Report on Human Rights Practices for 1997
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. Likud Party leader Benyamin Netanyahu is Prime
Minister and heads a center-right coalition government. The judiciary
is legally independent but, in practice, it usually acquiesces with
the Government's position in security cases.
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.
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 Israeli-Palestinian Declaration
of Principles (DOP). In September 1995, Israel and 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 self-governing 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.
In January Israel and the PLO concluded the Hebron Agreement, which
established security arrangements for the withdrawal of Israeli forces
from the Palestinian-populated areas of Hebron, and set out a road map
for mutual implementation of other Interim Agreement commitments. However,
in March Israel began construction in the Har Homa/Jebel Abu Ghanaim
neighborhood of east Jerusalem and on March 7 announced a minimal first-phase
further redeployment of its forces from the occupied territories. At
the same time the Palestinian Authority (PA) slackened security cooperation.
A suicide bombing in Tel Aviv on March 21 was followed by two more in
Jerusalem on July 30 and September 4; 24 persons were killed and hundreds
were injured. As a result of these developments, negotiations on Interim
Agreement implementation issues were broken off between March and October,
and the two parties had not agreed to resume final status talks at year's
* The human rights situation in the occupied territories
is discussed in the annex appended to this report. [Editor's note: see
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 Internal 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 the GSS. Members of the security forces committed human
Israel has an advanced industrial economy, and citizens
enjoy a high standard of living, with a per capita income of $17,000.
Unemployment among citizens rose to 7.6 percent by mid-1997 but was
substantially higher in the country's peripheral regions and among lower-skilled
workers. 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 non-Jewish citizens continues.
Regional income disparities appear to be growing, with unemployment
in some areas reaching more than double the national average. Israel's
heavy reliance on foreign workers, principally from Asia and Eastern
Europe, represents a growing economic and social issue. Such workers
are generally employed in agriculture and the construction industry
and constitute 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 Netanyahu Government
is committed to market-oriented structural reforms, especially deregulation
and rapid privatization of the economy. In 1997 the Government successfully
privatized Israel's largest bank and continued the process of privatizing
and deregulating the telecommunications sector. Despite the Government's
continued dominant role in the economy, individuals generally are free
to invest in private interests and own property. The Government owns
78 percent of the country's land area, and as a matter of policy it
does not sell land. The Government, its entities, and the Jewish National
Fund, (an organization established in 1897 for the purchase and management
of land for the Jewish people) own 93 percent of the country's land
area. As a matter of policy, the Government and its entities do not
sell land. The Jewish National Fund has a statute prohibiting sale or
lease of land to non-Jews (although exceptions are sometimes made),
foreigners are allowed freely to purchase or lease land in the remaining
7 percent of Israel.
The Government generally respects the human rights
of its citizens, who 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 and from its fight against terrorism. 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 the scope of these problems.
Nonetheless, there continued to be problems in some
areas. Security forces abused Palestinians suspected of security offenses.
During the year, the High Court of Justice heard 46 abuse-related cases
(almost all asking for an injunction to halt the torture of a specific
individual). In no case did the High Court issue an injunction prohibiting
the use of "moderate physical pressure." The Government continues
to detain without charge numerous Palestinians. Detention and prison
conditions, particularly for Palestinian security detainees held in
Israel, in some cases do not meet minimum international standards. However,
new legislation took effect in May that set tighter limits on the length
and grounds for pretrial detention. During the year, discussion continued
on proposed legislation to define the basis for and limits of GSS activities
after a 1996 version was widely criticized by human rights groups and
legal experts because it authorized the Government to use force during
interrogation and to issue secret guidelines defining the methods of
interrogation. The revised legislation, which had not been formally
submitted to the Knesset by year's end, omits this clause. Although
there continues to be no explicit legal basis for the use of "special
measures," i.e., force during interrogation, the Government justifies
such practices as necessary in "special circumstances" when
thought necessary to save lives in the fight against terrorism.
The Government responded to terrorist and security
incidents by periodically tightening existing restrictions on movement
across borders with the West Bank and Gaza and between Palestinian Authority-controlled
areas inside the West Bank, detaining hundreds of Palestinians without
charge 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, although the Attorney General's decision
not to file charges against a Knesset member accused of abusing his
wife was widely criticized in the media by women's groups and human
rights advocates. Despite government pledges to eliminate the wide social
and economic gap between Israel's Arab and Jewish citizens, there was
little progress in this direction. Israel's Arab minority continues
to suffer from institutionalized discrimination and 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,
a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing
There were no reports of political killings by government
forces. In September Israeli agents in Amman, Jordan failed in an attempt
to kill the political director of the extremist group Hamas. One Palestinian
was beaten to death while in government custody.
Extremist Palestinian groups carried out three suicide
bombings in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem as part of a concerted effort to
derail the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. These included a March
21 attack in a Tel Aviv cafe that killed 3 persons and wounded 48, a
July 30 attack in a crowded Jerusalem market that killed 16 persons
and wounded 178, and a September 4 attack in a Jerusalem pedestrian
mall that killed 5 persons and wounded 181.
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, they are frequently not enforced in
security cases. The GSS was responsible for the widespread abuse of
Palestinians suspected of security offenses. The head of the GSS is
empowered by government regulation to authorize security officers to
use "moderate physical and psychological pressure" (which
includes violent shaking) while interrogating detainees. These practices
often led to excesses (for further information see Section 1.c. in the
Despite repeated challenges, the High Court of Justice
has avoided ruling on the legality of the practices of "shaking"
and other forms of coercion. The Government claims that these practices
are justified as "special measures" to be used in "special
circumstances" in the fight against terrorism. During the year,
the High Court of Justice heard 46 abuse-related cases (almost all asking
for an injunction to halt the torture of a specific individual). In
addition, the High Court dropped numerous cases before beginning formal
hearings when the GSS announced that it no longer needed to use "special
measures." Human rights groups believe that the great majority
of cases alleged to involve torture do not reach the court. In some
cases, the High Court of Justice issued injunctions prohibiting the
use of certain forms for physical pressure after hearing evidence presented
in secret by the GSS and not made available to defense attorneys; however,
according to Israeli human rights advocates and legal experts, it routinely
lifted them at the request of the GSS. In no case did the High Court
overrule a GSS decision to use "moderate physical pressure."
According to GSS records released to his attorney, Ahma Abu Hamed, who
was arrested on April 14, was hooded and shackled to a low chair in
a painfully contorted position for almost 13 hours over a period of
31 days, including 4 hours over 12 days after he confessed to membership
in, and acting on behalf of, an illegal organization. According to the
same GSS records, Abu Hamed was subjected to "shaking" six
separate times, including twice after his confession. In addition, Abu
Hamed was deprived of sleep for extended periods of time. His attorney
appealed to the High Court on June 1 for an injunction to halt these
methods of interrogation. On June 2, the Court declined to hear the
case after the GSS announced that it was no longer using force in the
Asam Halman was detained without charge on July 25,
and his attorney
was denied permission to meet with him until July
28. Halman alleged that during his interrogation he was hooded, shackled
to a low chair in a painfully contorted position, and forced to listen
to loud music for extended periods of time. He also alleged that he
was allowed to sleep for less than 5 hours over a 4 day period, and
that his handcuffs were overly tightened, causing great pain and an
infected wound. On July 30, Halman's attorney asked the High Court of
Justice for an injunction to prevent the GSS from using torture. On
the same day, the attorney was informed that the GSS would stop using
force in the interrogation. Halman was subsequently released without
charge on August 21.
Conditions vary in incarceration facilities in Israel
and the occupied territories, which are administered by the Israeli
Prison Service (IPS), the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), or the national
police. IPS prisons, which generally house Israeli citizens convicted
of common crimes, 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 (i.e., those
detained and held without charge by security forces) from the occupied
territories who are held for more than a few days are transferred to
facilities within Israel. Security detainees in 1997 were usually 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 detainees include some minors. Detention
camps administered by the IDF are limited to male Palestinian detainees
and are guarded by armed soldiers. The total number of Palestinian prisoners
and administrative detainees held by Israel, approximately 3,800 at
the beginning of the year, fell to 3,565 by year's end. The number of
administrative detainees (held with neither charge nor trial) varied
between 293 and 573 during the year, and stood at 382 at year's end.
Some of these detainees have been held for periods exceeding 2 years.
Conditions in IDF detention camps have been criticized
repeatedly over the years. Conditions at the Russian Compound in Jerusalem
(which houses a combination of security and common-law prisoners and
detainees) were criticized as "not fit to serve as lock-up"
by the High Court of Justice President Aharon Barak after an August
visit to the facility. Conditions in other IDF facilities improved in
some respects, with inmates given more time for exercise outside their
cells. Nevertheless, recreational facilities remain minimal, and there
are strict limitations on family visits to detainees. Visits were prevented
for long periods during closures of the borders with Gaza and the West
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 1996 the Government began a reform program for
the country's detention facilities. Thus far, improvements in prison
conditions have been limited in scope, and dilapidation and overcrowding
(the latter aggravated by the closure of IDF detention facilities in
the occupied territories in 1995) are still problems. New legislation
that took effect during the year provided for: The right to live in
conditions that would not harm the health or dignity of the detainee;
access to adequate health care; the right to a bed for each detainee;
and access to exercise and fresh air on a daily basis. While the legislation
is a positive step, authorities expect implementation to require time
and additional resources; there was little immediate improvement in
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
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. While
monitoring is judged to be effective overall, in some instances human
rights groups and diplomatic officials were denied timely access to
specific detainees, usually Palestinians held without charge or trial
for alleged 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 generally observes this prohibition. Defendants are considered
innocent until proven guilty and have the right to writs of habeus corpus
and other procedural safeguards. However, a 1979 law permits detention
without charge or trial, which is used in security cases. The Minister
of Defense may issue a detention order for a maximum of 1 year. Within
24 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. Detention orders were
confirmed in all cases during the year. Detainees have the right to
be represented by counsel and to appeal detention orders to the High
Court of Justice; however, the security forces may delay notification
of counsel with the consent of a judge. According to human rights groups
and legal experts, there were cases in which a judge denied the Government
the right to delay notification of counsel. At detention hearings, the
security forces may withhold evidence from defense lawyers on security
grounds. The Government may also seek to renew administrative detention
orders. However, the security services must "show cause" for
continued detention, and, in some instances, individuals were released
because the standard could not be met.
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 took effect in 1997, defining more
narrowly the grounds for pretrial detention and reducing 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.
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 in 1995. As a result,
all Palestinian detainees held for longer than 1 or 2 days are incarcerated
in Israel (see Section 1.d. Of the annex).
The Government detains 80 non-Palestinian Arabs. This
total is a mixture of common prisoners, administrative detainees, and
security detainees. The Government continues to deny ICRC access to
two Lebanese citizens, Sheikh Mustafa Dirani (held without charge since
1994) and Sheikh Obeid (held without charge since 1989). These two cases
appear linked to government efforts to obtain information on Israeli
military personnel believed to be prisoners of war or missing in Lebanon.
In addition, the Government detains 19 other Lebanese citizens without
charge, including 11 who have completed prison sentences of up to 10
years but are still being held without charge.
The law prohibits forced exile of citizens, and there
is no indication that the Government engaged in such practices.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The law provides for an independent judiciary, and
the Government respects this provision in practice. In practice, however,
the judiciary usually acquiesces to the Government's position in security
cases. The judiciary provides citizens with a fair and efficient judicial
The judicial system is composed of civil, military,
religious, labor relations, and administrative courts, with the High
Court of Justice (Supreme Court) at the apex. The High Court of Justice
is an appellate court. Each of the cited courts, including the High
Court of Justice, have appellate courts or jurisdictions.
The law provides for the right to a hearing with representation
by counsel, and authorities 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.
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.
The legal system often hands out far stiffer punishments
to non-Jewish persons than to Jewish citizens. For example, human rights
advocates claim that Palestinians and Arab Israelis convicted of murder
usually receive life sentences, while Jewish Israelis often receive
significantly shorter sentences. To the extent that Palestinians are
tried in Israeli courts, they receive harsher punishments than Jewish
Israelis. Noam Freidman, a Jewish extremist who lightly wounded six
Palestinians after opening fire in a crowded Hebron market on January
1, had charges against him dropped after a military court ruled that
he was not mentally fit to stand trial. This ruling was reached despite
a decision by a psychiatric board that he was mentally competent to
stand trial. On February 11, Israel released 30 Palestinian women prisoners,
5 of whom were serving sentences for murder or for being an accomplice
to murder, as part of the accord on Hebron redeployment. On October
1, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, founder of the HAMAS movement, was released
by Israel from a maximum security prison and flown to Jordan.
There were no reports of political prisoners.
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
Israeli forces and the Israeli-sponsored South Lebanese
Army (SLA) and Hizballah (and to a lesser extent the Lebanese army)
engaged in a recurring cycle of violence in southern Lebanon. Hizballah
attacked SLA forces and Israeli troops deployed on Lebanese soil. Hizballah
(and possibly armed Palestinian groups) also launched rocket attacks
against northern Israel. Israeli forces conducted repeated air strikes
and artillery barrages on Hizballah, Lebanese army, and Palestinian
positions inside Lebanon.
An undetermined number of Lebanese civilians were
killed in south Lebanon; however, the total was lower than in 1996,
primarily due to the April 26, 1996 understanding between Israel and
Lebanon, which commit the two sides to end the targeting of civilians
or the launching of attacks from civilian-populated areas.
Politically motivated killings continued as Palestinian
extremists sought to disrupt the Israel-Palestinian peace process. On
March 21 a suicide bomber killed 3 Israelis and wounded 48 in an attack
on a Tel Aviv cafe. On July 30, two suicide bombers killed 16 persons
and wounded 178 in an attack on a Jerusalem market. On September 4,
3 suicide bombers killed 5 persons and wounded 181 in an attack on a
Jerusalem pedestrian shopping mall (see Section 1.g. of the Annex).))
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 in 1996 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 it
now applies to all media organizations in Israel, including local and
Arabic-language newspapers. All media organizations can appeal the censor's
decision to the High Court of Justice. 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, which permits the Israeli media to run censored stories
by attributing them to foreign sources.
Emergency regulations prohibit anyone from expressing
support for illegal organizations. On occasion in the past, the Government
has prosecuted persons for speaking or writing on behalf of terrorist
groups. No such cases were filed in 1997.
Individuals, organizations, the press, and the electronic
media freely debate public issues and criticize government officials
and policies. In October the High Court of Justice upheld the conviction
for sedition of two members of the extremist Jewish Zo Artsenu movement.
For the most part, however, the Attorney General, while condemning hate
speech, has concluded that such speech cannot be prosecuted.
All newspapers are privately owned and managed. Newspaper
licenses are valid only for Israel; separate licenses are required to
distribute publications in areas in the occupied territories still under
Directed by a government appointee, the quasi-independent
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 government councils. Privately-owned
Channel 2 Television, the first commercial television channel, is operated
by three franchise companies. There are 13 private radio outlets. The
Second Television and Radio Authority, a public body, supervises both
Channel 2 and the regional radio stations.
The Government respects academic freedom.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The law provides for the right of assembly, and the
Government generally respects this provision in practice.
The law provides for the right of association, and
the Government generally respects this provision 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
c. Freedom of Religion
The law provides for freedom of religion, and the
Government generally 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 Druze families may ask for some family status matters, such
as alimony and child custody in divorces, to be adjudicated in civil
courts as an alternative to religious courts. Christians may only ask
that child custody and child support be adjudicated in civil courts,
while Muslims have no recourse to civil courts. Legislation passed in
1996 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
Jews are Orthodox 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 Orthodox authorities.
A large number of Jews who wish to be married in secular
or non-Orthodox religious ceremonies do so abroad. The Ministry of Interior
recognizes such marriages.
The Government provides greater financial support
to institutions in the Jewish sector to those in the non-Jewish sector,
i.e., Muslim, Christian, and Druze. For example, only 2 percent of the
Ministry of Religious Affairs budget goes to the non-Jewish sector,
despite the fact that Muslims, Christians, and Druze constitute 19 percent
of the population. The High Court of Justice heard a case in February
alleging that this constitutes discrimination. The Court refused to
rule on the case in 1997 and suggested that the petitioners refile the
case after the passage of the 1998 budget, which the petitioners have
Missionaries are allowed to proselytize, although
Mormons are specifically prohibited from doing so by mutual agreement
between the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-Day Saints and the
Government. A 1977 anti-proselytizing 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 bill that would impose
even more stringent restrictions on proselytizing, including banning
the distribution of written materials encouraging conversions, was presented
to the Knesset in 1997 but was not expected to be approved.
Jehovah's Witnesses have suffered both threats and
attacks, apparently by ultra-Orthodox groups. Jehovah's Witnesses complain
that despite police investigations, no perpetrators have been prosecuted.
A March 8 attack on a Jehovah's Witnesses meeting house in Lod caused
extensive property damage.
The Government has recognized only Jewish holy places
under the 1967 Protection of Holy Sites law, therefore denying government
funding for the preservation and protection of Christian, Druze, Muslim,
Baha'i, and other religious sites. A January challenge to this practice
led the Ministry of Religious Affairs to agree to consider funding requests
for non-Jewish sites.
A 1995 High Court of Justice 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 Jewish Temples.
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. In 1996 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. While both men managed to depart Israel, their cases
remain open (see Section 5). The Government continued to restrict the
movements of two Jewish settlers living in the occupied territories
who belonged to extremist Kach or Kahane Chai groups, through the use
of administrative orders issued by the IDF central command (see Section
2.d. of the Annex). The Government prevented an
additional three members of a Jewish ultranationalist
organization from entering the occupied territories.
Citizens are free to travel abroad and to emigrate,
provided they have no outstanding military obligations and are not restricted
by administrative order. In 1997 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 non-Jews
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 1948-49, Israel has no immigration law that provides for immigration
to Israel, or for political asylum. The law does allow individuals to
live in Israel as permanent residents.
The issue of first asylum did not arise in 1997. 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. The last national elections were held in
May 1996, when voters elected the Prime Minister by direct ballot for
the first time.
Israel is a parliamentary democracy, with an active
multiparty system in which a wide range of political views are represented.
Relatively small parties, including those whose primary support is among
Israeli Arabs, regularly win seats in the Knesset. Elections are by
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 1996 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, and no
Arab or Druze ministers or deputy ministers. Three women, but no Arab
or Druze citizens, serve on the 14-member High Court of Justice.
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 generally cooperate with
investigations. However, the Government withheld its cooperation from
the U.N. Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting
the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs of the Occupied
Territories. The Special Committee reported in October that the Government
did not respond to its communications. In 1996 Human Rights Watch activist
Bashar Tarabieh was detained, held without charge, physically abused,
and then released without charge.
Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion,
Disability, Language, or Social Status
The law prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex,
or marital status. The law also prohibits discrimination by both government
and nongovernmental entities on the basis of race, religion, political
beliefs, and age. Local human rights groups are concerned that resources
for implementing those laws, or mechanisms for their enforcement, are
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. 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 23 women were killed by their husbands
or other male relatives during the year. Women's organizations protested
an October decision by the Attorney General not to press charges against
a Knesset member accused of abusing his wife. 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 so-called family honor killings, a term
commonly used for the murder of a female by a male relative for alleged
misconduct. At least 9 of the 23 women killed in 1997 were killed in
family honor cases.
The Government supports 10 shelters for battered women,
including 1 exclusively for Arab women and 1 for both Arab and Jewish
women. 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 argue 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 1996
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, has increased the percentage of women on
the boards of two-thirds of government-owned companies. However, their
numbers remain low overall. One study reported that in 1996 women made
up more than 30 percent of the boards in only 39 of 118 government-owned
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 broadened the civil sanctions
made available to rabbinical courts in cases where a wife has ample
grounds for divorce--such as abuse--but the husband refuses 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. Rabbinical courts may
exercise jurisdiction over non-Israeli persons present in Israel. In
two cases during the year, U.S. citizens were barred legally from leaving
Israel as a result of divorce proceedings. Although both men managed
to depart the country, their cases remain open.
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. In response to a High Court
of Justice ruling, the Israeli Air Force since 1996 has permitted women
to enter pilot training. This would qualify them for combat aviation
positions, though none has completed the training successfully to date.
The Government is committed to the rights and welfare
of children. However, resources are sometimes insufficient to put that
commitment into practice, particularly for low-income 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. The Government provides an extensive health care program
for children. There is a broad network of mother and child clinics,
which provide prenatal care as well as postnatal follow-up.
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 five shelters for children at risk. The Ministry
of Justice formed a committee with police and NGO representatives that
is attempting to assess the scope of child prostitution. Children's
rights activists estimate that there may be several hundred prostitutes
among the nation's children, and they warn that the phenomenon is unlikely
to be eradicated until the social problems that give rise to it--including
child abuse and schools that give up too readily on dropouts--are addressed.
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 about the children
of the country'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 1996
law extended disability assistance for deaf children from the age of
14 to maturity.
Tensions between secular and religious elements of
Israeli society grew in 1997. The non-Orthodox Jewish community in particular
has complained of discrimination and intolerance. A kindergarten operated
by the Reform community in Mevasseret Ziyyon was firebombed in August.
A police investigation has not uncovered any suspects.
In June Jewish militant Tatyana Suskin put up posters
in Hebron that depicted the Prophet Mohammed as a pig, triggering riots
by Arab residents of the city. On December 30, a Jerusalem court convicted
Suskin of committing an act of racism and trying to offend religious
feelings. She was sentenced to 2 years in prison.
In civic areas where religion is a determining criterion,
such as the religious courts and centers of education, non-Jewish 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 seek
to negotiate with the Government in an attempt to formalize their status.
The Government does not provide Israeli Arabs, who
constitute 19 percent of the population, with the same quality of education,
housing, employment, and social services as Jews. In addition, government
spending is far lower in predominantly Arab areas than in Jewish areas.
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. Israeli-Arab organizations have challenged the Government's
"Master Plan for the Northern Areas of Israel," which listed
as priority goals increasing the Galilee's Jewish population and blocking
the territorial contiguity of Arab villages and towns, on the grounds
that it discriminates against Arab citizens.
Relative to their numbers, Israeli Arabs are underrepresented
in the student bodies and faculties of most universities and in higher
level professional and business ranks. Well-educated Arabs are often
unable to find jobs commensurate with their level of education, with
Ph.D.'s suffering the greatest problems. A small number
of Israeli Arabs have risen to responsible positions in the civil service,
generally in the Arab departments of government ministries. In 1994
a civil service commission 3-year affirmative action program to expand
that number, but it has had only modest results. The Government has
allocated only very limited resources to enforce landmark 1995 legislation
prohibiting discrimination in employment.
In practice, Israeli Arabs are not allowed to work
in companies with defense contracts or in security-related fields. The
Israeli Druze and Circassian communities are subject to the military
draft, and although some have refused to serve, the overwhelming majority
accept service willingly. 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, new-household subsidies, and government or security-related
industrial employment. Under a 1994 government policy decision, the
social security child allowance for parents who did not serve in the
military and did not attend a Yeshiva (including Arabs) was increased
to equal the allowance of those who had done so.
Israeli Arab groups allege that many employers use
the prerequisite of military service to avoid hiring non-Jews. For example,
a Haifa employment agency ran ads seeking Arabic-speaking telephone
operators and listed military service as a prerequisite. An Israeli
Arab group noted that there was no clear justification for this requirement,
and it threatened to file a civil suit under a law prohibiting employment
discrimination, and defining requirements unrelated to actual work as
discriminatory. At year's end, the employment agency agreed to change
the advertisement and run it again.
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 June residents of unrecognized villages petitioned
the High Court of Justice to order the Government to list their place
of residence as their address on their identity cards and as their mailing
address. 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
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.
Israeli-Arab students also are not eligible to participate
in a special education program to provide academic assistance to students
from disadvantaged backgrounds. A petition was filed with the High Court
of Justice in May charging that the Ministry of Education's refusal
to provide this program to Israeli-Arab students was discriminatory.
The Court recognized the petition's merit by ordering the Attorney General's
office to respond to the petition. The Attorney General's office agreed
that the policy constituted impermissible discrimination but asked for
5 years to expand the program to Israeli-Arab students. The petitioners
rejected this proposal as being too slow. The Court formed a special
committee to study the problem.
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 (religious endowment) 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 pre-1948 residents of the northern
villages of Bir Am and Ikrit, and their descendants, regarding their
long-time 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 of those already in the union. 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. At year's end, membership--which
once reached 1.65 million people--stood at to about 650,000.
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 leaders--even those organizing illegal strikes--are protected
by law. If essential public services are affected, the Government may
appeal to labor courts for back-to-work orders while the parties continue
negotiations. There were a number of strikes in both 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.
The September general strike was of 1 day duration;
the December general strike lasted 6 days.
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 shop-level workers'
committees if their numbers in individual establishments exceed a minimum
threshold. Palestinian participation in such committees is minimal.
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 1 percent
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 unorganized
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
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.
The Government specifically prohibits forced child labor, and it does
d. Status of Child Labor Practices and Minimum Age
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
16 to 18 years of age 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, light-industrial
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. The Government specifically prohibits
forced child labor, and it does not occur (see Section 6.c.).
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 2,100 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 45-hour workweek in 1988. The public sector moved to a 5-day,
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. At the
end of the year, the Government was considering a change in this provision
to allow Palestinian workers to remain overnight for a week at a time.
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, low-income 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 (ILO) has long criticized this inequality in entitlements.
The Government agreed to transfer the NII fees collected from Palestinian
workers to the Palestinian Authority, which is to assume responsibility
for all the pensions and social benefits of Palestinians working in
Israel. Implementation of this change is still under way.
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 1997