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U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1995 - Israel

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 30 January 1996
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1995 - Israel, 30 January 1996, available at: [accessed 29 May 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.


Israel is a parliamentary democracy with a multiparty system and free elections. There is no constitution; a series of "basic laws" provide for fundamental rights. The legislature, or Knesset, has the power to dissolve the Government and limit the authority of the executive branch. The judiciary is independent. In a landmark decision in November, the Supreme Court established the principle of judicial review of legislation in cases that are appealed to the court. Public debate is open and lively, and a free press scrutinizes all aspects of society and politics.

Since its founding in 1948, Israel has been in a state of war with most of its Arab neighbors. It concluded a peace treaty with Egypt in 1979 and with Jordan in 1994. As a result of the 1967 war, Israel occupied the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, the eastern sector of Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights. Throughout its existence, Israel has experienced numerous terrorist attacks. It relies heavily on its military and security services and retains many security-related regulations from the period of the British Mandate.

The historic process of reconciliation between Israel and its neighbors that began with the Madrid Conference in 1991 continued in 1995. On September 28, Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) signed an agreement that provided for Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) to redeploy from Palestinian areas in the West Bank, the further transfer of certain powers and responsibilities to the Palestinians, and for Palestinian elections. The agreement also calls for the release of certain Palestinian prisoners. Separate agreements earlier in the year transferred a variety of civil powers and responsibilities to the Palestinian Authority (PA). (See the annex to this report.)

Internal security is the responsibility of the General Security Service (GSS)--(Shin Bet, or Shabak), which is under the authority of the Prime Minister's office. The police are under the authority of a different minister. The IDF is under the authority of a civilian Minister of Defense. The IDF includes a significant portion of the adult population on active duty or reserve status and plays a role in maintaining internal security. The Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee in the Knesset reviews the activities of the IDF and Shin Bet.

Israel has an advanced economy, and citizens enjoy a high standard of living. The economy has grown by an average of 6 percent a year in the past several years. Unemployment in 1995 averaged about 6.3 percent, the lowest since 1987, and inflation was about 8.1 percent, the lowest since 1969. Since implementation of an economic stabilization plan in 1985, the Government has moved gradually to reduce state intervention in the economy. Much progress has been made in liberalizing capital markets, but privatization and labor market reform have progressed more slowly. Despite the continued dominant role of the Government in the economy, individuals are generally free to invest in private interests and own property.

The Government generally respects human rights, and citizens enjoy a wide range of civil and other rights. Positive human rights developments flowed naturally as peace agreements were implemented. During the year, the Government released about 1,100 Palestinian detainees and prisoners; another 1,200 detainees were scheduled to be released in January 1996. In other developments, the Government passed legislation banning discrimination in employment, as well as legislation mandating affirmative action for women and Israeli Arabs.

The assassination of Prime Minister Rabin in November horrified the nation and prompted calls for a lowering of the national rhetoric in political discourse. There was also renewed debate over the limits of free speech as the Government sought to discourage political language that would incite further violence.

Israel's main human rights problems have arisen from its policies and practices in the occupied territories. The redeployment of the IDF from most major Palestinian population areas in the West Bank during the year, and its previous withdrawal from Gaza, are significantly reducing these problems. In addition, while the Government has worked to close the social and economic gap between Israel's Arab and Jewish citizens, the Arab minority still does not share fully in the rights granted to, and the obligations imposed on, Jewish citizens.

Respect for Human Rights

Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

Political killings in Israel are neither practiced nor condoned by Israeli authorities. At least six Palestinians died while in the custody of Israeli authorities (see Section 1.c. and the annex to this report).

Politically motivated intercommunal killings continued to take place, as extremists on both sides sought to disrupt the Israel-Palestinian peace process. On January 22, 2 Palestinian suicide bombers at the Beit Lid junction near the coastal city of Netanya killed 21 Israelis and injured 60. On April 9, two suicide bombers in Gaza killed seven Israelis and a U.S. student, and injured 57. Lone suicide bombers killed 6 and injured 34 in the Tel Aviv suburb of Ramat Gan on July 24, and killed 5, including a U.S. citizen, with 100 others injured in the Ramot Eshkol neighborhood of Jerusalem on August 21. There were also other incidents in the Gaza Strip.

On November 4, after several months of escalating rhetoric against the Government's peace policies, a right-wing extremist shot and killed Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. In the days that followed this national tragedy, there were appeals from all parts of the political spectrum for restraint in the public debate over the crucial issues of Israel's future.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

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

Although Israeli laws and administrative regulations prohibit the physical abuse of detainees, the head of Shin Bet is empowered to authorize security officers to use interrogation measures with Palestinian detainees that human rights groups consider abusive. These measures have been applied against Palestinians suspected of involvement in planning terrorist acts, and include the practice of violent shaking, which in April led to the death of a prisoner in custody. (See annex for a discussion of mistreatment of prisoners from the occupied territories incarcerated in detention facilities located in Israel.)

The practice of shaking has been challenged before the Israeli Supreme Court. In late December, in response to a detainee's petition, the Supreme Court issued an injunction against the use of physical force in interrogation. This case was still before the courts at year's end. The head of the GSS argued that the use of "special interrogation methods" had forestalled many terrorist attacks, and might have been able to yield information from a suspect then in custody to prevent the August 21 Ramot Eshkol bombing.

Incarceration facilities in Israel and the occupied territories are administered by the Israeli Prison Service (IPS), the national police, or the Israel Defense Forces. Although conditions vary, all facilities are monitored by various branches of the Government, by members of the Knesset, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), and many human rights organizations, which have access to the prisons, police jails, and IDF camps.

Generally, IPS inmates are not subject to physical abuse by guards, food is adequate, and prisoners receive basic necessities. However, prisoners incarcerated for security reasons are subject to a different regime, even in IPS facilities. They are often denied certain privileges given to prisoners convicted on criminal charges. Security prisoners include some minors.

IPS prisons for the most part meet minimum international standards, and the Government permits visits by human rights monitors. Inmates receive mail, have televisions in their cells, and receive regular visits. Prisoners receive wages for prison work and benefits for good behavior. Many IPS prisons have drug treatment, educational, and recreational programs.

Overcrowding is a problem in some holding facilities. The Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) presented a report to the Israeli Government's Police Minister criticizing conditions at Jerusalem's Russian Compound holding facility. The report cited dilapidation and overcrowding, with up to 50 Palestinian detainees in a 4-bed cell, and demanded that the facility be transferred to a more appropriate building. A police spokesman said that several of the suggested changes have been made, but noted that historic preservation codes prevent major structural changes to the building.

In addition, some national police detention facilities can fall below generally accepted minimum international standards. Such facilities are intended to hold common law detainees prior to trial, but often become de facto jails, in which some persons have been held for as long as a year because of lack of space in IPS facilities. Those held include some security detainees and some persons who have been convicted and sentenced. Inmates in the national police detention facilities are often not accorded the same rights as prisoners in the IPS. After sharp criticism of the Abu Kabir facility in the Tel Aviv area by human rights groups, the Government announced a plan to renovate the facility and improve living conditions there. Civil rights groups have expressed concern over the conditions in which minors are held in several regional detention facilities, and have recommended the construction of a separate detention facility for children. Although children are not housed in the same cells as adults, there have been cases of sexual molestation of children.

Detention camps administered by the IDF are limited to male Palestinian security prisoners and are guarded by armed soldiers. The number of security prisoners remained at about 6,000 through most of the year, but dropped to about 4,900 by the end of the year. In many cases, conditions in the camps do not meet minimum international standards and can threaten the health of the inmates. Many camps house inmates in unheated tents in severe weather conditions, or in overcrowded and poorly ventilated buildings. New restrictions limit the age and relationship of those allowed to pay family visits, and visits have been prevented altogether for long periods during closures of the borders with Gaza and the West Bank. Recreational facilities are minimal.

Member of the Knesset Dedi Zucker, who chairs the Knesset's Constitution, Law, and Justice Committee, called for closure of the Ketziot Detention Camp in the Negev, which has been regarded as having the harshest conditions. Ketziot held about 1,200 inmates at the end of 1995. This increase over 1994 is due to the transfer of detainees from closing West Bank detention facilities.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest or exile of Israeli citizens, and the Government observes this prohibition. Defendants are considered innocent until proven guilty, and have the right to writs of habeas corpus and other procedural safeguards. However, a 1979 law permits administrative detention without charge or trial. The Minister of Defense may issue a detention order for a maximum of a year. Within

48 hours of issuance, detainees must appear before a district judge who may confirm, shorten, or overturn the order. If the order is confirmed, an automatic review takes place after

3 months. Detainees may be represented by counsel and appeal detention orders to the Supreme Court. At detention hearings, the Government may withhold evidence from defense lawyers on security grounds. It may also seek to renew administrative detention orders.

In felony cases, a district court judge may postpone for

48 hours the notification of arrest to the detainee's attorney. The postponement may be extended to 7 days by the Minister of Defense on national security grounds or by the Police Inspector General to conduct an investigation. Moreover, a judge may postpone notification up to 15 days in national security cases.

Administrative orders issued by the IDF central command continued to restrict the movements of some members of the Jewish ultranationalist Kach and Kahane Chai organizations who live in the occupied territories. In addition, in December the Home Front Command issued orders restricting the movements of several rightwing activists living in Israel.

Most of the legal protections afforded by Israeli law are not extended to Palestinian detainees, who fall under the jurisdiction of military law even when held in Israel. For most of the year, the Government held about half of the Palestinian detainees from the occupied territories in detention centers in Israel. With IDF redeployment on the West

Bank, however, detention centers there were closed, and by the end of the year, all Palestinian detainees were being held in Israel. Eleven hundred of these prisoners were released in accordance with the Interim Agreement signed by the Government and the PLO on September 28.

The Government detains some 70 Lebanese citizens, who comprise a mixture of common prisoners, administrative detainees, and security detainees. It has yet to provide information on the whereabouts of two of them, Sheikh Mustafa Dirani and Sheikh Obeid. The disposition of these two cases appears linked to government efforts to obtain information on Israeli military personnel believed to be prisoners of war or missing in Lebanon.

In April the Government expelled a Jordanian citizen and a West Bank Palestinian into the security zone in southern Lebanon, where they have been given shelter by the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon forces. The ICRC has taken up these cases with the Government.

Forced exile (i.e., the expulsion of Israeli citizens) is illegal and is not used.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law provides for an independent judiciary, and the Government respects this provision in practice. The judiciary provides citizens with a fair and efficient judicial process.

The judicial system is composed of civil, military, religious, labor relations, and administrative courts. The law provides for the right to a hearing with representation by counsel, and this right is observed in practice. In November a regional and national system of public defenders was established to provide legal defense for those unable to afford a lawyer. All nonsecurity trials are public except those in which the interests of parties are deemed best served by privacy.

Cases involving national security may be tried in either military or civil courts and may be partly or wholly closed to the public. The Attorney General determines the venue in such cases. The prosecution must justify closing the proceedings to the public. Defendants have the right to be represented by counsel even in closed proceedings but may be denied access to some evidence on security grounds. Convictions may not be based on any evidence denied to the defense.

f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

Although privacy of the individual and the home are generally protected by law, authorities sometimes interfere with mail and monitor telephone conversations. In criminal cases, the law permits wiretapping by court order; in security cases, the order must be issued by the Ministry of Defense. Under emergency regulations, authorities may open and destroy mail on security grounds.

g. Use of Excessive Force and Violations of Humanitarian Law in Internal Conflicts

See Section l.g. of the annex.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The law provides for freedom of the press, and the Government generally respects this right in practice. The law authorizes the Government to censor any material reported from Israel or the occupied territories regarded as sensitive on national security grounds. However, news printed or broadcast abroad may be reported in Israel without censorship.

Emergency regulations prohibit anyone from expressing support for illegal organizations. The Government occasionally prosecutes persons for speaking or writing on behalf of terrorist groups. No such cases were filed in 1995.

Individuals, organizations, the press, and the electronic media freely debate public issues and criticize government officials and policies. During the year, protests by groups opposed to the Government's policies in the peace process escalated from demonstrations to acts of civil disobedience, including the blocking of roads.

These acts, and claims of police violence in dealing with them, prompted a public debate on the legitimate exercise of the rights of freedom of speech and assembly. The debate widened after the assassination of Prime Minister Rabin. Some Israelis called for stricter measures to ban hate speech that could incite others to violent acts, while rightwing groups claimed that the Government was using Rabin's murder to limit their right to oppose government policies. In the weeks after the assassination, several persons were arrested for celebrating his death, and in December the State Attorney's office charged three members of the Zo Artzenu group with sedition.

The Government sought to block repairs to a pirate radio ship that broadcasts programming critical of the Government, when it entered port. Civil rights activists charged that this constituted censorship, although the Government argued that the issue was only one of proper licensing.

All newspapers are privately owned and managed. Newspaper licenses are valid only for Israel; separate licenses are required to distribute publications in the occupied territories. Directed by a government appointee, the quasi-independent Israel Broadcast Authority controls television channel 1 and Kol Israel radio, both major sources of news and information. Six cable companies operate under franchises granted by councils appointed by the Government. Privately owned channel 2 television, the first commercial television channel in Israel, is operated by three franchise companies. Six of the first seven regional radio franchises began broadcasting by the end of the year. The Second Television and Radio Authority, a public body, supervises both channel 2 and the new regional radio stations.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The law provides for these rights, and the Government generally respects them in practice. After the Hebron massacre in 1994, the Cabinet invoked the 1948 Ordinance for the Prevention of Terror to ban the ultranationalist Kach and Kahane Chai organizations, a ban that remains in effect. The decision stipulates imprisonment for anyone belonging to, or expressing support for, either organization.

c. Freedom of Religion

The law provides for freedom of religion, and the Government respects this right. Approximately 81 percent of Israeli citizens are Jewish. Muslims, Christians, Druze, and members of other minority religions make up the remaining 19 percent. Each recognized religious community has legal authority over its members in matters of marriage and divorce. Secular courts have primacy over questions of inheritance, but parties, by mutual agreement, may bring the case to religious courts. Jewish and Christian families may ask for some family status matters, such as alimony and child custody in divorces, to be adjudicated in civil courts as well.

Many Israelis object to the Orthodox religious authorities' exclusive control over marriage and divorce, and burial, whether the subjects are Jews or not. These authorities do not recognize marriages or conversions to Judaism performed by Conservative or Reform rabbis. These issues have been a source of sharp division within Israeli society, particularly in recent years, as thousands of Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union have brought with them family members not recognized as Jewish by these authorities. A large number of Jews who wish to be married in secular or non-orthodox religious ceremonies do so abroad. The Ministry of Interior recognizes such marriages. During the year, there was a controversy over a Ministry of Religious Affairs list of citizens who are not Jewish under Orthodox rules, and who therefore may not marry those who are regarded as Jewish by those rules.

A growing reform movement led to plans to acquire land for the first secular cemeteries this year. A Supreme Court decision also directed that Conservative and Reform rabbis be allowed inclusion on local religious councils. In November the court decreed that in registering conversions to Judaism, the Ministry of the Interior may not reject conversions as invalid on the grounds that they were performed by non-Orthodox rabbis. The issue will be considered by the Knesset, where draft legislation aimed at overruling the court has been introduced. A coalition of human rights and religious groups has been formed to oppose that legislation.

Missionaries are allowed to proselytize in Israel. A 1977 antiproselytizing law prohibits anyone from offering or receiving material benefits as an inducement to conversion, but the law has not been applied for several years.

The Government permits citizens to visit religious sites or perform religious obligations in Israel and abroad. However, on occasion it has denied Muslim and Christian Palestinians from the occupied territories access to holy places in East Jerusalem for security reasons (see annex, Section 2.c.). Beginning in October, a Supreme Court decision allowed small numbers of Jews under police escort to pray on the Temple Mount, which is the site of two Muslim holy places.

d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation

The law provides for these rights, and the Government respects them in practice, except with regard to military or security zones or in instances where citizens may be confined by administrative order to their neighborhoods or villages. The Government continued to limit the movements of some Jewish settlers living in the occupied territories who belonged to extremist Kach or Kahane Chai groups (see Section 2.d. of the annex).

Citizens are free to travel abroad and to emigrate, provided they have no outstanding military obligations or are not restricted by administrative order. In 1995 the Government again permitted Muslim citizens over 30 years of age to perform the religious pilgrimage to Mecca, but it denied permission to Muslim citizens under 30 years of years of age on security grounds. The Government asserts that travel to Saudi Arabia, which is still in a state of war with Israel, is a privilege and not a right.

The Government welcomes Jewish immigrants, their families, and Jewish refugees, on whom it confers automatic citizenship and residence rights under the Law of Return. This law does not apply to non-Jews or to persons of Jewish descent who have converted to another faith.

Under the principle of family reunification, successive governments have allowed the return of some Arab refugees who fled Israel in 1948-49. Other than the Law of Return, which applies only to Jews, and the family reunification statutes, Israel has no immigration law that provides for immigration to Israel, or for political asylum, but the law does allow qualified individuals to live in Israel as permanent residents.

Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government

The law provides citizens with the right to change peacefully their government, and citizens exercise this right in practice through periodic, free, and fair elections held on the basis of universal suffrage for adult citizens.

Israel is a parliamentary democracy, with an active multiparty system representing a wide range of political views. Relatively small parties, including those whose primary support is among Israeli Arabs, regularly win seats in the Knesset. Elections are by secret ballot.

There are no legal impediments to the participation of women and minorities in government, but they are underrepresented. Eleven women, and 7 Arab and 2 Druze citizens serve in the 120-seat Knesset. Two women are in the Cabinet, and two Israeli Arabs and an Israeli Druze are deputy ministers.

Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

A wide variety of human rights groups operate without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials are generally cooperative and responsive to their views.

Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status

Local human rights groups believe that Israel has an advanced framework of laws for protecting human rights, but are concerned that resources for implementing those laws, or mechanisms for their enforcement, are sometimes lacking. The Equal Opportunities in Employment Law prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, marital status, or sexual orientation. The Labor Exchange Law prohibits discrimination by nongovernmental entities on the basis of race, religion, political beliefs, and age. Another law prohibits government bodies from practicing discrimination on any of these grounds.


There was continued concern over violence against women, in both Israel's Jewish and Arab communities. Groups formed to combat domestic violence include a parliamentary committee of inquiry, a committee established by the Minister of Labor and Social Affairs that includes Jewish and Arab nongovernmental organization (NGO) as well as government representatives, and a coalition of human rights organizations. Women's advocacy groups estimate that 16 women were killed by male relatives during the year, and that some 200,000 women suffer from domestic violence each year. Some 7 percent of these battered women are abused on a regular basis.

Arab human rights advocates also have formed a coalition to raise public awareness of so-called family honor killings, a term commonly used for the murder of a female by a male relative for alleged misconduct.

The Government supports seven shelters for battered women, including one exclusively for Arab women. There are plans for a total of 12 shelters, including 2 for Arab women.

According to the 1991 Domestic Violence Law, a district or magistrate court may prohibit access by violent family members to their property. Women's groups cooperate with legal and social service institutions to provide women's rights education. Sentences for many convicted of domestic violence were significantly harsher--in some cases as a result of prosecution appeal to the Supreme Court--than in past years.

The Equal Pay Law requires employers to pay male and female workers equal wages for equal work. However, women's advocacy groups report that women routinely receive lower wages for comparable work, are promoted less often, and have fewer career opportunities than their male counterparts.

Civil rights groups hailed two decisions regarding affirmative action as landmarks in the campaign for equal opportunity. In July legislation was passed that requires the civil service to give preference to women when male and female candidates of similar qualifications compete for the same positions. A November 1994 decision by the High Court of Justice, which mandated that preference be given to women in appointments to the boards of government-owned companies, has brought about a sharp increase--from 2 percent to 15 percent--in women's representation on such boards during the year.

The adjudication of personal status law in the areas of marriage and divorce is left to religious courts, where Jewish and Muslim women are subject to restrictive interpretations of their rights (see Section 2.c.). Women's advocacy groups report cases in which rabbinical courts have failed to invoke the sanctions at their disposal in cases where a wife has ample grounds for divorce--such as abuse--but the husband has refused to agree. In some cases where a wife has failed to agree, a husband has been allowed to remarry; this permission is not given to wives. Such imbalances have been used by husbands to extort concessions in return for agreeing to divorce.

Religious law can be even more restrictive for Muslims: some Islamic law courts have held that Muslim women may not request a divorce, but that women may be forced to consent if a divorce is granted to a man.

Jewish women are subject to the military draft but may not serve in combat positions. This was successfully challenged in November, when the Supreme Court ruled in favor of a woman officer who had applied for IDF pilot training, which would qualify her for a combat aviation position. The Israeli Air Force also agreed to search out other qualified women candidates for training.

In December the Knesset's Ad Hoc Committee on the Status of Women was granted permanent statutory standing equal to that of other Knesset committees.


The Government has a strong commitment to the rights and welfare of children, including in the areas of education and health care. Children's rights groups have expressed concern, however, that resources are sometimes insufficient to put that commitment into practice, particularly in the case of low-income families. Government ministries, children's rights groups, and members of the legislature often cooperate on children's rights issues.

The Government has legislated against sexual, physical, and psychological abuse of children and has mandated comprehensive reporting requirements. Although there has been a sharp increase in reported cases of child abuse in recent years, activists believe this may reflect increased awareness of the issue rather than a growing pattern of abuse. Child prostitution has been reported in isolated cases and has been dealt with promptly by appropriate authorities.

NGO's in the field of children's welfare concentrate their efforts on public education, on promoting the concept of children's rights as citizens, on improving legal representation for minors, and on combating the problems of poverty, which are most notable for the Bedouin children of the south. Children's rights groups express particular concern over the lack of special education facilities for Bedouin children.

Privately funded children's rights information centers have been established in some communities, and the Government is assisting in funding additional centers in other cities.

People with Disabilities

The Government provides a range of benefits, including income maintenance, housing subsidies, and transportation support for disabled persons, who are about 10 percent of the population. Advocacy groups observe that existing antidiscrimination laws do not prohibit discrimination based on disability, and report that these citizens continue to encounter difficulties in areas such as employment and housing. A law requiring access by the disabled to public buildings is not widely enforced. There is no law providing people with disabilities with access to public transportation.

Religious Minorities

In civic areas where religion is a determinant criterion, such as the religious courts and centers of education, non-Jewish institutions routinely receive less state support than their Jewish counterparts.

In May there was a shooting attack against a Christian church in Jaffa, near Tel Aviv, and in August an arsonist struck a church in the Galilee region of the north. There is no evidence, however, that these incidents represent a concerted anti-Christian campaign.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The Government does not provide Israeli Arabs, who constitute 18 percent of the population, with the same quality of education, housing, employment, and social services as Jews. Relative to their numbers, Israeli Arabs are underrepresented in the student bodies and faculties of most universities and in higher level professional and business ranks. A small number of Israeli Arabs have risen to responsible positions in the civil service, generally in the Arab departments of government ministries. A 1994 Civil Service Commission 3-year affirmative action program is expanding that number. In addition, in June comprehensive legislation was passed that prohibits discrimination in employment. Civil rights activists see it as a major precedent, but note that it does not provide any enforcement mechanism. In September Israeli Arabs welcomed the first appointment of an Arab as an Israeli ambassador.

The Government's commitment to closing the gaps between Jews and Arabs has resulted in a much greater allocation of resources to Arab communities in recent years than in the past. A committee established in 1994 to address the problem of fiscal deficits of the Arab local authorities has not yet reported its findings.

In practice, Israeli Arabs are not allowed to work in companies with defense contracts or in security-related fields. The Israeli Druze and Circassian communities are subject to the military draft--although some have refused to serve--while some Bedouin and other Arab citizens serve voluntarily. Those not subject to the draft have less access than other Israelis to those social and economic benefits for which military service is a prerequisite or an advantage, such as housing, new-household subsidies, and government or security-related industrial employment. Under a government policy whose implementation began in 1994, the social security child allowance for parents who have not served in the military is being increased over a 3-year period to equal the allowance of those who have served in the military.

The Government has yet to fulfill its commitment to resolve the legal status of unrecognized Arab villages. Eight villages have been recognized since late 1994, but human rights groups estimate that several dozen more remain in limbo, without any of the infrastructure, such as electricity, provided to recognized villages and towns. Private efforts have supplied some with water. In the Negev, a government program to provide housing for thousands of Bedouin in seven concentrated settlements has been criticized as likely to aggravate the severe poverty there.

Problems of many years' standing that remain unresolved also include claims by Arab groups that land expropriation for public use has affected the Arab community disproportionately; that Arabs have been allowed too little input in planning decisions that affect their municipalities; that mosques and cemeteries belonging to the Islamic Waqf have been unjustly expropriated for public use; and that successive governments have blocked the return of persons displaced in the early years of Israel's history from returning to their homes. At the end of the year, a special ministerial committee was negotiating with the pre-1948 residents of the northern villages of Bir Am and Ikrit, and their descendants, regarding their long-time demand to be allowed to rebuild their houses.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

Workers may join and establish labor organizations freely. Unions are free to affiliate with international organizations. Most unions belong to Histadrut (the General Federation of Labor in Israel), or to a much smaller rival federation. These organizations are independent of the Government. Histadrut members democratically elect national and local officers, and officials of its affiliated women's organization Na'amat, from political party lists. Plant or enterprise committee members are elected individually.

A new Histadrut administration moved to reshape the labor federation drastically, reducing its staff and services, and concentrating its focus on those areas directly related to employment. A new national health insurance law severed the link between Histadrut and Kupat Holim Clalit, the nation's largest health maintenance organization, in the process ending Histadrut's chief source of income. Membership in Histadrut dropped sharply once it was no longer necessary to join the federation in order to have access to its health plan. Histadrut hopes to expand its membership in areas not presently organized, such as small businesses and factories, even where collective bargaining agreements do not exist. At the end of the year, membership--which once reached 1.8 million people--had climbed back to about 700,000.

The right to strike is exercised regularly. Unions must provide 15 days' notice prior to a strike unless otherwise specified in the collective bargaining agreement. However, unauthorized strikes occur. Strike leaders--even those organizing illegal strikes--are protected by law. If essential public services are affected, the Government may appeal to labor courts for back-to-work orders while the parties continue negotiations. There were a number of strikes in both public and private sectors during the year by employees protesting the effects of privatization. Worker dismissals and the terms of severance arrangements were often the central issues of dispute.

Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza Strip who work in Israel may not join Israeli trade unions or organize their own unions in Israel. Palestinian trade unions in the occupied territories are not permitted to conduct activities in Israel (see Section 6.a. of the annex). However, nonresident workers in the organized sector are entitled to the protection of Histadrut work contracts and grievance procedures. They may join, vote for, and be elected to shop-level workers' committees if their numbers in individual establishments exceed a minimum threshold. Palestinian participation in such committees is minimal.

Labor laws apply to Palestinians in East Jerusalem and to the Syrian Druze living on the Golan Heights.

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

Israeli workers fully exercise their legal rights to organize and bargain collectively. While there is no law specifically prohibiting antiunion discrimination, the basic law against discrimination could be cited to contest discrimination based on union membership. No antiunion discrimination has been reported.

Nonresident workers may not organize their own unions or engage in collective bargaining, but they are entitled to be represented by the bargaining agent and protected by collective bargaining agreements. They do not pay union membership fees, but are required to pay a 1-percent agency fee which entitles them to union protection by Histadrut's collective bargaining agreements. The Ministry of Labor may extend collective bargaining agreements to nonunionized workplaces in the same industrial sector. The Ministry of Labor also oversees personal contracts in the nonorganized sectors of the economy.

There are no export processing zones.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits forced or compulsory labor. Neither Israeli citizens nor nonresident Palestinians working in Israel are subject to this practice.

d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children

Children who have attained the age of 14 years, and who are liable to compulsory education under the Compulsory Education Law, may not be employed unless they work as apprentices under the Apprenticeship Law. Notwithstanding these provisions, children who are 14 may be employed during official school holidays. Employment of those aged 16 to 18 is restricted to ensure time for rest and education.

There are no reliable data on illegal child workers. They are concentrated among Israel's Arab population and its newest Jewish immigrants. Illegal employment is found primarily in urban, light-industrial areas. Children's rights groups have called for more vigorous enforcement of child labor laws, combined with a parallel effort to deal with its causes.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Legislation in 1987 established a minimum wage at 45 percent of the average wage, calculated periodically and adjusted for cost of living increases. At year's end, the monthly minimum wage stood at about $580 (1,785 new Israeli shekels). The minimum wage is often supplemented by special allowances and is generally sufficient to provide workers and their families with an acceptable standard of living. Union officials have expressed concern over enforcement of minimum wage regulations, particularly with respect to employers of illegal nonresident workers who sometimes pay less than the minimum wage.

By law the maximum hours of work at regular pay are 47 hours a week, 8 hours per day, and 7 hours on the day before the weekly rest, which must be at least 36 consecutive hours and include the Sabbath. By national collective agreements, the private sector established a maximum 45-hour workweek in 1988. The public sector moved to a 5-day, 42 1/2 hour workweek in 1989, while the military adopted it in 1993.

Employers must receive a government permit to hire nonresident workers from the occupied territories, certifying that no Israeli citizen is available for the job. All Palestinians from the occupied territories are employed on a daily basis and, unless they are employed on shiftwork, are not authorized to spend the night in Israel. Palestinians without valid work permits are subject to arrest.

Nonresident workers are paid through the Employment Service of the Ministry of Labor which disburses wages and benefits collected from employers. The Ministry deducts a 1 percent union fee and the workers' contributions to the National Insurance Institute, the agency that administers the Israeli social security system. Despite these deductions, Palestinian workers do not have access to unemployment insurance, general disability payments, low-income supplements, child allotments, or maternity leave. By contrast Israeli settlers in the occupied territories who work in Israel have the same benefits as other Israeli workers. The International Labor Organization has long criticized this inequality in entitlements. Histadrut and the Palestinian trade unions of the West Bank and Gaza agreed on payment to the new Palestinian Trade Union Federation of 4 million shekels deducted from the wages of Palestinian workers.

Along with union representatives, the Labor Inspection Service enforces labor, health, and safety standards in the workplace, although resource constraints affect overall enforcement. Legislation protects the employment rights of safety delegates elected or appointed by the workers. In cooperation with management, these delegates are responsible for the safety and health of the workplace. Workers do not have the legal right to remove themselves from dangerous work situations without jeopardy to continued employment. However, collective bargaining agreements provide some workers with recourse through the work site labor committee. Any worker may challenge unsafe work practices through government oversight and legal agencies.

[1]* The human rights situation in the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem is discussed in the annex appended to this report. (Ed.: This information is included as a separate entry.)

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