Israel, West Bank and Gaza
IN THIS SECTION: ISRAEL (BELOW) | WEST BANK AND GAZA
This section includes Israel, including Jerusalem. In December 2017, the United States recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. It is the position of the United States that the specific boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem are subject to final status negotiations between the parties. The Palestinian Authority (PA) exercises no authority over Jerusalem. In March 2019, the United States recognized Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights. A report on the West Bank and Gaza, including areas subject to the jurisdiction of the PA, is appended at the end of this report.
The country’s laws and Supreme Court rulings protect the freedoms of conscience, faith, religion, and worship, regardless of an individual’s religious affiliation, and the 1992 “Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty” protects additional individual rights. Citing a need to anchor the country’s Jewish character in a basic law, on June 19, the Knesset passed the “Basic Law: Israel – The Nation State of the Jewish People.” According to the government, the “law determines, among other things, that the Land of Israel is the historical homeland of the Jewish people; the State of Israel is the nation state of the Jewish People, in which it realizes its natural, cultural, religious and historical right to self-determination; and exercising the right to national self-determination in the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish People.” Druze leaders, other non-Jewish minorities, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) criticized the new law for not mentioning the principle of equality to prevent harm to the rights of minorities. Supporters said it was necessary to balance the 1992 basic law and restate the country’s identity as a Jewish and democratic state, noting the Supreme Court had already interpreted the 1992 law as mandating equality. The government continued to control access to religious sites, including the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif. Some Members of the Knesset (MKs) and civil society organizations called for reversing the practice of banning non-Muslim prayer at the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif (the foundation of the first and second Jewish temples) and the Haram al-Sharif (site containing the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque), based on post-1967 status quo understandings. Police closed the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif for several hours on July 27, following clashes with Muslim protesters. The government permitted persons of all faiths to pray individually and quietly at the main Western Wall plaza in separate gender sections, and Jewish men to conduct Orthodox Jewish prayer in groups. The government continued, however, to enforce a prohibition on performance of “a religious ceremony that is not in accordance with the customs of the place, which harms the feelings of the public towards the place,” which authorities interpreted to include mixed gender Jewish prayer services and other ceremonies that did not conform to Orthodox Judaism. The government continued to implement policies based on Orthodox Jewish interpretations of religious law. Following an appeal by the State Attorney’s office, the Supreme Court added 18 months to a four-year sentence for Yinon Reuveni, who vandalized a church in Tabgha in 2015. In June police officers injured an Ethiopian monk while evicting him and other monks from their church in Jerusalem, and in October police arrested a Coptic monk and removed others from the Deir al-Sultan monastery on the roof of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem after they refused to allow the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) to enter and perform restoration work. Some minority religious groups complained of what they said was lack of police interest in investigating attacks on members of their communities. The government maintained its policy of not accepting new applications for official recognition from religious groups, but members of nonrecognized religious groups remained free to practice their religion. Tension continued between the ultra-Orthodox community, police, and other Israelis, particularly related to service in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), resulting in clashes such as those on March 22 between ultra-Orthodox protesters and police. On December 2, the Supreme Court granted the Knesset (parliament) an extension into 2019 to pass legislation regulating ultra-Orthodox military service.
Some Jews continued to oppose missionary activity directed at Jews, saying it amounted to religious harassment, and reacted with hostility toward Jewish converts to Christianity. Jehovah’s Witnesses reported in February an unknown man pepper-sprayed two Jehovah’s Witnesses in Ashdod. According to the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, in October vandals damaged tombs and broke crosses at the cemetery of the Salesian Monastery at Beit Jimal near Beit Shemesh, the third attack on the monastery in three years. Following the attack, the Israeli government offered to pay for repairs.
Visiting high-level U.S. government officials, including the Vice President, met with government officials, religious groups, and civil society leaders to stress the importance of tolerance and dialogue and ways to reduce religiously motivated violence. Senior U.S. officials spoke publicly about the importance of maintaining the status quo at the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif. In meetings with government officials and public speeches, embassy officers stressed the importance of religious freedom and respect for all religious groups. Embassy-supported initiatives focused on interreligious dialogue and community development and advocated for a shared society for Jewish and Arab populations. Embassy officials participated in religious events organized by Jewish, Muslim, Druze, Christian, and Baha’i groups to show U.S. support for religious pluralism.
Section I. Religious Demography
The U.S. government estimates the total population at 8.4 million (July 2018 estimate), including residents and citizens. According to the country’s Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) classification system, approximately 75 percent of the population is Jewish, 18 percent Muslim, 2 percent Christian, and 1.6 percent Druze. The remaining 4 percent consists of those the CBS classifies as “other” – mostly persons, including many immigrants from the former Soviet Union, who identify themselves as Jewish but do not satisfy the Orthodox Jewish definition of “Jewish” the government uses for civil procedures – as well as relatively small communities of Samaritans, Karaites, Ahmadi Muslims, Seventh-day Adventists, Messianic Jews, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and members of the Baha’i Faith. The majority of non-Jewish citizens are of Arab origin. This includes approximately 78 percent of the country’s 175,000 Christians, according to the CBS, as of December. Non-Arab Christians are mainly those who emigrated from the former Soviet Union in the 1990s as descendants of Jews or alongside Jewish family members, and their descendants.
According to a poll by the local NGO Hiddush published in September, 58 percent of Jewish citizens do not affiliate with any religious stream, 17 percent are “Zionist Orthodox,” 12 percent “ultra-Orthodox” (including 2 percent “Zionist ultra-Orthodox”), 7 percent “Reform,” and 6 percent “Conservative.”
Muslim, Druze, and Christian communities are located in the Galilee region, some of which are homogenous; others feature a mix of these groups. There are also dozens of Muslim-majority communities in the Negev. In addition to an Alawite community in Ghajar, there are several Druze communities in the Golan Heights.
The CBS estimates 546,100 Jews, 328,600 Muslims, and 15,900 Christians live in Jerusalem, accounting for approximately 99 percent of the city’s total population of 901,300, as of September.
According to government and NGO data, as of October, foreign workers included approximately 113,000 documented foreign workers in the caregiving, agriculture, and construction sectors, including a few thousand in the “skilled worker” category and 39,000 who arrived under bilateral work agreements; 100,000 documented Palestinian workers; 40,000 undocumented Palestinian workers; and 100,000 were undocumented workers, mostly from countries of the former Soviet Union, who remained in the country after overstaying a visa-free entry or a work visa. According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, there are approximately 31,000 African migrants and asylum seekers residing in the country, in addition to children born in the country to those migrants. Foreign workers and migrants included Protestants, Roman Catholics, Orthodox Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, and Muslims. According to the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, Catholics among the foreign worker population included 30,000 Filipinos, 8,000 Indians, 2,000 Sri Lankans, 2,500 Colombians, and 1,100 workers from South American countries.
Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom
Although the country has no constitution, the unicameral 120-member Knesset enacted a series of “Basic Laws” that enumerate fundamental rights, which it states will become the country’s constitutional foundation. The “Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty” describes the country as a “Jewish and democratic state” and references the Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel, which 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. Authorities subject non-Israeli residents to the same laws it applies to Israeli citizens. Detention of Palestinians on security grounds falls under military jurisdiction as applied by Israel to Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza (see “West Bank and Gaza” section), even if detained inside Israel.
On June 19, the Knesset passed a new basic law referred to as the “Nation State Law.” The new law changed the status of Arabic from an official language, a standing it held since Israel adopted then prevailing British Mandate law in 1948, to a language with a “special status.” The law also recognized only the Jewish People as having a national right of self-determination and called for promotion of “Jewish settlement” within Israel.
On April 30, the Knesset passed a law recommending – but not requiring – that judges use Jewish jurisprudence and heritage as a source of legal principles in cases in which there is no relevant legislation or judicial precedents.
The Chief Rabbinate retains the authority to issue certificates of conversion to Judaism within the country under Orthodox interpretations of Jewish law. The Council of the Chief Rabbinate consists of Orthodox rabbis chosen by an assembly 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 was complete.
The law recognizes Judaism, Christianity, Islam, the Druze Faith, and the Baha’i 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 Baha’i 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: by petitioning either the Prime Minister’s Office according to the Order in Council or the Ministry of Interior (MOI). 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. Municipalities may levy property taxes on religious properties not used for prayer, such as monasteries, pilgrim hostels, and soup kitchens.
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 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 receive further protection under the antiquities law. The Ministry of Tourism (MOT) is responsible for the protection and upkeep of selected non-Jewish religious sites, while the MRS protects and maintains selected 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.
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 up to three years’ imprisonment.
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 criminalizes statements demeaning, degrading, or showing violence toward someone based on race, but provides an exception for statements citing a religious source, unless there is proof of intent to incite racism.
The law requires citizens to obtain a permit from the MOI 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.
It is illegal to proselytize to a person under 18 years of age without the consent of both parents. The law prohibits offering a material benefit in the course of proselytizing.
The government provides separate public schools for Jewish children, conducted in Hebrew, and Arab children, conducted in Arabic. For Jewish children there are separate public schools available for religious and secular families. Individual families may choose a public school system for their children regardless of ethnicity or religious observance. Minors have the right to choose a public secular school instead of a religious school regardless of parental preference. By law, the state provides the equivalent of public school funding to two systems of “recognized but not official” (a form of semi-private) ultra-Orthodox religious schools, the United Torah Judaism-affiliated Independent Education System and the Shas-affiliated Fountain of Torah Education System. Churches, however, receive only partial government funding to operate “recognized but not official” schools. Palestinian residents of Jerusalem may send their children to one of these church schools or a private school operated by the Jerusalem Islamic Waqf; both include religious instruction. Israeli education authorities use the PA curriculum in some public schools in Jerusalem. Religious education is part of the PA curriculum for students in grades one through six in these schools, with separate courses on religion for Muslims and Christians. Students may choose which class to take but may not opt out of religion courses.
The law provides the right for any Jew, including those who converted to Judaism, 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 receive humanitarian status, but are not automatically granted citizenship. Non-Jews who are not descendants of Jews do not have this route to immigration. Under the Law of Return, those who completed an Orthodox conversion inside or outside the country are entitled to immigration, citizenship, and registration as Jews in the civil population registry. Those who completed conversion to Judaism outside the country, 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. Descendants of Jews qualify for immigration under the Law of Return regardless of the religious beliefs under which they were raised. The law considers those who were eligible for immigration and as adults converted to another religion, including Messianic Judaism, as no longer eligible for benefits under the Law of Return.
The 2003 Law of Citizenship and Entry, renewed annually, prohibits residence status for non-Jewish Iranians, Iraqis, Syrians, Lebanese, and Palestinians from the West Bank or Gaza, including those who are spouses of Israeli residents or citizens, unless the MOI makes a special determination, usually on humanitarian grounds.
The Chief Rabbinate determines who may be buried in Jewish state cemeteries, limiting this right to individuals considered Jewish by Orthodox Jewish standards. The law provides for the right of any individual to burial in a civil ceremony, and requires the government to establish civil cemeteries in various areas around the country. 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 establish the legal authority of religious courts operated by officially recognized religious communities over their members in matters of marriage, divorce, and burial. The law allows for civil registration of two persons as a married couple outside of the religious court system only 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, or if both partners are listed as “lacking religion” in the population registry. A law mandating women’s equality contains language that explicitly exempts matters of marriage, divorce, and appointments to religious positions.
The only domestic marriages with legal standing and that may be registered are those performed according to the religious statutes of recognized religious communities. Members of nonrecognized groups may process their personal status documents, including marriage licenses, through the authorities of one of the recognized religious communities if those authorities agree.
The law imposes a two-year prison sentence for persons who conduct, or are married in, a Jewish wedding or divorce outside the Chief Rabbinate’s authority.
Religious courts have exclusive jurisdiction over divorce cases when the husband and wife are registered with the same recognized religion. Members of religious groups not permitting divorce, such as Catholics, may not obtain a divorce. Paternity cases among Muslim citizens are the exclusive jurisdiction of sharia courts. Civil courts have jurisdiction over personal status cases when religious courts lack jurisdiction, as in cases of interfaith and same-sex couples.
Matters stemming from divorce proceedings, including alimony, child support, child custody, guardianship, and property division, are under parallel jurisdiction of both religious courts and civil courts. The first court to receive a case acquires exclusive jurisdiction over it.
In accordance with halacha (Jewish religious law), a Jewish woman whose husband refuses to give her a get (Jewish legal writ of divorce) may not legally remarry in the country. While a rabbinical court may order a husband to give a get, it does not have the power to terminate the marriage if he refuses. In such cases, rabbinical courts may impose community-based punishments on the husband, including avoiding financial dealings with a get-refuser, excluding him from community activities, and advertising these decisions to the public. On June 25, the Knesset passed a law allowing rabbinical courts to hear cases of get refusals in which the spouses are not Israeli citizens, if certain other conditions are met (for instance, if the couple live abroad in a location where there is no rabbinical court).
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, male Druze citizens, and male Circassian citizens (Muslims originally from the northwestern Caucasus region who migrated in the late 19th century). Orthodox Jewish women and Arab Christian and Muslim citizens remain exempt from mandatory military service, although they may voluntarily enlist.
Membership in a recognized religion is recorded in the National Registry and generally passed from parents to children, unless a person changes it through a formal conversion to another recognized religion. Approximately 400,000 citizens who identify as Jewish but do not meet the Chief Rabbinate’s criteria as “Jewish” under Jewish religious law, as well as members of religious groups that are not recognized, are recorded as “lacking religion.” The vast majority are immigrants from the former Soviet Union and their children, who gained citizenship under the Law of Return but are not recognized as Jewish by the Chief Rabbinate because they cannot prove they meet the Orthodox definition of Jewish through matrilineal descent. All citizens who meet the Chief Rabbinate’s criteria as “Jewish” are recorded as Jewish, whether Orthodox or not (unless they convert to another religion). Of the approximately 30,000 immigrants who arrived to Israel during the year, 17,700 of them did not qualify as Jewish under the Chief Rabbinate’s criteria, according to a press report citing CBS data.
For those who did not wish to be identified with a religion, there was no mechanism to change one’s registration to “lacking religion.”
Religious identification is listed in the National Registry but not on official identity cards.
There is no legal requirement regarding personal observance or nonobservance of the Jewish Sabbath (Shabbat), from sunset on Fridays until sunset on Saturdays, and on Jewish holidays. The law, however, declares in the context of labor rights that Shabbat and Jewish holidays are national days of rest, while permitting non-Jewish workers alternate days of rest. The law criminalizes those who open their businesses and employ Jews on Shabbat but not workers, except those who are self-employed. There are exceptions for essential infrastructure and the hospitality, culture, and recreation industries. On June 18, the Knesset passed a law prohibiting hiring discrimination against workers who refuse to work on their day of rest, based on their religion and regardless of whether they are religiously observant. The law takes effect on January 1, 2019. An existing law instructs the labor and welfare minister to take into account “Israel’s tradition,” among other factors, when considering whether to approve permits to work on Shabbat.
On January 8, following 2013 and 2017 court rulings permitting municipalities to legislate bylaws allowing commercial activity on Shabbat, the Knesset passed a law granting the minister of interior wider discretion to approve or reject bylaws on this matter.
The law states public transportation may not operate on Shabbat, with exceptions for vehicles bringing passengers to hospitals, remote localities, and non-Jewish localities, and for vehicles essential to public security or maintaining public transportation services. Halacha prohibits the use of motorized vehicles on Shabbat, except in emergencies.
The Chief Rabbinate has sole legal authority to issue certificates of kashrut, which certify a restaurant’s adherence to Jewish dietary laws. Alternatively, restaurants are permitted to display “a true presentation regarding the standards it observes and the manner of supervising their observance” without using the word kashrut.
The Mufti of Jerusalem issued “fatwas” (religious edicts) prohibiting Palestinian participation in Jerusalem municipal elections, and sales of land by Palestinians to the Israelis.
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.
On July 27, Muslim protestors threw rocks and fireworks at Israeli police officers near the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif. According to the government, violent acts and danger to Israeli security forces forced police to “use appropriate means to scatter the riots” and keep the peace and the public safety. Police closed the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif for several hours. These clashes led to the arrest of more than 20 individuals and injuries to four police officers, according to media reports.
Following an investigation for more than one year, State Attorney Shai Nitzan announced on May 1 he was closing, without charges, the government’s investigation into a January 2017 incident in which a police officer and a Muslim citizen died during a police action to demolish homes in the unrecognized Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran. Nitzan wrote he decided not to bring criminal charges against police officers after concluding police shot Abu al-Qian because they feared for their lives; however, he recommended disciplinary action against some officers due to “professional mistakes,” according to media reports. In votes on May 9 and June 13, the Knesset rejected a proposal by MK Taleb Abu Arar, one of three Bedouins in the Knesset, to establish a Knesset inquiry into the events and all subsequent investigations leading up to Nitzan’s decision. The Arab legal rights organization Adalah stated the decision was evidence of “whitewashing” and that the government treated Arab citizens’ lives as unequal to those of Jewish citizens.
On August 16, following an appeal by the State Attorney’s office, the Supreme Court added 18 months to a four-year sentence for Yinon Reuveni, who burned and vandalized a large section of the Church of the Multiplication in Tabgha in 2015.
On April 4 in Jerusalem, two police officers reportedly hit an ultra-Orthodox man with a mental disability on the head after he briefly stopped in the road and waved his hands while walking with a group of ultra-Orthodox protesters toward a demonstration, according to the NGO Public Committee Against Torture in Israel.
On November 22, the Jerusalem District Court acquitted Jerusalem police officer Gil Zaken of charges he choked and hit in the head an ultra-Orthodox demonstrator in 2016.
Christian clergy in Jerusalem said police officers treated them with unnecessary force on two occasions. First, in June an Ethiopian monk sustained injuries from police officers when they were they evicting him and other monks from their church. According to media reports, police had suspected the monks of trespassing because they did not provide identification cards. Second, on October 24, police physically removed several Coptic monks from outside a chapel in the Deir al-Sultan monastery on the roof of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, arresting one of them when the monks refused to allow the IAA to enter and perform restoration work. The government stated the injured monk’s refusal to obey police instructions left police with no choice but to remove him, using necessary and appropriate physical force. Ownership of the monastery remained the subject of an ongoing dispute between the Coptic and Ethiopian churches.
On August 13, police arrested a senior official in the Chief Rabbinate for allegedly accepting a bribe to expedite issuance of kashrut certificates. A 2017 report from the state comptroller called for comprehensive reform of the kashrut regulation system and criticized the MRS, Chief Rabbinate, and local religious councils for structural failures that enabled fraud, waste, poor supervision, and nepotism.
On July 6, a court ordered the head of the banned Northern Islamic Movement, Sheikh Raed Salah, released to house arrest. In 2017, police had arrested him on suspicion of incitement and supporting the activities of an illegal organization.
Some religious minority groups complained of lack of police interest in investigating attacks on members of their communities. Data from the NGO Tag Meir and media reports indicated in recent years authorities had indicted few suspects in attacks on religious sites in the country.
On July 19, police in Haifa briefly detained and questioned Conservative Rabbi Dov Hayun on suspicion he conducted Jewish marriage ceremonies outside of the Chief Rabbinate’s authority. The attorney general subsequently instructed police to stop investigating the rabbi before they had determined “whether his actions raise suspicion of a criminal offense.” As of year’s end, police had not taken any further action against the rabbi.
According to data from the MRS, out of 70,326 individuals who registered for a Jewish marriage in 2018, rabbinical courts instructed 3,996 who self-identified as Jewish to prove their Jewish lineage. Of these, 122 were unsuccessful.
Prior to marriage, the Chief Rabbinate required Jewish women to complete bridal counseling sessions. Existing instructions from the Chief Rabbinate required these sessions address only the wedding ceremony, but in practice the content varied widely and often included marital relations and “family purity” in accordance with halacha, according to a report in Ma’ariv newspaper. Neither halacha nor civil law mandated such counselling sessions, according to the NGO ITIM.
On May 3, the rabbinical courts, which are government institutions, reported they had issued nine arrest warrants against men who refused to give a get and succeeded in securing 216 gets from intransigent husbands in 2017. In a speech to new rabbinical court judges on October 15, Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef urged them to “have the courage to render judgment” in cases of get refusal, stating, “Do whatever is necessary to make sure a divorce is granted.”
Ultra-Orthodox parties continued to block legislative changes to the status quo regarding issues of halacha and state, which opponents said perpetuated practices that infringed on religious freedom. For example, on November 21, the Knesset defeated a bill to allow limited public transportation on Shabbat for municipalities that so chose. Bus cooperatives, however, continued to operate lines on Shabbat in several cities.
The Chief Rabbinate continued not to recognize as Jewish some citizens who self-identified as Jewish, including Reform and Conservative converts to Judaism and others who could not prove Jewish matrilineage. As a result, the government prohibited those individuals from accessing official Jewish marriage, divorce, and burial services in the country. Some Orthodox and non-Orthodox rabbis, however, officiated at a growing number of these ceremonies outside of the Chief Rabbinate. Likewise, the government continued not to allow Jewish men with priestly patrilineage (kohanim) to marry converts or divorcees, in accordance with halacha.
On October 29, the Supreme Court ordered Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked to explain, within 60 days, why the government had not held a disciplinary hearing for Chief Rabbi of Safed Shmuel Eliyahu, a government employee. This order followed a 2016 petition to the Supreme Court by the Israel Religious Action Center, Tag Meir, and other NGOs to initiate disciplinary hearings against Eliyahu, alleging he made a series of racist and offensive statements against Arabs, Druze, women, and the LGBTI community. The government did not hold a disciplinary hearing for Eliyahu by the end of the year, and the case was ongoing.
The government continued to control access to the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif. The post-1967 status quo pertaining to the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif allows non-Muslim visitors but prohibits non-Islamic worship on the compound, despite the fact that no law or published policy prohibits non-Islamic prayer there. The Jordanian Government Islamic Religious Endowment (Waqf) in Jerusalem maintained the Al-Aqsa Mosque, while the Jordanian Ministry of Islamic Affairs and Holy Places supported maintenance and salary of the Waqf staff in Jerusalem. The 1994 peace agreement between Israel and Jordan recognized Jordan’s “special role” in relation to Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem. Supporters of the status quo stated that, while not perfect, the post-1967 arrangement allowed the holy sites to be open to visitors from all faiths for the first time in Jerusalem’s millennia-old history.
Israeli police continued to be responsible for security, with police officers stationed both inside the site and outside each entrance. Israeli police conducted routine patrols on the outdoor plaza and inside buildings on the site and regulated pedestrian traffic exiting and entering the site. Israeli police continued to maintain exclusive control of the Mughrabi Gate entrance, the entrance through which non-Muslims may enter the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif, and allowed visitors through the gate during set visiting hours; however, police sometimes restricted this access due to security concerns. Israeli police maintained checkpoints outside other gates to the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif, preventing non-Muslims from entering these other areas, but they did not coordinate with Waqf guards inside. Some Jewish groups performed religious acts such as prayers and prostration on the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif despite the ban on non-Muslim prayer. NGOs, media, and Jewish Temple Mount advocacy groups continued to report that changes in relations between police and the Temple Mount advocacy movement created a more permissive environment for non-Muslim religious acts on the site. In response, the government reiterated that non-Muslim prayer was not allowed on the grounds of the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif.
Israeli authorities in some instances barred specific individuals from the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif site, including Jewish activists believed to have violated the status quo understanding prohibiting non-Muslim prayer, Muslims believed to have verbally harassed or acted violently against non-Muslim visitors to the site, and public figures, including MKs, whose presence authorities feared would inflame tensions. The government stated that police have no specific policy regarding barring individuals from entering, but police respond both to intelligence information they receive in advance as well as events that unfolding on the ground, without distinguishing between Muslim and non-Muslim visitors. The government added it was rare for any individual to be barred entry to the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif site. Police continued to screen non-Muslims for religious articles. Police allowed Jewish male visitors who were visibly wearing a kippah (head covering) and tzitzit (fringes), and those who wished to enter the site barefoot (in accordance with interpretations of halacha) to enter the site with police escort.
The Waqf continued to restrict non-Muslims who visited the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif from entering the Dome of the Rock and other buildings dedicated for Islamic worship, including the Al-Qibli/Al-Aqsa Mosque. It also lodged objections with Israeli police concerning non-Muslim visitors wearing religious symbols or religious clothing. Israeli police sometimes acted upon these objections.
Waqf officials repeated previous years’ complaints over their lack of control of access to the site. Waqf officials stated Israeli police did not coordinate with the Waqf on decisions regarding entry and barring of Muslim and non-Muslim visitors to the site. Waqf employees remained stationed inside each gate and on the plaza, but Waqf officials said they were able to exercise only a limited oversight role. The Waqf reportedly objected to non-Muslims praying or performing religious acts on the site and to individuals who dressed immodestly or caused disturbances, but they lacked authority to remove such persons from the site. The government stated that most of the time, police and the Waqf worked in full coordination, including regular joint sessions regarding routine activities.
On August 20, the Supreme Court ordered the government to respond within 60 days to a petition by the NGO Moked Israeli Center for the Advancement of Democracy and Protection of Human Rights, which objected to a sign near the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif discouraging non-Muslim visitors from entering the site. The court later granted government requests to extend the deadline for a response into 2019.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu again reiterated his support for the post-1967 status quo understandings at holy sites in Jerusalem, including in a statement following his meeting with King Abdullah II of Jordan on June 18. 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 for reasons of ritual purity. Some MKs, however, including members of the governing coalition, called for reversing the policy of banning non-Muslim prayer at the site to provide equal religious freedom for all visitors. Some government coalition Knesset members continued to call on the Israeli government to implement time-based division at the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif 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. MK Yehuda Glick and other members of the Temple Mount movement continued to advocate for reversing the status quo prohibition on non-Muslim prayer at the site, describing it as a restriction on religious freedom.
In accordance with previously instituted practices, Israeli police announced a temporary closure of the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif to non-Muslim visitors during the last 10 days of Ramadan; however, the police permitted non-Muslim visits to the site during the first two days of this period. The government stated that each year police assess the security situation and decide whether it is necessary to close the site to non-Muslims during this period, “in order to allow for a proper course of prayer for Muslim worshipers during Ramadan.” In July Prime Minister Netanyahu rescinded his 2015 blanket prohibition of MKs and ministers visiting the site and allowed these officials to visit once a month, after obtaining approval of the Chairman of the Knesset and according to police security assessments.
The Waqf expressed its continued concern over calls by some Jewish activists to build a third Jewish temple on the site, as well as increased numbers of visits by Jews whom the Waqf described as Jewish “Temple Mount activists.” The Waqf also objected to increased attempts by activists to pray on the site or conduct other religious activity on the site in violation of the status quo. Waqf officials also stated Israeli police restricted the Waqf’s administration of the site by prohibiting building and infrastructure repairs. For example, police prevented the Waqf from carrying out repairs without advance approval and oversight from the IAA and refused to permit the entry of most maintenance equipment onto the site, according to the Waqf. The government stated maintenance of the site was supervised by police and coordinated in advance, adding that larger scale renovations required approval and supervision by the IAA and of a ministerial committee to ensure the site is properly preserved and no archeological findings are destroyed or covered by the renovators. In August Israeli authorities briefly detained four Waqf employees attempting to carry out repairs, but they subsequently permitted the repairs.
Waqf officials reported Israeli police on occasion detained Waqf employees (typically guards) or expelled them from the site and from the vicinity of visiting non-Muslim groups. The government stated that on some occasions, Waqf employees with suspected connections to terrorist organizations, such as Hamas and Shabab al-Aqsa, instigated “provocations,” which police handled either by issuing a directive limiting the proximity of the Waqf employees to visiting Jewish groups, or in extreme cases, removing them from the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif.
The Temple Mount Sifting Project and other group and individuals criticized the Waqf for the “destruction of the heritage of Jews as well as Christians and Muslims” for moving soil, stones, and artifacts from dirt mounds in the courtyard the Waqf had previously dug up during controversial excavations. According to a media report, the mixed pile of dirt had limited archaeological value because it was already out of its original archeological strata; however, artifacts in the dirt could be of historical value.
On March 26, for the first time, authorities allowed Temple Mount activists to conduct a ritual slaughter of sheep for Passover in the Davidson Center Archaeological Park, below the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif.
At the main Western Wall plaza, the place of worship nearest Judaism’s holiest site, the government continued to permit persons of all faiths to pray individually and quietly and Jewish men to conduct Orthodox Jewish prayer in groups, with separation of women and men. The government, however, continued to prohibit at the main plaza the performance of “a religious ceremony that is not in accordance with the customs of the place, which harms the feelings of the public towards the place.” Authorities interpreted this prohibition to include mixed-gender Jewish prayer services and other ceremonies not conforming to Orthodox Judaism.
Members of the Jewish Conservative and Reform movements continued to criticize gender segregation and rules governing how women may pray at the Western Wall. Authorities continued to prohibit visitors from bringing private Torah scrolls to the main Western Wall plaza and women from accessing the public Torah scrolls or giving priestly blessings at the site. Authorities, however, 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.
Police continued to allow the group Women of the Wall to enter the women’s area of the main Western Wall plaza for its monthly service. In June, following a request from the police and the government-sponsored Western Wall Heritage Foundation, the Attorney General’s Office ruled the Women of the Wall must hold their monthly service in a barricaded area in the women’s section, which police set up on a side of the women’s section not touching the Western Wall. Representatives of Women of the Wall complained of a lack of effort by police or ushers from the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, which administers the Western Wall site, to intervene when ultra-Orthodox women and men disrupted their monthly prayer service with screaming, whistling, and pushing. In response, the government stated that large numbers of Israeli police, ushers, and security personnel maintained order on occasions when Women of the Wall prayed there. Women of the Wall filed a petition to the Supreme Court in March 2017 to require ushers and police to prevent disruption to their services. The case was ongoing as of the end of the year.
Authorities continued to allow use of a temporary platform south of the Mughrabi ramp and adjacent to the Western Wall, but not visible from the main Western Wall plaza, for non-Orthodox egalitarian (mixed gender) Jewish prayers. Authorities designated the platform for members of the Conservative and Reform movements of Judaism, including for religious ceremonies such as bar and bat mitzvahs. In response to an ongoing Supreme Court case from 2013 on the issue of prayer access at the Western Wall, the government stated in January it intended to upgrade the egalitarian prayer space. In June 2017, the government “froze” a 2016 agreement with non-Orthodox Jewish groups that offered symbolic recognition to the Conservative and Reform Judaism movements in addition to upgrading the egalitarian prayer space. The non-Orthodox Jewish movements stated that upgrading the prayer space alone would not fulfill the agreement. In August a special government committee approved expansion of the platform through a fast-track planning process. The court case was ongoing as of the end of the year.
On May 13, the government allocated 200 million shekels ($53.35 million) to the MOT for the planning and establishment of a cable car from the First Station cultural complex in Jerusalem to the Dung Gate of the Old City. The plan included building a roof over a Karaite cemetery under the path of the cable car to resolve Orthodox Jewish concerns about use of the cable car by Jewish men with priestly patrilineage (kohanim), for whom it is halachically forbidden to contract ritual impurity by “sheltering” over a corpse. The Karaite community objected to the plan, saying building a roof over the cemetery would render it ritually impure according to Karaite beliefs, preventing further use of the cemetery.
The security barrier dividing most of the West Bank from Israel also divided some Palestinian communities in Jerusalem, affecting access to places of worship. The Israeli government previously stated the barrier was highly effective in preventing attacks in Israel.
Several groups, including religious minorities and human rights NGOs, criticized the July passage of the new Nation State Law. The law called for promoting “Jewish settlement,” which non-Jewish organizations and leaders said they feared would lead to increased discrimination in housing and land issues. Druze leaders decried the law for relegating what they termed a loyal minority that serves in the military to second-class-citizen status. Opponents, including the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, also criticized the law for failing to mention the principle of equality in order to prevent harm to the rights of non-Jewish minorities. Supporters stated it was necessary to anchor the country’s Jewish character in a basic law to balance the 1992 Basic Law on Human Dignity and Liberty, which anchored the country’s democratic character with protection of individual rights, noting the Supreme Court had already interpreted the 1992 law as mandating equality. According to press reports, on August 4, a demonstration in Tel Aviv comprised of approximately 90,000 members of the Druze community and Jewish supporters protested the law. A week later, press reported that 30,000 Arab citizen protestors and their Jewish supporters also took part in a protest against the law in Tel Aviv. Political leaders conceded the need to address the criticisms of the Druze community. As of the end of the year, multiple lawsuits challenging the Nation State Law were pending with the Supreme Court.
On May 5, the government announced it had begun recruiting women as legal advisors in rabbinical courts, following a petition to the Supreme Court by ITIM and Bar Ilan University’s Rackman Center for the Advancement of the Status of Women. In 2017, the Rabbinical Courts Administration named a female deputy director-general for the first time. Because only men may become rabbis under Orthodox interpretations of Jewish law, there were no female judges in rabbinical courts, although some women have acted as rabbinic pleaders (equivalent to lawyers) since 1995.
The MOI continued to rely on the sole discretion and approval of the Jewish Agency, a parastatal organization, to determine who qualified to immigrate as a Jew or descendant of a Jew. The government continued to deny applications from individuals whom the government said became ineligible when they converted to another religion, including those holding Messianic or Christian beliefs.
A group of Orthodox rabbis continued to operate a private conversion court for children of families whom the state or rabbinical courts did not recognize as Jews. In August, for the first time, the Jerusalem District Court recognized a non-Rabbinate Orthodox conversion through the NGO Giyur k’Halacha. The Chief Rabbinate continued not to recognize non-Orthodox converts to Judaism as Jews, although they remained eligible for immigration under the Law of Return if they converted outside the country.
A Supreme Court case to grant immigration rights to those who completed Reform or Conservative conversions inside the country continued through year’s end.
On June 3, a committee headed by former Justice Minister Moshe Nissim made recommendations for proposed legislation on a new conversion law. Prime Minister Netanyahu appointed the committee in 2017 in response to the 2005 Supreme Court petition by the Conservative and Reform Jewish movements for recognition of non-Orthodox conversions inside the country. The recommendations did not receive political support from any of the Jewish Knesset factions, and the government did not act on them by the end of the year. At a Supreme Court hearing on December 17, the government requested a six-month extension for the presentation of its plan. By year’s end, the court had not rendered a decision on the extension request.
On January 15, the Knesset Committee for Immigration, Absorption, and Diaspora Affairs discussed incidents in which the Population and Immigration Authority incorrectly registered as Christian immigrants from the former Soviet Union who self-identified as Jewish. Ha’aretz reported in September 2017 that the Chief Rabbinate had changed the registration status of 900 persons from Jewish to non-Jewish or “pending clarification” in 2015 and 2016. ITIM petitioned the Supreme Court against these changes and the case continued at year’s end.
In October an individual petitioned the District Court in Haifa to change his registration from Jewish to “lacking religion.” The court scheduled a hearing for January 2019.
Several municipalities filed legal challenges in the Supreme Court against the January 8 law granting the minister of interior wider discretion to approve or reject bylaws allowing commercial activity on Shabbat. These challenges followed Interior Minister Aryeh Deri’s rejection from June to August of five municipalities’ bylaws that would have legalized commerce on Shabbat, according to media reports. Sources stated some non-kosher restaurants that opened on Shabbat paid fines that varied according to local laws.
On July 19, Minister of Culture and Sport Miri Regev signed a regulation conditioning government funding of Israeli sports associations, except soccer associations, on their accommodation of Shabbat-observant athletes.
The MRS listed 21 dedicated cemeteries in Israel and the West Bank for persons the government defined as “lacking religion,” but only two were available for use to the broader general public regardless of residence. The one MRS-administered cemetery in the West Bank was available only for the burial of Israel citizens. Additionally, 13 MRS-administered cemeteries in 10 agricultural localities were authorized to conduct civil burial (i.e., not affiliated to a religion) for these localities and nearby residents. Some persons, however, who sought a civil burial for a relative reported several civil cemeteries near Tel Aviv were unusable because they were full or restricted to local residents. On May 29, the MRS published a call for proposals to develop or expand cemeteries for civil burials, following a 2016 report by the state comptroller that criticized the MRS for not implementing the civil burial law and thereby preventing the right of citizens to civil burial.
On February 19, the government passed a motion to recognize more Ethiopian Jewish religious leaders (keisim) and integrate them into Jewish religious councils. According to recommendations published November 7 by a special government committee, keisim would be allowed to conduct some community religious functions but not marriages and funerals, unless they underwent the rabbinical ordination process and applied individually to the Chief Rabbinate. On October 7, the cabinet approved a plan to facilitate immigration of approximately 1,000 parents from Ethiopia’s Falash Mura community whose children were already in Israel.
In 2017, the government cable and satellite-broadcasting regulator fined Channel 20, the “Heritage Channel,” 100,800 shekels ($26,900) for excluding the Reform and Conservative Jewish movements from its programming, because its license described the outlet as a platform for all streams of Judaism. Channel 20 appealed the decision to the Supreme Court. On May 9, the court ruled an administrative court would adjudicate the appeal. The case was ongoing in the Court for Administrative Affairs in Jerusalem as of the end of the year.
In June, following a Supreme Court challenge by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, the government announced attendance at a presentation to introduce an expedited Orthodox Jewish conversion course would no longer be mandatory for IDF soldiers who self-identified as Jewish but were not recognized by the Rabbinate as Jewish. The government stated the IDF would instead send invitations to IDF soldiers for the presentation; those who do not wish to participate could be excused.
In September 2017, the Supreme Court struck down the existing arrangement to exempt ultra-Orthodox men from military service, and it set a deadline of one year to pass new legislation to reduce inequality in the burden of military service between ultra-Orthodox and other Jews. Some ultra-Orthodox communities stated that mandatory conscription was a violation of the right to conscientious objection on the basis of their religious beliefs. On October 14, the Ministry of Defense sent a letter to the Eda Haredit community rejecting this argument. Following a request from the government for more time to pass a new draft law, on December 2, the Supreme Court agreed to postpone the deadline to 2019.
Those exempt from compulsory military service continued to have the option to join the National Service, a civilian alternative in which volunteers work for two years to promote social welfare in schools, hospitals, or NGOs. According to government officials and NGOs, this alternative was more popular among women from “national religious” Jewish Orthodox backgrounds than other exempt groups.
The government continued to operate a special police unit for the investigation of “ideology-based offenses” in Israel and the West Bank, including “price tag” attacks, which refer to violence by Jewish individuals and groups against non-Jewish individuals and property with the stated purpose of exacting a “price” for actions taken by the government against the attackers’ interests. The government continued to classify any association using the phrase “price tag” as an illegal association and a price tag attack as a security (as opposed to criminal) offense. On March 29, the Lod District Court convicted one person of “membership in a terrorist organization” for a 2015 price tag attack, according to media reports.
The government maintained an agreement with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that no member of the Church “will engage in proselytizing of any kind” within Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza, according to the website of Brigham Young University’s Jerusalem Center. Some other nonrecognized Christian communities reported the MOI Department of Non-Jewish Affairs discouraged them from proselytizing or holding large public gatherings outside their houses of worship.
In April the Watchtower Association of Israel (Jehovah’s Witnesses) sued the government in the Supreme Court to process its application for a tax exemption from capital gains transactions, which it submitted in 2012. In 2016, the tax authority had approved its application and forwarded it to the Knesset Finance Committee, according to Jehovah’s Witnesses. The Supreme Court scheduled a hearing for January 16, 2019.
Public Hebrew-language state schools taught Jewish history, culture, and some basic religious texts. Many ultra-Orthodox religious schools in the “recognized but not official” category continued not to offer the basic humanities, math, and science curriculum. However, the government included the basic curriculum in public ultra-Orthodox schools. This category included 43 schools with 5,652 students in the 2017-2018 school year, an increase of 20 percent from the previous year, according to media reports. Public Arabic-speaking schools continued to teach religion classes on the Quran and the Bible to both Muslim and Christian Arab students. A few independent mixed Jewish-Arab schools also offered religion classes. For example, the curriculum at the nonprofit school Hand-in-Hand: Center for Jewish-Arab Education, which received a third of its funding from the government, emphasized commonalities in the holy writings of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.
According to the NGO Noar Kahalacha, dozens of Jewish school girls were unable to attend ultra-Orthodox schools due to discrimination based on their Mizrahi ethnicity (those with ancestry from North Africa or the Middle East), despite a 2009 court ruling prohibiting ethnic segregation between Mizrahi and Ashkenazi schoolgirls. A 2017 report from the state comptroller criticized the Ministry of Education (MOE) for failing to respond effectively to discrimination in educational institutions, including discrimination against girls in ultra-Orthodox schools. The government stated the MOE did not tolerate any form of discrimination, and schools that refused to accept students for discriminatory reasons were summoned to hearings, sometimes leading to delays and denial of their budgets until the schools resolved the discrimination.
The government funded approximately 34 percent of the budget of Christian school systems in the “recognized but not official” category, in which schools have autonomy over hiring teachers, admitting students, and the use of school property, according to church officials. The government repeated its offer made in previous years to fund fully Christian schools if they became part of the public school system, but the churches rejected this option, stating they would lose autonomy over those decisions. Church leaders criticized the disparity in government funding between their school system and those affiliated with the ultra-Orthodox political parties United Torah Judaism and Shas, which were also categorized as “recognized but not official” but received full government funding.
The government maintained its policy of not accepting applications for official recognition from nonrecognized religious groups, including evangelical Christian churches and Jehovah’s Witnesses. The government stated no religious community had attempted to apply for recognition during the year. In April the Jehovah’s Witnesses submitted an appeal to the Supreme Court requesting official recognition as a religious community. A hearing was scheduled for January 2019. The government stated some leaders of nonrecognized religions were invited and participated along with the leaders of recognized religions at official events or ceremonies.
Seventh-day Adventists stated they faced difficulty traveling to their houses of worship in cities in which public transportation was unavailable on Shabbat, including Jerusalem. Some nonrecognized religious groups, including Jehovah’s Witnesses and Seventh-day Adventists, received a property tax exemption on their houses of worship, although others, such as Buddhists and the Church of Scientology, did not. The government has stated local authorities conducted tax collection from nonrecognized religions in accordance with the law. The government stated it was unaware of any recent case in which a religious house of worship in Israel was not granted a property tax exemption.
In February the Jerusalem municipality began to enforce collection of taxes on church properties used for nonworship activities, such as friars’ residences and parish halls, issuing retroactive fines and placing liens on bank accounts belonging to several churches. Then-Mayor of Jerusalem Nir Barkat said the city was owed 650 million shekels ($173.4 million) in uncollected taxes on church assets. On February 25, leaders of 14 Christian churches in Jerusalem, including the Greek Orthodox, Latin (Roman Catholic), and Armenian Orthodox Churches, issued a joint letter condemning the decision, after the Jerusalem municipality announced it would start collecting back taxes on church-owned property and freeze financial accounts used by churches for their day-to-day operations. Church leaders also expressed concern over the introduction of a draft Knesset bill that would allow the government to expropriate lands sold by a church to private investors, with compensation to the investors for the price they paid for the land. In their joint statement, the church leaders accused the government of a “systematic and unprecedented attack against Christians in the Holy Land.” The bill’s sponsor stated the purpose of the bill was to protect thousands of residents living in buildings built on church lands that private developers purchased from a church. Those residents reportedly feared massive price hikes or eviction when their leases expired.
In protest against the tax collection and the property expropriation bill, church leaders closed the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem on February 25, the first such closure since 1990. They reopened the church on February 28 after Prime Minister Netanyahu announced the government would freeze the tax collection and suspend consideration of the property expropriation bill and establish a working group led by Minister for Regional Cooperation Tzachi Hanegbi to examine the two issues. In a statement following Minister Hanegbi’s meeting with the working group on October 23, the MFA stated the government “has no intention to confiscate church lands or to cause any economic damage to the churches.” When church leaders learned the bill would come before the Knesset on November 11, they pressured the government, which again froze debate on the bill. Church leaders again expressed outrage when the bill was scheduled to be read in the Knesset on December 24, Christmas Eve. The bill did not progress further before the Knesset voted to dissolve itself on December 26.
Christian leaders reported little difficulty obtaining visas for clergy to serve in the country, except for Christian clergy from Arab countries, some of whom reported long delays and periodic denials of their visa applications. The government stated Christian clergy from Arab countries were subject to the same entry laws and similar security procedures as clergy from other parts of the world. The government also said there were some “unavoidable delays” in cases of applicants from states that did not have diplomatic relations with Israel. Church officials noted the clergy visa did not allow the bearer access to basic social benefits such as disability insurance or national health insurance, even for those who have served in the country for more than 30 years.
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 acknowledging their right to conscientious objection. Because members of the community were not exempt from military service, they could not participate in the national civil service program as alternative service.
On June 28, the Supreme Court rejected a petition from the organization Yesh Gvul demanding the government give equal weight to military exemption requests based on conscientious objection as for those based on religious beliefs. The court ruled the two kinds of exemptions were based on different parts of the Security Service Law; exemption for Orthodox Jewish women based on their religious beliefs was a right, while exemption of conscientious objectors was at the discretion of the defense minister.
The MOI continued to train Druze and Muslim clerical employees of the state on how to work with government ministries. The MOI appointed and funded approximately half of the Druze and Muslim clerics in the country. Muslim leaders again said the MOI routinely monitored and summoned for “talks” those whom the ministry suspected of opposing government policies. According to the government, the government did not monitor clerics, but government employees of all faiths were “expected not to incite against the state in their official capacities.” The government stated the remaining Druze and Muslim clerics were nonstate employees due to either the preference of the local community or lack of MOI budget. Muslim leaders stated sharia court judges, who were Ministry of Justice employees, were their preferred religious representatives. No Islamic seminaries remained in the country, and students of Islam traveled elsewhere, primarily Jordan or the West Bank, to study. The government stated there were “Islamic colleges” in Umm al-Fahm, Baqa’a al-Gharbia, and Kfar Baraa. Muslim leaders rejected this assertion, stating the institutes in Umm al-Fahm and Kfar Baraa, operated by an NGO that teaches some Islamic studies, were not recognized as educational institutions by the Israeli Council for Higher Education. The Muslim leaders also said Al-Qasemi College in Baqa’a al-Gharbia was a teachers’ college that includes a program for teaching Islam in schools. The leaders stated that none of those institutes was an Islamic seminary.
According to the NGO Negev Coexistence Forum for Civil Equality (NCF), 115 of the 126 Jewish communities in the Negev maintained admission committees to screen new residents, effectively excluding non-Jewish residents. Following objections by multiple NGOs, authorities canceled plans for new Jewish communities called Daya, Eshel HaNasi, and Neve Gurion to replace existing Bedouin villages. In August the National Planning and Building Council recommended that the government proceed with the establishment of a town called Ir Ovot, which was to include a zone for approximately 50 Bedouin Israelis to remain in their current locations.
On April 11, Bedouin residents of Umm al-Hiran signed an agreement with the Ministry of Agriculture Authority for the Development and Settlement of Bedouin in the Negev to self-demolish their structures and relocate to vacant plots in the Bedouin town of Hura. This decision followed years of legal battles and negotiations, in preparation for replacing Umm al-Hiran with a Jewish community called Hiran. Jewish families sponsored by the OR Movement (an organization dedicated to expanding the Jewish population of the Negev region), who planned to move to Hiran, remained in the forest outside Umm al-Hiran, living in mobile homes donated by the Jewish National Fund, while waiting for the village land to become available.
Some former mosques and cemeteries remained sealed and inaccessible, including to Muslims. These sites belonging to the defunct prestate Waqf (not to be confused with the Jordanian-administered Waqf of the Haram al-Sharif) until confiscated by the state after the 1948 War of Independence. Other former mosques continued to be used for secular purposes. On December 5, following a decades-long legal battle between the Jaffa Muslim community and a real estate developer, the government approved a request from the Tel Aviv Municipality to recognize Tasou cemetery in Jaffa as a Muslim cemetery. This decision included authority for the Muslim community to manage the cemetery but did not transfer its ownership. The Islamic Council in Jaffa welcomed the decision, publicly calling it “a just decision that’s been waiting for more than 70 years.” In November MK Ayman Odeh raised 160,000 shekels ($42,700) to help the Haifa Muslim community repurchase a section of the Independence Mosque in Haifa that government-appointed trustees had previously sold.
Muslim community leaders reported no difficulties obtaining municipal approval for construction of mosques in Muslim-majority localities, but they sometimes faced difficulty in Jewish-majority localities. For example, Be’er Sheva’s Muslim population of approximately 10,000 continued to travel to nearby Bedouin towns to pray because e they could not use an Ottoman-era Be’er Sheva mosque the government previously converted to a museum of Islamic culture and the government would not authorize the construction of another mosque.
On July 30, the Ministry of Transportation ordered the expropriation of land previously allocated to a Karaite synagogue in Ramle for the purpose of building a highway interchange. The Karaites said the loss of land and the new interchange would disrupt their religious and communal activity. On December 11, the Supreme Court dismissed their appeal on procedural grounds, stating the case should be submitted to a lower court. The government subsequently reported the government and community reached an agreement that would minimize the amount of land expropriated and optimize use of the land for the synagogue’s needs.
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. In 2017, the IDF issued new regulations allowing secular military funerals.
In some ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods, private organizations posted “modesty signs” demanding women obscure themselves from public view to avoid distracting devout men. The local municipality of Beit Shemesh failed to comply with court orders from 2015 and 2016 to remove the signs, leading the Jerusalem District Court to rule in 2017 that the municipality would face a fine of 10,000 shekels ($2,700) per day if the signs remained posted. In December 2017, the municipality took down six of the eight signs, but did not then remove the remaining two due to a protest. Local residents put up new signs to replace those the municipality removed. On February 18, the Supreme Court ordered the municipality to install security cameras and take action against individuals posting the signs. As of September police had not made any arrests. The municipality had not installed cameras as of November, according to media reports. The court case continued through December.
In some ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods, vandals repeatedly tore down or defaced billboards showing pictures of women, including commercial advertisements, public awareness campaigns, and political advertisements. In July police arrested six ultra-Orthodox men for vandalizing campaign signs of a female candidate for mayor of Jerusalem, according to media reports.
In response to NGO Secular Forum’s petition against a ban on bringing leavened bread and similar foods into public hospitals during Passover, the government told the Supreme Court in July that it would expand the role of hospital security guards on Passover to include checking visitors’ belongings for such foods. The case was ongoing at year’s end.
The government continued to enforce the 2003 Law of Citizenship and Entry prohibiting non-Jewish Iranians, Iraqis, Syrians, Lebanese, and Palestinians from the West Bank or Gaza, including those who are spouses of Israeli residents or citizens, from obtaining resident status unless the MOI made a special determination, usually on humanitarian grounds. The government stated it has extended the law annually due to government reports that Palestinian family reunification allowed entry to a disproportionate number of persons who were later involved in acts of terrorism. The NGO HaMoked said that statistics from government documents obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests contradicted these terrorism allegations, and the denial of residency to Palestinians from the West Bank or Gaza for the purposes of family reunification led to cases of family separation.
According to HaMoked, there were approximately 10,000 Palestinians living in Israel, including Jerusalem, on temporary stay permits because of the citizenship and entry law, with no legal guarantee they could continue living with their families. There were also cases of Palestinian residents’ Palestinian spouses living in East Jerusalem without legal status. Some Palestinian residents moved to Jerusalem neighborhoods outside the security barrier to live with their nonresident spouse and children while maintaining Jerusalem residency. According to Christian religious leaders, this situation remained an especially acute problem for Christians because of their small population and consequent tendency to marry foreign Christians (Christians who hold neither citizenship nor residency). Christian religious leaders expressed concern this was a significant element in the continuing decline of the Christian population, including in Jerusalem, which negatively impacted the long-term viability of their communities. Other factors included political instability; the inability to obtain residency permits for spouses due to the 2003 Law of Citizenship and Entry; limited ability of Christian communities in the Jerusalem area to expand due to building restrictions; difficulties Christian clergy experienced in obtaining Israeli visas and residency permits; loss of confidence in the peace process; and economic hardships created by the establishment of the security barrier and the imposition of travel restrictions. The government stated such difficulties stemmed from the “complex political and security reality” and not from any restriction on the Christian community.
While the law does not authorize the Israel Land Authority (ILA), which administers the 93 percent of the country in the public domain, to lease land to foreigners, in practice, foreigners have been allowed to lease if they could show they would qualify as Jewish under the Law of Return. The application of ILA restrictions historically limited the ability of Muslim and Christian residents of Jerusalem who are not citizens to purchase property built on state land, including in parts of Jerusalem. In recent years, however, an increasing number of Palestinian residents of Jerusalem have acquired property built on ILA-owned land.
The Jehovah’s Witnesses reported that during the year the government positively addressed two longstanding visa cases involving foreigners married to citizens.
NGOs reported incidents in which authorities violated the freedom not to practice religion, particularly in the secular public education system and the military. For example, the Secular Forum criticized the MOE’s “Jewish Israeli culture curriculum” for students in first to ninth grade, referring to it as “religious indoctrination to young children.” The Secular Forum also opposed religious programs in those schools by private religious organizations, such as presentations about Passover in March by the Chabad ultra-Orthodox Jewish movement. The government denied students were subjected to religious indoctrination or coercion, stating the secular public school curriculum included lessons “on the culture of the Jewish people,” including elements of the Jewish faith and traditions, such as the Jewish calendar and holidays.
In some instances, the IDF did not permit soldiers to cook or heat water for a shower on Shabbat, according to media reports. The government stated soldiers were expected to respect Shabbat and kashrut in IDF base kitchens “in order to accommodate religious and kosher-observant soldiers.” The government said it was not aware of limitations on heating water for showers on bases.
Women’s rights organizations cited a growing trend of gender segregation reflecting increased incorporation of Jewish religious observance in government institutions, including in the IDF, as accommodation to increase the enlistment of participants who follow strict interpretations of Jewish law prohibiting mixing of the sexes. For example, IDF commanders sometimes asked female soldiers serving in leadership or instructor positions to allow a male colleague to assume their duties when religious soldiers who objected to interacting with females were present, according to the Israel Women’s Network. In response to this claim and similar allegations in media reports, IDF Chief of Personnel Director Major General Almoz said such practices “are in violation of Army orders and policy, do unnecessary harm to large groups serving in the Army, and are inconsistent with IDF commanders’ responsibility.” According to many observers, the trend in recent years has been toward greater inclusion of women in the IDF, including in combat roles and senior leadership positions.
NGOs monitoring archaeological practices in Jerusalem continued to state the IAA emphasized archaeological finds that bolstered Jewish claims while minimizing historically significant archaeological finds of other religions. In 2017, the Supreme Court upheld the MRS’ declaration that the Western Wall tunnels were an exclusively Jewish holy site, but ruled that the MRS and the Western Wall Heritage Foundation must ensure those sections of the tunnels significant to Muslims and Christians – including excavations of a Christian chapel, an Islamic school, and Islamic Mamluk-era buildings – were properly managed to protect the antiquities and to ensure access for members of other religions. The government stated the IAA conducted impartial evaluations of all unearthed archeological finds and by law the IAA must document, preserve, and publish all findings from excavations. It added that IAA researchers “have greatly intensified their research of ‘non-Jewish’ periods in the history of the land of Israel, [including] the Prehistoric, Early Bronze, Byzantine, Muslim, Mamluk, and Ottoman periods.”
The interreligious council convened on May 8 and discussed the integration of Bedouin Muslims into the Israeli economy and higher education, according to the government.
Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom
Because religious and national identities were often closely linked, it was often difficult to categorize many incidents as being solely based on religious identity.
According to missionary organizations, societal attitudes toward missionary activities and conversion to other religions continued to be negative. Some Jews continued to oppose missionary activity directed at Jews, saying it amounted to religious harassment, and reacted with hostility toward Jewish converts to Christianity, such as Messianic Jews. For example, security camera footage showed ultra-Orthodox men vandalizing the Beit Hallel Messianic Jewish house of worship in Ashdod in September, and members of the Ashdod Messianic Jewish community complained of stalking, verbal abuse, and harassment from anti-missionary organizations.
Jehovah’s Witnesses stated that on February 17, a man pepper-sprayed two Jehovah’s Witnesses who had knocked on the door of his home in Ashdod. Police closed the case on the grounds the suspect was unknown, even though the victims provided police with the address of the house where the attack occurred. Jehovah’s Witnesses said a television reporter conducted an “ambush interview” on June 14 in front of a Jehovah’s Witnesses literature display in Tel Aviv, selecting a member of Yad L’Achim, a Jewish group that opposes conversion of Jews to other religions, to comment about the Jehovah’s Witnesses. According to Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Yad L’Achim activist made numerous discriminatory and derogatory statements about them.
Lehava, described by press as a radical right-wing Jewish group opposing romantic relationships between Jews and non-Jews, continued to assault Arab men whom they perceived to be consorting with Jewish women, according to the Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC). Following a 2017 IRAC petition to the High Court demanding Lehava leader Ben-Tzion Gopstein be indicted on a series of offenses, the Jerusalem District Attorney held a pre-indictment hearing for Gopstein on March 8 on charges of incitement to violence, racism, terrorism, and obstruction of justice. On March 14, IRAC withdrew its petition after the government stated to the court that it would decide whether to indict Gopstein. In August IRAC wrote a letter to the state attorney requesting a decision regarding an indictment. Prosecutors had not filed an indictment as of the end of the year.
In April authorities indicted seven Jewish Israelis on charges of terrorism targeting Arab (Muslim or Christian) citizens of Israel in a series of attacks, including a stabbing, in Be’er Sheva that began in 2016, according to media reports. According to the indictment, on several occasions the defendants assaulted men whom they believed were Arab to deter them from dating Jewish women. In a plea bargain, the Be’er Sheva District Court issued a five and a half year sentence to Raz Amitzur, the “main spirit of a group that perpetrated these attacks with a racist motive,” according to prosecutors. The court sentenced four other members of the group to community service, according to media reports.
There continued to be reports of ultra-Orthodox Jews in public areas of ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods harassing, with verbal abuse, spitting, or throwing stones, individuals who did not conform to Jewish Orthodox traditions, such as by not wearing modest dress or driving on Shabbat. For example, on July 15, a widely publicized video showed a group of ultra-Orthodox men in Beit Shemesh chasing and yelling at a girl for dressing in a way they perceived as immodest. There continued to be reports of ultra-Orthodox men spitting at individuals wearing Christian clerical clothing, according to church leaders. In Jerusalem, these incidents often occurred in the Old City and near the shared holy site of the Cenacle (devotional site of the Last Supper)/David’s Tomb outside the southeastern wall of the Old City.
Muslim activists reported hijab-wearing women sometimes experienced harassment by non-Muslims on public buses in Tel Aviv-Jaffa.
Tension continued between the ultra-Orthodox community and other citizens, including concerns related to service in the IDF, housing, public transportation, and participation in the workforce. On March 22, in a demonstration by the ultra-Orthodox Hapeleg Hayerushalmi group against the arrest of a military deserter, clashes broke out between demonstrators and police. According to media reports, demonstrators threw stones and other objects at police, used tear gas against police officers, and vandalized cars. Police dispersed protesters with “skunk water” (a foul-smelling, nonlethal liquid used by the government for crowd control) and arrested more than 30 protesters. In a separate incident on April 4, police used stun grenades against ultra-Orthodox protestors who threw objects at cars, according to media reports.
In June Yad L’Achim posted videos of their activists harassing alleged proselytizers. The organization also claimed to have “rescued” individuals from Messianic Jewish congregations and continued to offer assistance to Jewish women and their children to “escape” cohabitation with Arab men, sometimes by “launching military-like rescues from hostile Arab villages,” according to Yad L’Achim’s website. Media reported in October, in the context of municipal elections, that the Ramle branch of the Jewish Home party posted billboards warning against marriages between Jews and Muslims. The national Jewish Home party reportedly disavowed the billboards. The October wedding of Muslim news anchor Lucy Aharish and Jewish actor Tzahi Halevi drew rebukes from Jewish politicians who opposed marriage between Jews and non-Jews.
Unknown suspects vandalized a Conservative synagogue in Netanya in three incidents in May. According to media reports, an unidentified individual spray-painted Nazi symbols on the Mikdash Moshe Synagogue in Petakh Tikva on August 13, and vandals placed a pig’s head at the entrance to the Sukkat Shaul Synagogue in Ramat Hasharon on November 9.
The most common “price tag” offenses, according to police, were attacks on vehicles, defacement of real estate, damage to Muslim and Christian holy sites, assault, and damage to agricultural lands. For example, according to the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, in October vandals damaged tombs and broke crosses at the cemetery of the Salesian Monastery at Beit Jimal near Beit Shemesh, the third attack on the monastery in three years. An October 18 statement from the Latin Patriarchate criticized Israeli authorities for failing to apprehend the culprits in any of the preceding cases. The same day, the MFA condemned the desecration of the cemetery. The MOI offered to pay for the repair of the damaged cemetery markers and headstones.
On April 25, vandals burned two cars and spray-painted anti-Arab graffiti in the village of Iksal in the northern part of the country in a suspected “price tag” attack. Police had not arrested any suspects as of October. On October 26, vandals punctured tires and spray-painted “revenge” and “price tag” in Hebrew on 20 cars in Yafia, near Nazareth, according to media reports. 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.
Although the Chief Rabbinate and rabbis of many denominations continued to discourage Jewish visits to the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif site due to concerns relating to Jewish religious beliefs, some Orthodox rabbis continued to say entering the site was permissible . Increasing numbers of the self-identified “national religious” Zionist community stated they found meaning in setting foot on the site. 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. In some cases, Israeli police acted to prevent individuals from praying and removed them, but in other cases reported on social media and by NGOs, police appeared not to notice the acts. Some Jewish groups escorted by Israeli police performed religious acts such as prayers, wedding rituals, and prostration. According to the Jerusalem Waqf and Temple Mount activist groups, visits by activists associated with the Temple Mount movement increased during the year to record levels, including a single day record of 1,451 visits on “Jerusalem Day” in May, a national holiday commemorating Israel’s establishment of control over all Jerusalem in the 1967 war. According to Temple Mount activist groups and the Waqf, during the weeklong Jewish holiday of Sukkot, activists conducted 3,009 visits, a 25 percent increase over 2017.
Individuals affiliated with the Northern Islamic Movement, which the government declared illegal in 2015, continued to speak of the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif as being “under attack” by Israeli authorities and an increasing number of Jewish visitors. Some small Jewish groups continued to call for the destruction of the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa Mosque to enable the building of a third Jewish temple.
In October, following press reports Jews had purchased property in Jerusalem’s Muslim Quarter owned by Adeeb Joudeh al-Husseini, the representative of a Muslim family historically entrusted with safeguarding the key to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, members of the Palestinian community called on al-Husseini to relinquish the keys to the church. According to Ha’aretz, in November every cemetery in East Jerusalem refused to bury a victim of a car accident because his name was associated with the sale of a house to Jews.
NGOs reported that some LGBTI minors who revealed their sexual orientation in religious communities faced expulsion from their homes and stigmatization from rabbis as suffering from mental illness, leading some to attempt suicide. Other NGOs noted increasing numbers of rabbis, educators, and community leaders in Orthodox Jewish communities were adopting a more inclusive approach to LGBTI minors.
On February 6, Tzohar, a network of Zionist Orthodox rabbis, announced it was opening a nongovernmental certification authority for businesses adhering to Jewish dietary laws. Tzohar’s decision followed a September 2017 Supreme Court ruling allowing a business to display “a true presentation regarding the standards it observes and the manner of supervising their observance,” but without using the word “kashrut,” which the court affirmed only the Chief Rabbinate had authority to determine.
In June media reported the Barkan kosher winery had removed workers of Ethiopian descent from their positions in the production of wine after the NGO Badatz Eda Haredit expressed doubt that Ethiopian-Israelis were Jewish. Sephardic Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef criticized the winery and the Badatz Eda Haredit, and stated categorically that Jews of Ethiopian descent were Jewish. Barkan Winery subsequently issued a statement that their products with a Badatz Eda Haredit kashrut certificate would be destroyed, according to Kan Radio.
According to sources who conducted Jewish weddings outside the Rabbinate’s authority (i.e., did not register them), the vague wording of the law dealing with those who conducted such weddings and the government’s nonenforcement of the law enabled non-Rabbinate Orthodox and non-Orthodox Jewish weddings to occur openly, often as an act of protest against the Rabbinate’s authority. According to the NGO Panim, more than 2,400 Jewish weddings took place outside of the Rabbinate’s authority in 2017, an increase of 8 percent from 2016. Most Jewish citizens, including those who were secular, continued to use Rabbinate-approved Orthodox rabbis to conduct their weddings. The only mechanism for Jews to gain state recognition of a non-Orthodox wedding or a non-Rabbinate Orthodox wedding, however, remained to wed outside the country and then register the marriage with the MOI. Approximately 15 percent of marriages registered with the MOI in 2016, the most recent year available, occurred abroad, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics. According to data from the MRS, most of these weddings involved Israelis who had emigrated from the former Soviet Union.
In July, after police detained and questioned a Conservative rabbi in Haifa for conducting weddings outside of the Rabbinate, dozens of officiants and couples who had married outside of the Rabbinate turned themselves in at police stations in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, and others “confessed” their crime on social media. Police declined to arrest any of the individuals involved.
According to the Rackman Center, thousands of Jewish women were “trapped” in various stages of informal or formal get refusal, especially in the Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox communities. In two cases of get refusal, the NGOs Center for Women’s Justice and Mavoi Satum helped women receive marriage nullification decrees from nongovernmental Orthodox rabbinical courts in June and July.
The Rackman Center stated that in some instances a woman’s husband made granting a get contingent on his wife conceding to extortionate demands, such as those relating to property ownership or child custody. One in three Jewish women who divorced faced such demands, according to the Center for Women’s Justice. A child born to a woman still married to another man is considered a mamzer (child of an unpermitted relationship) under Jewish law, which restricts the child’s future marriage prospects in the Jewish community.
In June the Israel Women’s Network asked the Tel Aviv Municipality and the deputy attorney general not to allow an ultra-Orthodox group to hold a gender-segregated event in Tel Aviv. The municipality canceled the event, and then accepted a Tel Aviv District Court suggestion to allow the event with partial gender segregation on June 24. According to a media report citing government data, the Office for Development of the Periphery, Negev, and Galilee funded more than 80 gender-segregated events during the year to accommodate strict interpretations of halacha.
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 integrated Jewish-Arab bilingual schools, Hiddush, Israeli Religious Action Center, Mosaica, and Interfaith Encounter Association (IEA). For example, IEA held 245 interfaith encounters in Israel (including Jerusalem), of which 120 included Palestinians residents of the West Bank. The number of children studying at integrated Jewish-Arab schools in the school year beginning in September was 1,700, up from 1,100 five years earlier, according to media reports.
In the absence of a written constitution, the law establishes the Church of England as England’s state church and the Church of Scotland as Scotland’s national church. The law prohibits “incitement to religious hatred” as well as discrimination on the grounds of religion. The government updated the 2016 Hate Plan and committed to spending 1.5 million pounds ($1.92 million) on educational programs to challenge discriminatory beliefs. The Home Office published an independent review of the application of sharia in England and Wales that included recommendations for legislative changes to bring the treatment of Muslim religious marriages into line with those of other faiths, an awareness campaign highlighting the benefits of civil registration for religious marriages, and a proposal for the government to regulate sharia councils. The main political parties faced numerous accusations of religious bias. Religious and civil society groups, the media, and others accused Conservative Party politicians, including former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, of anti-Muslim sentiment, and a number of Labour Party politicians, including leader Jeremy Corbyn, faced repeated accusations of anti-Semitism. The Scottish government launched an “Anti-Hate” campaign in an effort to erase sectarianism. The government, a member of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) since 1998, adopted the IHRA’s full working definition of anti-Semitism. In 2017 the London Assembly, Scottish government, and Welsh government also adopted the IHRA’s definition. During the year, the Conservative, Labour, and Liberal Democrat Parties adopted the IHRA definition, but the Green Party’s ruling body decided against it. The Scottish National Party (SNP) did not clarify whether it has adopted the definition.
The government reported similarly high numbers as the previous year in religiously motivated hate crimes and incidents in England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. Community Security Trust (CST), a nongovernmental organization (NGO) monitoring anti-Semitism, recorded 1,652 anti-Semitic incidents during the year, the highest it had ever recorded in a single year and an increase of 16 percent, compared with 1,414 incidents in 2017. There were multiple incidents of violence, arson, threats, and vandalism against religious groups. There were incidents of religiously motivated hate speech against Muslims, Jews, and Christians. Such incidents included the assault on and threatening of a man because of his Muslim beliefs, an assault on two female Jewish protesters outside a political event, attacks and vandalism on Sikh temples and mosques, and a postal campaign encouraging members of the public to “Punish a Muslim.” A number of interfaith initiatives were launched, including the “21 for 21” project, which attempts to identify leaders for the 21st century, seven each from the Christian, Muslim, and Jewish communities.
U.S. embassy officials engaged with and sponsored speakers to visit religious groups. The embassy recognized October 27 as International Religious Freedom Day on its social media channels, including tweets from the embassy’s account highlighting the International Religious Freedom Act, the 2018 Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom, and the statement of the U.S. Secretary of State on the importance of promoting religious freedom and defending vulnerable minorities. On October 29, the Ambassador joined Home Secretary Sajid Javid, Mayor of London Sadiq Khan, Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, and other religious and political leaders at a memorial at a North West London Jewish center for the victims of the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting. The Ambassador joined other speakers in calling for unity against religious hatred.
Section I. Religious Demography
The U.S. government estimates the total population at 65.1 million (October 2018 estimate). Census figures from 2011, the most recent, indicate 59.3 percent of the population in England and Wales is Christian, comprising the Church of England (Anglican), the Church of Scotland (Presbyterian), other Protestant churches, the Roman Catholic Church, and other Christian groups. Of the remaining population, 4.8 percent identified as Muslim; 1.5 percent Hindu; 0.8 percent Sikh; 0.5 percent Jewish; and 0.4 Buddhist. Approximately 25 percent of the population reported no religious affiliation, and 7 percent chose not to answer. The Jehovah’s Witnesses estimates there are 137,000 members in the country, and the Baha’i community estimates it numbers more than 7,000 members.
According to the 2018 British Social Attitudes survey, an annual survey conducted by the independent National Center for Social Research, 53 percent of those surveyed described themselves as having no religion, 15 percent as Anglican, 10 percent as Catholic, and 6 percent as belonging to non-Christian religious groups.
The Muslim community in England and Wales is predominantly of South Asian origin, but it also includes individuals from the Arabian Peninsula, the Levant, Africa, and Southeast Asia, as well as a growing number of converts of European descent. Hindus, Sikhs, Jews, and Buddhists are concentrated in London and other large urban areas, primarily in England.
Census figures for Scotland in 2011 indicate 54 percent of the population is Christian, comprising the Church of Scotland (32 percent), Roman Catholic Church (16 percent), and other Christian groups (6 percent). The Muslim community constitutes 1.4 percent of the population. Other religious groups, which together make up less than 1 percent of the population, include Hindus, Sikhs, Jews, and Buddhists. Persons not belonging to any religious group make up 36.7 percent of the population, and the remainder did not provide information on religious affiliation.
Census figures from Northern Ireland in 2011 indicate 41.5 percent of the population is Protestant – consisting of the Presbyterian Church of Ireland (19 percent), Church of Ireland (14 percent), Methodist Church in Ireland (3 percent), and other Protestant groups (6 percent) – and 41 percent Roman Catholic. Less than 1 percent of the population belongs to non-Christian religious groups, and approximately 10 percent professes no religion; 7 percent did not indicate a religious affiliation.
Census figures from Bermuda in 2010 cite 22 religious groups in the population of 71,000; 78 percent identifies as Christian, including 16 percent Anglican, 15 percent Roman Catholic, 9 percent African Methodist Episcopal, and 7 percent Seventh-day Adventist. Approximately 2 percent identifies with other religious groups, including approximately 600 Muslims, 200 Rastafarians, and 120 Jews. Approximately 20 percent did not identify with or state a religious affiliation.
Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom
In the absence of a written constitution, the law establishes the Church of England as England’s state church. Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland do not have state religions. Legislation establishes the Church of Scotland as Scotland’s national church, but it is not dependent on any government body or the queen for spiritual matters or leadership.
The Human Rights Act 1998 protects freedom of thought, conscience, and religion. It states, “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief and freedom, either alone or in community with other and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance.” The Human Rights Act reaffirms the European Convention of Human Rights, Article 9, which guarantees freedom of thought, conscience, and religion, subject to certain restrictions that are “in accordance with law” and “necessary in a democratic society.”
As the supreme governor of the Church of England, the monarch must always be a member of, and promise to uphold, that Church. The monarch appoints Church of England officials, including lay and clergy representatives, on the advice of the prime minister and the Crown Appointments Commission. Aside from these appointments, the state is not involved in the Church’s administration. The Church of Scotland is governed by its General Assembly, which has the authority to make the laws determining how it operates.
In England and Wales, the law prohibits religiously motivated hate language and any acts intended to incite religious hatred through the use of words or the publication or distribution of written material. The law defines religious hatred as hatred of a group because of its religious belief or lack thereof. The police are responsible for investigating criminal offenses and for gathering evidence; the Crown Prosecution Service, which is an independent body and the main public prosecution service for England and Wales, is responsible for deciding whether a suspect should be charged with a criminal offense. The maximum penalty for inciting religious hatred is seven years in prison. If there is evidence of religious hostility in connection with any crime, it is a “religiously aggravated offense” and carries a higher maximum penalty than the underlying crime alone. In Scotland the law requires courts to consider the impact of religious bias when sentencing.
By law the General Register Office for England and Wales governs the registration and legal recognition of places of worship in England and Wales. The law also states buildings, rooms, or other premises may be registered as meeting places for religious worship upon payment of a fee; the General Register Office for England and Wales keeps a record of the registration, and the place of worship is assigned a “worship number.” Registration is not compulsory, but it provides certain financial advantages and is also required before a place of worship may be registered as a venue for marriages. Registered places of worship are exempt from paying taxes and benefit from participating in the country’s Gift Aid program. Gift Aid allows charities to claim back the 25 percent basic rate of tax already paid on donations by the donor, boosting the value of a donation by a quarter.
Throughout the country the law requires religious education (RE) and worship for children between the ages of three and 13 in state-run schools, with the content decided at the local level. Specialist schoolteachers, rather than religious groups, teach the syllabus. Parents may request to exempt their children from RE. At age 13, students themselves may choose to stop RE or continue, in which case they study two religions. Nonreligious state schools require the RE curriculum to reflect “Christian values,” be nondenominational, and refrain from attempts to convert students. It must also teach the practices of other principal religions in the country. Students and, unless they are employed by faith-based schools, teachers may decline participation in collective worship, without prejudice.
Nonreligious state schools in England and Wales are required to practice daily collective prayer or worship of “a wholly or mainly…Christian character.” Schoolteachers lead these assemblies; however, parents have the legal right to request their children not participate in collective prayer or worship. The law permits sixth form students (generally 16- to 19-year-olds in the final two years of secondary school) to withdraw from worship without parental permission or action. Nonreligious state schools are free to hold other religious ceremonies as they choose.
In Scotland only denominational (faith-based) schools practice daily collective prayer or worship; however, religious observance is compulsory in all Scottish schools. Religious observance is defined as “Community acts which aim to promote the spiritual development of all members of the school’s community.” Examples of religious observance include school assemblies and events to recognize religious events, including Christmas, Easter, and Holocaust Memorial Day. Parents can make the decision to opt out their children from this requirement, but children may not make this decision themselves.
In Bermuda the law requires students attending state schools to participate in collective worship, characterized by educational officials as reciting the Lord’s Prayer, but prohibits worship “distinctive of any particular religious group.” At the high school level, students are required to take a course that explores various religions until year 9 (ages 11-14); in years 10 and 11 (ages 15-16), courses on religion are optional.
There are two faith-based private schools in Bermuda that operate from kindergarten through high school. One follows the guidance of the North American division of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. The other follows principles of the Catholic Church.
The government determines whether to establish a faith-based school when there is evidence of demand, such as petitions from parents, religious groups, teachers, or other entities. If a faith-based school is not oversubscribed, then the school must offer a place to any child, but if the school is oversubscribed, it may use faith as a criterion for acceptance. Nonstate faith-based schools are eligible to claim “charitable status,” which allows for tax exemptions.
Almost all schools in Northern Ireland receive state support, with approximately 90 percent of students attending Protestant or Catholic schools. Approximately 7 percent of school-age children attend religiously integrated schools with admissions criteria designed to enroll equal numbers of Catholic and Protestant children without the intervention of the state, as well as children from other religious and cultural backgrounds. Students of different faiths are able to attend Protestant and Catholic schools but tend to gravitate toward the integrated schools. These integrated schools are not secular but are “essentially Christian in character and welcome all faiths and none.” RE – a core syllabus designed by the Department of Education, Church of Ireland, and Catholic, Presbyterian, and Methodist Churches – is compulsory in all government-funded schools, and “the school day shall include collective Christian worship whether in one or more than one assembly.” All schools receiving government funding must teach RE; however, students may request to opt out of the classes and collective worship. Catholic-managed schools draw uniquely on the Roman Catholic tradition for their RE, while other schools may draw on world religions.
An estimated 30 sharia councils operate parallel to the national legal system. They adjudicate Islamic religious matters, including religious divorces, which are not recognized under civil law. Participants may submit cases to the councils on a voluntary basis. The councils do not have the legal status of courts, although they have legal status as mediation and arbitration bodies. As such, rulings may not be appealed in the courts.
The law prohibits discrimination on the grounds of “religion or belief” or the “lack of religion or belief.” The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) – a body sponsored by the Department of Education’s Government Equalities Office – is responsible for enforcing legislation prohibiting religious discrimination. The EHRC researches and conducts inquiries into religious and other discrimination in England, Scotland, and Wales. The minister for women and equalities appoints the members. If the commission finds a violation, it may issue a notice to the violator and seek a court order to enforce the notice. The EHRC receives government funds but operates independently. The Northern Ireland equivalent to the EHRC is the Equality Commission.
In Northern Ireland the law bans discrimination on the grounds of religious belief only in employment; however, schools may discriminate on the grounds of religion when recruiting teachers. In the rest of the country, the law prohibits any discrimination, including employment discrimination, based on religious belief, unless the employer can show a genuine requirement for a particular religion.
Citing a limited broadcast spectrum, the law prohibits religious groups from holding national radio licenses, public teletext licenses, more than one television service license, and/or radio and television multiplex licenses, which would allow them to offer multiple channels as part of a single bundle of programming.
Twenty-six senior bishops of the Anglican Church sit in the House of Lords as representatives of the state Church. Known as the Lords Spiritual, they read prayers at the start of each daily meeting and play a full role in the life and work of the upper house.
The law requires visa applicants wishing to enter the country as “ministers of religion” to have worked for at least one of the previous five years as a minister and to have at least one year of full-time experience or, if their religion requires ordination, at least two years of part-time training following their ordination. A missionary must also be trained as such or have worked previously in this role.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
In the Autumn Budget, Chancellor Phillip Hammond announced 1.7 million pounds ($2.18 million) of new funding to support Holocaust education. The money was earmarked for coordinating Holocaust survivors’ visits to schools and student visits to concentration camps. The Treasury is designated to work with the Holocaust Education Trust to distribute the funds. This funding is in addition to the 50 million pounds ($64.02 million) committed to support the UK Holocaust Memorial and Learning Centre and Holocaust Memorial, due to be built next to Parliament.
On October 16, the Home Office and the Department for Housing, Communities, and Local Government updated the government’s 2016 Hate Crime Plan. The updated plan includes more than 1.5 million pounds ($1.92 million) of new funding for educational programs to challenge discriminatory beliefs among young persons. The plan also extended the Places of Worship Security Funding Scheme from three to four years. During the year, the scheme provided grants to nine churches, 22 mosques, two Hindu temples, and 12 Sikh gurdwaras. Additional new measures include a Law Commission review into hate crime; a nationwide public awareness campaign; specialist training for police call handlers on how to support hate crime victims; an upgrade of the reporting website, True Vision; and roundtables hosted by government ministers on anti-Semitism and anti-Islamic sentiment.
On May 31, a committee led by Lord Bracadale (Alastair Campbell, former Scottish judge) provided to Scottish ministers the final report of the Independent Review of Hate Crime Legislation that was tasked in January 2017. The report found adequate provisions under existing law for religion as a “protected characteristic.”
In September the Scottish government together with Police Scotland launched a “Letters from Scotland” advertising campaign to raise awareness of hate crimes and encourage persons to report them. The Catholic Church criticized the Scottish government for not directly addressing sectarian hate crimes in the campaign.
The government continued to provide religious accommodation for employees when it considered such accommodation feasible. Muslim employees of the prison service regularly took time off during their shifts to pray. The prison service recognized the rights of prisoners to practice their faith while in custody. The pastoral needs of prisoners were addressed, in part, through chaplains paid for by the Ministry of Justice, rather than religious groups. All chaplains worked as part of a multifaith team, the size and breakdown of which was determined by the size of the prison and the religious composition of the prisoner population. Prison service regulations stated that “chaplaincy provision must reflect the faith denomination requirements of the prison.”
The military generally provided adherents of minority religious groups with chaplains of their faith. At year’s end, there were approximately 240 recruited chaplains in the armed forces, all of whom were Christian. The armed forces also employed five civilian chaplains as full-time civil servants to care for their Buddhist, Hindu, Sikh, Jewish, and Muslim recruits. The Armed Forces Chaplaincy Policy Board was reviewing provision of chaplaincy for personnel of these religions and considering employing suitable chaplains in the reserve forces.
In February the Home Office published an independent review into the application of sharia in England and Wales. The review, commissioned in October 2015 and launched in May 2016, provided three recommendations. The independent review panel recommended amendments be made to the Marriage Act 1949 and the Matrimonial Act 1973. These changes would “ensure that civil marriages are conducted before or at the same time as the Islamic marriages, in line with Christian and Jewish marriages in the eyes of the law.” The review stated the closure of sharia councils was not a viable option. Sharia councils are predominantly used by Muslim women seeking a religious divorce, in some cases because their religious marriages were never registered civilly, rendering civil divorce unavailable to them. The report also recommended the introduction of awareness campaigns, educational programs, and other similar measures to “encourage communities to acknowledge women’s rights in civil law, especially in areas of marriage and divorce.” The report also proposed the creation of a body that would set up the process for councils to regulate themselves. This regulation would require sharia councils to accept and implement a code of practice established by the regulatory body.
The Home Office responded to the independent panel’s recommendations stating, “We will not be taking forward the review’s recommendation to regulate sharia councils. Sharia law has no jurisdiction in the UK, and we would not facilitate or endorse regulation, which could present councils as an alternative to UK laws.”
As of January 2017 there were 6,814 state-funded faith-based schools in England. Of these, 6,177 were primary schools (ages three through 11), representing 37 percent of all state-funded primary schools, and 637 secondary schools (ages 11 through 16), representing 19 percent of all state-funded secondary schools. Church of England schools were the most common type among primary schools (26 percent); Roman Catholic schools were the most common at secondary level (9 percent). Additionally, at the primary and secondary levels, there were 26 Methodist, two Greek Orthodox, one Quaker, one Seventh-day Adventist, one United Reform, 145 other Christian, 48 Jewish, 27 Muslim, 11 Sikh, and five Hindu state-funded schools. There were 370 government-funded denominational schools in Scotland: 366 Catholic, three Episcopalian, and one Jewish. The government classified schools with links to the Church of Scotland as nondenominational.
On the centenary of the legislation that brought Catholic schools into Scotland’s state education system, in June First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced a 450 percent increase to 127,000 pounds ($163,000) in funding for a Catholic teaching program so that more individuals could acquire a Catholic Teaching Certificate allowing them to teach at a Catholic school.
The government continued to require schools to consider the needs of different religious groups when setting dress codes for students. This included wearing or carrying specific religious artifacts, not cutting hair, dressing modestly, or covering the head. Guidance from the Department of Education required schools to balance the rights of individual students against the best interests of the school community as a whole; it noted schools could be justified in restricting individuals’ rights to manifest their religion or beliefs when necessary, for example, to promote cohesion and good order.
In April the Department of Education dropped plans to require providers of out-of-school education to register with local authorities, following a reported personal intervention by the Archbishop of Canterbury. The proposals, which aimed to safeguard children from the risk of extremism, would have subjected religious organizations to government regulations and inspections. The plans would have affected Christian Sunday schools and Muslim madrassas. Groups including the Evangelical Alliance, Christian Institute, and Christian Concern expressed their opposition to the proposals. The Department of Education received approximately 18,000 responses during its three-month consultation period (November 2015-January 2016), many of which were from faith groups stating concern over the proposed regulation.
In January press reported that a North London coroner withdrew a special arrangement for the Jewish community in October 2017. Under the arrangement in effect since January 2015, the remains of Jews who died at home in North London could be sent directly to a specified funeral home, rather than a public mortuary. Coroner Mary Hassell stated that a North London synagogue and burial society had made one of her officers feel bullied and persecuted during a previous postmortem examination. In response, Stamford Hill’s Adath Yisroel Synagogue and Burial Society said the policy was “unlawful” and called for Hassell’s removal. Religious groups brought a legal challenge, and in April the High Court declared Hassell’s policy unlawful and ordered her to change it. In July Hassell made a public apology and requested input from religious groups in crafting a new policy.
In Scotland, a law that criminalized religious hatred where it was connected to soccer matches was repealed on April 20. New charges that would previously have been reported under that law would henceforth be reported as a different offense with a religious aggravation. All ongoing charges under the former law were amended to reflect the change in statutes.
In August a Scottish judge blocked the deportation of a Malaysian Christian woman on religious grounds after she stated she had come to the country to flee Islamist persecution. The presiding Judge Lady Clark held that the woman’s life would be in danger if she were to return to Malaysia.
In May the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) wrote an open letter to the chairman of the Conservative Party demanding an inquiry into “Islamophobia” within the party. In the letter, the MCB asked the party to launch an independent inquiry, publish a list of incidents, institute an education program, and make a public commitment to stamp out bigotry. The letter named Conservative Member of Parliament (MP) Bob Blackman as “fostering Islamophobia.” It listed examples of politicians who had “liked” or reposted anti-Muslim social media posts and pages or had ties to anti-Muslim and far-right groups. In August a petition demanding an independent inquiry into “Islamophobia” in political parties reached more than 30,000 signatures in two days. The petition asked the parliament to adopt the steps proposed by the MCB.
In June two Conservative councilors were suspended following allegations of anti-Muslim comments on social media. Councilor Linda Freedman of Barnet in North London appeared to express support for the detention of Muslims on Twitter. Councilor Ian Hibberd of Southampton posted derogatory comments under a photograph of a fellow councilor wearing Sikh religious dress.
In August former Foreign Secretary and Conservative MP Boris Johnson wrote an opinion piece in The Telegraph newspaper in which he compared fully veiled Muslim women to “letter boxes” and “bank robbers.” Johnson faced criticism from a range of voices within his party, the opposition, and civil society. Prime Minister and leader of the Conservative Party Theresa May and the chairman of the Conservative Party, Brandon Lewis, both called on Johnson to apologize for his comments. Labour Party Shadow Equalities Minister, MP Naz Shah, labeled the comments as “ugly and naked Islamophobia.” The chairman of the Conservative Muslim Forum accused Johnson of “pandering to the far right.” In December an independent panel cleared Johnson of breaking the Conservative Party’s code of conduct. The panel found that while his comments could be considered provocative, it would be “unwise to censor excessively,” adding that Conservative Party rules do not “override an individual’s right to freedom of expression.”
The Labour Party and its leader, Jeremy Corbyn, faced further allegations of anti- Semitism. The CST recorded 148 incidents during the year that were examples of, or related to arguments over, alleged anti-Semitism within the Labour Party. In April the Labour Party was internally investigating 90 cases of anti-Semitism among its members. In April Corbyn wrote an article published in the London Evening Standard newspaper stating that the number of cases of anti-Semitism over the past three years represented less than 0.1 percent of Labour’s membership. In response, BBC Reality Check calculated that from 2015 to 2018, there were more than 300 complaints regarding anti-Semitism in the party, approximately half of those leading to expulsions. In March press reported that in 2012, Corbyn showed support for a mural depicting “Jewish bankers playing monopoly on the backs of the poor.” In response, two major Jewish groups – the Jewish Leadership Council and the Board of Deputies of British Jews – wrote an open letter to the Labour Party and organized a demonstration in Parliament Square. Corbyn later apologized, saying he did not properly look at the picture before arguing that the art should not be removed. Labour MPs joined the British Jewish community in a 2,000-person protest against anti-Semitism within the party.
In April Labour expelled a party member for heckling a Jewish MP at the launch of an anti-Semitism report in 2016. Former Labour Party member and activist Marc Wadsworth accused MP Ruth Smeeth of working “hand-in-hand” with the right-wing newspapers. Wadsworth was expelled two years later by the party’s National Constitution Committee for breaching party rules.
In May former London Mayor Ken Livingstone announced his resignation from the Labour Party after being suspended by the party for two years over allegations of anti-Semitism. The Labour Party first suspended Livingstone in 2016 after he said in a radio interview that Hitler had supported Zionism and announced in March that his suspension had been extended following another formal investigation over anti-Semitism. He continued to dispute the allegations.
In July Labour MP Naz Shah was appointed Shadow Minister for Women and Equalities. In 2016 Shah lost the party whip position and was barred from party activity for three months following comments on Facebook in which she appeared to liken Israeli policies to those of Hitler and suggested Israel should be moved to the United States. In January 2017, following a meeting with the Bradford Board of Deputies, a leading Jewish organization, its president, Jonathan Arkush, supported her, saying, “[Shah] is one of the only people involved in Labour’s anti-Semitism crisis who has sought to make amends for her actions, and for this we commend her and now regard Naz as a sincere friend of our community.”
In December Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt ordered an independent, global review of the persecution of Christians of all nationalities. The Foreign Office review was to be led by Bishop of Truro Philip Mountstephen and was to make recommendations to the government to better support those under threat. The review was due by April 21 (Easter) 2019.
The government, a member of the IHRA since 1998, adopted the full working definition of anti-Semitism in 2016, and the Crown Prosecution Service used it to assess potential prosecutions for anti-Semitic hate crimes. In 2017 the London Assembly, Scottish government, and Welsh government also adopted the IHRA’s definition. In July the Conservative Party adopted the IHRA definition and amended its code of conduct to include an interpretive annex on discrimination, which refers to the IHRA definition. The Liberal Democrats Party adopted the definition in September. The Guardian newspaper reported that the Green Party’s ruling body discussed adopting the definition as part of an internal review but decided against it. The SNP did not clarify whether it had adopted the IHRA definition, but a spokesperson pointed out that the Scottish government, which is ruled by the SNP, adopted the definition in 2017.
Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom
According to Home Office figures for the 12 months ending in March, there were 8,336 religiously motivated hate crimes recorded in England and Wales – 9 percent of total hate crimes – a 40 percent increase over the 5,949 crimes in the previous year. There was no breakdown by type of crime. Home Office statisticians said the increase likely reflected both a genuine rise in hate crime and ongoing improvements in crime recording by the police. Figures rose sharply in March 2017 and March 2018; however, police record crime data on a UK financial year basis (April-March), and there are commonly “increases” in March of each year as police reconcile their annual data. There was also a sharp increase in religiously motivated hate crime in June 2017, which the Home Office linked to the ISIS terrorist attacks in May and June.
In July Tell MAMA, a national project that records anti-Muslim hate crimes, released its annual report for 2017. The report showed the highest number of anti-Muslim incidents since its launch in 2012. In 2017 Tell MAMA recorded a total of 1,330 reports, of which 1,201 were verified as being anti-Muslim in nature. More than two-thirds (839) of the verified incidents, a 30 percent increase compared with 2016, did not occur online. Online reports accounted for one-third of the total incidents in 2017, a 16.3 percent increase from the previous year. Consistent with previous years, incidents that were not online took place within public areas such as parks and shopping areas. Public transport was the second most common place for incidents to take place. The report stated there was “a sharp increase in hate crime in June 2017 following terrorist attacks in May and June.”
In November Tell MAMA released its interim report for the first six months of 2018. During this time, a total of 685 incidents were reported, of which 608 were verified as being anti-Muslim. Of the total number of incidents, 65.9 percent (401) were offline, or street-based, and 34 percent (207) occurred online. The report noted 59.9 percent (124) of the online incidents took place on Twitter, 23.6 percent (49) on Facebook, and the rest on platforms including YouTube and Instagram. Abusive behavior formed the majority of incidents that were not online, and accounted for 45.3 percent (182) records. More than half the victims were Muslim women, accounting for 58 percent (233) of incidents where gender data was available.
In Scotland the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service reported 642 religiously motivated crimes in the 12 months ending in March, a 5 percent decrease (678 in the previous year). The most recent figures included 319 anti-Catholic crimes (384), 174 anti-Protestant crimes (165), 115 anti-Muslim crimes (113), and 21 anti-Semitic crimes (23). Cases did not add up to the total number reported as some of the crimes related to conduct that targeted more than one religious group. In the year ending in March, court proceedings commenced in 85 percent of cases.
The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) reported 41 religiously motivated hate crimes committed in 38 incidents during 2017-18, a 46 percent increase from the previous period. The PSNI cited 52 other religiously motivated incidents in the same period that did not constitute crimes, an increase of 31 over the previous year.
The CST recorded 1,652 anti-Semitic incidents during the year – the highest in a calendar year. For the 2018 calendar year, incidents targeted Jewish public figures (82, compared with 18 in 2017), Jewish schools (40), synagogues (66), Jewish homes (130), and Jewish community organizations, communal events, or commercial property (221). The CST categorized 122 incidents as assaults. Almost three quarters of the incidents occurred in the main Jewish centers of greater London and greater Manchester, 950 and 145, respectively. The CST recorded 384 incidents of anti-Semitism on social media, constituting 23 percent of the overall total of incidents, an increase of 54 percent, compared with 249 in 2017.
According to CST, the sustained high levels of anti-Semitic incidents reported may have resulted in part from improvements in information collection, including better reporting from victims and witnesses as a result of growing communal concern about anti-Semitism; an increase in the number of security guards (many of whom the government funded through a CST-administered grant to provide security at Jewish locations); and ongoing improvements to CST’s information sharing with police forces around the country. While CST stated there was no clear trigger event, months in which the CST recorded a higher number of incidents correlated with the political and media debate over allegations of anti-Semitism within the Labour Party. The CST recorded 148 incidents that were examples of, or linked to, the Labour Party. The CST also stated that higher monthly totals in April and May might have been partly influenced by reactions to violence on the Gaza-Israel border. According to the CST, this sustained high number of anti-Semitic incidents suggested a longer-term phenomenon in which persons with anti-Semitic views appeared to be more confident expressing their views. The CST stated that identifying the ethnicity or religious beliefs of anti-Semitic offenders was difficult, since many incidents involved brief public encounters or, in the case of online statements, no face-to-face contact at all. The CST received a description of the ethnic appearance of an offender in 30 percent (502) of the 1,652 incidents reported. Of these, 60 percent (300) were described as white – European; 15 percent (73) as Black; 13 percent (64) as South Asian; and 9 percent (44) as Arab or North African; and 4 percent (18) as white – South European.
In January the Chelsea Football Club (FC) announced a new campaign to raise awareness of anti-Semitism and its consequences, after fans chanted anti-Semitic abuse at a game in late 2017. Days after Chelsea FC announced its initiative to combat anti-Semitism by its fans, in February some of its supporters were caught singing anti-Semitic songs during a game. In April Chelsea FC sent a delegation of 150 staff and supporters to Auschwitz for the annual March of the Living, a trip described by Chelsea FC’s chairman, Bruce Buck, as “important and effective.” In October Chelsea FC owner Roman Abramovich announced plans to continue the initiative by sending anti-Semitic supporters on educational trips to Auschwitz, rather than banning them from attending games. Buck told The Sun, “This policy gives them a chance to realize what they’ve done, to make them want to behave better.” On October 10, Chelsea FC previewed a film at the Houses of Parliament aimed at raising awareness of the consequences of anti-Semitism, through interspersing images of offensive chants and social media posts alongside images from the Holocaust. The club’s website states, “We are just trying to make a dent in the anti-Semitism in this world. Over time, we hope to make a real contribution for good to society.”
Paul Golding and Jayda Fransen, respectively the leader and deputy leader of Britain First, a nationalist party widely described as far right, appeared separately in court in January in response to charges lodged in November 2017 over their allegedly inciting hatred with anti-Islamic remarks made at the “Northern Ireland against Terrorism” rally, held in Belfast in August 2017. The pair were due in court in April 2018, but the trial was postponed after they were imprisoned in England for similar crimes. As of year’s end, no date had been set for the trial to resume.
In March the leaders of Britain First were jailed over anti-Muslim hate crimes. In May 2017 authorities charged them with causing religiously aggravated harassment in connection with a trial of four Muslim men, at least three of whom were migrants from Afghanistan, accused of gang-raping a 16-year-old girl. Authorities stated that during the trial of the four men, Britain First leaders Paul Golding and Jayda Fransen had distributed leaflets, posted videos, and harassed individuals who they believed were associated with the accused rapists. On October 17, Golding and Fransen were found guilty of “religiously aggravated harassment,” Golding on one charge and Fransen on three. Golding was sentenced to 18 weeks in prison and Frasen to 36 weeks. Facebook deleted the pages of Britain First in the following days, stating the posts had “crossed the line and became hate speech designed to stir up hatred against groups in our society.”
In September the Local Government Commissioner for Standards suspended independent Belfast Councilor Jolene Bunting for four months after she helped Britain First deputy leader Jayda Fransen send a video message from the lord mayor’s chair. In the video, Fransen referred to a speech she gave in August 2017, where she made anti-Muslim comments. In addition to the PSNI investigation of the incident, the local government commissioner was investigating 14 other complaints, including comments she made about Islam.
In March an individual sent letters promoting “Punish a Muslim Day” to mosques in England and Wales, South Asian Members of Parliament, and members of the government, including Prime Minister May. Similar letters, sent in 2016, targeted former Prime Minister David Cameron and Queen Elizabeth II. In 2017 similar letters were sent to mosques around the country. The letters assigned points to specific acts of violence, from awarding 25 points for removing a Muslim woman’s headscarf to 1,000 points for bombing a mosque. Politicians from across the political divide condemned the letters. Following an Urgent Question raised by MP Yasmin Qureshi in the House of Commons, Home Office Minister MP Victoria Atkins called on Muslims to report this letter, or similar communications, to the police. The minister also confirmed the government would revise its Hate Crime Action Plan by introducing new measures, including a wide-ranging law commission review into hate crime, increased funding for places of worship, and the launch of a new public awareness campaign. In June David Parnham, a local government employee from central England, was arrested following fingerprint and DNA evidence. In October Parnham pleaded guilty to creating and sending the letters with the intention of terrorizing Muslims; Parnham faced a potential life sentence.
In March staff at a Belfast library received “threatening phone calls” following an event planned to mark the birth of Belfast-born former Israeli President Chaim Herzog. The Israeli ambassador attended the event organized by the Northern Ireland Friends of Israel, which occurred without incident. Following the event, former First Minister of Northern Ireland Arlene Foster called for political parties in the region to unite against anti-Semitism.
In April the Glasgow High Court sentenced Connor Ward of Banff to life imprisonment for planning terror attacks against mosques. In October Ward appealed his conviction, which the Edinburgh Court of Criminal Appeal rejected on December 13.
In April a group calling itself “Generation Sparta” distributed anti-Muslim leaflets in the lower Ravenhill Road area of Belfast, warning against the “Islamification” of Northern Ireland and calling for Catholics and Protestants to unite against the “common threat” of “fanatical Islamists.” Belfast City Councilor Jolene Bunting defended the incident, which was widely condemned by political parties and was being investigated by the PSNI.
In April a court in Airdrie fined Mark Meechan, who posted online videos of a pet dog taught to perform Nazi salutes, 800 pounds ($1,000). Meechan recorded his partner’s dog responding to statements such as “gas the Jews” and “sieg heil” by raising its paw. Meechan posted these videos on YouTube in 2016. Meechan reacted to the verdict saying, “It’s the juxtaposition of having an adorable animal react to something vulgar that was the entire point of the joke.”
In May police investigated two incidents of anti-Semitic graffiti at Mearns Castle High School in the suburbs of Glasgow. Mearns Castle is a receiving high school for Calderwood Lodge, Scotland’s only Jewish primary school.
In June a man was jailed for threatening to “slit a Muslim’s throat” on Twitter. Twitter users reported Rhodenne Chand to police after they said they feared he would carry out his threat. Chand told police he was “venting” in the wake of the ISIS-inspired terrorist attacks in Manchester and London. He had written 32 tweets between the Manchester Arena bombing and his arrest in June 2017, including wanting to “slit Muslim’s throat.” West Midlands police said some of Chand’s tweets, which had since been taken offline, encouraged violence against Muslims and called for mosques to be attacked. Upon his arrest, Chand told officers he “felt disgusted at himself for writing the posts.” Chand was jailed for 20 months.
In June supporters of English Defence League founder Tommy Robinson – real name Stephen Yaxley-Lennon – performed Nazi salutes at a violent protest in London. Demonstrations against Robinson’s jail sentence took place in various cities across the country. In London a man was filmed repeatedly saluting while holding a banner with anti-Muslim messaging. In Belfast, another supporter was photographed displaying the Nazi salute. Robinson was serving a 13-month sentence in prison, but a court of appeals overturned the verdict in August and ordered a retrial. In October the judge, retrying Robinson for contempt of court, referred the case to the attorney general, stating that in the current setting, lawyers would not be able to perform an appropriate cross-examination of the testimony and evidence given by Robinson in his own defense. By referring the case to the attorney general, Robinson’s contempt charges could be heard in an adversarial setting, in which a lawyer could present evidence and question witnesses to make the case. Robinson was released on bail. The attorney general had responsibility for deciding whether to send the case to the High Court or drop the contempt proceedings. There was no timeline for the decision to be made, and the case remained pending at year’s end.
Police were investigating a video showing England football fans making Nazi salutes during the World Cup in June. The video showed two fans performing a Nazi salute and singing a fascist chant while in a bar.
In July an individual spat on a Scottish priest twice as he spoke to parishioners outside a Catholic church in Glasgow. Another man carrying a pole then further insulted and lunged at the priest. The Orange Walk parade, an annual march held by the Protestant fraternal order Orange Order, was passing by at the time of the incident. Police Scotland investigated the incident; the Grand Orange Lodge of Scotland said none of its members was responsible. Later, police charged a 24-year-old man with aggravated assault linked to the incidents. The attack drew condemnation from all sides of the political debate. In August in Glasgow, the Council banned the Orange Order from walking past the church. Police Scotland welcomed the move to reroute the parade.
In August two women, Emma Storey and Lois Evans, were convicted of assaulting a man because of his Islamic beliefs near Middlesborough in northeast England. The two women held and beat the victim while shouting that they hated Muslims. Evans threatened to kill the victim. The court was shown footage of the assault, filmed on Storey’s cell phone. Storey was sentenced to three years and four months, and Evans was sentenced to two years and eight months in prison.
In August an individual set fire to the doors of the Guru Nanak Gurdwara, a Sikh temple in Edinburgh, causing smoke damage to the temple. The gurdwara is situated in a former church and is the only Sikh center in the Scottish capital, serving a community of more than 500 Sikhs. The Church of Scotland released a short statement expressing its “deepest sympathy” to Edinburgh’s Sikh community. Police arrested a 49-year-old man who had “issues with religion” in connection with the attack.
In August, in Birmingham, armed police were called to two mosques after perpetrators smashed windows using a “heavy-duty catapult” during evening prayers. The attacks, reportedly led worshippers to believe they were under attack by a gunman. No arrests were made.
In September a Swansea FC fan was banned from games for three years and sentenced to a 12-month probation period for making a Nazi salute during a game against Tottenham Hotspur FC. Tottenham’s Director Jon Reuben captured the salute on camera.
In October ITV Tyne Tees discovered a Facebook group named “Bishop Auckland Against Islam” and reported it to Durham police. The Facebook group featured posts praising acts of violence against Muslims, with suggestions that Muslims should be killed for their religious beliefs. Facebook removed the page.
In October attackers beat and kicked two female Jewish protesters outside a “Corbyn, Antisemitism, and Justice for Palestine” event hosted by a pro-Corbyn group in Islington, North London. One of the protesters was pulled to the ground and kicked repeatedly in the head by two women. The victim sustained minor head injuries. The protesters were asked by their attackers to cease filming the doorway to the event and were reportedly shouting “shame on you” as the women turned to enter the venue. It was not clear if the attackers were attending the Corbyn-hosted event.
In October police investigated a possible hate crime in Newtownards by a group dressed as Ku Klux Klan members, including an image posted on social media of the group in a threatening pose outside the town’s Islamic Centre. In 2017 a pig’s head was placed outside the same center.
Numerous individuals expressed complaints concerning an article in The Sunday Times newspaper in October by Rod Liddle for suggesting that British Islamists should “blow themselves up” in East London. The Independent Press Standards Organisation confirmed that it was processing the complaints but did not provide further information. Labour MP Anna Turley called the article “deeply insulting,” and Tell MAMA accused Liddle of Islamophobia.
In November a young boy required hospitalization after he was punched in the eye and grabbed by the mouth by a couple on a bus in Wales after his mother told them she was born in Israel. According to a bystander, the couple appeared to be intoxicated, and the man used “verbal anti-Semitic abuse” when he found out she was Israeli. Police were searching for the perpetrators.
In December the Arsenal Football Club investigated allegations of anti-Semitic behavior by fans during a game against Tottenham, including offensive chants and gestures.
In December the European Union’s Agency for Fundamental Rights (EU-FRA) released its second survey of Jewish experiences and perceptions of anti-Semitism. EU-FRA targeted Jewish populations through community organizations, Jewish media, and social networks; 4,731 individuals who identified themselves as Jewish residents responded to the online survey. Twenty-four percent said they had witnessed other Jews being insulted, harassed, or physically attacked in the previous 12 months, and 25 percent reported being harassed over the same period. Seventeen percent of respondents said they had felt discriminated against because of their religion or belief; 88 percent thought anti-Semitism had increased over the previous five years.
A number of interfaith organizations operated in the country, including Faith Matters, the Inter Faith Network, and Interfaith Scotland. Various interfaith efforts took place throughout the year. In May Muslim leaders ran a full-page advertisement in The Daily Telegraph newspaper condemning anti-Semitism. Leaders of groups including Faith Matters, the Association of British Muslims, and Tell MAMA signed the advertisement. The advertisement read, “We understand that many in our country empathise with the Palestinians and their right to a sovereign state. However, we must be ever vigilant against those who cynically use international issues to vilify Jews or promote anti-Semitic tropes.” The Board of Deputies of British Jews praised the advertisement, tweeting, “Incredible solidarity…. Thank you. Together we will defeat the twin evils of anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim hate.” A week earlier, the Board of Deputies joined Tell MAMA in condemning Islamophobia following the release of its annual report.
In March Interfaith Glasgow won third prize in the UN World Interfaith Harmony Week for its program, “Friendship, Dialogue, Cooperation: Exploring Crucial Elements of Interfaith Harmony.” The group promotes positive engagement between persons of different religious traditions in Scotland’s most religiously diverse city.
In July Christian, Muslim, and Jewish groups joined to launch the “21 for 21” interfaith collaboration. The project, in collaboration with three media outlets – The Jewish News, The Church Times, and Muslim TV – was termed a “search for 21 leaders for the 21st century.” Seven Christians, seven Jews, and seven Muslims were to be chosen from a range of nominees. Winners would be presented with prizes at a reception at Lambeth Palace, the official residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury.
In September local chapters of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Association and the Quakers in Peterborough in Cambridgeshire organized an interfaith conference.
In October the Anglican Diocese of Oxford extended an invitation to a Muslim scholar to preach at a Eucharist service. In response to criticism, a spokesperson for the Diocese of Oxford said the imam “is not the first person from another faith community to be invited to preach the University Sermon. His presence on Sunday reflects the strong commitment of the Church, university, and other faith communities to interfaith engagement.”
In November Interfaith Scotland celebrated Scottish Interfaith Week through a series of events and competitions, including a launch event focused on women of faith in the suffragette movement and creative competition targeted at school students and local communities.
West Bank and Gaza
IN THIS SECTION: ISRAEL | WEST BANK AND GAZA (BELOW)
This section includes the West Bank and Gaza. In December 2017, the United States recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. It is the position of the United States that the specific boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem are subject to final status negotiations between the parties.
The Palestinian Authority (PA) exercised varying degrees of authority in the West Bank and no authority over Jerusalem. Although PA laws apply in the Gaza Strip, the PA did not have authority there, and Hamas continued to exercise de facto control over security and other matters. The PA Basic Law, which serves as an interim constitution, establishes Islam as the official religion and states the principles of sharia shall be the main source of legislation, but provides for freedom of belief, worship, and the performance of religious rites unless they violate public order or morality. It also proscribes discrimination based on religion, calls for respect of “all other divine religions,” and stipulates all citizens are equal before the law. Violence between Palestinians and Israelis continued, primarily in the West Bank and the periphery of Gaza. Continued travel restrictions impeded the movements of Muslims and Christians between the West Bank and Jerusalem. Some official PA media channels, as well as social media accounts affiliated with the ruling Fatah political movement, featured content praising or condoning acts of violence, at times referring to assailants as “martyrs.” Several local Fatah chapters on social media referred to individuals who had engaged in terrorist attacks as martyrs and posted memorials, including photographs of suicide bombers. The Fatah branch in the city of Tubas and the Fatah youth organization posted a photograph in March celebrating a suicide bomber from the second Intifada who killed one Israeli and injured 90 others. Anti-Semitic content also appeared in Fatah and PA-controlled media. In October Palestinian authorities detained a Palestinian-U.S. citizen Jerusalem identification card holder, prosecuted him for possible involvement in sale of Palestinian-owned property to a Jewish Israeli group, and found him guilty of “seizing/tearing away part of the Palestinian Territories to a foreign state,” sentencing him to life in prison with hard labor. In April the Palestinian Supreme Fatwa Council reiterated an Islamic legal ruling (fatwa) reemphasizing previous rulings that sale of Palestinian-owned lands, including in Jerusalem, to “enemies such as the state of Israel,” is forbidden to Muslims according to sharia. According to media sources, the ruling considered the land to be Islamic public property and not personal private property, based on previous rulings by Palestinian and other Muslim religious legal scholars. Palestinian officials also condemned the sale of Palestinian land to Jewish Israelis in nationalistic terms. Palestinian leaders did not always publicly condemn individual terrorist attacks or speak out publicly against members of their institutions who advocated for violence. PA President Mahmoud Abbas maintained a public commitment to nonviolence. The PA and the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) continued to provide “martyr payments” to the families of Palestinian individuals killed during the commission of a terrorist act. The PA and PLO also continued to provide payments to Palestinians in Israeli prisons, including those convicted of acts of terrorism against Israelis. President Abbas said he would use his last penny “on the families of the prisoners and martyrs.” Following the September fatal stabbing of a Jewish settler in the West Bank by a Palestinian, President Abbas told Israeli government leaders that “everybody loses from violence.” On April 30, however, President Abbas delivered a speech at a meeting of the Palestinian National Council, in which he said massacres of Jews, including the Holocaust, were related to their conduct in “social behavior, [charging] interest, and financial matters,” and not their religion. He issued a statement on May 4 apologizing to those offended by the remarks, condemning anti-Semitism in all its forms, and called the Holocaust the most heinous crime in history. Senior Israeli and Palestinian leaders condemned violent acts by Jewish individuals and groups against Palestinians, including property crimes. The Israeli government arrested or detained alleged suspects in such attacks. Local human rights groups and media stated that authorities rarely convicted alleged Israeli offenders.
Hamas, a U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organization with de facto control of Gaza, Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), and other extremist groups disseminated anti-Semitic materials and incited violence through traditional and social media channels, as well as during rallies and other events. Hamas also continued to enforce restrictions on Gaza’s population based on its interpretation of Islam and sharia.
In some cases, perpetrators justified incidents of violence on religious grounds. On January 9, a Palestinian shot and killed an Israeli rabbi at a traffic junction near the Israeli settlement outpost (a term used to describe a settlement that, under Israeli law, is illegal and unauthorized) of Havat Gilad, west of Nablus in the West Bank. Israeli police opened an investigation into the death of Aysha al-Rabi, a Palestinian resident of the West Bank, killed October 12 when a thrown stone broke through her car windshield. At year’s end, an Israeli police investigation continued into the possible involvement of yeshiva students from a nearby settlement. On multiple occasions, Palestinians threw rocks at Jewish visitors to Joseph’s Tomb in Nablus. Various Israeli and Palestinian groups opposed to interacting with members of other religions continued to protest against interfaith social and romantic relationships and other forms of cooperation. Some Israeli settlers in the West Bank continued to justify their attacks on Palestinian property, or “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 taken by the government against the attackers’ interests), such as the uprooting Palestinian olive trees, as necessary for the defense of Judaism.
U.S. government representatives met with Palestinian religious leaders to discuss religious tolerance and a broad range of issues affecting Christian, Muslim and Jewish communities. U.S. officials met with political, religious, and civil society leaders to promote interreligious tolerance and cooperation. U.S. representatives met with representatives of religious groups to monitor their concerns about access to religious sites, respect for clergy, and attacks on religious sites and houses of worship, and also met with local Christian leaders to discuss their concerns about ongoing Christian emigration from Jerusalem and the West Bank.
Section I. Religious Demography
The U.S. government estimates the total Palestinian population at 2.8 million in the West Bank and 1.8 million in the Gaza Strip (July 2018 estimates). According to the U.S. government and other sources, Palestinian residents of these territories are predominantly Sunni Muslims. The Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics reports an estimated 412,000 Jewish Israelis reside in Israeli settlements in the West Bank. According to various estimates, 50,000 Christians reside in the West Bank and Jerusalem, and according to media reports and religious communities, there are approximately 1,000 Christians residing in Gaza. According to local Christian leaders, Palestinian Christian emigration has continued at rapid rates. A majority of Christians are Greek Orthodox; the remainder includes Roman Catholics, Melkite Greek Catholics, Syrian Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, Armenian Catholics, Coptic Orthodox, Maronites, Ethiopian Orthodox, Syrian Catholics, Episcopalians, Lutherans, other Protestant denominations, including evangelical Christians, and small numbers of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Jehovah’s Witnesses. Christians are concentrated primarily in Bethlehem, Ramallah, and Nablus; smaller communities exist elsewhere. Approximately 360 Samaritans (practitioners of Samaritanism, which is related to but distinct from Judaism) reside in the West Bank, primarily in the Nablus area.
Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom
West Bank and the Gaza Strip residents are subject to the jurisdiction of different authorities. Palestinians in the West Bank are subject to Jordanian and Mandatory statutes in effect before 1967, military ordnances enacted by the Israeli Military Commander in the West Bank in accordance with its authorities under international law, and in the relevant areas, PA law. Israelis living in the West Bank are subject to military ordnances enacted by the Military Commander and Israeli law and Israeli legislation. Palestinians living in the portion of the West Bank designated as Area C in the Oslo II Accord are subject to military ordnances enacted by the Military Commander. Palestinians who live in Area B fall under PA civil and criminal law, while Israel retains the overriding responsibility for security. 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 military ordnances enacted by the Military Commander whenever its military enters Area A, as part of its overriding responsibility for security. The city of Hebron in the West Bank – an important city for Jews, Muslims, and Christians due to the Ibrahimi Mosque/Tomb of the Patriarchs – is divided into two separate areas: area H1 under PA control and area H2, where approximately 800 Israeli settlers live and where internal security, public order and civil authorities relating to Israelis and their property are under Israeli military control. In 2007, Hamas staged a violent takeover of PA government installations in the Gaza Strip and has since maintained a de facto government in the territory, although the area nominally comes under PA jurisdiction.
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 law states the principles of sharia shall be the main sources of legislation. It contains language adopted from the pre-1967 criminal code of Jordanian rule criminalizing “defaming religion,” with a maximum penalty of life in prison. Since 2007, the elected Palestinian Legislative Council, controlled by Hamas, has not convened. The Palestinian Constitutional Court dissolved the Palestinian Legislative Council in December and called for new elections. The President of the PA promulgates executive decrees that have legal authority.
There is no specified process by which religious organizations gain official recognition; each religious group must negotiate its own bilateral relationship with the PA. The PA observes nineteenth century status quo arrangements reached with the Ottoman authorities, which recognize the presence and rights of the Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Armenian Orthodox, Syrian Catholic, Coptic Orthodox, Ethiopian Orthodox, Melkite Greek Catholic, Maronite, Syrian Orthodox, and Armenian Catholic Churches. The PA also observes subsequent agreements that recognize the rights of the Episcopal (Anglican) and Evangelical Lutheran Churches. The PA recognizes the legal authority of these religious groups to adjudicate personal status matters, such as marriage, divorce, and inheritance. Recognized religious groups may establish ecclesiastical courts to issue legally binding rulings on personal status and some property matters for members of their religious communities. The PA’s Ministry of Religious Affairs is administratively responsible for these family law issues.
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. By law, 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.
The PA maintains some unwritten understandings with churches that are not officially recognized, based on the basic principles of the status quo agreements, including the Assemblies of God, Nazarene Church, and some evangelical Christian churches, which may operate freely. Some of these groups 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 actions to be recognized by and registered with the PA. These churches may not proselytize.
By law, the PA provides financial support to Islamic institutions and places of worship.
Religious education is part of the curriculum for students in grades one through six in public schools the PA operates, as well as some Palestinian schools in Jerusalem that use PA curriculum. 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 in the West Bank, which include religious instruction. Private Islamic schools also operate in the West Bank.
Palestinian law provides that in the 132-member Palestinian Legislative Council, six seats be allocated to Christian candidates, who also have the right to contest other seats. There are no seats reserved for members of any other religious group. A presidential decree requires that Christians head 10 municipal councils in the West Bank (including Ramallah, Bethlehem, Birzeit, and Beit Jala) and establishes a Christian quota for 10 West Bank municipal councils.
PA land laws prohibit Palestinians from selling Palestinian-owned lands to “any man or judicial body corporation of Israeli citizenship, living in Israel or acting on its behalf.” While the law does not authorize the Israel Land Authority (ILA), which administers the 93 percent of Israeli land in the public domain, to lease land to foreigners, in practice, foreigners have been allowed to lease if they could show they qualify as Jewish under the Law of Return.
Although the PA removed the religious affiliation category from Palestinian identity cards issued since 2014, older identity cards continue to circulate, listing the holder as either Muslim or Christian.
In October Palestinian authorities detained a Palestinian-U.S. citizen Jerusalem identification card holder and investigated him for involvement in brokering the sale of Palestinian property to Jewish Israelis. After a one-week trial, the Palestinian Grand Criminal Court found him guilty of “seizing/tearing away part of the Palestinian Territories to a foreign State” and sentenced him to life in prison with hard labor. Authorities also froze his bank accounts as well as those of the owners of the property, according to media.
Israeli police and the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) reported investigating known instances of religiously motivated attacks and making arrests where possible. In general, however, NGOs, religious institutions, and media continued to state that arrests in religiously motivated crimes against Palestinians rarely led to indictments and convictions. Israeli NGO Yesh Din also reported Palestinian victims generally feared reprisals by perpetrators or their associates. Both of these factors increased Palestinian victims’ reluctance to file official complaints, according to Yesh Din.
The Israeli government stated that authorities maintained a zero-tolerance policy against Israeli extremists’ attacks on Palestinians and have made efforts to enhance law enforcement in the West Bank, including through taskforces, increased funding, and hiring additional staff members. During the first six months of the year, Israeli police had investigated 115 allegations of nationalistic-based offenses committed by Israelis in the West Bank and 405 allegations against Palestinians. In all of 2017, Israeli police investigated 183 and 609 allegations, respectively. At the end of June, Israeli authorities had opened 35 new investigations of ideologically-based offenses and disturbances of public order by Israelis against Palestinians, compared with 29 in all of 2017. By June Israeli authorities issued four indictments in these cases, two of which were from prior years’ investigations, while in 2017 four indictments were issued, including three from prior years’ investigations. Offenses against property constituted 65 percent of these cases. Israeli authorities investigated 15 cases of Israelis allegedly committing bodily harm against Palestinians. As of the end of June, however, Israeli authorities had not investigated any cases involving Israeli stone-throwing at Palestinians in the West Bank. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported 21 incidents of Israelis throwing stones at Palestinian homes and vehicles during the same six-month period.
As of October, Israeli authorities had issued 27 restraining orders against 25 Israelis from entering the West Bank and four orders prohibiting Israelis from entering specific areas in the West Bank. In 2017, Israeli authorities issued one detention order and 55 restraining orders against 41 Israelis, including minors, prohibiting their presence in the West Bank to deter and prevent ideologically based offenses. The Israeli government stated the special unit it established in 2013 in the West Bank’s Judea and Samaria Police District to combat nationalist crimes was fully operational, with 60 police officers, and 20 auxiliary officers.
The PA continued to provide imams with themes they were required to use in weekly Friday sermons in West Bank mosques and to prohibit them from broadcasting Quranic recitations from minarets prior to the call to prayer. The Mufti of Jerusalem issued fatwas prohibiting Palestinian participation in Jerusalem municipal elections, and sales of Palestinian-owned lands to Israelis. In April the Palestinian Supreme Fatwa Council reiterated an Islamic legal ruling (fatwa) reemphasizing previous rulings that sale of Palestinian-owned lands, including in Jerusalem, to “enemies such as the state of Israel,” is forbidden to Muslims according to sharia.
Nonrecognized churches, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses and some evangelical Christian groups, faced a continued PA ban on proselytization but stated they were able to conduct most other functions unhindered by the PA. Palestinian authorities generally recognized on a case-by-case basis personal status documents issued by nonrecognized churches. The PA, however, continued to refuse to recognize personal status legal documents (e.g., marriage certificates) issued by some of these nonrecognized churches, which the groups said made it difficult for them to register newborn children under their fathers’ names or as children of married couples. Many nonrecognized churches advised members with dual citizenship to marry or divorce abroad to register the action officially in that location. Some converts to nonrecognized Christian faiths had recognized churches with which they were previously affiliated perform their marriages and divorces. Members of some faith communities and faith-based organizations stated they viewed their need to do so as conflicting with their religious beliefs. During the year, Palestinian authorities established a procedure for registering future marriages involving Jehovah’s Witnesses, which would also enable couples to register their children and protect the children’s inheritance rights. Palestinian authorities generally recognized on a case-by-case basis documents from a small number of churches that were relatively recently established in the West Bank and whose legal status remained uncertain.
Religious organizations providing education, health care, and other humanitarian relief and social services to Palestinians in and around East Jerusalem continued to state that the security barrier that was begun by Israel during the second Intifada (2000-2005), impeded their work, particularly south of Jerusalem in the West Bank Christian communities around Bethlehem. Clergy members stated the barrier and additional checkpoints restricted their movements between Jerusalem and West Bank churches and monasteries, as well as the movement of congregants between their homes and places of worship. Christian leaders continued to state the 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 government previously stated it constructed the barrier as an act of self-defense, and that it was highly effective in preventing attacks in Israel.
In addition, Bethlehem residents said political instability affected tourism, Bethlehem’s key economic sector. Christians also criticized the PA for failing to better protect their communities and way of life, which was under pressure from lack of economic opportunities and other drivers of emigration. During the year, Bethlehem had the highest unemployment rate among West Bank cities, which sources stated was a factor compelling many young Christians to emigrate. Community leaders estimated Bethlehem and surrounding communities were only 12 percent Christian, compared with more than 70 percent in 1950.
Palestinian leaders often did not publicly condemn individual terrorist attacks or speak out publicly against members of their institutions who advocated for violence. Media and social media regularly used the word “martyr” to refer to individuals killed during confrontations with Israeli security forces. Some official PA media channels, social media sites affiliated with the Fatah political movement, terrorist organizations, and individuals glorified terrorist attacks on Jewish Israelis, referring to the assailants as “martyrs.” Several local Fatah chapters on social media referred to individuals who had engaged in terrorist attacks as martyrs and posted memorials, including photographs of suicide bombers. The Fatah branch in the city of Tubas and the Fatah youth organization posted a photograph on March 11 of Wafa Idreis, a suicide bomber who carried out an attack during the second Intifada, and which killed one Israeli and injured 90 others.
The PA and the PLO continued to provide “martyr payments” to the families of Palestinian individuals killed during the commission of a terrorist act. The PA and the PLO also continued to provide payments to Palestinians in Israeli prisons, including those convicted of acts of terrorism against Israelis. These payments and separate stipends for prisoners were first initiated by the PLO in 1965 and have continued under the PA since the Oslo Accords with Israel. President Abbas said he would use his last penny “on the families of the prisoners and martyrs.”
The PA Ministry of Waqf and Religious Affairs continued to pay for construction of new mosques, maintenance of approximately 1,800 existing mosques, and 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.
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.
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, particularly Joseph’s Tomb in Nablus, a site of religious significance to Jews, Christians, and Muslims. Some Jewish religious leaders said this policy limiting travel to parts of the West Bank prevented Jewish Israelis from freely visiting several Jewish religious sites in the West Bank, including Joseph’s Tomb, because they were denied the opportunity to visit the site on unscheduled occasions or in larger numbers than permitted through IDF coordination. IDF officials said requirements to coordinate Jewish visits to Joseph’s Tomb were necessary to ensure Jewish Israelis’ safety. Palestinian and Israeli security forces coordinated some visits by Jewish groups to PA-controlled areas within the West Bank.
Rachel’s Tomb, a Bethlehem shrine of religious significance to Jews, Christians, and Muslims under Israeli jurisdiction in Area C, remained separated from the West Bank by the security barrier built during the second Intifada, and Palestinians could only access it if Israeli authorities permitted them to cross the barrier. Residents and citizens of Israel continued to have relatively unimpeded access. Israeli police closed the site to all visitors on Saturdays, for the Jewish Sabbath (Shabbat).
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. Palestinian leaders continued in statements to local media to oppose the IDF’s control of access, citing Oslo-era agreements that gave Israel and the PA shared administrative responsibility for the site, although Israel retained full security responsibility for the site. Some Muslim leaders publicly rejected a Jewish connection to the site. The IDF again restricted Muslim access on 10 days corresponding to Jewish holidays and Jewish access on 10 days corresponding to Islamic holidays. The Israeli government said these restrictions allowed a greater number of worshipers to access the site on special days for the two faiths. The IDF restricted Muslims to one entry point with IDF security screening. The IDF granted Jews access via several entry points without security screening. The Israeli government said police guard posts were located at both crossings, and manned by soldiers and equipped with metal detectors. Entrance was denied to individuals identified as posing a threat to the security of the site or its worshipers. Citing security concerns, the IDF periodically closed roads approaching the site, and since 2001 has permanently closed Shuhada Street, the former main Hebron market and one of the main streets leading to the holy site, to Palestinian-owned vehicles. The Israeli government said the road closure was to prevent confrontations. Both Muslims and Jews were able to pray at the site simultaneously in separate spaces, a physical separation that was instituted by the IDF following a 1994 attack by an Israeli that killed 29 Palestinians. Israeli authorities continued to implement frequent bans on the Islamic call to prayer from the Ibrahimi Mosque, stating the government acted upon requests by Jewish religious leaders in Hebron regarding the needs of Jewish worshippers at the site.
Following the September fatal stabbing of a Jewish settler in the West Bank by a Palestinian, President Abbas told Israeli government leaders that “everybody loses from violence.” On April 30, however, Abbas spoke at a meeting of the Palestinian National Council, stating the massacres of Jews, including during the Holocaust, were related to their “social behavior, [charging] interest, and financial matters,” and not their religion. He issued a statement on May 4 apologizing to those offended by his remarks, condemning anti-Semitism in all its forms, and called the Holocaust the most heinous crime in history.
Religiously intolerant and anti-Semitic material continued to appear in official PA media. On October 5, the official Palestinian TV aired a speech by PA Islamic Law Judge Muhannad Abu Roomi describing Jews as “fabricators of history” who “dance and live on the body parts and blood of others.” In another instance, a guest on a Palestinian TV program on April 10 stated that the Holocaust was a lie, and that many Jews “colluded with Hitler to create a gateway to bring settlers to Palestine.” On December 14, Osama al-Tibi delivered a Friday sermon at the Taqwa mosque in al-Tira, near Ramallah, broadcast on Palestine TV. In his sermon, al-Tibi said he was not able to mention all of the Jews’ despicable traits, and that “Allah … turned them into apes and pigs.”
There continued to be anti-Semitic and militaristic and adversarial content directed against Israel in Palestinian textbooks as well as the absence of references to Judaism alongside Christianity and Islam when discussing religion, according to Palestinian Media Watch and the Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education. The two NGOs also reported that PA schoolbooks for the 2017-2018 school year contained material glorifying terror and promoting violence. In September media reported a European Parliament committee voted to freeze more than $17 million in aid to the PA over incitement against Israel in its textbooks.
NGOs monitoring archaeological practices in the West Bank continued to state the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), an Israeli government entity, exploited archaeological finds to bolster Jewish claims, while overlooking other historically significant archaeological finds of other religions or the needs of Palestinian residents at these sites. Under the Israeli Antiquities Law, excavations within a sacred site require the approval of a ministerial committee, which includes the ministers of culture, justice, and religious affairs. The government stated that the IAA conducted impartial evaluations of all unearthed archeological finds, and the IAA was obligated by law to document, preserve, and publish all findings from excavations. It added that IAA researchers “have greatly intensified their research of ‘non-Jewish’ periods in the history of the land of Israel, [including] the Prehistoric, Early Bronze, Byzantine, Muslim, Mamluk and Ottoman periods.”
The Israeli government retained its previous regulations regarding visa issuance for foreigners to work in the West Bank, regulations Christian institutions said impeded their work by preventing many foreign clergy from entering and working. The Israeli government continued to limit Arab Christian clergy serving in the West Bank 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 in receiving visas and reported periodic denials of their visa applications. The Israeli government stated visa delays or denials were due to security processing, and visitors from states without diplomatic relations with Israeli could face delays. Officials from multiple churches expressed concerns that non-Arab visa applicants and visa renewal applicants also faced long delays. Christian leaders said Israel’s visa and permit policy for individuals wishing to work and reside in the West Bank adversely impacted faith-based operations in the West Bank. While clergy generally were able to obtain visas, Christian leaders said this policy adversely affected school teachers and volunteers affiliated with faith-based charities working in the West Bank. NGOs and religious leaders said this policy did not appear to specifically target faith based organizations, but rather, appeared to be part of a broader Israeli tightening of visa issuance in response to the international “Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement.” Israeli authorities issued permits for some Christians in Gaza to exit Gaza to attend religious services in Jerusalem or the West Bank. Christian leaders said Israel issued insufficient permits to meet the full demand, and the process was lengthy and time consuming.
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, including delegations from Europe, North America, and South Africa.
At year’s end, Christians held minister-level positions in three PA ministries (Finance, Economy, and Tourism) and the cabinet-level office of deputy prime minister for public information.
Hamas, PIJ, and other militant and terrorist groups continued to be active in Gaza. Hamas remained in de facto political control of Gaza.
Hamas leaders continued to call for the elimination of the state of Israel, and some Hamas leaders called for the killing of Zionist Jews. Some Hamas leaders condemned, however, the terrorist attack on a U.S. synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Hamas also continued to enforce restrictions on Gaza’s population based on its interpretation of Islam and sharia, including a separate judicial system from the PA courts. At times Hamas courts prohibited women from departing Gaza due to ongoing divorce or family court proceedings, despite having Israeli authorization to travel. Human Rights Watch issued a report in October regarding accusation of torture and abuse of detainees in PA and Hamas detention, based on 86 cases and dozens of interviews with former detainees, lawyers, and family members. The report included an example from 2017 of Hamas police detaining a social worker and investigating him for “offending religious feelings.” Media reported the Hamas-affiliated Islamic University of Gaza required hijabs for all females. Gazan civil society leaders said Hamas in recent years had moderated its restrictions on dress and gender segregation in public.
Christian groups reported Hamas generally tolerated the small Christian presence in Gaza and did not force Christians to abide by Islamic law. According to media accounts, Hamas continued to neither investigate nor prosecute Gaza-based cases of religious discrimination, including reported anti-Christian bias in private sector hiring and in police investigations of anti-Christian harassment. Media quoted Gazan Christians as saying that Hamas generally did not impede private and communal religious activities for the Christian minority in Gaza, but continued to not celebrate Christmas as a public holiday, unlike in the West Bank.
Some Muslim students continued to attend schools run by Christian institutions and NGOs in Gaza.
Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom
There were incidents of deadly violence that perpetrators said was justified at least partly on religious grounds. Because religion and ethnicity or nationality were often closely linked, it was difficult to categorize much of this violence as being solely based on religious identity. Actions included killings, physical and verbal attacks on worshipers and clergy, and vandalism of religious sites. There was also harassment by members of one religious group of another, social pressure to stay within one’s religious group, and anti-Semitic content in media.
On January 9, a member of Hamas’s Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades shot and killed Rabbi Raziel Shevach at a traffic junction near the Israeli settlement outpost of Havat Gilad, west of Nablus in the West Bank. On March 28, an Arab Israeli, Abed al-Hakim Asi, was charged in Central District Court for the February 5 fatal stabbing of Rabbi Itamar Ben Gal at a bus stop near the Ariel settlement, located between Nablus and Ramallah. Following these two attacks, Israeli settlers from neighboring areas threw stones at Palestinian vehicles and houses, destroyed olive orchards, sprayed anti-Palestinian graffiti, and blocked road access to Nablus.
On October 12, Aysha al-Rabi, a Palestinian resident of Bidya village, died when an unidentified individual threw a two-kilogram (4.4 pound) stone through her car windshield. Israeli police opened an investigation and at year’s end continued to investigate the possible involvement of yeshiva students from the nearby Israeli settlement of Rehelim.
In July a Palestinian teenager climbed over the wall of a Jewish settlement in the West Bank near Ramallah and stabbed three Israelis, killing one. Neighbors of the victim killed the 17-year-old. In response, the Israeli defense minister tweeted, “The best answer to terror is the accelerated settlement of Judea and Samaria.”
Palestinians at times violently protested when Jewish groups visited holy sites in the West Bank, particularly Joseph’s Tomb in Nablus. Palestinians threw stones and Molotov cocktails and clashed with IDF escorts during visits of Jewish groups to Joseph’s Tomb (located in Area A) on several days during the year. The IDF used tear gas, rubber bullets, and live fire to disperse Palestinian protesters, secure the site, and/or evacuate Jewish worshippers.
According to local press and social media, some Israeli settlers in the West Bank continued to justify their attacks on Palestinian property, or “price tag” attacks, such as the uprooting of Palestinian olive trees, as necessary for the defense of Judaism. NGO Tag Meir reported that in April unknown assailants attempted to set a mosque near Nablus on fire, leaving graffiti on the building that stated “price tag and revenge.”
According to local human rights groups and media, Israeli authorities rarely prosecuted Jewish attacks against Muslims and Christians successfully, failing to open investigations or closing cases for lack of evidence. The Israeli government stated it maintained a zero-tolerance policy towards “price-tag” offenses by Israeli extremists and other violence against Palestinians in areas of the West Bank under its responsibility. It also stated it had made efforts to enhance law enforcement in the West Bank, which led to a decrease in ideologically-based offences, and an increase in the numbers of investigations and rates of prosecution.
A crowd of Christian Palestinians threw stones, bottles, and eggs at Greek Orthodox Patriarch Theophilos III on January 6-7 when he arrived in Bethlehem’s Manger Square to preside over midnight Mass on Orthodox Christmas. Members of the crowd, who also pounded the patriarch’s car with their fists, chanting “traitor, traitor,” accused the Greek Orthodox Church of selling Palestinian-owned property and land to Israeli Jewish groups. According to media, the controversy dated back to 2004, when three companies associated with a settler group obtained a long-term lease on three buildings belonging to the Greek Orthodox Church in the Old City of Jerusalem. The church launched a legal battle against the agreement, calling it “illegal” and “unauthorized.” In 2017, a district court in Israel rejected the church’s argument. The church appealed the decision to the Israeli Supreme Court in November 2017, and the appeal was still pending at year’s end.
According to members of more recently arrived faith communities in the West Bank and Jerusalem, established Christian groups opposed their efforts to obtain official recognition from the PA because of the newcomers’ proselytizing.
Political and religious groups in the West Bank and Gaza continued to call on members to “defend” Al-Aqsa Mosque.
According to Palestinian sources, most Christian and Muslim families in the West Bank and Gaza Strip pressured 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, encountered considerable societal and family opposition. Families sometimes reportedly disowned Muslim and Christian women who married outside their faith.
In an article published by the independent Palestinian Ma’an News Agency, former Hamas official Mustafa al-Lidawi invoked the blood libel to describe how Jews prepared pastries for the Purim holiday.