Report on Human Rights Practices for 2008 - Israel
Israel is a multiparty parliamentary democracy with a population of approximately 7.3 million, including Israelis living in the occupied territories. Israel has no constitution, although a series of "Basic Laws" enumerate fundamental rights. Certain fundamental laws, orders, and regulations legally depend on the existence of a "State of Emergency," which has been in effect since May 19, 1948. The 120-member, unicameral Knesset has the power to dissolve the government and mandate elections. March 2006 elections for the Knesset were considered free and fair. On September 17, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert announced that he would resign following a Kadima Party primary election but remain as caretaker prime minister pending the outcome of general elections scheduled for February 10, 2009. Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control of the security forces within Israel. (An annex to this report covers human rights in the occupied territories. This report deals only with human rights in Israel and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.)
The government generally respected the human rights of its citizens, although there were problems in some areas. There were several high-profile cases involving corruption by political leaders. Institutional, legal, and societal discrimination against Arabs, non-Orthodox Jews, and other religious groups continued, as did societal discrimination against persons with disabilities. Women suffered societal discrimination and domestic violence. The government maintained unequal educational systems for Arab and Jewish students. Trafficking in and abuse of women and foreign workers remained a problem, as did societal discrimination against persons with disabilities.
Palestinian rocket and terrorist attacks killed 24 civilians in Israel during the year. One terrorist attack allegedly perpetrated by radical members of the Jewish settlement movement injured one Israeli civilian.
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 politically motivated killings.
On March 21, two police officers beat Sabri al-Jarjawi, a 25-year-old Bedouin man from the Negev, until he fell into a coma for three months before dying. A friend of al-Jarjawi, who was present during the incident, stated that the attack was unprovoked. According to a police statement, the two officers resorted to force after one of the two Bedouin men assaulted one of the officers. A Police Investigation Department (PID) investigation continued at year's end.
In October 2007 a Palestinian prisoner, Mohammed al-Askar, was killed during a riot at Ketziot Prison in southern Israel. Prisoners alleged that security forces improperly used crowd-dispersal weapons, including rubber bullets and bean bag projectiles. An internal Israel Prison Service (IPS) investigation concluded during the year and was forwarded to the district attorney for review, according to the government. The result of the IPS investigation was not revealed to the public, and there were no further developments at year's end.
On January 17, border policeman Avraham Tomer was convicted of manslaughter for killing Palestinian laborer Iyad Abu Aya during a 2006 raid near Tel Aviv. Court documents revealed that Tomer and two other border police officers detained and beat three undocumented Palestinian laborers with clubs before Tomer shot and killed Abu Aya. On November 9, Tomer was sentenced to one year in prison.
On November 11, in an initial hearing, a border policeman pled not guilty in the 2006 killing of Nadim Milham, an Israeli Arab. The policeman, searching for weapons in Milham's home, allegedly beat and shot him from behind when he attempted to escape, according to the nongovernmental organization (NGO) Mossawa Advocacy Center for Arab Citizens of Israel (Mossawa).
In 2006 the attorney general ordered a review of the PID decision to end its investigation of the 2000 police killings of 13 protesters. Following the review the attorney general announced on January 27 that he was upholding the PID decision to close the case without indictments. The decision was met with protests and strikes throughout the Arab-Israeli community.
Palestinians killed 24 civilians (23 Israelis and one noncitizen) in rocket and other terrorist attacks.
For example, on February 4, a Palestinian suicide bomber struck a shopping mall in the southern town of Dimona, killing one person and injuring nine others. Israeli police killed a second attacker before he was able to detonate his bomb belt. Two terrorist groups, the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, claimed joint responsibility for the attack.
On March 6, a Palestinian resident of East Jerusalem shot and killed eight students and wounded 11 others at the Mercaz Harav Kook Yeshiva (Jewish religious school) in West Jerusalem. An off-duty soldier entered the yeshiva and killed the assailant.
On July 2, a Palestinian resident of East Jerusalem killed three persons and wounded at least 18 others with a bulldozer in West Jerusalem before being shot and killed by an off-duty soldier. The government defined the incident as a terrorist attack, but the police were unable to determine a clear motive.
Palestinian terrorists routinely fired rockets and mortars from the Gaza Strip into Israel. According to the government, citing numbers from the Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, Palestinians fired 1,571 rockets and 1,531 mortars into Israel, up from 896 rockets and 749 mortars in 2007. Rocket, mortar, and sniper fire from the Gaza Strip killed 10 civilians during the year.
According to the NGO B'Tselem, Israeli military operations killed an estimated 782 Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, including at least 315 by year's end as a result of Israeli Air Force (IAF) airstrikes. The strikes were targeted against Hamas security installations, personnel, and other facilities in the Gaza Strip. The Israeli military operation continued at the end of the calendar year (see Annex).
There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances during the year.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
According to a 1999 High Court ruling, torture and the application of physical or psychological pain are illegal. However, Israel Security Agency (ISA) interrogators may be exempt from criminal prosecution if they use such methods in extraordinary "ticking bomb" cases. Human rights NGOs alleged that the ISA applied this exemption more often than the court intended. In November three NGOs--the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), HaMoked: Center for the Defense of the Individual, and the Public Committee against Torture in Israel (PCATI)--filed a contempt of court motion to enforce the High Court's ruling. The motion was pending at year's end.
During the year NGOs filed numerous complaints alleging that security forces tortured or abused Palestinians from the occupied territories (see Annex).
On June 20, HaMoked reported that three police officers detained and severely beat one of its employees, East Jerusalem resident Tareq Abu Laban, while he was visiting friends in Tel Aviv. A PID investigation continued at year's end.
On July 19, police arrested two soldiers for attacking two Druze families on a beach near Haifa. One of the victims, an off-duty border policeman, suffered moderate injuries when he was beaten with rifle butts, batons, and a fire hydrant, according to witnesses cited in press reports. The victims told police the two soldiers were drunk and made racist remarks throughout the attack. The police investigation continued at year's end.
The NGO Hotline for Migrant Workers (Hotline) reported receiving four complaints regarding violence by the immigration police, down from six in 2007.
On April 13, two policemen allegedly detained and beat Fadi Darab'i, an undocumented Palestinian laborer, at a construction site in the Israeli town of Gan Yavneh. Darab'i accused one of the policemen of twisting his arm while the other kicked him in the groin. According to Darab'i and other Palestinian detainees, police at the station where Darab'i was taken refused his request for an ambulance. Darab'i eventually received treatment for his injuries at a Palestinian hospital in the West Bank, where he underwent surgery to remove a damaged testicle. On October 28, the PID indicted officers the two officers, Iyad Huzeyl and Dani Havery, for assault involving grievous injury. The case continued at year's end.
On September 25, prominent Hebrew University professor and critic of the settlements Ze'ev Sternhell was wounded when a pipe bomb, allegedly planted by radical members of the settlement movement, exploded as he opened the door of his home in West Jerusalem. After the attack police found flyers near Sternhell's home calling for the establishment of a new state in the West Bank based on Jewish religious law. The flyers, signed by a Jewish extremist group called the Army of the State Liberators, also offered 1.1 million NIS ($314,000) to anyone who killed a member of the NGO Peace Now.
In 2006 three border police officers--Eliran Levy, Moshe Yekutiel, and Almit Asarsa--were indicted on charges of aggravated assault for abusing Abd Tareq Ahrub, a West Bank resident caught in Jerusalem without a permit. During the year the case was scheduled for a hearing in January 2009.
In October 2007 the Supreme Court began considering the state's appeal of a district court decision not to dismiss a lawsuit filed against the state by Lebanese citizen Mustafa Dirani, who charged that Israeli security forces tortured and raped him during interrogations between 1994 and 2004. The case was awaiting a Supreme Court hearing date at year's end.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
The law provides detainees the right to conditions that do not harm their health or dignity. Conditions in IPS facilities for common criminals and security prisoners generally met international standards. (Conditions in four facilities for detainees are covered in the annex.) The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) regularly monitored IPS facilities, interrogation facilities, and the two Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Provisional Detention Centers. The Israel Bar Association (IBA) and public defenders were permitted to inspect IPS facilities. Overcrowding remained a significant problem. Regulations require at least 48 square feet of living space per person, but the Prison Authority reported in October 2007 that the average space was 31 square feet per prisoner.
In August the IBA issued a report on Sharon and Hadarim prisons alleging that security prisoners did not receive adequate health care, and that special IPS units assigned to the prisons routinely used dogs to attack prisoners. Unsanitary and poorly lit cells were also cited as problems. The IPS disputed the report and stated that the accusation that prison guards used dogs to abuse prisoners had been examined and found false.
In July the Public Defender's Office released its annual report covering conditions in Israeli prisons and detention centers in 2007. The report revealed that in one-third of prisons visited, inmates and detainees complained that guards regularly treated them with violence, threats, and humiliation. The report applauded the IPS for creating a special team to deal with shortcomings in the previous year's report but noted that almost nothing had been accomplished to improve conditions.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, and the government generally observed these prohibitions for citizens. Arab Israelis are subject to the same laws as all citizens. Noncitizens of Palestinian origin detained on security grounds fell under military jurisdiction even if detained in Israel (see Annex). Non-Israeli residents of the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights were subject to the same laws as Israeli citizens.
Role of the Police and Security Apparatus
The ISA (or Shin Bet), under the authority of the prime minister, combats terrorism and espionage in Israel and the occupied territories (see Annex). The National Police, including the Border Police and the Immigration Police, are under the authority of the Ministry of Internal Security. Police corruption generally was not a problem.
The PID, within the Ministry of Justice, reviews complaints against police officers and may impose disciplinary measures or recommend indictments. Human rights groups alleged that the PID lacked independence and failed to investigate adequately complaints filed against police officers by Arab Israelis and Palestinians. In 2006 in response to a State Comptroller report, the PID announced a six-year plan to cede control over police investigations to a new civilian body. According to the government, the PID hired and trained 15 civilian investigators during the year.
The police carried out training programs in coordination with academic institutions and human rights NGOs to promote human rights awareness and cultural sensitivity. During the year the National Police provided mandatory Arabic language and culture classes for all new cadets.
Arrest and Detention
The law provides that an arrested citizen is considered innocent until proven guilty and has the right to habeas corpus, to remain silent, to be represented by an attorney, to contact family members, and to receive a fair trial. The government may withhold evidence from defense lawyers on security grounds; however, the evidence must be made available to the court. A bail system exists, and a decision denying bail can be appealed. As a general practice, non-Israelis of Palestinian origin detained for security violations were not granted bail. An individual suspected of a criminal offense may be held without charge for 24 hours before being brought before a judge. Suspects in nonsecurity cases were apprehended openly with warrants based on sufficient evidence and issued by an authorized official. Detainees in such cases generally were informed promptly of the charges against them. Persons detained on security grounds may fall under one or more of the legal regimes described below.
Under a 2006 "temporary law" on criminal procedures that has twice been renewed, individuals suspected of a security offense may be held for 96 hours before being brought before a judge. The law, which is set to expire again in December 2010, allows the court to authorize holding a detainee for up to 20 days without an indictment and to bar a detainee from consulting a lawyer for up to 50 days. Decisions may be further extended and made without the detainee being present or, in some cases, informed of the hearing.
The 1979 Emergency Powers Law allows the Defense Ministry to detain persons administratively without charge for up to six months, renewable indefinitely. Such detainees, almost all Palestinians, were permitted legal representation. The court may rely on classified evidence denied to detainees and their lawyers. Detainees can appeal their cases to a military court and ultimately to the Supreme Court.
Persons detained under the 2002 Illegal Combatant Law have the right to see an attorney within seven days, can be held for 14 days without judicial review, may be denied access to counsel for up to 21 days, and may be held indefinitely subject to twice yearly district court reviews. The law also established a military court system inside Israel that may, under certain circumstances, rule on requests to extend a detainee's incarceration. In June the government extended for an additional four years a "temporary provision" that exempts law enforcement personnel from the law requiring them to film and audio record all interrogations of detainees suspected of security offenses.
Human rights groups alleged administrative security detention orders by military commanders based on "security reasons" were used even when the accused posed no clear danger. As of November 30, according to the NGO B'Tselem, there were 569 administrative detainees in IPS detention centers, while the IDF held none as of October 29. While most administrative detainees were held for periods ranging from six months to three years, in August the IBA reported that at least one administrative detainee in Sharon Prison, Mahmoud Azan, had been imprisoned for 10 years without charge.
The law provides that a foreign national suspected of immigration violations be afforded a 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 written commitment by the government to the Supreme Court to provide translators. Hotline reported that in Ketsiot, where most asylum seekers are detained, translators were rarely present during hearings. According to Hotline, persons held in immigration detention rarely were released pending judicial determination of their status. Moreover, if the detainee's country of origin had no diplomatic or consular representation, he or she could remain in detention for months. According to Hotline, at the end of the year more than 1,000 detainees were waiting for determination of their asylum claims, more than 100 of them children.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The law provides for an independent judiciary, and the government respected this provision in practice. The judiciary has ruled against the executive, including in security cases.
The judicial branch comprises magistrate courts, six district courts, the Supreme Court, and High Court of Justice. Magistrate courts adjudicate misdemeanors and lesser civil disputes; district courts adjudicate felonies and serious civil cases. There are also military, religious, labor relations, and administrative courts, with the High Court of Justice as the ultimate judicial authority. The High Court of Justice is a court of first instance for claims against the government. Its members also sit as the Supreme Court, adjudicating appeals of lower court rulings. Religious courts have jurisdiction over matters of personal status for their adherents.
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 nonmilitary court cases. Administrative detainee hearings are not trials and do not follow established trial procedures.
Trials are public except when the court determines that a closed trial is required to protect state security, foreign relations, a party's or witness's right to privacy, or 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. All indigent defendants facing imprisonment receive mandatory representation. According to the government, counsel represented all defendants in district and Supreme Court trials and in approximately 80 percent of cases in the magistrate courts.
Defendants have the right to question witnesses against them, to present witnesses on their behalf, to access evidence (except when the court determines such access would compromise state security), and to appeal.
Military courts provide some, but not all, of the procedural 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, B'Tselem, PCATI, and other NGOs alleged that in practice security prisoners have been sentenced on the basis of coerced confessions, coerced testimony of others, or both. The use of secret evidence is widespread in military trials. Counsel may assist the accused in such trials, and a judge may assign counsel to defendants. Indigent detainees do not automatically receive free legal counsel for military trials. The defendant and the public receive the charges in Hebrew, and the court can order an Arabic translation. Interpreters and translators were not always available. Defendants can appeal through the Military High Court and petition the High Court of Justice. Military courts treat Palestinian minors ages 16 and 17 as adults.
There are also custodial courts and four deportation courts to address the removal of illegal immigrants.
Political Prisoners and Detainees
There were no reports of Israeli citizen political prisoners or detainees (see Annex).
Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies
An independent and impartial judiciary adjudicates lawsuits seeking damages for, or cessation of, human rights violations. Administrative remedies exist, and court orders were usually enforced.
f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The law provides 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 on the basis of security considerations.
On June 27, a new law went into effect allowing police officers and other public investigators to request court orders to obtain personal information from private communications companies, including landline and cellular telephones and Internet service providers (ISPs). To access private communications records under the new law, investigators must demonstrate that their goal is to save or preserve life, investigate or prevent crime, or seize property in accordance with the law. Civil rights NGOs accused the government of seeking to interfere with citizens' right to privacy. The government countered that the law codified existing practices and was necessary to fight crime.
Separate religious court systems adjudicate personal status, such as marriage and divorce, for the Jewish, Muslim, Christian, and Druze communities. Jews can marry only in Orthodox Jewish services. Civil marriages, marriages of non-Orthodox Jews, or marriage to someone from another faith must take place abroad in order to be recognized. According to the NGO New Family Organization, more than 5,000 couples marry in civil ceremonies abroad each year, most in Cyprus. The government allows consular marriages as long as both parties are classified as having no religion or belonging to a religious community the state does not recognize.
The authority to grant status (citizenship and residency) to a non-Israeli spouse, including Palestinian and other non-Jewish foreign spouses, resides with the Ministry of the Interior (MOI). On July 1, the Knesset extended for another year the temporary 2003 Citizenship and Entry Law, which prohibits a citizen's Palestinian spouse from the occupied territories from residing in the country. A Palestinian male spouse age 35 and older and female spouse age 25 and older may apply for temporary visit permits. In 2007 Mossawa, citing MOI statistics, claimed the law affected "at least 21,298 families," including couples with long-standing marriages. Civil rights groups criticized the denial of citizenship and residency status to spouses of Israeli Arabs, who constitute the majority of Israelis married to residents of the occupied territories. In March 2007 the Knesset also expanded the law to bar family reunification in cases where one spouse is a non-Jewish citizen of Iran, Iraq, Syria, or Lebanon.
Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
The law provides for freedom of speech and of the press, and the government generally respected these rights in practice. The law prohibits hate speech and incitement to violence, and the 1948 Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance prohibits expressing support for illegal or terrorist organizations.
Israel has 13 daily newspapers, at least 90 weekly newspapers, more than 250 periodicals, and a number of Internet news sites. All newspapers were privately owned and managed. Journalism laws dating from the British mandate period require that the MOI license newspapers and allow the minister, under certain conditions, to close a newspaper.
The state-owned Israel Broadcast Authority controls the Hebrew-language Israel Television and an Arabic-language channel, as well as Kol Israel (Voice of Israel) radio, which airs news and other programming in Hebrew, Arabic, and other languages. The Second Television and Radio Authority, a public body, supervises the two privately owned commercial television channels and 14 privately owned radio stations.
A cable company, HOT, and one satellite television company carried international networks and programs produced for domestic audiences. In July 2007 HOT dropped the Christian network Daystar TV from its subscriber package citing "editorial and content considerations" following complaints about proselytizing. A petition by Daystar TV to the Supreme Court was pending at year's end.
The law authorizes the military to censor sensitive material reported from Israel or the occupied territories. Under an agreement between the government and media representatives, all media organizations must submit to military censors materials that deal with specific military issues as well as strategic infrastructure issues, such as oil and water supplies. The censor's decisions may be appealed to the High Court, and the censor cannot appeal a court judgment. Foreign journalists were required to submit sensitive articles and photographs to the military censor but in practice rarely complied. The MOI has no authority over the military censor.
All journalists operating in Israel must be accredited by the Government Press Office.
News printed or broadcast abroad may be consumed in Israel without censorship, apart from security exceptions. There were no reports that the government fined newspapers for violating censorship regulations during the year.
The government prohibited Israeli journalists from entering the Gaza Strip, and those who did were subject to legal penalties such as fines and restraining orders. In early November the government also started preventing foreign journalists from entering the Gaza Strip. On November 24, the Foreign Press Association (FPA) in Israel filed a petition to the High Court requesting that it overturn the ban on foreign journalists entering the Gaza Strip. On December 31, the High Court ruled in favor of the FPA petition. The government had not complied at year's end.
There were generally no restrictions on Internet access. The government monitored cellular and landline telephones and ISPs. The December 2007 survey results published in Globes newspaper indicated Israelis averaged 37.4 hours per month of Internet usage. Approximately four million persons had Internet access.
Academic Freedom and Cultural Events
There were generally no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.
Israeli universities are required to justify to the IDF acceptance of Palestinian students from the occupied territories. According to revised government criteria submitted in response to a November 2007 High Court order, as many as 70 students from the West Bank may pursue graduate studies in Israeli universities at any given time, provided there is no practical alternative and the chosen program is not in a field that could provide knowledge or skills capable of harming Israel. There were no students from Gaza (see also Annex).
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
Freedom of Assembly
The law provides for freedom of assembly, and the government generally respected this right in practice.
On May 15, approximately 15,000 Arab Israelis and other activists marched to the former Arab village of Safouriya, now a Jewish community, as part of a demonstration to mark the 60th anniversary of the establishment of the State of Israel. The procession, which started peacefully, ended with clashes between demonstrators and security forces. The police stated that they acted with restraint and appropriate force after several demonstrators began throwing stones at them, while the demonstrators claimed that the police attacked first. The Israeli NGOs Adalah and the Arab Association of Human Rights (AAHR) released video footage that, according to press reports, showed police beating or kicking some demonstrators in the head and face as they sat handcuffed on the ground. According to press and NGO reports, police attacked several local and international journalists, including a CNN correspondent, and in some cases confiscated cameras and erased footage. On September 25, Adalah and AAHR submitted a formal complaint to the PID. The PID investigation continued at year's end.
Freedom of Association
The law provides for the right of association, and the government generally respected this right in practice.
On April 10, Adalah appealed to the attorney general to halt ISA interrogations of political activists from the Israeli-Arab Balad party, which holds three Knesset seats. Adalah stated that the ISA was intimidating Balad members and interfering with the legitimate political activity of the Arab minority. In his May 12 response, the attorney general denied Adalah's appeal and argued that the ISA's activities were necessary to ensure that relationships between former Balad leader and Knesset member Azmi Bishara (who fled the country in 2007 amid espionage allegations) and Balad members still in the country could not be exploited to harm Israel.
c. Freedom of Religion
The law provides for freedom of worship, 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," while also providing for full social and political equality, regardless of religious affiliation. The government recognized only Orthodox Jewish religious authorities in personal and some civil status matters concerning Jewish persons. The government implemented policies including marriage, divorce, education, burial, and observance of the Sabbath based on Orthodox Jewish interpretation of religious law, and allocations of state resources favored Orthodox Jewish institutions. According to government figures, during the year the budget for religious services and religious institutions for the Jewish population was approximately 1.6 billion NIS ($457 million). Religious minorities, which comprised slightly more than 20 percent of the population, received approximately 65 million NIS ($18.6 million), or just less than 4 percent of total funding.
The law confers recognition on some religious communities, granting them authority over their members in personal status matters. Recognized communities are: Eastern Orthodox, Latin (Roman Catholic), Gregorian-Armenian, Armenian-Catholic, Syrian (Catholic), Chaldean (Uniate), Greek Catholic Melkite, Maronite, Syrian Orthodox, Orthodox Jewish (both Ashkenazic and Sephardic rites), Druze, the Evangelical Episcopal Church, and the Baha'i. The status of several Christian denominations is defined by arrangements with government agencies. 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 may bring cases to religious courts by mutual agreement. Muslims also may bring alimony and property division matters associated with divorce to civil courts.
Several religious communities, including Protestant groups, were not recognized. Unrecognized communities generally practiced their religion freely and maintained communal institutions but were ineligible to receive government funding for religious services.
Under the Law of Return, the government grants immigration and residence rights to individuals who meet established criteria defining Jewish identity. Included in this definition is a child or grandchild of a Jew, the spouse of a Jew, the spouse of a child of a Jew, and the spouse of a grandchild of a Jew. The government uses a separate, more rigorous standard based on Orthodox Jewish criteria to determine the right to full citizenship, entitlement to government financial support for immigrants, the legitimacy of conversions to Judaism performed within the country, and Jewish status for purposes of personal and some civil status issues.
Many Jewish citizens objected to exclusive Orthodox control over aspects of their personal lives. Approximately 310,000 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. A 1996 law requiring the government to establish civil cemeteries has not been fully implemented.
The 1967 Protection of Holy Sites Law protects all holy sites, but the government implemented regulations only for 137 Jewish sites, leaving many Muslim and Christian sites neglected, inaccessible, or threatened by property development. The Holy Sepulchre and other well-known sites have de facto protection as a result of their international importance; however, community mosques, churches, and shrines often faced threats from developers and municipalities that Jewish sites did not face. Christian pilgrimage sites around the Sea of Galilee faced regular threats of encroachment from district planners who wanted to use parts of the properties for recreation.
In response to a court order, in 2006 the government appointed an interministerial committee to examine the administrative and budgetary management of holy sites. In August 2007 the Supreme Court ordered the government to explain its failure to protect Islamic holy sites and to provide funds for their maintenance. On March 5, the government responded that the promulgation of specific regulations was not necessary to maintain and protect the holy sites of any religion. The government also announced it would grant a special two million NIS ($571,000) budget to the Israel Land Administration (ILA) for the upkeep of unused mosques on lands the ILA manages.
Offering or receiving material inducements for conversion, as well as converting persons under 18 years of age, 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 refrained from proselytizing under an agreement with the government. While officially legal, missionaries faced harassment and discrimination by some Haredi (Ultra-Orthodox) Jewish activists and organizations and certain local government officials.
On April 28, immigration police arrested German student Barbara Ludwig and prepared to deport her for failing to maintain a valid student visa. According to Ludwig and her attorneys, Ludwig made repeated attempts to renew her student visa but was denied because the Interior Ministry determined that she was a Messianic Jew. In an April 29 article, the Jerusalem Post described letters addressed to Ludwig from the MOI criticizing her alleged missionary activity.
The legal defense NGO Jerusalem Institute of Justice (JIJ) also alleged that MOI officials denied services to certain citizens based on their religious beliefs. The JIJ's legal defense caseload for such cases contained approximately 143 open files during the first half of the year. This included numerous cases dealing with MOI attempts to revoke citizenship or failure to process immigration applications from persons entitled to citizenship under the Law of Return, if it was determined such persons held Messianic or Christian beliefs.
On April 16, the High Court responded to a petition filed by the JIJ on behalf of 12 immigration applicants born of Jewish fathers and non-Jewish mothers by ruling that the government could not deny status to a person eligible to immigrate under the Law of Return on the basis of that person's identification as a Messianic Jew, as long as that person was not defined as Jewish according to the Chief Rabbinate's Orthodox criteria. The High Court did not prohibit the government from discriminating on the basis of religious belief in cases involving immigrants who meet the Orthodox criteria for being a Jew, for example by having a Jewish mother or by undergoing a Chief Rabbinate-recognized Orthodox conversion.
Societal Abuses and Discrimination
There were reports of societal abuses or discrimination based on religious belief or practice.
Members of Jehovah's Witnesses reported an increase in assaults and other crimes against their membership in 2007 and during the year and noted the difficulties their members faced convincing the police to investigate or apprehend the perpetrators. Between September 2007 and September, members of Jehovah's Witnesses filed 46 criminal complaints against antimissionary activists, most of whom belong to the Haredi antimissionary organization Yad L'Achim. The crimes ranged from harassment to assault. Police responded to 15 of 35 calls for assistance during the same time period, according to the Jehovah's Witnesses legal department. The JIJ noted a similar increase in crimes and violent assaults against members of the congregations it represents. In September the police reissued a 1999 directive to police reminding them of their duty to investigate fully crimes against minority religious communities.
On May 15, residents of the Tel Aviv suburb of Or Yehuda publicly burned hundreds of Christian Bibles missionaries had distributed in the community. The incident was reportedly organized by the deputy mayor of Or Yehuda, Uzi Aharon, after he received complaints about the Messianic Jewish presence from area residents. Aharon told the newspaper Maariv the municipality operated a team of activists devoted entirely to uprooting missionary activity, including the burning of New Testaments, and that their activities were a fulfillment of the commandment to "burn the evil from your midst." Aharon subsequently expressed regret for any damage done to Jewish-Christian relations, but he later stated on the country's Army Radio that it was necessary to "purge the evil among us."
On May 27, the Chief Rabbinate, joined by Christian and Muslim leaders from the country and the West Bank, issued a statement condemning the Or Yehuda New Testament burnings but also condemning all attempts to convert a person from one faith to another. On May 29, the Foreign Ministry condemned the burnings as "contrary to the values of the State of Israel."
On March 3, unknown vandals broke into the Hassan Bek Mosque in Tel Aviv, damaging the gardens and property.
On August 13, unknown arsons attacked the Beit Yaakov Synagogue in the Tel Aviv suburb of Bnei Brak, destroying the synagogue's Torah scrolls.
In September 2007, during the Jewish Holy Day of Yom Kippur when driving is prohibited in Jewish areas, a 20-year-old Arab-Israeli man, Ashad Shibli, ran over a nine-year-old girl while she was riding her bicycle in the northern town of Kfar Tavor. Witnesses stated that he had tried to run over two other residents earlier in the same day. On October 12, authorities indicted Shibli for manslaughter. The trial continued at year's end.
In 2006 approximately 100 Haredi Jews assaulted approximately 50 Christian tourists in a Jerusalem neighborhood, injuring three. Two of the attackers were subsequently convicted of assaulting a policeman and participating in a riot. Sentencing was scheduled for November 10.
The national public bus service operated sex-segregated transportation for Haredi Jews. Haredi passengers also tried to impose sex segregation on some mixed buses. According to press reports, women who refused to sit in the rear of such buses were regularly harassed and sometimes assaulted. Following a legal petition against the legality of sex-segregated public buses, the High Court recommended on January 21 that the government establish a committee to examine legal and operational issues related to the operation of sex-segregated buses. The committee, headed by the transportation ministry, continued to deliberate at year's end.
During the year Haredi Jews threw rocks at motorists to protest driving on the Sabbath, and soccer fans from certain teams chanted "death to Arabs" and anti-Muslim slogans during games between Israeli Jewish and Arab teams.
For a more detailed discussion, see the 2008 International Religious Freedom Report at www.state.gov/g/drl/irf/rpt.
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).
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 any state officially at war with the country without government permission.
During the year there were numerous reports of foreign nationals with Arab or Muslim names subjected to harsh and degrading treatment at border crossings. Diplomatic missions regularly protested such treatment regarding their nationals.
Arab Israelis required a special permit to enter area A (the area, according to the Interim Agreement, in which the Palestinian Authority exercises security responsibility). They could travel abroad using their Israeli passports without restriction. Arab Israelis regularly complained of discrimination and degrading treatment by airport security officials. In May 2007 ACRI and Adalah petitioned the High Court to demand that the Israel Airports Authority, Shin Bet, and the Ministry of Transportation no longer use Arab ethnicity as a sufficient reason for conducting intensive security checks at Israeli airports. The case was pending at year's end.
An August 4 Physicians for Human Rights-Israel report accused the ISA of preventing Palestinians from leaving Gaza to seek medical treatment in Israel or abroad unless they agreed to become informers for Israeli intelligence. According to testimony collected in the report, the ISA used blackmail and coercion to elicit cooperation from gravely ill patients, some of whom required urgent treatment for life-threatening illnesses. The ISA denied the allegation.
The law prohibits forced exile of citizens, and the government generally respected this prohibition in practice.
Protection of Refugees
Israel is party to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention and its 1967 protocol. Israel has not enacted any legislation implementing the 1951 Convention or 1967 Protocol but in practice has established a system for the reception and consideration of asylum claims.
The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons, refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern in Israel.
UNHCR registered 7,483 new asylum seekers during the year, of whom 40 percent were Eritrean and 29 percent were Sudanese, and estimated that almost every new arrival transited Egypt en route to Israel. The government estimated that there were approximately 15,000 asylum seekers in Israel at year's end; approximately 4,000 were Sudanese, and 5,000 to 7,000 were Eritrean.
Although the government complied with its obligation not to return persons to a country where their lives or freedom would be threatened, Israeli and international NGOs and UNHCR protested "coordinated returns" of some asylum seekers to Egypt because of allegations that those individuals were later sent back to their countries of origin in violation of international agreements against refoulement. Between August 24 and 28, the IDF Liaison Unit turned 91 asylum seekers who crossed into Israel from Egypt over to Egyptian authorities. According to NGO and media reports, the number was higher, and they were at risk because Egypt often deported such persons to their countries of origin. Hotline submitted portions of what it claimed were letters of protest to the minister of defense from two reserve soldiers who participated in the deportation. One section stated that while performing reserve duty during August, the soldier participated in or witnessed four or five occasions in which asylum seekers were returned to Egyptian authorities after they entered Israel. The letter claimed the asylum seekers were blindfolded and handcuffed.
The government considered the Eritreans and Sudanese to be receiving temporary protection, as their status was considered differently than other asylum seekers and "infiltrators." On that basis, the government provided temporary protection to approximately 9,000 to 11,000 individuals during the year.
The government does not have its own status determination system and relies on UNHCR, which referred eligible refugee applicants to an advisory committee, the National Status Granting Body (NSGB). The MOI renders final adjudications based on NSGB recommendations. The Tel Aviv University Refugee Rights Clinic argued that the NSGB's procedures were not transparent.
Refugees recommended by UNHCR and recognized by Israel received six-month visas renewable until final status determination. A refugee's status is evaluated after one year. No legal option exists for a refugee to become a naturalized citizen.
Those denied asylum and unwilling to leave may remain in immigration detention indefinitely. Some newly arrived illegal migrants were placed in hotels, kibbutzim (Israeli cooperative communities), and other employment situations. UNHCR reported that the MOI released an unknown number of asylum seekers from detention during the year without reference to the Immigration Tribunal and UNHCR. Hotline reported that most asylum seekers who entered during the year were taken to the Ketziot facility and released after several months, under geographically restricted conditions.
A July MOI decision stated that Eritrean asylum seekers would be restricted to locations removed from the center of the country to improve employment opportunities. NGOs argued that this placement hindered access to social services in the Tel Aviv area. On January 7, the MOI started giving six-month work visas to approximately 2,000 Eritreans who arrived in Israel prior to December 2007. Hotline stated that the approximately 3,000 Eritreans who arrived after this date spent months with no legal possibility of work and were forced to live in substandard conditions in crowded shelters in Tel Aviv. For asylum seekers from states officially at war with Israel, the government attempted to find a third country to accept them.
According to the state comptroller's annual report submitted to the Knesset in May, between 2000 and 2007, 8,377 Africans requested refugee status and political asylum; 109 were granted refugee status and asylum.
In July the government created the Authority for Immigration and Border Crossings to implement government policy and hold MOI authority over foreign nationals and population issues. The authority was designed to consolidate all relevant bodies dealing with immigration issues, including asylum seekers. Most asylum officers have not yet received sufficient training to make refugee status determinations, and at year's end the government had not yet assumed status determination responsibility from UNHCR.
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
Israel is a parliamentary democracy with an active multiparty system. Relatively small parties, including those primarily supported by Arab Israelis, regularly win Knesset seats. The Basic Law requires that a party obtain 2 percent of the vote to win Knesset seats. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert resigned following a Kadima Party primary election on September 17 but remained as caretaker prime minister at year's end.
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. Otherwise, political parties operated without restriction or outside interference.
At year's end the 120-member Knesset had 18 female members, including the speaker. The Knesset included 10 Arabs and two Druze. The 29-member cabinet included two women, one Druze, and one Arab-Israeli Muslim. Five members of the 14-member High Court, including its president, were women. An Arab Christian was on the High Court, but no Muslim or Druze citizens have served.
Government Corruption and Transparency
The law penalizes official corruption, and the government generally sought to implement the law. Investigations of numerous allegations of misconduct by senior political figures and in government ministries occurred during the year. The national police, the state comptroller, the attorney general, and the finance ministry accountant general officially were responsible for combating official corruption. Senior officials were subject to comprehensive financial disclosure laws.
Prominent political figures were prosecuted. For example, on April 1, Member of Knesset (MK) Shlomo Benizri was convicted of bribery, fraud, and breach of trust for crimes committed between 1996 and 2001 when he was minister of health and minister of social affairs. Benizri was sentenced to 18 months' imprisonment and an 80,000 NIS ($23,000) fine.
On June 4, prosecutors indicted former finance minister Avraham Hirchson, who resigned from the cabinet in July 2007, on charges of bribery and aggravated fraud, money laundering, breach of trust, and falsifying corporate documents. The case continued at year's end.
During the year the state comptroller and attorney general investigated Prime Minister Olmert for a range of alleged crimes, including fraud, bribery, breach of trust, money laundering, and tax offenses. Six separate criminal investigations were under way throughout the year, one of which was closed for lack of evidence on December 4. No charges had been filed by year's end. The public reaction to the allegations forced Prime Minister Olmert to announce his resignation on September 20.
Criminal investigations or trials of other officials, including Finance Minister Ronnie Bar-On, MK Tzachi Hanegbi, MK Ruhama Avraham, MK Yaakov Edri, MK Yitzhak Ziv, and numerous senior law enforcement and civil service officials continued throughout the year.
On February 27, former MK Omri Sharon began serving a seven- month prison sentence following a 2005 conviction on corruption and fraud charges for crimes committed during the 1999 Likud party primary campaign of his father, former prime minister Ariel Sharon. Omri Sharon was released after five months for good behavior.
The government does not effectively implement its 1998 Freedom of Information Law. Many government bodies did not disclose their internal regulations as required, and others failed to publish annual reports. The 2008 State Comptroller's report found that approximately half of government authorities investigated did not make available to the public their administrative directives or procedures for requesting information or services. In April 2007 the High Court started deliberations on a 2005 ACRI petition demanding that the IDF and Ministry of Defense make their unclassified archives available to an Israeli journalist for research purposes. At year's end the case continued.
In December 2007, in response to a petition filed by five human rights NGOs, the Jerusalem Administrative Court ruled that the MOI violated the law by withholding from the public its regulations concerning the Population Registry, which governs determinations regarding citizenship, residency, and entitlements. The court ordered the ministry to publish its regulations on the ministry's Web site within 30 days, which it did by January 7.
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 cooperative to varying degrees, and some NGOs, including those critical of the government, were routinely invited to participate in Knesset hearings on proposed legislation. A Foreign Ministry liaison unit maintained relations with certain international and domestic NGOs. The government responded publicly to criticisms that it believed to be unfounded.
Under the 1980 Law of Associations governing nonprofit organizations, NGOs must register and pay annual fees.
Some registered NGOs were eligible to receive funding from government ministries. According to government figures, such funding amounted to approximately 2.5 billion NIS ($715 million) per year. Government funding for NGOs disproportionately favored Jewish NGOs, especially those that promote "traditional and religious Jewish activities."
During the year the MOI, operating under a 2002 order, barred entry to all foreign nationals affiliated with certain Palestinian human rights NGOs and solidarity organizations (see Annex).
Between January 20 and 27, Asma Jahangir, UN special rapporteur on freedom of religion and belief, visited the country. Special rapporteurs on three other subjects had outstanding requests to visit at year's end. Nine special rapporteurs or UN missions concerned with human rights visited the country in the last three years, according to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
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.
Rape is illegal, and the law doubles the penalty if the perpetrator assaults or rapes a relative. Through September the government reported 796 open rape files, 342 prosecutions, and six convictions.
On April 8, former president Moshe Katsav withdrew from a plea bargain he had agreed to in 2007. Women's rights activists and government transparency NGOs had opposed the plea bargain, which carried convictions for indecent acts and sexual harassment but dropped two rape charges against him and imposed a suspended prison sentence. At year's end no charges had been refiled.
The Equality of Women Law provides equal rights for women and protection from violence, harassment, exploitation, and trafficking; however, domestic violence against women was a problem. Through September the government received 13,612 spousal abuse complaints filed by women.
The Social Affairs Ministry provided a battered women's shelter and operated a hot line. The police operated a call center to inform victims about their cases. Women's organizations provided counseling, crisis intervention, legal assistance, and shelters. Prostitution is not illegal and was widespread but not highly visible. The law prohibits operation of brothels and organized sex enterprises. Between January and November the police opened 244 cases for managing a place for the purpose of prostitution and arrested 46 suspects in these cases. In addition, 50 brothels were closed, and 78 suspects were arrested for trafficking or related offenses, of whom 11 remained in custody pending completion of their trials.
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 the government opened 290 files, and the State Attorney's office opened 58 cases of sexual harassment, resulting in six indictments and one conviction. At year's end 81 police files on sexual harassment were pending.
In December Mahmoud Abu-Ghanem was arrested for allegedly murdering his teenage sister Dalia of Ramle, who had been missing for more than two weeks. Police believed she was the ninth woman in the Abu-Ghanem family to fall victim to an honor killing. According to the November 7 Kull al-Arab newspaper, human rights activist Ayidah Tuma-Sulayman, head of Association of Women Against Violence, charged that at least three other women were the victims of honor killings and that families may claim the acts were something other than honor killings because of the severe sentences such crimes receive.
"Modesty patrols" harassed Haredi women in Haredi communities. According to one indictment, in June seven men entered a woman's apartment in Jerusalem, beat her as they interrogated her about her relations with men, and threatened further assaults and death if she did not move out of her apartment building. Also in June, a 14-year-old girl in Betar Illit, predominantly an ultra-Orthodox community, reportedly had acid thrown on her face and body in an incident the press attributed to a modesty patrol.
Religious courts restricted the rights of Jewish and Muslim women. A Jewish woman is not allowed to initiate divorce proceedings without her husband's consent. Consequently, thousands of so-called agunot (chained women) may not remarry or have legitimate children because their husbands disappeared or refused to grant divorces. Rabbinical tribunals may sanction a husband who refuses divorce but may not grant a divorce without his consent. Women do not have redress to civil courts; only religious courts can rule on personal status issues.
A Muslim woman may petition for and receive a divorce through the Shari'a courts without her husband's consent under certain conditions, and a marriage contract may provide for other 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.
On November 10, the High Court of Justice accepted an appeal submitted by the Wake Up Jerusalem movement, which ran candidates for the capital's city council, and ruled that companies in Israel cannot refuse to display election posters of female political candidates.
The law provides for class action suits and requires equal pay for equal work. As of August women comprised 38.5 percent of officers of corporations listed with the Board of Government Corporations. Numerous government policies and programs worked to eliminate economic discrimination against women. For example, the government enacted several amendments during the year to the Women's Employment Law that improved women's maternity benefits. In April legislation provided further incentives to employers to modify workplaces and work conditions for women and parents. The Ministry of Education established a department dedicated to the promotion of gender equality within the school system.
The Mahut Feminist Center in Haifa reported that more than 65 percent of employees in part-time jobs were women, more than 35 percent of working women earned minimum wage or less (compared to 14.2 percent of working men), and women made up 70 percent of employees working in contractor companies that provided lower wages, lack of employment stability, and no social benefits.
The law provides for the overall protection of children's rights and welfare, and the government generally was committed to ensuring enforcement of these laws. According to the National Council for the Child, social welfare offices treated a record number of 62,273 children in 2006 considered at risk from physical, sexual, or emotional abuse or neglect.
Education is compulsory through the ninth grade. The government operated separate school systems for Hebrew-speaking children, Arabic-speaking children, and Orthodox Jews. Haredi political parties continued to oppose government regulation of their government-funded school systems.
Academic institutions and advocacy groups have long charged that resources devoted to the education of Arab children were inferior to those devoted to Jewish children in the public education system. The State Comptroller's February 10 report on local governments noted that in the 28 Arab communities surveyed, there was a combined shortage of 1,082 classrooms in local schools. In June a joint committee of the Education Ministry and the Higher Arab Monitoring Committee reported the Arab sector would need an additional 9,236 classrooms by 2012 to keep pace with national standards.
Trafficking in Persons
Trafficking in persons for the purposes of both prostitution and labor is prohibited under the law. Israel is a destination country for trafficking for the purposes of labor and prostitution. Neither the government nor NGOs could quantify accurately the extent of the problem. The government, NGOs, and the media expressed concern at an apparent rise in internal trafficking of citizens for the purposes of prostitution, although the government's antitrafficking coordinator classified such cases as prostitution rather than trafficking.
The government reported that most victims of trafficking for prostitution in the country came from the former Soviet Union, primarily from Ukraine, Moldova, Russia, and Uzbekistan. Antitrafficking and women's advocacy NGO Isha L'Isha reported a new trend of trafficking women from China and the Philippines for prostitution. Organized crime groups trafficked women for prostitution, luring them with promises of service-sector jobs. Some reportedly sold women to brothels.
The penal code stipulates that coercion to engage in prostitution is a criminal offense, punishable by four to 20 years' imprisonment, depending on the specific type of crime. Civil law verdicts have begun to favor the victims, and most verdicts involved compensation, although NGOs expressed a need for larger compensation awards.
Hotline charged that there are forms of trafficking the law does not cover, including what it described as "trafficking to obtain financial advantage" or a "flying visa," whereby a worker pays a commission to an agency in the home country to get a work permit for work in Israel but arrives in Israel to find that there is no job. In such a case, the worker does not have a valid permit under Israeli law and is subject to arrest and deportation.
The government reported that during the year the police conducted nine criminal investigations on trafficking in persons for the purpose of prostitution, which resulted in six indictments and five convictions for trafficking for the purpose of prostitution and related offenses. The government reported 12 cases were pending at year's end, in addition to seven pending appeals.
Victims of labor trafficking varied by sector. The most significant groups were Thai agricultural workers, Chinese construction workers, and domestic/nursing care workers from the Philippines, India, Nepal, and Sri Lanka.
The labor law was amended in 2006 to criminalize trafficking for slavery, forced labor, prostitution, pornography, sexual abuse, and organ selling, and provides a maximum sentence of seven to 20 years depending on the offense. In November the State Attorney's Office and the Immigration Administration jointly filed the first indictment for forced labor under the new amendments to the trafficking law. The case remained pending at year's end. Four additional cases were in various stages of preparation and review by the State Attorney's Office at year's end (see section 6.c.). Two additional cases (involving four defendants) concerning fraud perpetrated against migrant workers were also pending at year's end.
The Tel Aviv shelter, the only government-operated shelter for victims of trafficking for commercial sexual exploitation, had the capacity for 50 women. The government reported that at year's end, the shelter housed 25 women and five children, all of whom police referred to the shelter during the year. The shelter provided free medical care and other services. The government reported that all trafficking victims in the shelter received temporary visas and work visas if requested, whether or not they chose to testify against their traffickers. A woman who chose to testify also received a visa for the duration of the court proceedings, generally lasting one year. Isha L'Isha reported that it was difficult to admit trafficked women into the shelter if they had children and noted the Ministry of Health had not yet found a solution outside the shelter for women who had no medical insurance.
On November 16, the government enacted an amendment to the Legal Aid Law to provide free legal aid to every victim of trafficking and slavery. On the same day, the Protection of Witnesses Law was also enacted.
The Department of State's annual Trafficking in Persons Report can be found at www.state.gov/g/tip.
Persons with Disabilities
The law provides for protection and equality of the rights of persons with disabilities, although societal discrimination and accessibility issues persisted in areas such as employment and housing.
The Commission for Equal Rights of People with Disabilities (CERPD) within the Justice Ministry took legal action in the areas of accessibility and employment. In a 2007 study, the CERPD found that 85 percent of employers do not employ any persons with disabilities, and 25 percent of employees stated they had no interest in employing such a person in the future.
The law requires television stations to include subtitles and sign language and the courts to accommodate testimony from persons with intellectual disabilities or mental illness. Accessibility to public transportation was mandated by law but not always available.
Arab Israelis continued to suffer various forms of discrimination in public and private life. Tensions between Arabs and Jews also remained high in areas where the two communities overlap, such as the Galilee and Negev, and in certain mixed cities with separate Jewish and Arab neighborhoods.
According to press reports, Jewish residents of Jerusalem perpetrated at least 20 violent assaults against Palestinian residents of Jerusalem during the year, most often using knives, clubs, and other weapons. Many of these attacks were reportedly premeditated.
On March 14, a policeman from the town of Kfar Saba attacked two Arab Israelis while shouting, "Death to Arabs." Another police officer who witnessed the attack intervened to prevent injury.
On October 8, violence erupted between Israeli-Jews and Arabs in the city of Acre (Akko) at the beginning of the Jewish Holy Day of Yom Kippur after an Arab resident drove into a predominantly Jewish neighborhood. Driving on Yom Kippur was generally prohibited in Israel. Rioting ensued for several days, as Jewish and Arab extremists incited their communities against one another. While the inflammatory rhetoric was mutual, the majority of those inciting to violence were Jewish, according to the Northern District police commander. According to press reports, both communities suffered significant property damage, and several Arab families were displaced from their homes in or near Jewish neighborhoods. Police continued to pursue and arrest the chief instigators after the violence subsided. On October 20, police arrested six young Jewish men in Tel Aviv for allegedly firebombing two Arab homes in an attempt to spread the anti-Arab incitement to Jaffa and other mixed neighborhoods around Tel Aviv.
On September 9, a number of Jewish local and district-level government leaders held a conference under the banner of the Renewing Zionism Movement in the Galilee town of Kfar Tavor, during which the leaders urged the need to "Judaize" the Galilee and warned of dire consequences if Jews lose their majority in the Galilee.
In contrast the neighboring Gilboa Regional Council actively promoted Jewish-Arab coexistence, including by holding a Gilboa Coexistence Festival in August and cohosting, with the NGO Abraham Fund Initiatives, an interfaith breaking of the Ramadan fast on September 11.
During the year the Israel Land Fund NGO launched a program to purchase Arab land in the Galilee and market it at discounted rates to Jewish buyers by distributing flyers to synagogues throughout the region stating the time was ripe to redeem the "Land of Israel."
Public debate continued over the idea of "transferring" Arab-Israeli communities from Israel to the Palestinian territories (in return for transferring Jewish settlements in the West Bank to Israel) as part of a negotiated solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Arab Israelis overwhelmingly condemned the proposal, while Jewish opinion ran the gamut from support to condemnation. Members of Yisrael Beiteynu, a right-wing party headed by Knesset Member Avigdor Leiberman, advocated the idea in media interviews at public gatherings throughout the year. In a March poll commissioned by the Knesset television station, 75 percent of the Jewish public supported the transfer of at least some Arab Israelis as part of a peace deal with the Palestinians, including 28 percent who believed all Arab Israelis should be forcibly transferred.
Although Arabic is an official language, the National Insurance Institute requires that documents submitted for claims be translated into Hebrew.
Approximately 93 percent of land was in the public domain, and of this approximately 12.5 percent was owned by the Jewish National Fund (JNF), whose statutes prohibit sale or lease of land to non-Jews. In 2005 the attorney general ruled the government cannot discriminate against Arab Israelis in marketing and allocation of lands it manages, including those of the JNF. As an interim measure, the government agreed through the Israel Lands Administration (ILA) to compensate the JNF for any land leased to an Arab by transferring an equal amount of land from the ILA to the JNF. Legal petitions against the JNF policy of leasing public land only to Jews were ongoing at year's end.
Arab-Israeli advocacy organizations have challenged the demolition of illegal buildings in the Arab sector on grounds that the government restricted building permits, limiting Arab natural growth. New construction is illegal in towns that do not have master plans and in the country's 46 unrecognized Bedouin villages. In 2004 the Supreme Court ruled that omitting Arab towns from specific government social and economic plans was discriminatory. At year's end, according to the government, master plans were completed for 29 of the country's 128 Arab communities. According to the Harvard International Human Rights Clinic, between January and August, authorities demolished 97 Bedouin homes. On December 15, authorities demolished the entire Bedouin village of al-Atrash, consisting of at least 12 homes.
At year's end the government had not complied with a 2006 Supreme Court ruling that government development policy making impoverished areas eligible for special funding was discriminatory because it included only four Arab communities among the 539 communities slated for enhanced assistance.
Arab Israelis were underrepresented in most fields of employment, including government, despite a five-year-old affirmative action program to promote hiring Arab Israelis (including Druze and Bedouin) in the civil service. According to the government, 6.2 percent of government employees in 2007 were Arab.
A 2000 law requires that minorities have "appropriate representation" in the civil service and on the boards of government corporations. As of December 2007, Arabs (including Druze and Circassians) filled 51 of 528 board seats of state-run companies. Of the 55,000 persons working in government companies, 1 percent were Arab.
The law exempts Arab Israelis from mandatory military service. Citizens who do not perform military service enjoy less access to social and economic benefits. Arab Israelis generally were ineligible to work in companies with defense contracts or in security-related fields. In June the government started a civilian service program for citizens not drafted for military service, giving Arab Israelis and Haredi Jews the opportunity to serve and be eligible for the same benefits accorded military veterans. According to press reports, the National Service Administration registered almost 600 Arab-Israeli volunteers during the 2007-08 academic year.
The Israeli Druze community comprised approximately 8.3 percent of the minority population, and the Circassian community numbered some 3,000. Males of both communities were subject to the military draft, and the majority accepted willingly. Some Bedouin and, to a lesser degree, other Arab citizens not subject to the draft also served voluntarily. Non-Jewish military veterans complained that they continued to receive fewer benefits from their service than Jewish veterans.
The Bedouin population was the most disadvantaged. Half of the 160,000 Bedouin lived in seven state-planned or eight recognized communities, which were impoverished but received basic state services. The seven state-planned townships were among the eight poorest communities in the country, according to a March 31 report by the NGO Human Rights Watch. The other half of Israel's Bedouin lived in at least 46 unrecognized villages, which did not have water and electricity and lacked educational, health, and welfare services. The unrecognized villages, made up mostly of tents and shacks, evolved as a result of the government's refusal to recognize Bedouin land claims based on traditional usage prior to the establishment of the state.
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 in existing townships. Many Bedouin also complained that moving to government-planned townships required giving up claims to land they had lived on for generations. On December 11, the government-appointed Goldberg Committee for Regulation of Bedouin Settlements in the Negev urged the government to recognize officially and extend services to unrecognized villages where existing structures were not obstructing regional master plans, and to provide assistance for the relocation of others.
On April 1, the government acted on a 1993 pledge by the late Prime Minister Rabin to authorize the construction of a permanent community for members of two Bedouin tribes in the Negev who had appealed to Rabin for assistance to overcome their unrecognized status.
In 2006 Adalah petitioned the Supreme Court to overturn a Water Tribunal decision not to connect unrecognized villages to water service. The Supreme Court's ruling was pending at year's end.
The approximately 20,000 non-Israeli residents of the Golan Heights are subject to Israeli authority and Israeli law. Israel accords them permanent resident status, but most of them are Druze and citizens of Syria who largely have refused or been denied Israeli citizenship. As legal residents, they received Israeli travel documents and held identity cards that entitled them to many of the same social benefits as Israeli citizens. However, Druze communities in the Golan Heights received little or no support for municipal services or infrastructure maintenance (see Annex for discussion of Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem).
The government prohibits Druze citizens, like all citizens, from visiting Syria; the government allowed noncitizen Druze from the Golan Heights to visit holy sites in Syria through the ICRC-managed pilgrimage program.
Other Societal Abuses and Discrimination
Societal violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation or against persons with HIV/AIDS existed in isolated cases. The government continued to uphold laws criminalizing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or HIV/AIDS.
In 2006 the High Court issued a ruling requiring the government to recognize same-sex marriages legally performed in foreign jurisdictions. There was no information available about whether the government recognized such marriages in practice.
Section 6 Worker Rights
a. The Right of Association
Citizens generally may join and establish independent labor organizations. Most unions belong to Histadrut (the General Federation of Labor) or to a smaller rival federation, the Histadrut Haovdim Haleumit (National Federation of Labor). Both are independent. There were no restrictions on collective bargaining agreements, and no prior government approval was required. According to a 2001 amendment to the Collective Agreements Law, workers are protected from discrimination resulting from their membership in or activity with a labor organization. The government reported that litigation stemming from discrimination of this kind was negligible.
Legal foreign workers, who constituted approximately 45 percent of the foreign work force, and nonresident Palestinians may join Israeli trade unions and organize their own unions in Israel. Benefits and protections in Histadrut work contracts and grievance procedures extend to legal nonresident workers in the organized sector, but these workers cannot vote in Histadrut elections. In April the government agreed to approve an additional 5,000 employment permits for Palestinians within Israel.
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 traditionally have been the central issues of disputes.
b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively
Citizens' legal rights to organize and bargain collectively are protected by law and these laws are enforced. The law specifically prohibits antiunion discrimination, and none was reported.
Foreign workers must pay an agency fee and can pay union dues, entitling them to employment protection and some entitlements won by collective bargaining agreements. Collective bargaining agreements extend to nonunion workplaces in the same sector.
There are no export processing zones in the country.
c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
Israeli laws prohibit forced or compulsory labor, including by children, and criminalize gradations of labor exploitation.
The law provides 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 Crime Unit in the Immigration Administration, working with the State Attorney's Office, opened 16 investigations concerning forced labor during the year. Following investigations by the Immigration Administration of cases involving migrant workers, the government filed 15 indictments on fraud offenses and 10 indictments on exploitation and withholding of passports offenses. Civil rights groups and NGOs, however, claimed unscrupulous employers exploited adult non-Palestinian foreign workers, both legal and illegal, and held them in conditions that amounted to involuntary servitude.
On October 10, the newspaper Maariv quoted a representative from Hotline as stating that many "pressure groups" in Israel--the report named farmers, the handicapped, and contractors--enjoy cheap labor, and that the state was subsidizing them by not enforcing labor laws.
There were numerous documented cases of foreign laborers living in harsh conditions, subject to debt bondage, and restricted in their movements. Hotline charged that the Immigration Police failed to act quickly or adequately when they alerted them to some of these cases, and that the police sometimes returned the person to the employer.
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 generally enforced these laws.
Children at least 15 years of age who have completed education through grade nine may be employed as apprentices. Those who are 14 may be employed during official school holidays in light work that will not harm their health. Working hours for those between 16 and 18 are restricted.
The government reported that through September it inspected more then 2,000 potential cases involving minors, opened 565 investigations, and imposed 293 fines on employers.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
The minimum wage was approximately 47.5 percent of the average wage, 3,850 NIS (approximately $1,100) per month for a 43-hour week. The government considered the minimum wage, supplemented by special allowances for citizens, to provide a citizen worker a decent standard of living. Some union officials, NGOs, and social commentators disputed this claim. Histadrut charged that occupational health and safety standards were not adequate or adequately enforced by the Israel Institute for Occupational Health and Hygiene.
The law allows a maximum 43-hour workweek at regular pay. Premium pay was 125 percent for the first two hours and 150 percent for any additional hours, with a limit of 15 hours of overtime per week. Histadrut reported that Israeli and foreign workers operated under the same rules.
Labor laws also apply to noncitizens, although enforcement was not adequate, according to workers' rights NGO Kav LaOved. Documented foreign workers were entitled to many of the same benefits as citizens but not national health care. Employers were legally required to provide such insurance, and most employers did so. All labor laws also apply to undocumented foreign workers. Enforcement of labor law in the home health care sector, which employs numerous foreign workers, was particularly difficult.
An employer must obtain a government permit to hire non-Israeli workers who live in 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. According to Histadrut, there were few such regular workers during the year.
Palestinian employees recruited through the Ministry of Industry, Trade, and Labor received their wages and benefits through the ministry, which deducted a union fee and contributions for National Insurance Institute (NII) benefits workers did not receive, such as unemployment insurance, disability payments, and low-income supplements. A legal mechanism was established in 2005 for non-Palestinian migrant workers employed in the construction sector to receive benefits, but 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; such workers received the same benefits as workers paid through the ministry.
A major issue contributing to a number of work stoppages was that many municipalities routinely failed to meet payrolls in recent years. Despite a variety of court orders and government interventions, the problem persisted.
Since 2000 the government prevented most Palestinians from traveling from the occupied territories to employment in Israel during times of closure. During periods of nonclosure, Palestinians required Israeli permits to enter the country for a single day or for periods of several months. Frequently authorities invalidated existing permits, requiring long-established travelers to secure new permits, so statistics on permit issuance did not reflect actual numbers of individuals allowed into the country.
The Labor Inspection Service, along with union representatives, enforced labor, health, and safety standards in the workplace, although resource constraints affected overall enforcement.
According to the government, a foreign worker can remove him or herself from a dangerous work situation and seek alternate employment. However, according to Kav LaOved, a comprehensive system to do so, which included the home health care sector, was not implemented by year's end.
All workers could challenge unsafe work practices through government oversight and legal agencies. Through September the government imposed 1,873 administrative penalties for violations of the Foreign Workers Law and 64 penalties for violation of the minimum wage law. The Immigration Administration estimated that nursing-care workers from India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and the Philippines--particularly women--and construction workers from China were at greatest risk for abuse.
Brokers and employers are permitted to collect hiring fees from migrant workers. The government limited such fees to 3,135 NIS (approximately $895) per worker, but NGOs charged that many foreign workers continued to pay as much as 80,000 NIS ($23,000). The government reported that through September it held 79 hearings on cancelling or restricting permits to employ foreign workers, resulting in 23 restricted and nine cancelled permits in the nursing sector, two restricted and 44 cancelled permits in the agriculture sector, and one permit cancelled in the construction sector.
During the year the Enforcement Division of the Foreign Workers Department in the Ministry of Industry, Trade, and Labor (MITL) opened 2,685 investigative files opened against employers suspected of violations and imposed 2,367 administrative fines on employers. The Prosecution Division of the MITL Foreign Workers Department filed 4,400 criminal indictments against employers for violations of foreign workers law and the minimum wage law, which the government described as a significant increase. On August 31, the licenses and permits of all the private bureaus in the nursing care field were canceled. New licenses and permits were granted on September 1 exclusively to private bureaus "geared towards bringing, mediating, and caring for foreign workers in the nursing care." Caregiver licenses were particularly sensitive because of the widespread employment of foreign workers.
On November 10, the government reported that it issued 93,950 permits for non-Palestinian foreign workers during the year and that there were approximately 100,000 legal foreign workers and 80,000 to 150,000 illegal foreign workers. On October 10, a Maariv article claimed there were 200,000 foreign workers, 55 percent of whom were illegally present in the country. Workers may contest deportation orders, but lack of fluency in Hebrew placed them at a considerable disadvantage. According to Kav LaOved, the lack of interpreters in various governmental agencies continues to be a grave problem." Kav LaOved also charged that, "despite numerous promises from the authorities" on this issue, leaflets on worker rights were not provided to workers upon arrival or voluntarily provided by the authorities at any other point during a migrant worker's stay in Israel, and such leaflets were only available online at the MITL Web site, which was not available to most migrant workers without Internet access.Country Reports on Human Rights Practices - 2008