With a population of approximately 6.9 million (including about 5 million Jews within Israel), Israel is a multiparty parliamentary democracy. “Basic laws” enumerate fundamental rights. The 120-member, unicameral Knesset, has the power to dissolve the government and mandate elections. Both the 16th (most recent) Knesset and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon were elected democratically in 2003. In November, Sharon requested that the president dissolve the Knesset, announced that he was leaving the Likud Party, and established a new party, Kadima (“move forward”). The president set elections for March 28, 2006. On December 29, pursuant to presidential decree, the Knesset was dissolved.
The judiciary is independent and sometimes ruled against the executive, including in some security cases. Notwithstanding some cases of abuse by individuals, the civilian authorities maintained effective control of the security forces. (An annex to this report covers human rights in the occupied territories. This report deals only with human rights in Israel.)
In August and September, Israel withdrew all civilians and military personnel from all 21 Israeli settlements in the Gaza Strip and from 4 settlements in the northern West Bank of the over 200 settlements there. Palestinians in the occupied territories are not citizens of the country and do not enjoy the rights of citizens, even if living in areas under full Israeli authority or arrested in Israel. The approximately 20 thousand non-Israeli residents of the Golan Heights were subject to Israeli authority and Israeli law.
The government generally respected the human rights of its citizens; however, there were problems in some areas, including the following:
- serious abuses by some members of the security forces against Palestinian detainees
- Palestinian terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians and Israeli Defense Force (IDF) soldiers
- resulted in the death of 29 civilians and an IDF soldier within Israel
- poor conditions in some detention and interrogation facilities
- improper application of security internment procedures (see annex)
- institutional, legal, and societal discrimination against the country's Arab citizens
- discrimination in personal and civil status matters against non-Orthodox Jews
- societal violence and discrimination against women
- trafficking in and abuse of women and foreign workers
- de facto discrimination against persons with disabilities
- government corruption
RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom From:
a. Arbitrary or Unlawful Deprivation of Life
There were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.
On September 18, the Ministry of Justice Police Investigation Department (PID) closed its investigation into the police killings of 13 (12 Israeli-Arab and 1 Palestinian) protesters during October 2000 demonstrations (see section 2.b.) without recommending indictments against any officers. Due to protests by the Israeli-Arab community and NGOs against this decision, as well as the concern that community leaders or the victims' families would appeal the PID's decision to the supreme court, the PID and the attorney general decided on September 28 to reexamine the investigation.
The Orr Commission of Inquiry, established in November 2000 to investigate the killings, recommended a number of measures, including a justice ministry investigation to determine if criminal prosecutions should be initiated against police officials found responsible. The government has not implemented either the Orr Commission recommendations or those of a follow-up interministerial committee. In October 2004 the justice minister appointed one of the officers being investigated to a position seen by observers as a promotion. The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel (Adalah) charged that this appointment violated the Orr Commission recommendation that this particular officer not be promoted for four years.
On May 2, Adalah appealed the March 6 closure of the investigation into the July 2003 killing by Border Police of Morassi Jibali, an Israeli Arab shot while a passenger in a vehicle. Police and witnesses gave differing accounts of Jibali's death. Adalah's appeal challenged the justice ministry's finding that the shooting was not illegal. At year's end Adalah's appeal remained pending.
In July 2003 a police officer killed an unarmed Bedouin, Nasser Abu al Qia'an, in his car at a road junction. In September the justice ministry filed an indictment against the police officer, who was subsequently tried and found not guilty on the grounds of self-defense. The Mossawa Advocacy Center for Arab Citizens of Israel (Mossawa) appealed the decision, and at year's end the case was pending.
In September 2003 residents of an Arab community, Kfar Qassem, clashed with border police searching for illegal immigrants. The police wounded one Israeli Arab, when, according to police reports, villagers threw stones. On January 10, the attorney general filed an indictment with the Tel Aviv District Court against the border police officers involved. According to the Arab Association for Human Rights (AAHR), during the year the indictments against the border police officers were dismissed due to lack of evidence.
Terrorist organizations such as the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas), Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, Hezbollah, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, attacked Israelis in Israel. According to government statistics, during the year terrorist attacks killed 29 Israeli civilians and an IDF soldier within the country. Terrorist attacks injured over 430 civilians and over 200 security force personnel during the year.(No breakdown between Israel and the occupied territories was available for those injured.)
Construction of a security barrier (see annex) and effective interdiction contributed to a60 percent reduction in the number of Israelis killed in terror attacks between 2004 and 2005 and a 30 percent reduction in casualties, according to the government(see annex).
On January 13, Palestinian terrorists killed six Israeli civilians and wounded five others on the Israeli side of the Karni Crossing between Israel and the Gaza Strip. Hamas and the al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade claimed responsibility.
On February 25, a Palestinian suicide bomber at the Stage nightclub in Tel Aviv, killed himself and 5 Israeli civilians and wounded approximately 50 persons. Palestinian Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility.
On July 12, a Palestinian suicide bomber at a shopping mall in Netanya killed himself and 5 Israeli civilians and wounded about 90 persons. Palestinian Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility.
On October 26, a Palestinian suicide bomber at a marketplace in Hadera killed himself and 5 Israeli civilians and wounded over 50 others. Palestinian Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility.
On December 5, a Palestinian bomber at a shopping mall in Netanya killed himself and 4 persons and injured at least 50 others. Palestinian Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility.
Palestinian terrorists routinely fired rockets from the Gaza Strip into neighboring Israeli communities. According to the government, the number of Qassam rockets fired at Israeli targets increased during the year to 377, as compared to 309 in 2004. On January 15, a 17-year-old girl in the town of Sderot was wounded by shrapnel from a rocket and died several days later. Her younger brother was wounded. Rocket attacks wounded another five civilians in Sderot on September 24 and 25.
On August 4, Eden Natan-Zada, a member of the illegal right-wing Jewish movement Kach, fired on a bus in the Israeli-Arab town of Shfaram, killing four Israeli Arabs and wounding over a dozen others. Persons who witnessed the attackthen killed Zada. On August 7, police arrested three alleged associates of Zada, all of whom were members of Kach, for possible knowledge of or involvement in the shooting. A court order prohibited publication of any information relating to this case.
In August the government decided that families of Zada's victims would not be eligible for compensation under the Terror Law because the attack was not committed by so-called enemy forces. Subsequently, however, under security authority, the defense ministry decided that the government should compensate the victims. At year's end the compensation cases were still pending.
On May 24, the Haifa District Court convicted Alexander Rabinovitch of involvement in several years of terrorist activity against Israeli-Arab residents of that city, including the attempted bomb attack against Knesset member Issam Makhoul in October 2004. At year's end the court had not announced its sentence.
There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances during the year.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
Laws, judicial decisions, and administrative regulations prohibit torture and abuse; however, during the year reputable nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) filed numerous credible complaints with the government alleging that security forces tortured and abused Palestinian detainees. The Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (PCATI) filed complaints with the government on behalf of alleged victims of torture, which, PCATI reported, were almost all Palestinian security detainees and prisoners at detention facilities in Israel. For example, on March 10, PCATI petitioned the supreme court on behalf of a Palestinian resident of the West Bank city of Tulkarm. The petition asked the court to order the government to cease immediately illegal means of interrogation, including tightening of manacles, painful positioning, sleep deprivation, beatings, threats, and insults. During court proceedings the detainee was released.
In August PCATI notified the Israel Prison Service (IPS) and the Israel Security Agency (ISA) about treatment of a Palestinian resident of Tulkarm held as of April 22 in the Kishon Detention Center. The detainee alleged he was subjected to painful positioning, beatings, long periods of interrogation, threats, and food and sleep deprivation. PCATI reported that the complainant suffered severe back pains and paralysis in his left leg from the abuse. At year's end PCATI's petitions with the ISA and the IPS were pending.
On December 20, the Tel Aviv District Court rejected the state's petition to dismiss a lawsuit filed by Lebanese citizen Mustafa Dirani, who charged that Israeli security forces tortured and raped him during interrogations between 1994 to 2004 in order to obtain information on the whereabouts of Israeli Air Force navigator Lieutenant Colonel Ron Arad. According to media reports, an IDF doctor who had examined Dirani found evidence to support Dirani's claim. At year's end the case was pending. (Allegations by Palestinian detainees of torture by Israeli security officials are discussed in the annex to this report.)
PCATI stated that no ISA officials had been tried on torture charges during the past four years. PCATI claimed that the government took insufficient action to reprimand ISA interrogators against whom PCATI filed complaints.
During the year the courts convicted border police officers for abuse of Palestinians. On January 13, an Israeli court convicted three former border police officers who had confessed to assaulting eight Palestinians in 2004 from the West Bank village of Yatta. The three policemen admitted beating the Palestinians and stealing their money. On April 5, the Jerusalem District Court sentenced 3 border policemen to prison terms of 6 to 10 months for assaulting 2 Palestinian teenagers in April 2004 near the Israeli town of Abu Ghosh. The court convicted the officers of beating and abusing the Palestinian youths. On July 7, the Tel Aviv District Court sentenced 3 border policemen to 10-month jail terms for abusing and robbing 8 Palestinians in the Israeli city of Lod in July 2004.
Physicians for Human Rights reported that there were no further developments in Israel's investigation into cases of abuse of prisoners in Sharon prison in 2004; there were no further reports of abuse at that prison.
In May 2004 a government official who worked as an inspector at deportation hearings secretly recorded a senior immigration police officer stating that immigration police used excessive force when detaining foreign workers but did not indicate the extent of the abuse. Following this incident the inspector filed a complaint with his superiors about this reported abuse. When the inspector saw that his complaint was not being handled, he wrote letters to the interior ministry, the state comptroller, and other government officials. Shortly after sending the letters, the inspector was dismissed. He contested his dismissal and sued the interior ministry in labor court. On June 22, the court accepted his claim and awarded compensation in the sum of 2 months wages' plus approximately $6 thousand (approximately 28,300 NIS), and $1 thousand (approximately 4,700 NIS) in legal expenses. Subsequently, the immigration police officer confirmed the statement that the inspector recorded; however, the Immigration Police spokesperson disputed its veracity. At year's end a Knesset Committee on Foreign Workers continued to monitor excessive force by immigration police when detaining foreign workers.
The Hotline for Migrant Workers (Hotline), an NGO foreign workers advocacy group, helped 10 foreign workers during the year to file complaints with the PID accusing police officers of excessive violence during apprehension. The Hotline reported that foreign workers usually decided not to file complaints or to testify due to fear of prolonged detention while their cases were under investigation.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Conditions in IPS facilities, which house common law criminals and convicted security prisoners (primarily Palestinians), and in IDF military incarceration camps, which hold convicted Palestinian security prisoners, generally met international standards. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) had access to these facilities. In June 2003 the supreme court issued a permanent injunction mandating that every detainee be provided a bed by June 2004. On May 26,in response to a 2004 petition, the high court issued a show-cause order instructing the government to explain why it had not provided a bed for every prison inmate. On September 18, the Israeli Bar Association (IBA) charged that poor jail conditions led inmates to commit suicide.
On January 27, a prisoner died and five were injured at the Megiddo military detention camp when a tent housing the prisoners caught fire. Some prisoners charged the prison authorities with neglecting to repair faulty electrical wires that they said caused the fire. A reputable international organization found the fire to be accidental.
The law provides detainees the right to live in conditions that do not harm their health or dignity. Police detention and interrogation facilities for Palestinian detainees were overcrowded and had austere conditions. Conditions and treatment at the Russian Compound interrogation center in Jerusalem remained harsh. A Physicians for Human Rights in Israel (PHR) representative reported in September that the justice ministry sent them a letter in December 2003 stating that "banana" positioning (prisoner's hands and feet handcuffed together behind the back) was no longer used; however, the PHR representative noted that PHR could not verify this claim. PHR reported that during the year, security forces more frequently relied on psychological rather than strictly physical forms of abuse, including threats of house demolition or questioning prisoners' elderly parents, and kept prisoners in harsh conditions, including solitary confinement, for long periods. A reputable international organization reported that it received information that doctors examined prisoners to determine whether the prisoners could withstand further interrogation. The organization reported it intervened with the government about this practice, but at year's end it had received no response.
While Israeli citizen prisoners 17 years and younger were separated from adult prisoners, Palestinian prisoners 16 years and older were treated and housed as adults. The ICRC reported that, as of the end of December, the government held 460 Palestinians age 15 or younger, the youngest 11 years old. The ICRC also reported that most Palestinian security detainees ages 15 and younger were held in Hasharon minors' prison. According to a reputable international organization, minors held in Hasharon prison had limited access to education and were held in conditions similar to those of adult jails. Conditions in detention facilities were more provisional; no organized education was provided. According to a reputable international organization, conditions in the minors' facility improved since a new prison warden was appointed in 2004.
The ICRC regularly monitored IPS facilities, as well as IDF security prisoner and detention facilities; it did not monitor the secret detention facility. Pursuant to a 1979 ICRC-Israel agreement, it could not visit interrogation facilities but could meet in designated areas of these units detainees who had been interrogated.
The government permitted some NGOs to monitor prison or detention facilities. In addition NGOs can send lawyers and representatives to meet prisoners in those facilities. PHR was allowed to inspect police detention facilities and make several inspection tours per year but was not given comparable access to IPS facilities. The IBA and public defenders were permitted to inspect IPS facilities. The IBA has agreements with the government allowing selected lawyers to inspect prison, detention, and IDF facilities within the country.
In December 2004 in response to a petition by the Center for the Defense of the Individual (HaMoked) to compel the government to release information on a secret IDF detention facility, the supreme court gave the government 60 days to respond to its undisclosed suggestions related to the secret facility. The court ruled that the government must inform the court should any detainee be imprisoned in that facility. According to HaMoked in August the deputy state attorney announced it would create a system to reduce the use of the secret facility considerably. HaMoked repeated its objection to the use of the facility and asked the court to continue proceedings on its petition. HaMoked reported that the court scheduled another hearing for January 2006.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, and the government generally observed these prohibitions for citizens. Palestinian security internees fell under the jurisdiction of military law even if detained in Israel (see annex). Non-Israeli former Syrian residents of the Golan Heights are subject to the same laws as apply to Israeli citizens.
An arrested person is considered innocent until proven guilty, has the right to habeas corpus, to remain silent, to be represented by an attorney, to contact his family without delay, and to a fair trial. A bail system exists for Israelis and Palestinians; decisions denying bail can be appealed. As a general practice, according to the NGO B'Tselem, Palestinians detained for security violations were not granted bail. A citizen may be held without charge for 24 hours before being brought before a judge (48 hours for administrative detainees). If the detainee is suspected of committing a "security offense," the basis on which most Palestinians are detained, the police and courts can delay notifying legal counsel for up to 31 days.
The government may withhold evidence from defense lawyers on security grounds; however, the evidence must be made available to the court. In March 2004 the Public Defender's Office charged that the police sometimes failed to inform detainees of their legal rights and did not always provide counsel. As a result the Public Defender's Office estimated that "in recent years" approximately 500 persons were deprived of due process rights.
Role of the Police and the Security Apparatus
The ISA (or Shin Bet), under the authority of the prime minister, combats terrorism and espionage in the country and the occupied territories. The National Police, including the Border Police and the Immigration Police, is under the authority of the minister of internal security. A bureau in the justice ministry reviews complaints against police officers and may impose disciplinary charges or recommend indictments against officers. During 2004 several judges criticized the bureau for launching faulty investigations against police officers who were subsequently acquitted.
The National Police were generally effective, but, according to the Movement for Quality in Government, lacked sufficient resources, particularly personnel and notably qualified personnel to address government corruption. Police corruption was generally not a problem. The police utilized training programs. For example, in November the Police Training Department issued a special freedom of speech training kit to help police officers differentiate between protected free speech and unlawful incitement.
Arrest and Detention
The law provides that foreign nationals detained for suspected violations of immigration law be afforded an immigration hearing within four days of detention. They have the right to, but no guarantee of, legal representation. According to the NGO Hotline, appropriate interpreters were not always present at the hearings, despite a 2002 commitment to provide them. The Hotline received complaints from Israeli attorneys of denial of access to foreign national clients. According to the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), voluntary organizations must obtain a power of attorney from the individual they seek to represent before being permitted to work with him. Attorneys now can meet at Ben Gurion Airport with clients denied admission to the country and awaiting deportation, if the clients have passed a security check. According to Hotline, foreign detainees were rarely released pending judicial determination of their status. Moreover, if the detainee's country of origin had no diplomatic or consular representation, detention could last months. According to Hotline, the police detained and deported legal foreign workers to meet quotas to reduce the foreign worker population. The Hotline reported that Immigration Police often detained properly documented asylum seekers, despite their being under the protection of the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
Foreign embassies frequently received belated notification, or none at all, of their citizens' arrests, especially in the cases of foreign nationals alleged to have committed security-related offenses. In some cases foreign consulates waited for weeks to gain consular access to prisoners.
Pursuant to the 1979 Emergency Powers Law, the defense ministry may detain persons without charge or trial for up to six months, renewable indefinitely subject to district court review. Such detainees are permitted legal representation, but the court may rely on confidential information denied to detainees and their lawyers. Detainees can appeal their cases to the supreme court.
The Illegal Combatant Law allows the IDF to detain persons suspected of "taking part in hostile activity against Israel, directly or indirectly" or who "belong to a force engaged in hostile activity against the State of Israel." Under this law persons may be held for up to 14 days without access to an attorney. In the past human rights groups alleged abuse of administrative security detention orders and claimed such orders were used even when the accused posed no clear danger.
In August ACRI petitioned the administrator of the high court to bar the government's use of special courts established in the country's Negev region to hear cases of individuals arrested for protesting government policies and actions, including those arrested in the withdrawal from settlements in the Gaza Strip and from the northern West Bank. ACRI argued that these courts heard approximately 60 police remand requests at a time, and that judges could not properly prepare for the cases. ACRI also charged that such arrestees did not have the opportunity to meet with their attorneys. ACRI reported that the court agreed in August to limit the use of such courts to emergency situations and did so.
On December 22, the Tel Aviv District Court approved a plea bargain convicting Israeli citizen Tali Fahima of relaying information to the enemy, contacting a foreign agent, and breaching a legal order. The court sentenced her to 3 years in jail, but with time served Fahima could be released in 11 months. The state dropped the most serious charge of aiding an enemy in time of war. The defense ministry had placed Fahima under administrative detention between September and December 2004 based on confidential evidence that she was involved in terrorist activity. The supreme court denied Fahima's appeal in November 2004. In December 2004 the Tel Aviv Magistrate's Court indicted her for assisting the enemy during wartime and passing information to the enemy.
In January 2004 the government released Mustafa Dirani, head of security for the Amal militia; Sheikh Obeid, a Lebanese cleric; and approximately 25 other Lebanese prisoners held as enemy combatants, in return for release of Elchanan Tanenbaum, a kidnapped Israeli held by the Hezbollah terrorist group in Lebanon, and the remains of three IDF soldiers kidnapped to Lebanon in 2000. On September 8, the high court declined to rule on an appeal submitted by the attorney for Obeid and Dirani challenging the Illegal Combatants Law. The court noted the appeal was moot since both appellants had been released and repatriated to Lebanon.
The government reported that it had detained Hassin Makded in secret facility "1391" for over 18 months under "extraordinary circumstances and exceptional grounds." He was subsequently released. The government did not identify the period during which he was detained. The supreme court continued to consider a petition challenging the legality of this secret facility (see section 1.c.).
According to a reputable international organization, at year's end, 3 Lebanese nationals and 61 Jordanian nationals remain detained, most of them on security charges.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The law provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected this provision in practice.
The Judicial Branch is organized into three levels: magistrate courts; six district courts; and the supreme or high court. District courts prosecute felonies, and magistrate courts prosecute misdemeanors. There are military, religious, labor relations, and administrative courts, with the High Court of Justice as the ultimate judicial authority. The high court is both a court of first instance and acts as an appellate court when it sits as the supreme court. Religious courts, representing the main recognized religious groups, including Christian communities, have jurisdiction over matters of personal status for their adherents (see section 2.c.).
The law provides for the right to a fair trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. The country's criminal justice system is adversarial, and professional judges decide all cases.
Nonsecurity trials are public except when, in the opinion of the court, the interests of the parties are determined to be best served by privacy. Security or military trials are open to independent observers at the discretion of the court, but not to the general public. The law provides for a hearing with legal representation, and authorities generally observed this right in practice. In cases of serious felonies?-crimes subject to penalties of 10 years or more-?indigent defendants receive mandatory legal representation. Indigent defendants facing lesser sentences are provided representation on a discretionary basis. Counsel represented approximately 70 percent of defendants.
The 1970 evidentiary rules governing trials under military law of Palestinians and others applicable in the occupied territories are the same as evidentiary rules in criminal cases. Convictions may not be based solely on confessions; however, according to PCATI, in practice security prisoners have been sentenced on the basis of their coerced confessions, those of others, or both. Counsel may assist the accused in such trials, and a judge may assign counsel to those defendants. Indigent detainees do not automatically receive free legal counsel for military trials. The defendant and the public receive the charges in Hebrew, and the court can order an Arabic translation. Military and criminal court sentencing procedures were consistent. Defendants in military trials can appeal through the Military High Court and also petition the civilian high court in cases in which they believe there were procedural or evidentiary irregularities.
There are also custodial courts and four deportation courts to address the removal of illegal immigrants. In May 2004 the custodial courts were placed under the jurisdiction of the justice ministry. These courts handle thousands of cases annually.
In May 2004 after arresting new suspects, police released three Israeli Arabs who had been jailed for 10 months charged in the July 2003 killing of IDF corporal Oleg Shaigat. One of those released asserted that his confession was coerced. According to the government, during the year the state attorney investigated the matter, adjusted operational practices, and established a joint team to implement the new practices.
Since the May 2003 arrest of Sheikh Raed Salah, the Arab-Israeli former mayor of Umm al-Fahm, human rights NGOs have claimed that he was unfairly denied bail despite his status and community ties; however, in January Salah pleaded guilty to transferring funds to illegal organizations and giving information to a foreign agent. Subsequently, the government dropped its most serious charges, including that he channeled money to a terrorist organization. The Haifa court sentenced Salah to three and a half years in prison and, pursuant to the plea bargain, released him on July 16, six months after sentencing. Salah also received a three-year suspended sentence to be imposed if he again commits any of the offenses for which he was convicted. He also was prohibited from entering Jerusalem without police permission for four months.
There were no reports of political prisoners.
f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
Laws and regulations provide for protection of privacy of the individual and the home. In criminal cases the law permits wiretapping under court order; in security cases the defense ministry must issue the order. Under emergency regulations authorities may open and destroy mail based on security considerations.
In May 2004 the high court banned the unsupervised electronic flow to public bodies and banks of data on private citizens maintained by the government's population registry.
Separate religious court systems adjudicate personal status matters, such as marriage and divorce, for the Jewish, Muslim, Christian, and Druze communities. Jews can marry only in Orthodox Jewish services. Jews and members of other religious communities who wish to have civil marriages; Jews who wish to marry according to Reform or Conservative Judaism; those not recognized by Orthodox authorities as being Jewish; and those marrying someone from another faith, must marry abroad to gain government recognition. While government-recognized civil marriages are available in Cyprus, this requirement presents a hardship.
On July 27, the Knesset extended until March 2006 the 2003 law that prohibits citizens' Palestinian spouses from the occupied territories from residing in the country; however, it amended the law so that Palestinian men aged 35 and older and women aged 25 and older are eligible to apply for citizenship through family unification (see section 5). Civil rights groups criticized the amended law for continuing to deny citizenship and residency status to spouses of Israeli Arabs, who constitute the majority of those who marry Palestinians from the occupied territories. At year's end the supreme court was considering petitions by NGOs, including Adalah, that challenged the law, as well as its amendments.
The authority to grant status to the non-Israeli spouse, including Palestinian and other non-Jewish foreign spouses, resides with the minister of the interior. An ACRI report indicated that the ministry refused to register children in the population registry born to an Israeli father and foreign national mother.
Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
The law provides for freedom of speech and of the press, and the government generally respected these rights in practice subject to restrictions concerning security issues. The law prohibits hate speech and incitement to violence, and the 1948 Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance prohibits expressing support for illegal or terrorist organizations.
Nuclear whistleblower Mordechai Vanunu, released in April 2004 after serving 18 years in prison for treason and espionage, continued to be subjected to detailed restrictions on speech and movement (see section 2.d.). As a condition for release, he was prohibited from meeting with members of the foreign press unless granted permission by the government. Vanunu reportedly openly violated this prohibition during the year. According to his attorney, aside from his petition with the supreme court demanding the annulment of the restrictions on movement and association, Vanunu was challenging indictments for having met on several occasions since his release with foreign nationals and the foreign press and for traveling to the West Bank. At year's end these proceedings were ongoing.
In November 2001 Arab Knesset Member Azmi Bishara was indicted, after the Knesset lifted his immunity, for making allegedly pro-Hezbollah statements in 2000 in Syria and later in the Israeli-Arab city of Umm al-Fahm. In November 2004 the supreme court denied a petition to dismiss the charges. On July 31, the supreme court heard arguments on lifting Bishara's parliamentary immunity. At year's end the case was still pending.
On December 15, the attorney general announced a police investigation into allegations that Israeli-Arab Knesset member Taleb el-Sana traveled to Syria, which is considered an "enemy country," on November 8. Travel to an enemy country without first obtaining interior ministry permission violated ministry regulation. El-Sana allegedly traveled to Syria after the ministry denied his request.
In August 2004 the supreme court ruled that the Government Press Office (GPO) could not, as a blanket policy, refuse press credentials to Palestinians from the occupied territories seeking to report official events in Israel. The court said a blanket policy did not properly balance freedom of the press and national security. In July the IDF confiscated the GPO credentials of Yishai Carmeli-Polak, an Israeli journalist and director of documentary films. Carmeli-Polak has produced documentaries about demonstrations against the separation barrier in the West Bank village of Bil'in. The government returned the credentials in August after civil rights and media organizations protested.
The country has 12 daily newspapers, 90 weekly newspapers, more than 250 periodical publications, and a number of Internet news sites. All newspapers in the country were privately owned and managed. According to the Journalism Ordinance, anyone wishing to publish a newspaper must apply for a license from the locality where the newspaper will be published. The ordinance also allows the minister of interior, under certain conditions, to close a newspaper. In November 2004 the high court heard a petition filed by ACRI challenging the ordinance. ACRI withdrew its petition after the interior ministry pledged to prepare legislation effectively canceling the ordinance. At year's end legislation had not been enacted.
The quasi-independent Israel Broadcast Authority controls television Channel 1 and Kol Israel (Voice of Israel) radio; both are major sources of news and information. The Second Television and Radio Authority, a public body, supervises the 2 privately owned commercial television channels and 14 privately owned radio stations. On February 2, the authority prohibited advertisements for the so-called Geneva Accords in which Palestinian public figures told Israelis, among other points, "You have a partner for a peace agreement." The authority claimed that its regulations on television commercial ethics prohibited it from airing commercials on "controversial issues." Three cable and one satellite television companies carry both international networks and shows produced for the domestic audience.
The law authorizes the government to censor on national security grounds any material reported from the country or the occupied territories regarded as sensitive. An agreement between the government and media representatives provides for military censorship only in cases involving issues that the armed forces believe could likely harm the country's security interests. Media organizations may appeal the censor's decision to the high court, and they cannot be closed by the military censor for censorship violations. The military censor cannot appeal a court judgment. Foreign journalists must agree to submit sensitive articles and photographs to the military censor. In practice they rarely complied; however, the censor generally reviewed such material after the fact. On March 23, the major daily Ha'aretz published an apology for not submitting to the censor two December 2004 articles on military high technology sales to China. Channel 2 was called to a tribunal on the same issue and forced to apologize. In March the BBC also apologized to the government for ignoring a requirement to submit for censorship review an interview with Mordechai Vanunu when the government refused to renew the visa of the BBC Jerusalem deputy bureau chief without an apology.
News printed or broadcast abroad may be reported without censorship. There were no recent reports that the government fined newspapers for violating censorship regulations.
The government generally respected academic freedom and access to the Internet. In September 2004 Adalah petitioned the high court to prohibit ISA intervention in the appointment of educators in the Ministry of Education (MOE) Arab Education Division. On July 22, according to Adalah the government informed the high court that it would abolish the MOE ISA position for vetting Arab school teachers and administrators. On August 8, Adalah formally asked the MOE whether ISA officials served in the MOE in any capacity. According to Adalah as of year's end,the ministry had not responded.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
Freedom of Assembly
The law provides for freedom of assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights in practice. Throughout July the government, citing security concerns, prevented thousands of demonstrators from rallying close to the Gaza Strip to protest the government's decision to withdraw from Gaza and four settlements in the West Bank.
On December 15, Adalah filed complaints with the PID against border policemen for allegedly using excessive force against a demonstration in the Bedouin community of Al-Mashash on November 15. The demonstration and ensuing police raid were prompted when government officials arrived in the Negev village to deliver demolition orders for illegally constructed buildings. According to Adalah, 12 protesters, including a pregnant woman, were injured during the clashes.
Freedom of Association
The law provides for the right of association, and the government generally respected this provision in practice.
c. Freedom of Religion
The law provides for freedom of religion, and the government generally respected this right in practice. The Basic Law and Declaration of Independence recognize the country as a "Jewish and democratic state," establishing Judaism as the country's dominant religion. Government allocations of state resources favor Orthodox Jewish institutions.
The law confers recognition on some religious communities, granting them legal authority over their members in personal status matters, such as marriage and divorce. These communities include: Eastern Orthodox; Latin (Roman Catholic); Gregorian-Armenian; Armenian-Catholic; Syrian (Catholic); Chaldean (Uniate); Greek Catholic Melkite; Maronite; Syrian Orthodox; and Orthodox Jewish. Since the founding of the country, the government has recognized three additional religious communities--the Druze in 1957, the Evangelical Episcopal Church in 1970, and the Baha'i Faith in 1971. The government has defined the status of several other Christian denominations by means of individual arrangements with government agencies. According to the government, there were no religious denominations awaiting recognition during the year.
Several religious communities are not recognized, including Protestant groups; however, unrecognized communities may practice their religion freely and maintain communal institutions, but were ineligible to receive government funding for religious services.
According to government figures, during the year the budget for religious services and religious structures for the Jewish population was approximately $260 million (1.19 billion NIS). Religious minorities, which comprised approximately 20 percent of the population, received about $13 million (61 million NIS), or 5 percent of total funding. At least $209 million (960 million NIS) of the budget for Jewish religious services and education went toward Orthodox services, rabbis' salaries, and education.
The fact that the government does not explicitly codify recognition of a Muslim community is a vestige of the Ottoman period, when Islam was the dominant religion. Lack of codified recognition did not affect the religious rights of Muslims. Legislation enacted in 1961 afforded Muslim courts exclusive jurisdiction in matters of personal status concerning Muslims. Secular courts have primacy over questions of inheritance, but parties, by mutual agreement, may bring cases to religious courts. Muslims also can bring alimony and property division matters associated with divorce to civil courts.
Under the Law of Return, the government grants citizenship and residence rights to Jewish immigrants and their immediate family members. On March 31, the high court ruled that, for the purpose of conferring citizenship rights, the government must recognize non-Orthodox conversions of noncitizen legal residents that were begun in Israel but formalized abroad by acknowledged Jewish religious authorities, even if not Orthodox. In May 2004 the high court held that non-Jews who immigrate to the country and convert according to Orthodox requirements can become citizens under the Law of Return. The court let stand the state's practice of not recognizing conversions to Judaism performed within the country by non-Orthodox rabbis. On November 29, the Israel Religious Action Center challenged this practice in court. The case was pending at year's end.
In December 2004 ACRI released a report charging that the interior ministry's population authority sought to prevent non-Jews--particularly spouses of Israeli citizens--from obtaining resident status. ACRI charged that the interior ministry's population registry subjected non-Jewish spouses and non-Jewish adopted children of Jewish immigrants to unfair and at times arbitrary requirements for residency. Most cases involved persons who immigrated under the Law of Return from the former Soviet republics and their non-Jewish spouses and non-Jewish adopted children. In August 2004 the interior minister acknowledged the problems and changed selected policies. On April 4, Prime Minister Sharon established an interministerial committee to draft legislation outlining guidelines by which foreigners might become citizens. At year's end the interministerial committee had not taken action. According to the May 11 edition of the daily Ha'aretz, "There is broad agreement in the government and academia that the policy must be strict and make it difficult for non-Jews to obtain citizenship in Israel."
Many Jewish citizens objected to exclusive Orthodox control over aspects of their personal lives. Approximately 300 thousand citizens who immigrated either as Jews or as family members of Jews are not considered Jewish by the Orthodox Rabbinate. They cannot be married, divorced, or buried in Jewish cemeteries within the country. Jews who wish to marry in Reform, Conservative, or secular ceremonies must do so abroad. According to Central Bureau of Statistics figures released in March, over seven thousand citizens married abroad in 2002. In April the high court instructed the government to inform it within three months of its position on recognizing marriages performed by officials of foreign embassies in the country; however, at year's end the government had not responded. A 1996 law requiring the government to establish civil cemeteries has not been implemented adequately.
Non-Orthodox Jews faced greater difficulties than Orthodox Jews in adopting children. In December 2004 upon petition of the Israeli Religious Action Center, the high court ordered the government to justify the practice under which the Adoption Service of the social affairs ministry placed non-Jewish children only in Orthodox Jewish homes. At year's end the case remained pending.
Muslim groups complained that the government does not equitably fund the construction and upkeep of Muslim holy sites in comparison to that of Jewish Orthodox sites. They also charged that the government was reluctant to refurbish mosques where there was no longer a Muslim population and allowed mosques to be used for nonreligious purposes.
The 1967 Protection of Holy Sites Law protects all holy sites, but the government has issued implementing regulations only for Jewish sites. In November 2004 Adalah petitioned the supreme court to compel the government to issue regulations to protect Muslim sites; it charged that the government's failure to implement regulations had resulted in desecration and conversion of individual sites. The court accepted the petition and ordered the government to respond by January 1, 2006.
AAHR reported in December 2004 that some 250 non-Jewish places of worship were destroyed during or since the 1948 war or made inaccessible to Israeli Arabs. For example, AAHR reported that in June highway construction desecrated an Islamic cemetery located near the Israeli-Arab village of Fardis. AAHR subsequently reported that following a meeting between Fardis community residents and the highway planners, construction was halted to avoid continued damage to the cemetery.
According to representatives of Christian institutions, visa issuance rates for Christian religious workers significantly improved from rates in previous years. The interior ministry's Christian Department reported that it had approved most of the three thousand applications made by clergy during the year.
The Knesset has not ratified the Fundamental Agreement establishing relations between the Holy See and Israel negotiated in 1993. Representatives of the government and the Holy See met several times during the year seeking to reach an agreement on tax, economic, and legal matters. The negotiations addressed the continuation of tax exemptions for Roman Catholic institutions and property (churches, monasteries, convents, educational, and social welfare organizations) and the access of the institutions to Israeli courts. Under current Israeli law, property disputes involving religious institutions are handled by the executive branch of the government. At year's end negotiations continued.
During the year there were reports that airport immigration officials denied entry to non-Jews with mutilated or expired passports; however, officials permitted Jews with damaged or expired travel documents to enter.
On July 7, the Messianic congregation in Arad published a letter in Iton HaTzvi that reported harassment by members of an ultra-Orthodox community. On September 12, the high court heard a petition by ultra-orthodox Jews seeking the right to demonstrate at the house of a family of Messianic Jews and reversal of a police decision prohibiting such a demonstration. At year's end there was no further information on a court ruling. According to Messianic Jews resident there, since April 2004 the Gur Hassidim have demonstrated regularly in front of the homes of Christians and Messianic Jews in Arad to protest alleged proselytizing by this group.
On December 24, a foreign observer reported that a group of approximately 200 ultra-Orthodox Jews disrupted the religious service of a Messianic congregation in Be'er Sheva. According to the account, the group pushed and slapped the congregation's pastor and damaged property. The mob harassed members of the congregation attempting to escape, surrounding their vehicle and trying to overturn it. Police dispersed the mob, allowing congregation members to escape. On December 26, the foreign observer filed a report with the Be'er Sheva police.
Missionaries were allowed to proselytize, although the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints voluntarily refrained from doing so under a longstanding agreement with the government.
Societal Abuses and Discrimination
Between February 10 and 12, Druze rioters damaged or burned dozens of Christian businesses, homes, and cars in the northern village of Mughar after a Druze falsely claimed that Christian youths placed pornographic pictures of Druze girls on the Internet. The rioters also damaged a Melkite Catholic church. At least a dozen persons were reported injured; many Christians fled Mughar and refused to allow their children to return to school for weeks. Druze religious leaders denounced the riots, and Christian community representatives criticized the government for not responding more quickly. In June the government announced the allocation of $2 million (9.2 million NIS) in state funds to compensate residents for property damaged during the riots. At year's end according to legal representatives of the families, no compensation had been distributed. On September 29, the PID decided not to try four police officers for failing to prevent the attacks and closed the cases against them.
During police and ISA operations in April and May, police arrested and released nine Israeli Jews on suspicion of planning attacks on mosques on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. The police did not press charges.
On September 5, a young religious Jew spat at Greek Orthodox priests in Jerusalem. The perpetrator was arrested, fined, and banned from the Old City of Jerusalem for 30 days. Incidents occurred in which ultra-Orthodox Jews threw rocks at motorists to protest their driving on the Sabbath.
On August 19, police arrested Shimon Ben Haim and Victoria Shteinman for desecrating a Muslim holy site by throwing a pig's head, wrapped in a Keffiyeh with "Mohammed" written on it, into the courtyard of a mosque near Tel Aviv. On September 4, Ben Haim was indicted for insulting a religion and Shteinman as his accomplice. A Tel Aviv court released both on bail pending trial; however, at year's end the trial had not begun.
Neo-Nazi graffiti were sprayed on monuments and gravesites of several well-known Israeli historical figures. In May swastikas and graffiti comparing Prime Minister Sharon to Adolf Hitler were sprayed on the road into the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum. In June police began investigating two IDF soldiers caught participating in neo-Nazi ceremonies.
For a more detailed discussion, see the 2005 International Religious Freedom Report.
d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation
The law provides for these rights, and the government generally respected them in practice for citizens. (See annex for discussion of restrictions on movement within the occupied territories, between the territories and Israel, and the construction of a security barrier.)
Citizens generally were free to travel abroad and to emigrate, provided they had no outstanding military obligations and no administrative restrictions. The government may bar citizens from leaving the country based on security considerations.
Pursuant to the terms of his release after having served 18 years in prison on espionage and treason charges (see section 2. a.), Mordechai Vanunu continued to be prohibited from obtaining a passport, traveling outside Israel, going within 500 meters of airports and overland border crossings, and entering any foreign diplomatic offices. On April 19, the interior minister extended these prohibitions for another year. In May the Jerusalem District Court ruled that Vanunu could travel to the West Bank since such travel did not entail going abroad. On November 18, police arrested Vanunu at a Jerusalem checkpoint after he returned from a Jerusalem suburb; police reportedly claimed that he violated his restrictions. At year's end Vanunu's case continued.
Throughout July police, citing security concerns, barred demonstrators opposed to the evacuation of settlements from traveling to rallies in the Gaza Strip. Several local civil rights NGOs criticized the government for impeding citizens' rights to travel and to assemble.
In May 2003 Sheikh Raed Salah, leader of the Northern Branch of Israel's Islamic Movement, was arrested for allegedly providing funds to terrorist groups (see section 1.e.). In February Salah accepted a plea bargain which dropped several charges; he received credit for time served and was released in July. As a condition of release, he was prohibited from entering Jerusalem without police permission for four months.
Citizens, including dual nationals, must enter and leave the country using their Israeli passports only. In addition no citizen is permitted to travel to countries officially at war with Israel without government permission.
The 2003 Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law bars Palestinians from the occupied territories from acquiring residence or citizenship rights through marriage to Israelis or to Palestinian residents of Jerusalem. In July the Knesset extended the law until March 2006 and amended it so that Palestinian men aged 35 and older and women aged 25 and older were eligible for Israeli citizenship through family unification. Advocacy groups claimed that, despite the amendment, the law discriminated against Arab citizens andresidents (see section 5).
The law prohibits forced exile of citizens, and the government generally respected this prohibition in practice. In May the media reported that police advised Sheikh Kamel Khatib, deputy chairman of the Islamic Movement's Northern Branch, that his participation in a London conference on the Palestinian right of return would be illegal, since agents hostile to Israel allegedly organized the conference. Khatib did not attend the conference. According to the media, Khatib said that police told him that he would be subjected to detention or an unspecified harsher measure upon his return.
Protection of Refugees
The government provides refugees the protections available under the 1951 UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 protocol, and had established a system whereby persons can apply for refugee status. Palestinians were considered to be protected by the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees and, therefore, not eligible for refugee status.
The government cooperated with the Office of the UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in assisting Jewish refugees. The government also provided temporary protection to individuals who may not qualify as refugees under the 1951 Convention and its 1967 protocol. The government provided temporary humanitarian protection to persons from "conflict countries" in Africa.
The UNHCR referred eligible refugee applicants to the National Status Granting Body (NSGB), and the interior ministry made final adjudication. The Tel Aviv University Refugee Rights Clinic charged that the NSGB's procedures were not transparent, that the NSBG did not publish data on its activities, and that applicants denied status often were not given a reason.
The government did not return those denied refugee status to their home countries against their will, and they reportedly could remain in detention facilities for months. For asylum seekers from countries with which Israel was at war, the government attempted to find a third country to accept them. The government provided asylum seekers with temporary work permits but not social benefits. Persons granted refugee status received renewable temporary visas.
Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government
The law provides citizens with the right to change their government peacefully, and citizens exercised this right in practice through periodic, free, and fair elections held on the basis of universal suffrage.
Elections and Political Participation
The country is a parliamentary democracy with an active multiparty system. Relatively small parties, including those primarily supported by Israeli Arabs, regularly win Knesset seats. The Likud Party led by Ariel Sharon won a plurality of Knesset seats in January 2003; Sharon formed a government in which he became prime minister. On November 21, Sharon requested the president to dissolve the Knesset, citing difficulties in maintaining a governing majority, and announced that he was leaving the Likud Party. On November 24, Sharon established a new party, Kadima ("move forward"). The president set elections for March 28, 2006. On December 29, pursuant to presidential decree, the Knesset was dissolved.
The Basic Law prohibits the candidacy of any party or individual that denies either the existence of the State of Israel as the state of the Jewish people or the democratic character of the state, or that incites racism.
In May 2004 the Knesset amended the law to require that a party obtain 2 percent rather than 1.5 percent of the vote to win Knesset seats. Israeli-Arab leaders criticized the amendment and claimed that it wouldadversely affect smaller parties, such as those representing the Israeli-Arab community.
The 120-member Knesset has 18 women members. The 20-member cabinet included 3 women until November, when the Labor Party resigned from the government, taking 1 woman minister. Six women sit on the 14-member high court. The Knesset included 11 Arabs and 2 Druze. Most of the 11 Arabs represented parties supported largely or entirely by the Arab community. In March 2004 for the first time since the establishment of the state, an Arab Christian was appointed as a permanent justice to the high court. No Muslim or Druze citizens have served on the court.
On July 20,the government amended the 1956 Equal Representation of Women law to mandate the inclusion of women in government-appointed teams for peace negotiations and for setting domestic, foreign, and security policy.
In March 2004 the state comptroller discovered 2,298 citizens who, if alive, would have been age 110 or over, but appeared on the electoral rolls, and some were identified as having recently voted. The comptroller recommended an investigation. The government established an interministerial committee to prepare a computerized procedure to avoid future problems. In addition, following the government's cross-reference of names between ministerial databases, some 9 thousand residents over 100 years old were declared dead by the Population Registry.
Government Corruption and Transparency
Corruption was considered a problem by many Israelis.
In July the Knesset established the Parliamentary Investigation Committee to Uncover Corruption in the Governing System but disbanded it in December to avoid politicizing the committee prior to the March 28, 2006, elections.
The Labor Party continued to investigate allegations that, during the party's May membership drive, party activists forged voter registration forms. In November the party voided thousands of questionable signatures and deleted them from the voter registration list.
The attorney general continued to review Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's connections to the "Cyril Kern Affair," in which Kern allegedly acted as a conduit for or source of illegal funding that Sharon used to refund earlier illegally obtained campaign contributions. At year's end the case was still under investigation. On November 16, Omri Sharon, Prime Minister Sharon's son and a member of the Knesset, pleaded guilty to lying under oath and falsifying company financial records to conceal illegally raised funds in conjunction with his father's 1999 campaign in the Likud party primaries.
In July 2004 the prime minister dismissed Minister of Infrastructure and Knesset Member Josef Paritzky from the cabinet after Channel 1 Television broadcast a tape of Paritzky allegedly plotting with a private detective to defame a party rival. On January 17, the state attorney closed the case against Paritzky. He found no legal basis for criminal charges but harshly criticized Paritzky's behavior. Paritzky continued to serve in the Knesset.
In September 2004 Knesset Member Tzachi Hanegbi was suspended from his post as minister of public security pending a criminal investigation into allegations of inappropriate political appointments while serving as environment minister from 2001-03. On December 7, the police recommended that the attorney general indict Hanegbi for irregular political appointments. At year's end Hanegbi continued to serve as minister-without-portfolio while the attorney general continued to consider the case.
The law affords the public access to government information, and citizens could petition for such access. According to the ACRI and the Movement for Quality in Government (MQG), an NGO that investigates corruption and nontransparency issues, the government does not effectively implement its freedom of information act. The MQG charged that it had difficulty obtaining information from the government, notably on the budget and privatization.
Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
Numerous domestic and international human rights groups operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were generally cooperative and responsive to their views.
NGOs must register with the government by submitting an application and paying approximately $20 (85 NIS). They operated under the laws covering nonprofit organizations. Registered NGOs received state funding as a matter of government policy. Israeli Arab NGOs have complained in recent years of difficulties in registering and receiving state funding.
In 2003 the foreign affairs ministry established a liaison unit to develop and maintain relations with international and domestic NGOs, assist domestic NGOs to participate in UN and other international forums, and facilitate visits to the country by international NGO representatives.
During the year the interior ministry, operating under a 2002 order, barred entry to all foreign nationals affiliated with certain Palestinian human rights NGOs and solidarity organizations.
(See annex regarding NGOs in the occupied territories.)
Section 5 Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
The law prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, gender, marital status, political beliefs, or age. These laws sometimes were not enforced, either due to institutionalized discrimination or to lack of resources. On September 7, then interior minister Ophir Pines-Paz termed the country's policy toward its Arab citizens "institutional discrimination" and called for affirmative action.
The Equality of Women Law provides for equal rights for women and protection from violence, sexual harassment, sexual exploitation, and trafficking; however, violence against women was a problem. The government reported that between January 1 and October 6, some 15 thousand cases of spousal violence were filed with the police. Police addressed about 20 thousand domestic violence cases a year, of which approximately 17 thousand were complaints by women against their spouses. The government reported that in 2004 it convicted 1,297 persons of spousal abuse. The social affairs ministry provided battered women with shelter care and operated a national hot line for battered women. The government reported that the police operated a nationwide computerized call center to inform victims about their cases and employed a computerized database to link sex crime cases and to assist in identifying and locating offenders. The IDF and the Military Police Investigative Unit accepted reports on domestic violence where the suspect was likely to carry an IDF-issued weapon. A wide variety of women's organizations and hot lines provided services, such as counseling, telephone crisis intervention, legal assistance, and shelters to abused women.
Rape is illegal; nevertheless, NGOs considered the incidence of rape a concern. Crisis hot line rape reports rose by 15 percent during 2004, according to the annual report of the Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel released in February. According to police, the incidence of rape in Tel Aviv rose 27 percent in 2004.
In past years women's organizations reported instances of Arab women killed by male relatives in "honor" cases, although there is no accurate estimate of the number. The Women Against Violence Organization (WAVO), reported that at least nine Israeli-Arab women were victims of honor killings during the year and estimated that annually an average of 10 Israeli-Arab women were victims of family honor killings. Police suspected that family members killed an Israeli-Arab woman from the town of Ramle on January 1 because she disgraced the family. At year's end the case was pending. In July police investigated a case in which a man and a woman, both Israeli Arabs, were shot and killed. Police suspected that the killing involved family honor, as the victims were not married but lived together. Police ordered an investigation; however, at year's end the case was pending.
On October 22, police found a Druze woman hanging from a tree and charged three members of her family, including her father, with murder. The police suspected that male family members killed her for disgracing the family. According to WAVO the local community alleged that the police arrested the wrong persons and that evidence pointed elsewhere. At year's end police investigation continued.
On December 17, police arrested two brothers from the Israeli Arab town of Mughar after they confessed to killing their sister ostensibly to preserve their family's honor. On December 19, they were arraigned in the Acre Magistrate's Court on murder charges. At year's end the case was pending.
On May 19, unknown perpetrators burned a textile workshop in the Negev region Bedouin town of Lakia operated by a volunteer association to improve the status of women. The association suspected that community men who objected to women working outside the home set the fire. At year's end police continued to investigate, but no arrests were made.
Prostitution is not illegal. The law prohibits operation of brothels and organized sex enterprises, but brothels operated in several major cities.
The Prevention of Stalking Law and the Prevention of Family Violence Law require that suspected victims be informed of their right to assistance. According to a government report submitted to a UN committee on May 29, since 2002, 2,946 requests for restraining orders were submitted to the courts based on this law, rising from 472 cases in 2002 to 1,307 cases in 2004. In a March report to the UN Session of the Commission on the Status of Women, several women's NGOs stated that approximately 130 thousand women in the country between the ages 25 and 40 had been sexually harassed in the workplace. During the period between January 1 and October 1, the police opened 158 cases involving sexual harassment, and 137 of those were forwarded for prosecution.
The law provides for class action suits and requires employers to provide equal pay for equal work; however, significant wage gaps remained. According to a March publication by the Central Bureau of Statistics, women earned 83 percent as much as men, and women executives earned 74 percent as much as their male counterparts.
Religious courts adjudicate personal status law, and these courts restricted the rights of Jewish and Muslim women. Jewish women are not allowed to initiate divorce proceedings without their husbands' consent. Consequently, thousands of so-called agunot may not remarry or have legitimate children because their husbands either disappeared or refused to grant divorces. Rabbinical tribunals may sanction husbands who refuse to divorce wives, but may not grant a divorce without his consent. A Muslim woman may petition for and receive a divorce through the Shari'a courts without her husband's consent under certain conditions, and may, through a marriage contract, provide for certain cases where she may obtain a divorce without her husband's consent. A Muslim man may divorce his wife without her consent and without petitioning the court.
The law provides for the overall protection of children's rights and welfare, and the government was generally committed to ensuring enforcement of these laws. The government has continued to legislate against sexual, physical, and psychological abuse of children and has mandated comprehensive reporting. There were five shelters for children at risk of abuse.
According to a report issued by the National Council for the Child, the number of reported cases of child abuse and neglect has risen by 130 percent in the last decade. The report stated that approximately 39 thousand children were abused in 2004, compared with 16,800 in 1995. According to a police report released to a Knesset committee in December, children constituted more than 50 percent of the sexual offenses victims each year.
On August 8, the National Insurance Institute's annual report stated that approximately a third of the country's children lived in poverty, and the number of poor children grew by 9.4 percent in 2003. The 2004 report of the Israeli-Arab advocacy NGO Sikkuy (the Association for the Advancement of Civic Equality in Israel) stated that 45 percent of Arab families were poor (in contrast to 15 percent of Jewish families), and Arab children were twice as likely to die in infancy as Jewish children. A health ministry report released on August 25, recorded infant mortality among Negev region Bedouin at 15 per 1,000 births.
Education is compulsory through the ninth grade. The government operated separate school systems for Hebrew-speaking children (mostly Jewish), Arabic-speaking children (mostly Israeli-Arab), and Orthodox Jews. However, government spending on and services for children was less in Arab areas than in Jewish areas. According to a study at Hebrew University, three times as much money was invested in Jewish children as in Arab children. Human Rights Watch reported in May that the government provided 1 teacher for every 16 Jewish primary school children compared to 1 teacher for every 19.7 Arab children.
During the year the education ministry stated that it was implementing some reforms in nine unspecified Arab localities, as recommended by the government's 2004 National Task Force for the Advancement of Education in Israel (the Dovrat Commission).
In December 2004 the Dovrat Committee also issued recommendations affecting ultra-Orthodox schools. Ultra-Orthodox political parties, such as United Torah Judaism, opposed government interference in its school system. The only nonpublic schools receiving government funding were ultra-Orthodox Jewish schools. State subsidized ultra-Orthodox religious schools have not complied with the requirement for all state-funded schools to teach core subjects such as mathematics. In December 2004 the high court ruled that they must comply by the opening of the 2007 school year or lose official funds.
In August Adalah filed a petition with the Tel Aviv District Court against the Municipality of Lod and the MOE, following their refusal to register an eight-year-old Arab child in a Jewish elementary school in Lod. The municipality and MOE argued it was better for the child to attend an Arab school. In response to a September 4 court order, the municipality registered the boy in the Jewish school and Adalah withdrew its petition.
Jewish children attended schools where the language of instruction was Hebrew and the curriculum included Jewish history. Israeli-Arab children, almost without exception, chose schools with instruction in Arabic in which the curriculum had a less Jewish focus. Israeli-Arab advocacy groups charged that the education of Arab children was inferior to that of Jewish children in the secular system. According to the Higher Follow Up Committee for Arab Affairs, there was a five thousand-classroom shortage in the Arab sector. The civic equality NGO Sikkuy stated in its 2003-04 report that approximately half of age 15 and older non-Jewish Israelis did not have a high school education, compared with one fifth of Jewish Israelis.
According to an Israeli-Arab advocacy group, 21.5 percent of Jews begin university studies compared with 11.5 percent of those defined as "members of other religions," mostly Arabs. Arab Knesset members have criticized the lower academic achievements of Arab students and charged that it indicated discrimination in the system. Preschool attendance for Bedouin children was the lowest in the country, and the dropout rate for Bedouin high school students was the highest.
The minimum legal age of marriage is 17 for both boys and girls. According to the NGO Israel National Council for the Child, marriage under age 17 occurred among minority groups, such as Muslims, certain ultra-Orthodox Jewish groups, and new immigrants from Ethiopia and from Islamic states in the former Soviet Union.
In February 2004 Elem, an NGO that assists troubled youth, estimated that more than a thousand women younger than age 18 worked as prostitutes.
Trafficking in Persons
The law prohibits only trafficking in women for the purpose of sexual exploitation; however, trafficking for the purpose of labor as well as for prostitution remained a serious problem. The penal code stipulates that coercion to engage in prostitution is a criminal offense, punishable by between 4 and 20 years imprisonment, and makes it a crime to induce a woman to leave the country to "practice prostitution abroad." The operation of brothels and "organized sex enterprises" is illegal.
The law guarantees foreign laborers legal status, decent working conditions, health insurance, and a written employment contract; however, some employers forced individual laborers who entered the country, both legally and illegally, to live under conditions that constituted trafficking. While law enforcement agencies have successfully prosecuted employers for labor law violations, including for violations that were tantamount to trafficking, they have not severely penalized labor agencies for trafficking because legislation does not make trafficking illegal if it is for purposes other than prostitution. There were numerous documented cases of foreign laborers living in harsh conditions, subjected to debt bondage, and restricted in their movements.
Organized crime groups trafficked women, primarily from the former Soviet Union, sometimes luring them by offering service sector jobs. Foreign workers came mainly from Southeast Asia, East Asia, Africa, Turkey, Eastern Europe (Romania), and South and Central America. Some traffickers reportedly sold foreign-origin women to brothels, forced them to live in harsh conditions, subjected them to beatings and rape, and forced them to pay for transportation costs and other "debts" through sexual servitude. According to local NGOs, during the year traffickers brought between one thousand and three thousand women into the country for prostitution. The government reported that during the year, 59 trafficked women resided in the "Maggan" Shelter, and an additional 128 trafficking victims stayed in the detention facilities. The government estimated that at least 682 more women met the basic criteria to be classified as cases of trafficking victims even if they did not so admit.
In October, 2 NGOs claimed there were 200 thousand foreign workers in the country and that 20 percent of these workers were trafficking victims. During the year the Ministry of Industry, Trade, and Labor (ITL) revoked 185 permits to hire foreign workers, opened 1,220 files against employers suspected of violating foreign worker employment laws, and imposed 8,356 administrative fines on employers. Also during the year, the ITL filed 208 criminal indictments against employers, including manpower companies, for violations of labor laws and won 38 judgments against violators.
The government did not strengthen laws to fight trafficking. In 2003 the government established a Border Police unit to combat smuggling of persons and drugs across the border with Egypt. During the year this special unit caught 345 Israelis and foreign nationals infiltrating into the country, including 45 women trafficked for prostitution or smuggled for housework. A 2003 law provides minimum sentencing requirements for convicted sex traffickers. During the year the police arrested 78 people for trafficking in persons for the purposes of prostitution and related offenses; the state detained 18 suspects without bail until the conclusion of their trials. Police officials attributed the lack of major arrests and a decrease trafficking arrests at the border to their heightened activity over the past two years.
Courts imposed tougher sentences for trafficking in women than previously, but these sentences remained significantly lighter than the maximum allowable prison sentence of 20 years. On average since the Knesset passed the antitrafficking law in 2000, judges have sentenced traffickers to six years in prison with a two-year suspended sentence. The government has typically awarded compensation to trafficking victims of less than 10 percent of the permitted maximum compensation of approximately $50 thousand (230 thousand NIS).
The government investigated allegations of misconduct and corruption by individual police officers, including taking bribes, tipping off brothels of raids, and sexually harassing trafficking victims. During the year 2 NGOs surveyed 106 trafficked women, 44 percent of whom claimed that policemen patronized their brothel. The government claimed to have received no reports during the year regarding officials who participated in, facilitated, or condoned trafficking in persons; it made no arrests, and issued no indictments or prosecutions for this offense.
The justice ministry set a guideline that investigations of complaints by foreign workers should be concluded within 45 days. When prosecutors gathered sufficient evidence for indictment, they filed the indictment through an accelerated procedure to ensure that the proceedings will be effective even if the foreign worker left the country. In a recent case against police officers convicted of sexual crimes with a foreign worker, the supreme court accepted the appeal of the prosecution and increased a sentence from 24 to 42 months in prison. In another case a police officer was convicted of demanding sexual favors from a woman that he threatened to arrest and deport if she did not comply. He had not been sentenced as of October.
The 50-person-capacity government-run shelter for trafficking victims was often filled to capacity; NGOs claimed that additional shelters were needed. According to the government, during the year 108 trafficking victims chose to testify, compared with 81 victims in 2003. The government transferred 46 women to the government-run shelter, 36 of whom agreed to testify against their traffickers. In 2003 the state attorney's office, the police, and the Knesset urged the courts to accelerate hearing testimony from trafficking victims; the law stipulates that testimony must be taken within 2 months of the indictment of suspected traffickers, but there were victims who waited as long as 18 months. According to the government, between January and October, in all districts victims waited an average of two months from the time of filing the indictment until the first court hearing.
The government has not drafted an antitrafficking plan. Although it approved funding in May for an interministerial coordinator to combat trafficking in persons, at year's end it had not appointed a coordinator or provided funding for an assistant. The government and an NGO cooperated to train judges who preside over deportation hearings. In October the government formed an interministerial team to address issues relating to trafficking in persons for the purposes of both prostitution and labor. It met three times between October and January and included representatives from the ministries of foreign affairs, justice, interior, industry trade and labor, social affairs, the police, and the immigration administration. Also with assistance from NGOs, the government distributed brochures through its embassies in such source countries as Moldova and Uzbekistan, warning potential victims of the threat. The NGOs associated with this process claimed that the number of brochures was insufficient to reach potentially vulnerable foreigners.
As a result of coordinated international police efforts during the year, several governments extradited individuals to Israel on charges of trafficking in persons. For example, Russian officials extradited Israeli national Shota Shamelashvili, where at year's end he was on trial for trafficking in persons. Also, Ukrainian officials extradited Sergey Matatov, where at year's end he was on trial for trafficking in persons. Likewise, as a result of joint investigations, Israeli and Belarussian officials arrested several suspected members of two criminal groups that trafficked women from Belarus to Israel.
Persons with Disabilities
The government provided a broad range of basic benefits for persons with disabilities. The law provides for protection and equality of the rights of persons with disabilities. Persons with disabilities continued, however, to encounter difficulties in areas such as employment and housing. According to the government, the Commission for Equal Rights of People with Disabilities, within the justice ministry, addressed some 500 discrimination cases, mainly in the areas of accessibility and employment. On March 22, the government enacted a law to require greater building and public area access for persons with disabilities. However, the government did not enforce a previous law primarily due to a lack of funding. Accessibility to public transportation was not mandated by law.
In May the government voted to adopt proposals submitted by a government committee to promote the integration of persons with disabilities into society.
The 2003 report of the Orr Commission, which was established following the police killing of 12 Israeli-Arab demonstrators and a Palestinian in October 2000 (see section 1.a.), stated that government handling of the Arab sector was "primarily neglectful and discriminatory," was not sufficiently sensitive to Arab needs, and that the government did not allocate state resources equally. Consequently, "serious distress prevailed in the Arab sector?," including poverty, unemployment, a shortage of land, serious problems in the education system, and substantially defective infrastructure. Problems also existed in the health and social services sectors.
In June 2004 the government adopted an interministerial committee's proposals to act on some of the Orr Commission's findings, including: establishment of a government body to promote the Arab sector; creation of a volunteer, national civilian service program for Arab youth; and the creation of a day of national tolerance. At year's end the government implemented neither these proposals nor the original Orr Commission recommendations. On September 18, the PID closed the investigation into the police killings in the October 2000 riots; however, on September 28, the attorney general and the PID decided to reexamine the investigation (see section 1.a.). At year's end there had been no further action.
In December 2004 the Knesset established a subcommittee, chaired by an Israeli-Arab member, charged with monitoring needs of the Israeli-Arab sector and advocating alterations in the budget to benefit that sector. The subcommittee met during the year, but, according to Mossawa, the government's response to the subcommittee's queries was inadequate.
According to 2004 reports by Mossawa and the Arab Association for Human Rights, racist violence against Arab citizens has increased, and the government has not acted to prevent this problem. Advocacy groups charged government officials with making racist statements.
In June 2004 the Jerusalem District Court filed six indictments for incitement to racism against fans of a local soccer team for shouting "death to the Arabs" at a soccer match. According to Mossawa fans engaged in similar anti-Arab behavior at soccer matches in September, but the police did not make arrests. In a January 10 letter to the Israel Football Association (IFA), Mossawa charged that the IFA had not acted to prevent racist activities at matches. In a March 7 letter responding to Mossawa's concerns, Mossawa reported that the group pledged to work against racism, but Mossawa has claimed that the IFA has still not taken actions to address this problem.
In March a Dahaf Institute poll of Israeli Jews found 59 percent of those polled agreed or tended to agree that the state should encourage Israeli Arabs to emigrate. On September 21, a major local newspaper published a column whose author advocated that the country encourage its Arab citizens to emigrate.
Approximately 93 percent of land in the country is public domain, the majority of which is owned by the state, with approximately 12.5 percent owned by the Jewish National Fund (JNF). All public lands and that owned by the JNF are administered by the governmental body, the Israel Lands Administration (ILA). By law public land may only be leased, and the JNF's statutes prohibit land sale or lease to non-Jews. In separate petitions to the high court in 2004, Adalah and civil rights groups sought, among other points, nondiscriminatory procedures for allocating and leasing land. In January the attorney general ruled the government cannot discriminate against Israeli Arabs in marketing and allocation of lands it manages, including lands the ILA manages for the JNF. Adalah criticized the attorney general, however, for also deciding that the government should compensate the JNF with land equal in size to any plots of JNF land won by non-Jewish citizens in government tenders.
The community of Katzir, a town in the Galilee established by the Jewish Agency, had refused to provide an Israeli-Arab family, the Ka'adans, title to a plot of land despite a 2000 supreme court ruling that the government cannot discriminate against Israeli Arabs in the distribution of state resources, including land. The family petitioned the court again in September 2003 to compel the government to implement the court's 2000 ruling. In May 2004 the ILA allocated the plot of land to the family, who signed a contract on December 19, enabling them to start building their house.
Education ministry regulations required Israeli-Arab contractual or maintenance workers in Jewish educational institutions in Jerusalem to undergo mandatory security checks and to be supervised by a Jewish foreman. After a petition by Adalah, the attorney general ordered in June the cancellation of the regulations; however, at year's end it could not be determined that the regulations were no longer applied.
Israeli-Arab advocacy organizations have challenged the government's policy of demolishing illegal buildings in the Arab sector. They claimed that the government restricted issuance of building permits for Arab communities more than for Jewish communities, thereby limiting Arab natural growth.
In February 2004 security forces demolished several homes in the Arab village of Beineh, claiming that they were built illegally. On April 19, Adalah appealed to the attorney general requesting that he reverse a decision not to indict police officers for alleged assault and property damage involved in the house demolition operation. Adalah claimed that the police investigation was negligent and that it was unreasonable not to indict the police officers. At year's end the appeal remained pending.
In January the government established a new police unit to combat illegal construction and land use. The media reported that the unit will focus on the Israeli-Arab sector and areas surrounding development towns.
The Orr Commission found that "suitable planning should be carried out [in the Arab sector] as soon as possible to prevent illegal construction..." A ministerial committee, created to advise the government on implementing the Orr Commission recommendations, called on the ILA to complete master plans for Arab towns, approximately half of which currently lacked such plans. In June 2004 the supreme court ruled that omitting Arab towns from specific government social and economic plans is discriminatory. This judgment builds on previous assessments of disadvantages suffered by Arab Israelis. New construction is illegal in any towns that do not have master plans or in the country's 37 unrecognized Bedouin villages. In September, according to a Bedouin advocacy group (the Regional Council for Unrecognized Villages in the Negev), security forces demolished several Bedouin homes in the unrecognized villages of Al-Zaroora, Al-Bhaira, Al Sir, and Al-Mazra'a.
Israeli-Arab organizations and some civil rights NGOs challenged as discriminatory the 1996 "Master Plan for the Northern Areas of Israel," which listed priorities as increasing the Galilee's Jewish population and blocking the territorial contiguity of Arab towns. The Israeli-Arab organizations presented their objections at a hearing in March2003, but the National Council for Building and Planning, a government body responsible for developing the master plan, has not responded. To date the government has not implemented this plan.
The Bureau of Statistics noted that the median number of school years for the Jewish population is three years more than for the Arab population. According to data released in September by the Higher Arab Follow-up Committee, the Arab student dropout rate overall was 12 percent and 70 percent at schools in the unrecognized villages in the Negev, compared with 6 percent overall in Jewish schools.
Israeli Arabs also were underrepresented in the student bodies and faculties of most universities, professions, and business. According to Sikkuy's 2003-04 annual report, non-Jews made up 9.8 percent of university undergraduates and Israeli Arabs constituted 1 percent of all lecturers or professors at academic institutions--50 to 70 out of more than 3 thousand. In October an Arab Israeli was appointed for the first time as dean of research at the University of Haifa.
Well‑educated Arabs often were unable to find jobs commensurate with their education. A small number of Israeli Arabs hold responsible positions in the civil service, generally in the Arab departments of government ministries. In 2003 the government approved affirmative action to promote hiring Israeli Arabs in the civil service. However, according to current government figures, only 3 percent of civil service employees were from the Arab sector. In November the deputy civil service commissioner reported that Arabs made up only 5.6 percent of the total number of new civil service employees hired in 2004. During a June 21 meeting of the Knesset Internal Affairs Committee, retired Supreme Court Justice Theodore Orr, who headed the Orr Commission, criticized the government for not implementing the affirmative action law.
A 2000 law requires that minorities have "appropriate representation" in the civil service and on the boards of government corporations. In January 2004 Prime Minister Sharon mandated that every state-run company's corporate board have at least one Arab member by August 2004. In June 2004 the media reported that the number of Arabs on state-run corporate boards had declined. According to data from the Government Companies Authority, during the year Arabs filled 50 out of the 551 board seats of 105 state-run companies.
Israeli Arabs complained upon occasion during the year of discriminatory treatment by the state airline. Mossawa reported that, it received complaints from Israeli Arabs of discriminatory treatment at the airport. According to the AAHR, in July two Israeli Arabs were prohibited from taking their laptop computers with them on an El Al flight from Austria to Israel; Jewish passengers were allowed to take their laptops. The Israeli Arabs used a different airline to return to Israel.
The law exempts Israeli Arabs from mandatory military service, and in practice only a small percentage of Israeli Arabs so served. Citizens who did not serve in the army enjoyed less access than other citizens to social and economic benefits for which military service was either a prerequisite or an advantage. Israeli Arabs generally were restricted from working in companies with defense contracts or in security-related fields. In December 2004 the Ivri Committee on National Service recommended that Israel Arabs be given an opportunity to perform national service. By year's end the government had not addressed the Ivri Committee recommendations. Males in the Israeli Druze community, which numbered around 100 thousand, and in the Circassian community, which numbered some 3 thousand, were subject to the military draft, and the overwhelming majority accepted service willingly. Some Bedouin and other Arab citizens not subject to the draft also served voluntarily.
The Bedouin sector of the population was the country's most disadvantaged. The Orr Commission of Inquiry report called for "special attention" to the living conditions of the Bedouin community. Approximately 140 thousand Bedouin lived in the Negev, half in 7 state-planned communities and 8 recognized communities, and the rest in 37 unrecognized villages. During the yearthe government officially recognized the Israeli-Arab village of Ein Hod in the Carmel area, after village residents had petitioned the government for more than 57 years. Recognized Bedouin villages received basic services but remained among the poorest communities. Unrecognized villages paid taxes to the government; however, they were not connected to the national water and electricity infrastructure and not eligible for government educational, health, and welfare services. In September ACRI and PHR petitioned the supreme court to require the government to connect a house in an unrecognized Bedouin village to the electrical power lines so a three-year-old suffering from cancer could benefit from air conditioning, as the doctor recommended. At year's end the request remained pending.
In March 2004 the supreme court issued a temporary injunction to prevent the ILA from spraying herbicide on Bedouin crops on state-owned land. According to Adalah the court extended its injunction in October 2004. In February the ILA admitted in an affidavit to the supreme court that it sprayed Bedouin agricultural fields with chemicals that were not approved by the agriculture ministry and banned from aerial spraying. After a November 28 hearing, the case was still pending.
Government planners noted that there were insufficient funds to relocate Bedouin living in unrecognized villages to new townships and that the average Bedouin family could not afford to purchase a home there. Clashes between authorities and residents of unrecognized villages continued during the year.
In July the government extended until March 2006 the 2003 Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law, which bars Palestinians from the occupied territories from acquiring residence or citizenship rights through marriage to Israelis (see section 2.d.). The government also amended the law to allow Palestinian men aged 35 and older and women aged 25 and older to request Israeli citizenship through family unification. In July Adalah petitioned the high court to suspend implementation of the amended law as still discriminatory, and requested a court ruling on Adalah's 2003 challenge to the original law. In November during ongoing supreme court hearings on a petition by civil rights NGOs challenging this law, the government informed the court that since 2001, 25 Palestinian spouses of Arab citizens have been involved in terrorist activity. At year's end the case remained pending.
There are approximately 20 thousand non-Israelis living in the Golan Heights; they have been subject to Israeli military authority since 1967 and to Israeli civil law since Israel annexed this Syrian territory in 1981. They are primarily ethnic Druze; however, Syria regards them as its citizens and they largely have refused Israeli citizenship. Israel accords them permanent resident status; they receive Israeli travel documents and hold identity cards that entitle them to the same social benefits as Israeli citizens. Most obtain these services in Syria. Syrian Golan residents of the Druze confession continue travel to Syria to pilgrimage to the Shrine of Abel, with Israeli permission.
Other Societal Abuses and Discrimination
On March 23, Jewish, Christian, and Muslim religious leaders protested against a gay pride march planned for Jerusalem in June. On June 26, the Jerusalem District Court ordered the Jerusalem municipality to permit the gay pride march. During the June 30 march, an ultra-Orthodox Jew stabbed three participants. Police arrested Yishai Shlifel and charged him with three counts of attempted murder. His trial was scheduled to continue in January 2006. In April unknown arsonists damaged a Jerusalem nightclub catering to homosexuals. According to the Jerusalem Open House for Pride and Tolerance, at year's end police had made no arrests and the investigation had not advanced.
In April the government announced a policy of recognizing same-sex couples with children as a family for purposes of receiving housing aid. The government also did not challenge a 2004 Nazareth District Court decision recognizing same-sex partners for the purposes of inheritance rights.
Section 6 Worker Rights
a. The Right of Association
Citizens may join and establish labor organizations. 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), both of which are independent of government. Histadrut's members elect national and local officers, and officials of its affiliated women's organization, Na'amat, from lists of those in the union. Histadrut membership remained approximately 650 thousand, and Histadrut's collective bargaining agreements covered most non-Histadrut workers.
The law does not permit nonresidents, including Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza, to join Israeli trade unions or organize their own unions in Israel. Protections contained in Histadrut work contracts and grievance procedures extend to nonresident workers in the organized sector. Palestinian participation in shop-level workers' committees was minimal.
Labor laws apply to noncitizens. However, a 2003 amendment to the Social Security Act stipulates that undocumented workers are not entitled to receive certain social security benefits, including maternity leave and compensation for work-related injuries. The Foreign Workers Act stipulates that foreign workers do not receive National Health Insurance, and that the employers of migrant workers must provide private insurance, which is less comprehensive. In March an amendment to the act requires transfer of severance pay for foreign nationals to a fund that they may access only when their residency permits expire. Currently, this amendment applies only to construction workers, according to the June internal regulations of the industry, trade, and labor ministry.
b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively
Citizens exercised their legal rights to organize and bargain collectively. The law specifically prohibits antiunion discrimination. No antiunion discrimination was reported.
Nonresident workers could not organize unions or engage in collective bargaining but could be represented by the bargaining agent and protected by collective bargaining agreements. Between January and September, the industry, trade, and labor ministry issued 77,639 permits for foreigners to work in the country, most of which, the ministry reported, were assigned. The government estimated non-Palestinian foreign workers, both legal and illegal (between 50 thousand and 70 thousand), comprised 7 to 8 percent of the labor force. Foreign workers must pay an agency fee in lieu of union dues, entitling them to protection by collective bargaining agreements. The ministry extended collective bargaining agreements to nonunionized workplaces in the same industrial sector. The ministry also oversaw personal contracts in the unorganized sectors of the economy which do not offer union protection from, among other possible actions, immediate dismissal without recourse.
Workers exercised the right to strike less frequently than in previous years. If essential public services are affected by a strike, the government may appeal to labor courts for back-to-work orders during continued negotiations. Worker dismissals and the terms of severance arrangements have traditionally been the central issues of disputes. A Histadrut agreement on workers' wages reached early in the year with the government (the largest employer in the country) helped to diminish the number of strikes.
In the most significant strike of the year, more than 100 workers at the transportation company Metrodan in Beersheba struck for 147 days, starting in November 2004.According to Histadrut it was the longest strike in the country's history. Since Metrodan provided all public transportation in the country's largest southern city, the supreme court ultimately addressed the dispute and ruled for the workers and Histadrut.
There are no export processing zones. In December 2004 the government established a Qualified Industrial Zone(QIZ) with Egypt, creating duty-exempt zones for joint Israel-Egypt manufacturing for exports. The government established a comparable QIZ with Jordan in 1998. Since the factories are located in Egypt and Jordan respectively, Egyptian and Jordanian labor laws apply.
c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The law prohibits forced or compulsory labor, including by children, and neither the government nor Histadrut received reports that such practices occurred for citizens, residents such as Syrian citizens of the Golan Heights, or nonresident Palestinian workers. Civil rights groups charged that unscrupulous employers exploited adult non-Palestinian foreign workers, both legal and illegal, and held them in conditions that amounted to involuntary servitude (see section 6.e.).
Trafficking in persons for the purpose of prostitution and labor remained a problem (see section 5).
d. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
Children at least 15 years old who have completed their education through grade nine may be employed only as apprentices. Children who are 14 years old may be employed during official school holidays in light work that will not harm their health. Working hours for those between the ages of 16 and 18 are restricted to ensure time for rest and education. The government enforced these restrictions in practice. According to Histadrut the labor ministry responded to complaints about child labor and intervened to stop the practice, but it was not able to monitor the agricultural sector where, Histadrut claimed, children under the age of 15 worked throughout the year.
There was no reliable data regarding the incidence of child labor, although NGOs believed that it occurred to a limited degree, primarily in urban, light industry. Although in previous years, the government, Histadrut, and NGOs received reports of illegal child labor in the undocumented Palestinian population, they did not receive such reports during the year.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
The minimum wage was approximately 45.3 percent of the average wage and remained approximately $900(4,100 NIS)per month for a 40-hour week. The government considered the minimum wage, often supplemented by special allowances for citizens, to provide a citizen worker and family with a decent standard of living. Some union officials, NGOs, and social commentators disputed this claim.
By law the maximum hours of work at regular pay are 42.5 hours a week.
Employers are required to obtain a government permit to hire Palestinian workers from the occupied territories. All Palestinians from the occupied territories working legally in the country were employed on a daily basis and, unless employed on shift work, were not authorized to spend the night in the country.
Palestinian employees whose Israeli employers recruited them through the labor ministry received their wages and benefits through that ministry. Palestinian workers were not eligible for all National Insurance Institute (NII) benefits although the ministry deducted a union fee and required contributions to the NII. For example they did not receive unemployment insurance, general disability payments, or low-income supplements. Israeli employers directly paid Palestinian employees not employed through the labor ministry; the workers received the same benefits as those paid through the ministry.
According to agreement between the government and the Palestinian Authority (PA), employers paid an "equalization fee" to the Israeli Treasury, in the amount of the difference in cost between employing a (lower paid) foreign worker and an Israeli worker. The government stated that these sums would be forwarded to the PA when it established a national insurance institute.
Since 1993 the government has agreed to transfer the NII fees collected from Palestinian workers to the PA, which was to assume responsibility for all pensions and social benefits of Palestinians working in the country. As a prerequisite to transferring these funds, the PA was to have established mechanisms to provide these services in the PA-controlled territories. Subsequently, government officials have continued to withhold all of the PA payments pending its creation of a social security department to distribute the fees.
Following the outbreak of violence in 2000, the government's closure policy on the occupied territories prevented nearly all Palestinians from getting to employment in the country (see section 2.d.). Closures have continued periodically for the past five years. During periods of nonclosure, Palestinians required Israeli-issued permits to enter Israel. Permits may be issued for a single day or for periods of several months. Frequently, during closures, government authorities invalidated some or all existing valid permits, requiring even long-established travelers to secure new permits, often multiple times during the year. Accordingly, statistics on permit issuance and use do not reflect actual numbers of individual travelers allowed into the country. Many Palestinian laborers may have used the permits to make numerous entries; the government did not provide data as to how many different individual Palestinian laborers received work permits.
The Labor Inspection Service, along with union representatives, enforced labor, health, and safety standards in the workplace, although resource constraints affected overall enforcement.
Workers could not legally remove themselves from dangerous work situations without jeopardy to continued employment. Additionally, foreign workers risked immediate deportation. However, any worker could challenge unsafe work practices through government oversight and legal agencies. NGO and police reports continued to charge that unscrupulous employers sometimes forced illegal workers to live in situations amounting to involuntary servitude, because of the workers' vulnerable legal status and lack of recourse.
The law prohibits brokers and employers from collecting hiring fees from migrant workers. According to NGOs many foreign workers paid fees to brokers in their countries of origin to work in the country. The brokers then paid Israeli employers to hire the foreign workers. Some foreign workers reported paying fees in their home country, while others reported paying some fees, in cash, to brokers in Israel. Employers seeking to avoid paying workers' wages (and to receive brokerage fees for new workers) reportedly sometimes threatened violence and imprisonment to force existing workers to depart.
Public debate continued regarding non-Palestinian foreign workers. In October the industry, trade, and labor ministry and the immigration authority estimated such workers at between 127 thousand and 147 thousand. Legal workers came from many countries, including Jordan, Thailand, the Philippines, and Romania. Illegal workers came from Jordan, Eastern Europe, and Southeast Asia; they worked in the construction and agricultural sectors, and as domestic help.
The government estimated that, between January 1 and October 9, 21,566 foreign workers departed, with 7,235 deported or leaving involuntarily, and 14,331 departed voluntarily.
Human rights groups claimed that since foreign worker visas were tied to specific employment, even legal foreign workers had little influence on their work conditions.
The law does not permit foreign workers to obtain citizenship or permanent residence status unless they are Jewish. In June the government enacted a one-time program, valid to the end of the year, allowing children age 10 and above of foreign workers to become permanent residents and eventually citizens, if they were born and raised in the country and their parents entered the country legally. The government estimated that two thousand children and six thousand immediate family members would be eligible to become citizens under this provision; however, NGOs asserted that the numbers would be much lower. At year's end the government had received 228 applications for legalization under this new program, regarding 650 persons. NGOs cited these low numbers as evidence that the new program was too restrictive. At year's end the government had neither awarded nor denied citizenship to any applicant, although it approved 35 applications and began processing the necessary documentation.
NGOs alleged that Israeli and foreign traffickers lured foreign workers to the country with promises of jobs that proved nonexistent. Foreign workers reportedly paid up to $10 thousand (45 thousand NIS) to employment agencies for work visas. In a significant number of cases, according to NGOs, employers dismissed workers shortly after arriving. Allegedly the manpower companies worked with authorities to deport the newly arrived workers, who were then replaced by others, earning the companies additional fees. NGOs argued that most workers expected to work for the two-year duration of their visas to recoup their initial payments. Dismissed foreign workers who avoided deportation often sought illegal employment.
Workers may contest deportation orders in a special court, but often lacked fluency in Hebrew, placing them at a considerable disadvantage. At least three times during the year, deportation tribunal judges noted lack of translation services hindered the judicial process. On September 25, in response to an NGO petition to the supreme court, the government indicated work continued on the draft of a tender for translation services. According to NGOs the government had spent three years drafting the tender, and at year's end it had not been completed.
In March 2004 in response to judicial criticism concerning protracted detention of foreign workers, the attorney general ordered that they be brought before the court within four days of arrest. The government generally honored the attorney general's directive. NGOs assist workers facing deportation, and there have been cases when the worker's status was reinstated. For example, in May the Tel Aviv Labor Court ordered immigration police to return two Thai workers deported before they could testify in their civil and criminal cases against their employer for inhumane treatment. At year's end the workers' lawyer reported that the court was willing to accept their testimony without requiring their return.
The court also provided a forum where workers subject to deportation orders could claim unpaid wages or other benefits; however, NGOs reported that workers often were deported before they could lodge claims. NGOs also noted cases in which the police injured foreign workers during arrest (see section 1.c.).Country Reports on Human Rights Practices - 2005