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Israel and The Occupied Territories

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

There is no constitution. The Basic Law describes the country as a “Jewish and democratic state” and references the Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel, which promises freedom of religion and conscience and full social and political equality, regardless of religious affiliation.

According to Supreme Court rulings, the Basic Law on Human Dignity and Liberty protects freedom to practice or not practice religious beliefs, including freedom of conscience, faith, religion, and worship, regardless of an individual’s religion. The law incorporates religious freedom provisions of international human rights covenants into the country’s body of domestic law.

The Chief Rabbinate retains the authority to issue certificates of conversion to Judaism within the country under Orthodox rabbinic law. The Council of the Chief Rabbinate consists of Orthodox rabbis chosen by an assembly consisting of rabbis, local government leaders, government ministers, and laypersons appointed by the government.

The government provides funding for both Orthodox and non-Orthodox conversion programs. Relatives of Jewish converts may not receive residency rights, except for the children of male or female converts born after the parent’s conversion is complete. Following a February decision by the Supreme Court ordering public mikvah ritual baths be opened up to non-Orthodox conversion rites, the Knesset passed a law in July, to take effect in 2017, authorizing local rabbinates to determine who can use their mikvahs, potentially preventing Reform and Conservative Jews from using these facilities for conversions.

The law recognizes the religions of Judaism, Christianity, Islam, the Druze, and the Bahai Faith. Christian religious communities recognized according to the adopted Ottoman millet (court) system include: Eastern Orthodox, Latin (Roman Catholic), Gregorian-Armenian, Armenian Catholic, Syrian Catholic, Chaldean (Chaldean Uniate Catholic), Greek Catholic Melkite, Maronite, Syrian Orthodox, and Evangelical Episcopal. The Anglican and Bahai communities are recognized through a British Mandate-era law adopted by the government. The government does not recognize other religious communities, including major Protestant denominations with a presence in the country, as distinct ethnoreligious communities. There are two legal pathways to formal recognition, according to laws adopted from the British Mandate period: through a government declaration in response to a petition to the Prime Minister’s Office according to the Order in Council, or by petitioning the Ministry of Interior for recognition. Groups may appeal rejected applications to the Supreme Court.

Recognized religious communities are exempt from taxation of places of worship and may have separate courts to apply their religion’s personal status law. Some nonrecognized religions, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses, receive a property tax exemption on their houses of worship, although others, such as Buddhism and Scientology, do not. While members of recognized religious communities only require approval for visas from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, visas for members of nonrecognized religious communities also require Ministry of Interior (MOI) approval for stays longer than five years. Members of nonrecognized religious groups may practice their beliefs.

Legislation establishes religious councils for Jewish communities and for the Druze. The Ministry of Religious Services (MRS) has jurisdiction over the country’s 133 Jewish religious councils, which oversee the provision of religious services for Jewish communities. The government finances approximately 40 percent of the religious councils’ budgets, and local municipalities fund the remainder. The MOI Department of Non-Jewish Affairs has jurisdiction over religious matters concerning non-Jewish groups and oversees the religious council for the Druze. The Department of Non-Jewish Affairs convenes an interreligious council of all recognized religions, including Judaism, which serves as a discussion forum for recognized religious communities. The MOI maintains a program to provide religious training, and trains those Druze and Muslim clerics who are employees of the state on how to work with government ministries. Approximately 50 percent of Muslim imams are state employees and receive their salaries and continuing religious training through the Ministry of Interior. The salaries of the remaining imams are privately funded.

The law criminalizes willfully and unjustly disturbing any meeting of persons lawfully assembled for religious worship or assaulting someone at such a meeting. It also criminalizes intentionally destroying, damaging, or desecrating any object held sacred by any group of persons, with punishment of three years’ imprisonment.

The law requires individuals to obtain a permit from the minister of the interior or the prime minister for travel to “hostile” countries, including Saudi Arabia, which is the destination for those participating in the Hajj. Illegal travel is punishable by a prison sentence or fine if the traveler does not request prior approval.

Proselytizing is legal for all religious groups. The law prohibits offering a material benefit in the course of proselytizing. It is also illegal to proselytize to a person less than 18 years of age without the consent of both parents.

The law criminalizes the damage, destruction, or desecration of religious sites (subject to seven years’ imprisonment) and actions to “harm the freedom of access” of worshippers to religious sites (subject to five years’ imprisonment). Certain religious sites considered antiquities are provided further protection under the antiquities law. The Ministry of Tourism is responsible for the protection and upkeep of non-Jewish religious sites, while the MRS protects and maintains Jewish religious sites. The law also provides for up to five years’ imprisonment for actions “likely to violate the feelings of the members of the different religions” with regard to their religious sites. The law grants the government, not the courts, the authority to decide the scope of the right to worship at certain religious sites, and the Supreme Court has upheld this governmental authority.

Public Hebrew-language state schools teach Jewish history and some basic religious texts. These classes primarily cover Jewish heritage and culture rather than religious belief. Public Arabic-speaking schools with Arab student bodies teach religion classes on the Quran and the Bible to both Muslim and Christian Arab students. A few independent mixed Jewish-Arab schools also exist and offer religion classes. For example, the curriculum at the nonprofit school Hand-in-Hand: Center for Jewish-Arab Education emphasizes commonality and similar storylines in the holy writings of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. By law, the state provides the equivalent of public school funding to two systems of ultra-Orthodox religious schools, the United Torah Judaism-affiliated Independent Education system and the Shas-affiliated Fountain of Torah Education system. Minors have the right to choose a public secular school instead of a religious school regardless of parental preference.

The law provides the right for any Jew, or any child or grandchild of a Jew, to immigrate to the country from a foreign country with his or her spouse and children. The minor children of a grandchild of a Jew are granted humanitarian status, but are not automatically granted citizenship. Under the Law of Return those who completed an Orthodox conversion inside or outside Israel are entitled to immigration, citizenship, and registration as Jews in the civil population registry. Those who completed conversion to Judaism outside Israel, regardless of affiliation, are eligible for these benefits even if they are not recognized as Jewish by the Chief Rabbinate; this would include Reform, Conservative, and other affiliations of Judaism. A ruling by the Supreme Court in March expanded immigration rights (including citizenship) under the Law of Return to those who complete private (non-Rabbinate) Orthodox conversions in Israel. Descendants of Jews qualify for immigration under the Law of Return regardless of the religious beliefs with which they were raised, although the law considers those who as adults convert to other religious groups, including Messianic Judaism, to have “opted out” of the protections of the Law of Return.

The Chief Rabbinate determines who may be buried in Jewish state cemeteries, limiting this right to individuals considered Jewish by Orthodox standards. The law provides for the right of any individual to be buried in a civil ceremony, and requires that civil cemeteries be established in various areas around the country, sufficiently distant from one another so that all those who wish to take advantage of them may reasonably be able to do so. The law criminalizes the intentional desecration of, or trespass on, places of burial, which is punishable by three years’ imprisonment.

Laws inherited from the Ottoman Empire and British Mandate periods give jurisdiction over personal status issues to certain religious communities. Religious courts operated by officially recognized religious communities have legal authority over their members in matters of marriage, divorce, and burial. Jewish, Druze, Muslim, and Christian families may ask for personal status cases, including alimony, child custody, guardianship, domestic violence, paternity, and property division, to be adjudicated in religious or civil courts. Exceptions to this provision include cases of divorce where Jewish women are subject to the exclusive jurisdiction of the rabbinical courts if their spouses file the case there first, and paternity cases among Muslim citizens, which are the exclusive jurisdiction of Islamic law courts. Members of religious groups not permitting divorce, such as Catholics, may not obtain a divorce unless they convert to a different religion that authorizes divorce. Personal status cases in mixed-religion families are usually adjudicated in civil courts.

The law allows for civil registration of two people as a married couple only if both partners are recognized as “lacking religion,” if they married outside the country, or if the partners are of different religions and their respective religious courts do not object to a civil registration. According to the law, persons are classified as “lacking religion” if they do not belong to one of the recognized religions as recorded in the National Registry. This includes approximately 322,000 immigrants and their children, primarily from the former Soviet Union, who gained Israeli citizenship under the Law of Return but are not recognized as Jewish by the Chief Rabbinate, which applies the Orthodox definition of matrilineal descent.

Secular courts have primary jurisdiction over questions of inheritance, but parties may file such cases in religious courts by mutual agreement. Decisions by these bodies are subject to Supreme Court review. The rabbinical courts, when exercising their power in civil matters, apply religious law, which varies from civil law, including in matters relating to the property rights of widows and daughters.

Military service is compulsory for Jewish citizens, except for Orthodox women. It is also compulsory for male citizens who are Druze, and male citizens in the 5,000-member Circassian community (Muslims originally from the northwestern Caucasus region who migrated in the late 19th century). Arab Christian and Muslim citizens are exempt from compulsory service, although the government encourages them to volunteer.

In July the Knesset passed a law establishing the penalty for inciting or seeking to persuade a volunteer soldier to desert the military, or for giving shelter to a volunteer who deserts, at three to 15 years in prison, which is equivalent to that already established regarding conscript soldiers. The sponsor of the law said he initiated it to deflect pressures away from Christian Arab soldiers who are volunteering in the military.

The law provides the minister of defense some discretion to provide exemptions from compulsory military service for conscientious objectors. A special committee evaluates applications for conscientious objection and may recommend exemptions if it determines an applicant objects to the inherent use of violent force in the military framework and to war in a way that prevents him or her from serving in the military. The committee is also authorized to recommend certain accommodations to conscientious objectors’ concerns, including permission not to hold weapons or wear uniforms. The committee chair is authorized to grant exemptions, and committee decisions may be appealed in writing to the Ministry of Defense or the courts.

To receive benefits similar to those accorded military veterans, Arabs and others exempted from compulsory military service may enlist in an alternative service program run by the Ministry of Science and Technology for one or two years as volunteers in health, education, and welfare with local NGOs and institutions.

Membership in a recognized religion is recorded in the National Registry and passed from parents to children, unless a person changes it through a formal conversion. Membership in a religious group which is not recognized is recorded as “lacking religion.” All Jews are recorded as Jewish, whether Orthodox or not (unless they convert to something else).

The law criminalizes calling for, praising, supporting, or encouraging acts of violence or terrorism where such actions are likely to lead to violence, including calls for violence against religious groups.

The law criminalizing incitement to racism, defined as statements demeaning or degrading or showing violence toward someone on the basis of race, provides an exception for statements citing a religious source, unless an intent to incite racism is proven.

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights with a reservation stating that matters of personal status are governed by the religious law of the parties concerned, and the country reserves the right to apply that religious law when inconsistent with its obligations under the Covenant.

Government Practices

Increased violent clashes between Israeli security forces and Palestinians in Israel, Jerusalem, Gaza, and the West Bank began in September 2015 and continued into this year following altercations between Jewish activists and Muslim activists worshipping at the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif site. As a result of this violence, seven Israelis, one U.S. citizen, and five Palestinian attackers were killed, and 62 Israelis injured, inside the Green Line. Because religion and ethnicity were often closely linked, it was difficult to categorize much of this violence as being solely based on religious identity. The number of Jewish visitors, reportedly including Temple Mount activists, to the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif increased to record levels during the Jewish holidays and national holidays. In April, June, and August there were incidents of violence at the Temple Mount/Haram al Sharif compound, usually after Muslim visitors or Waqf guards (the Jordanian-funded Islamic trust and charitable organization that administers the site) said they observed Jewish visitors praying on the site. In a break from past practices, Israeli authorities that facilitated these visits also permitted non-Muslim visits to the site during some of the last 10 days of Ramadan. Israeli police citing security concerns continued to restrict broad Muslim access at the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif, albeit for fewer days (two) than in 2015 (27). The Waqf continued to restrict non-Muslims who visited the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif from entering the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa Mosque. The government allowed both Muslims and Christians to pray at the Western Wall, but with separation of women and men, and did not implement a compromise reached with non-Orthodox Jewish activists regarding “egalitarian prayer,” i.e., Reform and Conservative Jewish services. Israeli security restrictions limited the access of Palestinians to the Western Wall Plaza. The government implemented policies based on Orthodox Jewish interpretations of religious law.

Arab citizen of Israel Nashat Milhem killed two people and injured seven others in a bar on Dizengoff Street in Tel Aviv on January 1. He later killed a taxi driver. Evidence of the use of religious material in preparation for the attack was found on his phone along with a video expressing his hatred toward “enemies of Islam.” Security forces killed Milhem in a shootout after a weeklong manhunt.

On March 8, Palestinian Bashar Massalha stabbed to death one U.S. citizen and injured 10 Israelis in attacks in Jaffa. Security forces killed Massalha during his attack.

On June 28, the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif was closed to non-Muslim visitors for three days by Israeli police, citing security concerns after attacks on Jewish visitors during the last few days of Ramadan. Following the closure, The Jerusalem Post reported a group of masked Muslim youths threw rocks and other objects at Israeli police officers stationed at the site and then barricaded themselves in al-Aqsa Mosque. The police arrested dozens of Arabs suspected of throwing objects at Jewish visitors and police officers.

A group of Modern Orthodox rabbis continued to operate a private conversion court for children of families whose Judaism was not recognized by the state or the rabbinical courts. A ruling by the Supreme Court on March 31 expanded immigration rights under the Law of Return to those who completed private (non-Rabbinate) Orthodox conversions in the country. The Chief Rabbinate continued not to recognize non-Orthodox converts to Judaism as Jews, although they continued to be accepted for the purpose of immigration under the Law of Return. In four incidents during the year, the Chief Rabbinate also refused to recognize conversions approved by the chief presiding rabbinical judge of the Rabbinical Council of America (Orthodox).

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) continued to sponsor expedited Orthodox Jewish conversion courses for Jewish soldiers who were not recognized as Jewish by the Chief Rabbinate.

The government rejected applications for official recognition by evangelical Christian churches. The government also rejected an application by the Jehovah’s Witnesses in November 2015, noting the government had not recognized any additional religion for over 40 years, although there are many religious groups that would like to gain recognition, because of the “wide-ranging implications” of recognizing new religious groups. The government stated members of nonrecognized religions remained free to practice their religion, and that leaders of these religions are invited and participate along with the leaders of officially recognized religions at official events or ceremonies.

Many mosques continued to lack an imam appointed by the MOI; the government continued to permit nonstate employees to be imams in mosques if the community preferred them.

Pursuant to a 2013 High Court ruling on easing the funding conditions for activities by the Reform and Conservative Jewish communities, the government continued to pay the salaries of 12 non-Orthodox rabbis serving local councils. In addition, the Ministry of Housing provided funding to build non-Orthodox Jewish religious institutions, which it designated “seminaries,” according to the Israel Religious Action Center.

The government continued to control access to the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif, preventing non-Muslim worship and prayer at the site, and limiting access for visits by non-Muslim groups to specific times. The government said these restrictions were imposed on the basis of maintaining the status quo. The media reported in September that police had extended the ban on non-Muslim prayer to the entire Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem. The government denied this, but noted the police “have prevented provocations intended to incite the local population.”

The INP continued to be responsible for security at the entrances of the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif, with police stationed both inside the site and outside each entrance. The INP conducted routine patrols on the outdoor plaza and regulated traffic in and out of the site.

Waqf officials repeated previous years’ complaints about what they said were violations of the status quo agreements by Israeli police regarding control of access to the site. They stated Israeli police did not coordinate with the Waqf on decisions to allow non-Muslim visitors onto the site or to restrict access to broad categories of Muslim worshippers or to individual Palestinians whom police suspected could disrupt the non-Muslim visits. Waqf employees remained stationed inside each gate and on the plaza but Waqfofficials said they were able to exercise only a limited oversight role. They reportedly could object to the presence of particular persons, such as individuals dressed immodestly or causing disturbances, but lacked the authority to remove such persons from the site.

Waqf officials reported the Israeli police on occasion briefly detained Waqf guards or expelled them from the site and from the vicinity of visiting Jewish activist groups. The government stated Waqf guards involved in disturbances were treated the same as any other individual in such situations, and attributed any instance of police action against a guard to the guard’s activity. Israeli police also arrested Waqf maintenance employees conducting renovation work inside the Dome of the Rock for failing to conduct the work under the supervision of the Israel Antiquities Authority (whose authority on the site the Waqf does not recognize). Police also prevented the Waqf from carrying out routine repairs such as to leaking water pipes as well as 20 major renovation projects, and refused to permit the entry of most maintenance equipment onto the site, according to Waqf officials. Police citing security concerns intervened in the delivery of iftar meals during several days of Ramadan. The government said the delivery of 15 trucks filled with meals during Ramadan was successfully coordinated between the Waqf and police, and the only deliveries not permitted were those not coordinated ahead of time with the police, including from organizations known for terrorist activity. Waqf officials said that the Israel police’s regular use of a small electric “patrol” vehicle on the Temple Mount/Haram al Sharif – beginning during Ramadan and continuing throughout the year – was unprecedented and a violation of the status quo. The government said the vehicle was used to transport supplies between police positions. It also said police vehicles entering the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif were not new and not a violation of the status quo. The government also said the Waqf itself used electric vehicles with no objection from the Israeli police.

Israeli police citing security concerns continued to restrict broad Muslim access at the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif, albeit for fewer days (two) than in 2015 (27). The government continued to permit approximately 100-200 Gazans over the age of 60 to travel to Jerusalem for weekly Friday prayers at the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif for most weeks throughout the year. On December 6, Israeli authorities cancelled most of these permits indefinitely, saying some of those receiving permits did not return through Erez the same day.

Muslim officials, including representatives of the Waqf and representatives of the Joint List, an alliance of the country’s Arab-majority political parties, continued to object to the government’s temporary access restrictions on Muslim worshippers at the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif and repeated previous years’ complaints about what they said were police violations of the status quo agreements regarding control of access to the site, including during Ramadan.

The Waqf continued to restrict non-Muslims from entering the Dome of the Rock shrine and the Al-Aqsa Mosque and prohibited individuals from wearing non-Muslim religious symbols on the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif.

The INP continued to screen non-Muslims for religious paraphernalia, and generally prohibited them from praying publicly on the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif. The police continued to have exclusive control of the Mughrabi Gate entrance – the only entrance through which non-Muslims could enter the site – and allowed visitors through the gate during set visiting hours, although the INP sometimes restricted this access because of security concerns. For example, Israeli police continued to enforce a six-month restraining order issued in November 2015 that prohibited a leader of the Return to the Mount, a Jewish Temple Mount activist group, from entering the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif after the group publicly advocated Jewish prayer during visits to the site and offered monetary rewards to activists who were arrested for praying on the site.

Israeli authorities in some instances barred specific individuals from the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif site, including Jewish activists believed to have violated rules against non-Muslim prayer, Muslims believed to have acted violently against non-Muslim visitors to the site, and public figures, including members of the Knesset, whose presence authorities feared would inflame tensions. The Supreme Court ruled in December that unofficial, verbal bans by police on Jewish activists ascending the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif were illegal. Some Jewish and non-Jewish members of the Knesset condemned the government’s ban on all members of the Knesset from ascending the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif. Israeli police continued to enforce “black lists” barring at least 50 Muslim men and women they accused of verbally harassing Jewish visitors, whom Muslim worshippers stated they perceived to have been attempting to break the injunction against non-Muslim prayer on the site.

Many Jewish leaders, including the government-appointed Rabbi of the Western Wall, continued to say Jewish law prohibited Jews from entering the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif, a view the ultra-Orthodox community supported. Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau stated in June, however, that he would like to see a Third Temple built on the site without demolishing Muslim structures. Increasing numbers of the self-identified “national religious” Zionist community stated they found meaning in setting foot on the site. Some government coalition Knesset members called for reversing the policy of banning non-Muslim prayer at the site. NGOs, such as the Temple Institute and Temple Mount Faithful, continued to call on the government to implement a time-sharing plan at the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif to set aside certain hours for Jewish worship, similar to the practice at the Ibrahimi Mosque/Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron. Muslim authorities continued to oppose this idea.

Prime Minister Netanyahu reiterated his support for the status quo arrangement at the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif. He reaffirmed the government’s respect for the role of Jordan and the Jordanian king in administering the site, and stated his government had no intention of dividing the site.

The government continued to permit people of all faiths to make individual prayers at the Western Wall, the place of worship nearest the holiest site in Judaism. The Rabbi of the Western Wall continued to set the guidelines for religious observance mandating separation of women and men, with the women’s section being less than half the size of the men’s section, and the government continued to enforce these rules. Authorities continued to prohibit anyone from bringing private Torah scrolls – although the media reported that police issued a special permit to bring private Torah scrolls for a planned act of civil disobedience on November 2 – and to prohibit women from accessing the public Torah scrolls or giving priestly blessings at the site. On June 7, police briefly detained Lesley Sachs, the executive director of the NGO and prayer group Women of the Wall, for questioning on charges of breaching public order after she smuggled a private Torah scroll into the Western Wall Plaza for use in an egalitarian prayer service. The authorities permitted women to pray with tefillin and prayer shawls pursuant to a 2013 Jerusalem District Court ruling stating it was illegal to arrest or fine them for such actions. The police continued to assist Women of the Wall to enter the women’s area of the Western Wall for its monthly service. In April police prevented ultra-Orthodox protesters from disrupting a Passover prayer service, sponsored by Women of the Wall in the women’s section.

The authorities continued to allow use of a platform south of the Mughrabi ramp and adjacent to the Western Wall for religious rituals. The authorities designated the platform for members of the Conservative and Reform movements of Judaism. Non-Orthodox and mixed gender groups also continued to use it for religious ceremonies such as bar and bat mitzvahs. Women of the Wall said the platform, built by the Ministry of Religious Services without the requisite permits, did not constitute a permanent solution for “egalitarian” Jewish prayer (permitting Reform and Conservative or other non-Orthodox Jewish services) at the site.

On January 31, following three years of negotiations, the Cabinet passed an agreement to double the size of the non-Orthodox section immediately south of the main plaza, currently “administered with a pluralistic approach” and used by non-Orthodox Jews for prayer and ceremonies, according to the government. This would have created a single entrance for all worshippers to replace the separate entrance currently used to access the non-Orthodox section. Following condemnations from members of the Knesset from the ultra-Orthodox parties, the government did not implement the agreement, drawing criticism from the Supreme Court in September during its consideration of a related case. After the government did not implement the January agreement, leaders of the Reform and Conservative Jewish movements joined Women of the Wall on November 2 in bringing publicly available Torah scrolls from the men’s prayer area at the Wall to the women’s prayer area. Ultra-Orthodox Jewish protesters and officials of the Western Wall Heritage Foundation tried to prevent physically the Women of the Wall from moving the public Torah scrolls. The police did not make any arrests. Prime Minister Netanyahu criticized the demonstration but said his government continued to work towards a solution. A September poll by The Jerusalem Post Magazine found 61 percent of Jewish Israelis favored establishing an egalitarian prayer plaza at the Western Wall.

The government continued to prohibit Israeli citizens in unofficial capacities from traveling to parts of the West Bank under the civil and security control of the Palestinian Authority (Area A). Jewish leaders said this restriction prevented Jewish Israelis from routinely visiting several Jewish religious sites, although the IDF occasionally provided security escorts for groups to visit some Jewish religious sites.

Although the law included Saudi Arabia as a “hostile” country, religious authorities, including the head of Israel’s sharia court, stated they were not aware of any requirement for a government-issued permit to travel to Saudi Arabia for the Hajj.

Some former mosques, which belonged to a Muslim organization until confiscated by the state in accordance with the Absentee Property Law adopted after the 1948 War of Independence, continued to be used as municipal buildings and entertainment facilities. Muslim community leaders reported Be’er Sheva’s Muslim population of approximately 10,000 had no mosque in which to pray, and the government would neither allow them to use the Ottoman-era mosque, which was converted to a museum of Islamic culture following a 2011 Supreme Court ruling, nor authorize the construction of another mosque.

On December 1, Rabbi Eyal Krim, who previously made controversial comments about women, homosexuals, and Palestinians, became the new IDF Chief Rabbi. The Israeli Supreme Court lifted an injunction preventing his appointment after Rabbi Krim apologized for his previous statements.

After being threatened with a lawsuit, the Histadrut (national labor union) resumed renting a public hall in Petah Tikva to the Jehovah’s Witness community during the year, reversing the Histradut’s decision in 2015 to stop renting to the community on the basis it was conducting “forbidden missionary work.”

While the government provided the funds legally required to cover the operating costs of the two school systems affiliated with the ultra-Orthodox political parties Shas and United Torah Judaism, the government provided lesser amounts to support other private schools classified as “recognized but not official,” including Christian and other ultra-Orthodox school systems. After successive years of budget cuts for the “recognized but not official” category, which the government said was an effort to encourage schools to become public, some ultra-Orthodox schools in this category chose to challenge this funding level in court; as of the end of the year this case remained pending. Officials of the Secretariat of Christian Schools, which represent Christian schools in negotiations with the government over support, said they had only received a quarter of the extra funds promised them by the government after a month-long strike in 2015 for funding equal to that of the two politically affiliated ultra-Orthodox school systems.

Government resources available for religious or heritage studies to Arab and non-Orthodox Jewish public schools remained significantly less than those available to Orthodox Jewish public schools. Public and private Arab schools continued to offer studies in both Islam and Christianity, but state funding for such studies remained proportionately lower than the funding for religious education courses in Orthodox Jewish schools.

Many ultra-Orthodox religious schools continued not to offer a basic humanities, math, and science curriculum, and a group of formerly ultra-Orthodox students who graduated from these schools sued the state in December 2015 for allowing them to graduate without the requisite knowledge to participate in the economy. They said they were denied basic education and left lagging far behind secular Israelis in topics such as science, math, history, English, and geography. In April the government filed a Statement of Defense in this case and a Third Party Complaint against the schools and parents. The case remained pending at year’s end.

The media reported in September that municipal authorities denied at least 50 school girls entry into Haredi schools to which they had been assigned because of their lack of “spiritual suitability.” The government stated that approximately 25 girls were denied entry. Reportedly, the Ministry of Education effectively used its control of the budget to persuade schools to change their policy towards some of these students, but the cases of other students who continued to be unenrolled remained unresolved as of the end of the year. At year’s end, the Ministry of Education was pursuing an administrative appeal in the unresolved cases.

The Custody of the Holy Land, a priory of the Franciscan order, reported local municipalities, such as Tel Aviv, began charging property tax on church property. The government stated only properties that are mainly used for worship and have no business activities were exempt from property tax under the law, while religious organizations were obligated to pay taxes on other property and assets. The government, however, acknowledged that some municipalities which had not previously enforced the collection of taxes had begun to do so.

Authorities continued to enforce rulings by the High Court declaring the segregation of men and women on public streets and sidewalks in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish neighborhood of Mea She’arim in Jerusalem to be illegal. The authorities also enforced the High Court’s ruling against the imposition of gender segregation on buses. Communities could voluntarily self-segregate on public transportation, but could not impose this on others; authorities had to post signs informing passengers they were free by law to sit in any available seat.

The NGO Hiddush reported in May that only 30 percent of local religious councils had at least one female member. In response to a petition from women’s rights organizations regarding the lack of female leadership in the religious establishment, in August the Supreme Court ordered the appointment of a female deputy director-general of the rabbinical courts. As of December 28, no woman had yet been appointed.

The MRS listed 21 Jewish cemeteries with plots for civil burial and 21 dedicated cemeteries for persons the government defined as “lacking religion.” Additionally, 13 cemeteries in 10 agricultural localities were authorized to conduct civil burial for these localities and nearby residents.

The IDF continued to have only Orthodox Jewish chaplains; the government employed civilian non-Jewish clergy as chaplains at military burials when a non-Jewish soldier died in service. The MOI continued to provide imams to conduct military funerals according to Islamic customs.

According to government figures and Hiddush, the 2015 budget for religious services (the latest available) for the Jewish population, including funding for religious councils, salaries for religious personnel, funding for the development of cemeteries, and funding for the construction of synagogues and ritual baths, was approximately 511 million shekels (NIS) ($133 million). Religious minorities, which constituted slightly more than 20 percent of the population, received approximately NIS 65 million ($16.92 million), which included NIS 3.6 million ($937,000) for development of religious sites and structures. In December 2015 the government added additional funds, some of which were rolled over from previous years, for both Jewish communities and religious minorities, increasing the totals to NIS 828 million ($215.57 million) for religious services for Jewish communities; and NIS 121million ($31.5 million) for religious minorities, of which NIS 51.8 million ($13.49 million) was dedicated to development of religious sites and structures. Some Muslims stated there was insufficient state funding for Islamic affairs, including for building and restoring mosques and cemeteries, although the state provided municipalities with religious development budgets and religious institutions with operational support funds.

The government continued to implement policies based on Orthodox Jewish interpretations of religious law. For example, the only in-country marriages the government recognized for Jews were those performed by the Chief Rabbinate, which refused to perform marriages involving citizens without maternal Jewish lineage, because the Chief Rabbinate did not consider them Jewish according to halacha (Jewish law). Likewise, men with ancestry in the Jewish priesthood (cohanim) were not allowed to marry converts or divorcees, in accordance with halacha. The Chief Rabbinate required individuals who qualified to marry to follow a procedure which included sessions with a rabbi and classes for the bride to learn about her duties and responsibilities under halacha.

Those who self-identify but are not recognized by the Chief Rabbinate as Jewish, including Reform and Conservative converts to Judaism and others without Jewish matrilineage, were prohibited from accessing official Jewish marriage, divorce, and burial services in the country, although some Orthodox and non-Orthodox rabbis did officiate at these ceremonies outside of the Rabbinate.

The MRS continued to authorize the civil registration of the marriages performed by some nonrecognized religious communities, such as the evangelical Christian community, but in general the only domestic marriages which had legal standing and could be registered were marriages performed according to the religious statutes of recognized religious communities. Members of other nonrecognized groups could attempt to process their personal status documents, including marriage licenses, through the authorities of one of the recognized religious communities if those authorities agreed. The MRS was in the final stages of drafting a marriage registration procedure for nonrecognized religious groups as of the end of the year. The government allowed civil registration of marriages held outside the country.

According to NGOs working with women of all religious backgrounds, although women could choose between civil and religious courts to adjudicate personal status matters other than marriage or divorce, societal pressures at times prevented Muslim women from adjudicating personal status issues in civil courts.

Although the government continued to exempt Christian and Muslim citizens from compulsory military service, the government continued to encourage Christian citizens to volunteer for military service.

The government continued to approve annual “delays” of conscription to military service for individual Jehovah’s Witnesses upon presentation of documentation of their continued affiliation with their religious community, although without acknowledgment of their right to conscientious objection. Since members of the community have not been technically exempt from military service, they could not participate in the national civil service program as an alternative service.

Official identity cards noted only the name and the birthdate. Religious identification was listed in the National Registry. Other forms, such as some school enrollments, listed “nationality,” e.g. Jewish or Arab. In response to a petition to require the government to issue an official birth document listing both parents’ names, the Supreme Court ruled on June 1 that until the government’s transition to computerized hospital birth notices was complete, the Ministry of Interior should issue birth certificates showing all details listed in the birth notices currently prepared by the hospital, including the father’s name if declared at the time of the birth. Previously the ministry had not recorded the names of fathers it considered non-Jewish in the case of mixed marriages.

The government continued to allow Christians and individuals who spoke Aramaic to register with their national or ethnic group listed as Aramean instead of Arab.

Christian leaders reported visas for clergy to serve in the country became increasingly difficult to obtain, especially for those holding citizenship of an Arab-majority country, but also for clergy from Africa and Europe. The government denied any change regarding visas for clergy, and stated that the government did not receive any such complaints.

Asylum seeker and monk Aba Samrab, the head of the Eritrean Orthodox Church in Tel Aviv, throughout the year appealed his summons to the Holot detention facility as an irregular migrant because his religious vows prevented him from sleeping, eating, or praying among nonmonks. The judge in a municipal court hearing on September 18 recommended the government make special accommodations for him in Holot, but did not cancel the summons. Soon after this ruling, the Interior Ministry used its discretion to grant him an exemption from Holot on humanitarian grounds rather than make the accommodations suggested by the judge.

The MOI continued to rely on the guidance of the Jewish Agency, a nonprofit NGO with strong ties to the government, to determine who qualified to immigrate as a Jew. Prospective immigrants faced questioning about their religious beliefs to determine their qualifications for citizenship. The government continued to deny immigration benefits to individuals based on their religious beliefs, and also denied or delayed family reunification to some citizens based on their religious beliefs. This included cases of individuals who immigrated under the Law of Return as Jews but were discovered to hold Messianic or Christian beliefs.

The government operated a special department in the state attorney’s office for prosecution of “incitement-related” crimes and a police unit based in Jerusalem for the investigation of such crimes in Israel and the West Bank, including “price tag” attacks (violence by Jewish individuals and groups against non-Jewish individuals and property with the stated purpose of exacting a “price” for actions the government had taken against the group committing the violence). The most common offenses, according to police, were attacks on vehicles, defacement of real estate, harm to Islamic and Christian holy sites, assault, and damage to agricultural lands. In July the nationalist crimes unit of the police arrested three Jewish minors on suspicion of burning cars and spray-painting in the Arab village of Yafia one month earlier. According to the police, two of the suspects admitted committing the vandalism as revenge for the June 8 attack by Palestinians at Sarona marketplace in Tel Aviv that left four people dead. Authorities indicted two of the minors for arson, malicious damage due to nationalistic motives, and obstruction of justice, and indicted the third for failure to prevent a crime. The case was ongoing as of the end of the year.

The Church of the Multiplication of Loaves and Fishes on the Sea of Galilee in Tabgha still had not received full compensation from the government under a property tax law for victims of violence committed “on account of national-ethnic affiliation.” The government agreed to pay 3.9 million NIS ($1.02 million) to restore the site. As of the end of the year, the government had transferred 1.5 million NIS ($391,000) and negotiations were ongoing for another 800,000 NIS ($208,000). In June 2015, arsonists burned a large section of the church and defaced the walls of the building with comments denigrating Christians. As of the end of 2016, one of the suspects was under arrest and another was under house arrest until the end of the court proceedings. The investigation of the incident also led to the sentencing of another suspect for two years on charges of sedition (possessing a publication that incites violence or terror, according to the government), but an appeal of the sentence was ongoing at the end of the year.

A Supreme Court ruling in June confirmed the Chief Rabbinate had sole legal authority to issue certificates of kashrut, which certify a restaurant’s adherence to Jewish dietary laws. The Chief Rabbinate did not issue certificates to restaurants that remained open on the Jewish Sabbath or holidays, even if the food was kosher. In addition, some nonkosher restaurants that opened on the Sabbath paid fines that varied according to local laws.

In October the Petah Tikva Magistrate Court issued a restraining order against a Be’er Sheva resident after he allegedly made threatening phone calls to Deputy Defense Minister Eli Ben-Dahan for his work promoting ultra-Orthodox enlistment to the IDF.

In September the government postponed maintenance on the public train system from a Saturday to the workweek because of objections from ultra-Orthodox political parties. The decision led to a disruption in commuter traffic and drew criticism from secular parties and civil society groups. Following this incident, the NGO Be Free Israel stated that the media company holding the contract to place advertisements on public buses refused to place its ads calling for public transportation on the Sabbath, out of fear of offending passengers and vandalism.

In October, top Jewish and Palestinian Muslim religious leaders met with President Reuven Rivlin to promote peace and affirm their opposition to all forms of religiously inspired violence. Participants included Sephardic Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef and Palestinian Supreme Sharia Court judge Sheikh Mahmoud Habbash. President Rivlin also hosted Buddhist, Hindu, and Sikh leaders from India, Japan, China, Burma, and South Korea in September to promote interfaith dialogue.

The government is a member of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Because religion and ethnicity were often closely linked, it was difficult to categorize many incidents as being solely based on religious identity.

On March 8, Palestinian Abed el-Rahman Mahmoud Radad stabbed in the neck an ultra-Orthodox Jewish man who was collecting for charity in Petah Tikvah. The man used Radad’s own knife to kill him as he was attacking others.

On February 4, two 14-year-old girls, Arab citizens of Israel, attacked a security guard in Ramle with knives. The guard suffered slight injuries to his hands and legs. Authorities indicted the girls a week later on charges of attempted murder, conspiracy, and possession of a knife. Police said the attack had nationalistic motives. The case was ongoing as of the end of the year.

On June 8, Palestinian cousins Khaled and Mahmoud Mahamrah opened fire on customers in a popular Tel Aviv marketplace, killing four Israelis. The two gunmen were captured and indicted for murder on July 4 in Tel Aviv District Court. Yunis Aish Musa Zin, from the same West Bank town as the cousins, was indicted on charges of aiding and abetting a terrorist attack. The cases were ongoing as of the end of the year.

On June 30, a Palestinian man stabbed two Israelis in the city of Netanya. One of the wounded was a 40-year-old ultra-Orthodox man and the other was a 62-year-old woman. The attacker, Wa’il Abu Saleh, was shot and killed by an armed civilian.

Religious freedom and democracy monitoring organizations reported continued tension between the ultra-Orthodox community and other Israelis, including concerns related to housing, public transportation, service in the IDF, and participation in the workforce. There continued to be reports of Haredi men spitting at non-Haredi Jews and persons of other faiths, including those wearing Christian clerical clothing. In September the Rabbi of Kiryat Gat was attacked in his home by ultra-Orthodox men reportedly because of his support for military conscription.

In September police closed without charges the investigation into the January 2015 beating of Druze IDF veteran Tommy Hasson by 10 Jewish assailants suspected of being activists from the anti-assimilation group Lehava, reportedly after they overheard him speaking Arabic. Police did not file charges because of insufficient evidence following the loss of investigative files by police. According to the news outlet Ynet, after police arrested several suspects, a judge found the attack was committed with nationalistic motivations. Hasson was subsequently recognized by Israel’s National Insurance Institute as someone who survived “enemy hostilities.”

Also in September, Lehava activists disrupted a performance by the Armenian Church Choir at a mall in Jerusalem. Police removed two of the Lehava protesters when they refused to disperse after reportedly shouting at the choir, “Christians, go to Syria!” and “Jew murderers!”

Jehovah’s Witnesses were subject to multiple incidents of societal violence. For example, Church leaders said that on January 9, two young men attacked two Church members who were preaching in a park. Police closed the investigation because they were unable to identify the perpetrators. On June 16, the neighbor of a man with whom a Jehovah’s Witness member was speaking allegedly threw the Jehovah’s Witness to the floor and beat him. The police notified Church leaders that they closed their investigation into the incident because “the circumstances of the case do not justify continuation of the investigation.”

Panel Politics research institute conducted a survey of 1,000 Jews on May 8 regarding perceived contributions of different groups to Israeli society. The Jews surveyed gave the highest marks to soldiers, Ashkenazim, and secular Jews, and the lowest marks to left-wing political party supporters, ultra-Orthodox, and Muslims.

In March Sephardic Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef said non-Jews should not live in the country if they do not follow seven Noahide laws mandated by Judaism. In December he stated women should not serve in the military or the civilian National Service alternative because it was inconsistent with “the Torah’s way.”

Although many rabbis of all denominations continued to discourage Jewish visits to the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif site, some Orthodox rabbis continued to say entering the site was permissible. Media reported over 11,000 Jews visited the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif from January to October, including more than 3,000 during the period of Jewish holidays in October. Groups such as the Temple Mount Faithful and the Temple Institute continued to call for increased Jewish access and prayer there, as well as the construction of a third Jewish temple on the site. On November 7, for the first time, Member of Knesset Yehuda Glick held the annual Temple Mount conference in the Knesset and announced the creation of a Temple Mount lobby. The northern branch of the Islamic Movement, which the government declared illegal in November 2015, continued to speak of the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif as “under attack.” Individuals affiliated with the group reportedly entered the compound as worshippers to “defend” the Al-Aqsa Mosque from those they perceived as attempting to take control away from Muslims.

The ultra-Orthodox organization Yad L’Achim reportedly continued to pressure Jewish women not to date non-Jewish men and offered Jewish women what it termed “escape” assistance from cohabitation with Arab men, i.e. facilitating the covert departure of women and their children from the homes they shared with their Arab spouses, sometimes by “launching military-like rescues from hostile Arab villages,” according to the organization. Lehava continued to operate a hotline for citizens to inform on Jewish women who were suspected of having romantic relationships with Arab or other non-Jewish men and reportedly made public the names and phone numbers of the men involved to discourage intermarriage.

According to the Religion and State Index published by Hiddush, a local NGO, 66 percent of Israelis surveyed (up 2 percent from 2015) supported recognizing all types of marriage, including civil, Reform, and Conservative. The proportion of Israeli Jews who preferred a non-Orthodox wedding for themselves or their children increased from 37 percent in 2015 to 47 percent. A majority expressed dissatisfaction over the Chief Rabbinate’s monopoly on kashrut certifications and opposed making these certifications conditional upon businesses’ observance of the Sabbath. Eighty-four percent of Israelis surveyed (down 2 percent) supported the general principle of freedom of religion and conscience.

According to media reports, in December 2015, at a conference in Bnei Brak, leading rabbis in the Ashkenazi ultra-Orthodox community issued an order to the principals of ultra-Orthodox institutions not to recognize the degrees of women who study in academic institutions. They also banned ultra-Orthodox women from attending colleges and universities, saying a woman’s higher pay resulting from higher education was “a danger to the entire structure of the household.”

According to NGOs, societal attitudes toward missionary activities and conversion to other religions continued to be negative. Many Jews continued to oppose missionary activity directed at Jews, saying it amounted to religious harassment and reacted with hostility toward Jewish converts to Christianity. Religious groups including the Messianic Jews and Jehovah’s Witnesses continued to proselytize and invited members of the public to participate in peaceful religious observances in public spaces such as parks and public walkways, according to observers. Those perceived as attempting to proselytize Jews faced harassment by the anti-assimilation groups Lehava and Yad L’Achim. In June hundreds of demonstrators organized by Yad L’Achim gathered outside a hall in Rishon Lezion where Jehovah’s Witnesses had scheduled a “Bible lecture,” preventing many participants from entering the premises. Police launched an investigation into the incident but the investigation was closed in August with no charges being filed. Reportedly Yad L’Achim encouraged Jews not to attend a Christian-sponsored sightseeing tour on September 24 that Yad L’Achim activists said was a missionary event. Several Jews did not board the tour buses and reportedly thousands left the final event in Caesarea when Christian preachers began to speak.

A vandal spray-painted black crosses on a synagogue in southern Jerusalem in September and October. Media reported in October that a Jewish resident of Jerusalem was arrested in connection with both incidents. The motive was unknown. Investigations into the two incidents were ongoing as of the end of the year.

On November 24, three weeks after the November 2 protest at the Western Wall, an unknown vandal painted graffiti and death threats against Reform Jewish leaders on a reform synagogue in Ra’anana. Prime Minister Netanyahu quickly condemned the vandalism, as did Minister of Education and Diaspora Affairs Naftali Bennett. In response to the vandalism, Women of the Wall said Orthodox rabbinical leaders had been demonizing and delegitimizing progressive Jewish movements over the past several years, and said Prime Minister Netanyahu remained silent even when those verbal attacks came from within his coalition.

In January vandals knocked over dozens of tombstones at a Christian cemetery west of Jerusalem, and wrote anti-Christian graffiti on the walls and doors of the Dormition Abbey, a Catholic monastery in the Jerusalem area. Government officials, including the prime minister, condemned the vandalism. In February arsonist(s) burned the tomb of military commander Hussam al-Din Abu al-Hija, considered an important figure in Islamic history, but did not write any anti-Muslim graffiti. An unknown person or persons attacked the Church of Transfiguration on Mount Tabor in Israel’s Lower Galilee on October 24. The attacker destroyed the tabernacle, scattered hosts (sacramental bread) on the floor, vandalized statues, and stole the contents of the donation box. The motive of the attack was unknown.

A variety of NGOs continued to try to build understanding and create dialogue among religious groups and between religious and secular Jewish communities, including Neve Shalom-Wahat al-Salam, the Abraham Fund Initiative, Givat Haviva, the Hagar and Hand-in-Hand bilingual schools, Hiddush, the Israeli Religious Action Center of the Reform Movement, Mosaica, and Interfaith Encounters.

On November 17, a group of prominent Israeli and Palestinian religious figures met at a summit in Spain and issued a joint denunciation of religious violence and incitement. Among the participants were Israeli Chief Rabbi David Lau, Sheikh Raed Badir – a leading sharia scholar and member of the Palestinian Ulama Council, Sheikh Imad Falouji, one of the founders of the Izzadin Kassam armed wing of Hamas who now serves as the chairman of the Adam Center for Dialogue of Civilizations in Gaza, Melchite Archbishop George Bakuni; the Latin Bishop of Jerusalem William Shomali; the Lutheran Bishop Munib Younan; and the Greek Orthodox Metropolitan Timotheos Margaritis.

The NGO Tag Meir continued to organize visits to areas where “price tag” attacks occurred and sponsored activities to promote tolerance in response to the attacks.

Israel and The Occupied Territories – The Occupied Territories

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The inhabitants of the different portions of the Occupied Territories are subject to the jurisdiction of different authorities. Israelis living in East Jerusalem fall under Israel’s civil and criminal law system (the Israeli government formally annexed East Jerusalem in 1980, although no other government, including the United States, has recognized this annexation). Palestinian residents (not holding Israeli citizenship) of Jerusalem are also subject to Israeli civil and criminal law. Israelis living in West Bank settlements are nominally subject to military law but Israeli authorities apply Israeli civil and criminal law to them. Palestinians living in the portion of the West Bank designated as Area C in the Oslo II Accord fall under Israel’s military legal system for criminal and security issues as well as civil issues, while Palestinians who live in Area B fall under PA civil law and Israeli military law for criminal and security issues. Although per the Oslo II Accord, only PA civil and security law applies to Palestinians living in Area A of the West Bank, Israel applies Israeli military law whenever its military enters Area A. The Gaza Strip officially comes under the jurisdiction of an interim PA government, although Hamas exercises de facto authority over it.

An interim Basic Law applies in the areas under PA jurisdiction. The Basic Law states Islam is the official religion, but calls for respect of “all other divine religions.” It provides for freedom of belief, worship, and the performance of religious rites unless they violate public order or morality. The Basic Law also proscribes discrimination based on religion and stipulates all citizens are equal before the law. The Basic Law states the principles of sharia shall be the main source of legislation.

There is no specified process by which religious organizations gain official recognition; each religious group must negotiate its own bilateral relationship with the PA. Nineteenth century status quo arrangements reached with the Ottoman authorities, which are observed by the PA, recognize the presence and rights of the Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Armenian Orthodox, Assyrian, Coptic, Ethiopian Orthodox, Greek Catholic, and Syrian Orthodox Churches. Later agreements with the PA recognized the rights of the Episcopal (Anglican) and Evangelical Lutheran Churches. Legally recognized religious groups are empowered to adjudicate personal status matters. They may establish ecclesiastical courts to issue legally binding rulings on personal status and some property matters for members of their religious communities.

Churches not officially recognized, but with unwritten understandings with the PA based on the basic principles of the status quo agreements, including the Assemblies of God, the Nazarene Church, and some Baptist churches, may operate freely and some may perform some official functions such as issuing marriage licenses. Churches not recognized by the PA generally must obtain special one-time permission from the PA to perform marriages or adjudicate personal status matters if these groups want the ceremonies to be recognized by and registered with the PA. These churches may not proselytize. There are a small number of churches which became active within the last decade and whose legal status remains uncertain.

By law, Islamic institutions and places of worship receive financial support from the government.

Religious education is part of the curriculum for students in grades one through six in public schools the PA operates. There are separate courses on religion for Muslims and Christians. Students may choose which class to take but may not opt out of religious courses. Recognized churches operate private schools which include religious instruction in the West Bank. Private Islamic schools also operated in the West Bank. Churches also operate “recognized but unofficial” (a form of semiprivate) schools in East Jerusalem, and the Jerusalem Islamic Waqf operates private schools in East Jerusalem; both include religious instruction.

Islamic or Christian religious courts handle legal matters relating to personal status, including inheritance, marriage, dowry, divorce, and child support. For Muslims, sharia determines personal status law, while various ecclesiastical courts rule on personal status matters for Christians. Legally, members of one religious group may submit a personal status dispute to a different religious group for adjudication if the disputants agree it is appropriate to do so.

Six seats in the 132-member Palestinian Legislative Council (which has not met since 2007) are reserved for Christians; there are no seats reserved for members of any other religious group. In August the PA renewed a decree mandating a majority-Christian quota for city councils and a Christian mayor in eight West Bank municipalities because these cities are historically Christian areas.

Government Practices

Violence between Palestinians and Israeli security forces in Israel, Jerusalem, Gaza, and the West Bank continued. During the year 91 Palestinians and 8 Israelis were killed in attacks outside the Green Line in Jerusalem, Gaza, and the West Bank. Because religion and ethnicity or nationality are often closely linked, it was difficult to categorize much of this violence as being solely based on religious identity.

Visits by Jewish Temple Mount activists facilitated by Israeli authorities to the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount increased to record levels during the Jewish holidays and Israeli national holidays. In April, June, and August there were incidents of violence at the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif compound, usually after Muslim visitors or Waqf guards (a Jordanian government body entrusted with the care of Muslim sites in Jerusalem) said they observed Jewish visitors who were praying on the site. In a break from past practices, Israeli authorities that facilitated these visits also permitted non-Muslim visits to the site during some of the last 10 days of Ramadan. Israeli police, citing security concerns, restricted broad Muslim access at the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount on two days, compared to 27 days in 2015. The Waqf continued to restrict non-Muslims who visited the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif from entering the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa Mosque. In addition, travel restrictions, such as limits on travel between the West Bank and Jerusalem for Jewish holidays, as well as further construction of the Israeli separation barrier, impeded the ability of Muslims to enter Jerusalem and Christian clergy to reach churches to conduct services. The authorities permitted both Muslims and Christians to pray at the Western Wall, although Israeli security restrictions limited the access of Palestinians to the Western Wall Plaza.

Jewish worshippers at the Western Wall were separated by gender. The Israeli government did not implement a cabinet agreement reached in January – reflecting initial compromise arrangements between Reform and Conservative and women’s Jewish groups, some Orthodox Jewish women’s groups, and the Rabbi of the Western Wall – to establish a Reform, Conservative, and mixed gender prayer platform south of the women’s section of the Western Wall. The Israeli government and the PA sometimes prevented Jewish Israelis from visiting Jewish religious sites in PA-controlled territory in the West Bank for security reasons.

Religiously intolerant material continued to appear in official PA media. Israeli and PA officials condemned “price-tag” attacks and vandalism, but prosecutions were rarely successful, according to local human rights groups.

Israeli forces killed 91 Palestinians in the West Bank and Jerusalem, including some who killed or were reportedly attempting to kill or attack Israelis. Palestinian groups and unaffiliated individuals carried out attacks in the West Bank and Jerusalem that resulted in the deaths of eight Israelis, including five civilians and three Israeli security forces officers. For example on July 1, a Palestinian shot and killed 48-year-old Israeli Michael Mark and injured his wife and two children near the West Bank settlement of Otniel. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) fatally shot the suspected attacker, 29-year-old Muhammad Jbarah Ahmad al-Faqih, during a clash in the West Bank town of Surif on July 27.

In some cases the Palestinians killed reportedly did not pose a threat to life at the time they were shot, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) published reports saying that Israeli security forces committed unlawful killings. For example, on March 24, IDF soldier Elor Azaria fatally shot 20-year-old Abed al-Fatah al-Sharif after he stabbed and injured a soldier in the Tel Rumeida neighborhood of Hebron. Human rights groups reported that eyewitness video footage indicated Azaria shot al-Sharif in the head after he lay injured and incapacitated on the ground. As of December, Azaria remained on trial for manslaughter. On June 20, Israeli security forces opened fire at a car of Palestinian teenagers, killing 15- year-old Mahmoud Badran and wounding four others. The IDF initially announced that the security forces had “targeted terrorists” during a search operation in the area for Palestinian suspects who had reportedly thrown rocks and Molotov cocktails at Israeli vehicles on a nearby highway. The IDF later revised its account to say that “uninvolved bystanders were mistakenly hit during the pursuit.” The IDF’s Military Police Investigative Unit launched an investigation, which remained open as of December.

In January the Israel Central District Attorney’s Office indicted two Jewish suspects in the July 2015 “price tag” arson attack on a Palestinian home in the West Bank village of Douma, which killed a toddler and his parents and severely injured his four-year-old brother. The perpetrators also spray-painted “Revenge!” and a Star of David on the wall of the home. The trial continued throughout the year without any convictions being handed down.

On May 4, a Jerusalem court sentenced the last of three Jewish suspects in the 2014 kidnapping and killing of 16-year old Muhammad Abu Khdeir to life imprisonment plus 20 years.

There were isolated incidents of violence during visits to the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount by Jewish Temple Mount activists. The visits were facilitated by Israeli authorities. On April 26, Israeli police clashed with guards employed by the Waqf, resulting in injuries to the guards, after three Jewish Temple Mount activists lay on the ground and began to pray during their tour of the site. The Waqf director and an Israeli police commander intervened to calm the situation. Beginning June 26, in a break from past practices, Israeli authorities permitted non-Muslim visits to the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount during some of the last 10 days of Ramadan. During and following these visits, violent confrontations broke out between small numbers of stone-throwing Muslim youth and Israeli police, who responded with stun grenades and batons, leading to injuries on both sides. Separately, on August 14, during the visit of a then-record number of Jewish Temple Mount activists (403, compared to 326 in 2015) for the Jewish holiday of Tisha B’Av – commemorating the destruction of the Jewish temples – police using batons injured three Muslim worshippers after they sought to confront seven Jewish activists who prayed or tore their clothing in traditional mourning for the temple.

Palestinians reportedly threw stones and clashed with IDF escorts during visits of Jewish groups to Joseph’s Tomb in Nablus on several days during the year. The IDF used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse Palestinian protesters, to secure the site, and/or to evacuate Jewish worshippers.

The PA continued to implement its policy of providing imams with themes they were required to use in weekly Friday sermons in West Bank mosques and prohibited them from broadcasting Quranic recitations from minarets prior to the call to prayer.

Nonrecognized churches such as Jehovah’s Witnesses and some evangelical Christian groups, which faced a ban on their normal practice of proselytization, reported they were able to conduct most other operations unhindered by the PA. The PA, however, continued to refuse to recognize personal status legal documents issued by some of these nonrecognized groups, which the groups said made it difficult for them to register newborn children under their fathers’ names or as children of married couples. For example, Jehovah’s Witnesses representatives reported that the PA issued birth certificates for their members but would not issue marriage licenses, resulting in children born to these couples listed as having been born out of wedlock, which also complicated inheritance claims. Many nonrecognized churches advised members with dual citizenship to marry or divorce abroad in order to register the action officially in the second country.

The Israeli government continued to control access by Muslims and Jews to the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount. Although the Waqf continued to administer some aspects of the site, the Israeli government restricted the Waqf’s ability to control visitors’ access. In accordance with status quo arrangements with the Waqf, the Israeli government continued to prevent non-Muslim worship and prayer at the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount, but also imposed access restrictions on Muslim worshippers in what the Waqf said was a breach of the status quo, including temporary blanket age restrictions on two days during the year. The Israeli National Police (INP) continued to be responsible for security at the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount, with police officers stationed both inside the site and outside each entrance. Israeli police conducted routine patrols on the outdoor plaza and regulated pedestrian traffic in and out of the site.

Waqf officials repeated previous years’ complaints over what they said were violations by Israeli police of the status quo arrangements regarding control of access to the site, saying Israeli police did not coordinate with the Waqf on decisions to allow non-Muslim visitors onto the site or to restrict access to broad categories of Muslim worshippers or to individual Palestinians whom police suspected could disrupt the non-Muslim visits. For example, during the Tisha B’Av holiday on August 14, Israeli police imposed broad access restrictions, for the first time since October 2015, barring Muslim visitors under 50 from entering the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount during that morning’s Jewish activists’ tours. On December 12, Israeli police unilaterally extended the daily visiting hours for non-Muslims at the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount by as much as one hour, which the Waqf also said was a breach of the status quo. Waqf employees remained stationed inside each gate and on the plaza but Waqf officials said they were able to exercise only a reduced oversight role. They reportedly could object to the presence of particular persons, such as individuals dressed immodestly or causing disturbances, but lacked the authority to remove such persons from the site. Waqf officials reported the Israeli police on occasion briefly detained Waqf guards or expelled them from the site and from the vicinity of visiting Jewish activist groups. Israeli police also arrested Waqf maintenance employees conducting renovation work inside the Dome of the Rock for failing to conduct the work under the supervision of the Israel Antiquities Authority (whose authority on the site the Waqf does not recognize). Police released the employees several days later. Police also prevented the Waqf from carrying out routine repairs, such as to leaking water pipes, as well as 20 major renovation projects, and refused to permit the entry of most maintenance equipment onto the site, according to the Waqf. Police citing security concerns prohibited delivery of iftar meals to the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount during several days of Ramadan. Waqf officials said that the Israel police’s regular use of a small electric patrol vehicle, which struck and injured a Waqf guard, on the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount – beginning during Ramadan and continuing throughout the year – was unprecedented and another violation of the status quo.

Israeli authorities in some instances barred specific individuals from the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount site, including Jewish activists believed to have violated rules against non-Muslim prayer, Muslims believed to have acted violently against non-Muslim visitors to the site, and public figures whose presence authorities feared would inflame tensions. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu continued to instruct police to bar sitting government ministers and members of Knesset from visiting the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount, saying it would help calm tensions at the site. Some Jewish as well as Arab Muslim members of Knesset condemned their inclusion in the ban. Israeli police continued to enforce “black lists” barring at least 50 Muslim men and women they accused of verbally harassing Jewish visitors to the site. Israeli police said some of these banned Muslim worshippers had objected vocally to what they perceived as attempts by Jewish Temple Mount activists to break the injunction against non-Muslim prayer on the site.

According to media reports, the Israeli government permitted approximately 100-200 Gazans over the age of 60, as well as UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) staff in Gaza, to transit the Erez crossing to Jerusalem for weekly Friday prayers at the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount for most weeks throughout the year. On December 6, Israeli authorities cancelled most of these permits indefinitely, saying some of those receiving permits did not return through Erez the same day; the Israeli government continued to permit UNRWA staff to transit Erez for Friday prayers in Jerusalem.

Muslim officials, including representatives of the Waqf, continued to object to Israeli restrictions on access to the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount for Muslim worshippers, and they opposed calls from some Israeli groups to divide visiting hours between Muslims and non-Muslims and to allow non-Muslim prayer there.

The Waqf continued to restrict non-Muslims who visited the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount from entering the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa Mosque – a practice it started in 2003 when Israel ended coordination with the Waqf over non-Muslim visits. The Waqf also lodged objections with Israeli police over non-Muslim visitors wearing religious symbols or religious clothing, such as Jewish prayer shawls, on the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount. The INP sometimes acted upon these objections and/or enforced the restrictions of its own accord.

Israeli police continued to screen non-Muslims for religious paraphernalia, and prohibited them from praying publicly on the site. Israeli police continued to have exclusive control of the Mughrabi Gate entrance – the only entrance through which non-Muslims could enter the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount – and allowed visitors through the gate during set visiting hours, although the police sometimes restricted this access due to what they stated were security concerns. For example, Israeli police continued to enforce a six-month restraining order issued in November 2015 that prohibited a leader of a Jewish Temple Mount activist group, Return to the Mount, from entering the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount after the group publicly advocated Jewish prayer during visits to the site and offered monetary rewards to activists who were arrested for praying on the site. Israeli police maintained checkpoints outside other gates to the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount, preventing non-Muslims from entering these other areas, but did not coordinate with Waqf guards inside.

Despite the Israeli government’s policy prohibiting non-Muslim worship at the site, some Jewish groups escorted by Israeli police at the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount performed religious acts such as prayers and prostration. Incidents of attempted Jewish prayer at the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount increased from previous years, according to local NGOs, media, and Jewish Temple Mount movement groups, and occurred on a near-weekly basis. During Jewish holidays, such as Passover, Tisha B’Av, and Sukkot, tens of Jewish Temple Mount activists engaged in prayer on the site. In most cases, Israeli police acted to prevent them from praying and removed them, but in other cases, some of which were documented on social media in photos and videos, the police appeared not to notice the acts of prayer. Some Jewish Temple Mount activists toured the site in bare feet, consistent with their interpretation of Jewish tradition at the temple, to which the Waqf raised objections. Israeli authorities sometimes barred individual Jewish Temple Mount activists who had repeatedly violated rules against non-Muslim prayer on the site, including Temple Mount movement leaders.

Some government coalition Knesset members and Israeli NGOs, such as the Temple Institute and Temple Mount Faithful, continued to call on the Israeli government to implement a temporal division at the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount to set aside certain days or hours for Jewish access and/or worship, similar to the arrangement used at the Ibrahimi Mosque/Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron. Several coalition Knesset members and government ministers in November publicly criticized the status quo arrangements at the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount as restricting Jewish rights there, and called for the Israeli authorities to end the ban on Knesset members’ and government ministers’ visits and/or the ban on non-Muslim prayer.

The Israeli government continued to permit both Muslims and Christians to pray at the Western Wall, the place of worship nearest the holiest site in Judaism, although Israeli police frequently limited access to Palestinians to the Western Wall Plaza for what they stated were security reasons. The Rabbi of the Western Wall continued to set the guidelines for religious observance mandating the separation of women and men, which the Israeli government continued to enforce. Men and women at the Western Wall had to use separate areas to visit and pray, with the women’s section being less than half the size of the men’s section. The Jewish authorities continued to prevent women from accessing the public Torah scrolls at the site for use in the women’s section (both men and women were barred from bringing outside Torah scrolls into the Plaza) and giving the priestly blessing. They continued, however, to allow both men and women to practice their religious rituals as desired on a temporary mixed gender platform located south of the Mughrabi ramp and adjacent to the Western Wall. The Israeli government designated the platform for members of the Conservative and Reform movements of Judaism and in January approved a plan to establish a permanent, expanded prayer platform for these groups there. Non-Orthodox and mixed gender groups continued to use the temporary platform for religious ceremonies such as bar and bat mitzvahs. This accommodation of the desire for “egalitarian” Jewish prayer (permitting Reform, Conservative, and/or mixed gender prayer) remained a subject of debate in the Jewish community throughout the year. Ultra-orthodox Jewish leaders including the Rabbi of the Western Wall and some members of Knesset continued to oppose egalitarian prayer spaces at the traditional Western Wall Plaza, as well as the establishment of a different permanent egalitarian prayer area, and the government did not implement the January cabinet agreement. Activist groups such as Women of the Wall, an NGO and prayer group, supported the plan to establish a permanent mixed gender prayer space, but Women of the Wall and other Jewish women’s groups also continued to assert their demands to conduct Jewish prayer services, including the use of Torah scrolls and the priestly blessing, at the traditional Western Wall site.

The Israeli police continued to assist Women of the Wall to enter the women’s area of the Western Wall for its monthly service, but sometimes enforced Jewish authorities’ prevailing guidelines for religious observance there as well. In April police prevented ultra-Orthodox protesters from disrupting a Passover prayer service sponsored by Women of the Wall in the women’s section. On June 7, police briefly detained the executive director of Women of the Wall for questioning on charges of breaching public order after she smuggled a private Torah scroll into the Western Wall Plaza for use in an egalitarian prayer service. On November 2, ultra-Orthodox Jewish protesters and officials of the Western Wall Heritage Foundation tried to physically prevent the Women of the Wall from bringing Torah scrolls into the women’s section for prayers. Following the clashes, Israeli police and border guards separated Women of the Wall activists, along with Reform and Conservative Jewish leaders, from the protesters. The police did not make any arrests.

The Israeli police continued to put up security checkpoints in the Old City during major religious holidays, including the Orthodox Easter holiday, which Christian leaders said reduced the ability of congregants and clergy to enter the Church of the Holy Sepulcher to participate in religious services. Israeli police agreed to increase the number of Christian pilgrims permitted through security checkpoints in the Old City during these holidays, but church officials reported there was no improvement in coordination between police and Christian leaders to deal with the resulting increase in pedestrian traffic to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. During busy periods the Israeli police site commander continued to provide security and facilitate access to the church and managed tensions between followers of different streams of Christianity at the site, according to some Christian leaders. Other Christian leaders said police used excessive force in their efforts to regulate crowds in the Old City during the Easter events.

The Israeli government imposed increased movement restrictions on Palestinians in the West Bank, October 2-4 for the Rosh Hashanah holiday, October 11-12 for the Yom Kippur holiday, and October 16-24 for the Sukkot and Simchat Torah holidays. As in previous such closures, during these periods authorities prohibited Palestinian West Bank residents including those who held Israeli-issued access permits, from entering Jerusalem or Israel, except those working for international organizations or in a humanitarian capacity.

The Israeli government again announced it had increased the number of permits for Palestinians from the West Bank to access Jerusalem for religious holidays, such as during Christmas season, from December to January, and for Ramadan, June 5-July 5, but Palestinian Muslim and Christian leaders said the Israeli government prevented many of these permits from being used in practice. For example, they stated Israel had granted permits to some but not all members of the same immediate family thereby discouraging families not wishing to be separated from children or others from traveling. The Israeli government provided fewer special permits than in 2015 to West Bank Muslims during Ramadan for access to the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount or to Jerusalem for family unification visits. Israeli authorities also revoked at least 83,000 travel permits for West Bank Palestinians during Ramadan following a Palestinian terror attack in Tel Aviv, in which the two perpetrators shot and killed four Israelis.

The Israeli government continued to prohibit Israeli citizens in unofficial capacities from traveling to the parts of the West Bank under the civil and security control of the PA (Area A). While these restrictions in general prevented Jewish Israelis from visiting several Jewish religious sites, the IDF provided special security escorts for Jews to visit religious sites in Area A of the West Bank, particularly Joseph’s Tomb in Nablus – a site of religious significance to Jews, Christians, and Muslims. Some Jewish religious leaders said this policy prevented Jewish Israelis from freely visiting several Jewish religious sites in the West Bank, such as Joseph’s Tomb, because they were denied the opportunity to visit the site on unscheduled occasions or in larger numbers than may be permitted through IDF coordination. IDF officials said that requirements to coordinate Jewish visits to Joseph’s Tomb were needed to ensure Jewish Israelis’ safety. For example, the IDF escorted buses carrying hundreds of Jewish Israelis for overnight visits to Joseph’s Tomb on October 9 and 19. The IDF clashed with Palestinian protesters from the nearby Balata refugee camp during these and other visits. On November 8, PA police briefly detained four Jewish Israelis for attempting to visit Joseph’s Tomb without coordinating with Israeli or Palestinian authorities. The PA police transferred the four Israelis to IDF custody.

According to local Palestinian political leaders and the local press, Israeli authorities continued to prevent most Palestinians from accessing Rachel’s Tomb, a Bethlehem shrine of religious significance to Jews, Christians, and Muslims and under Israeli jurisdiction in Area C, but continued to allow relatively unimpeded access to Jewish visitors. Israeli police closed the site to all visitors on Saturdays, for the Sabbath (Shabbat). Police forcibly dispersed dozens of ultra-Orthodox Jewish protesters who tried to visit the Tomb on the night of November 11 during the Sabbath and arrested two of the Jewish protesters who threw rocks, smashing a Palestinian driver’s windshield.

The IDF continued to limit access to the Ibrahimi Mosque/Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron, another site of significance to Jews, Christians, and Muslims as the tomb of Abraham. Muslim leaders continued to oppose publicly, in statements to local media, the IDF’s control of access, citing Oslo-era agreements which gave Israel and the PA shared responsibility for the site. The IDF again restricted Muslim access on 10 days corresponding to Jewish holidays and Jewish access on 10 days corresponding to Muslim holidays. The IDF restricted Muslims to one entry point with IDF security screening. The IDF granted Jews access to several entry points without security screening. The IDF also periodically closed roads approaching the site, and since 2001 has permanently closed Shuhada Street to Palestinian pedestrians, citing security concerns. Both Muslims and Jews were able to pray at the site simultaneously but in separate physical spaces. Israeli authorities continued to implement frequent bans on the Muslim call to prayer from the Ibrahimi Mosque, saying it disturbed the Jewish settlers in the surrounding areas or posed a security concern.

Israeli authorities blocked all of the access roads to the Palestinian village of Nabi Samwil, north of Jerusalem, June 4 to 6 to facilitate the visit of hundreds of ultra-Orthodox Jewish Israelis to the nearby Tomb of Samuel, which is also of religious significance to Jews, Christians, and Muslims and is collocated inside a mosque. Palestinian residents were prevented from leaving the village or receiving outside visitors during this period. Local NGOs reported this was the first year in which the Palestinian village was forcibly closed during the annual Jewish pilgrimage festival.

Israeli authorities threatened and in some cases attempted to enforce restrictions on the volume level of the call to prayer from some mosques in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. On November 3, a spokesperson for the Jerusalem Municipality said the municipality was developing a plan in collaboration with Israeli police to issue and enforce noise regulations for the call to prayer from mosques in East Jerusalem. The spokesperson said the plan would respect freedom of worship while allowing “reasonable quiet” for Jerusalem residents. The PA and other Palestinian officials condemned the plan. On November 4, Israeli security forces raided the Palestinian West Bank (Area B) town of Abu Dis, just east of Jerusalem, and instructed three mosques to stop broadcasting the call to prayer using electronic loudspeakers, according to the head of the local town council.

The Israeli government continued building the separation barrier, particularly south of Jerusalem in the West Bank. Religious organizations providing education, health care, and other humanitarian relief and social services to Palestinians in and around East Jerusalem stated the barrier impeded their work. Clergy members stated the barrier and additional checkpoints impeded their movements between Jerusalem and West Bank churches and monasteries, as well as the movement of congregants between their homes and places of worship. For example, Christian leaders said the separation barrier hindered Bethlehem-area Christians from reaching the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem. They also said it made visits to Christian sites in Bethlehem difficult for Palestinian Christians who lived on the west side of the barrier. Foreign pilgrims and religious aid workers also reported difficulty or delays accessing Christian religious sites in the West Bank because of the barrier.

The Israeli Ministry of Defense (MOD) in June completed construction of what the MOD and Israel High Court stated they considered a temporary segment of the separation barrier south of Jerusalem, near the Cremisan Valley convent of Salesian nuns and their school containing approximately 170 Muslim and Christian Palestinian students. Despite appeals from the convent and affected landowners, the Israeli High Court of Justice issued a ruling in January permitting the MOD to continue construction of the barrier in the area as a temporary measure, on the condition that the MOD leave a 225-meter (738-foot) gap near the convent, include an agricultural access gate for residents separated from their land, and afford these communities the opportunity to approve or appeal the final route of the barrier when it is submitted by the MOD. According to the convent leadership, local Christian advocacy NGOs, and Jerusalem-based church leaders, the completed (temporary) barrier impeded access to the convent and school from the Palestinian communities in nearby Beit Jala. These groups also said the gate would not provide area residents reliable access to privately-owned agricultural lands.

Israel’s Nature and Parks Authority demolished 12 gravestones on two different occasions in July and November in the Muslim Bab al-Rahmeh cemetery, adjacent to the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount. Israeli officials said the gravestones lay in an expanded area of the cemetery that Israel considers a national park, where private construction is prohibited. Palestinian officials and Muslim religious leaders condemned the destruction and said all graves lie within the documented historical borders of the cemetery. On December 12, Israeli police intervened to prevent the burial of a Palestinian woman in a section of the cemetery Israeli authorities considered to be part of the zoned national parkland, and briefly detained two family members.

Jerusalem municipal regulations specified that city budget requests for the construction of new houses of worship in Jerusalem must be used for the establishment of synagogues, and as written provided no funding to support construction of new churches or mosques in the city, according to a city council representative and local media.

The PA Ministry of Waqf (religious endowments) and Religious Affairs continued to pay for the construction of new mosques, the maintenance of approximately 1,800 existing mosques, and the salaries of most Palestinian imams in the West Bank. The ministry also continued to provide limited financial support to some Christian clergy and Christian charitable organizations.

Authorities continued to enforce rulings by Israel’s High Court declaring the segregation of men and women on public streets and sidewalks in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish neighborhood of Mea She’arim in Jerusalem to be illegal.

Although the PA removed the religious affiliation category from Palestinian identity cards in 2014, older identity cards continued to circulate, listing the holder as either Muslim or Christian per requirements existing before 2014.

There continued to be instances in which official PA media carried religiously intolerant and anti-Semitic material. In January PA television aired a documentary stating European countries sought to expel Jews and support a Jewish homeland in Israel because these countries suffered from European Jews’ “schemes, character traits, monopolies, and corruption.” After Morad Bader Abdullah Adais, a Palestinian teenager, was sentenced on November 2 to life imprisonment for killing Otniel settlement resident Dafna Meir, the media reported that, according to his January 14 indictment, Adais had confessed to being motivated by anti-Semitic incitement on “Palestinian media.”

PA President Abbas, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, and the Council of Religious Institutions of the Holy Land (CRIHL) – a group bringing together the Chief Rabbinate of Israel, the heads of churches in Jerusalem, and the chief judge of the PA sharia courts – continued to condemn “price tag” attacks. The Israeli government continued to designate “price tag” perpetrators as members of “illicit organizations,” and an Israeli police unit specialized in investigating “price tag” attacks and other attacks on places of worship. Israeli police and the IDF reported investigating all known instances of religiously motivated attacks and making arrests where possible, although NGOs, religious institutions, and the media continued to state that those arrests rarely led to successful prosecutions. Many “price tag” attacks reportedly continued to go unprosecuted. For example, in March and July, residents of the Palestinian village of Douma, south of Nablus, reported that suspected Jewish settlers set fire to two homes of members of the extended family which was targeted in the deadly arson attack in July 2015. Israeli authorities did not identify any suspects for the March and July arson attacks.

The CRIHL issued statements condemning “price tag” attacks including desecration of religious sites, such as the arson of the outpost synagogue in Givat Sorek, but did not meet in full during the year.

Observers of archaeological practices in Jerusalem and the West Bank continued to state the Israel Antiquities Authority, an Israeli government entity, exploited archaeological finds bolstering Jewish claims, while overlooking other historically significant archaeological finds of other religions or the needs of Palestinian residents at these sites. Israeli NGO Emek Shaveh said the development of an archaeological site near the West Bank settlement of Shiloh associated with the Tabernacle and the Ark of the Covenant displaced Palestinians who lived within the site. An Israeli State Comptroller report in April said the Israel Antiquities Authority had authorized Elad, a private Israeli settler group, to conduct an archaeological dig in the East Jerusalem Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan, near the Israeli “City of David” tourist center, which NGOs said improperly excavated layers of Muslim Mamluk, Byzantine Christian, and Roman ruins to expose building remains dating to the period of the Second Jewish Temple. The Western Wall Heritage Foundation continued to promote ongoing archaeological excavations north and west of the Western Wall Plaza, including in tunnels underneath the Old City’s Muslim Quarter, which the Waqf stated were altering the religious landscape of the area around the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount. In December Emek Shaveh, an Israeli archaeological NGO in Jerusalem, petitioned the Israeli High Court to nullify the Israel Ministry of Religious Services’ declaration of the Western Wall tunnels as an exclusively Jewish holy site. The NGO said the excavations also unearthed a Christian chapel, Muslim school, and Muslim Mamluk-era buildings.

The Israeli government retained its previous regulations regarding visa issuance for foreigners to work in Jerusalem and the West Bank, which Christian institutions said impeded their work by preventing many foreign clergy from entering and working. Christian advocates from multiple denominations continued to express concerns about the difficulty of obtaining visas for clergy. The Israeli government continued to limit Arab Christian clergy serving in the West Bank or Jerusalem to single entry visas, which local parish leaders in the West Bank said complicated needed travel to other areas under their pastoral authority outside the West Bank or Jerusalem, such as Jordan. Clergy, nuns, and other religious workers from Arab countries said they continued to face long delays before they received visas, and reported periodic denials of their visa applications. The Israeli government stated visa delays or denials were due to security processing. Officials from multiple churches expressed concerns that non-Arab visa applicants and visa renewal applicants also faced long delays.

According to some church officials, Israel continued to prohibit some Arab Christian clergy from entering Gaza, including bishops and other senior clergy seeking to visit congregations or ministries under their pastoral authority. Israel facilitated visits by clergy including bishops from non-Arab countries to Gaza on multiple occasions, such as delegations from Europe, North America, and South Africa in January and November.

According to church leaders and lay Palestinians, a combination of factors continued to provide the impetus for increased Christian emigration from Jerusalem and the West Bank, including the limited ability of Christian communities in the Jerusalem area to expand due to building restrictions maintained by the municipality in Jerusalem or Israeli authorities in Area C; the difficulties Christian clergy experienced in obtaining Israeli visas and residency permits; Israeli government family reunification restrictions; taxation problems; and economic hardship created by Israeli-imposed travel restrictions.

Abuses by Foreign Forces and Nonstate Actors

Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and other militant and terrorist groups were active in Gaza.

In Gaza, there continued to be instances where Hamas “morality police” or internal security officers punished men and women with fines for infractions such as dressing “inappropriately,” (e.g., wearing Western-style or close-fitting clothing, such as jeans or T-shirts, or not wearing a head covering) in public areas, although according to media and local NGOs, enforcement was inconsistent.

Christian groups reported Hamas tended to tolerate the small Christian presence in Gaza and did not force Christians to abide by Islamic law. Israeli military operations in 2014 damaged many Christian buildings and destroyed Christian homes, leaving them concerned about their continued ability to live there. In April Palestinian Christians accused Hamas authorities in Gaza of failing to prevent damage to the remains of a Byzantine church unearthed during excavations for the construction of a shopping mall in Gaza city.

In April an imam affiliated with the Gaza Ministry of Awqaf and Religious Affairs led schoolchildren in a compulsory mass repentance event that Palestinian political groups criticized as traumatizing and harmful to the children and an attempt to forcibly indoctrinate them in a conservative interpretation of Islam.

Some Muslim students continued to attend schools run by Christian institutions or NGOs in Gaza.

According to media accounts, Hamas’ de facto control of Gaza continued to prevent the PA from investigating and prosecuting Gaza-based cases of religious discrimination, including reported anti-Christian bias in private sector hiring and in police investigations of anti-Christian harassment.

Militant and terrorist groups, including Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, frequently issued anti-Semitic statements. In November a Hamas official appearing on Al Jazeera television said the most important thing in Judaism was money and accused Jewish Americans of buying off U.S. presidents. Hamas-run media continued to broadcast anti-Semitic programming including encouraging violence against Jews. For example, in April Hamas-affiliated Al-Aqsa television aired an interview with a Palestinian economist who claimed that “global Jewish hegemony” caused the 2008 global financial crisis. In August Al-Aqsa television broadcast a sermon from a Hamas legislator calling the Jewish people “the vilest nation in history.”

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

In addition to the wave of societal/nationalist violence, there were other incidents of violence including deadly violence which perpetrators said was justified at least partly on religious grounds. Actions included killings, physical and verbal attacks on worshipers and clergy, and vandalism against religious sites. There was also harassment by members of one religious group against another, social pressure to stay within one’s religious group, and anti-Semitic media items.

On June 30, a Palestinian teenager stabbed to death 13-year-old Israeli American dual citizen Hallel Ariel in her home in the West Bank settlement of Kiryat Arba. The attacker, 16-year-old Muhammad Naser Mahmoud Tarayrah, also stabbed and wounded a private settlement security guard before the guard shot and killed him.

On November 10, unknown gunmen in Gaza killed Mithqal al-Salmi, a local activist, who was known to support Shia Islam. Hamas-run police had previously arrested al-Salmi in February for posting pro-Iran and Hezbollah stories and casting doubt about Sunni scholars on Facebook. Hamas police in Gaza announced they were investigating the shooting.

Palestinian youths threw stones and Molotov cocktails and committed other acts of violence against Jewish visitors to Joseph’s Tomb in Nablus. For example, on August 23, rock-throwing local Palestinians attacked Jewish groups visiting Joseph’s Tomb without a security escort, according to local press, resulting in injuries to two of the Jewish Israelis, before the IDF intervened to disperse the Palestinian suspects.

Suspected Jewish militants carried out “price tag” attacks against Christian and Muslim religious properties, including assaults on Christian clergy and vandalism and anti-Christian graffiti at the Dormition Abbey and the Greek and Armenian Orthodox cemeteries on Mt. Zion near Jerusalem’s Old City, and arson at several homes in the West Bank village of Douma. The graffiti painted at the Dormition Abbey in January included Stars of David, a bloody sword, and dozens of anti-Christian slogans such as “send Christians to hell, you must slay the idolaters;” “erase [Jesus’] name and memory;” and “the revenge of Israel’s sons is coming.”

Palestinian youths reportedly committed arson and vandalism against the Mount of Olives cemetery and synagogues in Jerusalem and at a West Bank Israeli settlement near Hebron. In February Palestinian suspects set fire to the makeshift synagogue in the Givat Sorek outpost settlement near Hebron, destroying several Torah scrolls. In September suspects spray-painted crosses on the side of a Jerusalem synagogue. In November two Jewish tombs dating roughly to the Second Temple period, popularly known as “Absalom’s Pillar” and the “Tomb of Jehoshaphat,” located in the Kidron Valley at the foot of the Mount of Olives cemetery just east of the Old City, were burned in what Israeli authorities stated they suspected was a Palestinian arson attack. NGOs reported no other incidents in which Jewish gravestones at the cemetery were vandalized during the year, which some attributed to improved security monitoring around the cemetery.

Harassment of and attacks against Muslims and Christians in Jerusalem by Jewish groups reportedly increased. The Jewish Israeli organization Lehava continued to protest social relationships between Jews and Palestinians, made anti-Christian and anti-Muslim statements, and reportedly assaulted Palestinians in West Jerusalem. Israeli media reported that Palestinians or their Israeli employers filed at least 20 complaints of harassment and assault – including with rocks and pepper spray – by Lehava activists in central Jerusalem during the year. Israeli authorities rarely prosecuted these attacks successfully, failing to open investigations or closing cases for lack of evidence, according to local human rights groups and the media. In September the Jerusalem district attorney’s office closed its investigation into the beating of an Israeli Druze man in Jerusalem by suspected Lehava activists who overheard the man speaking Arabic, because according to police they lost the investigative file and had insufficient evidence to file charges. In January local media reported earlier public comments from the head of Lehava saying Christians were not welcome in Jerusalem, and that Jews should work to block their immigration to the city. In September Lehava leaders disrupted an Armenian church choir performance at a mall in downtown Jerusalem by shouting, “Christians, go to Syria!” and “Jew murderers!” Police removed two of the Lehava protesters when they refused to disperse.

Participants, including some from Lehava, in the “march of flags” on Jerusalem Day, commemorating Israel’s 1967 conquest of East Jerusalem, shouted anti-Muslim chants in the Old City’s Muslim Quarter such as “the Temple will be built, [Al-Aqsa] mosque will be burned,” and “Mohammed is dead.” Police arrested some Lehava supporters during the march. The Jewish Israeli organization Yad L’Achim reportedly continued to pressure Jewish women not to date Palestinian men and to warn Palestinian men to stay away from Jewish women. The organization also continued to encourage people to inform on Jewish-Palestinian couples.

Local Christian clergy said some Jewish Israelis in Jerusalem continued to subject them to nonphysical abuse, including insults and spitting. These incidents occurred most often near churches on the seam line between East and West Jerusalem, in the Old City, and near the shared holy site of the Cenacle (devotional site of the Last Supper)/David’s Tomb near the Old City.

Dozens of Jewish students tried to disrupt Greek Orthodox Pentecost prayer services at the Cenacle/David’s Tomb. The protesters reportedly yelled “we will tear down this abomination,” and, “you are evil,” and, “may the name of your so-called God be blotted out forever.” Israeli police ensured the protesters did not prevent the Orthodox service from continuing and arrested several demonstrators.

Drivers who operated motor vehicles in or near ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods on the Sabbath in Jerusalem reported incidents of harassment – such as slurs or spitting – by ultra-Orthodox Jewish residents in those neighborhoods. According to the local press, some ultra-Orthodox groups continued to criticize Jerusalem residents who did not adhere to their strict interpretation of Orthodox Jewish law on issues including whether businesses in non-ultra-Orthodox majority neighborhoods in Jerusalem – such as a major movie theater completed in West Jerusalem – could remain open on the Sabbath.

Ultra-Orthodox Jews at the Western Wall continued to harass verbally visitors and Jewish worshippers who did not conform to Jewish Orthodox traditions, such as modest dress or gender segregation at the Western Wall Plaza. Members of the Jewish Conservative and Reform movements continued to criticize gender segregation and rules governing how women pray at the Western Wall.

According to Jehovah’s Witnesses and evangelical Christians, established Christian groups opposed their efforts to obtain official recognition from the PA because of their proselytizing.

Jewish proponents of accessing and performing religious rituals at the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount site, such as Return to the Mount, the Temple Mount Faithful, and the Temple Institute, continued to call for increased Jewish access and prayer at the site, although some Orthodox rabbis continued to discourage Jewish visits to the site. Some Jewish groups continued to call for the destruction of the Islamic Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa Mosque to enable the building of a third Jewish temple. For example, a mock ritual sacrifice ceremony on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem in April organized by Temple Mount movement activist groups during Passover included calls for the “abomination” on the Haram Al-Sharif/Temple Mount to be removed and alluded to a time the site would be “flattened and cleaned” for the rebuilding of a Third Jewish Temple. The northern branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel, a political and religious group opposed to participation in local or national governance, which the Israeli government declared illegal in November, continued to call on members to “defend” the Al-Aqsa mosque.

According to Palestinian sources, most Christian and Muslim families in the Occupied Territories reportedly continued to pressure their children, especially their daughters, to marry within their respective religious groups. Couples who challenged this societal norm, particularly Palestinian Christians or Muslims who sought to marry Jews, could encounter considerable societal and family opposition. Families sometimes disowned Muslim and Christian women who married outside their faith. NGOs and local clergy reported it was more difficult for Christian Palestinians to obtain a divorce because of restrictions by some churches, including the Latin (Catholic) and Anglican/Episcopal Churches, against deciding divorce cases in their courts handling personal status issues.

Independent Palestinian media outlets continued to broadcast anti-Semitic programming. Palestinian Awdah Television in July aired a children’s cartoon depicting Jews as evil and the representatives of Satan, fighting on his behalf and doing his bidding on earth.

According to local press and social media, some Israeli settlers in the West Bank continued to justify their attacks on Palestinian property, such as the uprooting of Palestinian olive trees or “price tag” attacks, as necessary for the defense of Judaism.

On October 13, Chief Judge of the PA Sharia Courts Mahmoud al-Habash and Israeli Chief Sephardi Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef met at a summit in Jerusalem, alongside several other Israeli rabbis and Palestinian Muslim figures, to discuss religious tolerance. On November 17, a group of prominent Israeli and Palestinian religious figures met at a summit in Spain and issued a joint denunciation of religious violence and incitement. Among the participants were Israeli Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi David Lau; Sheikh Raed Badir – a leading Islamic sharia scholar and member of the Palestinian Ulama Council who also directs the Adam Center for Interreligious Dialogue; Sheikh Imad Falouji, one of the founders of the Izzadin Qassam armed wing of Hamas who became chairman of the Adam Center for Dialogue of Civilizations in Gaza; Melkite Archbishop George Bakuni; Auxiliary Bishop to the Latin (Catholic) Patriarch of Jerusalem William Shomali; Lutheran Bishop Munib Younan; and Greek-Orthodox Metropolitan of Bostroi Timotheos Margaritis.

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