Report on Human Rights Practices for 2009

Israel


Israel is a multiparty parliamentary democracy with a population of approximately 7.5 million, including Israelis living in the occupied territories. Israel has no constitution, although a series of "Basic Laws" enumerate fundamental rights. Certain fundamental laws, orders, and regulations legally depend on the existence of a "State of Emergency," which has been in effect since 1948. The 120-member, unicameral Knesset has the power to dissolve the government and mandate elections. The February 10 elections for the Knesset were considered free and fair. They resulted in a coalition government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control of the security forces within Israel. (An annex to this report covers human rights in the occupied territories. This report deals with human rights in Israel and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.)

The government generally respected the human rights of its citizens, although there were problems in some areas. There were several high-profile cases involving corruption by political leaders. Institutional, legal, and societal discrimination against Arab citizens, Palestinian Arabs, non-Orthodox Jews, and other religious groups continued, as did societal discrimination against persons with disabilities. Women suffered societal discrimination and domestic violence. The government maintained unequal educational systems for Arab and Jewish students. While trafficking in persons for the purpose of prostitution greatly decreased in recent years, trafficking for the purpose of labor remained a problem, as did abuse of foreign workers.

Palestinian rocket and terrorist attacks killed four and injured 34 civilians in Israel during the year; such attacks killed three at the start of hostilities on December 27 and 29, 2008. There were 125 rockets and 70 mortar shells fired into Israel from Gaza since the end of Operation Cast Lead on January 21, and 850 rockets and mortar shells during the hostilities, compared with 1,750 rockets and 1,528 mortar shells in 2008.

In response to a sharp increase in the number and frequency of rocket attacks into Israel prior to and following the expiration of Hamas' agreed period of "calm" on December 19, 2008, the Israeli Air Force launched Operation Cast Lead, consisting initially of airstrikes on December 27 against Hamas security installations, personnel, and other facilities in the Gaza Strip, followed on January 3 by ground operations. Hostilities between Israeli forces and Hamas fighters continued through January 18, and the Israeli withdrawal of troops was completed on January 21. Human rights organizations estimated the number of dead at close to 1,400 Palestinians, including more than 1,000 civilians, and the wounded at more than 5,000. According to government figures, Palestinian deaths totaled 1,166, including 295 noncombatant deaths. The discrepancy over civilian deaths largely centered on whether the 248 Hamas police officers killed were considered civilians. There were 13 Israelis killed, including three civilians. Further information on the human rights situation in Gaza and the West Bank is in the Annex.

The President of the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) established the United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict to investigate Israeli violations of international human rights and humanitarian law in the context of military operations in Gaza, whether before, during, or after Operation Cast Lead. On September 29, Justice Richard Goldstone, who headed the mission, presented the report (commonly known as the "Goldstone report") to the HRC in Geneva. The Goldstone report investigated 36 incidents of alleged violations by the IDF in Gaza, as well as alleged violations by Palestinians. This reflected an effort by Goldstone to broaden the scope of his report beyond the original mandate, which was limited only to violations by Israel. Among its many conclusions, the report claimed that members of the IDF were responsible for deliberate targeting of civilians, for the destruction of critical infrastructure in Gaza, and for using weapons such as white phosphorous in highly populated areas, all of which it deemed to be violations of international humanitarian law. The Goldstone report was widely criticized for methodological failings, legal and factual errors, falsehoods, and for devoting insufficient attention to the asymmetrical nature of the conflict and the fact that Hamas and other Palestinian militants were deliberately operating in heavily populated urban areas of Gaza. The government of Israel also sharply rejected the charge that it had a policy of deliberately targeting civilians. IDF military advocate general Mandelblit was responsible for reviewing all allegations relating to Operation Cast Lead, including those contained in the Goldstone Report. At the end of the year, Mandelblit's investigations were ongoing.

RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS

Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom From:

a. Arbitrary or Unlawful Deprivation of Life

The government or its agents did not commit politically motivated killings.

On September 3, the Central District Court found Shahar Mizrahi, a police officer, guilty of manslaughter in the 2006 shooting of Mahmoud Ghanayem in the town of Baka El Gharbia. The court sentenced Mizrahi to 15 months in jail and a 15-month suspended sentence. Authorities did not suspend him from duty during the trial or after the conviction. Mizrahi claimed that he suspected Ghanayem of car theft; the car belonged to the victim's father. Mizrahi appealed, claiming that it was a life-threatening situation; the appeal was pending before the Supreme Court at year's end.

An appeal was pending at year's end regarding the Department for Investigations against Police Officers' (DIPO) closure for lack of evidence of its inquiry into the March 2008 beating and subsequent coma and death of Sabri al-Jarjawi, a 25-year-old Bedouin from the Negev. A friend of al-Jarjawi, who was present during the incident, stated that two police officers attacked al-Jarjawi without provocation. According to a police statement, the two officers resorted to force after one of the two Bedouin men assaulted one of the officers.

At year's end, an internal Israel Prison Service (IPS) investigation was ongoing into the 2007 killing of a Palestinian prisoner, Mohammed al-Askar, during a riot at Ketziot Prison. Prisoners alleged that security forces improperly used crowd-dispersal weapons, including rubber bullets and beanbag projectiles. The IPS investigation was on hold pending the outcome of legal proceedings in the Be'er Sheva Magistrate Court regarding the cause of death.

On June 15, the Haifa District Court acquitted the border policeman involved in the 2006 killing of Nadim Milham, an Israeli Arab who was killed in his home during a weapons search.

An investigation was ongoing at year's end into the charge filed November 12 against Yaakov (Jack) Teitel, a resident of the West Bank settlement Shvut Rachel, in an allegedly politically motivated 1997 killing of Samir Akram Balbisi, an Arab taxi driver in Jerusalem (see sections 1.c. and 6 and the Annex for other charges against him). Documents released in December showed the investigation had stalled in 2000 following an Israel Security Agency (ISA or Shin Bet) interrogation when Teitel passed a polygraph test, although the investigation had identified Teitel as the sole suspect since the day after the murder.

Palestinian terrorists routinely fired rockets and mortars from the Gaza Strip into Israel. According to the government, Palestinians fired 125 rockets and 70 mortar shells into Israel from Gaza since the end of Operation Cast Lead in January and 850 rockets and mortar shells during the operation in Gaza, down from 1,750 rockets and 1,528 mortar shells in 2008. Rocket, mortar, and sniper fire from the Gaza Strip killed four civilians during the year.

According to the nongovernmental organization (NGO) B'Tselem, Israeli military operations killed an estimated 1,003 Palestinians in Gaza throughout the year, including in January as a result of Operation Cast Lead. The campaign targeted Hamas security installations, personnel, tunnels, and other facilities in the Gaza Strip. IDF military advocate general Mandelblit was responsible for reviewing all allegations relating to Operation Cast Lead, including those contained in the Goldstone report. At year's end, field and military police investigations continued and the military advocate general had referred approximately 140 cases for criminal investigations (see Annex). The IDF killed 21 Palestinians in the West Bank during the year.

During 2008 the Military Investigative Police launched 323 investigations with regard to cases of death, violence, and property damage against Palestinians. In these cases, the military advocate general filed 26 indictments against 31 soldiers suspected of committing criminal offenses against Palestinians. There were 18 convictions, two acquittals, the closure of three cases by the military advocate general, and three cases pending as of year's end (see Annex).

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances during the year.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

A 1999 High Court of Justice ruling held that, although torture and the application of physical or psychological pain are illegal, ISA interrogators may be exempt from criminal prosecution if they use such methods in extraordinary "ticking bomb" cases.

On July 6, the High Court of Justice rejected a motion brought by three Israeli NGOs seeking to charge the ISA with contempt of court. The NGOs had argued that ISA interrogators applied more often than the court intended the exemption for use of such methods in extraordinary "ticking bomb" cases.

During the year NGOs filed numerous complaints alleging that security forces tortured or abused Palestinians from the occupied territories, including after arrests during the Gaza operation (see Annex).

On December 28, the NGO Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (PCATI) reported on the lack of investigations of torture allegations, noting that, since 2001, not one investigation had resulted from more than 600 complaints of torture by ISA agents. On July 5, PCATI filed a suit with the Supreme Court against the use of painful shackling, based on a report it released in June. The case was pending at year's end.

On December 22, police arrested two border guards following a DIPO investigation into suspicions that they beat and stole 700 NIS (approximately $184) from a Sudanese man in Eilat. The case was pending at year's end at the Rishon Lezion Magistrates Court.

On September 9, the Supreme Court dismissed the April 2008 petition of five human rights NGOs against the ISA's alleged psychological use of family members during interrogations. The court stated that it was forbidden to use threats, false promises, and charades relating to a detainee's family members as a form of pressure; additionally, the court noted that the attorney general clarified the ISA guidelines for interrogators as a result of the petition, explicitly forbidding such practices. The court dismissed the case because it found no evidence of such practices actually in use.

Unlike the previous year, when it received four complaints, the NGO Hotline for Migrant Workers (Hotline) reported no complaints regarding immigration police violence.

On October 7, Yaakov (Jack) Teitel, a radical member of the settlement movement, was arrested and remained in custody while other charges were under investigation. In September 2008 Teitel allegedly planted a pipe bomb at the doorstep of prominent Hebrew University professor and critic of the settlements Ze'ev Sternhell, who was wounded by the bomb. After the attack, police found flyers near Sternhell's home calling for the establishment of a new state in the West Bank based on Jewish religious law. The flyers, signed in the name of an unknown Jewish extremist group called the Army of the State Liberators, also offered 1.1 million NIS ($289,000) to anyone who killed a member of the NGO Peace Now.

In November evidentiary hearings began following a DIPO investigation and a criminal indictment against three police officers. In June 2008 they reportedly detained and severely beat east Jerusalem resident Tareq Abu Laban.

In November a military court acquitted the two soldiers involved in the July 2008 fight with two Druze families on a beach near Haifa. The court found that the soldiers' actions were taken in self-defense in response to being hit first and that hospital records did not substantiate the claimed injuries of the complainant.

As of year's end, an evidentiary hearing had not been held on the case of two policemen, Iyad Huzeyl and Dani Havery, who were indicted in October 2008 for assault involving grievous injury against Fadi Darab'i, an undocumented Palestinian laborer, in April 2008 at a construction site in the town of Gan Yavneh. An evidentiary hearing was scheduled for October 2010 at the Beer Sheva Magistrate Court.

As of year's end, there had not been an evidentiary hearing in the 2006 case of three border police officers--Eliran Levy, Moshe Yekutiel, and Almit Asarsa--indicted on charges of aggravated assault for abusing Abd Tareq Ahrub, a West Bank resident detained for being in Jerusalem without a permit.

As of year's end, the Supreme Court had not ruled on a 2007 government appeal of a district court decision not to dismiss a lawsuit filed against the state by Lebanese citizen Mustafa Dirani, who charged that Israeli security forces tortured and raped him during interrogations between 1994 and 2004.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

The law provides prisoners and detainees the right to conditions that do not harm their health or dignity. While various organizations found deficiencies, conditions in IPS facilities for common criminals and security prisoners generally met international standards according to international and domestic NGOs. (Conditions in four facilities for detainees are covered in the Annex.) The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) regularly monitored IPS facilities, interrogation facilities, and the two IDF provisional detention centers. The Israel Bar Association (IBA) and public defenders were permitted to inspect IPS facilities. Overcrowding remained a problem in some sections of 11 out of 15 prisons, according to the June annual report of the Public Defender's Office that covered conditions in prisons and detention centers in 2008. Regulations require at least 48 square feet of living space per person, but spaces were as low as 19 square feet per person in one holding cell in one prison.

The Public Defender's June report covering conditions in prisons and detention centers in 2008 noted some improvements but found grave deficiencies in the infrastructure of most prison facilities and the living conditions in many of them. In response to the 2008 report that convicts in one-third of the prisons visited complained of violent and humiliating treatment, the Warden's Investigation Unit within the National Police (which is independent of the IPS) found complaints to be unfounded. In 2008 the IPS created a permanent team to examine violence within the penal system, recommend treatment, and conduct training. The recommendations resulted in the renovation of 15 prison wings during the year.

The government acknowledged the need to improve conditions for Palestinian security prisoners in response to an August 2008 IBA report on Sharon and Hadarim prisons that noted, among other points, poor health conditions for security prisoners.

According to the government, the IPS renovated family waiting areas outside 15 prisons and upgraded rooms to meet lawyers in all IPS facilities during the year. Reports by the Public Defender's Office, official comptrollers, and other government authorities noted a significant improvement in prisoners' living conditions.

In July the NGO Physicians for Human Rights-Israel (PHR-I) report noted that the Ministry of Health rejected NGO calls to publish procedural guidelines for medical staff to report observations of suspected physical abuse of prisoners. PHR-I also noted that the ministry refused to extend "whistleblower" protection to IPS doctors reporting possible instances of torture.

According to the NGO Adalah, as of July, there were 7,731 Arab security prisoners and detainees out of a total of 12,990 Arab prisoners; there were 16 Jewish Israeli security prisoners out of a total of 6,552 Jewish prisoners.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, and the government generally observed these prohibitions for all citizens. Non-Israeli residents of the Israeli-annexed Golan Heights were subject to the same laws as Israeli citizens. Noncitizens of Palestinian origin detained on security grounds fell under military jurisdiction even if detained in Israel (see Annex).

Role of the Police and Security Apparatus

The ISA under the authority of the prime minister combats terrorism and espionage in the country and the occupied territories (see Annex). The National Police, including the Border Police and the Immigration Police, are under the authority of the Ministry of Internal Security. Police corruption generally was not a problem.

The DIPO reviews complaints against police officers and may impose disciplinary measures or recommend indictments. The DIPO hired and trained 15 civilian investigators in 2008, replacing the police investigators who staffed the former Police Investigations Department, which human rights groups had criticized for lacking the independence necessary for adequate investigation of allegations against police officers. The DIPO was staffed by 19 civil investigators and 25 police investigators.

The police carried out training programs in coordination with academic institutions and human rights NGOs to promote human rights awareness and cultural sensitivity. During the year the National Police provided mandatory Arabic language and culture classes for all new cadets.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment While in Detention

Suspects in nonsecurity cases are apprehended openly with warrants based on sufficient evidence and issued by an authorized official and generally were informed promptly of charges against them. The law provides that an arrested citizen is considered innocent until proven guilty and has the right to habeas corpus, to remain silent, to be represented by an attorney, to contact family members, and to receive a fair trial. The government may withhold evidence from defense lawyers on security grounds; however, the evidence must be made available to the court. A bail system exists, and a decision denying bail can be appealed.

As a general practice, noncitizens of Palestinian origin detained for security violations were not granted bail. An individual suspected of a criminal offense may be held without charge for 24 hours before being brought before a judge, with limited exceptions allowing for up to 48 hours.

Persons detained on security grounds may fall under one or more of the legal regimes described below.

Under a 2006 "temporary law" on criminal procedures that has twice been renewed, the IPS may hold individuals suspected of a security offense for 48 hours without judicial oversight, with limited exceptions allowing up to 96 hours before being brought before a district court presiding judge. Administrative detention was used as an exception when intelligence sources could not be presented as evidence in regular criminal proceedings. The law, which was set to expire again in December 2010, allows the court to authorize holding a detainee for up to 20 days without an indictment and, by barring access to a lawyer, to hold a detainee incommunicado for up to 21 days with the approval of the attorney general. The court may decide to impose further extensions without the detainee being present or informed of the hearing. An administrative detainee has the right to appeal any decision to lengthen detention.

In another legal regime for administrative detention, the 1979 Emergency Powers Law allows the Defense Ministry (MOD) to detain persons administratively without charge for up to six months, renewable indefinitely. Such detainees, almost all of whom were Palestinians in the West Bank, were permitted legal representation within seven days, with limited exceptions for up to 21 days with the attorney general's approval. If necessary, the government provided free legal representation. The military court may rely on classified evidence denied to detainees and their lawyers. Detainees can appeal their cases to a military court of appeals and ultimately to the Supreme Court.

The third legal option for pretrial detention relies on the 2002 Illegal Combatant Law, which permits holding a detainee incommunicado for 14 days without review by a district court judge, denying access to counsel for up to 21 days with the attorney general's approval, and indefinite detention subject to twice-yearly district court reviews and appeals to the Supreme Court. In June 2008 the government extended for an additional four years a "temporary provision" that exempts law enforcement personnel from the law requiring them to film and audio record all interrogations of detainees suspected of security offenses. Amendments to the law in 2008 expanded its internment powers, which may be exercised in the event of "widespread hostilities, "an occurrence which has not happened to date.

In October the Israeli NGOs HaMoked and B'Tselem jointly published a study called Withholding Trial, Administrative Detention of Palestinians by Israel and the Internment of Unlawful Combatants Law, released in October, on the situation of security detainees. The study, which included comments by the Ministry of Justice (MOJ), found that the authorities held in detention nine residents of the Gaza Strip under this law as of September.

Human rights groups alleged military commanders in the occupied territories used administrative security detention orders based on "security reasons" even when the accused posed no clear danger. The NGO PCATI complained these laws removed the standard procedural safeguards from security suspects, who were the most vulnerable to torture and mistreatment.

At year's end, according to the NGO B'Tselem, there were 278 administrative detainees in IPS detention centers. The government reported 286 such detainees on December 20; none was a minor. Most administrative detainees were held for less than one year, with 26 administrative detainees held consecutively for more than two years. Mahmoud Azan, whom the government considered an al-Qa'ida member, had been imprisoned according to a deportation order, not administrative detention, for more than 10 years. He was released during the year to the Gaza Strip because the government found no country to accept him.

On March 24, PCATI, the Israeli NGO the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), and Adalah withdrew their 2008 petition to the Supreme Court that called for the cancellation of the 2006 temporary law on detaining security suspects. The organizations withdrew the petition to protest the court's January 14 decision to hear secret evidence provided by the state on the constitutionality of a law in the absence of the petitioners and the public. The petitioners argued that the court's unprecedented decision to hear secret evidence had no legal basis, contradicted previous Supreme Court judgments, and set a precedent that could harm future judicial review of laws that violate human rights. At year's end, a separate 2008 challenge to the law by the Public Defenders' Office remained pending.

According to MOJ figures at the end of the year, administrative detainees constituted 3.8 percent (286) of the 7,522 security related detainees. In 2008 the Military Court of Appeals reviewed 1,880 detainee appeals and accepted 273, for which the length of detentions were either reduced or eliminated. There were 443 appeals by the military prosecution of which 354 were accepted.

The law provides that a foreign national suspected of immigration violations be afforded a hearing within four days of detention. They have the right to, but no guarantee of, legal representation. According to Hotline, interpreters in Ketsiot, where most asylum seekers were detained, were rarely present during hearings despite a 2002 written commitment by the government to the Supreme Court to provide interpreters. According to Hotline, persons held in immigration detention rarely were released pending judicial determination of their status. Moreover, if the detainee's country of origin had no diplomatic or consular representation, the individual could remain in detention for months. According to Hotline, at the end of 2008, more than 1,000 detainees (more than 100 of them children) were waiting for determination of their asylum claims.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law provides for an independent judiciary, and the government respected this provision in practice. The judiciary has ruled against the executive, including in security cases. For example, on November 19, the Supreme Court voided amendment 29 to the Prisons Ordinance that allowed privately operated prisons. On December 29, the Supreme Court ruled against an IDF prohibition on all non-Israeli vehicles on highway 443, a major West Bank highway on which approximately 40,000 Israeli vehicles commute between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. The court gave the IDF five months to reply with an alternative security solution for the road that was closed to non-Israeli vehicles in 2002 following multiple Palestinian terrorist attacks that killed five Israelis in 2001.

The judicial branch comprises magistrate courts, six district courts, and the Supreme Court, which also sits as the High Court of Justice.

Magistrate courts adjudicate misdemeanors and lesser civil disputes. District courts adjudicate felonies, serious civil cases, appeals from the magistrate courts, and several other largely administrative matters. There are also military, religious, labor relations, and administrative courts. The High Court of Justice exercises judicial review over the other branches of government and can exercise power on matters that are not within the jurisdiction of any other court or tribunal. The High Court of Justice is a court of first instance for claims against the government. Its members also sit as the Supreme Court and hear appeals of lower court rulings, Knesset elections, administrative detentions, prisoners' petitions, and rulings of the Civil Service Commission and bar association. Religious courts have jurisdiction over matters of personal status for their adherents; there are no civil courts for marriage or divorce for the hundreds of thousands of citizens for whom religious courts are not a legal option.

Trial Procedures

The law provides for the right to a fair trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. However, administrative detainee hearings are not trials and do not follow trial procedures.

By law, an arrested citizen is considered innocent until proven guilty. There are no trials by jury. Trials are public except when the court determines that a closed trial is required to protect state security, foreign relations, a party's or witness's right to privacy, or a sexual offense victim. Security or military trials may be open to independent observers at the discretion of the court but not to the general public. All indigent defendants facing trial and imprisonment receive mandatory representation. According to the government, counsel represented all defendants in district and Supreme Court trials and in approximately 80 percent of cases in the magistrate courts.

Defendants have the right to question witnesses against them, to present witnesses on their behalf, to access evidence (except when the court determines such access would compromise state security), and to appeal.

Military courts provide some, but not all, of the procedural rights granted in civil criminal courts. The 1970 evidentiary rules governing trials under military law of Palestinians and others applicable in the occupied territories are the same as evidentiary rules in criminal cases. According to the MOJ, the law does not permit convictions to be based solely on confessions, and in order to convict the prosecution must present additional, often secret evidence to the court. Secret evidence is often used in military trials and is not available to the defendant or counsel. Counsel may assist the accused in such trials, and a judge may assign counsel to defendants. Indigent detainees do not automatically receive free legal counsel for military trials, but in practice almost all detainees had counsel even in minor cases. The defendant and the public are read the indictment in Hebrew and, unless the defendant waives this right, in Arabic. In past years, many indictments were translated into Arabic, but since, according to the government, no requests for translations were made, the practice during the year was to provide written translations of indictments into Arabic only upon request. At least one interpreter is present for simultaneous interpretation in every military court hearing, unless the defendant waives that right. Defendants can appeal through the Military Court of Appeals and petition the High Court of Justice.

In the past military courts treated Palestinian minors who were 16 and 17 years old as adults, but a juvenile court began operating in the West Bank on September 29, following a July 29 security directive to separate minors from adult detainees. According to the government, legal counsel is provided in all cases, and pretrial detention is minimized. The chief of military prosecution in the West Bank must approve in advance each arrest of a minor. Sentencing of minors is similar to that implemented in courts in Israel. As of December 20, the IPS held 7,144 security prisoners, of whom 43 were under the age of 16, and 254 were between 16 and 18 years old. No administrative detainees were minors.

There are also custodial courts and four deportation courts to address the removal of illegal immigrants.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports of citizen political prisoners or detainees (see Annex).

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

An independent and impartial judiciary adjudicates lawsuits seeking damages for, or cessation of, human rights violations. Administrative remedies exist, and court orders were usually enforced.

f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The law provides for protection of privacy of the individual and the home. In criminal cases the law permits wiretapping under court order; in security cases, the MOD must issue the order. Under emergency regulations authorities may open and destroy mail on the basis of security considerations.

The law provides for police officers and other public investigators to request court orders to obtain personal information from private communications companies, including landline and cellular telephones and Internet service providers. To access private communications records, investigators must demonstrate that their goal is to save or preserve life, investigate or prevent crime, or seize property in accordance with the law.

Separate religious court systems adjudicate personal status, such as marriage and divorce, for the Jewish, Muslim, Christian, and Druze communities. Jews can marry only in Orthodox Jewish services, although the great majority of Jewish Israelis are not Orthodox. Civil marriages, marriages of some non-Orthodox Jews, marriages in non-Orthodox ceremonies, or marriage to a non-Jew must take place outside the country to be legal. According to the NGO New Family Organization, more than 5,000 couples married in civil ceremonies abroad each year, most in Cyprus, and then registered in Israel's population register. Procedures for divorce from such marriages and changing one's personal status in the population register were unclear; a divorce must take place abroad, as the Supreme Court has ruled that the Rabbinical Court cannot dissolve such marriages, since they were not performed according to Halachic law. The government allows consular marriages as long as both parties have no religion or belong to a religious community that the state does not recognize.

Many Jewish citizens objected to exclusive Orthodox rabbinic control over aspects of their personal lives. Approximately 310,000 citizens who immigrated, either as Jews or as family members of Jews, are not considered Jewish by the Orthodox Rabbinate. They cannot be married, divorced, or buried in Jewish cemeteries within the country. The estimated 20,000 Messianic Jews, who considered themselves to be Jews, also often experienced this infringement in their personal lives due to the Orthodox Rabbinate not considering them as Jewish. A 1996 law requiring the government to establish civil cemeteries has not been fully implemented, although eight civil cemeteries exist.

The authority to grant status (citizenship and residency) to a non-Israeli spouse, including Palestinian and other non-Jewish foreign spouses, resides with the Ministry of Interior (MOI). On July 27, the Knesset extended for another year the temporary 2003 Citizenship and Entry Law, which prohibits a citizen's Palestinian spouse from the occupied territories not only from acquiring citizenship by marriage, but also from residing in the country. Palestinian male spouses who are 35 or older and female spouses who are 25 or older may apply for temporary visit permits. The Mossawa Advocacy Center for Arab Citizens in Israel (Mossawa) claimed the law affected more than 21,000 families, including couples with long-standing marriages. The government originally enacted the law following 23 terrorist attacks involving suicide bombers from the occupied territories who had gained access to Israeli identification through family unification.

After the Supreme Court upheld the law, the Knesset expanded it to bar family reunification in cases where one spouse is a non-Jewish citizen of Iran, Iraq, Syria, or Lebanon. During the year Israeli human Rights NGOs and international organizations continued to criticize this ban, which primarily affects Palestinian spouses of Arab citizens of Israel, who constitute the majority of Israelis married to residents of the occupied territories. On June 24, in response to a petition by Kayan (an Arab Israeli NGO), PHR-I, and ACRI, the Supreme Court demanded an explanation within six months from the government for its refusal to grant social and health insurance to an estimated 5,000 Palestinian spouses of citizens who were granted "staying permits" to reside legally in Israel. In December the court ordered the government to provide a temporary solution within a month that would be in place until an official policy could be formulated.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The law provides for freedom of speech and of the press; while the government generally respected these rights, in practice there were some restrictions. Individuals may criticize the government publicly and privately without reprisal, but the law prohibits hate speech and incitement to violence, and the 1948 Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance prohibits expressing support for illegal or terrorist organizations. The government imposed a blanket ban on foreign journalists entering Gaza during the offensive, which ended on January 23.

The country has 13 daily newspapers, at least 90 weekly newspapers, more than 250 periodicals, and a number of Internet news sites. All newspapers were privately owned and managed. Laws dating from the British mandate require MOI licenses for newspapers and allow the minister, under certain conditions, to close a newspaper.

The state-owned Israel Broadcast Authority controls the Hebrew-language Israel Television and an Arabic-language channel, as well as Kol Israel (Voice of Israel) radio, which airs news and other programming in Hebrew, Arabic, and other languages. The Second Television and Radio Authority, a public body, supervises the two privately owned commercial television channels and 14 privately owned radio stations.

In 2007 a cable company, HOT, dropped the Christian network Daystar TV following complaints about proselytizing. After legal challenges, HOT restored Daystar TV in early 2008 to subscribers.

All media organizations must submit to military censors materials that deal with specific military issues as well as strategic infrastructure issues, such as oil and water supplies. The censor's decisions may be appealed to the High Court of Justice, and the censor cannot appeal a court judgment. The MOI has no authority over the military censor.

All foreign journalists operating in the country need Government Press Office accreditation.

News printed or broadcast abroad is subject to security censorship. The government did not fine newspapers or other mass media for violating censorship regulations during the year. However, on June 14, a Jerusalem court sentenced journalist Khader Shaheen and Muhammad Sarhan under a plea bargain to two months in prison and a six-month suspended sentence for breaching the military censorship law during the Gaza offensive and "neglectfully delivering information" to the enemy. Police arrested the two men, a correspondent and a producer, for the Arabic-language Iranian satellite news channel Al-Alam, on January 5 and held them for 10 days on charges of divulging secret information and transmitting information to the enemy in wartime. The charges were filming and broadcasting live to Iran the IDF movements toward Gaza a half hour before the January 3 start of the ground offensive in spite of censorship restrictions. According to the international NGO Committee to Protect Journalists, dozens of other news outlets reported similarly on troops and equipment at the time, but authorities prosecuted only Shaheen and Sarhan. Their appeal to the Supreme Court was pending at the end of the year.

The government prohibited all citizens, including journalists, from entering Gaza; those who entered were subject to legal penalties such as fines and restraining orders. The Supreme Court reviewed and upheld this policy, based on the ongoing, armed conflict between Israel and the terrorist organizations. On May 12, authorities detained Haaretz reporter Amira Hass as she returned to Israel after repeatedly entering and spending four months in the Gaza Strip. She was not arrested but was released on condition that she would not reenter Gaza. Several other journalists were warned, but none were arrested or indicted.

Beginning in November 2008, the government prevented foreign journalists from entering the Gaza Strip. In November 2008 the Foreign Press Association in Israel filed a petition to the High Court of Justice requesting that it overturn the ban. On six occasions in December 2008, 54 journalists were allowed to cross. In December 2008, the court requested the state to put in place a procedure for entry, but with the start of the land operation on January 4, the government decided it could not implement the procedure due to the change in security circumstances. All restrictions on movement were removed on January 23, immediately following the conclusion of Operation Cast Lead.

On February 2, Syrian journalist Atta Farhat, editor of the Arabic Web site Golan Times and the Golan Heights correspondent for Syrian television and for the Syrian daily Al-Watan, was sentenced after 18 months in detention to a three-year jail term for "contact with a foreign agent." The Nazareth District Court convicted him along with Yosef Shams, who was additionally convicted of delivering information to the enemy with intent of harming state security, according to a plea bargain and admission following a hearing of the prosecution's evidence. The court found that Shams and Farhat had, for more than a year prior to their 2007 arrest, communicated knowingly with a Syrian army officer, delivering messages to each other and working to fulfill his requests. Shams was also fined 25,000 NIS (approximately $6,600) and given a three-year suspended sentence. He was reportedly arrested at his home in the Golan Heights village of Buq'ata after covering a peaceful demonstration in the Golan Heights by Israeli peace activists. His articles in the Syrian press and on the Web site described living conditions in the Golan Heights.

Internet Freedom

There were generally no restrictions on Internet access. Individuals and groups could engage in the peaceful expression of views via the Internet, including by e-mail, although the government monitored cellular and landline telephones and Internet service providers for security purposes. The International Telecommunication Union reported that approximately 50 percent of the country's inhabitants were Internet users in 2008.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

There were generally no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.

Universities are required to justify to the IDF acceptance of Palestinian students from the occupied territories. According to revised government criteria submitted in response to a 2007 High Court of Justice order, as many as 70 students from the West Bank may pursue graduate studies in Israeli universities at any given time, provided there is no practical alternative and the chosen program is not in a field that could provide knowledge or skills that could be employed to harm the country. Students from Gaza are not eligible to apply (see Annex).

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

Freedom of Assembly

The law provides for freedom of assembly, and the government generally respected this right in practice.

According to data collected by Mossawa, police arrested or invited for questioning approximately 700 Arab citizens of Israel during and directly after the Gaza war. Although most were invited by the police, the ISA allegedly often conducted the questioning. Although the arrests ranged from disturbing the traffic to being a security risk, no charges were filed, and they were all released, usually the same day, although some were held as long as four days.

Israeli Arab NGOs claimed that the police made selective arrests that limited freedom of peaceful assembly and expression for Arab citizens of Israel and human rights activists. For example, on January 6, according to Mossawa, police units arrested peaceful protesters in Wadi Nisnas and students at the University of Haifa, allegedly for making statements against the war in Gaza. Police sent the arrested Israeli Arab students immediately to the Haifa district regional jail. Some students complained, according to Mossawa, that special counterterror police units called "Yassam" treated them violently, humiliated them, made racist statements, and threatened to damage their academic and future careers. The Haifa District Court released all the students and reportedly criticized the commander of the police district for limiting the freedom of expression of the students. In at least one case, the court released the suspect on bail on condition of not attending unauthorized or unlicensed demonstrations.

Haifa Police arrested Mossawa Center Director Jafar Farah and others at a February 8 protest organized against political party Yisrael Beitenu chairman Avigdor Lieberman. They were protesting his attendance at a conference in Haifa due to his derogatory remarks against Arab Israelis during the election campaign. A judge rejected the police request to detain Farah in custody for 24 hours and put him under house arrest instead.

At year's end, a DIPO investigation continued into a September 2008 complaint by the NGOs Adalah and the Arab Association of Human Rights concerning police behavior during clashes with 15,000 Arab Israeli demonstrators in May 2008 in the former Arab village of Safouriya, now a Jewish community. There were conflicting claims about responsibility for violence during the "Nakba"(catastrophe in Arabic) demonstration that marked the anniversary of the establishment of the State of Israel. The NGO Adalah released video footage that, according to press reports showed police beating or kicking some demonstrators in the head and face as they sat handcuffed on the ground. According to press and NGO reports, police attacked several local and international journalists, including a CNN correspondent, and in some cases confiscated cameras and erased footage.

Freedom of Association

The law provides for the right of association, and the government generally respected this right in practice.

c. Freedom of Religion

The law provides for freedom of religion, and the government generally respected this right in practice.

The Basic Law and Declaration of Independence identify the country as a "Jewish and democratic state," while also providing for full social and political equality, regardless of religious affiliation. In practice the government recognized only Orthodox Jewish religious authorities in personal and some civil status matters concerning Jewish persons.

The government implemented policies including marriage, divorce, education, burial, and observance of the Sabbath based on Orthodox Jewish interpretation of religious law, and allocations of state resources favored Orthodox Jewish institutions. According to government figures, during the year the budget for religious services and religious institutions for the Jewish population was 96 percent of total funding. Religious education amounted to more than 1.1 billion NIS ($263 million) of the approximately 1.5 billion NIS ($405 million) of the overall budget. Religious minorities, comprising slightly more than 20 percent of the population, received approximately 55 million NIS ($14.5 million).

On May 19, the High Court of Justice ruled that the government, which supports private conversion schools, must fund private conversion classes operated by the Reform and Conservative movements. The court acted on a petition by the Israel Religious Action Center of the Movement for Progressive Judaism (Reform) in Israel.

On November 18, police detained Nofrat Frankel, a 25-year-old female medical student, for two hours but banned her from the Western Wall for 15 days for praying while wrapped in a prayer shawl, an act reserved for men alone in Orthodox tradition. In 2003 the Supreme Court upheld the 1981 Protection of Holy Places law, effectively legalizing the prohibition on women's prayer at the Western Wall and ordering the government to construct an additional separate prayer area along the Western Wall where women may pray wearing prayer shawls. Construction began in 2004.

The law confers recognition on some religious communities, granting them some authority over their members in personal status matters. Recognized communities are: Eastern Orthodox, Latin (Roman Catholic), Gregorian-Armenian, Armenian-Catholic, Syrian (Catholic), Chaldean (Uniate), Greek Catholic Melkite, Maronite, Syrian Orthodox, the Evangelical Episcopal Church, Orthodox Jewish (both Ashkenazic and Sephardic rites), Muslim, Druze, and the Baha'i. The status of several Christian denominations is defined by arrangements with government agencies. Legislation enacted in 1961 afforded Muslim courts exclusive jurisdiction in matters of personal status concerning Muslims, although the state regulates judicial appointments to these courts. Secular courts have primacy over questions of inheritance, but parties may bring cases to religious courts by mutual agreement. Muslims also may bring alimony and property division matters associated with divorce to civil courts.

Many religious communities were not recognized. Unrecognized communities generally practiced their religion freely and maintained communal institutions but were ineligible to receive government funding for religious services. Since 1970 no additional religions or Christian denominations have been recognized. Major Protestant denominations that have been in the country for many years, such as the Anglicans, Assemblies of God, Baptists, and Lutherans, among others, were not recognized. Four religious communities have applied for state recognition, but their applications have been pending for years: the Ethiopian Orthodox, the Coptic Orthodox, the Evangelical Lutheran Church, and the United Christian Council in Israel, an umbrella organization for many Protestant churches in the country.

Both recognized and unrecognized religious communities complained of difficulties receiving clergy visas for their representatives. Until 2007 clergy were granted five-year resident visas; since then, many were either denied visas altogether or granted only one-year visas. While there was no official regulation limiting religious visa holders to 10 years of residency within the country, the MOI has refused the renewal of visas before 10 years; after 10 years of residency, one may apply for permanent residency. While recognized religious communities only needed visa approvals through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), unrecognized religious communities' visas had to be approved additionally through the MOI to justify stays longer than five years. During the year the MOI refused to renew religious visas for a Protestant denomination's primary representative and for the director of the Garden Tomb, a major Protestant pilgrimage site, despite MFA approvals in both cases, simply due to the length of time they had lived in the country, although no such regulation regarding period of residence existed.

Under the Law of Return, the government grants immigration and residence rights to individuals who meet established criteria defining Jewish identity. Included in this definition is a child or grandchild of a Jew, the spouse of a Jew, the spouse of a child of a Jew, and the spouse of a grandchild of a Jew. The government uses a separate, more rigorous standard based on Orthodox Jewish criteria to determine the right to full citizenship, entitlement to government financial support for immigrants, the legitimacy of conversions to Judaism performed within the country, and Jewish status for purposes of personal and some civil status issues.

The 1967 Protection of Holy Sites Law protects all holy sites, but the government implemented regulations only for 137 Jewish sites, leaving Muslim and Christian sites neglected, inaccessible, or threatened by property development. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre and other well-known sites have de facto protection as a result of their international importance; however, community mosques, churches, and shrines faced threats from developers and municipalities that Jewish sites did not face. Christian pilgrimage sites around the Sea of Galilee faced regular threats of encroachment from government planners who wanted to use parts of the properties for recreational areas. The law provides for a hearing of objections to any plan or construction, including submissions by representative bodies such as the NGO Arab Center for Alternative Planning.

On March 16, the Supreme Court rejected Adalah's 2004 petition requesting that the government promulgate regulations for the protection of Islamic holy sites. The government maintained that the promulgation of specific regulations, including determining how to expand the list of holy sites, was not necessary to preserve and protect the holy sites of any religion since the law provided for the protection of all holy sites of all religions.

Offering or receiving material inducements for conversion, as well as converting persons under 18 years of age, remained illegal unless one parent was of the religion to which the minor wished to convert. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints refrained from proselytizing under an agreement with the government. While officially legal, missionaries faced harassment and discrimination by some Haredi (ultra-Orthodox Jewish) activists and organizations and certain local government officials.

The legal defense NGO Jerusalem Institute of Justice (JIJ) alleged that MOI officials denied services to certain citizens based on their religious beliefs. The JIJ had 70 such cases during the year, including many dealing with MOI attempts to revoke citizenship or failure to process immigration applications from persons entitled to citizenship under the Law of Return, if it was determined such persons held Messianic or Christian beliefs. The JIJ's petitions to the Supreme Court in two such cases for a finding of contempt of court against the MOI continued at year's end.

The MOI refused to implement the April 2008 Supreme Court decision according to which 12 Messianic Jewish immigration applicants, born to Jewish fathers and non-Jewish mothers, are entitled to receive citizenship.

The MOI has also revoked citizenship due to religious belief. On July 30, the Supreme Court overturned the MOI's 2008 decision to revoke the citizenship of a family who immigrated in 1997 under the Law of Return. The court found no evidence of falsified information regarding Jewish identity although the wife was Christian and the husband a Messianic Jew. The MOI's 2008 interrogation centered on the couple's religious convictions.

Foreign tourists suspected of being Messianic Jews, belonging to religious minorities, or of being "missionaries" were detained and sometimes refused entry into the country at the airport. The JIJ and some religious leaders claimed that many cases involved direct questions of religious affiliation and beliefs. There were a number of press reports that the MOI inserted notations into its border control computers to identify alleged "missionaries," influenced by Yad L'Achim's antimissionary work. According to JIJ, the MOI has forced some visitors to sign a pledge to abstain from missionary activity as a precondition of release, and on March 13, required in addition a 189,199 NIS ($50,000) bail from a Christian family visiting from Hong Kong.

The petition of Barbara Ludwig, a German graduate student whom the MOI denied a visa renewal based on its determination that she was a Messianic Jew, was still pending at the end of the year. She was arrested in April 2008 for two days for failing to maintain a valid student visa and was criticized by the MOI for alleged "missionary" activity.

Societal Abuses and Discrimination

There were reports of societal abuses or discrimination based on religious belief or practice. Relations among religious groups were often strained.

Non-Orthodox Jews complained of discrimination and intolerance by members of ultra-Orthodox Jewish groups as did persons who consider themselves Jewish but who are not considered Jewish under Orthodox law. As in past years, ultra-Orthodox Jews in some neighborhoods of Jerusalem and other ultra-Orthodox enclaves periodically harassed or assaulted women whose appearance they considered immodest.

The public bus service operated sex-segregated transportation for some Haredi Jews. Some Haredi passengers also tried to impose sex segregation on some mixed buses. According to press reports, women who refused to sit in the rear of such buses were regularly harassed. Following a petition against the legality of sex-segregated public buses and a High Court of Justice recommendation, the government established a committee that recommended on October 27 the end of compulsory gender segregation on the bus lines, emphasizing that the segregation entailed discrimination and coercion. The Supreme Court ordered the transportation minister to respond to the report within two and half months.

During the year Haredi Jews threw rocks at passing motorists to protest driving on the Sabbath and soccer fans from some teams chanted "death to Arabs" and anti-Muslim slogans during games between Israeli Jewish and Arab teams.

On January 26, 10 young Jewish men in Tiberius beat Mohammad Mansour with sticks and sharp objects because he was Arab. The attack was videotaped, and the young men confessed. There was no further information available on the incident.

On June 24, the Israel Football Association disciplined football club Beitar Jerusalem player Amit Ben-Shushan for making racist remarks during State Cup celebrations in May. Ben-Shushan was filmed singing lyrics including, "I hate all the Arabs" with Betar fans.

Dozens of ultra-Orthodox demonstrators threw stones at Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat on August 9, following large ultra-Orthodox protests in June and July against his opening of a parking garage on Saturdays near the Old City. Following police investigations, several indictments were served.

On November 14, approximately 1,500 ultra-Orthodox demonstrators protested against the Jerusalem office of the firm Intel for conducting business on the Sabbath, which it had been doing for 20 years. By year's end, a police investigation resulted in several indictments for violence and vandalism. On November 28, several thousand religious and secular Israelis protested against Haredi violence and protests. On December 27, Haredi protesters threw stones and firecrackers, injuring two police officers in front of the Intel office.

On December 31, the Jerusalem Post reported on Haredi insulting and spitting at priests and nuns, and defacing with graffiti and throwing garbage and dead cats at monasteries. Haredi representatives agreed in a meeting with Christian representatives and the Jerusalem municipality to curb the attacks and started putting up notices discouraging such behavior.

Small groups of Haredi youth damaged police cars in attacks on December 23, while the police were responding to a break-in, and on December 24, while responding to a complaint regarding a Haredi "modesty" patrol of a Haredi woman.

The ultra-Orthodox antimissionary organization Yad L'Achim, led by Rabbi Shalom Dov Lifschitz, continued to harass individuals whom it identified, often incorrectly, as "missionaries." The JIJ received more than 30 complaints during the year from Messianic Jewish and Christian leaders regarding posters displayed in their neighborhoods containing their photographs, names, and addresses, warning the public to "avoid the dangerous missionaries."

Yad L'Achim posted such antimissionary notices regarding David Ortiz, a Messianic Jewish leader in Ariel. In March 2008 explosives left on his doorstep seriously injured his son, 15-year-old Ami Ortiz. Following the attack, Rabbi Lifschitz defended the practice of actively publicizing the identities of alleged missionaries, and the organization's Web site continued to state, "we fight the missionaries in a variety of ways, some of which, due to their sensitive nature, can't be described in detail." On October 7, 18 months after receiving security video evidence of the person who delivered the package, police arrested Yaakov Teitel, an Orthodox settler who confessed that he targeted the Ortiz family due to their religious beliefs.

On December 2, Beit She'an police arrested two Haredi suspects for burning the car of Eliav Levine, a Messianic Jewish leader, on December 1; Levine had moved houses to avoid repeated harassment by ultra-Orthodox men. The JIJ reported that in April 2008 Levine's 11-year-old daughter was summoned to her school principal's office, where the principal allowed a rabbi and two Yad L'Achim antimissionary activists to elicit information about her family and congregation. Two weeks later, the girl's father's car was firebombed for the first time. Fearing the interrogation at school was linked to the bombing, the girl revealed the details of her interrogation, contrary to her principal's instructions. The police were notified, but no investigation took place. Following a public complaint filed with the Ministry of Education, the school dismissed the principal.

On April 2, the State Attorney's Office indicted Shmuel Wispish, a member of the "modesty patrols," for rioting, blackmail, and assault causing serious injury. Between June and August 2008, Wispish frequently went to a computer shop in Jerusalem that was open during the Sabbath and demonstrated against the shop, threatening employees and customers, damaging property, and beating the shop owner.

While it is illegal to destroy books or icons deemed holy by a religious community or to incite religious prejudice, there were no indictments as of year's end in the May 2008 public burning of hundreds of Christian Bibles by residents of the Tel Aviv suburb of Or Yehuda. Deputy mayor Uzi Aharon organized the event, reportedly after he received complaints about the Messianic Jewish presence from residents. Aharon told the newspaper Maariv that the municipality operated a team of activists devoted entirely to uprooting missionary activity, including the burning of New Testaments, and that their activities were a fulfillment of the commandment to "burn the evil from your midst."

On October 20, the Nazareth District Court sentenced Ashad Shibli to nine years in prison for running over a nine-year-old girl in the northern town of Kfar Tavor in 2007 during the Jewish holy day of Yom Kippur, when driving is prohibited. Witnesses said that he had previously tried to run over two other residents on the same day. The court also sentenced Muhammad Shibli to two years imprisonment for assisting in abandoning a person after causing injury.

On June 29, the Supreme Court ordered the Ashdod Rabbinate and the Chief Rabbinate Council to restore the kosher license that rabbinical authorities had torn down from the Pnina Pie Bakery in Ashdod in June 2006 after seeing a sign warning that the owner of the bakery was a Messianic Jew. The court noted that the removal of the license, which significantly affected the bakery's business, was solely due to the owner being a Messianic Jew and had nothing to do with Kashrut Law. By the end of the year, the Chief Rabbinate Council had not restored the kosher license and a contempt of court lawsuit was pending.

In November 2008 two defendants were given suspended sentences of two months imprisonment and 150 hours of community service for their part in a 2006 riot during which approximately 100 ultra-Orthodox Jews assaulted approximately 50 Christian tourists and a policeman in Jerusalem. No one else was ever charged and no one served any time in prison.

For a more detailed discussion, see the 2009 International Religious Freedom Report at www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf.

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

The law provides for these rights, and the government generally respected them in practice for citizens (see Annex).

Citizens generally were free to travel abroad and to emigrate, provided they had no outstanding military obligations and no administrative restrictions. The government may bar citizens from leaving the country based on security considerations. In addition, no citizen is permitted to travel to any state officially at war with the country without government permission. All Israeli citizens required a special permit to enter area A (the area, according to the Interim Agreement, in which the Palestinian Authority exercises security responsibility), although the government allowed Arab citizens of Israel some access without the permits. Arab citizens of Israel regularly complained of discrimination and degrading treatment by airport security officials. A Supreme Court decision in a 2007 petition by ACRI and Adalah regarding alleged ethnic profiling was still pending at year's end. In February the court ordered the government to present a comparative legal analysis of its security screening methods.

The law prohibits forced exile of citizens, and the government respected this prohibition in practice.

Protection of Refugees

The country is party to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 protocol. The country has not enacted any legislation implementing the 1951 convention or 1967 protocol, but in practice it has established a system for the reception and consideration of asylum claims. A number of formal and informal arrangements provide for the protection of asylum seekers. The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, and other persons of concern, although at year's end there was no memorandum of understanding governing procedures and cooperation between the UNHCR and the government.

The MOI's Authority for Immigration and Border Crossings implements government policy and has authority over foreign nationals and population issues. The authority consolidates all relevant bodies dealing with immigration issues, including asylum seekers. During the year the MOI opened an office in Lod for asylum seekers to register to receive documents allowing legal residence; without such documents, asylum seekers were subject to arrest. On July 1, the government took over from the UNHCR the process of registering and conducting refugee status determinations for all asylum seekers. Hotline reported that many refugees and asylum seekers complained of harsh and racist treatment at the office, inefficiency, refusals to renew papers, and lost documents. For example, on July 28, an MOI Asylum Seekers Division official attacked an Eritrean national, according to a complaint by Hotline. There was no further information available on the incident.

At the office in Lod, 25 officers registered newly arrived asylum seekers, conducted a nationality determination, and provided temporary visas. Those with disputed nationalities are not given temporary status. Eritreans and Sudanese are given temporary protection and are not required to undergo refugee status determinations; all others are expected to report to the MOI's Refugee Status Unit (RSD) for determination of their refugee claim. According to the UNHCR, approximately 300 asylum seekers who claimed to be Eritrean were determined by the government to be Ethiopian. The UNHCR reported that approximately 10 of these disputed cases were deported to Ethiopia in December. The UNHCR noted that there is no appeals process for cases of disputed nationality and has advocated that these persons go through the RSD asylum procedure. Until July 1, when the MOI took responsibility, the UNHCR conducted refugee status determination interviews and made recommendations to the National Status Granting Board (NSGB). The NSGB is the agency responsible for deciding refugee status. Some NGOs, including the Tel Aviv University Refugee Rights Clinic, did not consider the NGSB procedures transparent and complained that the board met infrequently and approved very few cases.

The asylum seekers had access to the UNHCR and NGOs, and the government reported that they were also able to approach police and the courts regarding any claims.

Health services were provided for minors who stayed continuously in the country for a period of six months and were not insured by the National Health Insurance Law; there is a monthly fee of 185 NIS ($48.60). Those services do not apply to previous health conditions or to children of parents who are residents of the Palestinian Authority.

By law the government should provide education to all children living in the country, regardless of their status in the MOI's population registry. NGO and media reports cited instances in which children of asylum seekers allegedly were not provided access to the country's educational system due to decisions by local school and government officials.

According to the state comptroller's annual report to the Knesset in May, between 2000 and 2007, 8,377 Africans requested refugee status and political asylum, and 109 were granted refugee status.

At year's end, the government estimated there were approximately 18,000 asylum seekers in the country, of whom approximately 4,000 were Sudanese, and between 5,000 and 7,000 were Eritrean. As of October, 2,525 asylum seekers had registered as Eritreans or Sudanese and received temporary status; 948 had completed the RSD interview but had not yet been referred to the NSGB; 520 had been considered by the NSGB, with five under appeal procedures; and 284 had turned to the courts after the NSGB rejected their appeals.

On June 30, the number of refugees and asylum seekers registered with the UNHCR was 14,117. The largest groups were Eritrean (4,726), Sudanese (4,588), Ivorian (1,000), Nigerian (867), Ethiopians (808), and others (2,128).

The UNHCR reported that in 2008 new arrivals were estimated at 500 per month, but through May such arrivals had decreased to approximately 200 per month. Most asylum seekers entered through Egypt.

As of year's end, the Supreme Court had not decided the question, raised in 2007, of whether it was safe to return asylum seekers to Egypt.

Domestic and international NGOs and the UNHCR protested "coordinated returns" or "hot returns" of some asylum seekers to Egypt because of allegations that those individuals were later sent back to their countries of origin in violation of international agreements against refoulement. On July 2, several NGOs petitioned the High Court of Justice requesting an interim injunction to halt the "Coordinated Immediate Return Policy," claiming it violated the principle of nonrefoulement. Among other complaints, the NGOs charged that, according to international law, soldiers conducting the assessments at the border were not qualified to identify asylum seekers or to conduct asylum procedures without external supervision.

Hotline reported that, between January and September, there were 23 incidents of "coordinated return" during which 217 asylum seekers were deported, with 1,626 persons detained and sent to the Ketsiot facility. In its petition on July 2, Hotline submitted the testimony of an IDF soldier to the Supreme Court describing alleged incidents of "hot returns" he had witnessed at the Egyptian border in June. According to the testimony, officially Egypt refused to accept asylum seekers back into its territory but there was a field-level understanding between the border forces that the Egyptians would receive persons captured at the border or soon after crossing. NGOs asserted that these arrangements were ad hoc agreements between Egyptian and Israeli border commands and not a uniform policy.

Hotline charged that the government failed to answer 250 requests that the UNHCR had reviewed, leaving the asylum seekers either in jail or residing in the country. These individuals were subject to possible deportation as long as their status in the country remained undetermined.

In some instances the government took swift action to reject asylum claims. For example, on August 4, the MOI's Infiltrator Identification Unit rejected claims by 600 persons claiming to be Sudanese or Eritrean. Of those persons, 150 reached UNHCR offices shortly thereafter with letters from the MOI stating their procedures were complete and they had to leave the country within seven days.

Refugees recommended by the UNHCR or the MOI and recognized by the NSGB received six-month, renewable visas. A refugee's status is evaluated after one year. No legal option exists for a refugee to become a naturalized citizen.

Those denied asylum and unwilling to leave may remain in immigration detention indefinitely. Some newly arrived illegal migrants were placed in hotels, kibbutzim (cooperative communities), and other work situations. The UNHCR reported that the MOI released an unknown number of asylum seekers from detention in 2008 without reference to the Immigration Tribunal and the UNHCR. Hotline reported that most asylum seekers who entered during the year were taken to the Ketziot facility and released after several months under geographically restricted conditions.

In July the MOI rescinded its 2008 "Hadera-Gadera" decision that restricted asylum seekers' movement through the country. Asylum seekers now receive a visa without movement restrictions that does not explicitly permit or prohibit employment.

The government did not grant asylum to persons from states with which it was officially at war, such as Sudan, but stated that it attempted to find a third country to accept them. With the assistance of a Christian faith-based NGO, approximately 30 Sudanese were voluntarily returned to their homes in Southern Sudan. The UNHCR verified the voluntariness of the process.

The UNHCR estimated that the majority of asylum seekers do not enjoy the right to work or access to some health services, although employment is often tolerated. Refugees without the formal right to work were not protected by law. Children of asylum seekers were permitted to attend school.

Refugees and asylum seekers were not, as a group, the target of xenophobic violence. On June 18, Yaakov Ganot, head of the Immigration Administration, said in an interview regarding refugees and asylum seekers that "99.9 percent of them are here for work," are "not asylum seekers," and "not at any risk."

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 based on universal suffrage.

Elections and Political Participation

The country is a parliamentary democracy with an active multiparty system. Relatively small parties, including those primarily supported by Arab Israelis, regularly win Knesset seats. The law requires that a party obtain 2 percent of the vote to win Knesset seats. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert resigned after declining to run in a Kadima Party primary election in September 2008. When Kadima Party head Tzipi Livni was unable to form a government, Olmert remained as caretaker prime minister until a new government was formed after free and fair February 10 elections. On March 31, following protracted negotiations, Benjamin Netanyahu became prime minister of a Likud-led coalition government.

The Basic Law prohibits the candidacy of any party or individual denying the existence of the State of Israel as the state of the Jewish people or the democratic character of the state, or that incites racism. Otherwise, political parties operated without restriction or outside interference.

At year's end, the 120-member Knesset had 22 female members. The Knesset included 10 Arabs, including one woman, and three Druze. The 22-member cabinet included two women, but no Arabs; four women were deputy ministers, including one Druze. Five members of the 15-member Supreme Court, including its president, were women. An Arab Christian was on the Supreme Court, but no Muslim or Druze citizens have served.

On January 21, the Supreme Court overturned a January 12 Central Elections Committee (CEC) decision to ban the Knesset's two Israeli Arab political parties, the United Arab List-Ta'al and Balad, from participating in the February elections on the grounds that they do not recognize the state and call for armed conflict against it. The CEC is comprised of 30 members of all party factions, chaired by a Supreme Court judge. Israeli Arab and other human rights NGOs argued before the Supreme Court that the ban was part of a trend to undermine the political legitimacy of Arab citizens of Israel.

Throughout 2008 and during the climax of the national election campaign in February, there was continuing political incitement reflected in the media against the Arab community in the country. Incitement came from members of the Knesset and high profile party leaders. Some Arab members of the Knesset also incited the Arab public against the Jewish majority.

Section 4 Official Corruption and Government Transparency

The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption, and the government generally sought to implement the law. Impunity was not a problem. Media routinely reported on corruption. The national police, the state comptroller, the attorney general, and the finance ministry accountant general were responsible for combating official corruption. Senior officials were subject to comprehensive financial disclosure laws. There were no reports of judicial corruption during the year.

During the year the government investigated and prosecuted several senior political figures for alleged misconduct.

On June 24, the Tel Aviv District Court sentenced former finance minister Abraham Hirchson to five years and five months in prison for stealing 1.8 million NIS (approximately $460,000) from the National Labor Federation. Hirchson was convicted by the Tel Aviv District Court of larceny, executive theft, fraud, breach of trust, illicitly obtaining funds, money laundering, and falsifying corporate documents. On September 24, while serving the sentence, Hirchson began an appeal process.

On August 2, police recommended to the attorney general that he indict Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman on bribery, money laundering, obstruction of justice, and other charges. There was no decision at year's end.

On August 30, Attorney General Menachem Mazuz indicted former prime minister Ehud Olmert along with his former chief of staff, Shula Zaken, on three charges involving breach of trust, falsifying corporate documents, and fraudulent conduct. Olmert was also charged with tax evasion, and Zaken was charged with illegal eavesdropping. At year's end, two other charges were dropped, while one investigation regarding Olmert's political appointments remained pending. Olmert and Zaken both pled not guilty to all charges. At year's end, the trial continued. An additional six persons were indicted on related charges, including former tax authority chief Jacky Matza, three tax authority officials and two businessmen.

On September 1, former minister Shlomo Benizri began serving a four-year prison term after his conviction in 2008 on charges of bribery, fraud, and breach of trust for crimes committed between 1996 and 2001, when he was minister of health and minister of social affairs. The court initially fined Benizri 80,000 NIS ($20,000) and sentenced him to 18 months in prison, but the government appealed and the High Court of Justice increased the fine to 250,000 NIS (approximately $66,000) and increased his sentence to four years.

At year's end, former president Moshe Katsav's trial continued for obstruction of justice, rape, and sexual assault (see section 6, women).

At year's end, the trial of Knesset member Tzachi Hanegbi continued. Hanegbi was on trial for fraud, breach of trust, election bribery, and politically motivated civil service appointments of members of the Likud party headquarters and their relatives while he was environmental protection minister. Hanegbi was indicted, together with his former director general, Shmuel Hershkovitz. Courts concluded the trials of members of the Knesset (MKs) Yaakov Edri and former MK Yitzhak Ziv due to lack of evidence. Investigations of MKs Ruhama Avraham, Roni Bar On, and Haim Katz ended in 2008 without criminal charges or civil penalties.

The government did not effectively implement its 1998 Freedom of Information Law. Many government bodies did not disclose their internal regulations as required, and others failed to publish annual reports. The 2008 state comptroller's report found that approximately half of government authorities investigated did not make available to the public their administrative directives or procedures for requesting information or services.

At year's end, consideration of a 2005 freedom of information ACRI petition remained ongoing. In 2007 the High Court of Justice began deliberations on the ACRI petition, demanding that the IDF and the MOD make their unclassified archives available to a journalist for research purposes. In May 2008 the IDF and MOD responded by annulling part of the procedures in dispute and shortening the limitation periods on archival materials.

On February 25, the Jerusalem District Court ordered the MOJ to provide PCATI with details on how it handled torture allegations against the ISA; on April 30, the MOJ provided PCATI with the information relating to complaints filed from 2005-07. The Ministries of Interior and Housing began publishing at mid-year their administrative directives and procedures for requesting information and services.

Section 5 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

Numerous domestic and international human rights groups operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were cooperative to varying degrees, and routinely invited domestic NGOs, including those critical of the government, such as ACRI, Mossawa, Adalah, PHR-I, and Gisha, among others, to participate in Knesset hearings on proposed legislation. An MFA unit maintained relations with certain international and domestic NGOs. The government responded publicly to criticisms that it believed to be unfounded.

Under the 1980 Law of Associations, NGOs must register and pay annual fees. Some registered NGOs were eligible to receive funding from government ministries. According to government figures, such funding amounted to approximately 2.5 billion NIS ($715 million) per year. Government funding for NGOs disproportionately favored Jewish NGOs, especially those that promote "traditional and religious Jewish activities."

During the year the MOI, operating under a 2002 order, barred entry to all foreign nationals affiliated with certain Palestinian human rights NGOs and solidarity organizations (see Annex). The government claimed this was done on an individual basis, not according to the activities or platform of the NGOs with which they were affiliated. The government did not permit the NGOs B'Tselem, Human Rights Watch (HRW), or Amnesty International to enter the Gaza Strip through any of the border crossings Israel controlled during Operation Cast Lead.

Following the July 15 release of the NGO Breaking the Silence's report of 26 soldiers' testimonies alleging human rights violations during Operation Cast Lead in Gaza, the government publicly announced its intention to wage an "aggressive battle against NGOs" which it deemed "biased against" the country. The government asked the United Kingdom, Spain, and the Netherlands to stop providing funding to Breaking the Silence. No country ceased funding. Ten human rights groups protested the government's raising the issue of foreign financing of some NGOs, releasing a joint statement on August 2 demanding that the government "cease all activity meant to instill fear and silence or harm vital organizations that operate legitimately, and allow them to engage freely in public discourse and various activities."

In September the Israeli Gaza District Coordination Office informed three Israeli human rights organizations that inquiries regarding petitions for Palestinians to leave the Gaza Strip would only be accepted from the Palestinian Civil Affairs Committee, which originated the petitions. The human rights organizations characterized this action as an attempt to impede the activities of human rights organizations and registered their protest with state and military authorities, particularly as they related to appeals for urgent medical treatment. In November, the decision was effectively reversed when the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories issued its new guidelines.

The government cooperated fully with a UN Board of Inquiry investigation into incidents that affected UN personnel, premises, and operations during the conflict in the Gaza Strip. It did not cooperate with UN Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict led by Richard Goldstone.

Section 6 Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

The law prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, gender, marital status, political beliefs, disability, or age.

Women

Rape, including spousal rape, is illegal, and the law doubles the penalty if the perpetrator assaults or rapes a relative. The government reported 770 rape cases and 122 indictments during the year.

At year's end former president Moshe Katsav's trial for rape, sexual assault, and obstruction of justice was ongoing (see section 4).

Although the Equality of Women Law provides equal rights for women and protection from violence, harassment, exploitation, and trafficking, domestic violence against women was a problem. As of September. women had filed 10,871 domestic violence complaints with the police, of which 2,403 were still being investigated, 4,368 were transferred to the State Attorney's Office, 353 were heard by courts, and 3,747 were closed.

The Social Affairs Ministry provided a battered women's shelter and operated a hotline. The police operated a call center to inform victims about their cases. Women's organizations provided counseling, crisis intervention, legal assistance, and shelters.

Women's rights NGO Kayan and PHR-I petitioned the Supreme Court to require the Ministry of Health to provide health care to battered women living in shelters and to those who were without legal status in the country. According to Kayan, the two organizations' aim was to provide an alternative for women who opted to return to abusive partners to obtain the health care refused by the state.

At year's end, the government reported that the charges against Mahmoud Abu-Ghanem concerning the December 2008 killing of his sister Dalia were likely to be dismissed due to insufficient evidence. According to Kull al-Arab newspaper, human rights activist Ayidah Tuma-Sulayman, head of the Association of Women Against Violence, charged that at least three women were the victims of honor killings.

Kayan staged a wide public protest against the publication of a user's question on Panet, the fourth most popular Arabic-language Web site in the country. The user asked whether it was acceptable to murder his cousin, who had compromised the "family honor." Kayan and eight other women's organizations demanded that the question be removed from the site and that police become involved in the case. Police took no action.

Prostitution is not illegal and was widespread but not highly visible. The law prohibits operation of brothels and organized sex enterprises, but there were numerous media reports of Russian-connected prostitution operations.

Sexual harassment is illegal. The Prevention of Stalking Law and the Prevention of Family Violence Law require that suspected victims be informed of their right to assistance.

As of September, authorities opened 209 sexual harassment files, of which 81 were still under investigation, 42 cases had been transferred to the State Attorney's Office, two had been heard by courts and 84 were closed. Of the closed cases, 27 were closed for lack of evidence, 23 for lack of public interest, four for lack of guilt, and 30 because the offender was unknown.

"Modesty patrols" harassed Haredi women in Haredi communities. On March 15, the Jerusalem District Court sentenced Elhanan Buzaglo to four years' imprisonment and required him to pay 10,000 NIS ($2,600) in compensation to the victim. The "modesty patrols" had paid Buzaglo 8,000 NIS ($2,100) to assault and threaten a woman who had divorced her husband and abandoned her religious way of life. Buzaglo and four other persons beat the woman at her home and threatened to kill her if she did not move out of the house. The court condemned the "modesty patrols" organization and urged the organization to prevent its members from committing such crimes. The suspected senior member of the "modesty patrols" was also arrested in August 2008 but was not indicted due to a lack of evidence.

Couples and individuals had the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of children, and had the information and means to do so free from discrimination. Access to information on contraception and skilled attendance at delivery and in postpartum care was widely available. Women and men were given equal access to diagnostic services and treatment for sexually transmitted infections.

In the secular judicial system, women and men enjoyed the same rights, but religious courts restricted the rights of Jewish and Muslim women. A Jewish woman is allowed to initiate divorce proceedings, but her husband must give his consent to make the divorce final. Because some men disappear or refuse to grant the divorce, thousands of so-called "agunot" (chained women) may not remarry or give birth to legitimate children. Rabbinical tribunals may, and sometimes did, sanction a husband who refused divorce but still did not grant a divorce without his consent. Jewish women married to Jewish men do not have redress to civil courts; only religious courts can rule on personal status issues.

A Muslim woman may petition for and receive a divorce through the Shari'a courts without her husband's consent under certain conditions, and a marriage contract may provide for other circumstances in which she may obtain a divorce without her husband's consent. A Muslim man may divorce his wife without her consent and without petitioning the court.

During the year the Organization for Economic Development and Cooperation (OECD) reported that only 23 percent of Arab women were part of the formal labor force. Arab and Haredi Jewish women were concentrated in low paid employment.

A May 6 Yediot Aharanot article described a new regulation at the ultra-Orthodox Shas' Maayan Torah education network that prohibits female workers from working without a head covering that completely covers their hair. Many Haredi women expressed disagreement with the new regulation that also bans the use of wigs as head coverings.

According to its Web site, the Yad L'Achim's antiassimilation department receives approximately 1,000 calls per year identifying Jewish women who become involved with foreign workers or Arab men. Yad L'Achim responded in some cases by what it termed "launching military-like rescues from hostile Arab villages and setting the women up in 'safe' houses around the country, where they can build new lives for themselves." A December "rescue" from Gaza of Oshrit Ohana and her four children, reportedly coordinated with the IDF and Interior Minister Eli Yishai, was widely popular among the public, but critics claimed such "rescues" sometimes disregarded the will of the women involved.

Although the law prohibits discrimination based on gender in employment and wages and provides for class action suits, complaints of significant wage disparities between men and women persisted.

The government enacted a number of programs to improve the status of women in the work place and society. The Authority for the Advancement of the Status of Women in the Prime Minister's Office approved 200 scholarships for higher education for Druze, Bedouin, and Circassian female students in the north. The Authority held professional training courses in Arab, Druze, and Circassian localities. The Ministry of Education established a department dedicated to the promotion of gender equality within the school system. In August women comprised 43.5 percent of officers of government corporations.

During the year Haneen Zoabi became the third female Arab citizen of Israel to serve in the Knesset and the first to serve on behalf of an Israeli Arab political party (Balad).

Children

Citizenship is derived by birth within or outside of the country to at least one Israeli citizen parent. There were 2.4 million children in the country, comprising 33 percent of the population.

The number of children without citizenship was increasing, according to the National Council for the Child (NCC). As of April, there were 145,855 children without citizenship, a 17 percent increase since 2001. Three-fourths of them were Palestinian residents of Jerusalem, who had blue identity cards but not Israeli citizenship. Another 38,000 were children of legal work migrants. Children of illegal immigrants were not included nor were more than 1,000 child asylum seekers.

According to an NCC report published on February 8, social services described 309,141 children as at risk of abuse in 2008; 2,000 children were hospitalized due to physical or sexual abuse within the family.

Education is compulsory through the ninth grade. The government operated separate school systems for Hebrew-speaking children, Arabic-speaking children, and Orthodox Jews. Ultra-Orthodox Haredi political parties continued to oppose government regulation of their government-funded school systems. In the Arabic school system, Arabic, English, Hebrew, and Jewish studies are compulsory courses from elementary school through matriculation. In the Hebrew school system, Arabic, one of the country's official languages, is required from grades seven to nine, but according to the NGO Abraham Fund Initiatives, this requirement was not enforced in most schools.

Trafficking in Persons

Trafficking in persons for the purposes of both prostitution and labor is prohibited under the law. The country was a destination for trafficking for the purposes of labor and prostitution. Neither the government nor NGOs could quantify accurately the extent of the problem.

The NGO Hotline was critical of the lack of enforcement of the trafficking law regarding forced labor in agriculture; the MOI unit responsible for reducing human trafficking did not provide information leading to a single criminal investigation in the June to October period. Some NGOs and media reports expressed concern that internal sex trafficking of citizens for the purposes of prostitution was on the rise. The government focused on illegal alien cases that were often classified as prostitution rather than trafficking.

The government reported that most victims of trafficking for prostitution in the country came from the former Soviet Union, primarily from Ukraine, Moldova, Russia, and Uzbekistan. Antitrafficking and women's advocacy NGO Isha L'Isha also reported trafficking of women from China, the Philippines, Mongolia, Belarus, and Lithuania for prostitution. Organized crime groups trafficked women for prostitution, luring them with promises of service sector jobs. Some reportedly sold women to brothels.

Hotline reported it did not see new women trafficked for prostitution from the countries cited above during the year, but it remained concerned about possible sex trafficking of female migrant workers and refugees. A Knesset Research and Information Center report released on October 20 stated that police had opened more trafficking related cases than in the previous year, which resulted mostly in the closing of brothels, pandering, and some trafficking cases. Although investigations increased, the report did not state that trafficking increased. The report also criticized the Immigration Administration for failing to locate trafficking victims or prosecute exploiting employers.

On March 7, following a two-year investigation that included cooperation with Belarus authorities, Tel Aviv police arrested 12 persons suspected of operating an international human trafficking ring. The newspaper Haaretz reported that, among those arrested, was the person suspected of operating the ring that had smuggled hundreds of women from the former Soviet Union into the country in recent years, forcing the women under threat of violence to engage in prostitution in clubs and brothels.

On March 29, eight Israelis were indicted for operating a multimillion dollar international human trafficking ring over the previous decade involving hundreds of women. The chief suspect in the case, Rami Saban, was charged with 23 felony offenses, including conspiracy to commit a crime, operating a brothel, managing a brothel, solicitation, forcing a person to leave the country of residence to work as a prostitute, assault, forgery, money laundering, and harassing witnesses.

The penal code stipulates that coercion to engage in prostitution is a criminal offense, punishable by four to 20 years' imprisonment, depending on the specific crime. Civil law verdicts have begun to favor the victims, and most verdicts involved compensation, although NGOs expressed a need for larger compensation awards.

Hotline charged that the law does not cover some forms of trafficking, including "trafficking to obtain financial advantage" or a "flying visa," whereby a worker pays a commission to an agency in the home country to get a work permit but arrives to find there is no job. In such cases, the worker does not have a valid permit under the law and is subject to arrest and deportation. The government responded that such cases were financial fraud offenses, rather than trafficking, because the freedom of the migrant worker was not restricted.

During the year police conducted nine criminal investigations on trafficking in persons for the purpose of engaging them in prostitution and arrested 13 suspects. Police opened 269 cases of managing a property for the purpose of engaging in prostitution. Police also opened 82 pandering cases, some of which were originally trafficking cases that were filed as pandering charges due to a lack of evidence. Police opened 10 cases of causing a person to leave the country for the purpose of prostitution, 20 cases of abduction for the purpose of trafficking or a sexual offence and 16 cases of publication of prostitution services. Between January and August, authorities closed 18 Tel Aviv brothels, opened 331 cases for trafficking or related offenses, and arrested 69 suspects.

Victims of labor trafficking varied by sector. The largest groups were Thai agricultural workers, Chinese construction workers, and domestic and nursing care workers from the Philippines, India, Nepal, and Sri Lanka. Hotline noted that workers employed as caregivers were particularly vulnerable to having their visa status revoked when their employers failed to arrange their visas.

The labor law criminalizes trafficking for slavery, forced labor, prostitution, pornography, sexual abuse, and organ selling, and provides a maximum sentence of seven to 20 years' imprisonment depending on the offense. In 2008 the State Attorney's Office and the Immigration Administration jointly filed the first indictment for forced labor under the new amendments to the trafficking law. The case remained pending at year's end. Authorities opened 61 cases for trafficking in persons for labor and forced labor, 28 cases of withholding passports, and eight cases of exploitation of vulnerable populations.

The Tel Aviv shelter Maagan, the only government-operated shelter for victims of trafficking for commercial sexual exploitation, had a capacity for 50 women and housed 26 women and seven children during the year. The Atlas shelter for male victims of slavery and forced labor housed 21 men. At year's end, there were 13 women, five children, and one man in these shelters. The government reported that all trafficking victims in the shelters received temporary visas and work visas if requested. Although there was some improvement in the situation, Isha L'Isha reported it was difficult to admit trafficked women into a shelter if they had children, and that trafficking victims living outside the shelter remained without medical insurance.

The Legal Aid Law provides free legal aid to every victim of trafficking and slavery.

The Department of State's annual Trafficking in Persons Report can be found at www.state.gov/g/tip.

Persons with Disabilities

The law prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities in employment, education, access to health care, or the provision of other state services. Legislation mandates access to buildings and transportation, as well as accommodations for persons with disabilities in services and the work place. The government effectively enforced the laws with limited success but had not formulated specific regulations. Societal discrimination, segregation in many areas, and lack of accessibility persisted in employment and housing.

The Commission for Equal Rights of People with Disabilities (CERPD) within the MOJ is responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities. It receives public inquiries, provides legal advice and represents clients, educates, and promotes best practices. It took legal action in the areas of accessibility and employment and issued regulations to ensure disabled access to services and public sites. However, improvements were slow, according to Bizchut, a domestic NGO that advocates for the rights of persons with disabilities. The CERPD's annual report showed a 53 percent employment rate for persons with moderate disabilities and an employment rate a 31 percent rate for persons with severe disabilities.

Various ministries and agencies maintained responsibility for persons with disabilities. The Division for Integrating Persons with Disabilities in the Labor Market, within the Ministry of Industry, Trade, and Labor, examines and promotes employment for persons with disabilities. On August 1, an amendment to the National Insurance Law came into effect that allows persons who receive a disability pension to earn more by permitting a combination of income and pension, rather than requiring the total forfeiture of the disability pension.

The Ministry of Social Affairs and Social Services provides out-of-home placement and sheltered employment for persons with cognitive, physical, and communication disabilities. It also handles criminal investigations when persons with certain disabilities, either victims or offenders, are referred by the police. In 2008 police referred 668 persons with disabilities for such special investigations.

The National Insurance Agency provides financial benefits and stipends, the Ministry of Health provides mental health and rehabilitation services, and the Ministry of Education provides special education services. However, Bizchut criticized the lack of services actually provided to mainstreamed pupils, which effectively limited their integration into regular class settings.

Television stations include subtitles or sign language, and the courts accommodate testimony from persons with intellectual disabilities or mental illness. The law mandates accessibility to public transportation, but it was not always available. Most train stations maintained access for persons with disabilities; however, as of September, approximately 40 percent of buses did not have such access.

There were approximately 1.2 million persons with self-reported disabilities in the country, according to Bizchut.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Arab citizens of Israel continued to suffer various forms of discrimination in public and private life. Tensions between Arabs and Jews also remained high in areas where the two communities overlap, such as Jerusalem, the Galilee, and Negev, and in some mixed cities with historically separate Jewish and Arab neighborhoods.

On November 30, the Jerusalem Magistrates Court indicted two Border Guard officers for assaulting an Arab resident of Jerusalem. Officers Maor Malianker and Yossi Dahan allegedly beat Muhtaseb Muqtada with a baton in a cemetery on November 17. Malianker was also indicted on two other counts for allegedly using a radio device to hit a Jerusalem resident and falsely reporting he was attacked during a search.

In March 2008 a police officer from the town of Kfar Saba reportedly attacked two Arab citizens of Israel while shouting, "death to Arabs." Another police officer who witnessed the attack intervened to prevent injury. No further information was available.

The Tel Aviv District Court had not issued its verdict at year's end in the case against Eliyahu Aharoni, who had been indicted for conspiracy to commit arson out of a racist motive. In October 2008 police arrested six young Jewish men in Tel Aviv for allegedly firebombing three Arab apartments in a Jewish neighborhood in Tel Aviv to incite anti-Arab sentiment and rioting from Acre (Akko) to Jaffa and other mixed neighborhoods around Tel Aviv. The other five men were not indicted due to lack of evidence.

During the year the Israel Land Fund NGO continued its program to purchase Arab land throughout Israel and market it to Jewish buyers, including in the diaspora; the organization claimed that all the land belonged to Jewish people and described as a "danger" the purchase of Jewish-owned lands by non-Jews.

Throughout 2008 and during the climax of the national election campaign in February, media and political incitement against the Israeli Arab community continued from members of the Knesset and high-profile party leaders, including Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, whose election campaign appeared to polarize relations between Arabs and Jews. Lieberman called one Israeli Arab member of Knesset a terrorist.

Public debate continued over the suggestion of some Jewish politicians of "transferring" communities of Arab citizens from Israel to the Palestinian territories (in return for transferring Jewish settlements in the West Bank to Israel) as part of a negotiated solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Arab citizens of Israel overwhelmingly condemned the proposal, while Jewish opinion ranged from support to condemnation. Members of Yisrael Beiteynu, a right-wing party headed by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, advocated the idea in media interviews at public gatherings throughout the year.

The High Court of Justice ruled on January 7 that the National Insurance Institute (NII) should provide forms in Arabic in addition to Hebrew, and accepted the state's notification that applications submitted in Arabic would be processed. The NII provides a wide variety of assistance programs, such as old-age and survivors, maternity, children, work injury, general disability, and more. Prior to the January ruling, documents submitted for claims had to be translated into Hebrew.

In July the transport minister decided to Hebraicize all road signs, applying uniform rules to the appearance of approximately 2,500 destinations in Hebrew, Arabic, and English. Adalah claimed this was contrary to a 2002 Supreme Court judgment that obliged mixed cities to add Arabic to the traffic, warning, and informational signs. The transport minister's decision would entail the replacement of all road signs with new signs that show the Hebrew names of places in Arabic letters, regardless of the common and historical Arabic or English name of the place. For example, "Jerusalem" would become "Yerushalayim" in Hebrew, English, and Arabic, and "Al-Quds" (the Arabic name for Jerusalem) would cease to exist on the road signs. As of year's end, the attorney general had not replied to the July 15 letter Adalah sent demanding the cancellation of the transport minister's decision, but the Ministry of Transportation was inspecting claims regarding the policy.

Approximately 93 percent of land was in the public domain, and the Jewish National Fund (JNF), whose statutes prohibit sale or lease of land to non-Jews, owned approximately 12.5 percent. In 2005 the attorney general ruled the government cannot discriminate against Arab citizens of Israel in marketing and allocating lands it manages, including those of the JNF. As an interim measure, the government agreed through the Israel Lands Administration (ILA) to compensate the JNF for any land leased to an Arab by transferring an equal amount of land from the ILA to the JNF. Legal petitions against the JNF policy of leasing public land only to Jews were ongoing at year's end.

On August 3, the Knesset passed the Israel Land Administration Law. The new law institutes broad land privatization; permits land exchanges between the state and the JNF, the land of which is exclusively reserved for the Jewish people; allows lands to be allocated in accordance with "admissions committee" mechanisms and only to candidates approved by Zionist institutions working solely on behalf of the Jewish people; and grants decisive weight to JNF representatives in a new Land Authority Council, which would replace the ILA.

Competing claims to ownership of land provoked conflicts during the year, particularly in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah. A joint 1956 project of the UN Relief and Works Agency and the Jordanian government gave houses in the neighborhood to 28 Palestinian 1948-refugee families. Court decisions have upheld settler organizations' claims to the property dating from the Ottoman era. Demonstrations organized by the advocacy groups Israeli Committee Against House Demolition, Rabbis for Human Rights, and the International Solidarity Movement have occurred on a weekly basis, resulting in arrests and court orders barring some activists from the area for 30 days, according to press reports.

Advocacy organizations defending the rights of Arab citizens of Israel have challenged the demolition of illegal buildings in the Arab sector on grounds that the government unfairly restricted building permits and rezoned open space areas to exclude Arabs from expanding built-up areas. The controversy has been acute in East Jerusalem, particularly in Sheikh Jarrah, where land zoning restricted the development of new residences near Arab neighborhoods and height restrictions limited buildings to six stories. Arab areas near the Old City were restricted to two stories to preserve the historic nature of the area, whereas authorities permitted six- and eight-story structures in predominantly Jewish areas equally near the Old City.

New construction is illegal in towns that do not have an "authorized detailed plan" for development, which is the legal responsibility of local authorities. In the country's 46 unrecognized Bedouin villages, all buildings were illegal, since there were no recognized local authorities to promote an authorized detailed plan.

In 2004 the Supreme Court ruled, in a case regarding priority areas for education, that omitting Arab towns from specific government social and economic plans was discriminatory. At year's end, according to the government, master plans were completed for 62 of the country's 128 Arab communities, while 58 communities were engaged in the process of developing master plans.

According to the Harvard International Human Rights Clinic, between January and August, authorities demolished 97 Bedouin homes. On December 15, authorities demolished the entire Bedouin "village" of al-Atrash, consisting of at least 12 structures, under a 1996 Beer Sheva Magistrate Court decision that removed Abdulla al-Atrash and his family for trespassing near an IDF firing range. The Al-Atrash family had withdrawn their appeal in 2002.

On December 13, the government adopted a new national priorities area map, complying with a 2006 Supreme Court ruling that government policy was discriminatory because it included only four Arab communities among the 539 communities slated for special funding for development. The new national priority plan provides special funding for approximately two million Israelis and includes communities constituting 40 percent of Israeli Arabs. However, the national priority plan now includes areas in the West Bank, encompassing approximately 110,000 Jewish settlers who would receive the special funding as well, although funding for their housing was specifically excluded.

The law exempts Arab citizens of Israel from mandatory military service. Citizens who do not perform military service enjoy fewer social and economic benefits. Arab citizens of Israel generally were ineligible to work in companies with defense contracts or in security-related fields. Arab citizens were underrepresented in most fields of employment, including government, despite an affirmative action program begun to promote their hiring (including Druze and Bedouin) in the civil service. According to the government, 6.67 percent of government employees in August were Arab citizens.

The law requires that minorities have "appropriate representation" in the civil service and on the boards of government-owned corporations. As of August, Arabs (including Druze and Circassians) filled 8.7 percent of the board seats of state-run companies. Of the 55,000 persons working in government-owned companies, 1 percent were Arab.

On March 29, Israel Railways dismissed 40 Arab crossroads safety inspectors because they had not served in the military. On April 7 and 19, the Tel Aviv Regional Labor Court suspended implementation of the dismissals and, on September 6, issued an injunction, finding discrimination against workers who had not served in the military.

In June 2008 the government started a National Civil Service program for citizens not drafted for military service, giving Arab citizens, Haredi Jews, and Orthodox Jewish women the opportunity to serve in their own communities for more than a year and be eligible for the same benefits accorded military veterans. Of the 12,000 volunteers during the 2008-09 academic year, more than 1,000 were Arab citizens, half or whom served in education, a quarter in welfare, 22 percent in health, and the remainder in road accident prevention and legal and environment work.

Resources devoted to the education of Arab children were inferior to those devoted to Jewish children in the public education system. The OECD estimated that public spending on children in Arab localities was at least one-third lower than for children in Jewish municipalities. There was an average of 25 Jewish schoolchildren per classroom, while Arab children averaged 29 per classroom. There was a growing need for Arabic-speaking classes, as Arab students comprised 23 percent of high school students, 27 percent of junior high students, and 28 percent of elementary students.

The Israeli Druze community comprised approximately 8.3 percent of the minority population, and the Circassian community numbered some 3,000. Males of both communities were subject to the military draft, and the majority accepted willingly. Some Bedouin and, to a much lesser degree, other Arab citizens not subject to the draft also served voluntarily.

The Bedouin population was the most disadvantaged. Half of the 160,000 Bedouin lived in poverty, but with basic state services, in seven state-planned and eight recognized communities. The seven state-planned townships were among the eight poorest communities in the country, according to a March 2008 HRW report. The other half of the country's Bedouin lived in at least 46 unrecognized villages, which did not have water and electricity and lacked educational, health, and welfare services. The unrecognized villages, made up mostly of tents and shacks, evolved as a result of the government's refusal to recognize Bedouin land claims based on traditional usage prior to the establishment of the state.

Government planners noted there were insufficient funds to relocate Bedouin living in unrecognized villages to new towns and that the average Bedouin family could not afford to purchase a home in existing towns; however, the government maintained a program to encourage such movement by providing low-cost land and compensation for demolition of illegal structures for those willing to move to designated permanent locations. Many Bedouin complained that moving to government-planned towns required giving up claims to land they had lived on for generations, while the government claimed it was difficult to provide services to clusters of buildings throughout the Negev that ignored planning procedures.

On January 18, the government accepted the December 2008 report of the Goldberg Committee for Regulation of Bedouin Settlements in the Negev, which urged the government to regularize the situation where possible and increase services and assistance.

As of year's end, the Supreme Court had not ruled on a 2006 Adalah appeal of the Haifa District Court decision not to overturn a Water Tribunal decision denying water services to unrecognized villages.

The approximately 20,000 non-Israeli residents of the Golan Heights are subject to Israeli authority and Israeli law. Israel accords them permanent resident status, but most of them are Druze and citizens of Syria who largely have refused or have been denied Israeli citizenship. As legal residents, they received Israeli travel documents and held identity cards that entitled them to many of the same social benefits as Israeli citizens. Druze communities in the Golan Heights received support for municipal services and infrastructure maintenance The four Druze local authorities received a total of 25.7 million NIS ($6.8 million) in general financial grants for local authorities, as set by the Public Committee for Reform within the Israel Land Administration, and were allocated 1.3 million NIS ($348,000) from the MOI for development (see Annex for discussion of Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem).

The government prohibits Druze citizens, like all citizens, from visiting Syria. The government allowed noncitizen Druze from the Golan Heights to visit holy sites in Syria through the ICRC-managed pilgrimage program, but it has prevented family visitations since 1982.

Societal Abuses, Discrimination, Acts of Violence Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

The law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation, and the government generally enforced these laws.

Gay Pride rallies occurred peacefully in Tel Aviv on June 12 and in Jerusalem on June 25, with only one incident in which police arrested an egg-throwing protester in Jerusalem. There was police authorization and protection for the marchers. There were demonstrations in an ultra-Orthodox section of Jerusalem against the march.

On August 1, a masked gunman killed Nir Katz, 26, and Liz Trobishi, 16, and wounded 15 others in the offices of the NGO GLBT Israel in Tel Aviv. At year's end, a high priority police investigation continued. High-level politicians, including the president and prime minister, were quick to condemn the attacks. Settler Yaacov Teitel (see sections 1.a., 1.c., 6, and the Annex) was arrested on October 7 after posting signs in Hebrew in an ultra-Orthodox community in Jerusalem praising the attack in Tel Aviv, but police did not charge him with these killings.

A number of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) organizations operated freely. They included Jerusalem Open House, which runs an LGBT Health Awareness Campaign, and Aswat, a lesbian advocacy organization of Arab citizens of Israel that works to promote LGBT rights and to combat homophobia in the Arab community.

Other Societal Violence or Discrimination

Societal violence and discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS existed in isolated cases.

In August several media reported on three national-religious "private" schools in Petah Tikvah that refused to admit some 30 Ethiopian Jewish students. Despite a court order, 11 recent immigrants from Ethiopia had yet to be admitted to the schools by the end of the year. These unofficial, but state-recognized schools received as much as 75 percent of their funds from the state, which guaranteed in principle, but did not effectively enforce equality. The president and prime minister quickly condemned the refusal to admit the students, and Education Minister Gideon Saar threatened to cut off funding from the schools if they did not accept the students by the first day of school. Mayor Itzik Ohayoun made a deal with the city's religious schools for expanded integration of more than 100 Ethiopian students, but did not exercise his power to force the schools to accept all the students by the end of December, four months into the school year.

Section 7 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

Effectively implemented laws concerning the right of association provide that citizens may join and establish independent labor organizations. Most unions belong to Histadrut (the General Federation of Labor) or to a smaller rival federation, the Histadrut Haovdim Haleumit (National Federation of Labor). Both are independent. There were no restrictions on collective bargaining agreements, and no prior government approval was required. The law provides for protection for workers from discrimination resulting from their membership in or activity with a labor organization. The government reported that litigation stemming from discrimination of this kind was negligible.

Labor laws also apply to noncitizens, although with modifications, and enforcement was not adequate, according to Hotline. A legally resident migrant worker may join Histadrut, may vote in the elections, and is eligible for all its services, as long as the employee pays membership fees. In an organized workplace, one who does not want to be a member must pay a trade union fee of 0.8 percent of salary.

The government sets annual quotas for foreign workers. Through October 50,000 permits had been issued for nurses, bringing the number of permits issued for foreign workers to approximately 88,500 in the year. This number constituted 38 percent of the foreign work force. Nonresident Palestinians may join Israeli trade unions and organize their own unions in Israel. As of September 30, the government issued 25,661 working permits for nonresident Palestinian employees.

Unions have the right to strike, and workers exercised this right. If essential public services are affected by a strike, the government may appeal to labor courts for back-to-work orders during continued negotiations. Worker dismissals and the terms of severance arrangements traditionally have been the central issues of disputes.

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

The law provides for the right to organize and bargain collectively, and these laws are enforced. Collective agreements cover approximately 58 percent of all workers. The law specifically prohibits antiunion discrimination, and none was reported. The Collective Agreements Law was amended in August to include a provision that obligates an employer to negotiate with an employee organization.

Collective bargaining agreements extend to nonunion workplaces in the same sector. To obtain a job, foreign workers usually paid agency fees, collected overseas, that reportedly ranged from 12,000 NIS ($3,000) to 80,000 NIS ($20,000) per worker. Chinese construction workers paid the highest fees.

There are no export processing zones.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits forced or compulsory labor, including by children, and criminalizes gradations of labor exploitation. According to the OECD review, the laws concerning minimum employment conditions and foreign workers were not effectively enforced.

The law provides that foreign laborers have legal status, decent working conditions, health insurance, and a written employment contract; nonetheless, some employers forced individual laborers who entered the country, legally and illegally, to live under conditions that constituted involuntary servitude. In a major reorganization of the immigration and employment law-enforcement functions during the year, responsibility for noncitizen workers was moved from the Immigration Police in July to the new Population, Immigration, and Border Crossings Authority under MOI oversight. This office has the authority to arrest and detain workers, but not the authority to enforce labor or trafficking laws against employers. As a result, according to Hotline, even in cases when an illegal worker was detained when working, inspectors were not able to charge the employer with labor law violations, or even illegal employment.

There were numerous documented cases, but few resulting employer prosecutions, concerning foreign laborers living in harsh conditions, subject to debt bondage, and restricted in their movements.

On July 14, Kav LaOved provided legal representation at the Jerusalem Magistrate's Court on behalf of an Indian migrant worker, employed as a caregiver, who had been ordered by the court to remain at her job. The caregiver had informed her employer that she wanted to leave her job and gave him due notice. The employer's son argued that the worker had committed to take care of his mother for a year from the date of her arrival, with no option of leaving earlier, and asked the court to order the worker to continue working until at least December 21. The court agreed to the request and issued a temporary court order forcing the worker to continue but annulled the order after Hotline objected.

In August, following a complaint by Kav LaOved, a criminal indictment was filed in the Be'er Sheva Magistrate's Court against the agricultural company Katif Venture and Development Ltd. and some of its employees, charging them with employing Thai and Nepalese agricultural workers in inhumane conditions. The charges included making the employees work for 15-20 hours each day, seven days per week, paid well below the minimum wage with no overtime compensation; constantly threatened to accelerate their work pace lest they be returned to their countries; and prohibition from using a telephone. The workers were also required to live in extremely crowded conditions in temporary buildings that were completely exposed to the elements. The employers were charged with exploitation, fraud, and causing injury by negligence.

d. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment

Laws provide for protection of children from exploitation in the workplace and prohibit forced or compulsory labor; the government generally enforced these laws.

Children at least 15 years of age, who have completed education through grade nine, may be employed as apprentices. Those who are 14 may be employed during official school holidays in light work that will not harm their health. Working hours for those 16 to 18 years old are restricted in all sectors. During the year the Labor Laws Enforcement Division in the Ministry of Industry, Trade, and Labor (MITL) initiated 230 investigations, investigated more than 600 employers for allegedly violating the Youth Employment Law, filed 43 indictments against employers, and imposed 757 administrative fines, totaling approximately 10 million NIS ($2.6 million).

The Labor Law Enforcement Division also conducted national campaigns regarding employment terms of youth to promote the implementation of youth labor laws, especially during summer vacation.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The Labor Inspection Service, along with union representatives, enforced labor, health, and safety standards in the workplace. Resource constraints affected overall enforcement, and according to the OECD, the country had a general problem of failing to enforce its labor laws.

The minimum wage is updated on April 1 of each year and is set at 47.5 percent of the average monthly wage. The minimum wage during the year was 3,850 NIS (approximately $1,000) per month for a 43-hour week. There are reduced minimum wages for youths and persons with disabilities. The government considered the minimum wage, supplemented by special allowances for citizens, to provide a citizen worker a decent standard of living. Some union officials, NGOs, and social commentators disputed this claim. Noncitizen workers did not receive the special allowances. Histadrut reported that enforcement by the Labor Inspection Service in the MITL improved during the year. Resource constraints limited inspections, particularly of conditions in the settlements where many Thai work.

The law allows a maximum 43-hour workweek at regular pay. Premium pay was 125 percent for the first two hours and 150 percent for any additional hours, with a limit of 15 hours of overtime per week. Histadrut reported that Israeli and foreign workers operated under the same rules.

Documented foreign workers were entitled to many of the same benefits as citizens but not to national health care. Employers were legally required to provide such insurance, and most employers did so. All labor laws also apply to undocumented foreign workers. Enforcement of labor law in the home health care sector, which employs numerous foreign workers, was particularly difficult because caregivers live and work in isolated, individual settings.

An employer must obtain a government permit to hire non-Israeli workers who live in the occupied territories. Most Palestinians from the occupied territories working legally in the country were employed on a daily basis and, unless employed on shift work, were not authorized to spend the night in the country. According to Histadrut, there were approximately 50,000 legal nonresident Palestinian workers during the year.

The government required Palestinians to have permits to travel from the occupied territories to Israel, including for employment. According to the government, there were 23,873 Palestinians who possessed valid work permits at the end of the year, of whom an estimated 5,000 had permits to stay long-term while the rest were supposed to commute daily. There were unknown numbers of Palestinians who worked in Israel without permits and thousands who had daily permits, who remained overnight without permission.

According to the government, foreign workers can remove themselves from a dangerous work situation and seek alternate employment. Kav LaOved maintained that particularly in the case of agricultural workers, no comprehensive system for such removal existed by year's end. During the year the MOI changed procedures so that employees no longer received work permission through a specifically named employer. All workers could challenge unsafe work practices through government oversight and legal agencies.

Through November the Enforcement Division of the Foreign Workers Department in the MITL imposed 1,662 administrative fines on employers of foreign workers for violating the Foreign Workers Law, totaling 14,605,958 NIS ($3,844,000). Through September, 849 indictments had been filed regarding violation of the Foreign Workers Law by employers, and 196 fines totaling 1,923,000 NIS ($506,000) had been imposed on employers of foreign workers for violating the Minimum Wage Law.

Thai agricultural workers, Chinese construction workers, and nursing care workers from India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and the Philippines--particularly women--were at greatest risk for abuse. On September 1, the government recertified private nursing companies' caregiver licenses, giving special attention to capacity of dealing with the widespread employment of foreign workers in the field. In February the MOI assumed responsibility from MITL for possible cancellation of health care workers' residence permits.

Brokers and employers collect hiring fees from migrant workers. The government limited such fees to 3,135 NIS (approximately $895) per worker, but NGOs claimed that many foreign workers continued to pay as much as 80,000 NIS ($23,000). Through September, the government held 124 hearings on canceling or restricting permits to employ foreign workers, resulting in 51 restricted or canceled permits.

The government reported that, during 2008 and up to October 15, 47 permits to recruit foreign workers in the nursing field were completely revoked. Investigations and administrative hearings led to the closure of some recruitment agencies.

Workers may contest deportation orders, but lack of fluency in Hebrew placed them at a considerable disadvantage. Interpreters were provided when available, but no court-appointed attorneys were provided. According to Hotline, the lack of interpreters in various governmental agencies continued to be a "grave problem," and public information in languages other than Hebrew was hard to obtain.


Source: Country Reports on Human Rights Practices - 2009, Released by the State Department Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, (March 11, 2010)