Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape, including spousal rape, is a felony punishable by 16 years in prison, or up to 20 years’ imprisonment for rape under aggravated circumstances or if the perpetrator rapes or commits a sexual offense against a relative. The government effectively enforced rape laws. On December 18, authorities granted former president Moshe Katsav parole after completing five years of a seven-year sentence for rape.
The government received 4,246 complaints of sex-related offenses and filed 760 indictments as of September 7, compared with 5,877 complaints and 1,133 indictments for all 2015.
As of December 15, husbands or partners killed nine women, and other family members killed seven women in what the government termed “murders due to family disputes” and women’s rights groups termed “femicides.” For example, Amna Yasin, who was in her ninth month of pregnancy, was stabbed to death on August 23. Authorities indicted her husband for murder. Arab and Jewish women’s rights groups protested against what they perceived to be police inaction and societal indifference or support for such actions. The government stated that police had developed procedures and trained special investigators to deal with domestic violence, sex offenses, and the violation of protective orders in diverse communities, including the Arab community. NGOs, including Women Against Violence, Na’am, and The Abraham Fund Initiative, worked within Arab and mixed communities to counter femicide.
In February the IDF ordered all off-duty combat soldiers to carry their weapons, following a terrorist attack in the West Bank in which an unarmed soldier died. The Ministry of Public Security continued to allow armed security guards to take their weapons home at the end of their shifts, a practice reinstated in 2014 after the ministry prohibited it in 2013 when a coalition of NGOs raised concerns about the high rate of spousal killings by security guards using service weapons. The ministry announced strict regulations governing the storage of weapons at home and in public.
According to the Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel, the majority of rape victims did not report the crime to authorities due to social and cultural pressure. Women from certain Orthodox Jewish, Muslim, Bedouin, and Druze communities faced significant social pressure not to report rape or domestic abuse. Experts in the field of social work and domestic violence prevention highlighted the reluctance of many Arab women to avail themselves of social services due to societal pressure and personal identification as Palestinians. In 2015 the government cooperated with The Abraham Fund Initiative on a pilot program to provide training for professionals in the field of domestic violence within the Arab community, bringing law enforcement officers, social workers, NGOs, and religious leaders together to coordinate services for survivors of domestic violence.
The Ministry of Social Affairs and Social Services operated 14 shelters for survivors of domestic abuse and a hotline for reporting abuse. In 2015 a total of 755 women used a shelter, an increase of 20 percent from 2014. Regulations allow women to stay in a shelter for up to a year. Two of these shelters were dedicated to the assistance of women from the Arab community, and authorities dedicated two others to caring for a mixed population of Arab and Jewish women. Approximately one-third of 103 centers for the prevention and treatment of domestic violence throughout the country operated in Arab communities or mixed Arab-Jewish cities. In 2015 the 103 centers fielded more than 14,000 cases of alleged abuse. The Ministry of Social Affairs and Social Services assisted women involved in prostitution, including emergency shelters, daytime centers, and therapeutic hostels.
Authorities established a special interministerial board headed by the deputy director general of the Ministry of Public Security to address the continuing problem of domestic violence. In 2014 the board presented interim findings and recommendations to the Committee for the Advancement of Women and Gender Equality in the Knesset.
Other Harmful Traditional Practices: According to a report by Ha’aretz in February, between 30 to 50 percent of Bedouin families in the Negev were polygamous. In August 2015 Ha’aretz reported that the justice minister and the attorney general announced, “Steps will be taken to enforce the law against polygamy,” working collaboratively with social service providers. Some in the Arab community expressed concern these measures would negatively affect women and children financially, and they urged focusing the effort first on education and on the sharia courts that perform marriages. Others heralded the move.
Cases of domestic homicides of women continued to occur within the Arab community, contributing to a disproportionate number of killings of Arab women (see also Rape and Domestic Violence above).
Police conducted weekly assessments of threatened women to determine the level of threat and required protection and worked with government social welfare institutes and NGOs to safeguard threatened women.
Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment is illegal but remained widespread. The law requires that authorities inform suspected victims of harassment of their right to assistance. Penalties for sexual harassment depend on the severity of the act and whether the harassment involved blackmail. Police notified all known victims of their right to receive assistance from the Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel. The law provides that victims may follow the progress on their cases through a computerized system and information call center. Authorities filed 223 indictments for sexual harassment in 2015 and 170 as of September 12. In 2015, however, the Central Bureau of Statistics conducted a poll for the Ministry of Public Security that indicated 98 percent of sexual harassment victims did not go to the police. In May a survey by Israel’s Channel Two television station found that 28 of 32 female MKs had been sexually assaulted, including two after they had entered the Knesset.
Harassment based on gender segregation continued in some public places, including on public buses. A 2015 Beit Shemesh court ruled in favor of and awarded damages of 60,000 shekels ($16,000) to four local Orthodox women, who complained the municipality had not complied with a previous ruling to eliminate signs in public places requesting members of the public to dress modestly.
The Ministry of Transportation and Road Safety operated a 24-hour hotline to report complaints on public transportation, including segregation.
Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of having children; manage their reproductive health; and have access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. Traditional practices in Orthodox Jewish communities often led women to seek approval from a rabbi to use contraception.
Arab Israeli women, particularly from the Bedouin population, had limited access to health-care services and had poor indicators for illness, death, and life expectancy. In the unrecognized Arab Bedouin villages in the Negev, there were very few health-care facilities or medical services. According to PHR-I, there were only one-third of the doctors needed, a large lack of services, and need for proper infrastructure.
Discrimination: The law provides for the same legal status and rights for women as for men. In the criminal and civil courts, women and men enjoyed the same rights, but in some matters religious courts–responsible for adjudication of family law, including divorce–limited the rights of Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and Druze women. Women and men who do not belong to a recognized religious group faced additional discrimination. In August in response to a petition from women’s rights organizations regarding the lack of female leadership in the religious establishment, the Supreme Court ordered the appointment of a female deputy director general of the Rabbinic Courts.
The law allows a Jewish woman to initiate divorce proceedings, but both the husband and wife must give consent to make the divorce final. Because some men refused to grant divorces, thousands of women could not remarry or give birth to legitimate children. In rare cases this rule happened in reverse, with women refusing to grant men divorces. Rabbinical tribunals sometimes sanctioned a husband who refused to give his wife a divorce, while also declining to grant the divorce without his consent.
A Muslim woman may petition for and receive a divorce through the sharia courts without her husband’s consent under certain conditions, and a marriage contract may provide for other circumstances in which she may obtain a divorce without his consent. A Muslim man may divorce his wife without her consent and without petitioning the court. Through ecclesiastical courts, Christians may seek official separations or divorces, depending on their denomination. Druze divorces are performed by an oral declaration of the husband alone and then registered through the Druze religious courts, placing a disproportionate burden on the woman to leave the home with her children immediately. A civil family court or a religious court settles child custody, alimony, and property matters after the divorce, which gives preference to the father–unless it can be demonstrated that a child especially “needs” the mother.
Although the law prohibits discrimination based on gender in employment and wages and provides for class action antidiscrimination suits, a wage gap between men and women persisted. According to data published by the Central Bureau of Statistics in March 2015, a woman’s median monthly income was 26.7 percent lower than a man’s. The Knesset Research Center reported that in 2015, 32 percent of Arab women between the ages of 25 and 64 years old were employed, compared with 74 percent of Arab men and 80 percent of Jewish women. The government subsidizes daycare and afterschool programs to encourage labor participation by mothers and offers professional training to single parents.
The Authority for the Advancement of the Status of Women in the Prime Minister’s Office works to mainstream women’s participation in the government and private sector and to combat sexual harassment and domestic violence. The authority requires every city, local council, and government ministry to have an adviser working to advance women’s issues. A government resolution requires ministers to appoint women to the directorates of government-owned companies until representation reaches 50 percent; according to a February report in Calcalist, six of 10 of the largest government-owned companies reached 50 percent. The law requires that at least one of two governmental representatives on the Committee for Appointment of Religious Judges be a woman; in July 2015 authorities appointed seven men and four women to the committee.
Discrimination in the form of gender segregation continued in some public places, including in public health clinics and at the Western Wall. The main plaza of the Western Wall has gender-segregated prayer areas where regulation prohibits women from leading prayers, singing aloud, or holding or reading from Torah scrolls. On January 31, following three years of negotiations, the cabinet passed an agreement to double the size of the non-Orthodox section immediately south of the main plaza, which was “administered with a pluralistic approach” and used by the Conservative Movement for prayer and ceremonies. The cabinet decision also called for creating a single entrance for all worshippers to replace the separate entrance used to access the non-Orthodox section. The government, however, delayed implementation of the agreement throughout the year, leading egalitarian-prayer NGOs such as the Women of the Wall to declare that the agreement had collapsed. On June 7, police briefly detained Lesley Sachs, the executive director of the Women of the Wall, for questioning on charges of breaching public order after she smuggled a private Torah scroll into the Western Wall plaza for use in an egalitarian prayer service. On November 2, in protest against government’s failure to implement the January 31 agreement, leaders of the Conservative and Reform movements of Judaism joined the Women of the Wall in performing an act of civil disobedience by bringing 14 Torah scrolls to the women’s section of the Western Wall.
According to media reports, in December 2015, at a conference in Bnei Brak, leading rabbis in the Ashkenazi ultra-Orthodox community issued an order to the principals of ultra-Orthodox institutions not to recognize the degrees of women who study in academic institutions. They also banned ultra-Orthodox women from attending colleges and universities, saying a woman’s higher pay resulting from higher education was “a danger to the entire structure of the household.”
In April the Reshet Bet radio station reported that hospitals in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem routinely segregated Jewish and Arab women in maternity wards, although not by official policy.
Birth Registration: Children derive citizenship at birth within or outside of the country if at least one parent is a citizen. Births are supposed to be registered within 10 days of the delivery, and, according to the law, births are registered in the country only if the parents are citizens or permanent residents. Any child born in an Israeli hospital receives an official document from the hospital that affirms the birth, the mother’s details, and the father’s details as based on a joint declaration made by both the father and the mother. The country registers the births of Palestinians in Jerusalem, although Palestinian residents of Jerusalem reported delays in the process.
According to the National Council for the Child, 161,462 children in the country lacked Israeli citizenship and its corresponding rights; however, most of these children were not stateless because they were eligible for another citizenship or Palestinian passport. The council noted this number did not include the children of asylum seekers or irregular migrants. The figure included children of legal and illegal foreign workers and children of mixed marriages, especially those between Arab-Israelis and Palestinian residents of the occupied territories. The government stated that a child’s status derives from a parent’s status; if one of the parents is an Israeli citizen and the other is not, the child may be registered as Israeli as long as he or she lives with the parent who is an Israeli citizen or permanent resident.
According to UNHCR, the Ministry of Interior issues a Confirmation of Birth document, which is not a birth certificate, for children without legal residency status in the country, including children of asylum seekers, migrant workers, children of international students, and others who do not hold Israeli citizenship. At times the government refused to list the father’s name or to give the child the father’s last name on the Confirmation of Birth document. The Ministry of Interior requires parents without legal residency to sign a form declaring they are “present illegally” in the country before issuing this document. In response to a petition to require the government to issue an official birth document listing both parents’ names, the Supreme Court ruled on June 1 that, until the government’s transition to computerized hospital birth notices is complete, the Ministry of Interior should issue birth certificates showing all details listed in the Confirmation of Birth prepared by the hospital, including the father’s name if declared at the time of the birth.
Education: Primary and secondary education is free and universal through age 17, andcompulsory through grade 12. The government implemented the Compulsory Education Law (integrating children ages three to five) in the 2015-16 school year.
The government did not enforce compulsory education in unrecognized Bedouin villages in the Negev, and Bedouin children, particularly girls, continued to have the highest illiteracy rate in the country. Preschool-age children in unrecognized Bedouin villages faced difficulty in transportation to the nearest preschool, which in some cases was more than six miles away. As a result more than 5,000 Bedouin preschool-age children did not attend a preschool, according to a March report from the Ministry of Education. The government does not grant construction permits in unrecognized villages, including for schools. On August 23, the Ministry of Education promised to phase in bussing for these preschoolers, as well as those in recognized towns, over the course of the 2016-17 school year with an additional allocation of 50 million shekels ($13 million).
The government operated separate public schools for Hebrew-speaking children and Arabic-speaking children. For Jewish children there were separate public schools available for religious and secular families. Individual families may choose a public school for their children to attend regardless of ethnicity. By law these two school systems receive government funding equivalent to public schools, although they do not consistently teach a basic curriculum, including math, sciences, humanities, and languages.
The government partially funded “recognized but not official schools,” which are required to teach a corresponding percentage of the national curriculum and have greater administrative autonomy than public schools. In September 2015 schools in this category belonging to the Secretariat of Christian Schools went on strike to protest a cut in funding from the Ministry of Education, particularly as compared to the two politically affiliated ultra-Orthodox Jewish school systems. The government pledged to transfer an additional 50 million shekels ($13 million) by March 31, but as of December 9, the schools had received only one-quarter of that amount; negotiations continued. The government stated that it had dedicated additional resources to students living in the country’s periphery and in disadvantaged communities that resulted in the addition of school hours, funding for formal and informal educational programs, and teacher enrichment in these communities.
The Tel Aviv municipality opened 46 new preschools and kindergartens and 10 first grade classes in September, primarily for the children of migrant workers and refugees, raising concerns of segregation, whether unintentional or deliberate. According to a July 28 report in Ha’aretz, the head of the city’s education department claimed this pattern of assignments was primarily due to late registration by migrant families. Segregation by place of origin is illegal.
In recent years an influx of Arab residents to the primarily Jewish town of Nazareth Illit led to a significant population of Arab students with no option for education in Arabic; as a result most attended schools in Nazareth and nearby villages, despite paying municipal taxes in Nazareth Illit. In June ACRI submitted a petition demanding establishment of a school for Arabic-speaking students. The court instructed the Nazareth Illit municipality to reconsider the establishment of an Arabic school in the city and requested a response from the municipality by January 2017.
Medical Care: The government provides preventive health services to minors younger than age six without civil status. For noncitizens under age 18, it also provides services similar to those provided for citizens, regardless of their legal status in country, if their parents register them with the “Meuhedet” health-care fund. This arrangement does not include minors whose guardian is a resident of the Palestinian Authority, and it does not cover pre-existing conditions.
Child Abuse: The National Council of the Child received a number of complaints during the year of abuses related to health, availability of welfare services, education, physical and sexual abuse, child pornography, and poor educational environments.
The law requires mandatory reporting of any suspicion of child abuse. It also requires social service employees, medical and education professionals, and other officials to report indications that minors were victims of, engaged in, or coerced into prostitution, sexual offenses, abandonment, neglect, assault, abuse, or human trafficking. The government stated that police immediately attend to each case received from the National Council for the Child or any other source. Police maintained that they assigned officers with special training in dealing with child abuse without distinction to ethnic or racial background. NGOs, however, expressed concern regarding police negligence in child abuse and domestic violence cases reported in minority communities.
The government provided specialized training to psychologists, offered a free psychological treatment program to treat child victims of sexual offenses, and operated a 24-hour emergency hotline. The Ministry of Education operated a special unit for sexuality and for prevention of abuse of children and youth that assisted the education system in prevention and appropriate intervention in cases of suspected abuse of minors.
According to government data, minors were the victims in 47 percent of sex offenses in 2012-16. The most common offense against minors–77 percent of cases–was molestation. Approximately one-quarter of those complaints were for rape.
During March and April 2015, six children of migrants/asylum seekers died within five weeks. All six were in the supervision of workers in day-care centers that served the migrant/asylum seeker community and known to lack resources. Following the deaths the government announced it would allocate 56 million shekels ($14.8 million) to establish alternative day-care centers.
Early and Forced Marriage: The law sets the minimum age of marriage at 18 years old, with some exceptions for younger children due to pregnancy and for couples older than 16 years old if the court permitted it due to unique circumstances.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits sexual exploitation of a minor and sets a penalty of seven to 20 years in prison for violators, depending on the circumstances. In 2014 the Knesset amended the law to extend the prohibition on possession of child pornography (by downloading) to accessing such material (by streaming). The minimum age for consensual sex is 16 years old. Consensual sexual relations with a minor between the ages of 14 and 16 constitute statutory rape punishable by five years’ imprisonment.
The government supported a number of programs to combat sexual exploitation of children, including an interministerial research team, preparing educational materials, and conducting numerous training sessions for government and police officials.
Until 2008 there was only one center for the protection of abused children in the country, located in Jerusalem, and its staff had no Arabic speakers. As a result of a petition brought by the National Council for the Child, in 2008 the Supreme Court ordered eight centers to open throughout the country within five years. As of 2015 the Ministry of Social Affairs and Social Services operated only six centers specializing in care of children and youths who experienced physical, sexual, or emotional abuse, or neglect by family members.
International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s report Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.
Jews constituted approximately 80 percent of the population. The government often defined crimes targeting Jews as nationalistic crimes relating to the overall Palestinian-Israeli conflict rather than anti-Semitism.
Trafficking in Persons
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
Persons with Disabilities
The Basic Laws provide a legal framework for prohibiting discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities in employment (including hiring, work environment, and evaluation), education, air travel and other transportation, access to health care, the judicial system, or the provision of other government services. The 1998 Equal Rights for Persons with Disabilities Law augments the Basic Laws and specifically prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities, including with regard to public facilities and services. This legislation mandates access to buildings, information, communication, transportation, and physical accommodations and services in the workplace, as well as access to mental health services as part of government-subsidized health insurance.
In March the Knesset passed an amendment to the Legal Capacity and Guardianship Law. The reform moves toward greater legal empowerment of persons with disabilities, including recognition of supported decision making and enduring powers of attorney, reduction of cases in which guardians will be appointed as well as the scope of their powers, and definition of the rights of persons under guardianship.
In 2014 the Minister of Economy signed an order requiring that 3 percent of the workforce of employers with more than 100 employees be persons with disabilities. In August the Knesset passed a law requiring persons with disabilities hold at least 5 percent of jobs in government-funded bodies with 100 employees or more. According to NGOs, government progress in enforcing these laws was limited. Government agencies for persons with disabilities worked to encourage leadership from within the community of persons with disabilities and offered a subsidy for employers for the first three years of employment of a person with a disability.
Societal discrimination and lack of accessibility persisted in employment, housing, and education. According to the government’s Commission for Equal Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the employment rate remained lower than that for persons without disabilities, and many persons with disabilities who were working had part-time, low-wage jobs. The government established a one-stop employment center for persons with disabilities during the year as a pilot project. The Ministry of Economy decreed that all sectors should increase their hiring so that persons with disabilities would constitute 3 percent of the workforce by the end of 2017, and the government continued to provide support and education for employers and workers with disabilities to close the gap. According to the commissioner for the rights of persons with disabilities, 100 percent of municipal buses and 60 percent of intercity buses were accessible, as of November 2015.
The disability rights NGO Bizchut reported that Arab citizens with disabilities were employed at approximately half the rate of Jews with disabilities. Shortages of funding for Arab municipalities, including for education, adversely affected Arabs with disabilities.
Access to community-based independent living facilities for persons with disabilities remained limited. According to Bizchut, more than 8,000 persons with intellectual disabilities lived in institutions and large hostels while only 1,500 lived in community-based settings. The Ministry of Social Affairs and Social Services moved 106 persons with intellectual disabilities from institutions into community-based housing facilities as part of a three-year pilot program that began in 2015.
The law prioritizes access by persons with disabilities to public services, such as eliminating waiting in line as well as providing adapted seating and accessible facilities in public places other than buildings, such as public beaches, municipal parks, swimming pools, and cemeteries. For hearing-impaired persons, the law provides for short-message public-announcement services.
The Commission for Equal Rights of Persons with Disabilities within the Ministry of Justice oversees the implementation of laws protecting the rights of persons with disabilities and worked with government ministries to enact regulations. The Unit for the Integration of Persons with Disabilities in the Labor Market, located within the Ministry of Economy, examined and promoted the employment of persons with disabilities. The unit had three support centers designed to assist employers who wish to hire persons with disabilities. The Ministry of Social Affairs and Social Services provides accommodation to persons with intellectual disabilities and/or autism who are either suspects or victims in criminal investigations.
Authorities hospitalized 24,000 persons in psychiatric hospitals each year, including 8,000 under involuntary hospitalization orders. According to a report published in March by Bizchut, psychiatric patients, including minors, faced excessive use of mechanical restraints of all four limbs. Patients were unable to move, even to scratch an itch or use the bathroom. Authorities restrained some patients for hours, others for days. The use of restraints was pervasive, with approximately 4,000 experiencing it at least once during their stay in 2014, often resulting in physical or psychological harm. The report found that the reason for restraint was often punishment or to control “nuisance” behaviors such as yelling or moving incessantly rather than any degree of danger. The Be’er Sheva Mental Health Center, which instituted an independent project to reduce the use of four-limb restraints, reduced the number of cases by 60 percent during the period 2014-15. During the year the Ministry of Health appointed a committee to investigate the use of restraints, which was scheduled to issue a report in January 2017.
The NGO Adalah maintained a database of more than 50 laws it claimed discriminated–either explicitly or in practice–against Arab citizens.
Arab citizens, many of whom self-identify as Palestinian, faced institutional and societal discrimination, particularly in the wake of a wave of terrorist attacks by individuals of Palestinian or Arab descent, which began in September 2015 and continued during the year. There were multiple instances of security services or other citizens racially profiling Arab citizens, as well as instances of revenge attacks directed towards or being carried out against Arabs.
In one case in October 2015, a 17-year-old Jewish Israeli stabbed four Arabs in the southern Israeli town of Dimona. When interrogated, he told police that his conviction that “all Arabs are terrorists” motivated him. Prime Minister Netanyahu condemned the attack. Authorities charged the attacker with four counts of attempted murder, and the case was pending as of the end of the year.
In January 2015 in Jerusalem, 10 Jewish assailants beat Tommy Hasson, a Druze veteran of the IDF, reportedly after they overheard him speaking Arabic. After police arrested several suspects, a judge found that assailants committed the attack with nationalistic motivations. The National Insurance Institute subsequently recognized Hasson as someone who survived “enemy hostilities.” Nonetheless, in September police closed the investigation without charges due to “lack of evidence and the inability to fully identify the attackers.”
There were no “price tag” attacks, which refers to violence by Jewish individuals and groups against non-Jewish individuals and property with the stated purpose of exacting a “price” for actions the government had taken against the group committing the violence. Attackers, however, invoked the term “price tag” in an incident that was a reaction to a terrorist attack by Palestinian individuals. In July the ISA arrested three minors on suspicion of burning cars and spray-painting in the village of Yafia one month earlier. According to police, two of the suspects admitted committing the vandalism as revenge for the June 8 terror attack at Sarona marketplace in Tel Aviv. Authorities indicted two of the minors for arson, malicious damage due to nationalistic motives, and obstruction of justice, and they indicted the third for failure to prevent a crime. The case continued as of year’s end. The government classifies price tag attacks as terrorism. Since 2013 the Ministry of Defense–which has jurisdiction only over the West Bank and not inside the Green Line–has defined any association of persons that uses the term “price tag” as an illegal association. In prior years the most common offenses, according to police, were attacks on vehicles, defacement of real estate, harm to Muslim and Christian holy sites, assault, and damage to agricultural lands.
In June 2015 arsonists burned a large section of the Church of the Multiplication in Tabgha and scrawled on the building’s stone walls sections of the Jewish prayer book that in this context denigrated Christians. In July 2015 the government announced five persons, including one minor, were responsible for the attack and filed indictments against two of them for aggravated arson, destruction of property due to hostility towards the public, conspiracy to commit a crime, and conspiracy for other acts, taking “administrative steps” against the other three. As of the end of the year, one of the suspects facing charges was under arrest and the other was under house arrest until the end of the court proceedings. The investigation also led to the sentencing of another suspect for two years’ imprisonment on charges of sedition (possessing a publication that incites to violence or terror, according to the government). After initially declining to pay for repairs of the church, saying it did not fall under protections against acts of terror, the government agreed to pay 3.9 million shekels ($1 million) to restore the site. As of the end of the year, the government had transferred only 1.5 million shekels ($397,000), and negotiations continued for another 800,000 shekels ($212,000).
The law exempts Arab citizens, except for Druze men, from mandatory military service, but a small percentage served voluntarily. Those who performed military service received some societal and economic benefits; those who did not sometimes faced discrimination in hiring. Citizens generally are ineligible to work in companies with defense contracts or in security-related fields if they have not served in the military. Some Druze and a small number of Jewish conscientious objectors opposed inclusion in mandatory military service, and authorities sometimes jailed them for refusing to serve.
The government managed a National Civil Service program for citizens not drafted for military service, giving Arabs, some ultra-Orthodox Jews, Orthodox Jewish women, and others the opportunity to provide public service and thus be eligible for the same financial benefits accorded military veterans. Many in the Arab community opposed the National Civil Service program because it operated under the auspices of government ministries associated with security. There were also multiple instances of ultra-Orthodox communities ostracizing ultra-Orthodox soldiers for serving in the military. In November 2015 the Knesset voted to extend deadlines for mandatory conscription of men in the ultra-Orthodox community until 2020.
In December 2015, following negotiations with the Arab community, the cabinet approved a five-year plan for development of the Arab sector in the fields of education, transportation, commerce and trade, employment, and policing. The resolution pledges as much as 15 billion shekels ($3.9 billion), including mandated percentages from each ministry’s budget, to increase economic integration and reduce societal gaps among Arab citizens over five years. It excluded mixed Jewish-Arab cities, such as Lod and Ramle, and unrecognized Bedouin villages. The plan is under the supervision of the Authority for Economic Development of the Arab Population in the Ministry of Social Equality. The Arab community welcomed the plan’s adoption, albeit with skepticism that the authorities would fully implement it. On August 25, the Ministry of Construction and Housing announced agreements with 15 Arab localities for planning “hundreds of housing units and commercial zones” in the first implementation of the plan. The government earmarked more than 2.1 billion shekels ($550 million) to be used during the year, and most of these allocations were distributed to the relevant government authorities. These included 424 million shekels ($112 million) for transportation and infrastructure improvements, 91 million shekels ($24 million) to expand higher education opportunities, and 215 million shekels ($57 million) for the development of industrial areas and support of small- and medium-sized businesses. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated that the minister for social equality instructed the Economic Development Authority to monitor the activities of each office allocated money under this plan and provide for efficient implementation.
During the year authorities continued implementing earlier allocations including: a resolution from 2014, which budgeted 664 million shekels ($175 million) for improving infrastructure in Arab localities, including transportation, water and sewage, tourism, industrial areas, vocational training, sports halls, and personal security; and a resolution from 2013, which allocated 54 million shekels ($14 million) for improving education, employment, health services, and infrastructure in Druze localities in the Golan Heights.
In a 2014 study, the NGO Sikkuy found that the main cause of unequal resources for many Arab local authorities, including high schools, was their low tax base, requiring central government investment in economic and social development. The government initiated and continued several programs to support disadvantaged populations and periphery communities in general and the Arab community in particular.
The government employed affirmative action policies for persons of Arab descent, including members of Druze communities, and for non-Arab, Muslim Circassian communities, in the civil service. According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as of the end of the year, there were 4,000 non-Jewish employees in the civil service. The Education Ministry continued implementing a plan to place 500 Arab teachers in positions in predominantly Jewish schools by 2020. The plan offered partial solutions for many Arabs with teaching credentials who could not find work as teachers and for Hebrew-language schools that experienced a shortage of teachers in key subject areas including math, English, and science. As of August there were 588 Arab educators teaching in Jewish schools, according to the news outlet Israel Hayom. Out of 24,000 participants at employment centers designed for unemployed Arab, Druze, and Circassian men and women, 13,600 became employed from 2012 to 2015.
Separate school systems within the public and semipublic domains produced a large variance in education quality, with Arab, Druze, and ultra-Orthodox students passing the matriculation exam at lower rates than those of their non-ultra-Orthodox Jewish counterparts. The government noted that the Ministry of Science and Technology and the Ministry of Education operated programs to provide free matriculation-exam coaching to Arab students. According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, the percentage of students in Israel in 2015-16 who were Arab was 14.3 percent in undergraduate programs, 11.7 percent in master’s programs, and 6 percent in PhD programs. While these percentages were lower than the Arab percentage of the country’s total population, they were higher than the percentages in 1999-2000 (9.8 percent, 3.6 percent, and 2.8 percent, respectively). The government operated several scholarship programs specifically targeting the Arab population, including 650 scholarships valued at 10,000 shekels ($2,600) per year each for Arab students enrolled in a first-degree program. Statistics researched by Ha’aretz–TheMarker and the Knesset research center found that Arab students received slightly higher per-capita government support than their non-ultra-Orthodox Jewish peers. Two ultra-Orthodox school systems continued to benefit from higher funding percentages than all other school systems. Mossawa claimed that Arab schools faced a shortage of up to 3,000 classrooms as of August. According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in December 2015 the Council for Higher Education invited proposals for the establishment and operation of a state-funded college in an Arab locality in northern Israel.
Representation of Arabs and the Arabic language in Israeli media was far less than their proportion in the population. Mossawa reported that two Israeli television stations, Channels Two and 10, used less than 0.5 percent of their annual budget for Arab programming, and only 2 to 3 percent of experts interviewed in Israeli media were Arabs. There was only one licensed Arabic radio station, based in Nazareth, but 16 Arabic stations broadcast without licenses. On May 8, the government passed a resolution instructing government offices to increase the diversity of the individuals shown in their advertisements and other publications.
In November the Ministry of Transportation removed automated audio announcements in Arabic from urban busses in Be’er Sheva after receiving complaints from the mayor and residents shortly after the announcements began. Busses continued to display electronic announcements in Arabic and Hebrew.
Approximately 93 percent of land is in the public domain, including approximately 12.5 percent owned by the NGO Jewish National Fund (JNF), whose statutes prohibit sale or lease of land to non-Jews. Following a 2004 lawsuit filed by human rights organizations, the attorney general ruled in 2005 that the government may not discriminate against Arab citizens in marketing and allocating lands it manages, including those of the JNF. The human rights organizations withdrew their petition on January 27 after the Israel Lands Administration (ILA) and JNF made a new arrangement in which Arab citizens will be allowed to participate in all bids for JNF land, but the ILA will grant the JNF another parcel of land whenever an Arab citizen of Israel wins a bid. The NGO Adalah, one of the petitioners in the case, noted that this arrangement solves the specific problem of discrimination in JNF bids but not the underlying ethnonational bias behind the policy.
New construction was illegal in towns that did not have an authorized outline plan for development, which is the legal responsibility of local authorities. Arab communities that still lacked fully approved planning schemes could turn to their municipal authorities to develop them, according to the government. The government stated that as of August 2015, 131 of 133 Arab localities had approved outline plans for development, 84 of which the National Planning Administration furthered. It stated that outline plans advanced by the Ministry of Interior added an average of 70 percent to existing localities’ lands and noted that delays in the approval of plans often related to the lack of vital infrastructure such as sewage systems. The government noted that a government decision in July 2015 includes multiple provisions on the subject of housing problems in Arab localities. On August 25, the Ministry of Construction and Housing announced agreements with 15 Arab localities for planning “hundreds of housing units and commercial zones.”
NGOs serving the Arab population, however, alleged discrimination in planning and zoning rights, noting regional planning and zoning approval committees did not have Arab representation, and planning for their areas was much slower than that for Jewish municipalities, leading frustrated citizens to build or expand their homes without legal authorization and risk a government-issued demolition order. A “Target Price” housing program of the ILA, designed to reduce the cost of housing by as much as one-fifth of the national average price, did not include Arab municipalities. Additionally, some communities discriminated against Arabs. Adalah alleged in 2015 that an association that won a tender to market new apartments in the Oranim neighborhood of Ma’a lot-Tarshiha refused to sell them to Arabs.
Arab communities in the country generally faced economic difficulties, and the Bedouin segment of the Arab population continued to be the most disadvantaged. More than half of the estimated 230,000 Bedouin population lived in seven government-planned communities. Approximately 30,000 lived in the 11 recognized villages of the Nave Midbar and al-Qasum Regional Councils, formerly the Abu Basma Regional Council, and approximately 60,000 Bedouins lived in 35 unrecognized tent or shack villages that did not have water and electricity or educational, health, and welfare services. NGOs, Bedouin leaders, and the government noted that Bedouin towns ranked lowest on the country’s standardized socioeconomic scale, with most ranking a one out of 10 and only Rahat, Hura, and Segev Shalom ranking two out of 10.
While 11 of 13 recognized villages had plans that defined the areas of the village, in 10 of these villages, all residences remained unconnected to the electricity grid, there was no connection to the sewage disposal system, there were no paved roads, and only six villages had high schools, according to the Negev Coexistence Forum for Civil Equality. Additionally, in 10 of the recognized villages, residents were responsible for providing their own water infrastructure to bring water from a central line to their property.
(See section 1.e. for issues of demolition and restitution for Bedouin property.)
The law bars family reunification when a citizen’s spouse is a non-Jewish citizen of Iran, Iraq, Syria, or Lebanon. Citizens may apply for temporary visit permits for Palestinian male spouses age 35 or older or Palestinian female spouses age 25 or older, but they may not receive residency based on their marriage and have no path to citizenship. In response to a 2010 Supreme Court recommendation to provide social services to an estimated 5,000 Palestinian spouses of citizens granted “staying permits” to reside legally in the country, in July the government issued regulations governing the provision of health insurance to individuals with a staying permit who were not being upgraded to temporary resident status.
In July police arrested more than 50 members of La Familia, the official fan club for the Beitar Jerusalem soccer team known for racist anti-Arab chants, on weapons and assault charges and sentenced a fan to one month in prison for shouting racist remarks. Beitar Jerusalem was the only one of the four largest soccer teams in Israel that had never employed an Arab player.
The government generally prohibited Druze citizens and residents from visiting Syria. The government suspended a program, coordinated with the UN Disengagement Observer Force, that enabled Druze residents of the Golan Heights to attend college in Syria and permitted the Druze religious leadership to attend religious meetings in Damascus. The action was the consequence of escalated military and armed group activity on the Syrian side of the border that prompted the continued closure of the Israel-Syria access point overseen by the UN Disengagement Observer Force. Authorities suspended the program that allowed noncitizen Druze residents from the Golan Heights to visit holy sites in Syria through an ICRC-managed pilgrimage program in 2014. The government has prevented family visitations to Syria for noncitizen Druze since 1982. The government facilitated the entry of several hundred Syrian nationals, including Druze, to Israel to receive medical treatment.
An estimated population of 133,200 Ethiopian Jews faced persistent societal discrimination, although officials and citizens quickly and publicly criticized discriminatory acts against them. On July 31, Prime Minister Netanyahu publicly received the recommendations of an interministerial team established to address racism against Israelis of Ethiopian origin, including the appointment of an individual in each ministry to serve as a focal point for combatting discrimination and racism and a faster mechanism to employ Ethiopian Israelis with academic degrees in public service. Netanyahu stated, “In the wake of this report we will take further steps, and I am pleased that there are people, men and women, who are determined to uproot this phenomenon from our lives.” Some Ethiopian-Israelis reached positions of leadership in the government, such as Lieutenant Colonel Avi Yitzhak, who graduated from the IDF’s course for brigade commanders in April, and Adenko Sabhat Haimovich and Esther Tapeta Gradi, selected in September by the Israeli Judicial Committee to serve as judges. There was one Ethiopian-Israeli member of Knesset.
Following the disappearance of Avera Mengistu, an Ethiopian Israeli who entered Gaza and was believed to have been apprehended by terrorist groups in September 2014, the military imposed a gag order on reporting on the case that lasted until July 2015. Family and friends of Mengistu alleged his case received inadequate attention from the government because he was Ethiopian. The prime minister subsequently visited the family. There were no updates on his case as of the end of the year.
In April 2015 Ethiopian-Israeli citizens protested against what they perceived to be discriminatory treatment in society. The galvanizing event for the protests was the publication of a video that showed a police officer and a police volunteer in Holon stopping and beating uniformed Ethiopian-Israeli soldier Demas Fekadeh (see section 2.b.). Prime Minister Netanyahu, President Reuven Rivlin, and many ministers and Knesset members condemned the attack against Fekadeh, praised his call to avoid violence, and promised to work to lessen socioeconomic gaps between sectors of society.
At a conference in Tel Aviv on August 30, Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich responded to a question about police violence against Ethiopians by stating, “Studies the world over, without exception, have shown that immigrants are more involved in crime than others,” and, therefore, “when a police officer meets a suspect, naturally enough his mind suspects him more than if he were someone else. That is natural.” Two days after an outcry against this apparent justification of excessive policing against Ethiopian-Israelis, Alsheich apologized for his comments.
In November the Israel Broadcasting Corporation published a recording of veteran mohel (practitioner of Jewish ritual circumcision) Rabbi Eliyahu Asulin of Hadera offering to facilitate training on Ethiopian-Israeli and Sudanese babies, which are marginalized and vulnerable segments of society. He explained that with these groups, “there’s no problem. Even if your cut isn’t straight, they won’t say anything, because they don’t understand anything.” Authorities suspended his license as a mohel for three years.
The Ministry of Health announced in December that it would no longer ban blood donations from Ethiopian-Israelis who immigrated from Ethiopia. The new guidelines will restrict donations only from those who had immigrated or returned to Israel from Ethiopia within the past year.
The government maintained several programs to address social, educational, and economic disparities between Ethiopian Israelis and the general population. Those gaps were notable. According to the newspaper Ha’aretz–The Marker, in 2015, 52 percent of Ethiopian-Israeli families, including 65 percent of Ethiopian-Israeli children, lived below the poverty line, and Ethiopian-Israelis registered for welfare at a rate double that of the general population. According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, four government resolutions from February 2014 to February, totaling 500 million shekels ($130 million), aimed to improve the integration, health, education, and military service of Ethiopian-Israelis.
Isolated reports of discrimination by Ashkenazi Jews of European descent against Sephardic (Mizrachi) Jews of Middle Eastern heritage continued. Organizations representing Mizrachi Jews from various Middle Eastern countries claimed that government negligence in pursuing reparations for property losses for Jews from Arab countries and Iran had exacerbated social stratification along ethnic lines since the establishment of the state and during subsequent waves of (sometimes forced) immigration. Legislation dating to 2010 mandates any peace negotiation in which the country engages will preserve the rights to compensation of Jewish refugees from Arab countries and Iran.
Over the past several years, the Jewish Agency brought approximately 200 Jews from Yemen to Israel in quiet operations, including 19 in March. In September the Ministry of Education announced that November 30 will be commemorated annually in Israeli schools as a day to learn about the heritage of Jews from Muslim countries and, specifically, their emigration from those countries in the late 1940s. This decision followed recommendations by a special committee earlier in the year to mandate Mizrachi studies in the school system.
In April the Israel Land Authority fined construction company Bemuna 323,000 shekels ($85,000) for a video marketing a housing project in Kiryat Gat to Ashkenazic Jews by mocking Sephardic Jews. According to ACRI, this was the first time authorities fined a construction company for discriminatory marketing.
In June Prime Minister Netanyahu appointed then minister without portfolio Tzachi Hanegbi to reopen government files regarding children who disappeared in Israel soon after immigrating to the country from Yemen in the late 1940s and early 1950s. In July, Hanegbi affirmed that perpetrators, whom he did not identify, abducted hundreds of Yemeni children from their parents, but he did not say why or where they went. Minister Hanegbi’s recommendation, after reviewing documents from about 3,600 cases, was to disclose all material except that which would violate confidentiality requirements, such as the names of adopted children. The materials of the commission of inquiry were posted on a public website on December 28.
Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
The law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation, and the government generally enforced these laws, although discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity persisted in some parts of society. Most of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex (LGBTI) community’s gains came through the courts and not through legislation. Gay marriage remained illegal, because religious courts refused to accept these marriages, and the country lacks a civil marriage law.
Following a petition by ACRI regarding the Thai same-sex partner of an Israeli citizen, and an order from the Supreme Court in May, the Ministry of Interior announced in August that authorities would subject common-law partners to the same naturalization laws as common-law spouses. Therefore, like opposite-sex couples, a same-sex partner from a foreign country is no longer required to renounce his or her foreign citizenship to obtain Israeli citizenship. Additionally, the attorney general issued instructions in November reducing the minimum amount of time for naturalization from seven years to four and one-half years, to match that required of opposite-sex couples.
The law allows only heterosexual couples surrogacy. In response to a petition to the Supreme Court challenging this law, in July the attorney general submitted a response agreeing that single women should have access to surrogacy, but not single men. The case continued as of November 14.
In June 2015 the National Labor Court issued a decision confirming that the Equal Employment Opportunities Law should prohibit discrimination based on gender identity.
In October the Jerusalem Post reported that authorities appointed Rami Brachyahu chief rabbi of the Israeli police. In his previous role as chief rabbi of the Talmon settlement, he had issued a ruling prohibiting renting property to homosexuals.
According to a report published in August by the Nir Katz Center of the Israeli Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Association, there were 424 incidents of homophobia in the first seven months of the year, an increase of 66 percent from the prior year. An estimated one-quarter of the incidents related to violence in public areas.
Transgender individuals who wanted sex-reassignment surgery encountered difficulty securing it. In May 2015 Ha’aretz reported that a health maintenance organization refused to pay for two transgender individuals’ sex-change surgeries. In 2014 the Ministry of Health’s Director General issued a directive stating that the list of government-subsidized health services provided to all citizens included sex-reassignment surgery. Despite this judgment the patients in question received conflicting information from health-care providers, resulting in significant personal expenses. Minors are not allowed to start the process of transitioning, whether by sex reassignment surgery or otherwise.
Although large gay pride parades were held in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, in July the organizers cancelled the first attempt to hold a gay pride parade in Be’er Sheva after police refused their planned route through the city’s main road, claiming that intelligence reports indicated potential violence. The parade’s organizers rejected a compromise route offered by the Supreme Court and instead held a protest outside the Be’er Sheva city council building. In July 2015 an ultra-Orthodox Haredi man, Yishai Schlissel, stabbed six persons at the Jerusalem March for Pride and Tolerance. One 16-year-old victim subsequently died from her injuries. Authorities had released Schlissel from prison weeks earlier after he completed a 10-year prison sentence for attacking a previous gay pride march. On June 26, authorities sentenced him to life imprisonment plus 30 years.
UNHCR expressed continuing concerns for West Bank residents who claimed to be in a life-threatening situation due to their sexual orientation and who requested legal residency status in Israel. There is no mechanism for granting such persons legal status, leaving those who cannot return to the West Bank due to fear of persecution vulnerable to human traffickers, violence, and exploitation.
There were reports of discrimination in the workplace against LGBTI persons, despite laws prohibiting such discrimination.
Other Societal Violence or Discrimination
Individuals and militant or terrorist groups attacked civilians, including 11 stabbing, shooting, or stone-throwing attacks characterized by authorities as terror attacks by Palestinians, Arab citizens of Israel, and Jewish Israelis (see section 1.a.). (For issues relating to violence or discrimination against asylum seekers, see section 2.d.).