Israel is a multiparty parliamentary democracy. "Basic laws" enumerate fundamental rights. The 120-member Knesset has the power to dissolve the Government and mandate elections. The current Knesset and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon were elected democratically in 2003. (An annex to this report covers human rights in the occupied territories. This report deals only with the situation in Israel itself.) The judiciary is independent and often ruled against the Executive, even in security cases.
During the year, a total of 76 Israeli civilians and four foreigners were killed as a result of Palestinian terrorist attacks in Israel and the occupied territories, and 41 members of the Israeli Defense Forces were killed in clashes with Palestinian militants. During the same period, more than 800 Palestinians were killed during Israeli military operations in the occupied territories.
Internal security is the responsibility of the Israel Security Agency (ISA or Shin Bet), which is under the authority of the Prime Minister. The National Police, which includes the Border Police and the Immigration Police, are under the Minister of Internal Security and the Minister of Interior respectively. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) are under the authority of a civilian Minister of Defense. The IDF includes a significant portion of the adult population on active duty or reserve status. The Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee in the Knesset oversees the IDF and the ISA. Security forces were under effective government control. Some members of the security forces committed serious abuses.
The country's population is approximately 6.8 million, including 5.2 million Jews, 1.3 million Arabs, and some 290,000 other minorities. It has an advanced industrial, market economy with a relatively high standard of living. Twenty one percent of the population lived below the poverty line in 2003. Unemployment was approximately 11 percent, and was higher among the Arab population. Foreign workers, both legal and illegal, constituted about 7 percent of the labor force.
The Government generally respected the human rights of its citizens; however, there were problems in some areas. Some members of the security forces abused Palestinian detainees. Conditions in some detention and interrogation facilities remained poor. During the year, the Government detained on security grounds but without charge thousands of persons in Israel. (Most were from the occupied territories and their situation is covered in the annex.) The Government did little to reduce institutional, legal, and societal discrimination against the country's Arab citizens. The Government did not recognize marriages performed by non-Orthodox rabbis, compelling many citizens to travel abroad to marry. The Government interfered with individual privacy in some instances.
Discrimination and societal violence against women persisted, although the Government continued to address these problems. Trafficking in and abuse of women and foreign workers continued to be problems. Discrimination against persons with disabilities persisted.
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 of politically motivated killings by the Government or its agents during the year.
Twelve Israeli-Arab and one Palestinian protestors were killed by police during October 2000 demonstrations (see Section 2. b.). The Orr Commission of Inquiry (COI) was established to investigate those killings. It recommended a number of measures, including criminal prosecutions. The Cabinet adopted those recommendations in June. At year's end, the Justice Ministry had not completed its investigations. In October, the Justice Minister appointed Assistant Commander Benzi Sau, one of the officers being investigated, to the position of Border Police staff commander. The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel (Adalah), an Israeli-Arab advocacy group, charged that this was a promotion. The Orr Commission specifically recommended that Sau not be promoted due to his involvement in the killings.
During the year, terrorist organizations such as the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas), Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PLFP), committed numerous acts of terrorism in Israel as well as in the occupied territories.
According to the Government, there was a 45 percent reduction in the number of Israelis killed in such attacks during the year due to the construction of a security barrier (see annex) and effective terrorist interdiction. Seventy-six Israeli civilians and 4 foreign nationals were killed, and over 394 were injured in terrorist attacks during the year. Forty-one Israeli security forces were killed and 195 injured. There were 13 suicide attacks during the year that resulted in 53 Israeli and 2 Palestinian deaths. In addition, eight suicide bombers killed only themselves. In contrast, 26 suicide attacks in 2003 caused 144 deaths.
In July 2003, the Border Police killed Morassi Jibali, an Israeli-Arab. Police claimed the car in which he was a passenger had failed to stop upon order, and that he had been mistaken for a terrorist. The driver claimed that he had tried to avoid the roadblock because he was driving without a license. According to Mossawa Advocacy Center for Arab Citizens of Israel (Mossawa), witnesses reported that the police did not warn the driver before firing and that police later prohibited medical personnel from treating Jibali. At year's end, the Ministry of Justice division for investigating police officers continued to investigate the incident.
In July 2003, police killed unarmed Bedouin, Nasser Abu al Qia'an, in his car at a junction. Police claimed he had tried to run them over but at least one witness disputed the police account, reporting that spikes in the road prevented any movement of the car. In September, the Ministry of Justice filed an indictment against the police officer, who was subsequently tried and found not guilty on the grounds of self-defense.
In September 2003, residents of an Arab community, Kafr Qassem, clashed with police searching for illegal immigrants. The police wounded one Israeli Arab when, according to police reports, village residents began to throw stones. According to Mossawa, at year's end, the police had either not investigated or had closed all cases against the police involved.
On January 29, a suicide bomber blew up a Jerusalem bus killing 11 Israelis and injuring 50. Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades and Hamas claimed responsibility. On August 31, twin suicide bombs exploded on buses in Be'er Sheva, killing 16 persons and injuring over 100. Hamas claimed responsibility.
On November 1, a suicide bombing in Tel Aviv killed 3 Israelis and wounded 30. The PFLP claimed responsibility. According to official Israeli data, the number of rocket and mortar attacks against Israeli targets increased over the year. Palestinian terrorists routinely fired rockets into Sderot, a town that borders the Gaza Strip. Qassam rocket attacks on June 28, and again on September 29, killed four residents of Sderot.
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, credible NGOs filed numerous complaints with the Government alleging that security forces tortured and abused Palestinian detainees. (The law regarding torture and allegations of torture of Palestinians by Israeli security officials is discussed in the annex to this report.)
The Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (PCATI) stated that no ISA officials had been tried on torture charges during the past 3 years.
In June, the Physicians for Human Rights in Israel (PHR) petitioned the Supreme Court to end what it termed the Israel Prison System's (IPS) "systematic abuse of prisoners" in the Sharon Prison. In July, the court decided to close the case after prisoner complaints ended with the appointment of a new prison warden. At year's end, PHR continued to investigate the complaints and had received relevant files from the police.
A special bureau in the Ministry of Justice reviews complaints against police officers and may impose disciplinary charges or issue indictments against officers. During the year, several judges criticized this bureau for launching faulty investigations against police officers who were later acquitted.
In January, two police officers were convicted of raping a foreign worker after they confiscated her work permit; each received a 2-year prison sentence.
In May, an official secretly recorded a senior immigration police officer stating that immigration police used excessive force when detaining foreign workers. The senior officer confirmed his statement to the media, but its accuracy was disputed by the Immigration Police spokesperson. At year's end, a Knesset Committee on Foreign Workers continued to investigate this matter.
The law provides detainees the right to live in conditions that do not harm their health or dignity. Conditions in IPS facilities, which house common law criminals and convicted security prisoners, and in IDF military incarceration camps, which hold convicted security prisoners, generally met international standards. The ICRC has access to these facilities. However, police detention and interrogation facilities for Palestinian were overcrowded and had austere, provisional conditions. In June 2003, the Supreme Court issued a permanent injunction prohibiting prisoners from being forced to sleep on the floor and mandated that every prisoner be provided a bed. Subsequently, the Minister of Internal Security stated that all persons held in the IPS would receive a bed, daily outdoor exercise, telephone and visitation rights, and less crowded facilities. In May, however, the IPS deputy warden told a Knesset committee that approximately 500 prisoners in the IPS, both security and criminal, slept nightly on prison floors because of a lack of beds.
Conditions at the Russian Compound interrogation center in Jerusalem remained harsh. According to a PHR report released in November 2003, prisoners in the Russian Compound holding cells were routinely handcuffed with their hands behind their backs to their feet, sometimes for hours. The PHR report also stated that medical examinations given to arriving prisoners were used to determine if the prisoner could withstand "the application of violent approaches to those jailed." A reputable international organization with access to this facility also reported during the year that it is investigating the use of Israeli doctors in this capacity.
Women and children in prison were held separately from the adult male population. Citizens 18 years and older and Palestinians 16 and older were treated as adults. The ICRC reported that, as of the end of December, the Government held 498 minor Palestinians, with the youngest being 13 years old. Defense for Children International and Save the Children charged that minors were being "physically and mentally abused," denied access to their families and legal representation during interrogation, and held in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions.
The ICRC regularly monitored IPS facilities, as well as IDF camps and detention facilities. Pursuant to a 1979 ICRC-Israel agreement, the ICRC does not have access to interrogation facilities but can meet with detainees under interrogation in designated areas of those facilities. NGOs generally were not permitted to monitor any incarceration facilities, including within the IPS, but could send lawyers and representatives to meet with prisoners in those facilities. According to PHR, the Israeli Bar Association and public defenders were permitted to inspect IPS facilities.
In December, in response to a petition to compel the Government to release information on a secret IDF detention facility, the Supreme Court ruled that the Government should not use secret interrogation facilities. The court gave the Government 60 days to respond to its undisclosed suggestions related to the secret facility.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, and the Government generally observed these prohibitions. (Palestinian security detainees fell under the jurisdiction of military law even if they were detained in Israel (see annex). When arrested, the accused 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 and decisions denying bail are subject to appeal. A citizen may be held without charge for 24 hours before he must be brought before a judge (48 hours for administrative detainees). If the detainee is suspected of committing a "security offense," the police and the courts can delay notification of counsel for up to 31 days. The Government may withhold evidence from defense lawyers on security grounds. In March, the Public Defender's Office charged that the police sometimes failed to apprise detainees of their rights under law and did not always provide detainees with legal counsel when required. The Public Defender's Office estimated that, as a result, approximately 500 persons were deprived of their rights to due process.
Foreign nationals detained for suspected violations of immigration law are afforded an immigration hearing within 4 days of detention, but do not have the right to legal representation. According to the local advocacy organization Hotline for Migrant Workers, appropriate interpreters were not always present at the hearings. Hotline received complaints from Israeli attorneys of being denied access to their foreign clients. According to Hotline, foreign detainees were rarely released pending judicial determination of their status. If the country of origin of the detainee had no representation in the country, detention could last for months, pending receipt of travel documents. During the year, there were credible allegations that the police knowingly detained and deported legal foreign workers to meet deportation quotas.
Pursuant to the 1979 Emergency Powers Law, the Ministry of Defense may order persons detained without charge or trial for up to 6 months in administrative detention, renewable indefinitely subject to district court review. Such detainees have the right to legal representation, but the court may rely on confidential information to which the defendant and his or her lawyer are not privy. Administrative detainees have the right to appeal their cases to the Supreme Court.
In September, Minister of Defense Shaul Mofaz ordered the 4-month administrative detention of Israeli citizen Tali Fahima based on confidential evidence that she was involved in terrorist activity. Fahima's appeal to the Supreme Court was denied in November. In December, she was released due to insufficient evidence, but was rearrested shortly thereafter when police presented additional evidence. Fahima remained in administrative detainee until later in December, when the Tel Aviv Magistrate's Court indicted her on criminal charges, which included assisting the enemy during wartime and passing information to the enemy. At year's end, she was detained pending trial.
In the past, human rights groups have alleged abuse of preventative or administrative detention orders in cases in which the accused did not pose a clear danger to society.
In 2000, the High Court ruled that detaining Lebanese captives indefinitely as "bargaining chips" violated the administrative detention law. In 2002, the Knesset passed the Illegal Combatant Law allowing the IDF to detain persons who are 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."
In January, the GOI released Mustafa Dirani, head of the security for the Amal militia; Sheikh Obeid, a Lebanese cleric; and some 25 other Lebanese prisoners held as enemy combatants in return for the 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. The Government also released 400 Palestinian prisoners and another 9 foreign prisoners in addition to the Lebanese. In October 2003, the Tel Aviv District Court disclosed that a Lebanese citizen, imprisoned in the country for 5 years but eligible for release, had been detained under administrative detention for the past year because the IDF decreed him an illegal combatant. He was released and repatriated in December.
According to a reputable international organization, at year's end one Lebanese national remained in Israeli detention.
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 an appellate court (when it sits as the Supreme Court). All courts in the judicial system, including the High Court of Justice, thus have appellate courts of jurisdiction. Religious courts, representing the main recognized religious groups, 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 rather than juries decide cases.
Nonsecurity trials are public except in cases in which the interests of the parties are determined to be best served by privacy. Security or military trials are open to independent observers upon request and at the discretion of the court, but they are not open to the general public. The law provides for the right to a hearing with legal representation, and authorities generally observed this right in practice. In cases of serious felonies-subject to penalties of 10 years or more-indigent defendants receive mandatory legal representation. Indigent defendants facing lesser sentences are provided with representation on a discretionary basis. Counsel represented approximately 70 percent of defendants.
The 1970 regulations governing military trials are the same as evidentiary rules in criminal cases. Convictions may not be based solely on confessions; however, according to PCATI, in practice, some security prisoners have been sentenced on the basis of the coerced confessions made by both themselves and others. Counsel may assist the accused, and a judge may assign counsel to those defendants when the judge deems it necessary. Indigent detainees are not provided with free legal representation for military trials. Charges are made available to the defendant and the public in Hebrew, and the court can order that they be translated into Arabic if necessary. Sentencing procedures in military courts were consistent with those in criminal courts. Defendants in military trials have the right to appeal through the Military High Court. Defendants in military trials also can petition the civilian High Court of Justice (sitting as a court of first instance) in cases in which they believe there are procedural or evidentiary irregularities.
According to a 2003 Haifa University study, a tendency existed to impose heavier prison terms to Arab citizens than to Jewish citizens. Human rights advocates claimed that Arab citizens were more likely to be convicted of murder and to have been denied bail.
In May, three Israeli Arabs were released after having been detained for 10 months in prison when the police arrested new suspects for the July 2003 murder of IDF corporal Oleg Shaigat. One of those released publicly stated that his confession was coerced. According to the Government, it will conduct an official examination of this case.
Human rights NGOs charged that the former mayor of the Arab city of Umm al-Fahm, Sheikh Raed Salah, who was arrested in May 2003 for allegedly funneling money to terrorist organizations, has been unfairly denied bail despite his status and community ties. At year's end, his case was still pending.
There were no reports of political prisoners.
f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The law generally protected privacy of the individual and the home. In criminal cases, the law permits wiretapping under court order; in security cases, the Ministry of Defense must issue the order. Under emergency regulations, authorities may open and destroy mail based on security considerations.
In May, 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 only marry in Orthodox Jewish services. Jews and members of other religious communities who wish to have a civil marriage, Jews who wish to marry according to Reform or Conservative Judaism, those not recognized as being Jewish, and those marrying someone from another faith, must marry abroad in order to gain government recognition of their unions. While civil marriages are available in nearby Cyprus and are recognized by the Government, this requirement presents a hardship. In July, the Knesset extended for 6 months the 2003 law that prohibits citizens' Palestinian spouses from the occupied territories from residing in the country (see Section 5).
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. The law prohibits hate speech and incitement to violence, and the 1948 Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance makes it illegal for persons to express support for illegal or terrorist organizations. In previous years, the Government has prosecuted persons for allegedly speaking or writing on behalf of terrorist groups; however, there were no such incidents during the year.
On May 25, the ISA detained for 2 days British journalist Peter Hounam following his meeting with nuclear whistleblower Mordechai Vanunu, who was released in April after serving 18 years in prison (see Section 2.d.). The terms of Vanunu's release prohibited him from meeting with the foreign press unless approved by the Government. On November 11, police re-arrested Vanunu for meeting foreign media in violation of the terms of his release and confiscated his computer. Vanunu acknowledged the violation, and was released after 12 hours. Vanunu's computer had not been returned by year's end.
In June, Arab Knesset Members Ahmed Tibi and Taleb el-Sana were censured by the Knesset Ethics Committee for harshly criticizing IDF operations in Gaza. The Committee banned Tibi and el-Sana from attending Knesset sessions for 1 and 2 days, respectively.
In September, the Supreme Court upheld its original ruling overturning the Film Council's ban on the screening of the film, "Jenin, Jenin," which depicts fighting in the West Bank refugee camp in Jenin during April 2002. In its decision, the Supreme Court reasoned that a ban on the film was an undue infringement on freedom of expression.
Arab Knesset Member Azmi Bishara was indicted (after the Knesset lifted his immunity) for making statements allegedly supportive of Hezbollah during 2000 visits to Syria (a country still in a state of war with Israel) and to the Israeli-Arab city of Umm al-Fahm. In November, the Supreme Court held a hearing on a petition filed by Adalah to dismiss the charges. At year's end, the case was still pending.
As a general rule, Israeli media covered the occupied territories, except for combat zones where access was restricted. In general, journalists continued to claim that the Government placed limitations on their freedom of movement within the occupied territories. The Government claimed such restrictions were necessary for the security of the journalists.
There were several allegations from foreign media that the IDF fired upon journalists (see annex).
In August, the Supreme Court ruled that the Government Press Office could not apply a blanket refusal to issue press credentials to facilitate access to official events to Palestinians from the occupied territories. The Court reasoned that such a blanket policy did not properly balance freedom of the press and national security.
All newspapers are privately owned and managed. According to the Journalism Ordinance dating from the British Mandate, anyone wishing to publish a newspaper must apply for a license from the locality. The ordinance also allows the Minister of Interior, under certain conditions, to close a newspaper. In November, the High Court heard a petition filed by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) challenging the ordinance; at year's end, the court had not reached a decision.
The country has 12 daily newspapers, 90 weekly newspapers, more than 250 periodical publications, and a number of Internet news sites.
The quasi-independent Israel Broadcast Authority controls television Channel 1 and Kol Israel (Voice of Israel) radio, both major sources of news and information. The Second Television and Radio Authority, a public body, supervises the two privately owned commercial television channels and 14 privately owned radio stations. There are three cable and one satellite television companies that carry international networks and shows specifically produced for the domestic audience.
The law authorizes the Government to censor any material reported from the country or the occupied territories that it regards as sensitive on national security grounds. A censorship agreement between the Government and media representatives provides for military censorship only in cases involving issues that are nearly certain to harm the country's defense interests. Media organizations may appeal the censor's decision to the High Court of Justice, and they are not subject to closure by the military censor for censorship violations. The military censor cannot appeal a court judgment. Foreign journalists were required to sign an agreement upon receiving their press cards in which they agreed to submit sensitive articles and photographs to the military censor. In practice, they rarely complied; however, the censor reviewed such material after the fact. News printed or broadcast abroad may be reported without censorship. During the year, there were instances of newspapers being fined for violating censorship regulations.
The Government generally respected academic freedom; however, ISA approval was needed for appointments of teachers and administrators in Arab schools. In August, members of a Knesset committee reviewing the status of the Arab education system criticized this practice.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The law provides for freedom of assembly and association, and the Government generally respected these rights in practice. ACRI reported that the police confiscated posters from both right and left wing demonstrations during the year, including posters referring to Prime Minister Sharon as a "dictator."
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. The Basic Law and Declaration of Independence recognize the country as a "Jewish and democratic state," establishing Judaism as the country's dominant religion. Civil rights NGOs have accurately charged the Government with the discriminatory allocation of state resources favoring Orthodox Jewish institutions.
Religious communities are conferred recognition under the law, enabling them to exercise legal authority over their members in personal status matters, such as marriage and divorce. These communities included the Eastern Orthodox Church, several Catholic orders, Maronites, and Jews. Three additional communities have been recognized-the Druze, the Evangelical Episcopal Church, and the Baha'i. Several religious communities are not recognized, including Protestant groups. Unrecognized communities may practice their religion freely and maintain communal institutions, but are ineligible to receive government funding for religious services.
The fact that there was no recognized Muslim community is a vestige of the Ottoman period, during which time Islam was the dominant religion, and did not affect the rights of Muslims to practice their faith. Legislation enacted in 1961 afforded the Muslim courts exclusive jurisdiction to rule in matters of personal status concerning Muslims. Secular courts have primacy over questions of inheritance, but parties, by mutual agreement, may bring cases to religious courts. Muslims, since 2001, also have the right to bring matters such as alimony and property division associated with divorce cases to civil courts in family-status matters.
Under the Law of Return, the Government grants citizenship and residence rights to Jewish immigrants and their immediate family members. In May, the High Court held that non-Jews who immigrate to the country and then convert according to Orthodox requirements are eligible to become citizens pursuant to the Law of Return. The court let stand the State's practice of not recognizing conversions to Judaism performed in the country by non-Orthodox rabbis.
In December, ACRI released a report charging that the Ministry of Interior's Population Authority sought to prevent non-Jews--particularly spouses of Israeli citizens--from obtaining residential status.
Many citizens objected to exclusive Orthodox control over religious aspects of their personal lives. Approximately 300,000 citizens who immigrated under the Law of Return are not considered Jewish by the Orthodox Rabbinate. These immigrants cannot be married, divorced, or buried within the country. A 1996 law requiring the Government to establish civil cemeteries has not been implemented adequately. Non-Jews and Jews who wish to marry in Reform, Conservative, or secular ceremonies must do so abroad.
Non-Orthodox Jews faced greater difficulties than Orthodox Jews in adopting children. In December, on petition of the Israeli Religious Action Center (IRAC), the High Court of Justice ordered the Government to justify the Adoption Service of the Ministry of Social Affairs' practice of placing non-Jewish children only in Orthodox Jewish homes.
According to IRAC, the budget for Jewish religious services, institutions, and schools for the year was approximately $450 million (1.9 billion New Israeli shekels (NIS)), and virtually none of this went to non-Orthodox institutions. Also according to IRAC, the budget for the non-Jewish population was approximately $9 million (40 million NIS)--2 percent of the budget for 18 percent of the population.
Muslim groups complained that the Government does not equitably fund the construction and upkeep of Muslim holy sites in comparison to Jewish Orthodox sites. It charged that the Government was reluctant to refurbish mosques in areas where there is no longer a Muslim population and has allowed mosques to be used for nonreligious purposes. The 1967 Protection of Holy Sites Law protects all holy sites, but the Government has only issued implementing regulations for Jewish sites. In November, Adalah petitioned the Supreme Court to compel the Government to issue regulations to protect Muslim sites, charging the Government's failure to implement regulations had resulted in desecration and the conversion of some into commercial establishments, including bars.
Since 2000, the Government no longer requires Israeli Muslims to obtain permission from the Interior Ministry to travel to Saudi Arabia on the Hajj.
During 2003, the Government refused to grant residence visas to approximately 130 Catholic clergy assigned by the Vatican to the country and the occupied territories. According to representatives of Christian institutions, the process of visa issuance for religious workers significantly improved during the year. The Interior Ministry's Christian Department reported it had approved most of the 3,000 applications made by clergy during the year.
During the year, there were reports that airport immigration deported non-Jews with mutilated passports, whereas Jews with damaged travel documents were allowed entry.
Missionaries were allowed to proselytize, although the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints voluntarily refrained from doing so under an agreement with the Government. There were incidents of societal religious intolerance. In October, a yeshiva student spat at the Armenian archbishop of Jerusalem. The student was arrested and ordered to remain away from the Old City for 75 days. He also made a formal apology. There were incidents where ultra-Orthodox Jews threw rocks at motorists to protest their driving on the Sabbath.
In January, the Government recognized the duly elected Greek Orthodox Patriarch, Eirinaios I; however, a legal challenge delayed implementation until March. Eirinaios I was elected in 2001, but had been unable to conclude financial or legal arrangements on behalf of the Patriarchate. However, he had been free to travel to the West Bank and Syria, where he is also the ecclesiastical authority.
For a more detailed discussion, see the 2004 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. (Restrictions on movement within the occupied territories, between the territories and Israel, and the construction of a security barrier are discussed in the annex.)
Citizens generally were free to travel abroad and to emigrate, provided they had no outstanding military obligations and were not restricted by administrative order. Pursuant to the 1945 State of Emergency Regulations, the Government may bar citizens from leaving the country based on security considerations. In April, the Government released Mordechai Vanunu after he served 18 years in prison for revealing details of the country's nuclear program to a British newspaper, the Sunday Times. Upon release, the Government prohibited Vanunu from going within 500 meters of airports and overland border crossings, and from entering any foreign diplomatic offices. Citing security concerns, the Minister of Interior barred Vanunu from leaving the country for 12 months. On December 24, Vanunu was detained at a checkpoint when he attempted to travel to Bethlehem for midnight mass; he was released the next day (see Section 2. a.)
Citing confidential security reasons, in 2002, the Government imposed and renewed 6-month bans on foreign travel for Sheik Raed Salah, leader of the Northern Branch of Israel's Islamic Movement. In May 2003, Sheikh Salah was arrested for allegedly providing funds to terrorist groups. His trial was ongoing during the year.
Citizens, including dual nationals, are required to enter and leave the country using their Israeli passports only. In addition, no citizen or passport holder is permitted to travel to countries officially at war with Israel without special permission from the Government.
Advocacy groups challenged the 2003 temporary Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law, which bars Palestinians from the occupied territories from acquiring residence or citizenship rights through marriage to Israelis or to Palestinian residents of Jerusalem. These groups claimed that the law has a disproportionate adverse effect on the country's Arab citizens and residents (see Section 5).
In 2002, the police confiscated the passport of Archimandrite Attallah Hanna, a citizen and a priest with the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate, for allegedly visiting Lebanon without permission and for making public statements hostile toward Israel while there. The case against Hanna was closed in January after Hanna signed a declaration renouncing terrorism. At year's end, Hanna claimed that he had not received a response to his application for a passport.
The law prohibits forced exile of citizens, and the Government generally respected this prohibition in practice.
The Government provides refugees all the protections under the 1951 U.N. Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees or its 1967 Protocol and has established a system whereby persons can apply for refugee status. Palestinians were considered under the protection of the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees and therefore not eligible for refugee status in the country.
The Government cooperated with the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in assisting Jewish refugees. The Government also provided temporary protection to individuals who may not qualify as refugees under the 1951 Convention or 1967 Protocol. The Government provided temporary humanitarian protection to persons from "conflict countries," including Sierra Leone, Liberia, Cote d'Ivoire, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Some individuals present on tourist or work visas, or illegally, filed petitions with the local UNHCR representative seeking refugee status. The UNHCR referred eligible refugee applicants to the National Status Granting Body (NSGB), a committee consisting of representatives of the Justice, Foreign, and Interior Ministries. The NSGB issued recommendations, with the Ministry of Interior making final adjudication on refugee status. The Tel Aviv University Refugee Rights Clinic charged that the NSGB's procedures were not transparent, that it did not publish data, and that applicants who were denied status by the NSGB often were not given a reason for the denial.
The Government did not return those denied refugee status to their home countries against their will. According to the Tel Aviv University Clinic, some of those denied refugee status could remain in detention facilities for months. In the case of 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 it did not provide them with social benefits. If a person was granted refugee status, it was government policy to grant 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 for adult citizens. National elections were held in January 2003, when the Likud Party led by Ariel Sharon again won a plurality of Knesset seats, and Sharon was asked to form a Government of which he became Prime Minister. The country is a parliamentary democracy with an active multiparty system in which political views are wide ranging. Relatively small parties, including those whose primary support was among Israeli Arabs, regularly win seats in the Knesset. Elections are by secret ballot.
In March, the State Comptroller discovered the names of 2,298 citizens age 110 or over in the voter registry, and determined that ballots had been cast in the names of some of these individuals. The Comptroller recommended that the Ministry of Interior investigate the registry's data to prevent fraud.
The Basic Law prohibits the candidacy of any party or individual who denies the Jewish character and democratic existence of the State of Israel, incites racism, or supports in action or speech the armed struggle of enemy states or terror organizations. Prior to the 2003 election, there were efforts to disqualify Arab candidates under the provisions of this law; however, they were overturned by the Supreme Court.
In June, the Attorney General exonerated Prime Minister Sharon of allegations that he accepted bribes while serving as foreign minister in 1999. The Attorney General continued to review the Prime Minister's connections to the so-called "Cyril Kern Affair," in which he was alleged to have engaged in questionable financial dealings to refund illegal campaign contributions.
On July 11, the Prime Minister dismissed Minister of Infrastructure and Knesset Member Josef Paritzky from his cabinet seat after Channel 1 Television broadcast a tape of Paritzky allegedly plotting with a private detective to defame a party rival.
In September, Knesset Member Tzachi Hanegbi was suspended from his post as Minister of Public Security, pending a criminal investigation into allegations he made inappropriate political appointments while serving as environment minister from 2001-03. At year's end, there had been no further developments.
There was an increasing public perception of corruption in the executive and legislative branches.
A 2000 law affords the public access to government information, and citizens could petition for such access. According to the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, the Government does not effectively implement its freedom of information act; consequently, information was not always easy to obtain.
There were 18 women in the 120-member Knesset, and women chaired 6 of the Knesset's 21 committees, including the Committee on the Status of Women. There were 3 women in the Cabinet and 6 women on the 14-member High Court of Justice. There were 11 Arabs, including 2 Druze, in the 120-member Knesset; most of these 11 represented parties that derived their support largely or entirely from the Arab community. In March, for the first time since the establishment of the State, an Arab was appointed as a permanent justice to the High Court of Justice. No Muslim or Druze citizens served on the court.
Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
Following a visit in November 2003, the World Organization Against Torture and the International Federation for Human Rights concluded in a study that human rights groups were able to perform a full range of investigative and protective activities in the country "without major difficulties."
In November 2003, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs established a new liaison unit to develop and maintain relations with international and domestic NGOs, assist domestic NGOs to participate in U.N. and other international fora, and to facilitate international NGOs' visits to the country.
During the year, the Ministry of Interior, operating under a 2002 order, barred entry to all foreign nationals affiliated with certain Palestinian human rights NGOs and solidarity organizations. In July, immigration police detained a U.S. citizen for over a month at Ben Gurion Airport on security grounds before a district court ruled that she could enter. The U.S. citizen was affiliated with the International Solidarity Movement, a Palestinian advocacy NGO.
In February, the Ministry of Interior sustained the appeal of Adalah against the decision of the Office of the Registrar of Associations to investigate its activities. The registrar had contended that Adalah exceeded its mandate by associating with a political party and mismanaging its finances.
NGOs must register with the Government by submitting an application and paying approximately $20 (85 NIS). They operate under the laws for nonprofit organizations. If its application is approved after investigation, the NGO receives a license to operate and must register with the tax office to receive tax-exempt status. Registered NGOs are eligible to receive state funding. Some Israeli-Arab NGOs have complained in the past of difficulties in both registering and receiving state funding.
(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 sex, marital status, race, political beliefs, or age. Local human rights groups believed that often these laws were not enforced, either due to institutionalized discrimination or lack of resources.
The Equality of Women Law provides for equal rights for women in the workplace, the military, education, health, housing, and social welfare, and entitles women to protection from violence, sexual harassment, sexual exploitation, and trafficking; however, violence against women was a problem. According to an annual government report released in March, approximately 140,000 women-almost 12 percent of the country's adult women population-reported that they suffered from spousal abuse in 2003. The Ministry of Welfare and several Knesset committees, including the Domestic Violence Committee, have taken steps to address this problem. A wide variety of women's organizations and hotlines provided services to abused women. One organization reported that it handled approximately 1,300 hotline calls regarding domestic violence in 2003 with calls from women double those from men.
Rape is illegal; NGOs considered the incidence of rape a matter of concern.
In 2001, the Government enacted the Prevention of Stalking Law and amended the Prevention of Family Violence Law to require a number of public and private sector professional personnel to inform suspected victims of their right to turn to the police, welfare service, or Centers for the Prevention of Domestic Violence for assistance. There were no accurate statistics regarding the extent of sexual harassment in the workplace, although there was a dramatic increase in the number of complaints following the enactment of the 1998 law prohibiting sexual harassment. According to a government report issued in July, the 65 cases of sexual harassment recorded in 2003 in the public sector resulted in 12 employees facing internal disciplinary action (warnings) and 2 male employees being forced to resign. Currently, 13 public employees accused of harassment face trial.
According to IDF data, 358 soldiers complained of sexual harassment during the year, an increase of 3 percent from 2003. Male soldiers made 14 of the complaints.
In 2003, a women's organization reported three cases of Arab women killed by male relatives in "honor" cases, and that a Bedouin women's organization suspected 10 cases of women disappearing in the Negev to involve honor killings. There was no accurate estimate of the number of family honor cases as families often attempted to cover up the cause of such deaths.
Prostitution is not illegal; however, the operation of brothels and organized sex enterprises is outlawed.
The law provides for class action suits and requires employers to provide equal pay for equal work, including benefits and allowances; however, women's rights advocates claimed that significant wage gaps remained. According to figures published in March by the Central Bureau of Statistics, men's wages in 2002 were 23 percent higher than women's earnings. Women make up 56 percent of the bottom echelon of wage earners, but they are only 34 percent of the top echelon.
Religious courts adjudicate personal status law. Jewish and Muslim women are subject to restrictive interpretations of their rights in both systems. Jewish women are not allowed to initiate divorce proceedings without their husbands' consent. Consequently, there were estimated to be thousands of so-called "agunot" who 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. A foreign man was jailed for over 2 years because he refused to grant his wife a writ of divorce. Some Islamic law courts in the country have held that a Muslim woman may not request a divorce, but that a woman may be forced to consent if a divorce is granted to the husband.
Government spending on children was proportionally lower in predominantly Arab areas than in Jewish areas. In December 2003, the Child Welfare Council of Israel published a report that children in the country were growing poorer, and increasingly falling victim to violence, sexual exploitation, and drug and alcohol addiction. In November, the National Insurance Institute's (NIS) annual report on poverty showed that approximately 680,000 children, or 30 percent of the total child population, lived below the poverty line in 2003. However, some economists disputed the NIS' definition of poverty as overly broad. In October the Eli child protection organization reported to a Knesset committee that in 2003 it addressed 3,599 child abuse cases, as compared to 699 in 2000. The group attributed the increase in part to a new law requiring reporting of such abuse. The group claimed that child abuse cases in the country increased five-fold after 2000.
On February 9, Elem, an NGO that aids troubled youth, estimated that there were more than 1,000 women under the age of 18 who work as prostitutes.
Education is compulsory until the child reaches the 10th grade.
The Government operated two school systems: One for secular Jews and Arabs, and one for Orthodox Jews. Ultra-Orthodox Jewish schools, while not a part of the public system, also received government funding. In December, the National Task Force for the Advancement of Education in Israel (the Dovrat Committee) issued a report including recommendations that would affect ultra-Orthodox schools. Ultra-Orthodox political parties, such as the United Torah Judaism, opposed interference by the Government in its school system.
Most Jewish children attended schools where the language of instruction was Hebrew and the curriculum included Jewish history. Most Israeli-Arab children chose schools where the language of instruction was Arabic and the curriculum had less of a Jewish focus. Israeli-Arab advocacy groups charged that Arab children received an education inferior to that of Jewish children in the secular system.
According to the Government's February 2002 report to the U.N., government investment per Arab pupil was approximately 60 percent of investment per Jewish pupil.
High school graduation rates for Arabs were significantly lower than for Jews. According to an Israeli-Arab advocacy group, the percentage of Jews beginning university studies was 21.5 percent compared with 11.5 percent of those defined as "members of other religions," mostly Arabs. Preschool attendance for Bedouin children was the lowest in the country, and the dropout rate for Bedouin high school students was the highest. Arab members of the Knesset have criticized the lower academic achievements of Arab students and stated that this was an indication of discrimination in the system.
The Government has legislated against sexual, physical, and psychological abuse of children and has mandated comprehensive reporting requirements. The sharp increase in reported cases of child abuse in recent years, activists believed, was due to increased awareness rather than a growing pattern of abuse. There were five shelters for children at risk of abuse.
Trafficking in Persons
The law prohibits trafficking in women for the purpose of sexual exploitation; however, trafficking of women for prostitution remained a serious problem. Trafficking in foreign labor has also been a problem. The penal code stipulates that it is a criminal offense, punishable by between 4 and 20 years imprisonment, to coerce a person to engage in prostitution 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 outlawed, as are many of the abuses committed by traffickers and procurers, such as assault, rape, abduction, and false imprisonment; however, brothels operated in several major cities. The law guarantees foreign laborers legal status, decent working conditions, health insurance, and a written employment contract; however, some foreign laborers entered the country under conditions that constituted trafficking. Numerous reports documented 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 these women by offers of service jobs. Foreign laborers came mainly from Southeast Asia, East Asia, Africa, Turkey, Eastern Europe (Romania), and South and Central America. Some women were sold to brothels, forced to live in harsh conditions, subjected to beatings and rape, and reportedly forced to work off transportation costs and other "debts" through sexual servitude. In September, police arrested 40 suspected members of a Russian-Israeli prostitute smuggling ring which, according to a major media report, the police believed had brought hundreds of women into the country over the past decade. According to local NGOs, several hundred women are trafficked into the country annually, but the number decreased from previous years because of increased airport security.
During the year, the Government strengthened its laws for fighting trafficking and established a new border police unit to combat smuggling of persons and drugs across the border with Egypt. A 2003 law provides minimum sentencing requirements for convicted sex traffickers. During the year, the Government filed 89 indictments for trafficking. Also, the police conducted 50 criminal investigations of trafficking and 516 involving related offenses. During the year, the police arrested 103 persons for trafficking, 69 of whom were denied bail. The prosecution division of the Ministry of Trade and Labor filed 309 criminal indictments against employers and manpower firms for violations of labor laws concerned with employment of foreign workers. The Government received 88 judgments against violators during the year, for a combined sum in criminal fines of approximately $3 million (13.5 million NIS).
The Government investigated allegations that individual police officers engaged in misconduct, including taking bribes or tipping off brothels of raids, but these instances of corruption were not widespread.
In February, the Government opened a new, 50-person-capacity shelter for trafficking victims. As of the end of the year, it was almost filled to capacity, and NGOs claimed that additional shelters were needed. The Government continued to provide some victims with lodging in police-funded hostels, minimal financial assistance, and access to medical care. Trafficking victims who are willing to assist in prosecuting traffickers, are not prosecuted or fined for illegal entry or for the possession of fraudulent documents, and receive visas and permits. According to the Government, during the year, 108 trafficking victims chose to testify, compared to 81 victims in 2003. In August 2003, the State Attorney's office, the police, and the Knesset urged the courts to speed up the process of taking testimony from trafficking victims; the law stipulates that testimony must be taken within 2 months of the indictment of suspected traffickers, but some victims have waited as long as 18 months.
In comparison with previous years, the Government increased its campaign to combat trafficking, and cooperated with local NGOs to launch an information campaign in countries of origin. With assistance of NGOs, the Government distributed brochures through its embassies in such source countries as Moldova and Uzbekistan, warning potential victims of the threat.
Persons with Disabilities
The Government provided a range of benefits, including income maintenance, housing subsidies, and transportation support for persons with disabilities, who constituted approximately 2.4 percent of the population. Existing antidiscrimination laws do not prohibit discrimination based on disability, and persons with disabilities continued to encounter difficulties in areas such as employment and housing. A law requiring access to public buildings for persons with disabilities was not widely enforced and accessibility of public transportation was not legally mandated. A 2002 survey of buildings by the Commissioner for Equality for the Disabled indicated that most building owners have ignored access laws for persons with disabilities. The commissioner also accused the Government of not adequately providing for the employment needs of the persons with disabilities, despite legal requirements to do so. In December 2003, the Attorney General told the Knesset committee that laws protecting and assisting persons with disabilities were not being implemented due mainly to a lack of funding.
The Orr Commission of Inquiry's report (see Section 1.a.) stated that the "Government handling of the Arab sector has been primarily neglectful and discriminatory," that the Government "did not show sufficient sensitivity to the needs of the Arab population, and did not take enough action to allocate state resources in an equal manner." As a result, "serious distress prevailed in the Arab sector in various areas. Evidence of distress included poverty, unemployment, a shortage of land, serious problems in the education system, and substantially defective infrastructure."
In June, the Government adopted the proposals of a special ministerial committee on implementing the Orr Commission's recommendations, including the establishment of a government body to promote the Arab sector, the 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 had not implemented these proposals.
In December, the Knesset established a new subcommittee charged with monitoring the needs of the Israeli-Arab sector and advocating necessary alterations in the budget. The subcommittee is to be chaired by an Israeli-Arab Knesset member.
In November, the Israeli-Arab advocacy NGO Sikkuy's annual report stated that 45 percent of Arab families were poor, in contrast to 15 percent of Jewish families, and that the rate of infant mortality in the Arab sector was 8 out of 1,000 births--twice that of the Jewish population. According to Human Rights Watch, during the year, the Government provided 1 teacher for every 16 Jewish primary school children compared to 1 teacher for every 19.7 Arab children.
According to a report by Mossawa, racist violence against Arab citizens has increased, and the Government has not done enough to prevent this problem. The annual report cited 17 acts of violence by Jewish citizens against Arab citizens. In October, police arrested two 15-year-old boys for allegedly assaulting and harassing Arabs several months earlier. The two youths reportedly have admitted to the allegations against them. Advocacy groups charged government officials with making racist statements. In December, Knesset member Yehiel Hazan likened Arabs to "worms" in a speech in the Knesset on a terrorist attack. The Attorney General declined to open investigations into incitement by several public figures, including Hazan.
In June, the Jerusalem District Court filed six indictments against fans of a local soccer team for shouting "death to the Arabs" at the local stadium. In May, then-Transportation Minister Avigdor Lieberman publicly advocated the transfer of Israeli-Arab communities to the occupied territories. A Haifa University poll released in June revealed that over 63 percent of Jews believed that the Government should encourage Israeli Arabs to emigrate.
Approximately 93 percent of land in the country was public domain, including that owned by the state and some 12.5 percent owned by the Jewish National Fund (JNF). All public land by law may only be leased, not sold. The JNF's statutes prohibit the sale or lease of land to non-Jews. In October, civil rights groups petitioned the High Court of Justice claiming that a bid announcement by the Israel Land Administration (ILA) involving JNF land was discriminatory in that it banned Arabs from bidding. The ILA halted marketing JNF land in the North and the Galilee. In December, Adalah petitioned the High Court to annul definitively the ILA policy. At year's end, there had been no court action.
The Jewish community of Katzir had refused to provide an Israeli-Arab family, the Ka'adans, with title to a plot of land. In 2000, the High Court of Justice ruled that the Government cannot discriminate against Israeli Arabs in the distribution of State resources, and that the ILA must provide the Ka'adans with the plot they wanted to buy. According to ACRI, the Ka'adans will be able to sign a lease upon payment of a development fee to the local municipality.
Israeli-Arab advocacy organizations have challenged the Government's policy of demolishing illegal buildings in the Arab sector, and claimed that the Government was more restrictive in issuing building permits in Arab communities than in Jewish communities, thereby not accommodating natural growth. In February, security forces demolished several homes allegedly built without authorization in the Arab village of Beineh (see Section 1.c.). 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, some half of which currently lack such plans. In towns without plans, and in 46 unrecognized Bedouin villages, building permits are not legally available. Israeli-Arab advocacy organizations have challenged the Government's plan to demolish more illegal buildings in areas in which it is not possible to obtain building permits.
In June, 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.
Israeli-Arab organizations have challenged as discriminatory the 1996 "Master Plan for the Northern Areas of Israel," which listed as priority goals increasing the Galilee's Jewish population and blocking the territorial contiguity of Arab towns. Objections were presented at a hearing in March 2003, but there was no response from the National Council for Building and Planning. The plan had not been implemented at year's end.
On February 25, security forces demolished several homes in the Arab village of Beineh, claiming that the houses were built illegally. Adalah filed a complaint in April with the Ministry of Justice charging that security forces assaulted residents of Beineh in their homes and caused widespread property damage during the demolitions. At year's end, the Justice Ministry was still investigating the incident.
Israeli Arabs were underrepresented in the student bodies and faculties of most universities and in higher professional and business ranks. The Bureau of Statistics noted that the median number of school years for the Jewish population is 3 years more than for the Arab population. Well educated Arabs often were unable to find jobs commensurate with their level of education. According to Sikkuy, Arab citizens held approximately 60 to 70 of the country's 5,000 university faculty positions. A small number of Israeli Arabs have risen to responsible positions in the civil service, generally in the Arab departments of government ministries. In September 2003, the Government approved an affirmative action plan to promote the hiring of Israeli Arabs in the civil service. However, according to Civil Service Commission data, only 5.05 percent of civil servants are Arab or Druze and only 193 of the 4,531 civil servants hired in 2003 were non-Jewish.
In January, in order to implement a 2000 law requiring that minorities be granted "appropriate representation" in the civil service and on the boards of government corporations, Prime Minister Sharon mandated that every state-run company's corporate board must have at least one Arab member by August. In June, the media reported that the number of Arabs sitting on the boards of state corporations actually had declined. According to data from the Government Companies Authority, Arabs were only 36 out of the 544 board members of state-run companies.
Israeli Arabs continued to complain of discriminatory treatment at the airport. In February, Ben Gurion Airport security officials singled out the editor of an Arab weekly, Lutfi Mashour, from his Jewish colleagues for additional security checks before he could join the press entourage, whose individual members President Moshe Katsav had invited to accompany him to Paris. Mashour refused to subject himself to the checks, and security officials prevented him from accompanying the President.
Israeli Arabs were not required to perform mandatory military service and, in practice, only a small percentage of Israeli Arabs served in the military. Those who did not serve in the army had less access than other citizens to social and economic benefits for which military service was a prerequisite or an advantage, such as housing, new-household subsidies, and employment, especially government or security-related industrial employment. Regarding the latter, for security reasons, Israeli Arabs generally were restricted from working in companies with defense contracts or in security-related fields. In December, the Ivri Committee on National Service issued official recommendations to the Government that Israel Arabs not be compelled to perform national or "civic" service, but be afforded an opportunity to perform such service.
The Israeli Druze and Circassian communities were subject to the military draft, and the overwhelming majority accepted service willingly. Some Bedouin and other Arab citizens who were not subject to the draft served voluntarily.
The Bedouin sector was the weakest of all the population groups in the country. The COI report called for "special attention" to the living conditions of the Bedouin community. Approximately 140,000 Bedouin live in the Negev; half in 7 state-planned communities, and the rest in 46 unrecognized settlements. The recognized Bedouin villages received basic services, but remained among the poorest communities in the country. According to a media report, some "60 percent of the community's babies are not inoculated, the school dropout rate is exceedingly high, and 31 percent of school-age children in unrecognized settlements are illiterate." According to PHR, the unrecognized villages were not connected to national infrastructure and lacked basic services.
In March, the Supreme Court issued a temporary injunction to prevent the ILA from spraying herbicide on Bedouin crops in unrecognized villages. Adalah alleged that the herbicide has caused adverse health effects; the ILA claimed that the crops were planted illegally on state-owned land.
During the year, the Government began to implement a plan to relocate Bedouin living in unrecognized villages to seven new townships. Nearly two-thirds of the plan's $225 million (1 billion NIS) allocation is earmarked for "environmental law enforcement in the Negev," which included resources for crop-spraying and home demolitions.
Government planners noted that funds to complete the seven new townships were far from sufficient, and that the average Bedouin family did not have adequate funds to purchase a home there. Clashes between authorities and residents of unrecognized villages have escalated over the past year, resulting in one Bedouin resident of the village of Atir killed during a clash with a government home-demolition unit.
In July, the Government extended for 6 months 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. Several civil rights groups petitioned the High Court arguing that the law has a disproportionate effect on the country's Arab citizens. The ISA recommended the law based on its allegation that in some 20 cases Palestinian spouses of Arab citizens were involved in terrorist activity. Advocacy groups stated that approximately 16,000 residency applications have been affected. In August, the Attorney General informed the court that the Government may amend the law in February 2005 to widen exceptions to the ban. In December, the court ruled that it would wait to review these amendments before ruling on the legality of the law.
Other Societal Abuses and Discrimination
In June, bystanders verbally harassed participants in a gay pride parade in Jerusalem. At the same time, a photograph and the telephone number of a homosexual Jerusalem city council member was plastered on that city's billboards along with accusations that he would bring disaster to Jerusalem. Anonymous callers threatened to bomb the parade; however, there was no violence.
In 2003, the Association of Gay Men, Lesbians, Bisexuals, and Transgendered in Israel complained of several incidents in which police allegedly engaged in verbal and physical harassment of homosexuals in a Tel Aviv public park. Representatives of that organization subsequently met with the police to discuss ways to improve relations, and the police appointed contact persons in all police districts who serve as liaisons to the homosexual community. No similar complaints were reported during the year.
Section 6 Worker Rights
a. The Right of Association
Citizen workers may join and establish labor organizations freely. Most unions belong to Histadrut (the General Federation of Labor in Israel) or to a much smaller rival federation, the Histadrut Haovdim Haleumit (National Federation of Labor). These organizations are independent of the Government. Histadrut members elect national and local officers and officials of its affiliated women's organization, Na'amat, from lists of those already in the union. Plant or enterprise committee members are elected individually. Approximately 650,000 workers were members of Histadrut during the year, and much of the non-Histadrut work force was covered by Histadrut's collective bargaining agreements.
Nonresident workers, including Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza Strip, were not able to join Israeli trade unions or organize their own unions in Israel. Nonresident workers in the organized sector were entitled to the protection of Histadrut work contracts and grievance procedures. They may join, vote for, and be elected to shop-level workers' committees if their numbers in individual establishments exceed a minimum threshold. Palestinian participation in such committees was minimal.
Labor laws apply to Palestinians holding East Jerusalem identity cards and to the Syrian Druze living on the Golan Heights.
Unions were free to affiliate with international organizations.
b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively
Citizen workers exercised their legal rights to organize and bargain collectively. The law specifically prohibits antiunion discrimination. No antiunion discrimination was reported.
Nonresident workers could not organize their own unions or engage in collective bargaining, but they were entitled to be represented by the bargaining agent and protected by collective bargaining agreements. The country's immigration officials estimated there were approximately 200,000 foreign workers in the country. They did not pay union dues, but were required to pay an agency fee in lieu of dues, which entitled them to union protection by Histadrut's collective bargaining agreements. The Ministry of Labor has the authority to extend collective bargaining agreements to nonunionized workplaces in the same industrial sector. The Ministry of Labor also oversaw personal contracts in the unorganized sectors of the economy.
The right to strike was exercised regularly. Unions must provide 15 days' notice prior to a strike. The law protected strike leaders--even those organizing illegal strikes. If essential public services are affected, the Government may appeal to labor courts for back-to-work orders while the parties continue negotiations. Worker dismissals and the terms of severance arrangements often were the central issues of dispute. During the year, there were several major strikes of municipal workers. For example, on September 21, Histadrut called a nationwide strike over unpaid public sector wages to some 20,000 local government workers, reportedly involving 400,000 workers. Agreement was reached whereby the Government would pay grants to the local authorities in accordance with a recovery plan. During July, the port workers conducted strikes over a period of weeks to protest the Government's intentions to implement port reforms. In July, the country's Manufacturers Association reported that the strikes had caused approximately $400 million (2 billion NIS) in economic damages.
There are no export processing zones. In December, the country signed an agreement with Egypt to establish a "Qualified Industrial Zone" (QIZ), which creates duty-exempt zones to facilitate joint manufacturing between Israel and Egypt for exports to the United States. Egyptian labor laws apply since the factories are located in Egypt. A comparable QIZ was established with Jordan in 1998.
c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The law prohibits forced or compulsory labor, including by children, and there were no reports that such practices occurred for citizens or nonresident Palestinians working in Israel; however, civil rights groups charged that unscrupulous employers often took advantage of illegal workers' lack of status to hold them in conditions that amount to involuntary servitude (see Section 6.e.).
Women were trafficked for the purpose of prostitution (see Section 5, Trafficking).
d. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
Children at least 15 years old, who have completed their education up to grade 10, may be employed as apprentices only, according to the Apprenticeship Law. Children who are 14 years old may be employed during official school holidays in light work that will not harm their health. Working hours of those 16 to 18 years of age are restricted to ensure time for rest and education. The Government enforced these restrictions in practice.
No reliable data existed regarding illegal child workers, although it is believed they exist to a small degree, primarily in urban, light industry. Previously, there were reports of illegal child labor in the country's undocumented Palestinian population; however, with the greatly reduced Palestinian workforce, such reports could no longer be confirmed.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
The minimum wage was calculated periodically and adjusted for cost of living increases. During the year, the minimum wage was approximately 47.8 percent of the average wage. At year's end, the minimum wage was approximately $900 (3,335 NIS) per month. During the year, the minimum wage often was supplemented by special allowances for citizens and was considered by the Government to be sufficient to provide a citizen worker and family with a decent standard of living. Some union officials and social commentators disputed that. Union officials expressed concern over enforcement, particularly with respect to employers of illegal nonresident workers.
By law, the maximum hours of work at regular pay are 42.5 hours a week, 8 hours a day, and 7 hours in night work on the day before the weekly rest. That rest period must be at least 36 consecutive hours and include the Sabbath for Jews and a choice of Friday, Saturday, or Sunday for non-Jews.
Employers must receive a government permit to hire Palestinian workers from the occupied territories, and, to do so, must make a case that no citizen is available for the job. All Palestinians from the occupied territories working legally in Israel were employed on a daily basis and, unless they were employed on shift work, were not authorized to spend the night in Israel. Palestinians without valid work permits were subject to arrest.
Palestinian employees, whose Israeli employers recruited them through the Ministry of Labor, 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. Palestinians, paid through the Labor Ministry, continued to be entitled to maternity leave and were insured for injuries suffered while working in the country and for any wages lost by bankruptcy of a worker's employer. They did not, however, receive unemployment insurance, general disability payments, or low-income supplements. Palestinians, who were not employed through the Labor Ministry, were paid directly by their Israeli employers.
Since 1993, the Government has agreed to transfer the NII fees collected from Palestinian workers to the Palestinian Authority (PA), which was to assume responsibility for all the pensions and social benefits of Palestinians working in Israel. According to the Government, these funds were unfrozen and transferred to the PA at the beginning of 2003, when mechanisms for transferring the funds and mechanisms for providing these services in the PA controlled territories were established.
Following the outbreak of violence in 2000, the Government implemented a closure policy on the occupied territories, which prevented nearly all Palestinians from getting to their places of employment in Israel (see Section 2.d.). As of midyear, the Government issued approximately 15,000 work permits for Palestinian day laborers, of which approximately 12,500 were used by Palestinians to cross into Israel.
Along with union representatives, the Labor Inspection Service enforced labor, health, and safety standards in the workplace, although resource constraints, such as insufficient staffing, affected overall enforcement. Legislation protects the employment rights of safety delegates elected or appointed by the workers. In cooperation with management, these delegates were responsible for safety and health in the workplace.
Workers did not have the legal right to remove themselves from dangerous work situations without jeopardy to continued employment. However, collective bargaining agreements provided some workers with recourse through the work site labor committee. Any worker may challenge unsafe work practices through government oversight and legal agencies. Continuing NGO and police reports charged that illegal workers often lived in situations amounting to involuntary servitude, due primarily to their tenuous legal status and lack of recourse. NGOs noted cases in which the police injured foreign workers during arrest. In July, the immigration police reportedly raided a factory on Kibbutz Ramat Hakovesh and found eight allegedly illegally employed Thai workers living in harsh conditions.
Public debate continued regarding the role in the workplace and society of non-Palestinian foreign workers, whom the Government estimated as approximately 189,000 at the end of 2003. According to the Government, most of these workers entered the country illegally or overstayed their visas, with illegal migrant workers reaching 104,000. The Government estimated that, during the year, approximately 45,000 illegal migrant workers left the country, with approximately 19,000 deported and the rest departing voluntarily. Currently, the Government estimated that approximately 60,000 to 70,000 workers employed illegally still resided in the country. The majority of such workers came from Eastern Europe and Southeast Asia and worked in the construction and agricultural sectors, and as domestic help. During the year, the Government sought to restrict the entry and stay of new and resident workers.
The law does not permit foreign workers to obtain citizenship or permanent residence status unless they are Jewish.
In May, the Minister of Interior halted the deportation of any illegal foreign workers' children, age 10 and above and who were born and raised in the country, until a ministerial panel formulated a policy for naturalizing children in these circumstances. During the year, the Government allowed over 2,300 foreign laborers to change employers.
NGOs alleged that foreign workers were being lured to the country with the promise of jobs that did not exist. Some foreign workers reportedly paid up to $10,000 (45,000 NIS) to employment agencies to obtain work permits. According to NGOs, in a significant number of cases workers were dismissed shortly after arriving. Allegedly, the manpower companies worked with deportation authorities to deport the newly arrived workers, who were then replaced by others, earning the companies more fees. NGOs argued that most workers expected to work for some time in the country to recoup their initial payments; those dismissed often sought illegal employment and some committed suicide.
Illegal foreign workers facing deportation were brought before a special court, and workers may contest the deportation orders. Many workers lacked fluency in Hebrew, which hindered the process. In March, in response to judicial criticism about the protracted detention of foreign workers, the Attorney General directed that detained foreign workers must be brought before the court within 4 days of arrest, and not the 2 weeks stipulated by law. NGOs existed to aid workers facing deportation, and there have been cases in which the worker's status was reinstated. The court also provided a forum where workers subject to deportation orders can lodge claims for unpaid wages or other benefits to which they are entitled by law. Workers were often deported before they could lodge such claims. NGOs noted cases in which the police injured foreign workers during arrest. In some cases, these NGOs claimed, the workers were injured so seriously that they were not ultimately detained, due to the potential cost of care for their injuries and police fears of possible investigation of police misconduct. In 2003, at least one foreign worker killed himself while in detention; however, there were no such cases during the year.
In 2002, the editor of the foreign worker newspaper Manila-Tel Aviv Times was deported shortly after giving interviews to other publications on the subject of foreign worker rights under the law; foreign worker advocates claimed the deportation was politically motivated. During 2003, another reporter from the publication was deported after advising foreign workers in an article on strategies for avoiding detention and deportation. Human rights groups claimed that since foreign worker residency permits were tied to specific employment, even legal foreign workers had little leverage to influence their work conditions. However, there were no comparable deportation actions during the year, and the newspaper continued to operate.U.S. State Department Report on Human Rights Practices for 2004