Last Updated: Wednesday, 27 August 2014, 08:39 GMT

U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1996 - Israel

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 30 January 1997
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1996 - Israel, 30 January 1997, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa82c.html [accessed 27 August 2014]
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 AND THE OCCUPIED TERRITORIES[1]*

Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, January 30, 1997

 

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. On May 29, Likud Party leader Benyamin Netanyahu was elected Prime Minister; he heads a center-right coalition government. The judiciary is independent.

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, East Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights. The international community does not recognize Israel's sovereignty over any part of the occupied territories. 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.

An historic process of reconciliation between Israel and its neighbors began with the Madrid Conference in 1991 and continued with the September 1993 signing of the Israeli-Palestinian Declaration of Principles (DOP.) In September 1995, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Chairman Yasir Arafat of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) signed the Interim Agreement on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, which provided for the election and establishment of a Palestinian self-governing authority, transfer of civil authority, Israeli redeployment from major Palestinian population centers in the West Bank, security arrangements, and cooperation in a variety of areas. Palestinian elections were held in January. Negotiations on permanent status – which are to address the status of Jerusalem, Palestinian refugees, Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Gaza, final security arrangements, borders, and other issues of common interest – began on May 5 and were immediately adjourned.

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 the Minister of Interior Security. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) are under the authority of a civilian Minister of Defense. The IDF includes a significant portion of the adult population on active duty or reserve status 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. Some members of the security forces committed human rights abuses.

Israel has an advanced industrial economy, and citizens enjoy a high standard of living, with a per capita income of almost $17,000. Unemployment among citizens was approximately 6.5 percent with nearly full employment in some areas. Along with rapid economic growth in recent years there has been a tendency toward increasing income inequality. The long-standing gap in levels of income between Jewish and non-Jewish citizens continues. Israel's growing reliance on foreign workers, principally from Asia and Eastern Europe who are generally employed in agriculture and the construction industry, and comprise about 10 percent of the labor force. Since the implementation of an economic stabilization plan in 1985, Israel has moved gradually to reduce state intervention in the economy. The new Netanyahu Government promised a renewed emphasis on market-oriented structural reforms, especially deregulation and rapid privatization of the economy, but had achieved little progress by year's end. Despite the continued dominant role of the Government in the economy, individuals generally are 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. Israel's main human rights problems have arisen from its policies and practices in the occupied territories. However, the redeployment of the IDF from most major Palestinian population areas in the West Bank in December 1995, and its previous withdrawal from Gaza and Jericho, have significantly reduced these problems. In September, however, Israel's opening of an archeological tunnel near the Temple Mount in Jerusalem and the subsequent calls by Palestinian leaders to protest this decision sparked confrontations between Israeli security forces and Palestinians expressing their frustrations over the slow pace of the peace process. These demonstrations escalated into several days of fighting between Israelis and Palestinians and left 16 Israelis and 58 Palestinians dead and many hundreds injured.

The authorities continue to hold and mistreat Palestinian security detainees, and detention and prison conditions, particularly for Palestinians, are poor. However, new legislation during the year set tighter limits on the length and grounds for pretrial detention. New legislation also broadened children's rights and made the basis for comparing men's and women's compensation more equitable. Proposed legislation defining the basis for and limits of GSS activities, circulated to interested groups in 1995 for their comment, was widely criticized for because it authorized the Government to use force during interrogation and to issue secret guidelines defining the methods of interrogation. The legislation has not been formally submitted to the Knesset.

The Government responded to terrorist and security incidents by tightening existing restrictions on movement across borders with the West Bank and Gaza, and demolishing the homes of some suspected terrorists and their families in the occupied territories.

The Government took steps to address discrimination and violence against women. It pledged to eliminate the social and economic gap between Israel's Arab and Jewish citizens; however, 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

There are no reports of political killings by government forces. During the year, however, at least two Palestinians died while in Israeli custody, two after apparently being tortured by other Palestinians (see Section 1.a. and Section 1.c. of the annex.)

Two extremist Islamic groups, the Islamic Resistance (Hamas) and the Palestine Islamic Jihad (PIJ), made a concerted effort during the year to undermine the authority of the Palestinian Authority and derail the Israeli-Palestinian peace process by killing Israeli civilians in a series of deadly suicide bombing attacks in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and Ashkelon (see Section 1.g.). On June 9, terrorists shot and killed an Israeli couple in a car 12 miles southwest of Jerusalem.

On October 3, a Tel Aviv court sentenced Yigal Amir, the killer of former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, to an additional 5 years in prison. Amir is already serving a life term. The court also sentenced the killer's brother, Hagai Amir, to 12 years, and a third man, Dror Adani, to 7 years, for plotting Rabin's murder. The three men were also found guilty of planning attacks against Palestinians, and Hagai Amir was convicted of various weapons charges.

In September Israel's opening of a controversial tunnel near Muslim and Jewish holy sites in Jerusalem and calls by the Palestinian Authority (PA) for Palestinians to protest the move sparked several days of violent clashes between Israeli security forces and Palestinian security officers and civilians. Fifty-eight Palestinians (including 11 Palestinian security officers) and 16 IDF soldiers and border police officers died in the fighting, and some 1,500 persons were injured (see Section 1.g. of the annex).

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

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

Although laws and administrative regulations prohibit the physical abuse of detainees, the head of Shin Bet is empowered to authorize security officers to use use "moderate physical and psychological pressure" in interrogating Palestinian detainees. In certain "ticking bomb" cases the GSS has "greater flexibility" to employ "special measures" when deemed necessary to obtain information to save lives. These measures have been applied against Palestinians suspected of involvement in planning terrorist acts, and include the practice of violent shaking (see Section 1.c. of the annex).

The practice of shaking was challenged repeatedly before the Israeli Supreme Court during the year by human rights groups and attorneys for individual detainees. In two cases in November, the Court upheld the right of the GSS to use "special measures" and "force" against Palestinian prisoners. However, in a number of cases, the Court ordered the GSS to show cause that this method of interrogation was necessary in order to obtain information directly related to citizens' safety. While in a number of cases the GSS succeeded in meeting the Court's standard, and shaking was authorized, the show-cause orders constitute some restriction on the use of the method.

In August the authorities detained Bashar Tarabieh, a part-time employee of the nongovernmental organization (NGO) Human Rights Watch, who had been visiting his family in the Golan Heights. For 8 days he was held without charge in a jail near Haifa, in a separate section for the detention and interrogation of security prisoners. Between repeated interrogation sessions he was frequently hooded and tied to a chair in a contorted position. He was held in a cell with poor sanitary conditions, and for much of his detention given food that was inedible. After international attention brought his case to light, he was released without charge.

Conditions vary in incarceration facilities in Israel and the occupied territories, which are administered by the Israeli Prison Service (IPS), the national police, or the Israel Defense Forces. IPS prisons usually meet minimum international standards. Generally, IPS inmates are not subject to physical abuse by guards, food is adequate, and prisoners receive basic necessities. Inmates receive mail, have television sets 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. The IPS has established an investigatory committee to look into charges of violence by guards against inmates.

Since the closure in 1995 of the main IDF detention camps in the occupied territories, all security detainees from the occupied territories who are held for more than a few days are transferred to facilities within Israel. Security detainees in 1996 were held in IDF camps in Israel, but also in IPS facilities and in special sections of police detention facilities. Prisoners incarcerated for security reasons are subject to a different regimen, even in IPS facilities. They are often denied certain privileges given to prisoners convicted on criminal charges. Security prisoners include some minors. Detention camps administered by the IDF are limited to male Palestinian security prisoners and are guarded by armed soldiers. The number of security prisoners, 4,900 at the beginning of 1996, varied between 3,800 and 4,200 during the year, and was approximately 3,800 at year's end.

Conditions at some national police detention facilities can fall below minimum international standards. Such facilities are intended to hold criminal detainees prior to trial, but often become de facto prisons. 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. Moreover, conditions are worse in the separate facilities for security detainees maintained both in police facilities and in IPS prisons.

In response to a series of reports by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) that were critical of the country's detention facilities, the Government in April presented a plan for widespread reform, including renovation of existing police and IPS facilities and construction of new ones. By year's end some improvements had been made in the country's major detention facilities. A new prison, built to modern standards for incarceration, was opened at Tsalmon. A detention facility in Beersheva that had been criticized for its very poor conditions was shut down. Some detainees from police facilities were moved to the IPS to relieve overcrowding. Funds were allocated to rebuild the Abu Kabir facility in the Tel Aviv area, and some minor renovations were made in Jerusalem's Russian Compound detention center, in which up to 50 Palestinian detainees had been crowded into 4-bed cells.

Thus far improvements have been limited in scope, and dilapidation and overcrowding (the latter aggravated by the closure of IDF detention facilities in the occupied territories) are still problems. New legislation enacted in May and scheduled to take effect in 1997 defines the minimum conditions for detainees. The minimum conditions for detainees include: The right to live in conditions that would not harm the health or dignity of the detainee; access to adequate health care; the right to a bed for each detainee; and access to exercise and fresh air on a daily basis.

Children's rights groups have expressed particular concern over the separate sections of holding facilities set aside for the detention of children. Overcrowding, poor physical conditions, lack of social workers, and denial of visits by parents are among the key problems. In addition to some Israeli minors held in criminal cases, there are juveniles among Palestinian detainees. Children's rights activists have recommended the construction of a separate detention facility for children.

Conditions in IDF detention camps have been criticized repeatedly over the years. In May the Ketziot Detention Camp in the Negev, regarded as having had the harshest conditions, was closed. Conditions at Meggido detention facility near Afula remain difficult, where 90 percent of detainees are housed in tents. Conditions in remaining facilities improved in some respects, with inmates given more time for exercise outside their cells. Nevertheless, recreational facilities remain minimal, and severe limitations remain on family visits to detainees. Visits were prevented for long periods during closures of the borders with Gaza and the West Bank, including a 4-month closure after the February-March bombings.

All incarceration facilities are monitored by various branches of the Government, by members of the Knesset, and by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and other human rights groups. In somes instances, human rights groups and diplomatic officials encountered difficulties gaining access to specific detainees, usually Palestinians held for security offenses (see Section 1.d. of the annex).

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

The law prohibits arbitrary arrest of 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 have the right to 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 for up to 15 days in national security cases.

New legislation enacted in May, which takes effect in 1997, defines more narrowly the grounds for pretrial detention, and reduces to 24 hours the length of time a person may be held without charge. Children's rights activists have recommended separate legislation to define when and how a child may be arrested and how long children may be detained.

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 October two Israeli settlers in Hebron were detained due to indications that they might incite violence as the Hebron negotiations were beginning.

Most of the protections afforded by law are not extended to Palestinian detainees, who fall under the jurisdiction of military law even if they are detained in Israel. With IDF redeployment on the West Bank, detention centers there were closed, and all Palestinian detainees held for longer than 1 or 2 days are incarcerated in Israel. The Government does, however, observe some humanitarian provisions of the Fourth Geneva Convention with regard to these detainees (see Section 1.d. of the annex).

The Government detains 140 non-Palestinian Arabs, who comprise a mixture of common prisoners, administrative detainees, and security detainees. It continues to deny the ICRC access to two Lebanese citizens, 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 1995 the Government expelled a Jordanian citizen and a West Bank Palestinian into the security zone in southern Lebanon. While the Jordanian has since returned to Jordan, the Palestinian still is being given shelter by the United Nations Interim Force In Lebanon (UNIFIL). The ICRC has taken up his case with the Government.

The law prohibits forced exile of citizens, and it 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, with the Supreme Court at the apex. The Supreme Court is an appellate court. Each of the cited courts, including the Supreme Court, have appellate courts or jurisdictions.

The law provides for the right to a hearing with representation by counsel, and authorities observe this right in practice. A planned regional and national system of public defenders operated by the Ministry of Justice was inaugurated in 1996 with the opening of a Tel Aviv office, although that office has suffered serious budget shortages and faces further cutbacks in 1997.

All nonsecurity trials are public except those in which the interests of the 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. Adult 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. Nevertheless, in the 1995 case of Mohammed Salah, he was denied access to some evidence, but it is not clear that he was convicted on the basis of that evidence.

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 under 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 (see Section 1.f. of the Annex).

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

In April in response to Katyusha rocket salvos launched by the terrorist organization Hizballah from southern Lebanon against towns and civilian areas in northern Israel, the Government responded with an aerial and artillery counterattack. The IDF attempted to confine its initial attacks to the Hizballah-controlled areas from which the rockets had come; however, many Hizballah launching sites were intermingled with, or located close to, Lebanese civilian areas. The fighting subsequently intensified to include attacks on Beirut and blockades of Lebanese ports. The conflict resulted in more than 150 civilian deaths and hundreds of wounded civilians on the Lebanese side, and dozens of wounded civilians in Israel.

The Israeli military operation – known as Grapes of Wrath – included a public call on Lebanese civilians in the south to move away from areas that Israel intended to attack. As a result, the operation created 200,000 to 300,000 or more temporary refugees. In northern Israel, Hizballah salvos caused 20,000 to 30,000 civilians to abandon their homes. Lebanese observers and some Israeli media commentators alleged that a central tactic of Grapes of Wrath was to put pressure on the Lebanese Government to restrain Hizballah by generating a large northward flow of Lebanese refugees toward Beirut. Israel clearly stated that it did not intend to injure civilians, but would not allow Hizballah to fire from within villages and conceal itself among the civilian population. Hizballah declared that its aim was to create a flow of Israeli refugees in retaliation.

On April 18, Hizballah fired mortar rounds at an Israeli military unit from a position very near the U.N. compound at Qana, and the IDF responded with artillery fire. A number of Israeli shells struck the compound, killing 102 civilians who had sought shelter there and wounding others. The Government expressed regret for these casualties, but insisted that the U.N. compound had not been shelled intentionally. A U.N. report concluded, however, that it was unlikely that the shelling was due to technical or procedural error.

Negotiations to end the fighting resulted in an April 26 understanding under which the two parties committed not to target civilians or to use civilian-populated areas or nonmilitary public installations as launching grounds for attacks. An international monitoring group was established to investigate complaints of violations of the understanding. This group, the Israel-Lebanon Monitoring Group (ILMG), continued to function throughout the remainder of the year, with the participation of the United States, France, Syria, Israel, and Lebanon.

Politically motivated intercommunal killings continued as extremists sought to disrupt the Israel-Palestinian peace process. On February 25, two Palestinian suicide bombers struck in Jerusalem and at a road junction near the southern coastal city of Ashkelon. The Jerusalem explosion killed 25 persons, including three U.S. citizens. In Ashkelon one person was killed and 36 injured. On March 3, another suicide bomber killed 19 persons, including Palestinian and Romanian workers, and wounded 7 in Jerusalem. The following day a fourth bomber killed 14 persons – including 6 children – and injured more than 100 others at an intersection in central Tel Aviv. On December 22, a court in Lod sentenced two Palestinians to consecutive life terms for driving suicide bombers to the scenes of the bombing attacks in Jerusalem and Ashkelon.

See also Section 1.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. A new censorship agreement signed on May 22 between the Government and media representatives continues the trend to broaden liberalization of Israel's censorship regime. The agreement provides that military censorship is to be applied only in cases involving national security issues that have a near certainty of harming Israel's defense interests, and now applies to all media organizations in Israel, including local and Arabic-language newspapers. All media organizations can appeal the censor's decision to the Supreme Court. Moreover, a new clause abolishes the right of the censor to shut down a newspaper for a censorship violation and eliminates the ability of the office of the censor to appeal a decision against it. News printed or broadcast abroad may be reported 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 1996.

Individuals, organizations, the press, and the electronic media freely debate public issues and criticize government officials and policies. A public debate on the legitimate exercise of the freedom of speech, sharpened by the November 1995 killing of Prime Minister Rabin, continued during the year. New concerns were raised by the actions of angry right-wing extremists who criticized the Supreme Court and issued threats against the life of Chief Justice Aharon Barak. There was also scattered praise from extremists for Rabin's killer. The head of the Zo Artsenu movement was tried for sedition and the case is still pending. For the most part, however, the Attorney General, while condemning hate speech, concluded that such speech could not be prosecuted.

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 (IBA) controls television channel 1 and Kol Israel radio, both major sources of news and information. Six cable companies operate under franchises granted by government-councils. Privately owned channel 2 television, the first commercial television channel, is operated by three franchise companies. Seven regional radio franchises were joined by another 6, bringing to 13 the number of private radio outlets. The Second Television and Radio Authority, a public body, supervises both channel 2 and the regional radio stations.

The May elections focused public attention on a provision of the communications law that prohibits the visual image of candidates to be screened during the last 30 days of a campaign. A bill to change this law was debated in the Knesset, but deferred, even though cable news channels like Cable News Network (CNN) and the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) were not prohibited from broadcasting images of the candidates. Another part of the law that prohibits paid political advertising on television was also debated but was not changed.

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.

Demonstrations by ultra-Orthodox Jews in July and August were organized to force the municipality of Jerusalem to close the city's Bar-Ilan Street, a main throughfare, to traffic on the Sabbath. The demonstrators committed acts of civil disobedience and violence. The police used excessive force in countering the demonstrators.

c. Freedom of Religion

The law provides for freedom of religion, and the Government respects this right. Approximately 81 percent of citizens are Jewish. Muslims, Christians, Druze, and members of other 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 cases 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 an alternative to religious courts. New legislation passed during the year allows the rabbinical courts to sanction either party who is not willing to grant a divorce.

Many citizens object to the Orthodox Jewish religious authorities' exclusive control over marriage, divorce, and burial, whether persons are Jewish or not. These authorities do not recognize marriages or conversions to Judaism performed in Israel by Conservative or Reform rabbis. These issues have been a source of sharp division within 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 Orthodox authorities. The divisions grew sharper during the year, as Jewish religious extremists, asserting the supremacy of religious law over democracy, threatened the life of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and of local Reform rabbis.

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. New Knesset legislation provided for the right to civil burials, and land for the first secular cemeteries was recently designated.

Missionaries are allowed to proselytize in Israel, although Mormons are specifically prohibited from doing so by mutual agreement between the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-Day Saints and the Government. 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.

A 1995 Supreme Court ruling allows small numbers of Jews under police escort to pray on the Temple Mount, which is the site of two Muslim holy places and also the location of the First and Second Jewish Temples.

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 for citizens, except with regard to military or security zones or in instances where citizens may be confined by administrative order to their neighborhoods or villages. During the year, rabbinical courts asserting jurisdiction over divorce cases refused at least two visiting U.S. citizens permission to depart the country until their cases were tried (see Section 5). 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 and are not restricted by administrative order. In 1996 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. Other than the Law of Return, which applies only to Jews, and the family reunification statutes, which mainly apply to Arabs who fled Israel in 1948-49, Israel has no immigration law that provides for immigration to Israel, or for political asylum. The law does allow qualified individuals to live in Israel as permanent residents.

The issue of first asylum did not arise in 1996. The Government cooperates with the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and other humanitarian organizations in assisting refugees.

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. In May general elections were held for the 14th Knesset and, for the first time, the voters elected the Prime Minister by direct ballot.

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.

While there are no legal impediments to the participation of women and minorities in government, they are underrepresented. Women hold 9 of 120 Knesset seats, compared with 11 female members in the previous Knesset. There are 11 Arab and 1 Druze in the new Knesset, compared with 7 and 2 prior to the May election; most represent parties deriving their support largely or entirely from the Arab community. Of the Knesset's 12 committees, 2 (including the Committee on the Status of Women) are chaired by a woman and another is chaired by the Druze member of the legislature. There is one woman in the Cabinet, as compared with 2 in the previous government. There are no Arab or Druze ministers or deputy ministers in the new government. Three women, but no Arab or Druze citizens, serve on the 14-member Supreme Court.

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

The law prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, marital status, or sexual orientation. The law also prohibits discrimination by both government and nongovernment entities on the basis of race, religion, political beliefs, and age. Local human rights groups are concerned that resources for implementing those laws, or mechanisms for their enforcement, are sometimes lacking.

Women

There continued to be action, both in and out of government, to deal with the issue of violence against women in Jewish and Arab communities. The Government has allocated funds for a special campaign to combat such violence, and in June a parliamentary committee of inquiry issued a report recommending a number of measures to combat the problem at its source. Groups that focus on domestic violence include a committee established by the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs that includes Jewish and Arab nongovernmental organizations (NGO's) as well as government representatives, and a coalition of human rights organizations. Approximately 16 women were killed by husbands or other male relatives during the year. According to the most recent estimates, some 200,000 women suffer from domestic violence each year, and some 7 percent of these 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, although women's rights advocates consider this number inadequate.

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. While sentences handed down to men convicted of rape have increased in recent years, women's rights activists note that the penalties are not sufficiently harsh.

Civil rights groups also expressed concern about an increased incidence of physical attacks by Jewish religious extremists, particularly in Jerusalem, against women whom they consider to be immodestly dressed in public.

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. In March the Equal Pay Law, which required employers to pay male and female workers equal wages for equal work, was replaced by new legislation that redefines compensation to include important side benefits, and allows for class action suits. An amendment to the social security law allowed housewives some access to the nation's social security pension system.

Legislation in 1993, reinforced by a 1994 ruling of the High Court of Justice, or the Supreme Court in other circumstances, has increased the percentage of women on the boards of two-thirds of government-owned companies. Their numbers remain low overall, however. One study reported that in 1996 women made up more than 30 percent of the boards in only 39 of 118 government-owned companies.

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.). Legislation passed in 1995 broadens the civil sanctions made available to rabbinical courts in cases where a wife has ample grounds for divorce – such as abuse – but the husband has refused to agree. In some cases, however, rabbinical courts have failed to invoke these sanctions. 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 from their wives in return for agreeing to divorce.

In at least two cases during the year, the rabbinical court imposed civil sanctions on persons not citizens of Israel. This court asserted jurisdiction over Jewish U.S. citizens visiting Israel who had received civil divorces in the United States but whose former wives was seeking a religious divorce through the rabbinical court in Israel. The U.S. citizens were denied permission to leave Israel until the courts heard the cases (see section 2.d.). In 1996 the court heard one of the cases and ruled in early 1997 that it had no jurisdiction in the matter because the U.S. citizen was not a resident or a citizen of Israel. However, the U.S. citizen was not permitted to leave the country when a second, related case was filed against him in the district rabbinical court.

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 have been barred from combat positions. During the year the Israeli Air Force, acting on a landmark Supreme Court ruling handed down in 1995, for the first time admitted women to IDF pilot training, which would qualify them for combat aviation positions. Two classes with women members are in training. At the same time, a new petition before the Court charged the national police force with discrimination against women, in recruiting, assignments open to female officers, and promotions. The petition was still pending at year's end.

Children

The Government is strongly committed to the rights and welfare of children, including in the areas of education and health care. However, resources are sometimes insufficient to put that commitment into practice, particularly in the case of low-income families. Education is compulsory to the age of 15, or until the child reaches the 10th grade, whichever comes first. Government ministries, children's rights groups, and members of the legislature often cooperate on children's rights issues.

Legislative landmarks in the area of children's rights during the year included the requirement that the psychiatric hospitalization of a child be reviewed by a court, as it must in the case of an adult; the extension to children of confidentiality in HIV testing; and the ruling that in any family status court case, such as divorce, the children affected or their legal representatives must be heard.

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 that this is largely due to increased awareness of the issue rather than a growing pattern of abuse. There are now four shelters in Israel for children at risk, and a fifth is scheduled to open. The Stockholm Conference raised public awareness of the issue of child prostitution. The Ministry of Justice formed a committee with police and NGO representatives that is attempting to assess the scope of the problem. Children's rights activists estimate that there may be several hundred prostitutes among the nation's children, and warn that the phenomenon is unlikely to be eradicated until the social problems that give rise to it – including child abuse and schools that give up too readily on dropouts – are addressed.

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. There has been concern over the children of Israel's growing population of foreign workers, many of them in the country illegally. Children of such families, believed to number in the thousands, exist in a legal and social limbo, without access to schools or adequate health services.

Privately funded children's rights information centers have been established in some communities, and the Government assists 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 comprise about 10 percent of the population. Existing antidiscrimination laws do not prohibit discrimination based on disability, and these citizens continue to encounter difficulties in areas such as employment and housing. A law requiring access for the disabled to public buildings is not widely enforced. There is no law providing for access to public transportation for people with disabilities. A new law extended disability assistance for deaf children from age 14 to maturity.

Religious Minorities

In civic areas where religion is a determining criterion, such as the religious courts and centers of education, non-Jewish institutions routinely receive less state support than their Jewish counterparts. The status of a number of Christian organizations with representation in Israel has heretofore been defined by a collection of ad hoc arrangements with various government agencies. Several of these organizations are negotiating with the Government in an attempt to formalize their status. Attempts to establish meaningful negotiations are ongoing.

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. Government efforts to close the gaps between Israel's Jewish and Arab citizens have resulted in an estimated 160 percent increase in resources devoted to Arab communities between 1992 and 1996. Nevertheless, significant differences remain.

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 to expand that number has had only modest results. The Government has allocated only very limited resources to enforce landmark 1995 legislation prohibiting discrimination in employment.

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. Some Bedouin and other Arab citizens who are not subject to the draft 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 1994 government policy decision, 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 1994, but nearly a hundred more, of varying size and with a total population of nearly 70,000 people, remain in limbo. Such villages have none 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 and disrupt the indigenous culture.

Arab children make up about a quarter of Israel's public school population, but government resources for them are not equal to those for Jewish children. Many schools in Arab communities are dilapidated and overcrowded, lack special education services and counselors, have poor libraries, and have no sports facilities. Arab groups also note that the public school curriculum stresses Israel's Jewish culture and heritage.

Unresolved problems of many years' standing 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 schools and 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 to their homes. The Government has yet to agree 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; in the meantime, permission has been given to Jewish settlements to increase their land holdings in the disputed areas.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

Workers may join and establish labor organizations freely. Most unions belong to Histadrut (the General Federation of Labor in Israel), or to a much smaller rival federation, the Histadrut Haovdim Haleumit (National Federation of Labor.) These organizations are independent of the Government. Histadrut members 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.

During the year, the Histadrut administration continued its drastic reshaping of the labor federation, with further reductions in staff and services, as Histadrut shifted its concentration to those areas directly related to employment. In 1995 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 is seeking 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 1996, 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.

Unions are free to affiliate with international organizations.

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 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. Civil rights groups charge that unscrupulous employers often take advantage of illegal workers' lack of status (see Section 6.e.) to hold them in conditions amounting to involuntary servitude.

d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children

Children who have attained the age of 15 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 years old may be employed during official school holidays. Employment of those ages 16 to 18 years 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 the causes of illegal child labor.

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 minimum wage stood at about $620 (roughly 2,000 new Israeli shekels) per month. 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 non-resident 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 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' required contributions to the National Insurance Institute (NII), the agency that administers the Israeli social security system, unemployment benefits, and other benefits. Despite these deductions, Palestinian workers are not eligible for all NII benefits. They continue to be insured for injuries occurring in Israel and the bankruptcy of a worker's employer. They do not have access to unemployment insurance, general disability payments, low-income supplements, or child allotments. 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. The Government agreed to transfer the NII fees collected from Palestinian workers to the PA, which will assume responsibility for all the pensions and social benefits of Palestinians working in Israel. Implementation of this change is still underway.

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.

There was increased public debate over the role in the workplace and society of foreign workers, who are estimated to number 200,000 or more, perhaps half of them undocumented and illegally employed. The majority of such workers come from eastern Europe and southeast Asia, and most are employed in the construction and agricultural sectors. The law does not allow such workers citizenship or permanent residence in Israel. As a result, they and their families live in a legal and social limbo. Government deportations of such workers take place without benefit of due process.



[1]* The human rights situation in the occupied territories is discussed in the annex appended to this report. [Editor's note: see "The Occupied Territories."]

Search Refworld

Countries