Report on Human Rights Practices for 2006 - Israel
With a population of approximately 7 million, including approximately 5.3 million Jews, 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. On March 28, the 17th Knesset was elected democratically. On May 4, Prime Minister Olmert presented his government to the Knesset.
The judiciary is independent and has 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.)
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 20,000 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 serious abuses by some members of the security forces against Palestinian detainees. Poor conditions and improper application of security internment procedures (see annex) persisted in some detention and interrogation facilities. Institutional, legal, and societal discrimination against Israeli Arabs continued. Non-Orthodox Jews and other religious groups continued to face discrimination in personal and civil status matters. Women suffered discrimination and, in some cases, violence. The educational systems for Arab and Jewish students remained unequal. Trafficking in and abuse of women and foreign workers remained a problem in some areas and industries although the government passed new antitrafficking legislation. De facto discrimination against persons with disabilities occurred. Government corruption and other criminal activity by political leaders was a problem.
On July 12, the Lebanese terrorist organization Hizballah killed three Israeli Defense Force (IDF) soldiers and kidnapped two others in northern Israel, resulting in a widened conflict in July and August. During that period, Hezbollah fired missiles into Israel, killing civilians. Apart from the July-August conflict, Palestinian terrorist attacks killed 10 Israeli civilians and four foreigners during the year.
RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom From:
a. Arbitrary or Unlawful Deprivation of Life
The government or its agents did not commit any politically motivated killings.
On January 19, a border policeman killed Nadim Milham, an Israeli Arab, while reportedly searching for weapons in his home. A family member reported that police beat Milham and shot him when he attempted to escape; the Mossawa Advocacy Center for Arab Citizens of Israel (Mossawa) claimed to have evidence that Milham was shot twice from behind. On November 21, the State Prosecutor's Office indicted the policeman for manslaughter; however, there was no further action by year's end.
On July 3, a police officer killed Mahmoud Ghanim, an Israeli Arab whom police suspected of stealing a car. According to police Ghanim was shot while attempting to run over police officers seeking to arrest him. Witness accounts collected by Mossawa indicated that Ghanim was shot in the back while sitting in his father's nonfunctioning car. At year's end the Police Investigation Department (PID) was investigating the shooting.
On October 4, a border policeman killed Iyad Abu Aya, an illegal Palestinian worker, in Jaffa. Abu Aya was shot during a police operation to arrest illegal workers. According to press reports, eyewitnesses said the shooting was not justified. The police officer was placed under house arrest pending a PID investigation; there were no further developments at year's end.
On January 6, the government assigned a Deputy State Attorney to reexamine the PID decision to close its investigation into the police killings of 13 (12 Israeli Arabs and 1 Palestinian) protesters during October 2000 demonstrations (see sections 2.b. and 5). Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and Israeli-Arab community leaders generally welcomed the government's decision to reexamine the PID investigation but questioned the impartiality of the Deputy State Attorney since his direct supervisor was among those responsible for the PID decision not to investigate the killings initially. At year's end the government's review of the PID decision was ongoing.
The Orr Commission of Inquiry, established in November 2000 to investigate the killings, recommended 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. On May 25, the Public Security Minister appointed an officer implicated by the Orr Commission to a position seen by observers as a promotion. On October 25, in response to a petition from the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights (Adalah), the Supreme Court voided the officer's appointment.
In July 2003 a police officer killed an unarmed Bedouin, Nasser Abu al Qia'an, in his car at a road junction, under disputed circumstances. In September 2005 the Justice Ministry indicted the police officer, who was subsequently tried and found not guilty on the grounds of self-defense. An appeal filed by Mossawa was rejected during the year.
On July 12, Hezbollah terrorists killed three and abducted two IDF soldiers during a cross-border raid from Southern Lebanon, resulting in a conflict that lasted until August 14. During the fighting Hezbollah fired 3,970 short- and medium-range rockets at Israeli population centers, killing 43 civilians (including four who died of heart attacks during bombardments) and no military personnel, according to government figures.
Hezbollah employed cluster munitions in these attacks on civilian population centers. According to Israeli police data, reported by HRW, Hezbollah fired 113 cluster munitions rockets into northern Israel, killing one civilian and injuring 12. According to local media reports, the warheads of many of the rockets fired into northern Israel were loaded with ball bearings.
During the year Palestinian terrorists killed 10 civilians and four foreign citizens in the country. The terrorist organization Palestinian Islamic Jihad carried out two suicide bomb attacks, both of them at the same restaurant in Tel Aviv. The first attack, on January 19, wounded 31 persons. The second, on April 17, killed 11 and wounded over 60. On February 5, a Palestinian terrorist stabbed one person to death and injured five others in a shared taxi traveling on a highway outside Tel Aviv.
During the year 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 901, as compared to 377 in 2005. The government reported that four civilians were killed and 83 wounded in the attacks. Two Sderot residents were killed in Qassam rocket attacks on November 15 and 21.
In 2005 in the wake of the Shfaram attack, after Eden Natan-Zada, a member of the illegal right-wing Jewish movement Kach, killed four Israeli Arabs and wounded others when he fired on a bus, then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon ordered the amendment of existing legislation which authorized compensation only for victims of terrorist actions perpetrated by regular military forces or by an organization hostile to the State of Israel or the Jewish people. On July 19, the government amended the 1970 Compensation Law for Victims of Hostile Acts to include any persons victimized by violence deriving from the Israeli-Arab conflict. Under the amended law, the Natan-Zada victims and their families were recognized as victims of terrorism and eligible for compensation.
In May 2005 the Haifa District Court convicted Alexander Rabinovitch of involvement in several years of terrorist activity against Israeli Arabs in Haifa. In September 2005 Rabinovitch was sentenced to four years in prison for assisting in the 2004 assassination attempt of Israeli-Arab Knesset Member Isaam Makhoul.
There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances during the year.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading
Treatment or Punishment
The law prohibits such practices; however, during the year reputable NGOs filed numerous 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, who, PCATI reported, were almost all Palestinian security detainees and prisoners at detention facilities in Israel. According to PCATI Israel Security Agency (ISA) agents used torture in about 20 percent of their interrogations. ISA and State Prosecutor's Office representatives stated that all torture complaints are examined by an ISA complaints examiner, under supervision of the state prosecutor, and disciplinary action or criminal charges can result if the examiner finds agents tortured a prisoner who was not suspected of holding time-sensitive and life-threatening information.
PCATI stated that no ISA officials had been tried on torture charges during the past five years. PCATI claimed the government took insufficient action to hold accountable ISA interrogators against whom PCATI filed complaints and failed to take any actions during the year to investigate seriously or reprimand interrogators. According to the government, no ISA agents were indicted or convicted for mistreatment or abuse of detainees during the year.
In August PCATI filed a complaint with the Attorney General on behalf of a Palestinian resident of the West Bank village of Koud. The complaint alleged the ISA detained the Palestinian in the Kishon Detention Center for 25 days without access to a lawyer. During that time he was subjected to illegal means of interrogation, including simulated choking, painful positioning, sleep deprivation, beatings, and threats to arrest his family or destroy his home. At year's end the case was being examined by the State Attorney's Office.
In September 2005 PCATI notified the Israel Prison Service (IPS) and the ISA about treatment of a Palestinian resident of Tulkarm held 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. On February 27, as part of a plea bargain, he was convicted and sentenced to 26 months' imprisonment. On May 7, the State Attorney's Office responded that the ISA suspected the detainee was involved in life-endangering terrorist acts to occur in the near future. Consequently, the Attorney General decided not to initiate legal action against the ISA interrogators. The state's response did not refute the complainant's allegations.
In December 2005 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 and 2004, while seeking information on the whereabouts of Israeli Air Force navigator Lieutenant Colonel Ron Arad. According to media reports, an Israeli Defense Force (IDF) doctor who examined Dirani prior to his 2004 release--as part of a prisoner exchange--found evidence to support Dirani's claim. The state appealed the ruling of the Tel Aviv District Court to the Supreme Court, which was scheduled to hear the case on January 29, 2007.
During the year IDF soldiers and Border Police officers were indicted and convicted for abuse of Palestinians. On November 6, for example, the PID indicted three Border Police officers for abusing a Palestinian in Jerusalem. The three allegedly beat the Palestinian before making him kiss the police insignia on their uniforms. The case was ongoing at year's end.
Police and IPS officers were also disciplined for abuse or mistreatment of detainees. According to the government, during the year courts convicted seven police officers and two prison officials for unlawful use of force, while 13 criminal indictments were handed down against police officers and IPS officials for this offense. According to government statistics, there were over 100 additional legal and disciplinary actions taken against police and IPS officers during the year.
On March 8,the PID commander told the annual Border Police convention that complaints against its officers had fallen by 36 percent in 2005, to 187. However, in a 2005 report, the State Comptroller's Office criticized the PID for failing to investigate cases of police abuse against foreign workers thoroughly. According to PID data cited in the State Comptroller's Report, 6,702 complaints were filed against the police in 2003, of which 3,916 were for improper use of force; 64 percent of complaints for improper use of force were not investigated.
Between January and November, the Hotline for Migrant Workers (Hotline), an NGO foreign workers advocacy group, helped six foreign workers to file complaints with the PID, accusing police officers of excessive violence during apprehension. Hotline reported that foreign workers usually decided not to file complaints or to testify, due to fear of prolonged detention while their cases were investigated. According to Hotline during the year, fewer migrants were arrested than in 2005. A Knesset Committee on Foreign Workers monitored excessive force by immigration police when detaining foreign workers.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
The law provides detainees the right to live in conditions that do not harm their health or dignity. However, interrogation facilities for Palestinian detainees were overcrowded and had austere conditions. Conditions and treatment at the Russian Compound interrogation center in Jerusalem remained harsh.
On November 7, a Physicians for Human Rights in Israel (PHR) representative reported medical staff in detention facilities often failed to follow up with prisoners who refused medical treatment. According to PHR prisoners who needed medical attention sometimes refused treatment for reasons such as mental illness or a fear of making the difficult journey--sometimes as long as nine hours--to a medical facility.
On March 3, the IDF transferred control of the Ofer Military Detention Camp to the IPS, leaving only two temporary detention centers in the West Bank under IDF control. Conditions in IPS facilities, which house common law criminals and convicted security prisoners (primarily Palestinians), and in the two IDF-controlled Provisional Detention Centers, which hold convicted Palestinian security prisoners, generally met international standards. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) had access to IPS and IDF facilities.
On August 13, in response to a case dating to 2003 regarding providing each detainee with a bed, the government announced to the Supreme Court that, barring unusual circumstances, a bed would be provided for every inmate no later than July 1, 2007. In July the Public Defender's Office reported some detention centers were so crowded that there was no privacy for performing personal bodily functions.
In 2005 a reputable international organization reported receiving 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 by year's end, it had received no further information.
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 October 31, the government held 522 Palestinians of age 17 or younger; the youngest was 12 years old. The ICRC reported that most Palestinian minors were held in Hasharon and Ofek prisons; all had access to organized education provided by the Ministry of Education. Not all minors were separated from adults, but according to the ICRC, this situation was designed to keep families together or for minors to be close to home. The ICRC examined such cases on an individual basis.
The ICRC regularly monitored IPS facilities, as well as most IDF security prisoner and detention facilities; it did not monitor detention facility "1391." Pursuant to a 1979 ICRC-Israel agreement, it could not visit interrogation facilities but could meet detainees who had been interrogated in designated areas of these units.
The government permitted some NGOs to monitor some 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 Israel Bar Association (IBA) and public defenders were permitted to inspect IPS facilities. The IBA has arrangements with the government allowing selected lawyers to inspect prison, detention, and IDF facilities within the country.
In 2004 in response to a petition by the Center for the Defense of the Individual (HaMoked) to compel the government to release information on facility 1391, a secret IDF detention facility, the Supreme Court gave the government 60 days to respond to its undisclosed suggestions related to the facility. The court ruled that the government must inform the court should any detainee be imprisoned in that facility. On January 22, the court ruled that the facility was legal but asked the government to restrict its use. On August 8, the government informed the court that it was holding two Hezbollah detainees, captured during the summer conflict, in the facility. Details of the court's ruling remain classified.
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 residents of the Israeli-occupied Syrian Golan Heights are subject to the same laws as 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 family members 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 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 (96 hours for those suspected of a "security offense"). 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 July in its annual report, the Public Defender's Office charged that the police often violated detainees' legal rights to meet in appropriate conditions with counsel without delay.The IPS responded that efforts were underway to remedy such problems; it cited budgetary constraints as a major impediment.
Role of the Police and 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, are under the authority of the Minister of Internal Security. An office in the Justice Ministry reviews complaints against police officers and may impose disciplinary charges or recommend indictments against officers.
The National Police were generally effective, but, according to the NGO Movement for Quality in Government, lacked sufficient resources to address government corruption.Police corruption was generally not a problem. The police utilized training programs, often in coordination with human rights NGOs, to promote human rights awareness and cultural sensitivity. For example, police commanders regularly were issued human rights training kits for use in weekly seminars for subordinates; these include modules on religious and cultural sensitivity, diversity awareness and free speech.
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 Hotline appropriate interpreters were not always present at the hearings, despite a 2002 commitment to provide them. For example, according to Hotline in October hearings were held without appropriate interpretation for Chinese and Thai detainees in the Zohar detention center. 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; they can also meet clients who are illegal residents scheduled for deportation, before their clients have undergone the airport departure security check. A lawyer can seek an injunction to delay deportation; however, the client must subsequently wait in the Ben Gurion detention center to await the appeal decision.
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. This problem worsened during the year, according to Hotline, which in October recorded 118 detainees from such countries held for over six months in the Ma'asiyahu detention center alone, including asylum seekers awaiting a UNHCR decision. During the year Hotline documented a case of arrest and detention of an asylum seeker carrying protection papers issued by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). An Administrative Tribunal later released the person after UNHCR intervention.
During the year the country continued to be a destination for Sudanese nationals; some were fleeing violence in Darfur and others were leaving Egypt following problems with Egyptian authorities. The circumstances of the approximately 280 Sudanese detainees prompted criticism from human rights organizations. Detainees were held either in detention centers or sent to controlled facilities, such as kibbutzim. During the year none received refugee status in Israel (see section 2.d.).
On May 8, responding to a petition from Hotline and the Tel Aviv University Refugee Rights Clinic, the Supreme Court gave the government 30 days to create a new policy to deal with Sudanese detainees. In response the government appointed an advisor to recommend to the Minister of Defense whether to release individuals held under the Infiltration Law. As of November 1, the advisor had reviewed approximately a third of the 280 Sudanese cases andrecommended releasing seven detainees, who were paroled into the country to await judicial determination of their status. At year's end 80 Sudanese detainees were being held in kibbutzim and women's shelters, while approximately 200 remained in prison facilities. The Supreme Court scheduled a further hearing for January 2007.
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. 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. As of December 23, according to B'Tselem there were 782 administrative detainees in IPS detention centers, while the IDF held two administrative detainees as of November 1.
On January 11, a PCATI field researcher from Hebron, Hassan Zaga, was imprisoned in the Ketziot Detention Center under an administrative detention order. In May a court extended the order for four months. In September a court refused a government request for further detention, and Zaga was released on November 15. According to PCATI Zaga had no opportunity to deny or refute the charges brought against him.
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 2005 the government reported that it had detained Hassin Makded in 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. On January 22, the Supreme Court upheld the legality of this secret facility but asked the government to minimize its use (see section 1.c.). On August 8, the government informed the court that it was holding two Hezbollah detainees in the facility.
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 of Justice. District courts prosecute felonies and adjudicate civil disputes, and magistrate courts prosecute misdemeanors and adjudicate lesser civil disputes. There are military, religious, labor relations, and administrative courts, with the High Court of Justice as the ultimate judicial authority. The High Court of Justice 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.
Trials are public except when, in the opinion of the court, the interests of the parties are determined to be best served by privacy. The legal justifications for holding a closed trial include potential risk to state security, damage to foreign relations of the state, violation of a party's or witness's right to privacy, and to protect a sexual offense victim. 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 imprisonment or more--indigent defendants receive mandatory legal representation. According to the government, counsel represented approximately 60 to 70 percent of defendants in lesser cases brought before the Magistrate Courts.
Military courts provide a number, but not all, of the rights granted in civil criminal courts. The 1970 evidentiary rules governing trials under military law of Palestinians and others applicable in the occupied territories are the same as evidentiary rules in criminal cases. 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, coerced testimony 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, although they do in most civilian criminal 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. These courts handle thousands of cases annually.
Political Prisoners and Detainees
There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees. (See annex for discussion of Palestinian political prisoners and detainees.)
Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies
An independent and impartial judiciary functions for civil issues in lawsuits seeking damages for, or cessation of, a human rights violation. Administrative remedies also exist; domestic court orders are enforced.
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.
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.
In July the Knesset extended the 2003 law that prohibits citizens' Palestinian spouses from the occupied territories from residing in the country. The extension applied also to the 2005 amendment allowing Palestinian men aged 35 and older and women aged 25 and older to apply for temporary visit permits (see sections 2.d. and 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. On May 14, the Supreme Court rejected petitions brought by Adalah, ACRI, and others challenging the law and its amendments. In its ruling the court observed that the law was within the bounds of proportionality with regard to the balance between individual rights and state security.
The authority to grant status to a 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 without detailed proof of the father's Israeli citizenship; the child would receive a birth certificate but not be eligible for certain state benefits. At year's end an ACRI petition against this policy was pending with the Supreme Court.
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.
On November 23, according to a report from Adalah, the State Prosecutor's Office announced it would open a criminal investigation for racial incitement over an article in the Hassidic World magazine critically describing Arab Muslims and Christians in insulting terms (see section 2.c.).
Nuclear whistleblower Mordechai Vanunu, released in 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.). In April and October, the IDF renewed the prohibition on contacts with the foreign press. In November the Supreme Court continued to consider Vanunu's third petition to annul his restrictions. According to his lawyer, at year's end Vanunu's criminal trial on charges that he violated his restrictions in 2005 was ongoing.
In 2001 Arab Knesset Member (MK) Azmi Bishara was indicted, after the Knesset lifted his immunity, for making allegedly pro-Hezbollah statements in 2000 in Syria and later in the city of Umm al-Fahm (see section 2.d.). In January after four years of legal proceedings, the Supreme Court dismissed all criminal charges and ruled Bishara's speeches were protected by parliamentary immunity.
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. Political parties and religious bodies owned three minor dailies designed for Orthodox Jewish readers. The 1933 Journalism Ordinance and the British Mandate Defense Regulation for the Emergency Time Period were adopted upon establishment of the state; subsequently, the ordinance was never amended. The Ministry of Interior has no authority over the military censor.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 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 Israel Broadcast Authority, the country's state broadcasting network, controls the Hebrew-language Israel Television (Channel 1) and an Arabic-language channel, as well as Kol Israel (Voice of Israel) radio, which airs news and other programming in Hebrew, Arabic, and many other languages. Both Israel Television and Israel Radio are 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. In February 2005 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."A consolidated cable company and one satellite television company carried international networks and programs produced for domestic audiences.
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. All media organizations must submit materials covered by the agreement to the censor for approval. This agreement deals with specific military issues as well as strategic infrastructure issues such as oil and water supplies.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.
Following an intensive public debate on the role of the media during wartime, as a consequence of censorship concerning, for example, specific locations of Katyusha rocket strikes, the Israeli Press Council established a Special Committee to Examine Journalistic Ethics and Conduct During War. Its conclusions were scheduled for publication following the final committee meeting on February 2, 2007.
On July 16, Walid al-Omary,the Jerusalem bureau chief of Al-Jazeera, was detained by police in the northern coastal city of Acre for six hours. Police accused him of providing information to the enemy by giving specific information on Katyusha rockets landing in Haifa; he was released on bail, and no charges were subsequently filed.
All journalists operating in the country must be accredited by the Israeli Government Press Office (GPO). On September 20, ACRI appealed to the Supreme Court on behalf of a journalist residing in the Golan Heights who alleged that he had been denied a GPO card since 2003 based on political and security considerations.
News printed or broadcast abroad may be reported without censorship. There were no recent reports that the government fined newspapers for violating censorship regulations.
There were no government restrictions on Internet access or reports of the government monitoring e-mail or Internet chat rooms. Individuals and groups engaged in peaceful expression of views via the Internet, including by electronic mail. Approximately 3.7 million persons had Internet access throughdial-up, broadband, and mobile services.
Academic Freedom and Cultural Events
The government respected academic freedom. There were no government restrictions on cultural events.
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. In April according to press reports, the Ministry of Internal Security released a study criticizing the police for lacking a clear, explicit policy on appropriate use of force to disperse riots and demonstrations. According to the study, violent confrontations between police and demonstrators occurred in 70 percent of major cases examined during recent years. On November 5, the Attorney General authorized a gay pride parade scheduled for November 10 in Jerusalem, and the Supreme Court rejected several petitions to cancel the parade (see section 5).
In December 2005 Adalah filed complaints with the PID against border policemen for allegedly using excessive force against a demonstration in the Bedouin community of Al-Mashash in November 2005. 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.At year's end the PID had not responded to the allegations.
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. Consequently, the government implements certain policies based on Orthodox Jewish interpretation of religious law, including marriage, burial, and work on the Sabbath.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 (both Ashkenazic and Sephardic rites). 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.
Several religious communities were not recognized, including Protestant groups; however, unrecognized communities practiced their religion freely and maintained 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 $326million (1.4billion NIS). Religious minorities, which comprised approximately 20 percent of the population, received about $26 million (112 million NIS), or just over 7 percent of total funding.
The government does not explicitly codify recognition of a Muslim community. 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, although the state regulates judicial appointments to these courts. 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. In March 2005 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 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. However, in October conversion officials charged that the Interior Ministry was obstructing such prospective immigrants who had undergone Orthodox conversion courses in the country. The government does not recognize non-Orthodox conversions in the country for the purpose of immigration under the Law of Return. In November 2005 the Israel Religious Action Center challenged this practice in court; on November 12, the Supreme Court held its first hearing on this petition, and the case was ongoing at year's end.
In 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, including having to leave the country before filing a residency application. On March 16, in response to an ACRI petition, the Supreme Court ordered the Interior Ministry to process residency applications for common-law spouses of citizens, without requiring them to leave the country. 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 April 2005 then 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.
Many Jewish citizens objected to exclusive Orthodox control over aspects of their personal lives. Approximately 300,000 citizens who immigrated either as Jews or as family members of Jews are not considered Jewish by the Orthodox Rabbinate. They cannot be married, divorced, or buried in Jewish cemeteries within the country. Jews who wish to marry in Reform, Conservative, or secular ceremonies must do so abroad. According to Central Bureau of Statistics figures, more than 32,000 citizens married outside the country between 2000-04; almost half were couples in which both husband and wife were Jews. In 1995 the government asked foreign consular officials to stop performing marriages in the country, citing potential legal problems for its citizens who marry in consular services.In April 2005 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; at year's end the government reportedly continued to review its policy.On November 21, the High Court issued a ruling requiring the government to recognize same-sex marriages legally performed in foreign jurisdictions (see section 5). A 1996 law requiring the government to establish civil cemeteries has not been implemented adequately.
The 1967 Protection of Holy Sites Law protects all holy sites, but the government has issued implementing regulations only for Jewish sites. In 2004 Adalah petitioned the Supreme Court to compel the government to protect Muslim sites; it charged that all of the locations designated as holy sites were Jewish, andthe government's failure to implement regulations had resulted in desecration and conversion of individual Muslimsites. Responding to a 2004 Supreme Court order to respond within 60 days, the government said on January 1 that it had appointed an interministerial committee to examine the administrative and budgetary management of holy sites. The Supreme Court, which repeatedly rescheduled the initial hearing since 2004, set it for May 2007. At year's end there were 135 designated holy sites in the country, all of which were Jewish.
According to representatives of Christian institutions, visa issuance rates for some of their religious workers significantly declined from rates in previous years. Religious workers based in Jerusalem or the occupied territories were denied entry or re-entry under a general tightening of government criteria for foreign nationals (see section 2.d.). At year's end the government's stricter entry policies were unclear.
The Knesset has not ratified the Fundamental Agreement establishing relations between the Holy See and Israel negotiated in 1993. Government negotiations with the Holy See 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 law, property disputes involving religious institutions are handled by the executive branch of the government. On November 27, the government and the Holy See agreed to hold further negotiations of the Bilateral Permanent Working Commission. Further discussions were held on December 12.
Missionaries were allowed to proselytize, although offering or receiving material inducements for conversion, as well as converting persons under 18 years old remained illegal unless one parent was of the religion to which the minor wished to convert. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints voluntarily refrained from proselytizing under a longstanding agreement with the government.
In July 2005 the Messianic congregation in Arad published a letter in Iton HaTzvi that reported harassment by members of an ultra-Orthodox community. In September 2005 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 2004 the Gur Hassidim have demonstrated regularly in front of the homes of Christians and Messianic Jews in Arad to protest alleged Christian proselytizing by this group. In interviews with Ha'aretz newspaper on November 14, the mayor and several officials of Arad objected to Messianic Jews in their city, but acknowledged having no legal basis to expel them.
In December 2005 approximately 200 ultra-Orthodox Jews disrupted the religious service of a Messianic congregation in Be'er Sheva, assaulting the congregation's pastor, damaging property, and harassing members of the congregation. In June a Be'er Sheva magistrate's court rejected an appeal by the congregation for a restraining order against ultra-Orthodox protesters.At year's end there were no further developments.
Societal Abuses and Discrimination
According to a spring poll conducted by the Israel Democracy Institute, some 62 percent of Jewish citizens believed that the government should encourage Arab citizens to emigrate.
During the campaign for the parliamentary elections in March, the Herut party used campaign posters depicting a traditionally veiled Arab woman in campaign posters captioned "This demographic will poison us."
On March 3, during a prayer service, three members of a mixed Jewish-Christian family from Jerusalem attacked the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth. According to the police and witnesses, after barricading themselves inside, the attackers ignited firecrackers, 19 flammable canisters, and a number of bottles filled with flammable liquid. The attack resulted in a local riot, during which several police and protesters suffered minor injuries and police cars were burned. On September 13, two attackers were convicted of conspiracy to commit a crime, arson, rioting, and disorderly conduct.
In May vandals spray painted approximately 20 swastikas on the Ark, Torah scroll, and walls of the Great Synagogue in the city of Petah Tikva. Neo-Nazi graffiti was also sprayed on monuments honoring, and actual gravesites of, several well-known historical figures, including the grave of the country's first Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion. On December 1, vandals destroyed property and painted swastikas on an ultra-Orthodox Jewish school in Acre.
In May Israeli youths celebrating Lag Ba'Omer, a holiday traditionally marked by lighting bonfires, allegedly attempted to burn an abandoned mosque in the northern city of Acre. According to press reports, they also spray painted "Death to Arabs" on neighboring buildings. The individuals claimed they were simply preparing a bonfire, but police found indications of attempted arson. The case was closed at year's end with none of the individuals publicly identified.
On June 28, approximately 100 ultra-Orthodox Jews assaulted approximately 50 Christian tourists in a Jerusalem neighborhood, injuring three of them. Police arrested two attackers, and in October the case was being prepared for indictment.
The national public bus service operated sex-segregated transportation in and between cities for ultra-Orthodox Jews. On November 24, a group of ultra-Orthodox men reportedly attacked and beat a woman for refusing to move to the rear of a Jerusalem bus that was not officially sex-segregated. None of the attackers was arrested; however, at year's end the case was under investigation.
There were also incidents throughout the yearin which ultra-Orthodox Jews threw rocks at motorists to protest their driving on the Sabbath.
On November 23, according to a report from Adalah, the State Prosecutor's Office announced it would open a criminal investigation for racial incitement over an article in the Hassidic World magazine critically describing Muslims and Christians in insulting terms (see section 2.a.).
In August 2005 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. Ben Haim and Shteinman were subsequently convicted of insulting a religion. On December 6, Ben Haim was sentenced to nine months' imprisonment and Shteinman was sentenced to two months' community service.
For a more detailed discussion, see the 2006 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. Citizens, including dual nationals, must enter and leave the country using their Israeli passports only. In addition no citizen is permitted to travel to states officially at war with the country without government permission.
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 the country, going within 500 meters of airports and overland border crossings, and entering any foreign diplomatic offices. On April 20, the Interior Minister extended these prohibitions for another year. At year's end Vanunu's criminal trial on charges that he violated these restrictions in 2005 continued.
In December 2005 the Interior Minister imposed a 12-month travel ban on Israeli journalist and literary critic, Antwan Shalhat. In January Adalah petitioned the High Court to revoke the ban, arguing it violated Shalhat's basic rights. In March on the recommendation of the court, which reviewed secret evidence in a meeting with government representatives, Adalah withdrew the petition but protested using secret evidence in the case.
In 2001 the Knesset forbade parliamentarians from visiting enemy states without permission from the Interior Minister. In February the Attorney General ordered police to investigate Israeli-Arab MKs Azmi Bishara and Taleb a-Sanaa for their separate trips to Syria and Lebanon at the end of 2005. In early September following the conflict with Lebanon, Bishara and fellow Israeli-Arab MKs, Wasal Taha and Jamak Zahalka, plus two former Israeli-Arab MKs, visited Syria and Lebanon again, prompting the Attorney General to order a new criminal investigation. The Interior Minister also called on the Foreign Minister to revoke their passports and asked the Attorney General for authority to restrict their international travel. At year's end police investigations continued, but there was no action to bar them from leaving the country.
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 2005 the Knesset amended the law so that Palestinian men aged 35 and older and women aged 25 and older were eligible for temporary visitor permits to visit spouses and family in Israel. The Mossawa Center, citing Ministry of Interior statistics, claimed that the law affected "at least 21,298 families," including couples with long-standing marriages whose requests for residence permits were pending.Advocacy groups claimed that, despite the amendment, the law discriminated against Arab citizens and residents. In November 2005 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 Israeli Arabs had been involved in terrorist activity. In May the Supreme Court upheld the legality of the law, and in July the Knesset extended it for another six months (see sections 1.f. and 5).
During the year there were numerous credible reports of foreign nationals arbitrarily denied entry into the country or the occupied territories and subjected to harsh and abusive treatment. Most, but not all, were foreign nationals of Palestinian heritage, who sought to visit family or pursue business interests in the West Bank; previously such visits had occurred freely on "tourist" visas. During the year hundreds of foreign nationals attempting to renew visas were denied.Religious workers were also denied entry (see section 2.c.). By year's end the government had not clarified its policies on West Bank entry for foreign nationals.
The law prohibits forced exile of citizens, and the government generally respected this prohibition in practice.
Protection of Refugees
The government provides some 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. According to the Refugee Rights Clinic at Tel Aviv University, the government receives approximately 1,000 asylum applications annually. Palestinians were registered by the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees and, therefore, not eligible for refugee status.
According to UNHCR's local office, the government received approximately 1,600 asylum applications during the year, of which 250 received temporary protection, with a total of 700 individuals in temporary protection at year's end. UNHCR reported that 100 asylum seekers left the country during the year after UNHCR declared their countries safe for return.
The government cooperated with 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.
During the year the government continued to detain approximately 200 Sudanese asylum seekers under the 1954 Infiltration Prevention Law, which does not provide for judicial oversight (see section 1.d.). Of the detained Sudanese, 88 were previously recognized as refugees by the UNHCR in Cairo, and another 137 had been registered by the UNHCR in Cairo but not granted refugee status. According to the Tel Aviv University Refugee Clinic, a UNHCR representative visited the country in the spring and determined the threat posed by a return to Sudan qualified all 280 Sudanese in the country as refugees "sur place."
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 applicants were not permitted legal counsel during hearings. During the year the NSGB modified guidelines and provided detailed explanation for individual denials. According to the Refugee Rights Clinic, this new procedure aided rejected applicants in petitions for NSGB reconsideration.
The government did not generally 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 states with which the country 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 or medical benefits. Children of asylum seekers could enroll in the public education system, according to the Refugee Rights Clinic. Persons granted refugee status received six month visas that can be extended until procedures are complete.
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. On March 28, the Kadima Party, founded in 2005 by former Likud leader Ariel Sharon, won a plurality of Knesset seats, and Kadima leader Ehud Olmert formed a coalition government in which he became Prime Minister. In October the government added a fifth party, Yisrael Beiteinu, to the governing coalition.
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.
The law requires that a party obtain 2 percent of the vote to win Knesset seats.
At year's end the 120-member Knesset had 17 female members, and its speaker was a woman. The 24-member cabinet included two women. The president and six members of the 15-member High Court were women. The Knesset included 11 Arabs and one Druze. Nine of the 11 Arabs represented parties supported largely or entirely by the Arab community. In 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.
Government Corruption and Transparency
Investigations of numerous allegations of corruption and misconduct among senior political figures and government ministries occurred during the year.
In August President Moshe Katsav was placed under investigation for sexual harassment, illegal wiretapping, and fraud, after he complained to police about an alleged extortion attempt. During the investigation several women presented complaints against Katsav, spanning many years, while they worked on his staff. The investigation was ongoing at year's end (see section 5).
In October Tzachi Hanegbi, Chair of the Knesset's Foreign and Defense Committee, was put on trial for allegedly appointing political associates to positions in the public sector when he was Environment Minister in a previous government. Hanegbi's trial was ongoing at year's end.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was investigated during the year by the State Comptroller and Attorney-General for alleged irregularities in political appointments and bank and real estate actions in previous years. The investigations were ongoing at year's end.
Criminal investigations of other politicians, including Minister for Strategic Threats Avigdor Lieberman, MK Omri Sharon, and Opposition Leader Binyamin (Bibi) Netanyahu, continued throughout the year. On March 14, former Likud MK Naomi Blumenthal was sentenced to eight months in prison for bribery and obstructing legal proceedings during the 2002 Likud party primaries. On April 27, former Likud MK Yair Hazan was sentenced to four months community service and a two month suspended sentence for his role in a 2003 double voting incident.
The law affords the public access to government information, and citizens could petition for such access. According to ACRI the government does not effectively implement its Freedom of Information Law. ACRI charged that many government bodies do not disclose their internal regulations, as the Freedom of Information Law requires, and that others failed to publish annual reports. During the year ACRI won a legal case to ensure public disclosure of documentation relating to the government's first prison privatization tender.
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.A Foreign Affairs Ministry liaison unit develops and maintains relations with international and domestic NGOs.
NGOs must register with the government by submitting an application and paying registration and annual fees. They operated under the laws covering nonprofit organizations. Some registered NGOs were eligible to receive state funding. According to Mossawa Israeli-Arab NGOs received only approximately 1 percent of the nearly $580 million (NIS 2.5 billion) spent annually by the government on NGOs. Mossawa alleged the government discriminated when determining NGO eligibility for state funds.
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.
According to media reports, at year's end the government held six Hezbollah detainees from the July-August conflict in Lebanon, but had barred the ICRC from visiting them after allowing two initial visits.
(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. In September 2005 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 November 30, some 18,280 cases of spousal violence were filed with the police. Approximately 78 percent of these were complaints by women against their husbands. The government reported that in 2004 it convicted 1,297persons of spousal abuse. The Social Affairs Ministry provided battered women with shelter care and operated a national hot line for battered women. 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. A wide variety of women's organizations and hot lines provided services, such as counseling, telephone crisis intervention, legal assistance, and shelters for abused women.
In April two cases of husbands killing their wives and then committing suicide and the conviction of a man for murdering his wife by stabbing her repeatedly drew national attention to the problem of spousal abuse. The director of the Hotline for Battered Women reported spousal violence against women was a growing problem among new immigrants, especially those from Ethiopia and Russia.
Rape is illegal; nevertheless, NGOs considered the incidence of rape a concern. The number of rape and gang rape cases rose by 28 percent from 2004 to 2005, according to a report issued in March by an association of victim assistance NGOs. NGOs noted that a culture of blaming the victim contributed to underreporting rape.
In past years women's organizations reported instances of Arab women killed by male relatives in "honor" cases, although there was no accurate estimate of the number. In 2005 the Women Against Violence Organization reported that annually an average of 10 Israeli-Arab women were victims of family honor killings. According to Israeli-Arab women's rights group Kayan, there were seven or eight honor killings in the country during the year.
For example, on April 6, police arrested five Israeli-Arab brothers from the town of Lod for murdering their 19-year-old sister. Police suspected the oldest brother, a local pediatrician, of helping to plan the murder and providing anesthetics; the young woman's drugged and strangled body was found in late March in a well near the town of Rehovot. At year's end the five brothers were indicted and pending trial.
On May 23, the brother ofa 26-year-old Israeli-Arab woman from the town of Ramle stabbed and killed her in a bank parking lot. The crime was witnessed by numerous passersby and recorded on a bank security camera. On June 6, police arrested the brother on murder charges; he reportedly confessed to police, claiming his sister had disgraced the family by raising her daughter in an "improper" way. At year's end, the case was pending trial.
On August 18, Justice Minister Chaim Ramon resigned after charges that he forcibly kissed a female soldier at a party. Ramon's trial was ongoing at year's end.
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. During the year 7,324 restraining orders were issued in cases involving allegations of family violence. In a March 2005 report to the UN Session of the Commission on the Status of Women, several women's NGOs stated that approximately 130,000 women in the country between the ages 25 and 40 had been sexually harassed in the workplace. During the period between January 1 and November 30, the police opened 215 cases involving sexual harassment and forwarded 40 cases 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 report released in July by the College of Management, women earned 66 percent as much as men. The study, which only examined Jewish workers, also found that Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox women received salaries 10 to 20 percent lower than their secular 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--literally "chained women"--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.
On November 3, the country's Chief Sephardi Rabbi cancelled without explanationan international conference on the agunot scheduled for the following week in Jerusalem. The conference had been organized in part by Jewish women's organizations, which expressed disgust and disappointment, calling the cancellation a "tragedy."
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. In 2005 there were five shelters for children at risk of abuse.
According to the 2005 report issued by the National Council for the Child, the number of reported cases of child abuse and neglect totaled 39,000 for 2004 and had risen by 130 percent in the previous decade. The police reported to a Knesset committee in December 2005 that children constituted more than 50 percent of the victims of sexual offenses each year.
In May the written comments of a tribunal of Nazareth judges prompted controversy. After sentencing a man to 16 years in prison for raping his stepdaughter over a 10-year period, the judges wrote that since the plaintiff had not complained sooner, she might have "enjoyed and wanted" the sexual relations.
In June researchers at a Hebrew University conference reported that approximately one-sixth of Israeli-Arab children were in "danger and crisis." Researchers also found that the poverty rate for Israeli-Arab children was 2.5 times higher than for Jewish children, and their infant mortality rate was double that of Jewish infants. Infant mortality among Bedouin Israelis was highest, at 15 percent of all births. A report released by the Van Leer Institute of Jerusalem reported that 54 percent of Israeli Arabs lived below the poverty line in 2005, compared to 18 percent of Israeli Jews. Among the Bedouin communities of the Negev, the poverty rate in legal villages was 66 percent, while in the unrecognized villages it was 79 percent.
Education is compulsory through the ninth grade. The government operated separate school systems for Hebrew-speaking children, Arabic-speaking children, and Orthodox Jews. However, per capita government spending on and services for children was significantly less in Arab areas than in Jewish areas. According to a 2005 study at Hebrew University, three times as much money was invested in Jewish children as in Arab children.
Ultra-Orthodox political parties, such as United Torah Judaism, continued to oppose government interference in its school system. The only nonpublic schools receiving government funding were ultra-Orthodox Jewish schools.
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 an Education Ministry report released in May, only 54 percent of 12th graders passed their matriculation exams in 2005, a drop of 2.4 percent from 2004. The decline was sharpest in the Arab sector, where the number of students passing the exams dropped by 6.6 percent; the decline for Jewish students was 1.3 percent. The NGO Sikkuy stated in its 2004-05 report that the high school dropout rate in Arab schools was twice as high as in Jewish schools. A separate, credible NGO report suggested that the Israeli-Arab dropout rate was three times that of the Jewish dropout level. In September 2005 the Education Ministry informed the Knesset Education Committee there was a shortage of 1,800 classrooms in the Arab sector.
According to the Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS), 43 percent of Jews between the ages of 25 and 34 had attended an institution of higher education, while only 15 percent of Arabs had done so. More than a quarter of all Arab citizens in the same age range left school before the ninth grade. While 90 percent of Jewish three- and four-year-old children attended preschool, only 56 percent of Arab three- and four-year olds did so, according to CBS figures. In June the Follow Up Committee for Arab Education for Toddlers said that there was a shortage of 2,250 preschools in the Arab sector. Preschool attendance for Bedouin children was the lowest in the country, and the dropout rate for Bedouin high school students was the highest. Arab Knesset members have criticized the lower academic achievements of Arab students and charged that it indicated discrimination in the system.
The minimum legal age of marriage is 17 for both boys and girls.
Trafficking in Persons
During the year the government gave the problem of trafficking higher priority. The trafficking law was amended to criminalize trafficking offenses not only for the purpose of sexual exploitation but also for slavery, forced labor, prostitution, pornography, and sexual abuse. Trafficking, for the purpose of labor as well as for prostitution, remained a serious problem, although the estimates of the extent of these problems varied greatly between the government and some NGOs. The penal code stipulates that coercion to engage in prostitution is a criminal offense, punishable by between four and 20 years' imprisonment.
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 involuntary servitude. The country did not severely penalize labor agencies for trafficking because then current law did not criminalize trafficking for purposes other than prostitution. While law enforcement agencies have successfully prosecuted employers for labor law violations, including for violations that were tantamount to trafficking, the sentences applied did not meet minimum standards for sufficient penalties. There were numerous documented cases of foreign laborers living in harsh conditions, subjected to debt bondage, and restricted in their movements. The new amendments to the trafficking law went into force on October 29; no information on enforcement was available at year's end.
The NGO Hotline stated that it knew of only one case of a government investigation and prosecution of trafficking for purposes other than prostitution.
Organized crime groups trafficked women, primarily from Eastern Europe, sometimes luring them by offering service sector jobs. NGOs and the government reported that traffickers generally transported victims across the Egyptian border. Some traffickers reportedly sold foreign-origin women to brothels. According to the police, the number of women trafficked into the country for the purpose of commercial sexual exploitation declined from a high of approximately 3,000 in 2003 to "a few hundred" during the year. The NGO Isha L'Isha reported providing direct assistance to 141 victims in detention centers or shelters during the year.Under a policy enacted in July, the government placed women suspected of being victims of trafficking for prostitution in the Maggan shelter directly, without first holding them in detention centers.
During raids on brothels, police reported finding fewer foreign nationals than in previous years; they attributed this to heightened antitrafficking activity during 2005-06.
Between January 1 and October 1, the courts convicted or upheld the convictions of 12 persons for trafficking in women. Sentences ranged from one to 12 years, with the average sentence being 4.4 years. However, most sentences were suspended. Under the amended law, the maximum allowable prison sentence is 16 years, or 20 years if the offense is committed against a minor.
The Justice Ministry has 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 would continue even if the foreign worker left the country.
The government-run shelter with a 50-person capacity for victims of trafficking for commercial sexual exploitationwas often completely filled; NGOs claimed additional shelters were needed.
On May 31,the government officially appointed an interministerial coordinator to combat trafficking in persons.Concurrently with its new antitrafficking legislation, the government drafted an antitrafficking plan.On December 11, the coordinator met with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and an institute for judges' trainingto arrange training classes.
The government worked closely with officials in source countries, especially in Eastern Europe, to investigate and extradite individuals on charges of trafficking in persons.
In May 2005 Sergey Matotov reached a plea bargain resulting in 33 months' imprisonment and 18 months' suspended sentence. Matatov was not convicted of trafficking but of aiding a person to engage in prostitution. Shota Shamelashvili was sentenced to seven years imprisonment (suspended) and $590 (2,500 NIS) compensation to each complainant. The government appealed the sentence's leniency, and Shamelashvili appealed its severity. The appeal was scheduled to be heard in February 2007.
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, took legal action in 98 discrimination cases during the year, mainly in the areas of accessibility and employment. Additionally, the commission intervened in 175 cases involving complaints by persons with disabilities. In March 2005 the government enacted a law to require greater building and public area access for persons with disabilities. Other laws passed in 2005 required television stations to include subtitles and sign language for the hearing impaired and directed the courts to accommodate testimony from persons with intellectual disabilities or mental illness. During the year these laws were in the process of implementation. Accessibility to public transportation was not mandated by law.
The 2003 report of the Orr Commission, which the government established following the police killing of 12 Israeli-Arab demonstrators and a Palestinian in October 2000 (see sections 1.a. and 2.b.), 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.
In 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 January 6, the government directed a Deputy State Attorney to reexamine the 2005 decision by the PID to close its investigation into the 2000 killings (see sections 1.a. and 2.b.). At year's end there had been no further action.
The Knesset subcommittee, chaired by an Israeli-Arab member to monitor Israeli-Arab sector needs and advocate alterations in the budget to benefit that sector, was disbanded following the March elections.
Advocacy groups charged government officials with making racist statements. Yisrael Beitenu party chairman Avigdor Lieberman repeatedly called for removing citizenship of some Israeli Arabs and exchanging some Arab towns in the country for Jewish settlements in the occupied territories. In February Supreme Court Vice President Mishael Cheshin said during a hearing on the 2003 Citizenship Law that if Israelis wanted to marry Palestinians, they should move to the West Bank rather than seek permits for their spouses to join them.
Although Arabic is an official language of the country, the National Insurance Institute (NII) required documents submitted for claim be translated into Hebrew. On November 28, Adalah protested this policy in a letter to NII, noting that the Shari'a courts are also government courts and should have their Arabic rulings accepted by other government organizations.
In September MK Effie Eitam called for expulsion of most Palestinians from the West Bank and removal of Israeli Arabs, whom he called "traitors in the first degree," from the political system. According to the Israel Democracy Institute's annual Democracy Index, released on May 9, 62 percent of Jewish citizens believed the government should encourage Arab citizens to emigrate.
Figures for 2005 showed 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 January 2005 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. The Attorney General also decided 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.
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, thereby limiting Arab natural growth. According to statistics published by the Arab Center for Alternative Planning, the government issued tenders for the construction of 1,820 housing units in northern Israel, which has an Arab majority, during a five month period in 2004. Only 140 of these were designated for Arab communities, despite a shortage of housing in the Arab sector. In October 2005 the government also launched a development program for all 104 communities in the north, both Jewish and Arab, to attract new residents and investment.
In February 2004 security forces demolished several homes in the Arab village of Beineh, claiming that they were built illegally. In April 2005 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 the police investigation was negligent and that it was unreasonable not to indict the police officers. At year's end the appeal remained pending.
The Orr Commission found that "suitable planning should be carried out [in the Arab sector] as soon as possible to prevent illegal construction..." An interministerial committee, created to advise the government on implementing the Orr Commission recommendations, called on the ILA to complete master plans for Arab towns. In 2004 the Supreme Court ruled that omitting Arab towns from specific government social and economic plans is discriminatory. At year's end according to the government, master plans had been completed for 23 of the country's 128 Arab communities; another 81 communities were being planned. New construction is illegal in towns that do not have master plans or in the country's 37 unrecognized Bedouin villages.
On August 30, according to a Bedouin advocacy group, the Regional Council for Unrecognized Villages in the Negev (RCUV), security forces demolished all Bedouin homes in the unrecognized village of Twiel Abu-Jarwal. During September according to RCUV, security forces demolished several homes in the unrecognized villages of Um Nmaila, Um Mitnan, Um Ratam, and Al-For'a.
On February 27, the Supreme Court ruled that a 1998 government development policy illegally discriminated against Israeli Arabs. The policy designated certain areas to receive special funding for projects, including education; however, it included only four of more than 500 Arab communities. The court agreed with the petitioners, Adalah and the Arab Higher Follow Up Committee, that the policy was discriminatory and could not be continued without Knesset legislation. The court gave the government a year to cancel the program.
During and after the July-August conflict involving Israel and Lebanon, Arab municipalities and advocacy groups complained that unlike Jewish communities, Arab communities in the north had no bomb shelters or warning sirens to protect from rocket attacks. In August according to media, the government-supervised Small Business Development Center created an expedited loan program to help businesses damaged by the conflict, but announced that only Jewish businesses were eligible. Under longstanding government policy, "front line" communities in the north were eligible to receive full compensation for economic losses from armed conflict. All northern communities except four Arab towns along the Lebanese border were so designated. During the conflict the Finance Minister listed five additional Jewish towns, but still omitted the four Arab towns. On September 13, Adalah petitioned the Supreme Court to include these towns, all of which were damaged during the conflict. At year's end the case was pending.
On September 26, the Finance Minister established a work team to develop a five-year plan to narrow the economic gap between Jewish and Arab communities. The minister also announced that one-quarter of the $930 million (NIS four billion) allocated for post-conflict rehabilitation would be for the Arab sector.
Israeli Arabs were underrepresented in most universities, professions, and businesses. In June a researcher from Haifa University and Sikkuy reported only 2.8 percent of the country's high technology workers were Arab. The Haifa University researcher also noted70 percent of Arabs with college degrees in high technology fields failed to find work in the country between 2001 and 2005.
Well‑educated Israeli Arabs often were unable to find jobs commensurate with their qualifications. According to a Civil Service Commission report on Israeli-Arab representation in government, in 2004 only three of 809 Finance Ministry employees were Israeli Arabs, while the Foreign Ministry, with 933 employees, employed seven. Approximately 56 percent of all Israeli-Arab government workers were employed by the Health Ministry, including government hospitals.
In 2003 the government approved an affirmative action program to promote hiring Israeli Arabs in the civil service. However, according to current government figures, only 5.5 percent of civil service employees were from the Arab sector. On March 12, the government ordered the Civil Service Commission to allocate 37.5 new positions annually through 2008 to government offices that employ qualified Arabs, Druze, and Circassians.
A 2000 law requires minorities have "appropriate representation" in the civil service and on the boards of government corporations. As of November according to the government, Arabs filled 54 out of approximately 550 board seats of 105 state-run companies. In April media reported that approximately 1 percent of employees in state-run companies were Arabs.
Israeli Arabs complained during the year of discriminatory treatment by airlines and airport security officials. On December 11, the Arab Association for Human Rights and the Center Against Racism published a joint report detailing degrading treatment of Arabs by security officials at airports and airlines. It alleged security officials regularly subjected Israeli-Arab travelers to humiliating, abusive inspections and interrogations. In June the newspaper Ha'aretz reported a policy of accepting only Jewish passengers for flights by Tamir airlines between Tel Aviv and the northern town of Kiryat Shmona. According to Ha'aretz the Transportation Ministry, acting on guidance from the ISA, barred Israeli Arabs from these flights as the northern airport lacked sufficient luggage screening equipment. Subsequently, in June the ministry installed a temporary screening device at Kiryat Shmona airport and resumed allowing Israeli-Arab travelers on Tamir flights.
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 perform military service enjoyed less access 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 2004 the Ivry Committee on National Service recommended Israeli Arabs be given an opportunity to perform national service. On December 13, the government announced procedures to offer a civilian service program to citizens not drafted for military service. Beginning in June 2007, Israeli Arabs and ultra-Orthodox Jews would have the opportunity to serve for one to two years as volunteers in health, education, or welfare sectors. After completing service volunteers would be eligible for the same national benefits accorded military veterans.
The Israeli Druze community numbered approximately 100,000 and the Circassian community numbered some 3,000. Males 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 report called for "special attention" to the living conditions of the Bedouin community. Approximately 140,000 Bedouin lived in the Negev, half in seven state-planned communities and eight recognized communities, and the rest in 37 unrecognized villages. Recognized Bedouin villages received basic services but remained among the poorest communities in the country. Unrecognized villages paid taxes to the government but were not connected to the national water and electricity infrastructure and not eligible for government educational, health, and welfare services. On August 23, PHR reported that 80,000 Bedouin citizens lacked running water. On September 13, the Water Tribunal decided not to connect unrecognized Bedouin villages in the Negev to the national water system. On November 18, Adalah petitioned the Supreme Court to overturn the decision; the case was ongoing at year's end.
In 2004 the Supreme Court issued a temporary injunction to prevent the ILA from spraying herbicide on Bedouin crops on state-owned land. In February 2005 the ILA admitted to the court that it sprayed Bedouin agricultural fields with chemicals not approved by the Agriculture Ministry and banned from aerial spraying. As of November 1, according to Adalah the injunction remained in force, but the court had not ruled on the case.
Government planners noted there were insufficient funds to relocate Bedouin living in unrecognized villages to new townships, and 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 Knesset extended for six months the 2003 law prohibiting citizens' Palestinian spouses from the occupied territories from residing in the country. The extension applied also to the 2005 amendment allowing Palestinian men aged 35 and older and women aged 25 and older to apply for temporary visit permits (see section 2.d.). On May 14, the Supreme Court ruled the law legal and rejected all petitions challenging it.
There are approximately 20,000 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. Israeli-Druze, like all citizens, were prohibited from visiting Syria, including making pilgrimages to Druze holy sites in Syria; noncitizen Druze (approximately 95 percent of the Druze population) were not so prohibited. During the year the government allowed Druze pilgrims to stay in Syria for 72 hours rather than 24, as was the previous limit.
Other Societal Abuses and Discrimination
In October and November, Jewish, Christian, and Muslim religious leaders protested plans for a gay pride march in Jerusalem on November 10. On November 5, the Attorney General refused a police recommendation to cancel the parade, and the Supreme Court subsequently rejected several petitions to cancel it.Members of Jerusalem's ultra-Orthodox community threatened to attack parade participants. On November 9, the organizers cancelled the parade and instead held a peaceful rally in a university stadium the following day (see section 2.b.).
During the June 2005 gay pride parade, an ultra-Orthodox Jew stabbed three participants. Police arrested Yishai Shlisel and charged him with three counts of attempted murder. On January 31, Shlisel was convicted and sentenced to 12 years in prison.
On November 21, the High Courtrequired the government to recognize same-sex marriages legally performed in foreign jurisdictions (see section 2.c.). In April 2005 the government announced a policy of recognizing same-sex couples with children as a family for purposes of receiving housing aid.
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 the government.
The law permits legal foreign workers and nonresident Palestinians to join Israeli trade unions and organize their own unions in Israel, according to the government and Histadrut.Benefits andprotections in Histadrut work contracts and grievance procedures extend to legal nonresident workers in the organized sector, but they cannot vote in Histadrut elections.
Labor laws apply to noncitizens. Documented foreign workers are entitled to many of the same benefits as citizens, such as vacation, maternity leave, severance pay, and compensation for injuries, although not national health care. (Employers are legally required to provide insurance.) However, undocumented foreign workers receive no benefits.
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.
According to the government and Histadrut, nonresident workers could organize unions and engage in collective bargaining. Foreign workers must pay an agency fee, and they can also pay union dues, entitling them to employment protection and some entitlements won by collective bargaining agreements. Collective bargaining agreements are extended to nonunionized workplaces in the same industrial sector.
Unions have the right to strike, and workers exercised this right.If essential public services are affected by a strike, the government may appeal to labor courts for back-to-work orders during continued negotiations. Worker dismissals and the terms of severance arrangements have traditionally been the central issues of disputes.
There are no Export Processing Zones. In 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 there were no reports that such practices occurred. 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.).
d. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
Laws protect children from exploitation in the workplace and prohibit forced or compulsory labor; the government effectively implemented these laws.
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.
There was no reliable data regarding the incidence of child labor, although NGOs suspected in 2005 that it occurred to a limited degree. In December Histadrut estimated the number of illegal child workers in the country at between 5,000 and 10,000. At year's end Histadrut reported that child labor occurred primarily in restaurants, markets, cleaning, and as apprentices in small factories. During the year Hotline reported no cases of children under the age of 15 working year-around in agriculture. Although in previous years, the government, Histadrut, and NGOs received reports of illegal child labor in the undocumented Palestinian population, they did not report instances of Palestinian child labor during the year.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
The minimum wage was approximately 45.6 percent of the average wage, approximately $835 (3,585 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.However, during the year Histadrut reported that a noncitizen worker, who was paid the minimum wage, evenabsent the special allowances for citizens, received a decent standard of living.
By law the maximum hours of work at regular pay are 42.5 hours per week.
Employers are required to obtain a government permit to hire Palestinian workers from the occupied territories. Most Palestinians from the occupied territories working legally in the country were employed on a daily basis and, unless employed on shift work, were not authorized to spend the night in the country. However, according to Histadrut there were very few legal Palestinians working in the country on a regular basis during the year.
Palestinian employees whose local employers recruited them through the Ministry of Industry, Trade, and 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. For example, they did not receive unemployment insurance, disability payments, or low-income supplements although their contributions covered such benefits. Histadrut reported that a legal mechanism established in 2005 for non-Palestinianmigrant workers employed in the construction sector assures workers' rights and social benefits such as convalescence pay, severance pay, and annual leave). When a migrant construction worker leaves the country, he receives all his payment at a bank in Ben Gurion airport after presenting his passport. In other sectors such as agriculture and care giving, there was no comparable mechanism. Israeli employers paid Palestinian employees not employed through the ministry directly after deducting the union fee and NII contribution; workers paid by employersreceived the same benefits as workers 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.
Government officials continued to withhold all of the PA payments pending its creation of a social security department to distribute the fees.
Since 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. and annex). Closures have continued periodically for the past six years. During periods of nonclosure, Palestinians required Israeli-issued permits to enter the country. 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. A November media report cited more than 2,000 complaints and reports had been filed at the Ministry of Industry, Trade, and Labor against employers that have violated labor laws, but there were only 18 inspectors to enforce labor laws that affected approximately 2.5 million workers.
Foreign workers could not legally remove themselves from dangerous work situations without jeopardy to continued employment. Additionally, illegal foreign workers risked immediate deportation. On March 30,in response to a petition filed by Hotline, Kav LaOved (an Israeli NGO for protecting worker rights), and other NGOs, the Supreme Court ruled the policy of employer-dependent status for foreign workers leads to abuse. The court ordered the government to create a new legal mechanism for employing foreign workers; however, the government had not complied by year's end.
All workers could challenge unsafe work practices through government oversight and legal agencies, although according to Hotline, employees in sectors other than construction were not provided information on how to contact the authorities. Hotline also reported that most agencies lacked interpreters. Between March 1 and September 1, the Enforcement Division of the Foreign Workers Department opened 2,087 investigations of employers for suspected violations and issued 1,567 fines for abuses of the rights of foreign workers. Prosecutors filed 35 criminal indictments against employers during the same period.
Brokers and employers are permitted to collect hiring fees from migrant workers. The government limited such fees to about $710 (3,050 NIS) per worker, but NGOs charged that many foreign workers continued to pay more, up to $15,000 (63,000 NIS). In a significant number of cases according to NGOs, employers dismissed workers shortly after arriving. Between March 1 and September 1, the Ministry of Industry, Trade, and Labor investigated approximately 85 complaints against agencies licensed to recruit foreign workers and revoked 25 licenses. Dismissed foreign workers who were not deported often sought illegal employment.
Public debate continued regarding non-Palestinian foreign workers. According to the government, between January 1 and October 1, the Ministry of Industry, Trade, and Labor issued 86,072 permits for foreigners to work in the country. CBS figures released in September showed that at the end of 2005 there were 178,000 legal migrant workers. During the year according to the government, non-Palestinian foreign workers, both legal and illegal, constituted approximately 7 to 8 percent of the labor force. The Immigration Authority estimated that there were about 70,000 to 80,000 illegal foreign workers in the country. According to Hotline, most legal foreign workers came from the Philippines, Thailand, China, Turkey, and Romania, while most illegal foreign workers were from African countries. Many foreign workers came from India and Nepal, some legally, others not.
The law does not permit foreign workers to obtain citizenship or permanent residence status unless they are Jewish. In May responding to a Supreme Court order, the Interior Minister announced plans to broaden a provisional 2005 program under which the children of foreign workers would be eligible for citizenship under certain conditions. Under the revised program, a child of at least six years of age who had spent at least five years in the country and whose parents entered the country legally would be eligible for citizenship. In December 2005 responding to a petition filed by ACRI, the Supreme Court ordered the government to lower the minimum naturalization age to six. The Supreme Court also ordered the government not to deport parents of such children eligible for citizenship.
Workers may contest deportation orders in a special court, but often lacked fluency in Hebrew, placing them at a considerable disadvantage. According to Hotline, appropriate interpreters were not always present at the hearings, despite a 2002 commitment to provide them (see section 1.d.).
In 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. Advocacy groups generally were allowed to assist workers facing deportation (see section 1.d.).Country Reports on Human Rights Practices - 2006