed struggle of an enemy country or terror organization against the State of Israel. The Supreme Court overruled the Committee's decision and allowed him to participate in the election campaign, and he was elected as a member of the Knesset.
A wide variety of local and international human rights groups operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. In 2002, Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported harassment by IDF soldiers and difficulty in gaining permission for expatriate staff to enter the country.
In March 2002, the Ministry of Interior issued an order to border officials to bar entry to all foreign nationals who were affiliated with some Palestinian human rights NGOs and solidarity organizations. During the year, there have been numerous cases where persons affiliated with Palestinian NGOs and humanitarian organizations providing assistance in the occupied territories were denied entry into Israel and, in some cases, deported. The Government's stated policy is to deny entry to those persons it considers security risks. In May, Israeli border police denied entry at the Allenby Bridge from Jordan to nine European youth who were working on a project associated with the European Union. The group was returning to Israel following the expiration of their initial 3-month visas. After the youth waited for several hours at the border to enter the country, the border police told them that the Ministry of Interior had denied them entry. After being denied on a subsequent request, the group was turned back into Jordan. In May, an advocacy organization filed a petition with a district court challenging the Ministry's decision, and the Minister of Interior rescinded prohibition on their entry.
In May, the Government prohibited entry of foreign nationals and members of international NGOs into the Gaza Strip unless they signed a form accepting limitations on their freedom of movement to certain areas and absolving the IDF of any responsibility for their safety. Failure to honor the conditions set forth in the form could result in arrest and/or deportation.
In May, Adalah reported that the Government requested information and documents relating to activities Adalah had allegedly taken beyond the scope of its mandate, including association with a political party and financial mismanagement. Adalah challenged this request and charged that many of the questions went beyond the inquiry's scope and outside the Registrar's authority.
NGOs must register with the Government by submitting an application and paying approximately $20 (85 shekels) to the Office of the Registrar. The office investigates the organization to confirm its stated purpose and ensure conformity with the law. If approved, the organization then receives a license to operate as an NGO. It must subsequently register with the tax office to receive tax-exempt status. Registered Israeli NGOs receive state funding; however, some Israeli-Arab NGOs complained of difficulties in both registering and receiving state funding. In 2002, the Government denied registration to a new Palestinian NGO, 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.). In April, however, the Government registered Tawasul as an NGO.
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, or 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. During the year, NGOS complained of discrimination and police harassment against homosexuals in Tel Aviv. According to a February 200 report submitted to the U.N. by the Government, allocation of resources to different population groups was inconsistent with the law's prohibition on discrimination.
Approximately 93 percent of the country's land area is public domain under the management of the Israel Lands Administration (ILA), which, as a matter of policy, does not sell but only leases land. Of that 93 percent, some 14 percent is owned by the Jewish National Fund (JNF), an organization established in 1897 for the purchase and management of land for the Jewish people. The JNF's statute prohibits the sale or lease of land to non-Jews, although reports indicate it has done so. 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.
At year's end, the Government had still not implemented the 2000 High Court of Justice ruling that the Government cannot discriminate against Israeli Arabs in the distribution of State resources, including land. The Court held that the ILA must provide an Israeli-Arab family, the Ka'adans, with title to a plot of land they wanted to buy in the Jewish community of Katzir. The court ruled specifically that the ILA cannot discriminate on the basis of nationality or religion when dispensing land to its citizens. The High Court determined that its ruling 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 community council was instructed to develop and publish criteria for its decisions and a plan for implementation; however, the ILA through the local council did not implement the court's 2000 decision. In October, the Arab family petitioned the court to compel the ILA's allocation of the plot of land in Katzir. To avoid returning to court, the ILA agreed to offer the Arab family a similar plot of land in an adjacent newly constructed community. On December 17, the Supreme Court issued an interim injunction ordering the ILA to set aside a plot of land in Katzir for the Ka'adans; however, at year's end, the ILA still had not done so.
The Association of Gay Men, Lesbians, Bisexuals and Transgender in Israel complained that there had been several incidents where police in Tel Aviv had allegedly engaged in verbal and physical harassment of homosexuals in a Tel Aviv public park. Representatives of that organization subsequently met with representatives of the police to discuss ways to improve relations between the police and the homosexual community. According to reports, the police appointed contact persons in all police districts who would serve as liaisons to the homosexual community.
The Equality of Women Law 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 to prosecute these crimes and by other organizations to raise public awareness about this problem.
In 2001, the Government enacted the Prevention of Stalking and amended the Prevention of Family Violence Law to include a duty to inform service requiring a number of public and private sector professional personnel to inform suspected victims of their right to turn to the police, welfare service, or Centers for the Prevention of Domestic Violence for assistance.
According to the Ministry of Public Security, 13 women were killed by their husbands between January and November. Between January and October, according to the Government, women lodged 10,000 complaints of domestic violence. At the end of September, 522 women with 809 children stayed in battered women's shelters. The Government estimated that 5,500 women were treated in centers for prevention and treatment of domestic violence. Annually, approximately 4,000 women and 3,350 girls were victims of violence and were treated by the various social services departments in the local municipalities. Social workers have taken statements from approximately 1,200 girls who were victims of domestic violence. The Government also reported that between January and October, women and girls filed 2,024 complaints of sexual assault with the police. By the end of September, aid centers received 5,063 calls from victims of sexual assault, 852 of whom were victims of incest. During the year, sexual assault victims treatment centers treated approximately 100 women, and the Agency for Women and Girls treated approximately 1,100 women and girls, 480 of whom were victims of incest. Social workers for children who were victims of sexual offenses, took statements during the year from 240 girls who claimed they were victims of sexual assault committed by family members.
Rape is illegal; however, NGOs consider the incidence of rape a matter of concern in the country.
One women's organization claimed that during the year, it had information about three cases of Arab women killed by male relatives in family honor cases. That organization also stated that a Bedouin women's organization suspected 10 cases of honor killings of women in the Negev. Several of the women had reportedly disappeared. There was no accurate estimate of the number of family honor cases as families often attempted to cover up the cause of such deaths.
Prostitution is not illegal; however, the operation of brothels and organized sex enterprises is outlawed. NGOs reported that there may be prostitutes under the age of 18 but there is currently no accurate estimate. NGOs speculate that there are approximately 100-200 prostitutes under 18 years of age.
Trafficking in women remained a significant problem. Criminal networks reportedly trafficked hundreds of women, primarily from the former Soviet Union, into the country by criminal networks to work as prostitutes (see Section 6.f.).
The law prohibits sexual harassment. There were no accurate statistics regarding the extent of sexual harassment in the workplace; however, there was a dramatic increase in the number of complaints of sexual harassment following enactment in 1998 of the law prohibiting sexual harassment. According to the Government, from January to October, victims filed 167 complaints of sexual harassment to the police.
The law provides for class action suits and requires employers to provide equal pay for equal work, including side benefits and allowances; however, women's rights advocates claimed that deep wage 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. According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, women averaged only 79 percent of men's wages in 2002. According to press reports, women filled only 2 percent of senior management positions in large companies.
Religious courts adjudicate personal status law in the areas of marriage and divorce. Jewish and Muslim women are subject to restrictive interpretations of their rights in both systems. 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. One foreign citizen has been in prison since 1999 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;" a remedy 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 November, the Central Bureau of Statistics reported that in 2002, 16 percent of children in Israel lived in households with no working parent (13.1 percent of Jewish children and 26 percent of Arab children). In December, the Child Welfare Council of Israel published a report stating that Israeli children were growing poorer and increasingly falling victim to violence, sexual exploitation, and drug and alcohol addiction. The report states that nearly 656,000 children, or one-third of all Israeli children, lived below the poverty line in 2002 and that the situation in the non-Jewish sector was worse, with 54.4 percent of children living in poverty.
Education is compulsory up to the age of 15 or until the child reaches the 10th grade, whichever comes first. Education is free until age 18. Arab children comprised approximately one-quarter of the public school population, but historically, government resources allocated for them were proportionately less than that 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.
During the year, the Mossawa Center reported that only about one third of the 1,500 classrooms that were scheduled to be built in Arab communities had been made available by year's end. According to the Government's February 2002 report to the U.N., 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. Preschool attendance for Bedouin children was the lowest in the country, and the dropout rate for Bedouin high school students was the highest. In August, the Supreme Court ordered the Ministry of Education to provide two appropriate classrooms for eight hearing impaired Arab children in response to a petition filed by an advocacy group. According to Adalah, the Government provided classroom space in existing school facilities; however, the condition of the classrooms remained unsuitable.
In 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. Over the past 3 years, the Government increased the number of classroom hours for special education in the Arab sector by 12,000 weekly hours.
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. Most Israeli-Arab children 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 acknowledged that due to the larger classes of Arab students, it allocated less money per student in the Arab system than in the Jewish system. In addition, Jewish schools received additional state and state-sponsored funding for school construction and special programs through other government agencies.
In 2001, Adalah requested that the Government discontinue ISA monitoring and approval of teachers and administrators in Arab schools and claimed that in its role at the Ministry of Education, the ISA discriminated against persons on the basis of their political affiliation. In August, members of the Knesset also criticized ISA involvement in the appointment of teachers and principals in Arab schools during a Knesset committee's session on the status of Israel's Arab education system. Arab members of the Knesset also criticized the lower academic achievements of Arab students and stated that this was an indication of discrimination in the system.
On a practical level, several factors prevented foreign workers from marrying or maintaining a normal family life while in the country. Work visas apply only to the worker; a family cannot be brought with the worker into Israel. According to NGOs, if two foreign workers marry while in the country, one of their work permits will not be renewed, forcing that spouse to leave the country. These same NGOs stated that if a foreign worker attempted to reunify his or her family by having his or her spouse apply for a separate work permit, and this arrangement became known to authorities, at least one of the spouses would not have their work permits renewed, and that spouse will either have to leave the country or remain in an illegal status. Foreign workers who wished to marry a citizen must apply for a permit from the Ministry of the Interior to allow them to stay in Israel. NGOs noted that the process was burdensome and that workers encountered serious delays while their status was adjudicated.
If a legal foreign worker becomes pregnant while in the country, the child born to that worker is entitled to remain with their parent as long as the parent maintains a legal work permit and until age 18. The child is entitled to receive limited health and education benefits until the age of 18; however, it is not clear whether children received these benefits as a matter of practice. After the age of 18, these individuals must leave the country and if found in the country, are subject to deportation. Other minor children of foreign workers (who usually enter the country though tourist visas) are subject to deportation as a matter of law; however, at year's end, the Immigration Authority deported these children.
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.
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 2.4 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. At a Knesset meeting in December, the Commissioner for Equality for the Disabled stated that a survey of buildings in 2002 indicated that most contractors have ignored laws calling for access for the disabled. The Commissioner also accused the Government of not doing enough to provide employment for the disabled despite requirements in the law. According to the Commissioner, 595 out of 50,000 public-service workers were disabled. The Attorney General told the Knesset committee that laws protecting and assisting the disabled were not being implemented due mainly to a lack of funding.
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. The Government noted in a 2002 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."
The COI report (see Section 1.a.) stated that the "Government handling of the Arab sector has been primarily neglectful and discriminatory," that the Government "did not show sufficient sensitivity to the needs of the Arab population, and did not take enough action to allocate state resources in an equal manner." As a result, "serious distress prevailed in the Arab sector in various areas. Evidence of distress included poverty, unemployment, a shortage of land, serious problems in the education system, and substantially defective infrastructure." On September 14, the Cabinet appointed a special ministerial committee to advise the Government on how to implement those recommendations within 60 days. The committee's tenure was extended at year's end.
Minister of Finance Benjamin Netanyahu's statement in December at a major public policy conference that Israeli Arabs presented a "demographic problem" in the country elicited strong criticism, especially from civil rights groups and Israeli-Arab leaders.
Municipalities, including Arab municipalities, were responsible for issuing building permits within the municipal boundaries. Some Israeli-Arab and civil rights NGOs claimed that outside of Arab-governed municipalities, the Government was more restrictive in issuing building permits to Arabs than to Jews. In addition, Israeli law does not recognize many long-established Israeli-Arab and Bedouin communities. All buildings constructed in these unrecognized villages are considered illegal and it is impossible to obtain building permits for construction to accommodate the natural growth of communities. The COI report stated that the Government "must allocate land to this sector according to the same egalitarian principles it uses with other sectors." The COI also found that "suitable planning should be carried out as soon as possible to prevent illegal construction caused by lack of existing town planning that make it difficult to obtain building permits." Israeli-Arab advocacy organizations have challenged the Government's plan to demolish more illegal buildings in the Arab sector, calling for the initiation of a comprehensive planning process, with the participation of the affected communities. These groups alleged that state-approved plans for development were lacking in many of the areas of unrecognized villages, such as the Negev. Pursuant to Israeli law, such a plan must exist to obtain building permits. Several ministers were reportedly considering establishing a separate department to expedite demolitions of illegal buildings in Arab areas. The department would reportedly focus on three geographic areas: the Bedouin villages in the Negev, Arab villages in the Galilee, and the Arab village "triangle" in the central area of Israel.
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. The COI report stated that the living conditions and the hardships of the Bedouin community should be afforded "special attention." According to a well-known Bedouin advocacy organization, during the year, the Government destroyed over 35 Bedouin houses, a mosque, 13 shops and a water container. For example, in May, security forces demolished two houses in the unrecognized Bedouin villages of Kherbat Al Ras and Al Fara'h in the Negev. According to this same organization, hundreds of security forces and aircraft arrived in Kherbat Al Ras and Al Fara'h, closed all the main entryways and demolished the two houses, leaving the inhabitants homeless. In 2002, the Government destroyed 52 Bedouin homes in the unrecognized village of al-'Araqib. The Government continued to prohibit building in that village.
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 discriminated against Arab citizens; the Government continued to use this document for planning in the Galilee. A hearing on objections to this plan was held in March but at year's end, there had not been a response from the National Council for Building and Planning, and the plan had not been implemented.
Israeli Arabs were underrepresented in the student bodies and faculties of most universities and in higher level professional and business ranks. During the 1999-2000 school year, Arab students comprised 9 percent of all students studying for bachelor's degrees and 4 percent of all students studying for advanced degrees. The Bureau of Statistics notes that the median number of school years of the Jewish population is 3 years more than that of the Arab population. In the 1999-2000 school year, according to the Bureau, 12 percent of students in the Arab education system and 6 percent in the Hebrew school system dropped out of school in the 9th to 11th grades. Well-educated Arabs often were unable to find jobs commensurate with their level of education. In 2002, 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. According to the advocacy NGO Sikkuy's 2002-2003 Report, Israel's Civil Service Commission provided data showing that Israeli Arabs comprised 6.1 percent of all civil service workers in Israel. In September, the Government approved an affirmative action plan to promote the hiring of Israeli Arabs in the civil service.
In 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 some steps toward implementing the law in 2002, including setting aside civil service positions for Arab candidates and appointing more Israeli Arabs to corporate boards. For example, in 2002, an Arab citizen was appointed to the board of Ben Gurion Airport. But, according to one advocacy organization, as of December 2002, Arab citizens held only 37 out of 671 positions (approximately 5.5 percent) on the boards of directors of governmental companies. The Government's affirmative action plan for Israeli Arabs would also include the appointment of more Arabs to the boards of government companies; however, there had been no implementation by year's end.
Israeli Arabs continued to complain of discriminatory treatment at the airport. In September, the Airport Authority hired 12 Arab security officers to serve as airport security personnel following the mistreatment of an Israeli-Arab senior commander in the border police. The senior commander complained of being humiliated at Ben-Gurion Airport by security personnel.
Israeli Arabs were not required to perform mandatory military service and 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.
In 2002, 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. Advocacy and civil rights organizations argued that the law would discriminate against most Israeli Arabs who were exempt from and did not serve in the military. In July, the Supreme Court dismissed the petition as the relevant provision of the law was cancelled by the Knesset's passage of the new economic plan.
Israeli-Arab groups alleged that many employers used the prerequisite of military service to avoid hiring non-Jews. In 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 remain among the poorest communities in the country. The Government reported that Bedouins who move to these state-planned communities were compensated for abandoned property, provided grants, as well as new land free of charge.
The unrecognized villages were declared illegal by the National Planning and Building Law of 1965, which rezoned the lands on which they sat as nonresidential, and the Government claimed ownership of the land. New building in the unrecognized villages was considered illegal and subject to demolition. 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. Only 13 of the unrecognized villages had elementary schools. There are no high schools in any of the unrecognized villages. 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. At year's end, the Government still had not implemented a 1999 High Court decision requiring a study into the infrastructure needed in each village.
In March, without prior warning, two ILA airplanes, accompanied by a large number of police forces and other security forces, sprayed a chemical herbicide on houses and more than 2,000 dunams (500 acres) of crops belonging to residents of Abda, an unrecognized Bedouin village in the Negev. According to a reputable advocacy organization, elderly persons and children were in the fields at the time of the spraying. In addition, in April, the ILA sprayed chemical herbicide on about 2,000 dunams (500 acres) of land belonging to several unrecognized villages to compel the residents to move into one of the seven townships.
In February 2002, the ILA sprayed from the air chemical herbicide over 12,000 dunams (12 sq. km) of Bedouin wheat fields in the Negev that had been planted on unrecognized land. Bedouin communities depend on agriculture for sustenance.
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, 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. In June, the Supreme Court rejected a petition by former residents of Ikrit to return to their homes. The three justices accepted the Government's claim that despite promises given by previous governments to former Ikrit residents that they would be allowed to return, the State's interest justified rejecting the petition. The former residents would have to accept alternatives offered by the State. At year's end, no information was available regarding these alternatives.
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 are independent of the Government. Histadrut members elect 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 are elected individually. Approximately 650,000 workers were members of Histadrut during the year, 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 holding East Jerusalem identity cards 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. The law specifically prohibits anti-union discrimination. No anti-union 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. The country's immigration officials estimate there are 236,000 foreign workers in the country. They did not pay union dues, but were required to pay an 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. Strike leaders--even those organizing illegal strikes--were 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 several major strikes of municipal workers. Histadrut called strikes both in the spring and fall of the year protesting wage, pension, and benefit issues. At year's end, port workers were in court-mediated negotiations over privatization issues.
There are no export processing zones.
c. Prohibition of Forced or Bonded Labor
The law prohibits forced or bonded labor, including by children, and there were no reports that such practices occurred for citizens and or nonresident Palestinians working in Israel; however, civil rights groups charged that unscrupulous employers often took advantage of illegal workers' lack of status to hold them in conditions that amount 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 be employed only as apprentices under the Apprenticeship Law. Children who are 14-years old may be employed during official school holidays in light work that will not harm their health. Working hours of those 16 to 18 years of age are restricted to ensure time for rest and education. The Government enforced all of these restrictions in practice.
There were no reliable data regarding illegal child workers. The estimated small number of child workers reportedly was concentrated among the country's illegal Arab population. Illegal child employment was found primarily in urban, light industry.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
The minimum wage is calculated periodically and adjusted for cost of living increases. In 2001, the minimum wage was raised to 47.5 percent of the average wage. At year's end, the minimum wage was less than $900 (approximately 3,555 NIS) per month. During the year, the minimum wage often was supplemented by special allowances and was considered by the government to be sufficient to provide a worker and family with a decent standard of living. Some union officials and social commentators disputed that the minimum wage was adequate to provide 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 were sometimes paid less than the minimum wage.
By law, the maximum hours of work at regular pay are 45 hours a week, 8 hours a day, and 7 hours in night work on the day before the weekly rest. That rest period must be at least 36 consecutive hours and include the Sabbath for Jews and a choice of Friday, Saturday, or Sunday for non-Jews.
Employers must receive a government permit to hire Palestinian workers from the occupied territories, certifying that no citizen is available for the job. All Palestinians from the occupied territories working in Israel 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.
The employment service of the Ministry of Labor, which disbursed wages and benefits collected from employers, paid Palestinian nonresident workers. 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 transferring the funds and mechanisms for providing these services in the PA controlled territories, have not been established. At year's end, the funds had not been 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, whom the Government estimated to be 236,000, about half of whose legal status had lapsed and who were thus undocumented and both living and working 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 that allow for Jewish persons to immigrate. According to NGOs, 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, because they fear immediate discharge and subsequent deportation if they raise these issues with government ministries.
NGOs alleged that foreign workers were being lured to the country with the promise of jobs that in fact did not exist. 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 Israeli 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. Some foreign workers paid up to $10,000 (45,000 NIS) to employment agencies to obtain permits to work in the country.
According to NGOs, there were 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 newly arriving 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; those faced with the absence of jobs for which they had made arrangements often 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 exist 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 employers paid all claims, including severance. However, some NGOs suggested that illegal workers often lived in situations amounting to involuntary servitude, due primarily to their tenuous legal status and lack of recourse. NGOs noted cases in which the police injured foreign workers 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 and police fears of possible investigation of police misconduct. At least one foreign worker killed himself while in detention.
In 2002, 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. During the year, another reporter from the publication was deported after advising foreign workers in an article on strategies for avoiding detention and deportation. 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 women for the purpose of prostitution; however, it remained a serious problem. The penal code also stipulates that it is a criminal offense, punishable by between 5 and 7 years imprisonment, to force or coerce a person to engage in prostitution and makes it a criminal offense to induce a woman to leave the country with the intent to "practice prostitution abroad." The Equality of Women Law (see Section 5) stipulates that every woman is entitled to protection from violence, sexual harassment, sexual exploitation, and trafficking. 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; however, brothels operated openly in at least several major city.
Women were trafficked primarily from the former Soviet Union, including Moldova, Russia, Uzbekistan, and Ukraine. According to some local NGOs, several hundred women are 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.
NGOS reported that traffickers 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. The Government claimed that it reviewed cases involving allegations of police involvement; however, NGOs reported that the review process was slow and questioned whether all complaints were taken seriously. An NGO reported that sex trafficking victims reported seeing police officers at the brothels; the report was based on interviews with trafficking victims in 2001-2002.
According to the Government, from January to December, police opened 51 trafficking in persons investigations and approximately 400 investigations involving related offenses such as pandering, causing a person to engage in prostitution, soliciting prostitution and kidnapping.
During the year, the police arrested 92 persons for trafficking in persons, with 65 detained until the conclusion of their trials. Another 93 persons were arrested for related offenses. Government sources provided a partial list of judgments rendered during the year. Of the 13 cases presented, 7 were appealed to the Supreme Court. Three cases involved plea bargains, and the range of sentences rant form 16 months to 15 years imprisonment.
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. The Government estimated that more than 500 women deported from the country during the year had been trafficking into the country. 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.
Authorities generally placed trafficked women who were arrested in a special detention facility prior to deportation. 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 willing to testify 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 for non-citizens. NGO reports and witness testimony indicated that only in limited circumstances did the Government 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. During the year, the Government did undertake its first repatriation with NGO assistance in an attempt to protect a Moldovan victim at risk after returning to Israel to testify against her trafficker.
The law criminalizes trafficking in persons for the purposes of sex. The maximum penalty for aggravated trafficking of trafficking of minors is 20 years in prison and the penalties proscribed by law are commensurate with those for rape and assault; however, the majority of cases were resolved through plea bargains. According to media reports on specific cases reviewed over the year, it appears that sentences have increased since 2002.
The Government provided limited funding to NGOs for assistance to victims. In November, the Government finalized a plan, begun more than a year earlier, to establish a shelter available for trafficked women; however, at year's end, no shelter had been made available. The Government provided funding to an NGO, which has distributed Russian-language leaflets with information to assist trafficking victims.
Source: The Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, U.S. State Department, February 2004