April 19, 2024
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State Department on the State of Human Rights in Israel

Washington, DC—The U.S. Department of State released its annual human rights report in mid-April, and the section on Israel points out that the country has a fairly good record on human rights, and is a functioning democracy.

In the introduction, the report stated: “There were no reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings during the year. …There were 2,001 terrorist attacks against citizens, including 281 in Jerusalem and six elsewhere in the country; 11 cross-border attacks from Egypt; 576 attacks in the West Bank; and 1,127 attacks from the Gaza Strip. Those attacks included the firing of 2,327 rockets and mortar shells from the Gaza Strip into the country (compared with 419 rockets and 244 mortar shells in 2011), according to data compiled by the Israel Security Agency (ISA). In total nine persons were killed and 307 injured in these attacks. Terrorist attacks from across the Egyptian border killed an Israeli Arab construction worker, Said Pashpasha, who was building the border fence on June 18, and a soldier, Corporal Netanel Yahalomi, when he brought food and water to a group of African asylum seekers camped outside the security barrier on September 21.”

The summary read, in part, “The most significant human rights problems during the year were terrorist attacks against civilians; institutional and societal discrimination against Arab citizens, in particular in access to equal education and employment opportunities; societal discrimination and domestic violence against women; and the treatment of refugees, asylum seekers, and irregular migrants.” The treatment of refugees is especially puzzling to many, since Menachem Begin was the first in the world to harbor the Vietnamese boat people, and Israel has always considered itself a haven for refugees.

The report continued, “Other human rights problems included institutional and societal discrimination against non-Orthodox Jews and some minority religious groups; societal discrimination against persons with disabilities and Ethiopian Jews; and serious labor rights abuses against foreign workers.”

Details in the section on women included the following: “Women filed 20,904 domestic violence complaints with police. …According to the Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel, the majority of rape victims do not report the crime to the authorities due to social and cultural pressure. Women from certain Orthodox Jewish, Muslim, Bedouin, and Druze communities face significant social pressure not to report rape or domestic abuse. According to police, training is provided to investigators to directly address the difficulties in uncovering and reporting incidents of rape in traditional, conservative populations and work with NGOs to provide support to victims during police investigations.” The report also noted that half of all murders in northern Israel and the majority of murders in the south are honor killings of Israeli Arab women by their families.

The section on women also recorded that, “Harassment based on gender segregation continued in some public places, including on public buses. ‘Modesty patrols’ continued to harass women in some Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) neighborhoods… In January 2011 the Supreme Court ruled that gender segregation on public buses could not be imposed or ordered but could occur only on a voluntary basis. Despite the ruling there were continued reports of male passengers in ultra-Orthodox communities telling women to sit in the back of buses. However, according to the Israel Religious Action Center, few drivers enforced segregation during the year, fearing fines ranging from 4,000 to 12,000 NIS ($1,000 to $3,000).

“…In ultra-Orthodox areas of Jerusalem, images of women in advertising were repeatedly vandalized. In September in response to a petition from Yerushalmim, a Jerusalem NGO, the High Court of Justice ruled that the Transport Ministry must uphold the law that advertising companies cannot ban images of women being displayed in the public sphere.

“Discrimination: …[The] religious courts responsible for adjudication of family law, including divorce, limit the rights of Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and Druze women. A Jewish woman is allowed to initiate divorce proceedings, but her husband must give his consent in order to make the divorce final. Because some men refused to grant divorces, thousands of agunot (chained women) could not remarry or give birth to legitimate children. Rabbinical tribunals could, and sometimes did, sanction a husband who refused to give his wife a divorce, while at the same time declining to grant the divorce without the husband’s consent. …

“…Women’s salaries averaged 66 percent of men’s in 2011, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics. … Discrimination in the form of gender segregation continued in some public places, including in public health clinics and at the Western Wall. In late December, Prime Minister Netanyahu asked Natan Sharansky, the chairman of the Jewish Agency, to study the issue and suggest ways to make the Western Wall site more accommodating to all Jews.”

On the situation of the refugees from Southern Sudan and Eritrea, the reports state that “the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) … raised specific concerns over the government’s deportation of South Sudanese migrants, the government’s failure to provide individual refugee status determinations for Eritreans and Sudanese, and the government’s implementation of new “anti-infiltrator” laws, which impose long-term detention (including the possibility of indefinite detention) for all individuals who enter the country irregularly, including asylum seekers and their children. The amended Prevention of Infiltration Law, which went into effect in June, defines all irregular border crossers as “infiltrators” and gives authorities the discretion to prosecute all irregular border crossers for unlawful entry, even if they request asylum.

“…The government reported 10,285 new arrivals of irregular migrants during the year, but the rate of arrival decreased sharply after June, which government and NGO observers attributed in part to the construction of a border fence along the border with Egypt and other deterrence measures such as the expansion of the detention period.

“…Sudanese and Eritrean migrants and asylum seekers, who constituted approximately 85 percent of all asylum seekers in the country, were not allowed access to asylum procedures but were given renewable “conditional release” documents that deferred deportation and had to be renewed every few months….

“The government significantly increased its capacity to detain and hold illegal migrants during the year by enlarging existing detention facilities and constructing the first wing of a new 10,000-bed facility. In July the IPS limited access of domestic NGOs to these detention facilities… Government officials and media outlets periodically referred to asylum seekers as “infiltrators” and characterized them as directly associated with rises in crime, disease, and terrorism. Interior Minister Eli Yishai made several inflammatory comments about African migrants and organizations that provided them with assistance, and threatened mass arrests and deportation of illegal migrants. Yishai publicly stated the purpose of the Prevention of Infiltration Law was to make the lives of asylum seekers unbearable. Beginning in September there was a general practice of arresting and detaining illegal migrants under new criminal procedures and regulations. On May 23, some members of the Knesset spoke at an anti-immigrant rally in south Tel Aviv calling African migrants “a cancer in our body” and making other inflammatory statements that led to riots and violence against African residents.

By Danielle Siers

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