Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1989

Israel is a parliamentary democracy with a multiparty
political system and free elections. There is no
constitution, but a series of basic laws defines the
responsibilities of government institutions. The legislature
(the Knesset) can limit the government and force its
dissolution, Israel has an independent judiciary. Public
debate on issues of concern to Israelis is open and lively. A
vigorous free press scrutinizes all aspects of Israeli life
and politics.
Since Israel's founding in 1948, it has been in a formal state
of war with most of its Arab neighbors, except Egypt, with
which it concluded a peace treaty in 1979. As a result of the
1967 war, Israel has occupied the territories of the West
Bank, the Gaza Strip, the eastern sector of Jerusalem, and the
Golan Heights.
Since its founding, Israel has experienced numerous terrorist
incidents, within and outside its borders. In this atmosphere
of hostility and threat, Israel has relied heavily on its
military and related services for security and has retained
many of the security-related emergency regulations from the
preindependence British mandate period.
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Internal security is the responsibility of the general
security service (Shin Bet), which is under the authority of
the Prime Minister's office. The police are under the
authority of a separate minister. The Israeli Defense Forces
(IDF) —which include a significant portion of the Israeli
adult population in either active duty or reserve status
—also plays a role in maintaining internal security. The IDF
is under the authority of a civilian Minister of Defense. The
Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee reviews the
activities of the IDF and the Shin Bet.
Israel enjoys a relatively high standard of living. It has a
predominantly market economy with substantial government
regulation and subsidies for basic commodities. Economic
policy has a strong social welfare orientation.
Israeli citizens have a range of civil and other rights
generally comparable to those in advanced Western
democracies. Israel's Arab citizens have nonetheless not
shared fully in the rights granted to, and the duties levied
on, Jewish citizens.
In 1989, as in 1988, Israel's most significant human rights
problem has been its practices in confronting the Palestinian
uprising in the occupied territories. (For detailed
discussion, see the separate report on the occupied
territories .
•Because the legal status of the West Bank, Gaza, and East
Jerusalem and the political and human rights conditions differ
sharply from those in Israel, the situation there is dealt
with in a separate report following the report for Israel.
Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
      a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing
Political killings in Israel are neither practiced nor
sanctioned by Israeli authorities. In 1989 nearly 20 Israeli
civilians were killed within pre-1967 Israel by Palestinians
in circumstances that appeared to be related to the ongoing
political conflict in the occupied territories. Approximately
five Palestinians from the territories were killed within
Israel by Israeli private citizens in what may have been
indirect retaliation for these incidents. Palestinians and
Israelis apprehended for these acts were dealt with through
the normal process of Israeli law.
      b. Disappearance
There were no reports of government-condoned disappearances.
      c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
Israeli laws and administrative regulations prohibit, and
provide specific penalties for, such activities. However,
where security concerns predominate, these strictures have
been violated. (See the occupied territories report for a
discussion of allegations of mistreatment of prisoners.)
      d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile
Israeli law and practice guarantee against arbitrary arrest or
imprisonment. Writs of habeas corpus and other procedural and
substantive safeguards are available. Defendants are
considered innocent until proven guilty.
Administrative detention, with no formal charge or trial, has
in the past been imposed on Israeli citizens for security
reasons under emergency regulations. Two Israeli Arabs were
adminstratively detained in 1989. The Minister of Defense may
issue a detention order for a maximum of 6 months. Within 48
hours of issuance of such an order, a district judge must
review the case and may confirm, shorten, or overturn the
detention order. Failing review within the designated time
period, the detainee must be released. The detainee may be
represented by counsel and may appeal to the Supreme Court.
The Government may withhold evidence from the detainee and
counsel on security grounds.
In 1989 Israel continued to hold most administrative detainees
from the occupied territories in detention centers inside
Israel. (For a full discussion of administrative detention of
Palestinians, see the separate report on the occupied
territories .
Israel does not exile its citizens.
      e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The right to a hearing by an impartial tribunal with
representation by counsel is guaranteed by law. The judiciary
is independent and effectively insulated from political
interference. All nonsecurity trials are open. According to
the Ministry of Justice, security cases may be tried before a
military court or a civil court and may be partly or wholly
closed to the public. The burden of justifying nonpublic
proceedings falls to the prosecution. Defense counsel is
present, even during closed proceedings, but may be denied
access to some evidence on security grounds. According to the
Ministry of Justice, in security cases in which access to some
evidence is denied, that evidence is not presented to the
      f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
Privacy of the individual and the home are protected by law
within Israel. Emergency regulations permit mail to be
stopped, opened, and even destroyed on security grounds. A
1979 law allows tapping of telephones for security reasons,
with confirmation by the Prime Minister or Defense Minister.
Interference with mail and the tapping of telephones are
practiced infrequently.
      g. Use of Excessive Force and Violations of Humanitarian Law in Internal Conflicts
(See the separate report on the occupied territories.)
Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
      a. Freedom of Speech and Press
Individuals, organizations, the press, and the electronic
media freely debate a wide range of public issues and
criticize government officials and policies, except where
sensitive security-based considerations or other censorship
provisions apply. Press articles dealing with
security-related matters must be submitted to the military
censor. Israel's Arabic-language press is censored more
strictly than the Hebrew-language press. In 1989 a High Court
of Justice ruling narrowed the range of material that could be
censored on security grounds. Movies are occasionally
censored if deemed pornographic, offensive to religion or
social mores, or likely to disturb public order. Theater
censorship was ended in 1989 for a 2-year test period. All
newspapers are privately owned and managed. Most of the
electronic media are run by the independent Israel Broadcast
Authority, whose chief is appointed by the Government.
Security regulations make it illegal to possess or distribute
literature of an outlawed organization for purposes of
encouraging support for that organization or its cause or
publicly to express support for such an organization. There
was no indication that anyone was prosecuted under this law in
1989. Provisions against maintaining contact with, or
accepting support from, an outlawed organization apply to the
media as well as individuals. In 1989 the license of an
Arabic-language newspaper was revoked on the grounds of links
to an outlawed organization.
      b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
Israelis representing almost any point of view are free to
assemble and associate. The law and court rulings protect
these rights. However, security regulations prohibit
membership in, or contact with, outlawed organizations, their
subdivisions, or their individual members. In 1989 an IsraeliISRAEL AND THE OCCUPIFn TERRITORIES
peace activist was jailed for meeting with Palestine
Liberation Organization (PLO) leader Yasser Arafat, eight
Israelis were charged with meeting PLO members, and the 1988
convictions of four others for a similar offense were under
appeal. A Knesset member met publicly with Yasser Arafat, but
his Knesset immunity protected him from prosecution.
      c. Freedom of Religion
Israel is a democracy. There are strong guarantees of freedom
for all religious faiths. Approximately 82 percent of its
citizens are Jewish. Muslims, Christians, and Druze, and
members of other minority religions make up the remaining 18
percent. Travel to visit religious sites or perform religious
obligations in and outside Israel is widely permitted. In
1989 Israel facilitated the pilgrimage to Mecca of over 5,000
Israeli Muslims.
Each recognized religious community in Israel has legal
authority over its members in matters of marriage, legitimacy,
inheritance, and conversion. Orthodox religious authorities
have exclusive control over these matters in all sectors of
the Jewish community, whether or not they are Orthodox.
Missionaries are allowed to work in Israel. A 1977
antiproselytizing law, prohibiting the offering and receipt of
material benefits as an inducement to conversion, has not been
      d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation
Israeli citizens can move freely within Israel except in
military or security zones, or in cases where they may be
confined to their neighborhood or village by administrative
order under emergency regulations. In 1989 two Israeli Arabs
were confined in this fashion, but were later released.
Israeli citizens are free to travel within the occupied
territories, except in those sections temporarily declared
closed military areas. (See the occupied territories report
regarding the effect of Palestinian attacks on Israeli
civilians' freedom of travel.)
Israeli citizens are free to travel abroad and to emigrate,
provided they have no outstanding military obligations or are
not restricted by administrative order. In 1989 the Israeli
Government renewed restrictions on the travel of one Israeli
Arab political activist, without giving an official reason.
Israel welcomes Jewish immigrants, including Jewish refugees,
to whom it gives automatic citizenship and residence rights.
It accepts back Israeli citizens who have emigrated. Israel
has allowed the return of some Palestinians on the principle
of family reunification but has rejected the great majority of
requests for return.
Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens
to Change Their Government
Israel is a parliamentary democracy, with a multitude of
parties representing a wide range of political views.
Relatively small parties regularly win seats in the Knesset.
All adult Israeli citizens have the right to participate in
the political process and to vote by secret ballot.
Participation of eligible voters, including Israeli Arabs, in
national elections is high by Western standards. In the 1988
national elections, Israeli Arabs won 6 of 120 Knesset seats.
Israeli citizens, including Israeli Arabs, actively
participated in the 1989 local (municipal) elections.
Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
Israel is responsive to international and nongovernmental
interest in its human rights situation. It hosts and works
with a delegation of the International Committee for the Red
Cross. It permits regular visits by a wide range of private
and international organizations concerned about human rights
such as Amnesty International (AI), the Lawyers Committee for
Human Rights, the International Labor Organization (ILO), and
others. The Government routinely investigates and responds to
human rights inquiries by such organizations as AI . The
Ministries of Justice and Foreign Affairs have human rights
The number of local human rights and political action groups,
already very active, expanded in 1989, primarily in response
to the continuing uprising in the territories.
Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Language, or Social Status
Women's rights in Israel are protected by the equal
opportunity law, which forbids sex discrimination. For
example, it requires employers to pay male and female workers
equal wages for equal work. Other laws and regulations give
protection to women employees regarding pregnancy, childbirth,
and child care. The Government includes a senior adviser on
the status of women, and the Civil Service Commission and
several government ministries have officers responsible for
women's rights. Nongovernmental women's organizations work
actively in promoting women's rights and welfare. Women are
drafted into the army but do not fill combat-related
Domination of personal status law by religious courts means
that women are subject to restrictive interpretations of their
rights in such crucial areas as marriage, divorce, and
The courts in Israel deal firmly with persons convicted of
violence, including violence against women. Human rights
groups, especially women's groups, are increasingly active in
dealing with the issue of domestic violence against women, and
the Government provides some funding for intervention
Israeli Arabs, who comprise approximately 18 percent of
Israel's population, have made substantial educational and
material progress since the founding of Israel. A few have
risen to responsible positions in the civil service, generally
in the Arab departments of government ministries. The year
saw the appointment of the first Arab woman judge. The
Arabic-speaking community has access to local and foreign
Arabic newspapers and magazines, internal and external Arabic
television programming, and Arabic-language radio services.
However, Israeli Arabs have not attained the same quality of
education, housing, or other services as Israeli Jews.
Relative to their numbers, they are underrepresented in the
student body of most universities, and in higher level
professional, academic, and business ranks.
The Israeli Druze and Circassian communities, at their
initiative, are subject to Israel's military draft, and some
Bedouin Arabs serve voluntarily in special units. However,
most Israeli Arabs are not subject to the draft, and few
volunteer. Consequently, they have less access than do other
Israelis to such social and economic benefits as housing and
new-household subsidies, and government or security-related
industrial employment, for which military service is either a
prerequisite or an advantage.
Section 6 Worker Rights
      a. The Right of Association
Israeli workers and employers have freely established
organizations of their own choosing. Israel has a powerful
free trade union movement, the General Federation of Labor in
Israel (Histadrut), and a much smaller rival federation.
About 80 percent of employed Israelis (including 70 percent of
employed Israeli Arabs) are members of Histadrut trade unions
or are covered by its collective bargaining agreements.
Histadrut is a vast service organization which also runs
industries, banks, cooperatives and the country's largest
health and child care systems. Histadrut's position as the
preeminent representative of Israeli labor predates the
establishment of the State of Israel and is not imposed by law.
Histadrut's members democratically elect their national and
local officers and those of its affiliated trade unions and
women's organization, choosing between political party lists.
Plant or enterprise committee members are elected
The right to strike is exercised frequently. There is a legal
obligation to give 15 days' notice prior to a strike or
lockout, unless otherwise specified in the collective
bargaining agreement. Strikes often erupt without prior
notice or Histadrut authorization, although Histadrut tries to
maintain discipline with a central strike fund. The
Government occasionally appeals to labor courts for
back-to-work orders to restore essential public services while
negotiations continue, but these orders are temporary and not
always granted. Labor courts include employer and employee
representatives. Strike activity in 1989 was relatively low;
among the more important strikes were those by employees of
Histadrut's health care system and by employees of the
Histadrut-owned KOOR Industries.
Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem have the same rights
of labor association. While a number of such residents are
members of Histadrut, at least 14 Arab unions independent of
Histadrut also operate.
Approximately 100,000 nonresident workers work in Israel.
Most of them are Palestinians living in the West Bank and
Gaza. While the total number of Palestinians working in
Israel appears not to have changed significantly from 1988, a
number of f actors--entry permits required of Gaza workers,
general strikes in the territories, and Israeli-imposed
curfews--have had serious short-term effects on daily workers
and have probably depressed the weekly average of hours worked
per worker.
Nonresident workers cannot be members of Histadrut. They are
nonetheless entitled to union representation, and can join,
vote for, and be elected to shop-level workers' committees in
establishments where they number at least 20 or comprise at
least 10 percent of the work force.
      b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively
The right of Israelis to organize and bargain collectively is
enshrined in law and freely exercised. The majority union
(generally Histadrut) is the exclusive bargaining agent.
Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem have the same rights
under Israeli law. The Arab unions operating in East
Jerusalem conduct their own collective bargaining.
Nonresident workers (primarily Palestinians) may not organize
and bargain collectively on their own in Israel, but those
that work in the organized sector are entitled to the
protection of collective bargaining agreements and
representation by the bargaining agent. The majority of these
workers, however, work outside the legal hiring mechanism and
lack this protection.
There are no export processing zones in Israel.
      c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
Israeli citizens are not subject to forced or compulsory labor.
      d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children
By law, children under age 15 may not be employed. Those aged
15 may not be employed if subject to compulsory education,
except during vacations, or in apprenticeships, or with a
permit from the Labor Minister under special conditions. The
Minister may also allow an artistic performance by a child
under 15, with safeguards. Employment of children aged 16 to
18 is restricted to ensure time for rest and education. A
Labor Inspection Service enforces these provisions, but
enforcement may be lax in smaller, unorganized enterprises.
Israeli labor exchanges in the West Bank and Gaza do not
permit Palestinians under 17 to be employed in Israel.
      e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
Wage income in Israel is generally sufficient to provide
workers and their families a decent standard of living.
Legislation in 1986 established a minimum wage at 45 percent
of the average salary, calculated periodically. An October
1989 adjustment raised it to $447 a month. Most wages and
salaries are established in collective bargaining agreements.
The Labor Minister frequently uses the 1957 collective
agreements law to extend private-sector wage settlements to
the public sector and sectoral wage settlements to other,
uncovered enterprises. Along with union representation, the
Labor Inspection Service effectively enforces labor, health,
and safety standards in the workplace.
By law, maximum hours of work at regular pay are 47 hours per
week, 8 per day, and 7 the day before the weekly rest, which
must be at least 36 consecutive hours and should include the
Sabbath. Exceptions may be approved by the Labor Ministry but
may not exceed 10 hours per day, or an average of 47 hours per
week. By national collective agreements, the public sector
moved to a 5-day, 42.5-hour week in April 1989, while the
private sector established a maximum 45-hour week in August
1988 and an April 1990 deadline for all firms to institute the
5-day week.
Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem have the same rights
under Israeli law and union contracts and are entitled to the
same working conditions as Israelis.
About 33,000 of the West Bank and Gaza Palestinians working in
Israel enter the job market legally through Israeli employment
service labor exchanges in the West Bank and Gaza. Employers
pay wages and social contributions for these workers to the
service, which deducts taxes, employee social contributions,
and a 1-percent union fee, and pays the balance to the
workers. The same percentage is deducted from the pay of
Palestinians working legally in Israel as is deducted from the
pay of Israeli workers for social contributions. However,
they do not receive the same benefits from the National
Insurance Institute (Nil, similar to U.S. social security),
because many Nil benefits require residence in Israel.
The Nil provides commuting workers with workers' compensation
for occupational injury or illness and employer bankruptcy
insurance. These workers are also entitled to maternity
benefits, including free hospital care and 12 weeks' paid
maternity leave, but only for births in hospitals in Israel.
Nonresidents are ineligible for Nil old-age, survivors', and
disability pensions, unemployment compensation, or insurance
for long-term care or injury in nonoccupational accidents.
They are also ineligible for Nil children's allowances, funded
only by employer contributions, and for Nll-administered
welfare programs funded by Israeli taxpayers through the
Because of these restrictions, only 1.2 percent of nonresident
Palestinian workers' pay goes to the Nil, compared to 5.35
percent for an Israeli. The other 4.15 percent is an
equalization deduction which was established to keep labor
costs equivalent. This amount goes to a special finance
ministry fund to be earmarked for social and development
expenditures in the West Bank and Gaza. Palestinians estimate
that this amounts to hundreds of millions of dollars since
1970 and claim that the Government of Israel has not accounted
for its use of the funds. Expenditures for the territories
are reviewed by the Knesset Joint Committee for Defense and
Finances, but are not made public.
A report issued in December by the International Confederation
of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) on the social and economic
conditions of West Bank and Gaza workers recommends that the
social security system be revamped so that those who work in
Israel are able to receive full social benefits or else be
reimbursed for the value of their contributions which are
deducted from gross wages.
Nonresident Palestinian workers who are legally hired are
covered by the minimum wage law and by the larger system of
social benefits granted through collective bargaining
agreements. They are entitled to receive a pension through
the Labor Ministry at age 65 after at least 10 years'
employment in Israel, based on earnings and years worked,
which is equivalent to Histadrut pensions granted to
Israelis. They are also entitled to sick leave, severance
pay, and paid vacations of 14 to 28 days per year, by law as
well as by Histadrut contract.
Histadrut has sought to defend the rights of nonresident
Palestinians who were dismissed for absences during the
uprising, maintaining that military curfews and community-wide
strikes are beyond their control. Histadrut has not been able
to get large numbers reinstated but has worked to get many
their severance pay. The labor federation has used plant-site
visits, Arab-language broadcasts, fliers, and workplace posters
to inform nonresident Palestinians of their legal rights and
benefits. Histadrut began holding seminars on worker rights
in 1988 for employees recruited through West Bank and Gaza
labor exchanges.
The majority of the nonresident Palestinians who work in
Israel bypass the employment service hiring system, thereby
losing social benefits but also avoiding taxes and social
contributions for themselves and their employers. Their wages
and working conditions are often below Israeli Isgal
standards, particularly in seasonal agriculture and small
restaurants, garages, and construction sites where many work.
Enforcement of minimum wage laws is not stringent. In 1989
the employment service carried out stricter enforcement of the
requirement that they be hired through labor exchanges, but
this has not halted the trend toward more Palestinians working
in the informal sector. Employment service inspectors have
begun fining employers $250 per illegally hired worker as an
alternative to long drawn-out criminal court complaints.
According to the regulations, nonresident Palestinian workers
are not allowed to stay overnight in Israel without a permit.
The pressures of strikes in the territories, the occasional
closure of the territories, and Palestinian activist efforts
in Gaza to resist Israeli imposition of entry permits for all
Gaza workers have induced more Palestinian workers to stay
overnight in Israel illegally, often in substandard
conditions. In practice, relatively few of the estimated
thousands who regularly stay overnight are detained by the
police. However, police have recently stepped up efforts to
enforce the law against those workers who lack overnight and
entry permits.
The 1989 report of the ILO Director General reviewed the
situation of nonresident Palestinian workers in ^srael. It
reiterated its recommendations for action to combat illegal
employment and eliminate inequalities with respect to
benefits, working conditions, and job security. It called for
restructuring the system of benefits so that workers'
contributions would be used strictly for social security
programs and not for other purposes.