U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1997 - Israel

Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, January 30, 1998.


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. Likud Party leader Benyamin Netanyahu is Prime Minister and heads a center-right coalition government. The judiciary is legally independent but, in practice, it usually acquiesces with the Government's position in security cases. 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. 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, Israel and 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. In January Israel and the PLO concluded the Hebron Agreement, which established security arrangements for the withdrawal of Israeli forces from the Palestinian-populated areas of Hebron, and set out a road map for mutual implementation of other Interim Agreement commitments. However, in March Israel began construction in the Har Homa/Jebel Abu Ghanaim neighborhood of east Jerusalem and on March 7 announced a minimal first-phase further redeployment of its forces from the occupied territories. At the same time the Palestinian Authority (PA) slackened security cooperation. A suicide bombing in Tel Aviv on March 21 was followed by two more in Jerusalem on July 30 and September 4; 24 persons were killed and hundreds were injured. As a result of these developments, negotiations on Interim Agreement implementation issues were broken off between March and October, and the two parties had not agreed to resume final status talks at year's end.
  * The human rights situation in the occupied territories is discussed in the annex appended to this report. [Editor's note: see Occupied Territories.]

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 Internal 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 the GSS. 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 $17,000. Unemployment among citizens rose to 7.6 percent by mid-1997 but was substantially higher in the country's peripheral regions and among lower-skilled workers. Along with rapid economic growth in recent years, there has been a tendency toward increasing income inequality. The longstanding gap in levels of income between Jewish and non-Jewish citizens continues. Regional income disparities appear to be growing, with unemployment in some areas reaching more than double the national average. Israel's heavy reliance on foreign workers, principally from Asia and Eastern Europe, represents a growing economic and social issue. Such workers are generally employed in agriculture and the construction industry and constitute 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 Netanyahu Government is committed to market-oriented structural reforms, especially deregulation and rapid privatization of the economy. In 1997 the Government successfully privatized Israel's largest bank and continued the process of privatizing and deregulating the telecommunications sector. Despite the Government's continued dominant role in the economy, individuals generally are free to invest in private interests and own property. The Government owns 78 percent of the country's land area, and as a matter of policy it does not sell land. The Government, its entities, and the Jewish National Fund, (an organization established in 1897 for the purchase and management of land for the Jewish people) own 93 percent of the country's land area. As a matter of policy, the Government and its entities do not sell land. The Jewish National Fund has a statute prohibiting sale or lease of land to non-Jews (although exceptions are sometimes made), foreigners are allowed freely to purchase or lease land in the remaining 7 percent of Israel. The Government generally respects the human rights of its citizens, who 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 and from its fight against terrorism. 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 the scope of these problems. Nonetheless, there continued to be problems in some areas. Security forces abused Palestinians suspected of security offenses. During the year, the High Court of Justice heard 46 abuse-related cases (almost all asking for an injunction to halt the torture of a specific individual). In no case did the High Court issue an injunction prohibiting the use of moderate physical pressure. The Government continues to detain without charge numerous Palestinians. Detention and prison conditions, particularly for Palestinian security detainees held in Israel, in some cases do not meet minimum international standards. However, new legislation took effect in May that set tighter limits on the length and grounds for pretrial detention. During the year, discussion continued on proposed legislation to define the basis for and limits of GSS activities after a 1996 version was widely criticized by human rights groups and legal experts because it authorized the Government to use force during interrogation and to issue secret guidelines defining the methods of interrogation. The revised legislation, which had not been formally submitted to the Knesset by year's end, omits this clause. Although there continues to be no explicit legal basis for the use of special measures, i.e., force during interrogation, the Government justifies such practices as necessary in special circumstances when thought necessary to save lives in the fight against terrorism. The Government responded to terrorist and security incidents by periodically tightening existing restrictions on movement across borders with the West Bank and Gaza and between Palestinian Authority-controlled areas inside the West Bank, detaining hundreds of Palestinians without charge 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, although the Attorney General's decision not to file charges against a Knesset member accused of abusing his wife was widely criticized in the media by women's groups and human rights advocates. Despite government pledges to eliminate the wide social and economic gap between Israel's Arab and Jewish citizens, there was little progress in this direction. Israel's Arab minority continues to suffer from institutionalized discrimination and does not share fully in the rights granted to, and the obligations imposed on, Jewish citizens.


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

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

There were no reports of political killings by government forces. In September Israeli agents in Amman, Jordan failed in an attempt to kill the political director of the extremist group Hamas. One Palestinian was beaten to death while in government custody. Extremist Palestinian groups carried out three suicide bombings in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem as part of a concerted effort to derail the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. These included a March 21 attack in a Tel Aviv cafe that killed 3 persons and wounded 48, a July 30 attack in a crowded Jerusalem market that killed 16 persons and wounded 178, and a September 4 attack in a Jerusalem pedestrian mall that killed 5 persons and wounded 181.

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, they are frequently not enforced in security cases. The GSS was responsible for the widespread abuse of Palestinians suspected of security offenses. The head of the GSS is empowered by government regulation to authorize security officers to use moderate physical and psychological pressure (which includes violent shaking) while interrogating detainees. These practices often led to excesses (for further information see Section 1.c. in the annex). Despite repeated challenges, the High Court of Justice has avoided ruling on the legality of the practices of shaking and other forms of coercion. The Government claims that these practices are justified as special measures to be used in special circumstances in the fight against terrorism. During the year, the High Court of Justice heard 46 abuse-related cases (almost all asking for an injunction to halt the torture of a specific individual). In addition, the High Court dropped numerous cases before beginning formal hearings when the GSS announced that it no longer needed to use special measures. Human rights groups believe that the great majority of cases alleged to involve torture do not reach the court. In some cases, the High Court of Justice issued injunctions prohibiting the use of certain forms for physical pressure after hearing evidence presented in secret by the GSS and not made available to defense attorneys; however, according to Israeli human rights advocates and legal experts, it routinely lifted them at the request of the GSS. In no case did the High Court overrule a GSS decision to use moderate physical pressure. According to GSS records released to his attorney, Ahma Abu Hamed, who was arrested on April 14, was hooded and shackled to a low chair in a painfully contorted position for almost 13 hours over a period of 31 days, including 4 hours over 12 days after he confessed to membership in, and acting on behalf of, an illegal organization. According to the same GSS records, Abu Hamed was subjected to shaking six separate times, including twice after his confession. In addition, Abu Hamed was deprived of sleep for extended periods of time. His attorney appealed to the High Court on June 1 for an injunction to halt these methods of interrogation. On June 2, the Court declined to hear the case after the GSS announced that it was no longer using force in the interrogation. Asam Halman was detained without charge on July 25, and his attorney was denied permission to meet with him until July 28. Halman alleged that during his interrogation he was hooded, shackled to a low chair in a painfully contorted position, and forced to listen to loud music for extended periods of time. He also alleged that he was allowed to sleep for less than 5 hours over a 4 day period, and that his handcuffs were overly tightened, causing great pain and an infected wound. On July 30, Halman's attorney asked the High Court of Justice for an injunction to prevent the GSS from using torture. On the same day, the attorney was informed that the GSS would stop using force in the interrogation. Halman was subsequently released without charge on August 21. Conditions vary in incarceration facilities in Israel and the occupied territories, which are administered by the Israeli Prison Service (IPS), the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), or the national police. IPS prisons, which generally house Israeli citizens convicted of common crimes, 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 (i.e., those detained and held without charge by security forces) from the occupied territories who are held for more than a few days are transferred to facilities within Israel. Security detainees in 1997 were usually 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 detainees include some minors. Detention camps administered by the IDF are limited to male Palestinian detainees and are guarded by armed soldiers. The total number of Palestinian prisoners and administrative detainees held by Israel, approximately 3,800 at the beginning of the year, fell to 3,565 by year's end. The number of administrative detainees (held with neither charge nor trial) varied between 293 and 573 during the year, and stood at 382 at year's end. Some of these detainees have been held for periods exceeding 2 years. Conditions in IDF detention camps have been criticized repeatedly over the years. Conditions at the Russian Compound in Jerusalem (which houses a combination of security and common-law prisoners and detainees) were criticized as not fit to serve as lock-up by the High Court of Justice President Aharon Barak after an August visit to the facility. Conditions in other IDF facilities improved in some respects, with inmates given more time for exercise outside their cells. Nevertheless, recreational facilities remain minimal, and there are strict limitations on family visits to detainees. Visits were prevented for long periods during closures of the borders with Gaza and the West Bank. 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 1996 the Government began a reform program for the country's detention facilities. Thus far, improvements in prison conditions have been limited in scope, and dilapidation and overcrowding (the latter aggravated by the closure of IDF detention facilities in the occupied territories in 1995) are still problems. New legislation that took effect during the year provided for: 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. While the legislation is a positive step, authorities expect implementation to require time and additional resources; there was little immediate improvement in 1997. 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. 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. While monitoring is judged to be effective overall, in some instances human rights groups and diplomatic officials were denied timely access to specific detainees, usually Palestinians held without charge or trial for alleged 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 generally observes this prohibition. Defendants are considered innocent until proven guilty and have the right to writs of habeus corpus and other procedural safeguards. However, a 1979 law permits detention without charge or trial, which is used in security cases. The Minister of Defense may issue a detention order for a maximum of 1 year. Within 24 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. Detention orders were confirmed in all cases during the year. Detainees have the right to be represented by counsel and to appeal detention orders to the High Court of Justice; however, the security forces may delay notification of counsel with the consent of a judge. According to human rights groups and legal experts, there were cases in which a judge denied the Government the right to delay notification of counsel. At detention hearings, the security forces may withhold evidence from defense lawyers on security grounds. The Government may also seek to renew administrative detention orders. However, the security services must show cause for continued detention, and, in some instances, individuals were released because the standard could not be met. 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 took effect in 1997, defining more narrowly the grounds for pretrial detention and reducing 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. 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 in 1995. As a result, all Palestinian detainees held for longer than 1 or 2 days are incarcerated in Israel (see Section 1.d. Of the annex). The Government detains 80 non-Palestinian Arabs. This total is a mixture of common prisoners, administrative detainees, and security detainees. The Government continues to deny ICRC access to two Lebanese citizens, Sheikh Mustafa Dirani (held without charge since 1994) and Sheikh Obeid (held without charge since 1989). These two cases appear linked to government efforts to obtain information on Israeli military personnel believed to be prisoners of war or missing in Lebanon. In addition, the Government detains 19 other Lebanese citizens without charge, including 11 who have completed prison sentences of up to 10 years but are still being held without charge. The law prohibits forced exile of citizens, and there is no indication that the Government engaged in such practices.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law provides for an independent judiciary, and the Government respects this provision in practice. In practice, however, the judiciary usually acquiesces to the Government's position in security cases. 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 High Court of Justice (Supreme Court) at the apex. The High Court of Justice is an appellate court. Each of the cited courts, including the High Court of Justice, 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. 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. The legal system often hands out far stiffer punishments to non-Jewish persons than to Jewish citizens. For example, human rights advocates claim that Palestinians and Arab Israelis convicted of murder usually receive life sentences, while Jewish Israelis often receive significantly shorter sentences. To the extent that Palestinians are tried in Israeli courts, they receive harsher punishments than Jewish Israelis. Noam Freidman, a Jewish extremist who lightly wounded six Palestinians after opening fire in a crowded Hebron market on January 1, had charges against him dropped after a military court ruled that he was not mentally fit to stand trial. This ruling was reached despite a decision by a psychiatric board that he was mentally competent to stand trial. On February 11, Israel released 30 Palestinian women prisoners, 5 of whom were serving sentences for murder or for being an accomplice to murder, as part of the accord on Hebron redeployment. On October 1, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, founder of the HAMAS movement, was released by Israel from a maximum security prison and flown to Jordan. There were no reports of political prisoners.

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

Israeli forces and the Israeli-sponsored South Lebanese Army (SLA) and Hizballah (and to a lesser extent the Lebanese army) engaged in a recurring cycle of violence in southern Lebanon. Hizballah attacked SLA forces and Israeli troops deployed on Lebanese soil. Hizballah (and possibly armed Palestinian groups) also launched rocket attacks against northern Israel. Israeli forces conducted repeated air strikes and artillery barrages on Hizballah, Lebanese army, and Palestinian positions inside Lebanon. An undetermined number of Lebanese civilians were killed in south Lebanon; however, the total was lower than in 1996, primarily due to the April 26, 1996 understanding between Israel and Lebanon, which commit the two sides to end the targeting of civilians or the launching of attacks from civilian-populated areas. Politically motivated killings continued as Palestinian extremists sought to disrupt the Israel-Palestinian peace process. On March 21 a suicide bomber killed 3 Israelis and wounded 48 in an attack on a Tel Aviv cafe. On July 30, two suicide bombers killed 16 persons and wounded 178 in an attack on a Jerusalem market. On September 4, 3 suicide bombers killed 5 persons and wounded 181 in an attack on a Jerusalem pedestrian shopping mall (see 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 in 1996 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 it 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 High Court of Justice. 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, which permits the Israeli media to run censored stories by attributing them to foreign sources. Emergency regulations prohibit anyone from expressing support for illegal organizations. On occasion in the past, the Government has prosecuted persons for speaking or writing on behalf of terrorist groups. No such cases were filed in 1997. Individuals, organizations, the press, and the electronic media freely debate public issues and criticize government officials and policies. In October the High Court of Justice upheld the conviction for sedition of two members of the extremist Jewish Zo Artsenu movement. For the most part, however, the Attorney General, while condemning hate speech, has concluded that such speech cannot be prosecuted. All newspapers are privately owned and managed. Newspaper licenses are valid only for Israel; separate licenses are required to distribute publications in areas in the occupied territories still under Israel's authority. 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. There are 13 private radio outlets. The Second Television and Radio Authority, a public body, supervises both Channel 2 and the regional radio stations. The Government respects academic freedom.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The law provides for the right of assembly, and the Government generally respects this provision in practice. The law provides for the right of association, and the Government generally respects this provision 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 generally 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 Druze 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. Christians may only ask that child custody and child support be adjudicated in civil courts, while Muslims have no recourse to civil courts. Legislation passed in 1996 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 Jews are Orthodox 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 Orthodox 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. The Government provides greater financial support to institutions in the Jewish sector to those in the non-Jewish sector, i.e., Muslim, Christian, and Druze. For example, only 2 percent of the Ministry of Religious Affairs budget goes to the non-Jewish sector, despite the fact that Muslims, Christians, and Druze constitute 19 percent of the population. The High Court of Justice heard a case in February alleging that this constitutes discrimination. The Court refused to rule on the case in 1997 and suggested that the petitioners refile the case after the passage of the 1998 budget, which the petitioners have done. Missionaries are allowed to proselytize, 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 anti-proselytizing 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 bill that would impose even more stringent restrictions on proselytizing, including banning the distribution of written materials encouraging conversions, was presented to the Knesset in 1997 but was not expected to be approved. Jehovah's Witnesses have suffered both threats and attacks, apparently by ultra-Orthodox groups. Jehovah's Witnesses complain that despite police investigations, no perpetrators have been prosecuted. A March 8 attack on a Jehovah's Witnesses meeting house in Lod caused extensive property damage. The Government has recognized only Jewish holy places under the 1967 Protection of Holy Sites law, therefore denying government funding for the preservation and protection of Christian, Druze, Muslim, Baha'i, and other religious sites. A January challenge to this practice led the Ministry of Religious Affairs to agree to consider funding requests for non-Jewish sites. A 1995 High Court of Justice 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. In 1996 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. While both men managed to depart Israel, their cases remain open (see Section 5). The Government continued to restrict the movements of two Jewish settlers living in the occupied territories who belonged to extremist Kach or Kahane Chai groups, through the use of administrative orders issued by the IDF central command (see Section 2.d. of the Annex). The Government prevented an additional three members of a Jewish ultranationalist organization from entering the occupied territories. Citizens are free to travel abroad and to emigrate, provided they have no outstanding military obligations and are not restricted by administrative order. In 1997 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 individuals to live in Israel as permanent residents. The issue of first asylum did not arise in 1997. 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. The last national elections were held in May 1996, when voters elected the Prime Minister by direct ballot for the first time. Israel is a parliamentary democracy, with an active multiparty system in which a wide range of political views are represented. 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 1996 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, and no Arab or Druze ministers or deputy ministers. Three women, but no Arab or Druze citizens, serve on the 14-member High Court of Justice.

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 generally cooperate with investigations. However, the Government withheld its cooperation from the U.N. Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs of the Occupied Territories. The Special Committee reported in October that the Government did not respond to its communications. In 1996 Human Rights Watch activist Bashar Tarabieh was detained, held without charge, physically abused, and then released without charge.

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

The law prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, or marital status. The law also prohibits discrimination by both government and nongovernmental 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.


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. 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 23 women were killed by their husbands or other male relatives during the year. Women's organizations protested an October decision by the Attorney General not to press charges against a Knesset member accused of abusing his wife. 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. At least 9 of the 23 women killed in 1997 were killed in family honor cases. The Government supports 10 shelters for battered women, including 1 exclusively for Arab women and 1 for both Arab and Jewish women. 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 argue 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 1996 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, has increased the percentage of women on the boards of two-thirds of government-owned companies. However, their numbers remain low overall. 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 broadened the civil sanctions made available to rabbinical courts in cases where a wife has ample grounds for divorce--such as abuse--but the husband refuses 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. Rabbinical courts may exercise jurisdiction over non-Israeli persons present in Israel. In two cases during the year, U.S. citizens were barred legally from leaving Israel as a result of divorce proceedings. Although both men managed to depart the country, their cases remain open. 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. In response to a High Court of Justice ruling, the Israeli Air Force since 1996 has permitted women to enter pilot training. This would qualify them for combat aviation positions, though none has completed the training successfully to date.


The Government is committed to the rights and welfare of children. However, resources are sometimes insufficient to put that commitment into practice, particularly for 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. The Government provides an extensive health care program for children. There is a broad network of mother and child clinics, which provide prenatal care as well as postnatal follow-up. 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 five shelters for children at risk. The Ministry of Justice formed a committee with police and NGO representatives that is attempting to assess the scope of child prostitution. Children's rights activists estimate that there may be several hundred prostitutes among the nation's children, and they 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 about the children of the country'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 1996 law extended disability assistance for deaf children from the age of 14 to maturity.

Religious Minorities

Tensions between secular and religious elements of Israeli society grew in 1997. The non-Orthodox Jewish community in particular has complained of discrimination and intolerance. A kindergarten operated by the Reform community in Mevasseret Ziyyon was firebombed in August. A police investigation has not uncovered any suspects. In June Jewish militant Tatyana Suskin put up posters in Hebron that depicted the Prophet Mohammed as a pig, triggering riots by Arab residents of the city. On December 30, a Jerusalem court convicted Suskin of committing an act of racism and trying to offend religious feelings. She was sentenced to 2 years in prison. 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 seek to negotiate with the Government in an attempt to formalize their status.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The Government does not provide Israeli Arabs, who constitute 19 percent of the population, with the same quality of education, housing, employment, and social services as Jews. In addition, government spending is far lower in predominantly Arab areas than in Jewish areas. 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. Israeli-Arab organizations have challenged the Government's Master Plan for the Northern Areas of Israel, which listed as priority goals increasing the Galilee's Jewish population and blocking the territorial contiguity of Arab villages and towns, on the grounds that it discriminates against Arab citizens. 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. Well-educated Arabs are often unable to find jobs commensurate with their level of education, with Arab Ph.D.'s suffering the greatest problems. A small number of Israeli Arabs have risen to responsible positions in the civil service, generally in the Arab departments of government ministries. In 1994 a civil service commission 3-year affirmative action program to expand that number, but it 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, and although some have refused to serve, the overwhelming majority accept service willingly. 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 did not serve in the military and did not attend a Yeshiva (including Arabs) was increased to equal the allowance of those who had done so. Israeli Arab groups allege that many employers use the prerequisite of military service to avoid hiring non-Jews. For example, a Haifa employment agency ran ads seeking Arabic-speaking telephone operators and listed military service as a prerequisite. An Israeli Arab group noted that there was no clear justification for this requirement, and it threatened to file a civil suit under a law prohibiting employment discrimination, and defining requirements unrelated to actual work as discriminatory. At year's end, the employment agency agreed to change the advertisement and run it again. 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 June residents of unrecognized villages petitioned the High Court of Justice to order the Government to list their place of residence as their address on their identity cards and as their mailing address. 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. Israeli-Arab students also are not eligible to participate in a special education program to provide academic assistance to students from disadvantaged backgrounds. A petition was filed with the High Court of Justice in May charging that the Ministry of Education's refusal to provide this program to Israeli-Arab students was discriminatory. The Court recognized the petition's merit by ordering the Attorney General's office to respond to the petition. The Attorney General's office agreed that the policy constituted impermissible discrimination but asked for 5 years to expand the program to Israeli-Arab students. The petitioners rejected this proposal as being too slow. The Court formed a special committee to study the problem. 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 (religious endowment) 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 of those already in the union. 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. At year's end, membership--which once reached 1.65 million people--stood at to about 650,000. 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. The September general strike was of 1 day duration; the December general strike lasted 6 days. 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 unorganized 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 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. The Government specifically prohibits forced child labor, and it does not occur.

d. Status of Child Labor Practices and Minimum Age for Employment

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 16 to 18 years of age 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. The Government specifically prohibits forced child labor, and it does not occur (see Section 6.c.).

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 2,100 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 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 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. At the end of the year, the Government was considering a change in this provision to allow Palestinian workers to remain overnight for a week at a time. 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 (ILO) has long criticized this inequality in entitlements. The Government agreed to transfer the NII fees collected from Palestinian workers to the Palestinian Authority, which is to assume responsibility for all the pensions and social benefits of Palestinians working in Israel. Implementation of this change is still under way. 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.

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