Israel and The Occupied Territories
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
There were reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.
The number of terrorist attacks by armed individuals decreased during the year, while attacks by rocket and mortar fire increased. According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, militant groups launched 46 projectiles from the Gaza Strip, and there were 21 incidents of mortar fire or cross-border firing from Syria.
The wave of uncoordinated attacks, which began in September 2015, mostly by lone attackers not directed by any organization, decreased during the year. According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, during the year terrorist attacks killed eight persons and injured 62. Inside the Green Line, the location of attacks included West Jerusalem, Tel Aviv-Jaffa, Netanya, Petah Tikva, Rahat, and Ramle. Most of the attackers were Palestinians from the West Bank, and four were Arab citizens of Israel. A much higher number of attacks occurred in the West Bank and Jerusalem (see annex).
For example, a bar on Dizengoff Street in Tel Aviv was the site of an attack on January 1, when Arab citizen of Israel Nashat Milhem killed two persons, injured eight others, and later killed a taxi driver. Security forces killed Milhem after a weeklong hunt.
On June 8, Palestinian cousins Khaled and Mahmoud Mahamrah fired on customers in a Tel Aviv marketplace, killing four Israelis. Authorities captured the two gunmen and indicted them for murder on July 4 in Tel Aviv District Court. Authorities indicted Yunis Aish Musa Zin, from the same West Bank town, on charges of aiding and abetting a terrorist attack. The cases continued as of the end of the year.
On October 25, the Egyptian military shot and killed 15-year-old Arab citizen of Israel Nimer Abu Amer, who was accompanying relatives employed in maintenance work on the border fence between Israel and Egypt by a contractor for the Ministry of Defense. An investigation was underway as of November 1.
There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The law does not refer to a specific crime of torture but prohibits acts such as assault and pressure by a public official. In 1999 the Supreme Court ruled that although torture and the application of physical or psychological pain were illegal, Israeli Security Agency (ISA) interrogators might be exempt from criminal prosecution if they used such methods in extraordinary cases determined to involve an imminent threat, the “ticking bomb” scenario. Human rights organizations such as the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (PCATI), Defense for Children International-Palestine, and Military Court Watch reported that “physical interrogation methods” permitted by Israeli law and used by security personnel could amount to torture. The methods included beatings, forcing an individual to hold a stress position for long periods, and painful pressure from shackles or restraints applied to the forearms. The government insisted it did not use any interrogation methods prohibited by the UN Convention Against Torture (UNCAT).
NGOs continued to criticize other alleged detention practices they termed abusive, including isolation, sleep deprivation, unnecessary shackling, denying access to legal counsel, and psychological abuse such as threats to interrogate family members or demolish family homes.
In May a report in the newspaper Ha’aretz alleged that Israeli soldiers abused three Palestinian minors from Gaza for three days after their arrest in October 2015. The abuse included being stripped, kicked, sleep deprived, beaten with a rifle butt, and burned with cigarette butts. After the three minors completed sentences of four to six months, authorities released them from prison and returned them to Gaza. The Israeli Defense Force (IDF) stated that the allegations were under investigation by the Military Advocate General.
The government established the Turkel Commission to implement the findings of the 2010 report of the Public Commission to Examine the Maritime Incident–the interception and capture by the Israeli Navy of ships carrying humanitarian aid bound for Gaza. Following the publication of the Turkel Commission’s Second Report in 2013, which examined the country’s mechanisms for investigating alleged violations of the laws of war, the government in 2014 established a team of professionals led by Joseph Ciechanover to recommend practical steps to implement the recommendations of that report.
The Ciechanover report, released in September 2015, found that overall the country’s internal mechanisms for investigating and prosecuting alleged war crimes, many initiated following and in response to the Turkel Commission report, were sufficient and unbiased. Civil society groups criticized the Ciechanover Commission for deferring a decision to impose responsibility on military commanders and civilian superiors for offenses committed by their subordinates. The Ciechanover Commission opted instead to recommend that: “[T]he question of the explicit anchoring of the responsibility of military commanders and civilian superiors in Israeli law would continue to be examined by the relevant parties before being decided.” The report also recommended increasing and clarifying civilian oversight (via the attorney general) of the military justice system. In July the security cabinet adopted the report’s recommendations. In the context of the Ciechanover report, and in response to more than 60 complaints of soldier violence that the military closed without response from 2014 to September, the Supreme Court ruled in September that complaints should be examined within 14 weeks.
Authorities continued to state the ISA held detainees in isolation only in extreme cases and when there was no alternative option and that it did not use isolation as a means of augmenting interrogation, forcing a confession, or as punishment. The government rejected claims that interrogations of minors breached the convention, claiming that reforms implemented since 2008 improved the treatment of Palestinian minors, including the establishment of a Juvenile Military Court, raising the age of majority to 18 years old, introducing a special statute of limitation for minors, improving notification to a minor’s family and the minors themselves regarding their rights, and reducing detention periods (see annex). An independent Inspector for Complaints Against ISA Interrogators in the Ministry of Justice handled complaints of misconduct and abuse in interrogations.
In contrast to criminal cases investigated by police for crimes with a maximum imprisonment of 10 years or more, in which regulations require recording interrogations, an extended temporary law exempts the General Security Services from audio and video recording of interrogations of “security suspects.” The Ciechanover report recommended installing cameras in all ISA interrogation rooms that broadcast to a control room in real time, via closed-circuit. The government’s implementation team recommended locating this control room in an ISA facility where interrogations are not conducted and that it be accessible and available to a supervising entity from the Ministry of Justice at any time. According to the recommendation, the supervising entity will prepare a concise memorandum on what the observer saw, but no other record will be kept. In the event that the supervising entity believes that interrogators used illegal means during the interrogation, the observer must report the matter to the Inspector for Complaints against ISA Interrogators in the Ministry of Justice. Human rights NGOs, criticizing this mechanism as insufficient to prevent and identify torture since there is no recording of interrogations for later accountability and judicial review, submitted a petition to the Supreme Court opposing it in June 2015. The case continued as of November 7.
According to PCATI, despite more than 800 complaints of torture by detainees in Israel since 2001–in 15 percent of which cases the government acknowledged that the torture took place–the government had never brought criminal charges against an interrogator. Authorities had never indicted an ISA interrogator for torture during an investigation, but they stated every complaint was investigated and reviewed at the level of the deputy state prosecutor, at a minimum. Some complaints led to disciplinary action. PCATI reported 41 new cases of alleged torture as of September 13.
The UN Committee Against Torture, in its May review of the country’s compliance with UNCAT, recommended, among 50 other recommendations, that the government provide for independent medical examinations for all detainees. PCATI added that medical personnel should be trained and equipped to identify, document, and report all allegations and evidence of torture.
PCATI stated the government’s system for investigating allegations of mistreatment of detainees was complex and fragmented. For example, allegations against police and the ISA are investigated by two separate departments of the Police Investigation Department in the Ministry of Justice State Attorney’s Office, with different procedures. The National Prison Wardens Investigation Unit is responsible for investigating allegations against members of the Israel Prison Service (IPS). PCATI reported that this fragmentation created a disorganized system characterized by widely varying response times and professional standards. PCATI noted that victims often did not know the institutional affiliations of the perpetrators and that complaints were often passed from one organization to another for months or years, each authority denying jurisdiction in the case.
In December 2015 the Supreme Court rejected an appeal by prisoners under questioning for alleged involvement in a terror attack in Duma, the West Bank, in July 2015. The prisoners’ lawyer claimed the ISA prevented the prisoners from meeting with a lawyer and alleged ISA interrogators used illegal methods against the prisoners, including physical force and sleep deprivation. The Association for Civil Rights in Israel called on the Ministry of Justice to investigate the allegations. The Ministry of Justice took no action during the year.
The ISA reported the number of hate crimes by Jews dropped significantly after the Duma attack, including only one in the first eight months of the year, compared with 14 hate crimes in 2015 prior to the attack. A September report by Ha’aretz alleged that the government denied legal counsel to dozens of Jews arrested by the ISA in recent years for up to three weeks, which their lawyers claimed unfairly targeted settlers.
On May 22, plainclothes Border Police officers beat an Arab citizen of Israel, Maysam Abu Alqian, outside the supermarket where he was working in central Tel Aviv. After requesting to see his identification, the officers beat Alqian severely. The officers later alleged that he attacked them, but the Tel Aviv District Court ordered him released the day after his arrest. On May 31, police internal investigations unit announced that they were investigating the incident. As of November 4, the case remained under investigation.
The government’s investigation into the death of Palestinian prisoner Arafat Jaradat, who died in custody at Megiddo Prison in 2013, concluded in August 2015 when a judge ruled that the cause of death was uncertain, after taking into account differing forensic opinions. He ruled that most of the bruises were likely caused by resuscitation efforts and that the other bruises did not lead to Jaradat’s death.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
The law provides prisoners and detainees the right to conditions that do not harm their health or dignity. Conditions in permanent detention facilities run by the IPS generally met international standards, according to the International Commission of the Red Cross (ICRC), but an Israel Bar Association inspection visit at Neve Tirza, a women’s prison, revealed major flaws, including unacceptable physical conditions, misuse of solitary confinement, and violence against prisoners. African migrants and asylum seekers detained in the Holot detention facility complained of severe cold in winter, heat in summer, and poor food quality. According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, authorities provided detainees with a bed, clothes, clean towels, food, free medical care, and air-conditioned living quarters. The facility offered classes and professional training, and detainees received a monthly allowance of 480 shekels ($127). NGOs reported, however, that very few detainees participated in the classes, and authorities regularly docked detainees’ monthly allowance for minor infractions.
Since 2014 NGOs have had access to Holot, and in September the government reported that five NGOs visited the facility on a periodic basis. The NGO Hotline for Refugees and Migrants (HRM) reported its representatives could access Saharonim Prison by providing authorities with the name and prison identification number of the detainee who had requested their assistance, but they could not move about and engage with individuals in the facility freely and, therefore, could not obtain new detainees’ names and prison numbers. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported it could regularly access Saharonim, Givon, and Holot detention facilities by submitting a request in advance. The ICRC reported that the IPS granted it access to protected persons, including migrants in detention.
There were reports of mistreatment and abuse by Nachshon, the IPS transportation unit. For example, in May Ha’aretz reported that Nachshon prevented prisoners from drinking water or using the toilet for 11 hours during a routine transfer from Ramle to a prison in northern Israel. The guards provided them with a sandwich. According to the report, these circumstances forced some of the prisoners to urinate in the transport vehicle, after which all the prisoners sat in the urine for the remainder of the trip.
Physical Conditions: As of December 18, according to the government, there were 9,555 prisoners in IPS facilities in Israel and the occupied territories who were citizens of Israel, 10,488 prisoners who were residents, and 6,599 Palestinian prisoners. As of September 8, the government reported 49 minors who were citizens or residents of Israel and 77 Palestinian minors. Of the total prisoner population, 6,815 were characterized as security prisoners as of December 18. These prisoners often faced harsher conditions than those of the general prison population, including increased incidence of administrative detention, restricted family visits, ineligibility for temporary furloughs, and solitary confinement. According to an interministerial team established to address racism against Israelis of Ethiopian origin, the percentage of minors of Ethiopian origin in prison was nearly 10 times their proportion of the population, comprising 18.5 percent of the inmates in Ofek Prison for juveniles as of June. Data from the Public Defender’s Office, reported byHa’aretz in September, revealed that the proportion of Ethiopian Israeli minors convicted of crimes sentenced to prison instead of treatment was nearly 90 percent, which was three times the percentage for non-Ethiopian Jewish minors and almost double that of minors who are Arab citizens of Israel. The publication +972 Magazine reported in September that it obtained data indicating 60 percent of the prisoners in Israeli prisons were Arab.
In response to a petition by the Association of Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), in January the Supreme Court ordered the government to explain within 120 days why the average prison cell size was less than 43 square feet. According to ACRI, the average size was 32 square feet. The government replied that it would take steps to decrease the number of prisoners, thereby increasing the average living space per prisoner. A follow-up hearing was scheduled for February 2017.
In 2015 the Knesset passed a law authorizing force-feeding of hunger-striking prisoners under specific conditions; however, the Israel Medical Association declared the legislation unethical and urged doctors to refuse to implement it. Security prisoners organized several open-ended hunger strikes during the year to demand the government end administrative detention and to protest prison conditions. Mohammad al-Qiq, a Palestinian journalist detained on suspicion of affiliation and contact with Hamas, ended a 94-day hunger strike in February after authorities agreed not to extend his administrative detention past May 21. Authorities placed Bilal Kayed in administrative detention on June 13, just before completing a sentence of 14 and one-half years for attempted murder and membership in the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and he went on hunger strike for 71 days before reaching a similar agreement with security services in August. From July to September, brothers Mahmoud and Muhammad al-Balbul went on hunger strike for more than 70 days, and Malik al-Qadi for more than 60 days, before reaching similar agreements. Physicians for Human Rights-Israel (PHR-I) expressed strong opposition to the continuous shackling of detainees throughout their hunger strike–both hand and leg in the case of Muhammad al-Balbul–which PHR-I claimed was not based on any danger after two months of hunger striking, but rather on the government’s efforts to break the strike. The government stated that the IPS reduced restraints to the minimum necessary, and it reassessed the need for restraints every few days.
On August 11, the district court in Be’er Sheva ruled that independent doctors such as PHR-I, hunger striker Bilal Kayed’s authorized representative, could not examine him because the ICRC was already examining him. The ICRC noted their medical doctor assesses the overall medical condition and treatment of detainees on hunger strike but does not act in the role of a treating physician. According to PHR-I, in contravention of Israel’s Law of Patient Rights, which states that a patient has the right to receive a copy of his own medical records, Barzilai Medical Center declined to provide Kayed’s records, referring PHR-I instead to the IPS.
Palestinian Yasser Diab Hamdouna, 41, died in an Israeli prison on September 25. Palestinian media reported that the cause was a stroke or heart attack and accused the IPS of medical neglect. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated that he collapsed while exercising and was pronounced dead after receiving unsuccessful medical treatment. As of November 6, according to the ministry, nine other prisoners also died in IPS prisons: six from a heart attack or heart condition, two from suicide, and one from cancer.
NGOs reported lack of access to legal and social services in detention centers for irregular migrants. Social workers provided individual social and supportive treatment, with emphasis on identifying and providing services for trafficking victims, victims of abuse, and victims of sexual violations.
Administration: While authorities generally allowed visits from lawyers and stated that every inmate who requested to meet with an attorney was able to do so, this was not always the case. NGOs alleged authorities did not allow Palestinian detainees, including minors, access to a lawyer during their initial arrest. Travel restrictions on entry into the country affected the access of lawyers and other visitors to some Palestinian prisoners. The government granted permits to family members from the West Bank on a limited basis and restricted those entering from Gaza more severely. In November 2015 the IPS reportedly issued regulations limiting members of the Knesset (MKs) to one visit per month, but the Ministry of Foreign Affairs denied any such regulation exists.
The law allows prisoners to submit a petition to judicial authorities alleging substandard prison conditions, and the government stated that authorities investigated credible allegations of inhuman conditions, documented such investigations, and released the results publicly. The state comptroller serves as ombudsman and investigates public complaints against government institutions, including the IPS.
Independent Monitoring: The ICRC regularly monitored IPS facilities for irregular migrants, including Holot and Saharonim, and the two IDF provisional detention centers. The ICRC monitored all facilities in accordance with its standard modalities, except for urgent or isolated cases raised bilaterally with the concerned authorities (that is, relating to the composition of the visiting team and the conditions for interviews without witnesses). PCATI continued to press for structural reforms, including mandatory video recordings of interrogations. The Public Defenders’ Office is officially responsible for monitoring and reporting on prison conditions, which it does every two years. The most recent report was issued in July 2015.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, and the government generally observed these prohibitions for all citizens. Authorities subjected non-Israeli residents of the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights to the same laws as Israeli citizens. Noncitizens of Palestinian origin detained on security grounds fell under military jurisdiction even if detained in Israel (see annex).
With regard to irregular migrants, the most recent amendment to the Prevention of Infiltration Law, passed in 2014, allows the government to detain migrants and asylum seekers who arrived after December 2014 for three months in the Saharonim Prison facility “for the purpose of identification and to explore options for relocation of the individual.” The law also states that authorities must bring irregular migrants taken into detention to a hearing within five days and inform them of their rights, including the right to legal counsel. After three months in Saharonim, the government may then hold them for 12 months in Holot, a remote, semi-open facility run by the IPS. Authorities closed Holot from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. and required daily check-in at 10 p.m. (see section 2.d.). Authorities did not confine detainees to their rooms during the night, but they could not leave the facility.
Authorities soon replaced the 1,178 Eritrean and Sudanese migrants released from the Holot facility after an August 2015 Supreme Court ruling with new 12-month detainees. In accordance with the Supreme Court decision, authorities may hold detainees for only one year without charging them with any offenses. The government barred those freed from Holot from living or working in either Tel Aviv or Eilat, where they would have supportive communities and access to the limited medical facilities and other social services available to the migrant population. In August authorities stopped summoning asylum seekers from Darfur or Sudan to Holot; however, many Darfuri detainees already in Holot were not released early.
The most recent amendment to the Prevention of Infiltration Law also allows authorities to send those who fail to renew their visas on time to Holot for up to 120 days. The Ministry of Interior provided renewal services in Tel Aviv, Be’er Sheva, and Eilat. HRM reported that authorities required asylum seekers applying to renew their visa to provide a copy of a lease agreement and a current wage slip in support of their application, yet applicants could not obtain those documents without a visa, creating a vicious cycle. The law prohibits detention in Holot based on certain factors including age, health, gender, or other protected status. Authorities can send those who violated rules at Holot to Saharonim Prison. HRM reported that authorities sent more than half of Holot detainees to Saharonim for up to several months for various infractions.
ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS
Under the authority of the prime minister, the ISA combats terrorism and espionage in the country and the occupied territories. The national police, including the border police and the immigration police, are under the authority of the Ministry of Internal Security. The IDF is responsible for external security and has no jurisdiction over Israeli citizens. ISA forces operating in the occupied territories fall under the IDF for operations and operational debriefing. The Ciechanover report (see section 1.c.) clarified that the Ministry of Justice and its investigators and the IDF and its investigators would divide investigative and prosecutorial responsibilities in incidents in which police operated under the authority of the military. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the ISA and police forces, and the government has effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption. The government took steps to investigate allegations of the use of excessive force by police and military. NGOs continued to criticize the extremely low number of indictments issued relative to the number of investigations opened and the high percentage of cases closed due to investigation failures by military police. In May human rights NGO B’Tselem announced that it would no longer refer complaints to the military law enforcement system.
The Department for Investigation of Police Officers (DIPO) in the Ministry of Justice is responsible for investigating complaints against ISA bodies, including incidents involving police and the border police occurring on Israeli territory and Jerusalem and incidents taking place in the occupied territories that do not involve the use of a weapon. In 2015 DIPO reviewed more than 3,500 cases and reached decisions in 640, of which 102 cases ended in criminal indictments (leading to 87 convictions) and 85 in disciplinary proceedings. DIPO closed 974 cases without further investigation, and it closed another 843 following a preliminary examination.
Investigative responsibility for alleged abuses by the IDF, including incidents involving a weapon in which police units were operating under IDF authority in the occupied territories, remains with the Ministry of Defense in the Military Police Criminal Investigations Department. During the year authorities arrested or detained four soldiers, convicted 11 (including nine indicted in prior years), and sentenced 12 (including 10 indicted in prior years).
Human rights NGOs continued to allege that accountability mechanisms precluded serious internal investigations by the military and were marred by severe structural flaws that rendered them incapable of conducting professional investigations.
ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES
Police must have warrants based on sufficient evidence and issued by an authorized official to arrest a suspect. The following applies to detainees, excluding those in administrative detention: Authorities generally informed such persons promptly of charges against them; the law allows authorities to detain suspects without charge for 24 hours prior to bringing them before a judge, with limited exceptions allowing for up to 48 hours; authorities generally respected these rights for persons arrested in the country; there was a functioning bail system, and detainees could appeal decisions denying bail; and authorities allowed detainees to consult with an attorney in a timely manner, including one provided by the government for the indigent, and to contact family members promptly.
Authorities detained most Palestinian prisoners arrested by Israeli security forces in the occupied territories extraterritorially in Israel. The government stated that the establishment of new prisons in the West Bank could adversely affect detainees’ living conditions and affect local residents on whose land the new prisons would be built. Authorities prosecuted them under the Israeli military law applicable to the occupied territories, which denies many of the rights Israeli law would grant them. According to the circumstances of each case, such as the severity of the alleged offense, status as a minor, risk of escape, or other factors, authorities either granted or denied bail to noncitizens of Palestinian origin detained for security violations.
Authorities may prosecute persons detained on security grounds criminally or hold them as administrative detainees or illegal combatants, according to one of three legal regimes. First, under a temporary law on criminal procedures, repeatedly renewed since 2006, the IPS may hold persons suspected of a security offense for 48 hours prior to bringing them before a judge, with limited exceptions allowing the IPS to detain a suspect for up to 96 hours prior to bringing the suspect before the senior judge of a district court. In security-related cases, authorities may hold a person for up to 35 days without an indictment (versus 30 days for other than security-related cases), and the law allows the court to lengthen the holding of a detainee on security grounds for an initial period of up to 20 days for interrogation without an indictment (versus 15 days for other than security-related cases). Authorities may deny security detainees access to an attorney for up to 21 days under Israeli law or 60 days under military regulations.
Second, the Emergency Powers Law allows the Ministry of Defense to detain persons administratively without charge for up to six months, renewable indefinitely. As of October authorities issued administrative detention orders against 20 Israeli citizens, most of them Arabs. In 2015, following several arson attacks in Israel and the West Bank, the government announced it would expand administrative detention to Jewish extremists suspected of terrorist activity. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs reported that, as of the beginning of December, authorities issued 1,764 administrative detention orders against 1,037 Palestinian adults, 29 administrative detention orders against 19 Palestinian minors over the age of 14, and none to minors under the age of 14 years old. Additionally, authorities issued 106 administrative restraining orders against 42 Israeli adults, 42 orders against 11 Israeli minors, seven orders against Palestinian adults, and none against Palestinian minors (see annex).
Third, the Illegal Combatant Law permits authorities to hold a detainee for 14 days before review by a district court judge, deny access to counsel for up to 21 days with the attorney general’s approval, and allow indefinite detention subject to twice-yearly district court reviews and appeals to the Supreme Court.
While international law allows the use of administrative detention in rare “ticking time bomb” scenarios, civil society organizations and some MKs continued to criticize the government for using it excessively, adding that the practice was undemocratic since there was no due process. The government claimed that it issued administrative detention orders “against those who plan terrorist attacks, or those who orchestrate, facilitate, or otherwise actively assist in the commission of such acts when the evidence against those individuals cannot be revealed for security reasons,” and it is a preventive measure of last resort. The government said it used administrative restraining orders only “when it is necessary to protect security and order and when it is not possible to use penal measures for various reasons.”
Arbitrary Arrest: An annual report from the Office of the Public Defender on September 4 highlighted indictments on issues of trivial importance or against persons who break the law to obtain basic needs such as food, electricity, water, or housing. In 2015 there were allegations of arbitrary arrests of Arab citizens during protests, as well as such arrests of Ethiopian-Israelis.
Pretrial Detention: Administrative detention continued to result in lengthy pretrial detention for security detainees, who were mostly Palestinian; some, however, were Jewish Israelis or Arab citizens of Israel. Authorities held most detainees for less than one year but held some for more than one year and a small number for more than two years.
Detainees’ Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: An administrative detainee has the right to appeal any decision to lengthen detention to a military court of appeals and then to the Supreme Court, and both Palestinian and Jewish detainees routinely did so. The military courts may rely on classified evidence denied to detainees and their lawyers when determining whether to prolong administrative detention. There is no system whereby authorities may clear a defense team member to view classified information used to justify holding an administrative detainee. Some detained Jewish youths, alleged to belong to extremist organizations, questioned the validity of their arrest and use of administrative detention, house arrest, and administrative orders banning them from certain areas of the West Bank.
Protracted Detention of Rejected Asylum Seekers or Stateless Persons: The Prevention of Infiltration Law defines all irregular border crossers as “infiltrators” and permits authorities to detain irregular migrants, including asylum seekers and their children.
In 2014 the Supreme Court struck down the section of the Prevention of Infiltration Law that allowed irregular migrants, including refugees and asylum seekers, to be detained in the Holot open facility indefinitely. In August 2015 the Supreme Court set the limit at one year. This resulted in the release of 1,178 asylum seekers from Holot; authorities soon replaced them with other asylum seekers. The government may still hold irregular migrants, including refugees and asylum seekers, in Saharonim Prison for three months on arrival and then move them to Holot for 12 months. The Supreme Court’s ruling affirmed the use of the Holot facility to house irregular migrants, albeit for a limited period.
Under the Law of Entry, the Ministry of Interior and police developed an outline of cooperation that allows for detention of irregular migrants, including refugees and asylum seekers living in the community and suspected of criminal activity, based on an administrative order rather than through the legal process.
The law provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence. (The annex covers military court trials of Palestinians and others in the occupied territories.)
The law provides for the right to a fair public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. Exceptions to the right for a public trial include national security concerns, protection of the interest of a minor or an individual requiring special protection, and safeguarding the identity of an accuser or defendant in a sex-offense case.
Defendants enjoy the rights to a presumption of innocence, to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them, to be present at their trial, to a fair and public trial without undue delay, and to adequate time and facilities to prepare their defense. They may not be compelled to testify or confess guilt and may consult with an attorney or, if indigent, have one provided at public expense. Defendants have the right to free interpretation as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals. Defendants have the right to confront witnesses against them, to present witnesses and evidence on their behalf, to access evidence held against them, and to appeal to the Supreme Court. The prosecution is under a general obligation following an indictment to provide all evidence to the defense. The government may on security grounds withhold from defense lawyers evidence it gathered but will not use in its case against the accused. The Supreme Court in civilian courts or the Court of Appeals in military courts can scrutinize the decision to withhold such evidence. The rules of evidence in cases of espionage tried in criminal court do not differ from the normal rules of evidence–no use of secret evidence is permissible.
The Ministry of Justice determined the law allows the courts to consider secret evidence in reviewing the cases of Palestinians convicted in civilian courts and granted conditional release from prison as part of a prisoner exchange and later rearrested for violating the terms of their release, because authorities considered this parole board review procedural.
On August 2, in response to the wave of attacks that began in September 2015, many perpetrated by minors, the Knesset passed a “Youth Bill” legalizing imprisonment of children as young as 12 years old if convicted of serious crimes such as murder, attempted murder, or manslaughter.
Security or military trials are open to the public, but since authorities conduct them in a military camp, members of the public require an entry permit from the military. Authorities conducted certain trials in a closed setting, not open to the public, for reasons of security or for the protection of the identity of a minor.
Military courts provide some of the procedural rights granted in civilian criminal courts, although their rates of conviction of Palestinians charged with various crimes were much higher. The evidentiary rules governing trials of Palestinians, and others subject to military law in the occupied territories, are the same as evidentiary rules in criminal cases. According to the Ministry of Justice, the law does not permit convictions based solely on confessions. The government stated that the evidentiary rules applied in military trials were the same as those applied in civilian courts and did not allow presentation of secret evidence not provided to the defendant or their counsel. Counsel may assist the accused in such trials, and a judge may assign counsel to defendants. Indigent detainees do not automatically receive free legal counsel for military trials, but almost all detainees had counsel, even in minor cases. Court indictments were read in Hebrew and, unless the defendant waived this right, in Arabic. Authorities translated all military court indictments into Arabic. At least one interpreter was present for simultaneous interpretation in every military court hearing, unless the defendant waived that right. Defendants may appeal through the Military Court of Appeals and then to the Supreme Court.
POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES
There were no reports of civilian political prisoners or detainees. ACRI, however, petitioned the Supreme Court in 2013 regarding a practice by the ISA to call in political activists suspected of “subversive” activity for questioning under caution, meaning they might be charged with a crime. In response the government confirmed that there is a classified secret procedure that regulates Israel National Police assisting the ISA in the summoning process. As of November 4, the case was still pending with the Supreme Court.
CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES
An independent and impartial judiciary adjudicates lawsuits seeking damages for, or cessation of, human rights violations. Administrative remedies exist, and court orders usually were enforced. By law Palestinians may file suit to obtain compensation through civil suits in some cases, even when a criminal suit is unsuccessful and the actions against them considered legal.
In the 35 unrecognized villages in the Negev claimed by various Bedouin tribes, the government viewed all buildings as illegal and subject to demolition. In cases of demolitions with no agreement from the residents to relocate, the government levied fines against residents to cover expenses incurred in the course of demolitions. Many Bedouin whose residences or structures authorities subjected to demolition orders elected to self-demolish to avoid fines.
According to the NGO Negev Coexistence Forum for Civil Equality (NCF), in recent years the government approved plans for the establishment of 15 new towns and settlements in the Negev region, the vast majority intended for the Jewish population. Authorities approved plans for settlements called Hiran (see below), Daya, and Neve Gurion to replace existing Bedouin villages. Authorities planned Daya to replace the unrecognized village al-Qatamat, and Neve Gurion was to replace some houses in the recognized village of Bir Haddaj. On October 9, the government demolished seven houses in Bir Haddaj, which the NCF claimed belonged to an extended family relocated there by the government 13 years earlier. In response on October 16, approximately 1,500 participants demonstrated near the regional council of Ramat Negev. The NCF noted the Negev was sparsely populated, with only 8 percent of the population living on 60 percent of Israel’s land, so there was ample room to establish new communities without razing existing ones.
In January the Supreme Court ruled again that eviction orders issued against residents of the Bedouin unrecognized village Umm al-Hiran, where they had been moved by the Israeli military regime in 1956, were valid. The NCF reported that construction work on Hiran progressed and expanded during the year, reaching to within a few yards of Bedouin houses in Umm al-Hiran, and residents suffered from the dust raised by construction. As of November a group of 30 Jewish families who planned to move to Hiran remained in mobile homes in the forest outside Umm al-Hiran while waiting to obtain the land. The government offered plots of land and cash compensation to villagers who accept resettlement to the nearby Bedouin town of Hura, three miles away, but village leaders had rejected this option because, according to the Hura local council, there was insufficient space even for natural growth in the town and because of fears it would force the villagers to abandon a more traditional rural lifestyle for an urban one, with attendant problems of drugs, crime, and disintegration of the traditional family/clan structure. Village leaders expressed openness to almost any option that would allow them to remain in place, including living side-by-side with Jewish neighbors in an expanded community. Authorities scheduled demolition of structures that would have displaced approximately 30 to 40 persons in one extended family for November 22, but the Be’er Sheva Magistrate Court postponed the demolition for a last-minute appeal, which the court denied the following day. As of November 30, the targeted villagers agreed to move to Hura and began self-demolishing in order to avoid steep fines and to reuse building materials.
Other Bedouin communities, such as Attir and al-Araqib, faced eviction due to the government’s forestation plans, while a planned extension of the Cross Israel Highway will affect approximately 400 structures. In May 2015 the Supreme Court rejected Bedouins’ claims of ownership of al-Araqib, a small community in the northern Negev, which the government had demolished more than 100 times since 2010. Residents of al-Araqib typically rebuild their shelters within one day of demolition. In July the Jewish National Fund worked in al-Araqib for 10 days, preparing land in four lots in preparation to plant trees in the winter.
The government noted its policy in Bedouin areas was to demolish “new vacant illegal structures” built without permits after 2010 and found in areas it determined to be state land, not belonging to any local authority. The NCF recorded 982 demolitions in 2015, down from 1,073 in 2014. Demolitions by Israeli authorities increased slightly to 365 in 2015 from 355 in 2014, while Bedouins demolished the remainder to avoid fines. In May a report from the State Comptroller stated: “The ongoing circle of construction for housing and demolition of these structures deepens the alienation of the Bedouin residents of the Negev towards the state and does not contribute to the regulation of their settlement.”
The government maintained a program to encourage Bedouins to relocate from unrecognized villages to established towns by providing low-cost land and compensation for demolition of illegal structures for those willing to move to designated permanent locations. Bedouins often refused to participate in this program because they asserted that they owned the land or that the government had given them prior permission to settle in their current locations. The NCF alleged the seven government-established towns were unable to accommodate their own natural growth, much less the arrival of new residents. Court-ordered demolitions and the rejection of their designated relocation sites for reasons of overcrowding caught some residents between these policies. Additionally, many Bedouins complained that moving to government-planned towns would require them to surrender claims to land they had occupied for several generations and would separate them from their livelihood. Conversely, the government claimed it was difficult and inefficient to provide services to clusters of buildings throughout the Negev that ignored planning procedures. Some Bedouins continued to pursue legal recognition of their 3,200 claims to parcels of land based on practices of land ownership and sales predating the establishment of the state in 1948, although in all cases the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the government.
NGOs and Bedouin leaders noted that the implementation of the government plan for developing the Negev, with the resultant home demolitions and planned relocations of some Bedouin communities, continued apace in the absence of specific legislation to address Bedouin land claims. The NCF raised concerns that the policies of Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development Uri Ariel had exacerbated the gaps between recognized and unrecognized Bedouin villages.
The law prohibits such actions, and the government generally respected those prohibitions. Separate religious court systems adjudicate matters such as marriage and divorce for the Jewish, Muslim, Christian, and Druze communities. Each year an estimated 20,000 civil marriages, marriages of some non-Orthodox Jews, marriages in non-Orthodox ceremonies, marriages of a Jew to a non-Jew, or marriages of a Muslim woman to a non-Muslim must take place outside the country to be considered legal, because religious courts refuse to accept these marriages, and the country lacks a civil marriage law. Many Jewish citizens objected to exclusive Orthodox control over aspects of their personal lives. For example, the Orthodox Rabbinate did not consider to be Jewish approximately 337,000 citizens who considered themselves Jewish and who immigrated either as Jews or as family members of Jews; therefore, they may not be married or buried in Jewish cemeteries in the country. The Orthodox Rabbinate had the authority to handle divorces of any Jewish couple regardless of how they were married, as well as the divorce of any couple wherein one spouse considers him or herself to be Jewish. The government stated that 24 cemeteries in the country served immigrants not considered Jewish by the Orthodox Rabbinate. The estimated 15,000 Messianic Jews, who believe Jesus is the Messiah and consider themselves Jews, also experienced these infringements on their personal lives, since the Orthodox Rabbinate regards them as Jewish apostates. Authorities did not fully implement a law requiring the government to establish civil cemeteries.
The Law of Citizenship and Entry, which is valid through April and renewed annually, prohibits Palestinians from the West Bank or Gaza, including those who are spouses of Israeli residents or citizens, from obtaining resident status in Jerusalem or Israel unless the Ministry of Interior makes a special determination, usually on humanitarian grounds. The law allows the entry of spouses of Israelis on a “staying permit” if the male spouse is age 35 or older and the female spouse is age 25 or older. Authorities required East Jerusalem residents who relocated to forfeit their Jerusalem identification cards. The government may revoke the Jerusalem identification cards of those who have been away from Jerusalem for seven years, and the government may seek to revoke a Palestinian’s Jerusalem identification card if the person obtains citizenship or residency in another country. The only way to qualify for Jerusalem residency and an identification card is to derive it from one’s parents or through a spouse. There is no immigration process, and one usually may not regain Jerusalem residency if authorities revoke it. (The annex addresses revocation of identity cards for Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem in more detail.)
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
The law generally provides for freedom of speech, including for members of the press, and the government generally respected these rights. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of speech and of the press.
The law, however, criminalizes calling persons “Nazis” or “fascists.” The law imposes tort liability on any person who knowingly issues a public call for an economic, cultural, or academic boycott of the State of Israel and the Israeli-controlled occupied territories. Plaintiffs must prove direct economic harm to claim damages under the “antiboycott” legislation. In 2015 the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of this law. The law also permits the minister of finance to institute regulations imposing administrative sanctions on those calling for such a boycott, including restrictions on participating in tenders for contracts with the government and denial of government benefits.
Freedom of Speech and Expression: The law prohibits hate speech and content liable to incite to violence or discrimination on grounds of race, origin, religion, nationality, and gender. The Counterterrorism Law, which passed in June and took effect in November, criminalizes as “terrorist acts” speech supportive of terrorism, including public praise of a terrorist organization, display of symbols, expression of slogans, and “incitement.” There were no convictions under the law as of the end of the year.
On July 18, the Knesset passed a law increasing the penalty for desecrating the Israeli flag from one year to three years in prison and increased the fine from the equivalent of eight dollars to 58,400 shekels ($15,500).
In cases of speech that constitute incitement to violence or hate speech, the law empowers police to limit freedom of expression.
Press and Media Freedoms: The independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction. In December, however, ACRI published a report detailing a variety of legislative and rhetorical attacks on media throughout the year by elected officials, especially Prime Minister Netanyahu, and expressed concern about the chilling effect of these attacks on press freedom. In September 2015 the Knesset amended the public broadcasting law to prohibit journalists on public broadcasting from transmitting their own views. Subsequently, the Israel Press Council urged the government to cancel the law, saying it violated free speech. The Knesset repealed the amendment in November 2015.
In April the press freedom organization Freedom House lowered Israel’s ranking from free to partly free due to “the growing impact of Israel Hayom, whose owner-subsidized business model endangered the stability of other media outlets, and the unchecked expansion of paid content–some of it government funded–whose nature was not clearly identified to the public.”
On June 23, the Ministry of Public Security barred Nazareth-based television channel Musawa for six months claiming that the Palestinian Authority funded it. Authorities previously banned the station for six months in July 2015 when it was known as Palestine 48.
The government shut media outlets associated with the Northern Islamic Movement, following that group’s ban in November 2015.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: All media organizations must submit to military censors any material relating to specific military issues or strategic infrastructure issues, such as oil and water supplies. Organizations may appeal the censor’s decisions to the Supreme Court, and the censor may not appeal a court judgment. Whereas in the past the military censor requested prepublication review of sensitive information only from major media outlets, Ha’aretz reported in February that the military censor expanded the request to 30 bloggers and administrators of public Facebook pages as well.
News printed or broadcast abroad is subject to security censorship. The government did not fine newspapers or other mass media for violating censorship regulations during the year. The government regularly enacted restrictive orders on sensitive security information and required foreign correspondents, as well as local media, to abide by these orders. According to data provided by the military at the request of +972 Magazine, Mekomit, and the Movement for Freedom of Information, from 2011 through August, the military censor banned the publication of 1,936 articles and redacted information from 14,196 articles.
In January the State Attorney’s Office sought a court order to compel the NGO Breaking the Silence to reveal the identity of an individual who served in Operation Protective Edge and who testified to the organization about alleged war crimes during the operation. Breaking the Silence claimed the investigation was politically motivated and that providing this information would effectively force the organization to ends its operations. As of the end of the year, the case remained pending at the Petah Tikva Magistrate’s Court.
National Security: In November 2015 the government used emergency law to outlaw the Northern Islamic Movement, stating that it incited violence and alleging that it closely collaborated with Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood. MK Ahmed Tibi and other Arab Israeli politicians stated, however, that politics appeared to have motivated the decision much more than a threat to national security. The government issued cease and desist orders to 17 related organizations.
There were no government restrictions on access to the internet. The government monitored e-mail, internet chat rooms, and the popular texting application WhatsApp for security purposes. Internet access was widely available, and approximately 73 percent of the country’s inhabitants used it regularly.
In October 2015 authorities arrested Dareen Tatour, an Arab citizen of Israel, on charges of incitement to violence, terrorism, and support for a terrorist organization as a result of the poems, pictures, and other media she posted online. Authorities imprisoned her for three months and then released her to home detention, pending the completion of legal proceedings, which were remained underway at the end of the year. Tatour claimed that translations of her Arabic postings by police were poor and distorted.
In December 2015 authorities arrested attorney Tareq Barghout, part of the legal team for an alleged teenage Palestinian terrorist, on charges of publishing material on Facebook praising terrorists and encouraging further attacks. The court released Barghout, noting that the material he posted was poorly translated from Arabic to Hebrew and that he has freedom of expression as reflected in Facebook postings.
During an outbreak of fires in November, police detained Arab citizen of Israel Anas Abudaabes for three days on suspicion of incitement after he posted a sarcastic Facebook message. The publication +972 Magazine reported that police had attempted to translate the message using Google Translate.
Following a reported agreement between government officials and Facebook in September to remove content that the government reported as incitement, the NGO Adalah expressed grave concern the targeted content would disproportionately affect Arab citizens. They cited research showing that 70 percent of 175,000 inciting posts in Israel in the 12 months ending May were actually made by right-wing Israeli Jews against Arabs and left-wing Jews, yet only 18 percent of those arrested for incitement-related offenses during the year were Jews. A study by the Berl Katznelson Foundation published in November reported more than six million racist expressions online in Israel in one year.
ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS
The law prohibits institutions that receive government funding from engaging in commemoration of the Nakba, or “catastrophe,” referring to the displacement of 80 percent of the Palestinian Arab population during Israel’s 1948 War of Independence.
In June the president of Ben-Gurion University overturned a decision to award the Berelson Prize for Jewish-Arab Understanding to the NGO Breaking the Silence on the grounds that it “isn’t in the national consensus.” Despite the university president’s decision, university lecturers awarded the NGO an alternative prize at a ceremony in November. Breaking the Silence, a group of military veterans whose goal is to end the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, was the target of intensely negative rhetoric in the national discourse during the year.
The NGO Mossawa claimed that there were no Arab employees among five cinema foundations that control the 60 million shekels ($16 million) allocated by the government for Israeli cinema, and that the government selected almost no Arabic films for funding.
The law provides for the freedoms of assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights.
In April and May 2015, thousands of Ethiopian Israelis and their supporters gathered to protest police brutality and discrimination following the publication of a video showing police beating Ethiopian IDF soldier Demas Fekadeh in the Tel Aviv suburb of Holon. The demonstrations at some points resulted in clashes with police. The demonstration resulted in 56 officers and 12 protesters injured; authorities arrested 43 persons. Police set up a committee to investigate the events. Government officials, including the president and prime minister, met with Fekadeh and Ethiopian community representatives in the wake of the demonstrations and pledged that police would conduct a thorough and transparent investigation. The government dropped charges against one officer who apprehended Fekadeh and also against Fekadeh himself, concluding Fekadeh had not initiated the altercation. According to the NGO Tebekah, the attorney general indicated in June that he would re-examine the charges against the officer. Tebekah filed a petition with the Supreme Court to compel the attorney general to give a response to the question of re-examining the charges, and the case continued as of December 9.
The police committee created to investigate the events led to several steps toward reform in partnership with an Ethiopian Israeli NGO, including a pilot project for police body cameras, which began in August, and a new police code of conduct.
FREEDOM OF ASSEMBLY
The law provides for this right, and the government generally respected it.
Human rights NGOs alleged that in prior years, police engaged in mass arrests of Arab protesters, claiming they did not have a permit, although Israeli law does not require one in certain circumstances, or after incitement by Israeli agents provocateurs dressed as Arabs. There were no such mass arrests during the year.
There were some instances in 2015 in which police required organizers of demonstrations to accept criminal responsibility for any disturbance or prohibited behavior by participants of the demonstration before approving a permit application. Following submission of a petition to the Supreme Court by ACRI, police agreed to eliminate this condition, and ACRI withdrew its petition.
In December 2015 the government loosened police regulations to allow the use of live fire as a first resort against protesters throwing stones or incendiary devices.
FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION
The law provides for this right, and the government generally respected it.
Israeli and Palestinian NGOs, particularly those focused on human rights problems and critical of the government, asserted that the government sought to intimidate and stop their foreign funding (see section 5). According to ACRI, the law prohibits registration of an association or a party if its goals include denial of the existence of the State of Israel or the democratic character of the state. A political party will not be registered if its goals include incitement to racism or support of an armed struggle, enemy state, or terror organization against the State of Israel.
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons
The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights for citizens.
The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons (IDPs), refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons of concern, except as noted below.
Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Communities with a large concentration of African migrants were occasionally targets of violence. The Tel Aviv municipality dedicated a special police unit to combat violence and crime in the migrant community. Additionally, the nature of government policies on the legality of work forced many refugees to work in “unofficial” positions, making them more susceptible to poor treatment and questionable work practices by their employers.
Immediately following the killing of a soldier by an Israeli Bedouin attacker in Beer Sheva in October 2015, a security guard shot Eritrean asylum seeker Haptom Zerhom, who the guard mistakenly believed was a second attacker. A group of onlookers then beat the injured Eritrean man, who later died. Pathologists later confirmed the cause of death was the gunshot wound. In January authorities indicted Eviatar Damari, David Moyal, soldier Yaakov Shamba, and prison officer Ronen Cohen for causing grievous bodily harm with serious intent. The case was scheduled to resume in February 2017.
Foreign Travel: Citizens generally were free to travel abroad provided they had no outstanding military obligations and no administrative restrictions. The government may bar citizens from leaving the country based on security considerations. Authorities do not permit any citizen to travel to any state officially at war with Israel without government permission. This restriction includes travel to Syria, Iraq, Iran, Lebanon, Yemen, and Saudi Arabia.
Adalah alleged that the prohibition on travel to many Arab countries disproportionately discriminated against Arab-Israeli citizens and noted that authorities did not detain Jewish Israelis upon return from similar trips to unauthorized countries. The government required all citizens to have a special permit to enter “Area A” in the West Bank (the area, according to the Interim Agreement, in which the Palestinian Authority exercises civil and security responsibility), although the government allowed Palestinian citizens access without permits. In March 2015 the Supreme Court rejected a petition by ACRI requesting the airport to eliminate racial profiling of Arab citizens.
In 2014 the Supreme Court upheld a policy that did not allow Palestinians from Gaza to enter Israel to access courts for tort damages filed against the security forces, stating that it wanted to “give a chance” to new procedures and guidelines for facilitating entry into the country adopted by the attorney general. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated in November that Gazans who prove that their entry into Israel is necessary for their court case to be effectively managed, and the results of the case affect a humanitarian need, are granted entry. The burden of proof remains on the plaintiff to justify the application to enter Israel on humanitarian grounds.
Citizenship: The 2011 amendment to the Nationality Law allows revocation of citizenship from a person on grounds of “breach of loyalty to the State of Israel.” As of November 9, no one was stripped of his citizenship or permanent residence status. On May 29, Minister of the Interior Aryeh Deri filed a motion with the Haifa District Court to revoke the citizenship of Alaa Zayoud, whom the courts convicted of four counts of attempted murder in an October 2015 car-ramming attack. In addition, on June 26, Deri requested that the attorney general revoke the citizenship of Luqman Atun and the permanent residency of East Jerusalemite Khalil Adel Khalil, following their attempts to join Da’esh in Syria. All three motions were pending as of November 9.
On October 21, after the head of NGO B’Tselem called on the UN Security Council to take action to address the growth of Israeli settlements in the occupied territories, MK David Bitan, the chairman of the governing coalition, told media the remarks were an “explicit breach of trust by an Israeli citizen against the state, and as such he should find himself another citizenship.” The government, however, did not take any steps to strip him of his citizenship.
PROTECTION OF REFUGEES
Access to Asylum: In 2008 authorities began giving the majority of asylum seekers a “conditional release visa” that requires renewal every one to four months. The government provided these individuals with a limited form of group protection with freedom of movement, protection against refoulement, and some informal access to the labor market. Access to health care, shelter, and education was available inconsistently. The protection environment, however, significantly deteriorated following the adoption in late 2011 of policies and legislation aimed at deterring future asylum seekers by making life difficult for those already in the country. These actions further curtailed the rights of the population and encouraged the departure of those already in the country.
The Refugee Status Determination (RSD) Unit of the Population Immigration and Border Authority handles asylum requests and publicizes information on how to apply in its offices and on its website. The RSD Unit set up a computer-based appointment system in Arabic and Tigrinya (Eritrean).
RSD recognition rates were extremely low. In the 2012-16 period, the government received 28,915 asylum applications, including 4,901 from Sudanese applicants, 7,848 from Eritreans, 7,130 from Ukrainians, and 4,221 from Georgians. Of those, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the government approved 27, denied 4,764, and closed 4,750 for other reasons such as departure from Israel or noncooperation. During the year the government approved only four asylum requests and denied 2,609. As of August, 326 requests submitted in 2009 were still pending, and as of the end of the year, 19,374 cases were pending, including 11,238 from Ukrainians and Georgians. While the government extended nonremoval and “conditional release visas” to a number of Sudanese from Darfur, it granted refugee status to a Sudanese applicant for the first time on June 21.
In addition to these low rates, according to international organizations, a lack of transparency in the documentation and deliberation phases of the government’s processes further undermined confidence in the system, affecting views of the legitimacy of the government’s regime for asylum seekers. HRM, the African Refugee Development Center, UNHCR, and the Tel Aviv University Refugee Rights Clinic expressed continuing concerns regarding the accessibility, efficiency, and impartiality of the RSD Unit.
Authorities originally granted this population protected status and barred them from applying for RSD, a policy later changed without notification to much of the population. Some of these individuals, however, applied through UNHCR upon arrival (and continued to have files with UNHCR that the government had not requested or accepted for transfer). Others were discouraged from applying by the government’s policy summoning those who applied to detention in Holot and by the extremely low rate of acceptance of refugee claims.
In 2015 the government adopted a practice of requiring long-staying RSD applicants to provide an acceptable justification for not applying for RSD within their first year of residence in the country. The government then rejected the majority of justification applications from these individuals. In September an appeals tribunal ruled that asylum applications from Eritreans should not be rejected out of hand on the basis of fleeing military conscription. The Ministry of Interior immediately appealed the ruling, and the case was pending as of the end of the year. In November another appeals tribunal overturned the government’s blanket rejection of applications submitted more than one year after arrival. The government’s response to the November ruling was pending as of November 10.
The government continued to give Eritreans and Sudanese outside of detention renewable “conditional release” documents, but recipients must renew these documents every one to four months. Only three Ministry of Interior offices in the country renew these visas. In 2015 authorities summoned 12,425 asylum seekers to Holot for a one-year detention period, although there were only 3,360 beds. NGOs reported that some asylum seekers failed to appear, while others reported to Holot after quitting their jobs and giving up their residence, only to learn that there was insufficient space at the facility. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs reported that authorities summoned 3,396 persons during the year.
In July the Be’er Sheva District Court ordered release of the asylum seeker held longest in prison, a man from Guinea detained in Saharonim Prison for 10 years. On August 23, authorities released him for one month on the condition that he depart the country. Data that HRM received under the Freedom of Information Law revealed that as of July 2015, there were 16 migrants detained for more than three years, 30 migrants detained between two to three years, and 31 migrants detained between one to two years.
Government officials and media outlets continued to refer to asylum seekers as “infiltrators” and characterized them as directly associated with increases in crime, disease, and vagrancy.
Refoulement: The government provided some protection against the expulsion or return of refugees to countries where their lives or freedom could be threatened and stated its commitment to the principle of nonrefoulement. During the year 465 irregular migrants and asylum seekers departed the country through a “voluntary return” program, compared with 3,381 in 2015 and 6,414 in 2014. The government provided most returnees with paid tickets to either Uganda or Rwanda, although those governments did not provide assurances of legal residency or the right to work, despite the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ claim that the receiving countries were obligated to allow the relocated individuals to stay and work. In 2015 a Be’er Sheva court upheld the legality of the secrecy of these agreements in response to a petition by NGOs. The government provided those departing a stipend paid in dollars of $3,400, and prior to departure, the Population and Immigration Authority and the Custody Review Tribunal reviewed mandatory recorded video interviews and written statements of those who opted to participate in the voluntary return program to verify they were departing voluntarily. The government claimed in September that there were no known cases of injury or harm to any of the relocated migrants after arrival in the receiving country and that they received all rights accorded in the agreements.
A coalition of NGO advocates for asylum seekers (including Amnesty International, HRM, and the African Refugee Development Center) questioned the government’s policy of sending migrants to a foreign country. These groups were concerned that the destination countries were not prepared to care for the asylum seekers and considered that, in some cases, this transfer could amount to refoulement. Human Rights Watch (HRW) and other NGOs reported that the voluntary return policy led to many individuals returning to their country of origin via the foreign countries where they did not receive permission to stay upon arrival or where authorities did not meet their protection needs. In response to a petition by human rights groups, however, the government promised in November 2015 to expand monitoring of implementation of these agreements in the foreign countries, according to Ha’aretz. HRW and HRM documented the treatment of some returnees whom Sudanese and Eritrean authorities arrested upon their return to Sudan and Eritrea and whom those authorities reportedly surveilled, beat, threatened, and in some cases tortured. In November media reported that Sudan issued arrest warrants for 3,300 citizens who had returned from Israel. The Israeli government denied that anyone who left under one of these agreements had experienced refoulement, persecution, or harassment and affirmed that everyone had received the rights accorded to them under the terms of the agreements.
In March 2015 the government announced a new policy to deport migrants from Eritrea and Sudan by sending them to other countries in Africa. The government explained that this procedure would initially apply to those held in Holot (2,000 at the time) who either never applied for asylum or who had applied and been rejected. By November 2015 authorities had notified 43 persons that they must either depart from Israel to a country in Africa or go to prison indefinitely. NGOs filed a court case questioning the safety of this policy, and the Supreme Court decided that for the duration of the court case, those migrants affected could remain outside of jail. That month the Beer Sheva District Court ruled against the migrants and NGO petition, stating that the government may use its process for relocating migrants. The court recommended the government delay actual implementation until a process for monitoring those who travel is established. Following an appeal to the Supreme Court in March, the government submitted a confidential response regarding the agreements with African countries, which was partially revealed to the plaintiffs. The Tel Aviv University Refugee Rights Clinic stated that parts of the agreements are unwritten, the written portion does not include any supervision mechanism, the rights assured under the agreement include only the right to work and remain for an unspecified period of time, and there are no assurances of proper execution or sanctions for violation. As of the end of the year, no migrants were known to have been jailed under this policy.
The government stated it reached agreements with two foreign countries with regard to the relocation of migrants from Sudan and Eritrea, and the attorney general conditioned his approval of the relocation policy on the assurance of certain protections in those countries. According to UNHCR, if returned to their countries of origin, these individuals were likely to face major human rights abuses, including the risk of death, torture, and life imprisonment. According to the government, however, from 2010 to 2015, 12,300 migrants departed to safe foreign countries or to their country of origin voluntarily, with no cases of violations of the principle of nonrefoulement.
Freedom of Movement: UNHCR and NGOs expressed concern over the government’s actions in providing protection and assistance to some refugees, asylum seekers, and other persons of concern, including victims of trafficking, but not to others. UNHCR and NGOs raised specific concerns over the government’s use of so-called voluntary return of detained migrants, including those seeking asylum, as well as the government’s failure to provide independent individual refugee status determinations for the vast majority of migrants of sub-Saharan African origin, including Eritreans and Sudanese. UNHCR and NGOs also raised objections and called for changes to the government’s continued use of “anti-infiltrator” laws, which impose long-term detention on all individuals who enter the country irregularly. The amended Prevention of Infiltration Law gives authorities the discretion to detain these individuals for three months in prison followed by 20 months in an “open facility.” In August 2015 the Supreme Court issued a provisional ruling on the Law to Prevent Infiltration that reduced the maximum time that the government may detain migrants in Holot from 20 to 12 months (see section 1.d.).
The government reported the arrival of 18 irregular migrants during the year, compared with 168 in 2015, and the departure of 3,088, including 792 under the “voluntary departure” program to a third country, as well as the departure of 325 asylum seekers, including 77 to a third country. The 18 irregular migrants who arrived in the year included 14 from Sudan, three from Turkey, and one from China.
The government reported the Holot facility was near capacity throughout the year, housing 2,892 asylum seekers as of September 21, in addition to 621 detainees in Saharonim and 99 in Givon. An amendment to the Prevention of Infiltration Law, passed in 2014, excluded from summoning to Holot all women and children, men who could prove that they have a wife or children in Israel for whom they provide, recognized trafficking victims, persons over age 60, and those whose health could be negatively affected by detention in Holot. According to UNHCR, as of April 2015, authorities can now send torture survivors to Holot; according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the law exempts victims of human trafficking.
In 2015 the Ministry of Interior released four identified victims of torture from the Saharonim facility, three of whom had been in prison for four years, and granted 25 persons temporary stays of orders to the Holot facility in response to HRM petitions. The government asserted that it would not send men who have family living in the country to Holot. Regulatory procedures, however, forced many families to separate because male heads of household did not have proper legal documentation to prove their status as married with dependents and authorities; therefore, they were required to report to Holot. According to NGOs, these documentation problems often resulted when circumstances forced families to flee their countries of origin without important documentation, including marriage certificates. Some migrants and asylum seekers married locally but hesitated to register their relationship status due to fear of legal repercussions and due to authorities’ not recognizing other marriages.
Employment: The few recognized refugees received renewable work visas. In 2015 many asylum seekers who once had B/1 work visas had this status downgraded, and most held a 2A5 visa, which explicitly reads, “This is not a work visa.” The government allowed asylum seekers to work in the informal sector but not to open their own businesses or register to pay value-added tax, although the law does not prohibit these activities. In 2015 the Ministry of Interior conducted media campaigns to warn employers against hiring illegal foreign workers. Despite the lack of a legal right to employment, the government’s published policy was not to indict asylum seekers or their employers for their employment.
Authorities prohibited asylum seekers released from the Holot facility from going to Eilat and Tel Aviv, in part to keep them from working there, and municipal officials in other areas stated they would oppose asylum seekers relocating to their communities. Nevertheless, media reported in 2015 that labor-recruitment companies sent representatives to Holot to interview those released for possible employment in hotels at the Dead Sea or elsewhere outside of Tel Aviv and Eilat.
The government reserves the right to demand unpaid value-added tax and levy substantial fines against business proprietors for operating businesses without a tax exemption. African asylum seekers in the Holot open facility may not work outside the facility, but some worked inside the facility for less than the minimum wage. Some of the facility’s services depended on detainee labor. Some detainees erected stalls outside the facility to sell food or other goods, but authorities periodically demolished their kiosks based on sanitation concerns or the prohibition against employment.
The law bars migrants from sending money abroad, limits the amount they may take with them when they leave to the minimum wage for the number of months they resided in the country, and defines taking money out of the country as a money-laundering crime.
Access to Basic Services: Access to health care, shelter, and education was available on an inconsistent basis. Recognized refugees received social services, including access to the national health-care system, but the government did not provide asylum seekers with public social benefits such as health insurance. The government stated it provided infirmary services, including laboratory services, medical imaging, and general and mental hospitalization services in the Holot facility for individuals held there, including asylum seekers. UNHCR reported that when a detainee accessed health services, another detainee often provided translation, compromising confidentiality and potentially affecting the quality of treatment. The government sponsored a mobile clinic, and mother and infant health-care stations in south Tel Aviv, which were accessible to migrants and asylum seekers. The clinic provided health and dental services, sexually transmitted disease evaluation and treatment, and prenatal and infant medical care.
Two major providers of medical care for asylum seekers stopped providing nonurgent treatment in the summer. The Gesher clinic in Jaffa, which the Ministry of Health funded and was the only provider of mental health services to asylum seekers, announced in late July that it no longer would accept new patients. Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv, which had previously covered the cost of treatment of asylum seekers from its budget, ran out of funds in early August. The two remaining clinics in Tel Aviv, where most asylum seekers resided, offered only limited medical services.
Temporary Protection: The government provided temporary protection primarily to Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers. The Ministry of Interior continued to reject the applications of almost all Eritrean detainees, concluding that military desertion provided insufficient grounds for presenting a subjective fear of persecution and disregarding further evidence presented on conditions in Eritrea should individuals return. In September, however, an appeals tribunal ruled that applications from asylum seekers fleeing conscription in Eritrea cannot be rejected out of hand and must be adjudicated individually. The government immediately appealed the ruling, and the case was pending as of November 10.
Despite being eligible for Israeli citizenship since 1981, an estimated 20,000 Druze living in territory captured from Syria in 1967 largely refused to accept Israeli citizenship, and their status as Syrian citizens was unclear. They held Israeli identification cards, which listed their nationality as “undefined.” Media reported that the number of Syrian Druze applying for Israeli citizenship had increased since 2011.