U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 2000 - Israel

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. Labor and One Israel party leader Ehud Barak was elected Prime Minister in May 1999 and took office in July 1999 at the head of a broad centrist coalition Government. On December 9, following the breakdown of his coalition, Barak resigned as Prime Minister; prime ministerial elections were scheduled to be held on February 6, 2001. The judiciary is independent.

Since its founding in 1948, Israel has been in a state of war with most of its Arab neighbors. It concluded a peace treaty with Egypt in 1979 and with Jordan in 1994, and a series of agreements with the Palestinians beginning in 1993. 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 the Palestinians 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. In January 1997, the parties concluded the Hebron Protocol and in October 1998, Israel and the PLO signed the Wye River Memorandum. In September 1999, the Israeli Government and the PLO signed the Sharm el-Sheikh Memorandum. The parties held intensive working-level talks between March and June and met at Camp David in July; however, the Government and the PLO did not reach an agreement. Internal security is the responsibility of the Israel Security Agency (the ISA – formerly the General Security Service, or GSS, and also known as 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 ISA. Some members of the security forces committed serious human rights abuses.

Israel has an advanced industrial economy, and citizens enjoy a relatively high standard of living, with a per capita income of over $17,000. Unemployment remained at about 9 percent during the year, but was substantially higher in the country's peripheral regions and among lower-skilled workers. The country's economic growth has been accompanied by an increase in income inequality. The longstanding gap in levels of income within the Jewish population and between Jewish and Arab citizens continues. The 14 towns with the highest unemployment rate in the country all are populated by Arab citizens. A heavy reliance on foreign workers, principally from Asia and Eastern Europe, is a source of social problems. Such workers generally are employed in agriculture and the construction industry and constitute about 6 percent of the labor force. Since the implementation of an economic stabilization plan in 1985, the country has moved gradually to reduce state intervention in the economy through privatization of several state-owned companies and through deregulation. State-owned companies continue to dominate such fields as electricity generation and transmission, oil refining, shipping, and international air travel. However, individuals generally are free to invest in private interests and to own property. The Government owns and manages 77 percent of the country's land area, and as a matter of policy it does not sell land. The Jewish National Fund (JNF), an organization established in 1897 for the purchase and management of land for the Jewish people, owns 8 percent of the country's land area, including a considerable amount transferred directly from the Government, and manages another 8 percent on behalf of the Government. Foreigners and citizens of all religions are allowed freely to purchase or lease the 7 percent of land not controlled by the Government or the JNF. In March the High Court of Justice ruled that the Government's use of the JNF to develop public land was discriminatory, since the JNF's statute prohibits the sale or lease of land to non-Jews.

The Government generally respects the human rights of its citizens; however, its record worsened late in the year regarding its treatment of non-Jewish citizens. Historically, Israel's main human rights problems have arisen from its policies and practices in the occupied territories and from its fight against terrorism. However, in October police used excessive force to disperse demonstrations in the north of the country that coincided with the outbreak of violence in the occupied territories, killing 13 Arab citizens and injuring over 300 (see Sections 1.a., 1.c., and 1.g. of the annex for a discussion of casualties in the occupied territories). There also are credible reports that police failed to protect Arab lives and property in several incidents in which Jewish citizens attacked the homes of Arab citizens. A landmark decision by the High Court of Justice in September 1999 prohibited the use of a variety of abusive practices, including violent shaking, painful shackling in contorted positions, sleep deprivation for extended periods of time, and prolonged exposure to extreme temperatures. Since the September 1999 ruling, domestic and international NGO's have been unable to substantiate sporadic allegations that security forces tortured detainees. There were numerous credible allegations that police beat persons in detention. Detention and prison conditions, particularly for Palestinian security detainees held in Israel do not provide inmates with sufficient living space, food, and access to medical care. Following the IDF withdrawal from its self-declared "security zone" in southern Lebanon in May and the concurrent collapse of the South Lebanon Army (SLA), all of the prisoners from the Al-Khiam prison in southern Lebanon, where Lebanese guards routinely committed abuses, were released. The Government continued to detain without charge Palestinians, some of them for lengthy periods; the number of such detainees increased following the outbreak of violence in September. In April an Israeli High Court ruling declared illegal the holding of Lebanese detainees as "bargaining chips" in Israeli prisons. Subsequently, authorities released 13 Lebanese prisoners, all of whom had been held without charge, or had already completed their terms. At year's end, there were approximately 20 Lebanese prisoners in custody, two of whom – Sheikh al-Karim Obeid and Mustafa Dirani – were held without charge. Legislation that would enable Obeid and Dirani to be held as "members of enemy forces not entitled to prisoner-of-war status" passed a first reading during the year. Following the outbreak of violence in September, the Government detained without charge hundreds of persons in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza, and imposed severe restrictions on the movement of persons and some restrictions on the movement of goods between Israel and the West Bank and Gaza and between cities in the West Bank and Gaza – i.e., closure, which has been in effect to varying extents since 1993 (see Section 2.d. of the annex).

The Government continued to fund shelters and crisis centers; however, violence and discrimination against women persists. Discrimination against the disabled persists. The Government made little headway in reducing institutionalized legal and societal discrimination against Israel's Christian, Muslim, and Druze citizens, who constitute just over 20 percent of the population, but do not share fully the rights provided to, and obligations imposed on, the country's Jewish citizens. Prior to October, the Government did not take tangible steps to improve the situation of the country's non-Jewish citizens, which was one of the main factors that contributed to large Israeli Arab demonstrations in October. The demonstrations and clashes between the police and Israeli Arabs brought renewed attention to the different treatment accorded to the Jewish and Arab sectors of the country. In October the Government approved a $975 million economic assistance plan for Arab citizens to be phased in over 4 years; however, some human rights groups criticized the plan as inadequate. The Knesset did not approve the plan by year's end. Trafficking in women for the purpose of forced prostitution is a continuing problem. In June the Government passed a law that prohibits the trafficking of persons for the purpose of prostitution.

In early October, there were many instances of societal violence between Arab and Jewish citizens, which coincided with violent events in the country. RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS

1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom From:

a. Political and other Extrajudicial Killing

There were no reports of political killings during the year.

In October police used excessive force to disperse demonstrations in the north of the country that coincided with the outbreak of violence in the occupied territories (see Sections 1.a., 1.c., and 2.b. of the annex), killing 13 Arab citizens and injuring 300 with a combination of live ammunition and rubber-coated steel bullets (see Sections 1.c. and 2.b.). Demonstrators did not have firearms; however, some demonstrators reportedly threw rocks and firebombs. International and domestic human rights groups assert that police used rubber-coated metal bullets and live ammunition against demonstrators who posed no imminent danger of death or serious injury to security forces or others.

On September 28, opposition leader Ariel Sharon visited the Temple Mount (Haram al-Sharif) in Jerusalem. On September 29, Palestinians held large demonstrations and threw stones at police in the vicinity of the Western Wall. Police used rubber-coated metal bullets and live ammunition to disperse the demonstrators, killing 4 persons and injuring about 200 (see Sections 1.a. and 1.c. of the annex). In response to this violence, Palestinians held demonstrations throughout the occupied territories and Israel. On October 1, Israeli Arab leaders called a general strike, which received widespread support from Arab citizens, thousands of whom demonstrated throughout the country. On October 1, police used live ammunition and rubber-coated metal bullets to disperse demonstrations in Um-al-Fahem, killing two persons and injuring hundreds of others. On October 2, police killed six persons and injured numerous others during demonstrations in Jat, Nazareth, Arrabe, and Sakhnin. Police also used live ammunition and rubber bullets to disperse demonstrations in other towns and villages in the north of the country, injuring hundreds of demonstrators. On October 3, police killed three persons during demonstrations in Nazareth and Kfar Manda.

In October and November, coinciding with violence in Israel and the occupied territories, there were numerous violent incidents along the Israel-Lebanese border. On October 7, IDF personnel reportedly killed 2 persons and injured 25 during demonstrations along the border. On October 9, the IDF reportedly fired live ammunition on a group of about 500 Palestinian demonstrators who were throwing rocks and Molotov cocktails, and trying to cross the border into Israel; IDF personnel reportedly killed 1 person and injured 10. On October 21, Prime Minister Barak proposed establishing a commission of examination to study the violence that occurred in early October. However, Israeli Arab leaders rejected Barak's offer and demanded that the Government establish a legal commission of inquiry, which would operate independently of the Government, have subpoena power, and automatically bestow immunity on anyone who testified before it. On November 8, in response to pressure from both Arab and Jewish citizens, Barak announced the establishment of the Legal Commission of Inquiry, which reportedly is to have considerable ability to collect information. The Commission is headed by a High Court justice, and its members include an Arab judge from a Nazareth court, and a professor from Tel Aviv University. In December the Legal Commission of Inquiry began its investigation; however, it did not reach any conclusions by year's end.

There also are credible reports that police failed to protect Arab lives and property in several incidents in which Jewish citizens attacked Arab citizens. On October 7, a group of about 200 Israeli Jews attacked Arab homes in Nazareth Illit (Upper Nazareth), including the home of an Arab Member of the Knesset. On October 8, a group of about 1,000 Israeli Jews attacked Arab homes in Nazareth. The attackers allegedly targeted Arab citizens due to their anger over the Hizballah kidnaping of three IDF soldiers and the attack on Joseph's Tomb in the West Bank in early October (see Sections 1.b. and 2.c. of the annex). Many of the Arabs exited their homes and attempted to defend themselves and their property (see Section 5). Police reportedly arrived at the scene late, did not take action beyond inserting themselves between the two groups, and fired live ammunition, rubber bullets, and tear gas at the Arab citizens. Two Israeli Arabs were killed and approximately 50 others were injured in these incidents. International and domestic human rights groups reported that the police were responsible for the deaths and injuries; however, some residents of Nazareth reported that some members of the Jewish crowd had firearms. Large crowds of Jews also attacked Arab homes, businesses, and two mosques in other areas of the country (see Sections 1.c. and 5). Arab protesters also attacked Jewish-owned businesses and at least one synagogue (see Sections 1.c. and 5).

During the year, 22 Israelis died and 244 were injured in terrorist attacks carried out by Palestinian groups or individuals in Israel and the occupied territories (also see Sections 1.a. and 1.c. of the annex). For example, on November 1, a car bomb in Jerusalem killed two Israelis and injured eleven others, including four children. Palestinian Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for the attack. On November 22, a car bomb in Hadera killed three Israelis and injured 61. Palestinian Islamic Jihad also claimed responsibility for this attack.

b. Disappearance

On October 10, Hizballah guerrillas kidnaped three IDF soldiers. At year's end, the soldiers were believed to be held in Lebanon.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or DegradingTreatment or Punishment

Laws and administrative regulations prohibit the physical abuse of detainees; however, security forces sometimes abused Palestinians suspected of security offenses. A landmark decision by the High Court of Justice in September 1999 prohibited the use of a variety of abusive practices, including violent shaking, painful shackling in contorted positions ("Shabbeh"), sleep deprivation for extended periods of time, and prolonged exposure to extreme temperatures. Since the September 1999 ruling, domestic and international NGO's have been unable to substantiate sporadic allegations that security forces tortured detainees.

Prior to the High Court's 1999 decision, laws and administrative regulations prohibiting the physical abuse of detainees were not enforced in security cases. The head of the ISA was empowered by government regulation to authorize security officers to use "moderate physical and psychological pressure" (which included violent shaking) while interrogating detainees. These practices often led to excesses. In November 1999, the Attorney General issued revised guidelines that denied blanket immunity from prosecution for interrogators; however, it remains theoretically possible that the State could decline to prosecute interrogators who used prohibited methods in cases of extreme urgency.

In October police used live ammunition and rubber-coated metal bullets to disperse demonstrators in the north of the country, killing 13 Arab citizens and injuring over 300 (see Sections 1.a. and 2.b.). Demonstrators reportedly did not have firearms; however, in some cases they reportedly threw rocks and firebombs. On October 1, police beat severely a woman who screamed at a police officer during a demonstration. The incident was videotaped and broadcast on domestic and international television.

There were numerous credible allegations from human rights groups that police beat persons in detention; reports of such beatings increased in October following demonstrations and the numerous subsequent police arrests of suspected or actual participants in the demonstrations (see Section 1.d.). For example, on October 26, police arrested an Arab citizen, Amneh Aqayleh, on suspicion of participating in demonstrations in Nazareth. Police brought Aqayleh to the Kishon detention center for interrogation where they reportedly beat him. Police also reportedly arrested and beat some Jewish demonstrators. For example, according to Amnesty International police arrested and beat Yoav Bar following a demonstration in Wadi Nisnas, breaking his hand, two of his ribs, and two of his teeth. According to Amnesty International, police also reportedly arrested and beat youths following demonstrations in the north of the country (see Section 1.d.).

According to local and international human rights NGO's, in some cases police reportedly delayed ambulances and medical personnel from entering Arab villages to treat persons who were injured during the clashes (see Section 2.d.). According to police officials, the streets often were too crowded and volatile for the ambulances to enter the villages safely. According to some observers, local leaders broadcast requests over mosque loudspeakers that demonstrators return home in order to clear the way for ambulances.

In early October, police failed to protect Arab lives and property when a group of approximately 1,000 Jewish citizens attacked Arab Israeli homes in Nazareth. Police fired live ammunition, rubber bullets, and tear gas at Arab citizens. Two persons were killed and 50 persons were injured (see Sections 1.a. and 5).

During the year, 244 Israelis were injured in terrorist attacks carried out by Palestinian groups or individuals in Israel and the occupied territories (see Sections 1.a. and 1.c. of the annex).

Conditions vary in incarceration facilities in Israel and the occupied territories, which are administered by the Israeli Prison Service (IPS), the IDF, or the national police. IPS prisons, which generally house Israeli citizens convicted of common crimes, usually provide inmates with sufficient living space, food, and access to medical care. In general, IPS inmates are not subject to physical abuse by guards, 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 established a national police unit to investigate allegations of offenses committed by guards, including complaints about the use of force 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. During the year, security detainees usually were held in the IDF's Megiddo prison, 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 often are denied privileges given to prisoners convicted on criminal charges such as furloughs and some family visits. According to the Government, security detainees may receive financial assistance from the Palestinian Authority (PA), food from their families, and medical supplies from the ICRC and other aid organizations. Security detainees include some minors. Detention facilities administered by the IDF are limited to male Palestinian detainees and are guarded by armed soldiers. The total number of Palestinian prisoners held by Israel, approximately 1,354 at the beginning of the year, reached 1,832 by year's end. The number of administrative detainees (held without charge or trial) was between 10 and 15 at year's end, including one Israeli Arab (see Section 1.d.). Under the terms of the Sharm el-Sheikh Memorandum, the Government released a total of 350 Palestinian security prisoners in 1999 (in addition to the 250 prisoners released in late 1998 pursuant to the Wye River Accords). On May 1, Palestinian prisoners throughout the country began a hunger strike to protest prison conditions and their continued incarceration. Following negotiations with government and PA officials, the prisoners agreed to suspend the hunger strike on May 31. The Government agreed to remove prisoners from solitary confinement and to allow family members to visit inmates, and the prisoners agreed to refrain from planning terrorist attacks from prison.

Conditions at the Russian Compound, which is run by police and houses a combination of security and common prisoners and detainees in Jerusalem, were criticized in 1997 as "not fit to serve as lock-up" by High Court of Justice President Aharon Barak. Conditions in other IDF facilities have improved in some respects. For example, inmates are 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 of time during closures.

Conditions at some national police detention facilities are poor. 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 often are not accorded the same rights as prisoners in the IPS system. 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. To date, there have been some improvements, including the opening of a model detention center near Netanya; however, problems, including dilapidation and overcrowding persist. The 1997 Arrest and Detention law 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. The Government has made significant strides towards implementing this legislation, though problems remain.

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 had recommended the construction of a separate detention facility for children, and after a prolonged legal battle, separate prison facilities were built for Arab and Jewish children.

All incarceration facilities are monitored regularly by various branches of the Government, by members of the Knesset, by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), and by human rights groups (see Section 1.d. of the annex).

In September 1999, the Government acknowledged that it trained, debriefed, and paid the salaries of the Lebanese administrators and staff of the Al-Khiam prison in southern Lebanon, where prisoners allegedly were tortured routinely. Following the IDF withdrawal from its self-declared "security zone" and the concurrent collapse of the SLA, all of the prisoners in Al-Khiam were released.

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 habeas corpus and other procedural safeguards. However, a 1979 law permits administrative, or preventive, detention (i.e., without charge or trial), which is used on occasion in security cases. In such cases, the Minister of Defense may issue a detention order for a maximum of 1 year, though such orders may be extended. 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's request to delay notification of counsel. At detention hearings, the security forces may withhold evidence from defense lawyers on security grounds. The Government also may 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 and in ordinary security 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.

The 1997 Arrest and Detention Law more narrowly defined the grounds for pretrial detention in criminal and security cases and reduced to 24 hours the length of time a person may be held without charge; however, this law does not extend to administrative detention cases. Human rights groups allege abuse of detention orders in cases in which they assert that the accused did not pose a clear danger to society. 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. According to media reports and children's rights groups, during and following the violence in the north, police sometimes beat youths while arresting them (see Sections 1.c.).

Most of the protections afforded to Israelis are not extended to Palestinian detainees, who fall under the jurisdiction of military law even if they are detained in Israel. With IDF redeployment in 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).

Police arrested hundreds of persons mainly in the north of the country in connection with the demonstrations and disturbances that began in September; approximately two-thirds of the persons arrested were Arab citizens and about one-third were Jewish citizens. According to domestic and international human rights organizations, police continued to arrest Arab citizens whom they suspected of participating in the disturbances over a month after the demonstrations ended. On October 26, the Northern Police Commander announced to the press that his office compiled a list of hundreds of persons who participated in the demonstrations and that the police intended to arrest many of them. According to human rights organizations, police lacked any evidence against a significant number of Israeli Arabs that they arrested. There also were credible reports that police tricked some Israeli Arabs into confessing that they threw stones during demonstrations. Many of the persons arrested, including some minors, also reportedly were held without bail until the end of criminal proceedings against them. Several detainees brought appeals to the High Court of Justice; however, the Court upheld this practice on the grounds that calm had not yet returned to the country. According to Amnesty International, at least 10 Arab citizens detained in connection with the disturbances in October were denied access to counsel for up to 1 week.

In December for the first time since 1994, the Government placed an Israeli Arab, Jhasan Athamnah, in administrative detention where he was being held on secret evidence at year's end.

At year's end, the Government held 1,832 Palestinians in custody. Those held were a mixture of common prisoners, administrative detainees, and security detainees. The Government continues to deny the ICRC access to one Lebanese citizen, Mustafa Dirani (held without charge since 1994). The Government granted the ICRC access to Sheikh Obeid (held without charge since 1989) for the first time in December 1999, and allowed the ICRC four additional visits during the year. However, following the October kidnaping of IDF soldiers by Hizballah guerrillas (see Section 1.b.), the Government suspended ICRC access to Sheikh Obeid. In May 1998, the High Court of Justice ruled that the Government was entitled to continue holding them for use in a possible exchange of hostages to obtain the return of an Israeli who still may be held by hostile forces. The High Court's ruling stressed that national security needs took precedence over the detainees' individual rights under Israeli and international law. However, in April the High Court declared illegal the detention of individuals to be used as "bargaining chips;" the Government subsequently released 13 Lebanese prisoners. However, Obeid, Dirani, and approximately 18 other Lebanese prisoners remained in custody at year's end; the former are administrative detainees, and the latter have been charged and convicted of crimes. The Government claims that Obeid and Dirani are security threats and attempted to pass legislation that would allow the continued detention without charge of "members of enemy forces not entitled to prisoner-of-war status." The bill had passed a first reading by year's end. Two legal advisors to the Knesset criticized the bill, claiming that it contravened domestic and international laws.

Six Iraqis, held since they attempted to enter the country illegally from Jordan, were deported to Holland, Sweden, and Finland, where they obtained refugee status.

The law prohibits forced exile of citizens, and the Government respects this prohibition in practice.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law provides for an independent judiciary, and the Government respects this provision. However, in the past the judiciary routinely acquiesced to the Government's position in security cases. The September 1999 landmark High Court of Justice decision barring the use of torture (see Section 1.c.) marked a major change in this practice, as did the April ruling prohibiting the holding of detainees for use as "bargaining chips." The judiciary generally 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 as the ultimate judicial authority. The High Court of Justice is both a court of first instance (in cases involving government action) and an appellate court (when it sits as the Supreme 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 regional and national system of public defenders operated by the Ministry of Justice was inaugurated in 1996 and now employs about 700 attorneys through 5 regional offices. Under the system, economically disadvantaged persons who face sentences of 5 years or longer, and all persons who are accused of crimes with sentences of 10 years or longer receive mandatory legal representation. Judges also have discretionary power to appoint an attorney in all cases. Since the system was implemented, representation has increased to about 70 percent. 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 prosecution must justify closing the proceedings to the public in such cases, and the Attorney General determines the venue. 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. Under the law, convictions may not be based on any evidence denied to the defense. In addition, convictions may not be based solely on a confession by the accused, although in practice security prisoners have been sentenced on the basis of the coerced confessions of both themselves and others.

According to human rights organizations, the legal system often imposes far stiffer punishments on Christian, Muslim, and Druze citizens than on Jewish citizens. For example, human rights advocates claim that Israeli Arabs are more likely to be convicted of murder (which carries a mandatory life sentence) than Jewish Israelis. The courts reportedly also are more likely to detain Arab-Israelis until the conclusion of proceedings. The Government notes that the judicial system is independent and disputes the charge that the court system systematically discriminates against non-Jewish citizens. According to press reports, following the demonstrations that took place in September and October, 66 percent of those arrested were Arab Israelis, and 84 percent of those detained until the conclusion of proceedings as of late October were Arab Israelis (see Section 1.d.).

There were no reports of political prisoners.

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

Privacy of the individual and the home generally are protected by law; however, the Government uses laws that provide that authorities may interfere with mail and monitor telephone conversations in certain circumstances. 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.

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

In May Israeli forces withdrew from southern Lebanon in compliance with UN Security Council Resolution 425. Prior to the IDF withdrawal from southern Lebanon in May, violence continued there and in northern Israel. An estimated 20 Hizballah guerrillas, and 25 Lebanese civilians were killed in southern Lebanon prior to the Israeli withdrawal. Israeli forces and the SLA responded to Hizballah, Amal, and Palestinian guerrilla attacks as all sides engaged in recurring violence. For example, on February 8, in response to Hizballah attacks, Israel conducted air strikes on electrical power transformer stations and other targets, injuring over 1 dozen civilians. In retaliation for Hizballah attacks in May, Israel shelled military and civilian targets in the south, killing two persons. Israeli forces conducted air strikes and artillery barrages on Hizballah, Amal, and Palestinian targets, including civilian infrastructure, inside Lebanon. During the May IDF withdrawal from southern Lebanon and the concurrent collapse of the SLA, at least four Lebanese civilians were killed by Israeli helicopter gunfire. In response to a Hizballah bombing in November, Israel launched airstrikes on Hizballah positions in the south, injuring one civilian. There were over 110 Lebanese civilian injuries prior to the IDF withdrawal, with most of the injuries involving minor wounds from shrapnel and broken glass. Civilians accounted for over 70 percent of the injured.

Attacks by Hizballah, Amal, and Palestinian guerillas resulted in numerous deaths and injuries. An estimated 9 Israeli soldiers were killed in southern Lebanon and northern Israel by roadside bombs, ambushes, and cross border attacks. Additionally 40 Israeli civilians were injured in shelling and cross border attacks.

On October 7, Hizballah launched shells on IDF positions in the Sha'ba farms area in the Golan Heights; no injuries reportedly resulted from the shelling. The shelling reportedly served as cover for the kidnaping of three IDF soldiers in the north (see Section 1.b.). In May Hizballah attacks in the north of Israel killed 1 person and injured 12. On October 20, IDF fire repulsed a cross border infiltration attempt by unidentified Lebanese insurgents; two were killed and the third was injured.

On November 26, Hizballah guerillas bombed an Israeli patrol station in the Sha'ba farms area, killing 1 IDF soldier. In October Hizballah guerillas kidnaped 3 Israeli soldiers on patrol in the north of Israel, demanding that the Israeli government release all remaining Lebanese detainees in Israeli prisons (see Section 1.b.). At year's end, the soldiers were believed to be held in Lebanon.

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 censorship agreement signed in 1996 between the Government and media representatives continued the trend of liberalization of the Government's censorship regime. The agreement, which now applies to all media organizations in the country, provides that military censorship is to be applied only in cases involving national security issues that have a near certainty of harming the country's defense interests. All media organizations can appeal the censor's decision to the High Court of Justice. Moreover, a clause prohibits the military censor from shutting down a newspaper for censorship violations and from appealing a court judgement against it. News printed or broadcast abroad may be reported without the censor's review, which permits the media to run previously censored stories that have appeared in foreign sources. Emergency regulations prohibit persons 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 during the year. During the year, there were reports that the military censor intervened in several cases related to national defense.

One Palestinian-owned newspaper is required to submit its entire contents, including advertising, to the military censor by 4:00 p.m. each day. The editor claims that this process caused his journalists to practice self-censorship. Journalists and professional journalist groups complained about limitations placed on their freedom of movement within the occupied territories, between the West Bank and Gaza, and between the occupied territories and Israel during the violent unrest in September (see Section 2.d.). One media organization reported that more than two dozen journalists were injured or harassed while covering events in the occupied territories in October and November (see Section 2.a. of the annex). On October 5, during a demonstration in Jaffa, demonstrators acting outside of government control assaulted a foreign camera crew, injuring several journalists and breaking three cameras.

Foreign journalists are required to sign an agreement to submit certain news stories and photographs for censorship; however, they rarely are challenged for not doing so.

Individuals, groups, and the press freely address public issues and criticize government policies and officials without reprisal. Laws prohibit hate speech and incitement to violence. 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. Sixteen daily newspapers are published in Israel. There are about 90 weekly local newspapers and more than 250 periodical publications.

Directed by a government appointee, the quasi-independent Israel Broadcast Authority (IBA) controls television Channel 1 and Kol Israel (Voice of Israel) radio, both major sources of news and information. The privately operated Channel 2, the country's first commercial television station, is operated by three franchise companies and supervised by the Second Television and Radio Authority, a public body that also supervises 14 private radio stations. There are five cable television companies that carry both domestic and international networks.

The Government continued to attempt to close down the estimated 150 pirate radio stations operating out of Israel and the West Bank.

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.

During the year, there were a number of peaceful demonstrations against withdrawal from the Golan Heights and for and against peace negotiations with the Palestinians.

In early October, thousands of Arab citizens throughout the country participated in demonstrations. In some cases demonstrators threw stones and Molotov cocktails. The demonstrators were reacting to events in Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza, as well as against government and police discrimination against Arab citizens (see Section 5). Police killed 13 Arab citizens and injured over 300 others during demonstrations in several towns and villages in the north (see Sections 1.a. and 1.c.). Human rights groups noted that the only fatalities and serious injuries occurred in the north and criticized the Northern Police Commander for authorizing the use of excessive force.

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 provides for 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 80 percent of citizens are Jewish. Muslims, Christians, Druze, and members of other religions make up the remaining 20 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 only may ask that child custody and child support be adjudicated in civil courts as an alternative to religious courts. Muslims have no recourse to civil courts in family-status matters. 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 Jewish marriage, divorce, and burial. 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 serious controversy 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.

Many Jews who wish to be married in secular or non-Orthodox religious ceremonies do so abroad. The Ministry of Interior recognizes such marriages.

Under the Government's current interpretation and implementation of Jewish personal status law, a Jewish woman is not allowed to initiate divorce proceedings without her husband's consent; consequently there are hundreds of so-called "agunot" in the country who cannot remarry or have legitimate children because their husbands either have disappeared or refused to grant a divorce.

In August Prime Minister Barak announced his plans to "separate religion from politics" by promoting a "civil-social revolution" consisting of a number of measures including: Drafting a constitution, folding the Ministry of Religious Affairs into the Ministry of Justice, lifting restrictions on transportation during the Sabbath, allowing for some form of civil marriages, eliminating the nationality clause from identification cards, and introducing a new core curriculum in all state-funded schools. These proposals triggered a national debate on religion and society. By year's end, none of these proposed reforms had been implemented.

A January 1999 High Court ruling enabled Reform and Conservative rabbis to hold seats on the powerful municipal and religious councils. In 1998 the High Court ruled that draft exemptions for yeshiva students was illegal; however, it delayed implementation of the ruling several times and gave the Knesset until December 21 to pass legislation on the matter. On December 20, an 11-justice panel of the High Court rejected the Government's request for another extension; however, it stated that it would grant the IDF a "reasonable period" of time in which to implement the ruling.

The Government provides proportionally greater financial support to institutions in the Jewish sector compared with those in the non-Jewish sector, i.e., Muslim, Christian, and Druze. For example, only 2.4 percent of the Ministry of Religious Affairs budget for 1999 was allocated to the non-Jewish sector, although Muslims, Christians, and Druze constitute 20 percent of the population. In 1998 the High Court of Justice ruled that the budget allocation constituted "prima facie discrimination" but that the plaintiff's petition did not provide adequate information about the religious needs of the various communities. The court refused to intervene in the budgetary process on the grounds that such action would invade the proper sphere of the legislature. However, during the year, the court ordered the Government to allocate resources equitably to cemeteries of the Jewish and Arab communities.

The status of a number of Christian organizations with representation in Israel heretofore has 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.

Missionaries are allowed to proselytize, although the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints voluntarily refrains from doing so under an agreement with the Government. A 1977 anti-proselytizing law prohibits anyone from offering or receiving material benefits as an inducement to conversion; however, there have been no reports of its enforcement. On December 6, a law prohibiting some missionary activity and the dissemination of some missionary material passed a first reading in the Knesset.

Jehovah's Witnesses suffered verbal abuse, assaults, theft, and vandalism; however, they reported that the police response to their complaints improved significantly during the year.

The Government has recognized only Jewish holy places under the 1967 Protection of Holy Sites Law. The Government states that it also protects the holy sites of other faiths, and that it has provided funds for some holy sites of other faiths.

A group of more than 100 Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform women continued a long legal battle to hold women's prayer services at the Western Wall during the year. In May the High Court ruled that women may read from the Torah and wear prayer shawls at the Western Wall. Both legislators and the state prosecutor's office sought to overturn the ruling; however, they were not successful as of year's end.

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. However, following the outbreak of violence in late September, the Government imposed some restrictions on the movement of persons within the country as well as between Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, and between cities inside the West Bank and Gaza (also see Section 2.d. of the annex). 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).

Citizens are free to travel abroad and to emigrate, provided they have no outstanding military obligations and are not restricted by administrative order. During the year, the Government generally continued to permit Muslim citizens to make the Hajj. However for security reasons, the Government imposes some restrictions on its Muslim citizens who perform the Hajj, including requiring that they be over the age of 30. The Government does not allow persons to return if they leave the country without formal permission. The Government justifies these restrictions on the grounds that Saudi Arabia remains officially at war with Israel and that travel to Saudi Arabia therefore is considered subject to security considerations.

The Government states that non-Jewish female citizens who marry non-citizen men may retain their citizenship. The Government also asserts that the male spouses of non-Jewish citizens may acquire citizenship under the family reunification program, except in cases where the man has a criminal record or is suspected of posing a threat to security. However, Christian, Muslim, or Druze women who have married men from Arab states or the West Bank and Gaza have complained about losing their Israeli citizenship and right to reenter Israel.

During the demonstrations and disturbances in late September, police reportedly closed roads and entrances to some Arab villages and cities around the country. According to human rights groups, police also sometimes delayed ambulances and medical personnel from entering Arab villages to treat persons who were injured during the clashes (see Section 1.c.). Journalists complained about limitations placed on their freedom of movement during the violence in Israel and the occupied territories (see Section 2.a.).

The Government welcomes Jewish immigrants, their Jewish or non-Jewish family members, 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 and the family reunification statutes there is no immigration law that provides for immigration to the country, or for political asylum or refugee status. The law does allow individuals to live in the country as permanent residents.

The Government cooperates with the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in assisting refugees. The Government does not provide asylum to refugees from states with which the country remains in a state of war. The issue of first asylum did not arise during the year. There were no reports of the forced return of persons to a country where they feared persecution. Six Iraqis who had been held in detention found asylum in Europe during the year (see Section 1.d.).

3. Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens To Change Their Government

The law provides citizens with the right to change their government peacefully, 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 1999. On December 9, Ehud Barak resigned as Prime Minister; the next prime ministerial elections were scheduled to be held on February 6, 2001.

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.

There are no legal impediments to the participation of women and minorities in government; however, they are underrepresented. Women hold 15 of 120 Knesset seats, compared with 9 female members in the previous Knesset. There are 11 Arabs and 2 Druze in the Knesset; most represent parties that derive 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. There are two women in the Cabinet, but no Arab ministers. However, there is an Arab Deputy Foreign Minister. Four women, but no Arab or Druze citizens, serve on the 14-member High Court of Justice. During the year, the Government appointed an Arab to a 6-month term on the High Court; the Government did not renew his appointment at the end of his term.

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.

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 these laws often are not enforced, either as a result of institutionalized discrimination, or because resources for implementing those laws, or mechanisms for their enforcement, sometimes are lacking.


Violence against women is a problem. There continued to be action, both in and out of Government, to reduce violence against women in Jewish and Arab communities. Funding to combat such violence increased significantly in 1998 and has remained level since. In 1998 the Government appointed a commission to address the subject of domestic violence; on the basis of the commission's recommendations, the Government allotted a supplementary budget allocation to combat domestic violence during the year. Groups that focus on domestic violence include a committee established by the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs that includes Jewish and Arab NGO's as well as government representatives, and a coalition of human rights organizations; however, women's rights activists reported that most of the groups are funded privately. Twenty-three women were killed by their husbands or other male relatives during the year. According to one prominent women's group, between 150,000 and 200,000 women suffer from domestic violence each year, and some 7 percent of these are abused on a regular basis. According to women's organizations, approximately 2,800 women were assaulted sexually and approximately 1,200 were victims of incest during the year; about 44 percent of the women were under age 18. Only a small percentage of the victims complained to the police.

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 5 of the 23 women killed during the year by male relatives were killed in family "honor" cases; families often attempt to cover up the cause of such deaths.

The Government provides partial funding for 12 shelters for battered women, including 1 exclusively for Arab women and 1 for ultra-Orthodox Jewish women. Women's rights advocates consider this number inadequate. The Government also provides funding for 13 rape crisis centers. There are 25 domestic violence prevention and treatment centers, which mainly are funded privately.

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.

Unlike in past years, there were no reports that Jewish religious extremists attacked physically women whom they considered to be dressed immodestly in public.

Prostitution per se is not illegal; however, the operation of brothels and organized sex enterprises is outlawed.

Trafficking in women has become a significant problem in recent years. According to recent studies, every year hundreds of women from the former Soviet Union are brought to Israel by well-organized criminal networks and forced to work illegally as prostitutes (see Section 6.f.).

In 1998 Israel adopted a comprehensive sexual harassment prevention law; since that time several prominent cases have increased public awareness of the issue. For example, in July the Government lifted the immunity of then Transportation Minister Yitzhak Mordecai following complaints that he had sexually harassed three women. As of July, the Civil Service Commission had received 55 complaints of sexual harassment in the Ministry of Defense.

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. Despite 1996 legislation that provides for class action suits and requires employers to provide equal pay for equal work, including important side benefits and allowances, women's rights advocates charged that deep gaps remained. For example, the wage gap between men and women for year-round, full-time employment is about 30 percent, and only 2 percent of women serve in positions of senior management in large companies. According to recent reports, 51 percent of doctoral students are women, but women compose only 23 percent of the senior faculty members at universities and only 9.5 percent of full professors. Legislation in 1993, reinforced by a 1994 ruling of the High Court of Justice, has increased the percentage of women on the boards of government-owned companies. Women currently occupy 39 percent of director slots, up from 28.8 percent in 1997. 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.). Under personal status law, a Jewish woman is not allowed to initiate divorce proceedings without her husband's consent; consequently there are estimated to be thousands of so-called "agunot" who cannot remarry or have legitimate children because their husbands either have disappeared or have refused to grant a divorce.

The 1995 Rabbinical Courts Law allows rabbinical tribunals to impose sanctions on husbands who refuse to divorce wives who have ample grounds for divorce, such as abuse. However, in some cases rabbinical courts have failed to invoke these sanctions. In addition, there have been cases in which a wife has failed to agree to a divorce, but 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 a divorce. Rabbinical courts also may exercise jurisdiction over and issue sanctions against non-Israeli persons present in Israel.

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; however, they have been barred from combat positions. In 1997 the Knesset passed legislation that opens all military professions, including combat positions, to women; however, the legislation was not implemented by year's end. In response to a High Court of Justice ruling, the Israeli Air Force (IAF) since 1996 has permitted women to enter pilot training. At year's end, three women were operating as navigators in F-4's and F-16's and one woman was nearing completion of pilot training. Recent IAF rulings allow female flight surgeons to participate in combat rescue missions and permit women to serve as flight mechanics for combat helicopter patrols.

In March the Knesset passed the Equality of Women Law, which provides for equal rights for women in the workplace, the military, education, health, housing, and social welfare, and entitles women to protection from violence, sexual harassment, sexual exploitation, and trafficking (see Section 6.f.).


The Government is committed to the rights and welfare of children. However, in practice resources sometimes are insufficient, particularly with respect to low-income families. Government spending is proportionally lower in predominantly Arab areas than in Jewish areas, which adversely affects children in Arab villages and cities. Education is compulsory to age 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 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 whom reside 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 constitute 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 the disabled. A 1996 law extended disability assistance for deaf children from the age of 14 to maturity. Extended protests by disabled organizations 1999 led to an increase in government spending in support of the disabled.

During the year, the Government implemented a law seeking to rehabilitate and integrate the mentally disabled into the community; however, government discrimination against the mentally disabled remained a problem. According to the Ministry of Health, there are between 60,000 to 80,000 mentally disabled persons in the country; however, only 4 percent of the Ministry of Health's $5 billion (20 billion NIS) budget is allocated for mental health services. Additionally, 80 percent of the mental health budget is allocated to psychiatric hospitals where less than 6,000 of the mentally disabled reside; the remaining tens of thousands of mentally disabled persons live on their own with little or no government support to help them integrate into the community.

Religious Minorities

Tensions between secular and religious elements of society continued to grow during the year. The non-Orthodox Jewish community in particular has complained of discrimination and intolerance (see Section 2.c.).

Evangelical Christians, Jehovah's Witnesses, and Reform and Conservative Jews complained of incidents of harassment, threats, and vandalism directed against their buildings, and other facilities, many of which were committed by two ultraorthodox groups Yad L'Achim and Lev L'Achim. 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.

During the demonstrations and disturbances in October, there were several incidents involving attacks on synagogues and mosques. In October Arab protesters attacked a synagogue in Shafar'am. Jewish protesters attacked mosques in Acco and Tiberias.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The Government does not provide Israeli Arabs, who constitute approximately 20 percent of the population, with the same quality of education, housing, employment, and social services as Jews. In addition, government spending is proportionally far lower in predominantly Arab areas than in Jewish areas; on a per capita basis, the Government spends two-thirds as much for Arabs than for Jews. According to the National Insurance Institute, 42 percent of Israeli Arabs live below the poverty line, compared with 20 percent of the total population. The Government also follows a disproportionately restrictive policy on issuing building permits to Arab citizens, resulting in the issuance of proportionately more building demolition orders against Arab-built structures. Ministers in the Barak Government publicly acknowledged the continuing disparities in government funding for Israel's non-Jewish citizens. Following the demonstrations and disturbances in September and October (see Sections 1.a. and 1.c.), the Government approved a $975 million (4 billion NIS) economic assistance plan for the country's Arab citizens to be phased in over 4 years. Most of the money included in the plan is allocated for education and new infrastructure development. Israeli Arab leaders and human rights groups criticized the plan because it was not based on a comprehensive survey of the economic and development needs of the country's Arab population and was considered inadequate to meet that population's needs. Critics also pointed out that only half of the total sum represented newly allocated money. The Government did not implement the plan by year's end, and according to newspaper reports, the Government's 2001 budget proposal did not include details about funding for the plan.

The Government appointed an Arab citizen to the board of the Israel land authority in November 1999. This marked the first representation of non-Jews on this body, half of whose members represent organizations forbidden by statute to transfer land to non-Jews. In March the High Court of Justice ruled on an October 1995 petition brought by an Arab couple that was barred from buying a home in Katzir, a Jewish municipality, which was built on state-owned land. The High Court ruled that the Government's use of the Jewish National Fund to develop public land was discriminatory, since the fund's by-laws prohibit the sale or lease of land to non-Jews. The High Court noted that its ruling in the case would not affect previous land allocations and that differentiating between Jews and non-Jews in land allocation might be acceptable under unspecified "special circumstances." Following the High Court's decision, the Government established an interministerial committee to examine the issues involved in implementing the decision. The Israel Lands Administration had not implemented the ruling in this case by year's end and the Ka'adan family still was not allocated a plot of land in Katzir. Israeli Arab organizations have challenged the 1996 "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; the Government continues to use this document for planning in the Galilee.

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. Arabs constitute only 8.7 percent of the students at major universities in the country. Well-educated Arabs often are unable to find jobs commensurate with their level of education. Arab citizens hold only 50 of the country's 5,000 university faculty positions. The Government states that it is committed to granting equal and fair conditions to Israeli Arabs, particularly in the areas of education, housing, and employment. 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 began a 3-year affirmative action program to expand that number, but it has had only modest results. Arab citizens compose 6.2 percent of the civil service and less than 2 percent of the positions in the four senior-most civil service grades. In October the Knesset passed a bill that minorities and underrepresented populations must be granted "appropriate representation" in the civil service, and on the boards of government corporations.

In practice, few Israeli Arabs serve in the military or 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 accepts service willingly. Some Bedouin and other Arab citizens who are not subject to the draft serve voluntarily. Those who do not serve in the army have less access than other citizens 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 September 1999 survey revealed that 40 percent of employment ads in one weekend newspaper listed "army service necessary." Jobs included ice cream sales, typist, bus driver, and customer service.

There are approximately 130,000 Bedouin in the Negev; of this number about half live in 7 state planned communities and the other half live in 45 settlements that are not recognized by the Government. The recognized Bedouin villages receive basic services from the Government; however, they are among the poorest communities in the country. The unrecognized villages were declared illegal by the National Planning and Building Law of 1965 when the lands on which they sit were rezoned as nonresidential and the Government claimed ownership. According to the Government, recognizing these villages would conflict with its attempts to establish new villages in "an orderly manner, and would leave disputes over the land unresolved." Residents of the unrecognized villages pay taxes to the Government; however, they are not eligible for government services. Consequently, such villages have none of the infrastructure, such as electricity, water, and sewers, provided to recognized communities. The lack of basic services has caused difficulties for the villagers in regard to their education, health care, and employment opportunities. New building in the unrecognized villages is considered illegal and subject to demolition. Private efforts have supplied some unrecognized villages with water, and the courts have ordered the provision of limited health and education services. The Government has yet to fulfill its commitment to resolve the legal status of unrecognized Arab villages. Eight villages have been recognized officially since 1994, but nearly 100 more, of varying size and with a total population of nearly 70,000 persons, remain in limbo. Of the eight villages that have been recognized, the Government has yet to actually implement the decisions. In 1998 the High Court of Justice ordered the Ministry of Education to provide electricity to schools in several unrecognized villages in the Negev. In March 1999, the High Court ordered the Ministry of Health to provide within 2 months six permanent health clinics to serve the unrecognized villages; however, the clinics had not been built by year's end. In November the High Court ruled that the Government must build a school for the children in the unrecognized village of Beer Hadaj within 4 months. During the year, the Ministry of Interior and the Attorney General declared that residents of Husseinya, an unrecognized village, could list their village's name as their place of residence on their identification cards.

Arab children make up about a quarter of the public school population, but Government resources for them are less than proportionate 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. According to a report issued during the year, only 54 percent of Arab students finish high school compared with 89 percent of Jewish students. According to 1998 statistics, 58 percent of the teachers in Jewish schools had university degrees compared with 39 percent of the teachers in Arab schools. The disparity in government resources for education also affects Bedouin children from the unrecognized villages. Currently, preschool attendance for Bedouin children is the lowest in the country, and the dropout rate for Bedouin high school students is the highest. 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 1997 charging that the Ministry of Education's refusal to provide this program to Israeli Arab students was discriminatory. 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 held hearings in the case twice in 1999; however, it still had not ruled on the proper implementation period by year's end.

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 neglected or expropriated unjustly for public use; and that successive governments have blocked the return to their homes of citizens displaced in the early years of the country's history. 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-term demand to be allowed to rebuild their houses. In 1997 a special interministerial panel recommended that the Government allow the villagers to return to Bir Am and Ikrit. The High Court has granted the Government several extensions for implementing the recommendation, including 2 extensions during the year. The Government stated that a special interministerial panel currently is examining economic aspects of the issue.

In early October, there were many instances of societal violence between Arab and Jewish citizens which coincided with violent events in Israel and the occupied territories (see Sections 1.a., 1.c., and the annex). For example, on October 3, an Israeli Arab shot and killed an Israeli Jew on a road in the north of the country. On October 7, a group of about 200 Israeli Jews attacked Arab Israeli homes in predominantly Jewish Upper Nazareth. On October 8, a group of about 1,000 Israeli Jews attacked Arab Israeli homes in Nazareth. Two persons were killed and approximately 50 persons were injured in these attacks (see Sections 1.a. and 1.c.). Jewish citizens also attacked Arab homes, businesses that employed Arabs, and two mosques in other areas of the country. During the October disturbances, Arab protesters also attacked Jewish-owned businesses throughout the country, and in at least one case Arab crowds attacked a synagogue.

In 1991 the Government launched Operation Solomon, which airlifted 14,000 Ethiopian immigrants to the country. There were occasional reports of societal discrimination during the year.

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. About 650,000 workers are members of Histadrut, and much of the non-Histadrut work force is covered by Histadrut's collective bargaining agreements.

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 the public and private sectors during the year by employees protesting the effects of privatization. Worker dismissals and the terms of severance arrangements often were the central issues of dispute.

Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza Strip who worked in Israel were not able to 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

Citizen 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

The law prohibits forced or compulsory labor, specifically including child forced labor, and neither citizens nor nonresident Palestinians working in Israel are generally subject to this practice; however, women are trafficked for the purpose of prostitution (see Section 6.f.). Civil rights groups charge that unscrupulous employers often take advantage of illegal workers' lack of status to hold them in conditions amounting to involuntary servitude (see Section 6.e.).

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 the country's Arab population and its most recent 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 generally does not occur.

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 was about $700 (2,800 NIS) per month. The minimum wage often is supplemented by special allowances and generally is sufficient to provide a worker and family with a decent 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-plus 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 shift work, are not authorized to spend the night in Israel. The Government has in the past considered, but not acted on, 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. Due to security concerns, the Government stopped issuing permits for Palestinian workers following the outbreak of violence in October.

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. Since 1993 the Government has 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.

There was increased public debate over the role in the workplace and society of foreign workers, who are estimated to number at least 180,000, perhaps half of them undocumented and employed illegally. 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. 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. In August press reports stated that the Government ordered an increase in deportations of undocumented foreign workers; however, the deportations were not carried out. Human rights groups argue that since foreign worker residency permits are tied to specific employment, workers have little leverage to influence their work conditions. In May the Ministry of Interior acknowledged that it had prevented labor organizations from distributing pamphlets on labor rights to foreign workers who arrived at the airport. Following the outbreak of violence in September, the Government implemented a closure policy, which prevented thousands of Palestinians from getting to their jobs in Israel (see Section 2.d.). On December 17, in response to pressure for additional workers from the construction and agricultural sectors, the Government announced that it would grant temporary permits to several thousand additional foreign workers.

Along with union representatives, the Labor Inspection Service enforces labor, health, and safety standards in the workplace, although resource constraints affect overall enforcement. Legislation protects the employment rights of safety delegates elected or appointed by the workers. In cooperation with management, these delegates are responsible for safety and health in 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.

f. Trafficking in Persons

Trafficking in women for the purpose of prostitution is a continuing problem. According to Amnesty International (AI), every year hundreds of women from the former Soviet Union are brought to Israel by well-organized criminal networks and forced through violence and threats to work illegally as prostitutes. According to some local NGO's, thousands of women are trafficked into the country annually.

In June the Government enacted a law that prohibits the trafficking of persons for the purpose of prostitution. Prostitution per se is not illegal; however, the operation of brothels and organized sex enterprises is outlawed, as are many of the human rights abuses perpetrated by traffickers and pimps, such as assault, rape, abduction, and false imprisonment. Section 201 of the Penal Code stipulates that it is a criminal offense, punishable by between 5 and 7 years' imprisonment, to force or coerce a person to engage in prostitution. Section 202(b) of the Penal Code makes it a criminal offense to induce a woman to leave Israel with the intent to "practice prostitution abroad." In March the Knesset passed the Equality of Women Law (see Section 5); Section 6(b) of the law stipulates that every woman is entitled to protection from violence, sexual harassment, sexual exploitation, and trafficking.

Traffickers reportedly often lure women into coming to the country by offering them jobs in the service industry. In many cases, traffickers meet women at the airport and confiscate all of their official documents. Many trafficked women are forced to live and work under extremely harsh conditions and to give most of the money they earn to their bosses. The women reportedly often are raped and beaten, and often are afraid to report their situation to the police because they are in the country illegally.

According to press reports, brothels are ubiquitous despite being illegal, and police officials estimate that there are 25,000 paid sexual transactions every day. Police often detain trafficked women following raids on brothels. The Minister of Interior has broad powers to deport illegal aliens and to hold them in detention pending deportation. The Ministry may issue deportation orders against any person who is in the country without a residence permit and may hold the deportee in detention following the issuance of a deportation order. The deportee can appeal the deportation order to the Ministry within 3 days of its issuance and also can challenge the order in the High Court. However, trafficked women often do not challenge a deportation order due to language barriers or a lack of information about the appeals procedure. Many trafficked women are detained for extended periods of time because of government orders that they stay in the country to testify in the criminal proceedings against their traffickers. Many women are reluctant or afraid to testify in trials due to threats and intimidation by their traffickers. According to AI, women refuse to testify in court in about 90 percent of all the cases that are prosecuted. Since 1997 police have arrested and deported approximately 1,200 women who were trafficked to the country for prostitution. According to AI, the Government does not attempt to determine whether or not a trafficked woman would be at risk for persecution if she is deported to her country of origin, even in cases in which the woman or girl has testified in criminal proceedings.

This report is submitted to the Congress by the Department of State in compliance with sections 116(d) and 502(b) of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 (FAA), as amended, and section 504 of the Trade Act of 1974, as amended. The law provides that the Secretary of State shall transmit to the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the Committee on Foreign Relations of the Senate, by February 25 "a full and complete report regarding the status of internationally recognized human rights, within the meaning of subsection (A) in countries that receive assistance under this part, and (B) in all other foreign countries which are members of the United Nations and which are not otherwise the subject of a human rights report under this Act." We have also included reports on several countries that do not fall into the categories established by these statutes and that thus are not covered by the congressional requirement.

This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.