U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1994 - Israel

ISRAEL AND THE OCCUPIED TERRITORIES[1]*     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. 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 areas of 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. On September 13, 1993, Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) signed an historic Declaration of Principles. This process of reconciliation led to significant developments in 1994, first and foremost being the May agreement leading to the establishment of a Palestinian Authority (PA) in the Gaza Strip and Jericho area, and the August agreement on "early empowerment" (the Agreement on Preparatory Transfer of Powers and Responsibilities) (see the annex to this report). Internal security is the responsibility of the General Security Service (Shin Bet), which is under the authority of the Prime Minister's office. The police are under the authority of a different minister. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) is under the authority of a civilian Minister of Defense. It 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 a market economy and enjoys a relatively high standard of living. The economy has grown by an average of 5 percent a year in the past several years. Unemployment is 7.5*The human rights situation in the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem is discussed in the annex appended to this report.percent, the lowest since 1988. Inflation is 14.5 percent. Since implementation of an economic stabilization plan in 1985, the Government has moved steadily in the direction of reducing 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 largely free to invest in private interests and own property. Positive human rights developments, in addition to the implementation of Israel-PLO agreements, included the release of thousands of Palestinians detainees and prisoners from military and civil facilities. Israeli citizens enjoy a wide range of civil and other rights. Israel's main human rights problems arise from its policies and practices in the occupied territories. In addition, while the Government's stated intention is to close the social and economic gap between Arab and Jewish citizens, Arab citizens still do not share fully in the rights granted to, and the levies imposed on, Jewish citizens.


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. In the context of extreme political tension between Israel and the Palestinians, intercommunal killings are often assumed to have a political motivation. In 1994 the number of such killings of Israelis committed in Israel rose to 52, as extremists on both sides sought to disrupt the peace process. On April 6, a Palestinian car bomber in a suicide attack killed 7 and injured at least 50 at a bus stop in the Israeli city of Afula, and on April 13 a bomb in the central bus station in Hadera killed 5 persons and wounded as many as 20. On October 19, a suicide bomber aboard a Tel Aviv bus killed some 22 people and injured more than 40. Another suicide bomber killed himself and injured 12 at a Jerusalem bus stop on December 25. In other violence, a Jewish settler armed with an automatic rifle attacked a morning prayer service at the Ibrahim Mosque, also known as the Tomb of the Patriarchs, in the West Bank city of Hebron on February 25, killing at least 29 Arab worshippers.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of disappearances.

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

Although Israeli laws and administrative regulations prohibit such practices, there are credible reports that security officers abuse Palestinian detainees (See annex for a discussion of mistreatment of prisoners from the occupied territories incarcerated in detention facilities located in Israel). Incarceration facilities in Israel and the occupied territories are administered by either the Israeli Prison Service (IPS), the national police, or the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). 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, inmates are not subject to physical abuse by guards, food is adequate, and prisoners receive basic necessities. However, security prisoners are subject to a different regime, even in IPS facilities, and as a class they are often denied certain privileges given to prisoners convicted on criminal charges. Overcrowding is the most severe problem in all facilities. IPS prisons conform to general international standards which permit inmates to 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 religious and drug-free wards and educational and recreational program. Police detention facilities are intended for pretrial detentions but are often used as de facto jails, holding detainees for several months because of court backlogs. Inmates are often not accorded the same rights and living conditions as prisoners in the IPS facilities. Some police detention facilities can fall below generally accepted minimum international standards. Detention camps administered by the IDF are limited to male Palestinian security prisoners and are guarded by armed soldiers. The number of security prisoners dropped sharply in 1994, after the Government released over 5,400 Palestinian detainees. Conditions in the camps do not meet minimum international standards and threaten the health of the inmates. Many camps continue to house inmates in unheated tents, even in severe weather conditions. Family visits are restricted in the camps and recreational facilities are minimal. A petition to close the Ketziot detention camp, filed by a human rights organization before the High Court of Justice in 1993, was withdrawn in 1994. The number of detainees in the camp had decreased to about 820 by the end of the year, down from 4,900 in 1993.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

Israeli law and practice prohibit arbitrary arrest or imprisonment. Writs of habeas corpus and other procedural and substantive safeguards are available. Defendants are considered innocent until proven guilty. However, a 1979 law permits administrative detention without charge or trial. The Minister of Defense may issue a detention order for a maximum of 6 months. 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. Administrative detention orders are renewable. 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. 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. After the Hebron massacre in February, the authorities placed under administrative detention several activists of the Jewish ultra-nationalist Kach and Kahane Chai Organizations. In September the authorities placed in administrative detention a number of Israelis, because the Government was concerned that they might commit terrorist acts. One of those arrested is a member of the IDF who is being tried by a military court. The Governmemt continues to hold nearly half of the Palestinian detainees from the occupied territories in detention centers in Israel. The transfer of prisoners from the occupied territories to Israel contravenes article 76 of the Fourth Geneva Convention (see Section 1.d. of the annex). The Government acknowledges that it detains 11 Lebanese citizens and has provided information on the whereabouts of all but two of them. The disposition of their cases appears linked to government efforts to obtain information on Israeli military personnel believed to be prisoners of war or missing in Lebanon. Another 12 Lebanese prisoners, who had been detained after serving their sentences, are no longer in detention. The Government does not exile Israeli citizens (see Section 1.d. of the annex).

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The judicial system is composed of civil, military, religious, labor relations, and administrative courts. The judiciary is independent. The law provides for the right to a hearing with representation by counsel. The right is observed in practice. All nonsecurity trials are public except those in which the interests of parties are deemed best served by privacy. Security cases 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 1.g. of the annex.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

Individuals, organizations, the press, and the electronic media freely debate public issues and criticize government officials and policies. 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. In response to objections from the press, the Government has shown greater flexibility regarding material which may or may not be made public. The Government censors Arabic publications more strictly than Hebrew publications. In August the Ministry of the Interior closed the East Jerusalem weekly newspaper, Al-Bayan, because of the paper's alleged connections with the terrorist group Hamas. Authorities also prohibited the distribution of the PLO-affiliated Al-Awdah publication for several months. Emergency regulations prohibit anyone from expressing support for illegal organizations. The Government occasionally prosecutes persons for speaking or writing on behalf of terrorist groups. Such actions are almost always directed against Israeli Arabs; no such cases were filed against Jews in 1994, but the Kach and Kahane Chai extremist organizations were banned under provisions of a 1948 antiterrorism act (see Section 2.b.)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 councils appointed by the Government. Three companies were awarded franchises in 1993 to start a commercial television channel, Israel's first. Privately owned, commercial local radio is also gearing up. Tenders for the establishment of the first 6 of 17 planned local radio stations have already been made.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The law and court rulings protect the rights of assembly and association. The Government may prohibit individuals from belonging to terrorist groups. After the Hebron massacre in February, the Cabinet invoked the 1948 Ordinance for the Prevention of Terror to ban the ultranationalist Kach and Kahane Chai organizations. The decision stipulated imprisonment for anyone belonging to, or expressing support for, either organization.

c. Freedom of Religion

This right is strongly protected by law. 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. In the Jewish community, Orthodox religious authorities have exclusive control over marriage, divorce, and burial, whether the subjects are Orthodox Jews or not. Some Conservative, Reform, and secular Jews have objected to such authority. Israeli authorities are not empowered to perform civil marriages. Missionaries are allowed to work in Israel. According to the Ministry of Justice, the Government has not applied a 1977 anti-proselytizing law for several years, which would prohibit anyone from offering or receiving material benefits as an inducement to conversion. The Government permits citizens to visit religious sites or perform religious obligations in Israel and abroad. However, it has prevented Muslim and Christian Palestinians from the occupied territories from worshipping at holy places in East Jerusalem (see Section 2.c. in the annex). In 1994 the Government 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.

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

Citizens have the freedom of movement except in military or security zones or in instances where they may be confined by administrative order to their neighborhoods or villages. In 1994 the Government issued at least 40 orders limiting the movements of some Jewish settlers in the occupied territories. Citizens are free to travel abroad and to emigrate, provided they have no outstanding military obligations or are not restricted by administrative order. The Government welcomes Jewish immigrants, their families, and Jewish refugees, to 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 1948-1949. The Government claims that 100,000 Arabs were allowed to return to Israel after the 1949 armistice agreement, but it has denied the great majority of other requests.

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

Citizens have the right and ability to change their government peacefully. 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, or Parliament. Suffrage is universal for adult citizens. 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 6 Arab and 2 Druze citizens serve in the 120-seat Knesset. Two women are in the Cabinet, and 2 Israeli Arabs are deputy ministers.

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

Local groups publicize human rights issues and litigate cases. The Government is generally responsive to international human rights groups and receives visits by a wide range of private and international organizations concerned with human rights such as Amnesty International, Middle East Watch, the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights, the International Labor Organization and others. It hosts and works with a delegation of the International Committee for the Red Cross. Human rights offices at the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Defense, and Justice respond to inquiries from human rights groups and other governments.

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

The Equal Opportunity Employment Law prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, marital status, or sexual orientation. The Labor Exchange Law prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, religion, political beliefs, and age. A general law prohibits government bodies from practicing discrimination on any of these grounds.


The Equal Opportunity 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, are promoted less often, and have fewer career opportunities than their male counterparts. The adjudication of personal status law by the religious courts means that women are subject to restrictive interpretations of their rights regarding marriage and divorce (see Section 2.c.). Women are subject to the military draft but may not serve in combat positions. There was heightened concern in 1994 over violence against women. Women's advocacy groups estimate that 13 women were killed by their spouses during the year, and that as many as 40 Druze or Bedouin women may be killed each year by male relatives for "family honor" offenses. A survey conducted by one women's group indicated that some 200,000 women suffer from domestic violence each year, and that 7 per cent of these are battered on a regular basis. A special session of the Knesset was held on August 31 to discuss violence against women. The Government condemns such violence and has helped to open 6 shelters for battered women and has plans to open several others. According to a 1991 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. There are 7 rape crisis centers. In 1993, they received reports of 2,266 cases of rape.


The Government has a strong commitment to the rights and welfare of children. While there is no pattern of societal abuse against children, the Government has legislated against sexual, physical, and psychological abuse of children and has mandated comprehensive reporting requirements to ensure close attention to the issue. Child prostitution has been reported in isolated cases and has been promptly dealt with by appropriate authorities. The police, educational, and social welfare officials are responsible for monitoring cases of abuse and administer victim treatment programs. Civil rights groups have expressed concern that female genital mutilation continues to be practiced among the Bedouin in the Negev region. It is not known if the practice is common.

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. The Government has tried to redress inequities in the allocation of resources to Arab communities, but it acknowledges that gaps remain in education, health, infrastructure development, and public sector employment. A 5-week strike by the heads of Arab councils ended in August with agreement by the Ministries of Interior and Finance to reduce the fiscal deficits of the Arab local authorities and investigate discrimination in government funding for Arab localities. 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, at their initiative, are subject to the military draft, and some Bedouin and other Arab citizens serve voluntarily. Apart from Druze and Circassians, Israeli Arabs are not subject to the draft. Consequently, they 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 January, the social security child allowance for parents who have not served in the military will be increased over a 3-year period to equal the allowance of those who have served in the military. The problem of the legal status of unrecognized Arab villages remained unresolved in 1994. Residents of the village of Ramyah (see the 1991 and 1992 country reports) continued to negotiate the future of their village. A bill which would allow the pre-1948 residents of the villages of Bir Am and Ikrit, or their descendants, to rebuild their houses remains before a Knesset legislative committee.

Religious Minorities

In general the Government respects freedom of worship and protects the rights of citizens of all creeds to worship freely. 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. Immigration is significantly easier for Jews than non-Jews. The Government generally respects and protects non-Jewish religious sites.

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. While the law provides for equal treatment for the disabled, advocacy groups report continued difficulties with enforcement in 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.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

Workers may join and establish labor organizations freely. Israeli Arabs may establish their own unions but have not done so. Most unions belong to the General Federation of Labor in Israel, or Histadrut, or to a much smaller rival federation. These organizations are independent of the Government. About 70 percent of the work force are members of Histadrut trade unions; still more are covered by Histadrut's social and insurance programs and collective bargaining agreements. 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. 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. Strikes in 1994 were concentrated in the public sector, and included a 12-week strike by the Academics' Union that forced the closure of 3 universities, and 4 days of work stoppages by employees protesting privatization of the national telephone company. Significant work stoppages also took place in the defense industry. Unions are free to affiliate with international organizations. Following the signing of the Gaza-Jericho Agreement in May, representatives from Histadrut and Palestinian trade unions formalized their ongoing dialog. 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 pay a 1-percent agency fee which entitles them to union protection by Histadrut's collective bargaining agreements (see Section 6.b. in the annex). 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

A child who has attained the age of 15 years and who is liable to compulsory education under the Compulsory Education Law, may not be employed unless he works as an apprentice under the Apprenticeship Law. Notwithstanding these provisions, a child who has completed his 14th year may be employed during a period of official school holidays. Employment of those aged 16 to 18 is restricted to ensure time for rest and education. The labor exchanges do not process work applications for West Bank or Gaza Palestinians under age 17, and higher age requirements are often imposed for security reasons. Ministry of Labor inspectors enforce these laws, but advocates of children's rights claim that enforcement is inadequate.

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. As of October 1994, the monthly minimum wage was $540 (1,624 new shekels). The minimum wage is often supplemented by special allowances and is generally sufficient to provide workers and their families 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, 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. 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. Non-resident 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. 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 appropriate 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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