Report on Human Rights Practices for 1996
Israel and the Occupied Territories
Israel is a parliamentary democracy with a multiparty
system and free elections. There is no constitution; a series of "basic
laws" provide for fundamental rights. The legislature, or Knesset,
has the power to dissolve the Government and limit the authority of
the executive branch. On May 29, Likud Party leader Benyamin Netanyahu
was elected Prime Minister; he heads a centerright coalition government.
The judiciary is independent.
Since its founding in 1948, Israel has been in a state
of war with most of its Arab neighbors. It concluded a peace treaty
with Egypt in 1979 and with Jordan in 1994. As a result of the 1967
War, Israel occupied the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, East Jerusalem,
and the Golan Heights. The international community does not recognize
Israel's sovereignty over any part of the occupied territories. Throughout
its existence, Israel has experienced numerous terrorist attacks. It
relies heavily on its military and security services and retains many
securityrelated regulations from the period of the British Mandate.
An historic process of reconciliation between Israel
and its neighbors began with the Madrid Conference in 1991 and continued
with the September 1993 signing of the IsraeliPalestinian Declaration
of Principles (DOP.) In September 1995, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin
and Chairman Yasir Arafat of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO)
signed the Interim Agreement on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, which
provided for the election and establishment of a Palestinian selfgoverning
authority, transfer of civil authority, Israeli redeployment from major
Palestinian population centers in the West Bank, security arrangements,
and cooperation in a variety of areas. Palestinian elections were held
in January. Negotiations on permanent statuswhich are to address
the status of Jerusalem, Palestinian refugees, Israeli settlements in
the West Bank and Gaza, final security arrangements, borders, and other
issues of common interestbegan on May 5 and were immediately
Internal security is the responsibility of the General
Security Service (GSS)(Shin Bet, or Shabak), which is under
the authority of the Prime Minister's office. The police are under the
authority of the Minister of Interior Security. The Israel Defense Forces
(IDF) are under the authority of a civilian Minister of Defense. The
IDF includes a significant portion of the adult population on active
duty or reserve status and plays a role in maintaining internal security.
The Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee in the Knesset reviews the
activities of the IDF and Shin Bet. Some members of the security forces
committed human rights abuses.
Israel has an advanced industrial economy, and citizens
enjoy a high standard of living, with a per capita income of almost
$17,000. Unemployment among citizens was approximately 6.5 percent with
nearly full employment in some areas. Along with rapid economic growth
in recent years there has been a tendency toward increasing income inequality.
The longstanding gap in levels of income between Jewish and nonJewish
citizens continues. Israel's growing reliance on foreign workers, principally
from Asia and Eastern Europe who are generally employed in agriculture
and the construction industry, and comprise about 10 percent of the
labor force. Since the implementation of an economic stabilization plan
in 1985, Israel has moved gradually to reduce state intervention in
the economy. The new Netanyahu Government promised a renewed emphasis
on marketoriented structural reforms, especially deregulation and
rapid privatization of the economy, but had achieved little progress
by year's end. Despite the continued dominant role of the Government
in the economy, individuals generally are free to invest in private
interests and own property.
The Government generally respects human rights, and
citizens enjoy a wide range of civil and other rights. Israel's main
human rights problems have arisen from its policies and practices in
the occupied territories. However, the redeployment of the IDF from
most major Palestinian population areas in the West Bank in December
1995, and its previous withdrawal from Gaza and Jericho, have significantly
reduced these problems. In September, however, Israel's opening of an
archeological tunnel near the Temple Mount in Jerusalem and the subsequent
calls by Palestinian leaders to protest this decision sparked confrontations
between Israeli security forces and Palestinians expressing their frustrations
over the slow pace of the peace process. These demonstrations escalated
into several days of fighting between Israelis and Palestinians and
left 16 Israelis and 58 Palestinians dead and many hundreds injured.
The authorities continue to hold and mistreat Palestinian
security detainees, and detention and prison conditions, particularly
for Palestinians, are poor. However, new legislation during the year
set tighter limits on the length and grounds for pretrial detention.
New legislation also broadened children's rights and made the basis
for comparing men's and women's compensation more equitable. Proposed
legislation defining the basis for and limits of GSS activities, circulated
to interested groups in 1995 for their comment, was widely criticized
for because it authorized the Government to use force during interrogation
and to issue secret guidelines defining the methods of interrogation.
The legislation has not been formally submitted to the Knesset.
The Government responded to terrorist and security
incidents by tightening existing restrictions on movement across borders
with the West Bank and Gaza, and demolishing the homes of some suspected
terrorists and their families in the occupied territories.
The Government took steps to address discrimination
and violence against women. It pledged to eliminate the social and economic
gap between Israel's Arab and Jewish citizens; however, the Arab minority
still does not share fully in the rights granted to, and the obligations
imposed on, Jewish citizens.
RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person,
Including Freedom from:
a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing
There are no reports of political killings by government
forces. During the year, however, at least two Palestinians died while
in Israeli custody, two after apparently being tortured by other Palestinians
(see Section 1.a. and Section 1.c. of the annex.)
Two extremist Islamic groups, the Islamic Resistance
(Hamas) and the Palestine Islamic Jihad (PIJ), made a concerted effort
during the year to undermine the authority of the Palestinian Authority
and derail the IsraeliPalestinian peace process by killing Israeli
civilians in a series of deadly suicide bombing attacks in Jerusalem,
Tel Aviv, and Ashkelon (see Section 1.g.). On June 9, terrorists shot
and killed an Israeli couple in a car 12 miles southwest of Jerusalem.
On October 3, a Tel Aviv court sentenced Yigal Amir,
the killer of former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, to an additional
5 years in prison. Amir is already serving a life term. The court also
sentenced the killer's brother, Hagai Amir, to 12 years, and a third
man, Dror Adani, to 7 years, for plotting Rabin's murder. The three
men were also found guilty of planning attacks against Palestinians,
and Hagai Amir was convicted of various weapons charges.
In September Israel's opening of a controversial tunnel
near Muslim and Jewish holy sites in Jerusalem and calls by the Palestinian
Authority (PA) for Palestinians to protest the move sparked several
days of violent clashes between Israeli security forces and Palestinian
security officers and civilians. Fiftyeight Palestinians (including
11 Palestinian security officers) and 16 IDF soldiers and border police
officers died in the fighting, and some 1,500 persons were injured (see
Section 1.g. of the annex).
There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading
Treatment or Punishment
Although laws and administrative regulations prohibit
the physical abuse of detainees, the head of Shin Bet is empowered to
authorize security officers to use use "moderate physical and psychological
pressure" in interrogating Palestinian detainees. In certain "ticking
bomb" cases the GSS has "greater flexibility" to employ
"special measures" when deemed necessary to obtain information
to save lives. These measures have been applied against Palestinians
suspected of involvement in planning terrorist acts, and include the
practice of violent shaking (see Section 1.c. of the annex).
The practice of shaking was challenged repeatedly
before the Israeli Supreme Court during the year by human rights groups
and attorneys for individual detainees. In two cases in November, the
Court upheld the right of the GSS to use "special measures"
and "force" against Palestinian prisoners. However, in a number
of cases, the Court ordered the GSS to show cause that this method of
interrogation was necessary in order to obtain information directly
related to citizens' safety. While in a number of cases the GSS succeeded
in meeting the Court's standard, and shaking was authorized, the showcause
orders constitute some restriction on the use of the method.
In August the authorities detained Bashar Tarabieh,
a parttime employee of the nongovernmental organization (NGO) Human
Rights Watch, who had been visiting his family in the Golan Heights.
For 8 days he was held without charge in a jail near Haifa, in a separate
section for the detention and interrogation of security prisoners. Between
repeated interrogation sessions he was frequently hooded and tied to
a chair in a contorted position. He was held in a cell with poor sanitary
conditions, and for much of his detention given food that was inedible.
After international attention brought his case to light, he was released
Conditions vary in incarceration facilities in Israel
and the occupied territories, which are administered by the Israeli
Prison Service (IPS), the national police, or the Israel Defense Forces.
IPS prisons usually meet minimum international standards. Generally,
IPS inmates are not subject to physical abuse by guards, food is adequate,
and prisoners receive basic necessities. Inmates receive mail, have
television sets in their cells, and receive regular visits. Prisoners
receive wages for prison work and benefits for good behavior. Many IPS
prisons have drug treatment, educational, and recreational programs.
The IPS has established an investigatory committee to look into charges
of violence by guards against inmates.
Since the closure in 1995 of the main IDF detention
camps in the occupied territories, all security detainees from the occupied
territories who are held for more than a few days are transferred to
facilities within Israel. Security detainees in 1996 were held in IDF
camps in Israel, but also in IPS facilities and in special sections
of police detention facilities. Prisoners incarcerated for security
reasons are subject to a different regimen, even in IPS facilities.
They are often denied certain privileges given to prisoners convicted
on criminal charges. Security prisoners include some minors. Detention
camps administered by the IDF are limited to male Palestinian security
prisoners and are guarded by armed soldiers. The number of security
prisoners, 4,900 at the beginning of 1996, varied between 3,800 and
4,200 during the year, and was approximately 3,800 at year's end.
Conditions at some national police detention facilities
can fall below minimum international standards. Such facilities are
intended to hold criminal detainees prior to trial, but often become
de facto prisons. Those held include some security detainees and some
persons who have been convicted and sentenced. Inmates in the national
police detention facilities are often not accorded the same rights as
prisoners in the IPS. Moreover, conditions are worse in the separate
facilities for security detainees maintained both in police facilities
and in IPS prisons.
In response to a series of reports by the Association
for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) that were critical of the country's
detention facilities, the Government in April presented a plan for widespread
reform, including renovation of existing police and IPS facilities and
construction of new ones. By year's end some improvements had been made
in the country's major detention facilities. A new prison, built to
modern standards for incarceration, was opened at Tsalmon. A detention
facility in Beersheva that had been criticized for its very poor conditions
was shut down. Some detainees from police facilities were moved to the
IPS to relieve overcrowding. Funds were allocated to rebuild the Abu
Kabir facility in the Tel Aviv area, and some minor renovations were
made in Jerusalem's Russian Compound detention center, in which up to
50 Palestinian detainees had been crowded into 4bed cells.
Thus far improvements have been limited in scope,
and dilapidation and overcrowding (the latter aggravated by the closure
of IDF detention facilities in the occupied territories) are still problems.
New legislation enacted in May and scheduled to take effect in 1997
defines the minimum conditions for detainees. The minimum conditions
for detainees include: The right to live in conditions that would not
harm the health or dignity of the detainee; access to adequate health
care; the right to a bed for each detainee; and access to exercise and
fresh air on a daily basis.
Children's rights groups have expressed particular
concern over the separate sections of holding facilities set aside for
the detention of children. Overcrowding, poor physical conditions, lack
of social workers, and denial of visits by parents are among the key
problems. In addition to some Israeli minors held in criminal cases,
there are juveniles among Palestinian detainees. Children's rights activists
have recommended the construction of a separate detention facility for
Conditions in IDF detention camps have been criticized
repeatedly over the years. In May the Ketziot Detention Camp in the
Negev, regarded as having had the harshest conditions, was closed. Conditions
at Meggido detention facility near Afula remain difficult, where 90
percent of detainees are housed in tents. Conditions in remaining facilities
improved in some respects, with inmates given more time for exercise
outside their cells. Nevertheless, recreational facilities remain minimal,
and severe limitations remain on family visits to detainees. Visits
were prevented for long periods during closures of the borders with
Gaza and the West Bank, including a 4month closure after the FebruaryMarch
All incarceration facilities are monitored by various
branches of the Government, by members of the Knesset, and by the International
Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and other human rights groups. In
somes instances, human rights groups and diplomatic officials encountered
difficulties gaining access to specific detainees, usually Palestinians
held for security offenses (see Section 1.d. of the annex).
d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile
The law prohibits arbitrary arrest of citizens, and
the Government observes this prohibition. Defendants are considered
innocent until proven guilty, and have the right to writs of habeas
corpus and other procedural safeguards. However, a 1979 law permits
administrative detention without charge or trial. The Minister of Defense
may issue a detention order for a maximum of a year. Within 48 hours
of issuance, detainees must appear before a district judge who may confirm,
shorten, or overturn the order. If the order is confirmed, an automatic
review takes place after 3 months. Detainees have the right to be represented
by counsel and appeal detention orders to the Supreme Court. At detention
hearings, the Government may withhold evidence from defense lawyers
on security grounds. It may also seek to renew administrative detention
In felony cases, a district court judge may postpone
for 48 hours the notification of arrest to the detainee's attorney.
The postponement may be extended to 7 days by the Minister of Defense
on national security grounds or by the Police Inspector General to conduct
an investigation. Moreover, a judge may postpone notification for up
to 15 days in national security cases.
New legislation enacted in May, which takes effect
in 1997, defines more narrowly the grounds for pretrial detention, and
reduces to 24 hours the length of time a person may be held without
charge. Children's rights activists have recommended separate legislation
to define when and how a child may be arrested and how long children
may be detained.
Administrative orders issued by the IDF central command
continued to restrict the movements of some members of the Jewish ultranationalist
Kach and Kahane Chai organizations who live in the occupied territories.
In October two Israeli settlers in Hebron were detained due to indications
that they might incite violence as the Hebron negotiations were beginning.
Most of the protections afforded by law are not extended
to Palestinian detainees, who fall under the jurisdiction of military
law even if they are detained in Israel. With IDF redeployment on the
West Bank, detention centers there were closed, and all Palestinian
detainees held for longer than 1 or 2 days are incarcerated in Israel.
The Government does, however, observe some humanitarian provisions of
the Fourth Geneva Convention with regard to these detainees (see Section
1.d. of the annex).
The Government detains 140 nonPalestinian Arabs,
who comprise a mixture of common prisoners, administrative detainees,
and security detainees. It continues to deny the ICRC access to two
Lebanese citizens, Sheikh Mustafa Dirani and Sheikh Obeid. The disposition
of these two cases appears linked to government efforts to obtain information
on Israeli military personnel believed to be prisoners of war or missing
In 1995 the Government expelled a Jordanian citizen
and a West Bank Palestinian into the security zone in southern Lebanon.
While the Jordanian has since returned to Jordan, the Palestinian still
is being given shelter by the United Nations Interim Force In Lebanon
(UNIFIL). The ICRC has taken up his case with the Government.
The law prohibits forced exile of citizens, and it
is not used.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The law provides for an independent judiciary, and
the Government respects this provision in practice. The judiciary provides
citizens with a fair and efficient judicial process.
The judicial system is composed of civil, military,
religious, labor relations, and administrative courts, with the Supreme
Court at the apex. The Supreme Court is an appellate court. Each of
the cited courts, including the Supreme Court, have appellate courts
The law provides for the right to a hearing with representation
by counsel, and authorities observe this right in practice. A planned
regional and national system of public defenders operated by the Ministry
of Justice was inaugurated in 1996 with the opening of a Tel Aviv office,
although that office has suffered serious budget shortages and faces
further cutbacks in 1997.
All nonsecurity trials are public except those in
which the interests of the parties are deemed best served by privacy.
Cases involving national security may be tried in either military or
civil courts and may be partly or wholly closed to the public. The Attorney
General determines the venue in such cases. The prosecution must justify
closing the proceedings to the public. Adult defendants have the right
to be represented by counsel even in closed proceedings but may be denied
access to some evidence on security grounds. Convictions may not be
based on any evidence denied to the defense. Nevertheless, in the 1995
case of Mohammed Salah, he was denied access to some evidence, but it
is not clear that he was convicted on the basis of that evidence.
f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home,
Although privacy of the individual and the home are
generally protected by law, authorities sometimes interfere with mail
and monitor telephone conversations. In criminal cases, the law permits
wiretapping under court order; in security cases, the order must be
issued by the Ministry of Defense. Under emergency regulations, authorities
may open and destroy mail on security grounds (see Section 1.f. of the
g. Use of Excessive Force and Violations of Humanitarian
Law in Internal Conflicts
In April in response to Katyusha rocket salvos launched
by the terrorist organization Hizballah from southern Lebanon against
towns and civilian areas in northern Israel, the Government responded
with an aerial and artillery counterattack. The IDF attempted to confine
its initial attacks to the Hizballahcontrolled areas from which
the rockets had come; however, many Hizballah launching sites were intermingled
with, or located close to, Lebanese civilian areas. The fighting subsequently
intensified to include attacks on Beirut and blockades of Lebanese ports.
The conflict resulted in more than 150 civilian deaths and hundreds
of wounded civilians on the Lebanese side, and dozens of wounded civilians
The Israeli military operationknown as Grapes
of Wrathincluded a public call on Lebanese civilians in the
south to move away from areas that Israel intended to attack. As a result,
the operation created 200,000 to 300,000 or more temporary refugees.
In northern Israel, Hizballah salvos caused 20,000 to 30,000 civilians
to abandon their homes. Lebanese observers and some Israeli media commentators
alleged that a central tactic of Grapes of Wrath was to put pressure
on the Lebanese Government to restrain Hizballah by generating a large
northward flow of Lebanese refugees toward Beirut. Israel clearly stated
that it did not intend to injure civilians, but would not allow Hizballah
to fire from within villages and conceal itself among the civilian population.
Hizballah declared that its aim was to create a flow of Israeli refugees
On April 18, Hizballah fired mortar rounds at an Israeli
military unit from a position very near the U.N. compound at Qana, and
the IDF responded with artillery fire. A number of Israeli shells struck
the compound, killing 102 civilians who had sought shelter there and
wounding others. The Government expressed regret for these casualties,
but insisted that the U.N. compound had not been shelled intentionally.
A U.N. report concluded, however, that it was unlikely that the shelling
was due to technical or procedural error.
Negotiations to end the fighting resulted in an April
26 understanding under which the two parties committed not to target
civilians or to use civilianpopulated areas or nonmilitary public
installations as launching grounds for attacks. An international monitoring
group was established to investigate complaints of violations of the
understanding. This group, the IsraelLebanon Monitoring Group (ILMG),
continued to function throughout the remainder of the year, with the
participation of the United States, France, Syria, Israel, and Lebanon.
Politically motivated intercommunal killings continued
as extremists sought to disrupt the IsraelPalestinian peace process.
On February 25, two Palestinian suicide bombers struck in Jerusalem
and at a road junction near the southern coastal city of Ashkelon. The
Jerusalem explosion killed
25 persons, including three U.S. citizens. In Ashkelon
one person was killed and 36 injured. On March 3, another suicide bomber
killed 19 persons, including Palestinian and Romanian workers, and wounded
7 in Jerusalem. The following day a fourth bomber killed 14 personsincluding
6 childrenand injured more than 100 others at an intersection
in central Tel Aviv. On December 22, a court in Lod sentenced two Palestinians
to consecutive life terms for driving suicide bombers to the scenes
of the bombing attacks in Jerusalem and Ashkelon.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
The law provides for freedom of the press, and the
Government generally respects this right in practice. The law authorizes
the Government to censor any material reported from Israel or the occupied
territories regarded as sensitive on national security grounds. A new
censorship agreement signed on May 22 between the Government and media
representatives continues the trend to broaden liberalization of Israel's
censorship regime. The agreement provides that military censorship is
to be applied only in cases involving national security issues that
have a near certainty of harming Israel's defense interests, and now
applies to all media organizations in Israel, including local and Arabiclanguage
newspapers. All media organizations can appeal the censor's decision
to the Supreme Court. Moreover, a new clause abolishes the right of
the censor to shut down a newspaper for a censorship violation and eliminates
the ability of the office of the censor to appeal a decision against
it. News printed or broadcast abroad may be reported without censorship.
Emergency regulations prohibit anyone from expressing
support for illegal organizations. The Government occasionally prosecutes
persons for speaking or writing on behalf of terrorist groups. No such
cases were filed in 1996.
Individuals, organizations, the press, and the electronic
media freely debate public issues and criticize government officials
and policies. A public debate on the legitimate exercise of the freedom
of speech, sharpened by the November 1995 killing of Prime Minister
Rabin, continued during the year. New concerns were raised by the actions
of angry rightwing extremists who criticized the Supreme Court
and issued threats against the life of Chief Justice Aharon Barak. There
was also scattered praise from extremists for Rabin's killer. The head
of the Zo Artsenu movement was tried for sedition and the case is still
pending. For the most part, however, the Attorney General, while condemning
hate speech, concluded that such speech could not be prosecuted.
All newspapers are privately owned and managed. Newspaper
licenses are valid only for Israel; separate licenses are required to
distribute publications in the occupied territories.
Directed by a government appointee, the quasiindependent
Israel Broadcast Authority (IBA) controls television channel 1 and Kol
Israel radio, both major sources of news and information. Six cable
companies operate under franchises granted by governmentcouncils.
Privately owned channel
2 television, the first commercial television channel,
is operated by three franchise companies. Seven regional radio franchises
were joined by another 6, bringing to 13 the number of private radio
outlets. The Second Television and Radio Authority, a public body, supervises
both channel 2 and the regional radio stations.
The May elections focused public attention on a provision
of the communications law that prohibits the visual image of candidates
to be screened during the last 30 days of a campaign. A bill to change
this law was debated in the Knesset, but deferred, even though cable
news channels like Cable News Network (CNN) and the British Broadcasting
Corporation (BBC) were not prohibited from broadcasting images of the
candidates. Another part of the law that prohibits paid political advertising
on television was also debated but was not changed.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The law provides for these rights, and the Government
generally respects them in practice. After the Hebron massacre in 1994,
the Cabinet invoked the 1948 Ordinance for the Prevention of Terror
to ban the ultranationalist Kach and Kahane Chai organizations, a ban
that remains in effect. The decision stipulates imprisonment for anyone
belonging to, or expressing support for, either organization.
Demonstrations by ultraOrthodox Jews in July
and August were organized to force the municipality of Jerusalem to
close the city's BarIlan Street, a main throughfare, to traffic
on the Sabbath. The demonstrators committed acts of civil disobedience
and violence. The police used excessive force in countering the demonstrators.
c. Freedom of Religion
The law provides for freedom of religion, and the
Government respects this right. Approximately 81 percent of citizens
are Jewish. Muslims, Christians, Druze, and members of other religions
make up the remaining 19 percent. Each recognized religious community
has legal authority over its members in matters of marriage and divorce.
Secular courts have primacy over questions of inheritance, but parties,
by mutual agreement, may bring cases to religious courts. Jewish and
Christian families may ask for some family status matters, such as alimony
and child custody in divorces, to be adjudicated in civil courts as
an alternative to religious courts. New legislation passed during the
year allows the rabbinical courts to sanction either party who is not
willing to grant a divorce.
Many citizens object to the Orthodox Jewish religious
authorities' exclusive control over marriage, divorce, and burial, whether
persons are Jewish or not. These authorities do not recognize marriages
or conversions to Judaism performed in Israel by Conservative or Reform
rabbis. These issues have been a source of sharp division within society,
particularly in recent years, as thousands of Jewish immigrants from
the former Soviet Union have brought with them family members not recognized
as Jewish by these Orthodox authorities. The divisions grew sharper
during the year, as Jewish religious extremists, asserting the supremacy
of religious law over democracy, threatened the life of the Chief Justice
of the Supreme Court, and of local Reform rabbis.
A large number of Jews who wish to be married in secular
or nonOrthodox religious ceremonies do so abroad. The Ministry
of Interior recognizes such marriages. New Knesset legislation provided
for the right to civil burials, and land for the first secular cemeteries
was recently designated.
Missionaries are allowed to proselytize in Israel,
although Mormons are specifically prohibited from doing so by mutual
agreement between the Church of Jesus Christ of the LatterDay Saints
and the Government. A 1977 antiproselytizing law prohibits anyone from
offering or receiving material benefits as an inducement to conversion,
but the law has not been applied for several years.
A 1995 Supreme Court ruling allows small numbers of
Jews under police escort to pray on the Temple Mount, which is the site
of two Muslim holy places and also the location of the First and Second
d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign
Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation
The law provides for these rights, and the Government
respects them in practice for citizens, except with regard to military
or security zones or in instances where citizens may be confined by
administrative order to their neighborhoods or villages. During the
year, rabbinical courts asserting jurisdiction over divorce cases refused
at least two visiting U.S. citizens permission to depart the country
until their cases were tried (see Section 5). The Government continued
to limit the movements of some Jewish settlers living in the occupied
territories who belonged to extremist Kach or Kahane Chai groups (see
Section 2.d. of the Annex).
Citizens are free to travel abroad and to emigrate,
provided they have no outstanding military obligations and are not restricted
by administrative order. In 1996 the Government again permitted Muslim
citizens over 30 years of age to perform the religious pilgrimage to
Mecca, but it denied permission to Muslim citizens under 30 years of
years of age on security grounds. The Government asserts that travel
to Saudi Arabia, which is still in a state of war with Israel, is a
privilege and not a right.
The Government welcomes Jewish immigrants, their families,
and Jewish refugees, on whom it confers automatic citizenship and residence
rights under the Law of Return. This law does not apply to nonJews
or to persons of Jewish descent who have converted to another faith.
Other than the Law of Return, which applies only to Jews, and the family
reunification statutes, which mainly apply to Arabs who fled Israel
in 194849, Israel has no immigration law that provides for immigration
to Israel, or for political asylum. The law does allow qualified individuals
to live in Israel as permanent residents.
The issue of first asylum did not arise in 1996. The
Government cooperates with the office of the United Nations High Commissioner
for Refugees and other humanitarian organizations in assisting refugees.
Section 3. Respect for Political Rights: The Right
of Citizens to Change Their Government
The law provides citizens with the right to change
peacefully their government, and citizens exercise this right in practice
through periodic, free, and fair elections held on the basis of universal
suffrage for adult citizens. In May general elections were held for
the 14th Knesset and, for the first time, the voters elected the Prime
Minister by direct ballot.
Israel is a parliamentary democracy, with an active
multiparty system representing a wide range of political views. Relatively
small parties, including those whose primary support is among Israeli
Arabs, regularly win seats in the Knesset. Elections are by secret ballot.
While there are no legal impediments to the participation
of women and minorities in government, they are underrepresented. Women
hold 9 of 120 Knesset seats, compared with 11 female members in the
previous Knesset. There are 11 Arab and 1 Druze in the new Knesset,
compared with 7 and 2 prior to the May election; most represent parties
deriving their support largely or entirely from the Arab community.
Of the Knesset's
12 committees, 2 (including the Committee on the Status
of Women) are chaired by a woman and another is chaired by the Druze
member of the legislature. There is one woman in the Cabinet, as compared
with 2 in the previous government. There are no Arab or Druze ministers
or deputy ministers in the new government. Three women, but no Arab
or Druze citizens, serve on the 14member Supreme Court.
Section 4. Governmental Attitude Regarding International
and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
A wide variety of human rights groups operate without
government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings
on human rights cases. Government officials are generally cooperative
and responsive to their views.
Section 5. Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion,
Disability, Language, or Social Status
The law prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex,
marital status, or sexual orientation. The law also prohibits discrimination
by both government and nongovernment entities on the basis of race,
religion, political beliefs, and age. Local human rights groups are
concerned that resources for implementing those laws, or mechanisms
for their enforcement, are sometimes lacking.
There continued to be action, both in and out of government,
to deal with the issue of violence against women in Jewish and Arab
communities. The Government has allocated funds for a special campaign
to combat such violence, and in June a parliamentary committee of inquiry
issued a report recommending a number of measures to combat the problem
at its source. Groups that focus on domestic violence include a committee
established by the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs that includes
Jewish and Arab nongovernmental organizations (NGO's) as well as government
representatives, and a coalition of human rights organizations. Approximately
16 women were killed by husbands or other male relatives during the
year. According to the most recent estimates, some 200,000 women suffer
from domestic violence each year, and some 7 percent of these are abused
on a regular basis.
Arab human rights advocates also have formed a coalition
to raise public awareness of socalled family honor killings, a
term commonly used for the murder of a female by a male relative for
The Government supports seven shelters for battered
women, including one exclusively for Arab women. There are plans for
a total of 12 shelters, including 2 for Arab women, although women's
rights advocates consider this number inadequate.
According to the 1991 Domestic Violence Law, a district
or magistrate court may prohibit access by violent family members to
their property. Women's groups cooperate with legal and social service
institutions to provide women's rights education. While sentences handed
down to men convicted of rape have increased in recent years, women's
rights activists note that the penalties are not sufficiently harsh.
Civil rights groups also expressed concern about an
increased incidence of physical attacks by Jewish religious extremists,
particularly in Jerusalem, against women whom they consider to be immodestly
dressed in public.
Women's advocacy groups report that women routinely
receive lower wages for comparable work, are promoted less often, and
have fewer career opportunities than their male counterparts. In March
the Equal Pay Law, which required employers to pay male and female workers
equal wages for equal work, was replaced by new legislation that redefines
compensation to include important side benefits, and allows for class
action suits. An amendment to the social security law allowed housewives
some access to the nation's social security pension system.
Legislation in 1993, reinforced by a 1994 ruling of
the High Court of Justice, or the Supreme Court in other circumstances,
has increased the percentage of women on the boards of twothirds
of governmentowned companies. Their numbers remain low overall,
however. One study reported that in 1996 women made up more than 30
percent of the boards in only 39 of
118 governmentowned companies.
The adjudication of personal status law in the areas
of marriage and divorce is left to religious courts, where Jewish and
Muslim women are subject to restrictive interpretations of their rights
(see Section 2.c.). Legislation passed in 1995 broadens the civil sanctions
made available to rabbinical courts in cases where a wife has ample
grounds for divorcesuch as abusebut the husband
has refused to agree. In some cases, however, rabbinical courts have
failed to invoke these sanctions. In some cases where a wife has failed
to agree, a husband has been allowed to remarry; this permission is
not given to wives. Such imbalances have been used by husbands to extort
concessions from their wives in return for agreeing to divorce.
In at least two cases during the year, the rabbinical
court imposed civil sanctions on persons not citizens of Israel. This
court asserted jurisdiction over Jewish U.S. citizens visiting Israel
who had received civil divorces in the United States but whose former
wives was seeking a religious divorce through the rabbinical court in
Israel. The U.S. citizens were denied permission to leave Israel until
the courts heard the cases (see section 2.d.). In 1996 the court heard
one of the cases and ruled in early 1997 that it had no jurisdiction
in the matter because the U.S. citizen was not a resident or a citizen
of Israel. However, the U.S. citizen was not permitted to leave the
country when a second, related case was filed against him in the district
Religious law can be even more restrictive for Muslims:
some Islamic law courts have held that Muslim women may not request
a divorce, but that women may be forced to consent if a divorce is granted
to a man.
Jewish women are subject to the military draft but
have been barred from combat positions. During the year the Israeli
Air Force, acting on a landmark Supreme Court ruling handed down in
1995, for the first time admitted women to IDF pilot training, which
would qualify them for combat aviation positions. Two classes with women
members are in training. At the same time, a new petition before the
Court charged the national police force with discrimination against
women, in recruiting, assignments open to female officers, and promotions.
The petition was still pending at year's end.
The Government is strongly committed to the rights
and welfare of children, including in the areas of education and health
care. However, resources are sometimes insufficient to put that commitment
into practice, particularly in the case of lowincome families.
Education is compulsory to the age of
15, or until the child reaches the 10th grade, whichever
comes first. Government ministries, children's rights groups, and members
of the legislature often cooperate on children's rights issues.
Legislative landmarks in the area of children's rights
during the year included the requirement that the psychiatric hospitalization
of a child be reviewed by a court, as it must in the case of an adult;
the extension to children of confidentiality in HIV testing; and the
ruling that in any family status court case, such as divorce, the children
affected or their legal representatives must be heard.
The Government has legislated against sexual, physical,
and psychological abuse of children, and has mandated comprehensive
reporting requirements. Although there has been a sharp increase in
reported cases of child abuse in recent years, activists believe that
this is largely due to increased awareness of the issue rather than
a growing pattern of abuse. There are now four shelters in Israel for
children at risk, and a fifth is scheduled to open. The Stockholm Conference
raised public awareness of the issue of child prostitution. The Ministry
of Justice formed a committee with police and NGO representatives that
is attempting to assess the scope of the problem. Children's rights
activists estimate that there may be several hundred prostitutes among
the nation's children, and warn that the phenomenon is unlikely to be
eradicated until the social problems that give rise to itincluding
child abuse and schools that give up too readily on dropoutsare
NGO's in the field of children's welfare concentrate
their efforts on public education, on promoting the concept of children's
rights as citizens, on improving legal representation for minors, and
on combating the problems of poverty, which are most notable for the
Bedouin children of the south. There has been concern over the children
of Israel's growing population of foreign workers, many of them in the
country illegally. Children of such families, believed to number in
the thousands, exist in a legal and social limbo, without access to
schools or adequate health services.
Privately funded children's rights information centers
have been established in some communities, and the Government assists
in funding additional centers in other cities.
People with Disabilities
The Government provides a range of benefits, including
income maintenance, housing subsidies, and transportation support for
disabled persons, who comprise about 10 percent of the population. Existing
antidiscrimination laws do not prohibit discrimination based on disability,
and these citizens continue to encounter difficulties in areas such
as employment and housing. A law requiring access for the disabled to
public buildings is not widely enforced. There is no law providing for
access to public transportation for people with disabilities. A new
law extended disability assistance for deaf children from age 14 to
In civic areas where religion is a determining criterion,
such as the religious courts and centers of education, nonJewish
institutions routinely receive less state support than their Jewish
counterparts. The status of a number of Christian organizations with
representation in Israel has heretofore been defined by a collection
of ad hoc arrangements with various government agencies. Several of
these organizations are negotiating with the Government in an attempt
to formalize their status. Attempts to establish meaningful negotiations
The Government does not provide Israeli Arabs, who
constitute 18 percent of the population, with the same quality of education,
housing, employment, and social services as Jews. Government efforts
to close the gaps between Israel's Jewish and Arab citizens have resulted
in an estimated 160 percent increase in resources devoted to Arab communities
between 1992 and 1996. Nevertheless, significant differences remain.
Relative to their numbers, Israeli Arabs are underrepresented
in the student bodies and faculties of most universities and in higherlevel
professional and business ranks. A small number of Israeli Arabs have
risen to responsible positions in the civil service, generally in the
Arab departments of government ministries. A 1994 Civil Service Commission
3year affirmative action program to expand that number has had
only modest results. The Government has allocated only very limited
resources to enforce landmark 1995 legislation prohibiting discrimination
In practice, Israeli Arabs are not allowed to work
in companies with defense contracts or in securityrelated fields.
The Israeli Druze and Circassian communities are subject to the military
draft, although some have refused to serve. Some Bedouin and other Arab
citizens who are not subject to the draft serve voluntarily. Those not
subject to the draft have less access than other Israelis to those social
and economic benefits for which military service is a prerequisite or
an advantage, such as housing, newhousehold subsidies, and government
or securityrelated industrial employment. Under a 1994 government
policy decision, the social security child allowance for parents who
have not served in the military is being increased over a 3year
period to equal the allowance of those who have served in the military.
The Government has yet to fulfill its commitment to
resolve the legal status of unrecognized Arab villages. Eight villages
have been recognized since 1994, but nearly a hundred more, of varying
size and with a total population of nearly 70,000 people, remain in
limbo. Such villages have none of the infrastructure, such as electricity,
provided to recognized villages and towns. Private efforts have supplied
some with water. In the Negev, a government program to provide housing
for thousands of Bedouin in seven concentrated settlements has been
criticized as likely to aggravate the severe poverty there and disrupt
the indigenous culture.
Arab children make up about a quarter of Israel's
public school population, but government resources for them are not
equal to those for Jewish children. Many schools in Arab communities
are dilapidated and overcrowded, lack special education services and
counselors, have poor libraries, and have no sports facilities. Arab
groups also note that the public school curriculum stresses Israel's
Jewish culture and heritage.
Unresolved problems of many years' standing also include
claims by Arab groups that land expropriation for public use has affected
the Arab community disproportionately; that Arabs have been allowed
too little input in planning decisions that affect their schools and
municipalities; that mosques and cemeteries belonging to the Islamic
Waqf have been unjustly expropriated for public use; and that successive
governments have blocked the return of persons displaced in the early
years of Israel's history to their homes. The Government has yet to
agree with the pre1948 residents of the northern villages of Bir
Am and Ikrit, and their descendants, regarding their longtime demand
to be allowed to rebuild their houses; in the meantime, permission has
been given to Jewish settlements to increase their land holdings in
the disputed areas.
Section 6. Worker Rights
a. The Right of Association
Workers may join and establish labor organizations
freely. Most unions belong to Histadrut (the General Federation of Labor
in Israel), or to a much smaller rival federation, the Histadrut Haovdim
Haleumit (National Federation of Labor.) These organizations are independent
of the Government. Histadrut members democratically elect national and
local officers, and officials of its affiliated women's organization
Na'amat, from political party lists. Plant or enterprise committee members
are elected individually.
During the year, the Histadrut administration continued
its drastic reshaping of the labor federation, with further reductions
in staff and services, as Histadrut shifted its concentration to those
areas directly related to employment. In 1995 a new national health
insurance law severed the link between Histadrut and Kupat Holim Clalit,
the nation's largest health maintenance organization, in the process
ending Histadrut's chief source of income. Membership in Histadrut dropped
sharply once it was no longer necessary to join the federation in order
to have access to its health plan. Histadrut is seeking to expand its
membership in areas not presently organized, such as small businesses
and factories, even where collective bargaining agreements do not exist.
At the end of 1996, membershipwhich once reached 1.8 million
peoplehad climbed back to about 700,000.
The right to strike is exercised regularly. Unions
must provide 15 days' notice prior to a strike unless otherwise specified
in the collective bargaining agreement. However, unauthorized strikes
occur. Strike leaderseven those organizing illegal strikesare
protected by law. If essential public services are affected, the Government
may appeal to labor courts for backtowork orders while the
parties continue negotiations. There were a number of strikes in both
public and private sectors during the year by employees protesting the
effects of privatization. Worker dismissals and the terms of severance
arrangements were often the central issues of dispute.
Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza Strip who
work in Israel may not join Israeli trade unions or organize their own
unions in Israel. Palestinian trade unions in the occupied territories
are not permitted to conduct activities in Israel (see Section 6.a.
of the annex). However, nonresident workers in the organized sector
are entitled to the protection of Histadrut work contracts and grievance
procedures. They may join, vote for, and be elected to shoplevel
workers' committees if their numbers in individual establishments exceed
a minimum threshold. Palestinian participation in such committees is
Labor laws apply to Palestinians in East Jerusalem
and to the Syrian Druze living on the Golan Heights.
Unions are free to affiliate with international organizations.
b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively
Israeli workers fully exercise their legal rights
to organize and bargain collectively. While there is no law specifically
prohibiting antiunion discrimination, the law against discrimination
could be cited to contest discrimination based on union membership.
No antiunion discrimination has been reported.
Nonresident workers may not organize their own unions
or engage in collective bargaining, but they are entitled to be represented
by the bargaining agent and protected by collective bargaining agreements.
They do not pay union membership fees, but are required to pay a 1percent
agency fee which entitles them to union protection by Histadrut's collective
bargaining agreements. The Ministry of Labor may extend collective bargaining
agreements to nonunionized workplaces in the same industrial sector.
The Ministry of Labor also oversees personal contracts in the nonorganized
sectors of the economy.
There are no export processing zones.
c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The law prohibits forced or compulsory labor. Neither
Israeli citizens nor nonresident Palestinians working in Israel are
subject to this practice. Civil rights groups charge that unscrupulous
employers often take advantage of illegal workers' lack of status (see
Section 6.e.) to hold them in conditions amounting to involuntary servitude.
d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children
Children who have attained the age of 15 years, and
who are liable to compulsory education under the Compulsory Education
Law, may not be employed unless they work as apprentices under the Apprenticeship
Law. Notwithstanding these provisions, children who are 14 years old
may be employed during official school holidays. Employment of those
ages 16 to 18 years is restricted to ensure time for rest and education.
There are no reliable data on illegal child workers.
They are concentrated among Israel's Arab population and its newest
Jewish immigrants. Illegal employment is found primarily in urban, lightindustrial
areas. Children's rights groups have called for more vigorous enforcement
of child labor laws, combined with a parallel effort to deal with the
causes of illegal child labor.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
Legislation in 1987 established a minimum wage at
45 percent of the average wage, calculated periodically and adjusted
for cost of living increases. At year's end, the minimum wage stood
at about $620 (roughly 2,000 new Israeli shekels) per month. The minimum
wage is often supplemented by special allowances and is generally sufficient
to provide workers and their families with an acceptable standard of
living. Union officials have expressed concern over enforcement of minimum
wage regulations, particularly with respect to employers of illegal
nonresident workers who sometimes pay less than the minimum wage.
By law the maximum hours of work at regular pay are
47 hours a week, 8 hours per day, and 7 hours on the day before the
weekly rest, which must be at least 36 consecutive hours and include
the Sabbath. By national collective agreements, the private sector established
a maximum 45hour workweek in 1988. The public sector moved to a
5day, 42 1/2 hour workweek in 1989, while the military adopted
it in 1993.
Employers must receive a government permit to hire
nonresident workers from the occupied territories, certifying that no
citizen is available for the job. All Palestinians from the occupied
territories are employed on a daily basis and, unless they are employed
on shiftwork, are not authorized to spend the night in Israel. Palestinians
without valid work permits are subject to arrest.
Nonresident workers are paid through the Employment
Service of the Ministry of Labor, which disburses wages and benefits
collected from employers. The Ministry deducts a 1 percent union fee
and the workers' required contributions to the National Insurance Institute
(NII), the agency that administers the Israeli social security system,
unemployment benefits, and other benefits. Despite these deductions,
Palestinian workers are not eligible for all NII benefits. They continue
to be insured for injuries occurring in Israel and the bankruptcy of
a worker's employer. They do not have access to unemployment insurance,
general disability payments, lowincome supplements, or child allotments.
By contrast Israeli settlers in the occupied territories who work in
Israel have the same benefits as other Israeli workers. The International
Labor Organization has long criticized this inequality in entitlements.
The Government agreed to transfer the NII fees collected from Palestinian
workers to the PA, which will assume responsibility for all the pensions
and social benefits of Palestinians working in Israel. Implementation
of this change is still underway.
Along with union representatives, the Labor Inspection
Service enforces labor, health, and safety standards in the workplace,
although resource constraints affect overall enforcement. Legislation
protects the employment rights of safety delegates elected or appointed
by the workers. In cooperation with management, these delegates are
responsible for the safety and health of the workplace. Workers do not
have the legal right to remove themselves from dangerous work situations
without jeopardy to continued employment. However, collective bargaining
agreements provide some workers with recourse through the work site
labor committee. Any worker may challenge unsafe work practices through
government oversight and legal agencies.
There was increased public debate over the role in
the workplace and society of foreign workers, who are estimated to number
200,000 or more, perhaps half of them undocumented and illegally employed.
The majority of such workers come from eastern Europe and southeast
Asia, and most are employed in the construction and agricultural sectors.
The law does not allow such workers citizenship or permanent residence
in Israel. As a result, they and their families live in a legal and
social limbo. Government deportations of such workers take place without
benefit of due process.
State Department Report on Human Rights Practices for 1996