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Report on Human Rights Practices for 2009 - Israel

Israel is a multiparty parliamentary democracy with a population of approximately 7.7 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 1948. The 120-member, unicameral Knesset has the power to dissolve the government and mandate elections. The February 2009 elections for the Knesset were considered free and fair. They resulted in a coalition government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Israeli security forces reported to civilian authorities. (An annex to this report covers human rights in the occupied territories. This report deals with human rights in Israel and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.)

Principal human rights problems were institutional, legal, and societal discrimination against Arab citizens, Palestinian residents of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip (see annex), non-Orthodox Jews, and other religious groups; societal discrimination against persons with disabilities; and societal discrimination and domestic violence against women, particularly in Bedouin society. While trafficking in persons for the purpose of prostitution decreased in recent years, trafficking for the purpose of labor remained a serious problem, as did abuse of foreign workers and societal discrimination and incitement against asylum seekers.


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.

The petitioners withdrew their appeal to the High Court against the closure of the inquiry by the Department for Investigations against Police Officers' (DIPO) into the 2008 beating and subsequent coma and death of Sabri al-Jarjawi, a Bedouin. Instead, they appealed to DIPO, which denied the petitioners' appeal to reopen the case.

At year's end, an internal Israel Prison Service (IPS) investigation continued into the 2007 killing of a Palestinian prisoner, Mohammed al-Askar, during a riot at Ketziot Prison. Prisoners alleged that security forces improperly used crowd-dispersal weapons, including rubber bullets and beanbag projectiles. The IPS investigation was on hold pending the outcome of legal proceedings in the Beersheba Magistrate Court regarding the cause of death.

On July 21, the Supreme Court doubled the manslaughter sentence imposed by a lower court on police officer Shahar Mizrahi to 30 months in prison. The lower court convicted Mizrahi in 2009 of manslaughter in the 2006 shooting death of Mahmoud Ghanayem, who had attacked Mizrahi with a screwdriver when he tried to apprehend Ghanayem for suspected car theft.

Terrorist groups routinely fired rockets and mortars from the Gaza Strip into Israel. According to the government, terrorists fired approximately 235 rockets and mortar shells into the country from the Gaza Strip during the year, an increase from 195 in 2009. On March 19, a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip killed a Thai citizen near the city of Ashkelon.

Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) Military Advocate General Mandelblit investigated all allegations relating to the 2008-09 Operation Cast Lead military incursion into the Gaza Strip, examining over 150 incidents, including those contained in the UN Human Rights Council's 2009 Goldstone report. In January and July, Mandelblit released updates on the majority of investigations, which included details of indictments against several soldiers for manslaughter, improper use of civilians in wartime, and misconduct. As of July the military advocate general launched 47 military police criminal investigations into IDF conduct during Operation Cast Lead and completed a significant number of them (see annex). On August 1, the IDF issued a new order appointing humanitarian affairs officers to each battalion to provide further protections for civilian populations during wartime planning and combat operations.

During the year the Military Investigative Police launched 147 investigations with regard to cases of death, violence, and property damage against residents of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. In these cases the military advocate general filed 10 indictments against 12 soldiers suspected of committing criminal offenses against Palestinians. There were three convictions of four soldiers, no acquittals, closure of three cases by the military advocate general, and seven cases pending as of year's end (see annex).

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

A 1999 High Court of Justice ruling held that, although torture and the application of physical or psychological pain are illegal, Israel Security Agency (ISA) interrogators may be exempt from criminal prosecution if they use such methods in extraordinary cases determined to involve an imminent threat, or "ticking bomb" scenario.

During the year nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) filed numerous complaints alleging that security forces tortured or abused Palestinian residents of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip (see annex). On April 26, the Supreme Court rejected a July 2009 appeal by the NGO Public Committee against Torture in Israel alleging authorities use painful shackling during interrogations. The court noted the government's response that shackling was governed by strictly defined procedures and observed that the government had recently made several policy adjustments, including no longer shackling a detainee's hands behind the back.

On October 19, officers from the Ministry of Interior's Oz immigration unit allegedly beat and verbally abused with racial epithets five members of a black noncitizen family living in Ashkelon who had converted to Judaism and were awaiting a decision on their citizenship request. The immigration unit admitted detaining a family member in error but denied using physical force. The Ashkelon police department refused to allow the family to file a complaint against the officers.

On May 12, due to a police procedural error, the Jerusalem Magistrates Court canceled the indictment and postponed the trial of two Border Guard officers accused in November 2009 of assaulting Muhtaseb Muqtada, an Arab resident of Jerusalem. Officers Maor Malianker and Yossi Dahan allegedly beat Muqtada with a baton after asking for his identification. Malianker was also indicted on two other counts for allegedly using a radio device to hit a Jerusalem resident and falsely reporting he was attacked during a search.

The case of two border guards arrested by police in December 2009 for allegedly beating and stealing NIS 700 ($197) from a Sudanese man in Eilat remained pending at year's end at the Beersheba District Court.

The case of three police officers who reportedly detained and severely beat East Jerusalem resident Tareq Abu Laban in 2008 remained pending at year's end. In November 2009 evidentiary hearings began in the case following a DIPO investigation.

In October evidentiary hearings began at the Beersheba Magistrates' Court in the case of police officers Iyad Huzeyl and Dani Havery, who were indicted for assault involving grievous injury against Fadi Darab'i, an undocumented Palestinian laborer, in 2008 in the town of Gan Yavneh.

On June 13, a court acquitted three border police officers of charges of aggravated assault for physically abusing Abd Tareq Ahrub, a West Bank resident detained for being in Jerusalem without a permit in 2006.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

The law provides prisoners and detainees the right to conditions that do not harm their health or dignity. While various organizations found deficiencies, conditions in IPS facilities for common criminals and security prisoners generally met international standards according to international and domestic NGOs. (Conditions in four facilities for detainees are covered in the annex.)

According to news reports, a classified report in December by the Israel Bar Association (IBA) found that most of the prison service's isolation cells did not meet international standards. The reports stated the IBA study also described many isolated inmates' development of mental and physical health problems such as paranoia, fits of rage, and eyesight loss due to lack of natural light. The government acknowledged the need to improve conditions for Palestinian security prisoners in response to a 2008 IBA report on Sharon and Hadarim prisons that noted, among other points, poor health conditions in those facilities.

The annual report of the Public Defender's Office describing conditions in prisons and detention centers in 2008 found grave deficiencies in the infrastructure of most prison facilities and the living conditions in many of them. In response to the report's claim that convicts in one-third of the prisons visited complained of violent and humiliating treatment, the Warden's Investigation Unit within the National Police (which is independent of the IPS) found complaints to be unfounded.

According to a December 27 Haaretz article, there were on average 13 unnatural deaths (from suicide, murder, or neglect) in prisons over the past decade. At year's end both the police and the prison service were conducting separate investigations into the causes of the unnatural deaths that occurred during the year. According to news reports, the state comptroller began an investigation into prison suicides in 2009 to determine their causes.

On April 16, 27-year-old Raed Abu Hammad died while in solitary confinement in a prison in the southern part of the country. Hammad was halfway through a 10-year sentence for attempted murder and suffered from medical conditions. The prison service was investigating the death at year's end.

As of December 14, there were 5,935 Arab security prisoners and detainees, 1,438 Palestinian criminal prisoners, 3,903 Israeli Arab criminal prisoners, 17 Jewish Israeli security prisoners, and 6,462 Jewish criminal prisoners.

Prisoners and detainees had reasonable access to visitors, including through a program of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) that brought relatives from the West Bank into the country for prison visits. The government stopped a similar program for visitors from the Gaza Strip following the Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip in 2007. In December 2009 the High Court ruled against a petition from prisoners' family members from the Gaza Strip, finding such visits did not constitute a humanitarian need. Travel restrictions into the country also affected Palestinian administrative prisoners' access to visitors and lawyers.

Prisoners were permitted religious observance.

The law allows prisoners to submit a petition to judicial authorities in response to substandard prison conditions, and the authorities investigated credible allegations of inhumane conditions and documented results of such investigations publicly.

The ICRC regularly monitored IPS facilities, interrogation facilities, and the two IDF provisional detention centers but did not monitor security detainees in military detention centers. The government also permitted the IBA and Public Defenders' Office to inspect IPS facilities, and they did so during the year.

The state comptroller serves as ombudsman and investigates public complaints received through the Public Complaints Commission against government ministries, local authorities, state enterprises and institutions, government corporations, and government employees. It functions as an effective mechanism for handling accusations of discrimination within government and public institutions, and it forwards complaints to the appropriate oversight bodies of nongovernmental entities that serve the public including banks and insurance companies. Any person may make a complaint regardless of citizenship, residency, or visa status.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, and the government generally observed these prohibitions for all citizens. Non-Israeli residents of the Israeli-annexed Golan Heights were subject to the same laws as Israeli citizens. Noncitizens of Palestinian origin detained on security grounds fell under military jurisdiction even if detained in Israel (see annex).

Role of the Police and Security Apparatus