Header image for news printout

In dialogue with Israel, Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination urges greater inclusion and protection of minorities and all those under Israeli jurisdiction, including in the Occupied Territories

Committee on the Elimination
  of Racial Discrimination

05 December 2019

The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination today concluded its consideration of the combined seventeenth to nineteenth periodic report of Israel on its implementation of the provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.

Israel’s society was a fragmented one, a society in which law, policies and institutions reflected the dominance of the Jewish population, said Rita Izsák-Ndiaye, Committee Expert and the Rapporteur for Israel.  The challenge for the Israeli democracy was to protect those of different origin, those who were numerically weaker, and those on the opposite end of the power balance, but who still belonged and wanted to belong.

During the dialogue, Committee Experts welcomed the efforts to include minorities in the civil service and action plans to close the gaps between minority and majority groups.  At the same time, Israel was swiping away core citizen and fundamental rights of non-Jews who made up a large part of the population.  Each such move seemed to be a part of a strategic plan to fragment the non-Jewish population, including through their strategic transfer, in violation of international law.

A Committee Expert said Israel continued to deny its responsibilities under the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination for everyone under its jurisdiction, including non-Jews in Israel and the people in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem.  Regrettably, the issue of Palestinians and the situation in the Palestinian territories had, once again, been omitted from the report.

The 2018 basic law on the nation-state stipulated, inter alia, that the right to national self-determination in Israel was unique to the Jewish people.  Numerous national and international actors had expressed grave concern about this law, while many Arabs and Palestinians saw it as a provocation.  Together with other discriminatory laws, it contributed to the fragmentation along ethnic, linguistic and religious lines, increased tensions and hampered peaceful coexistence.  This fragmentation to Jewish and non-Jewish sectors led to hugely different outcomes for those communities, the Rapporteur said. 

Aviva Raz Shechter, Permanent Representative of Israel to the United Nations Office at Geneva and head of the delegation, reiterated the importance her country attached to pursuing peace with its neighbours, including the Palestinians. 

Israel, she said, was dismayed by the baseless allegations pretending that there was a strategic scheme to fragment the Arab population.  The delegation was also disturbed by the untruth that Israel supposedly treated human rights defenders as terrorists.  Israel welcomed the participation of civil society in the process leading to this review, but it was aggravating that some of the non-governmental organizations that submitted reports to the Committee were exploiting this opportunity to present false facts that were later reflected in the questions raised by some Committee Experts, Ms. Raz Shechter said.

The delegation explained that the Law on the Nation-State - only one piece in the legislative puzzle of Israel – sought to enable the right to self-determination of the Jewish people and did not derogate human rights protected in the other 15 basic laws and in the laws protecting the rights of minorities. 

Equality before the law, including for minorities, was the basic principle of Israeli law, while many laws recognized the right to equality and prohibited discrimination in a number of areas.  The High Court of Justice had reaffirmed on several occasions that the principle of equality was a constitutional one.

Minority groups in Israel enjoyed religious, cultural and linguistic freedoms, and Israel remained committed to those goals, despite living in a region where the commitments to the principles of equality, human rights and democracy were lacking.

The law contained a detailed definition of racial discrimination and provided for adequate sanctions.  Earlier this year, a new law had been adopted that qualified the motive of racism or hostility toward the public as an aggravated circumstance in murder offences.  Given the sensitivity of the issue, and in order to ensure that the right to freedom of expression was fully protected, the Office of the Attorney-General had to approve every indictment for the incitement to racism.  The unit for the coordination of the fight against racism in the Ministry of Justice had been recently set up.

Concerning the different legal regimes with regard to Israel, the eastern part of Jerusalem, the Golan Heights, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, as mentioned by Committee members, there were certain differences between the law that was relevant to each of these territories, which came from the fact that a different source of law governed obligations that Israel had in each of these cases. 

Following the disengagement from the Gaza Strip in 2005 after the Hamas terrorist attacks, Israel had put in place the process governing the transfer of goods into this area, in line with international humanitarian law and its sovereignty over the borders.  It had allowed the passage of humanitarian goods above and beyond its obligation under international law, stressed the delegation.

Extensive measures had been taken to prevent violence and ideologically based offences against Palestinians in the West Bank under Israeli control and to investigate and prosecute the offenders.

Ms. Izsák-Ndiaye, the Rapporteur, in her concluding remarks, recognized that in Israel, the discussion about nationality, language and religion was emotionally charged and sensitive.  The Committee’s concluding observations would reflect the concerns about racism and racial discrimination in Israeli society in line with its international legal obligations.

Ms. Raz Shechter, the head of the Israeli delegation, said in concluding remarks that Israel would continue to strengthen the inclusion of all the citizens who comprised its diverse society and to ensure that no one was left behind.

The delegation of Israel included representatives of the Office of the Deputy Attorney General, Israel Police Force, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Justice, Israel Defense Forces, and the Permanent Mission of Israel to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

The Committee will issue the concluding observations on the report of Israel at the end of the session, which concludes on 13 December.  Those, and other documents relating to the Committee’s work, including reports submitted by States parties, can be found on the session’s webpage

The Committee’s public meetings are webcast live at http://webtv.un.org/ while the meeting summaries in English and French can be accessed at the United Nations Office at Geneva News and Media page .

The Committee will next meet in public on Friday, 13 December, at 10 a.m.  to publicly close its one hundredth session.

Report

The Committee has before it the combined seventeenth to nineteenth periodic report of Israel (CERD/C/ISR/17-19 ).

Opening Remarks

NOUREDDINE AMIR, Committee Chairperson, in his opening remarks, stressed that the Committee was not a political body.  It was an impartial and independent body that was guided by the law enshrined in the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. 

Presentation of the Report of Israel

AVIVA RAZ SHECHTER, Permanent Representative of Israel to the United Nations Office at Geneva, said that Israel placed great importance on respect for human rights.  Israel’s society was a unique mosaic of cultures and religions where a range of ethnic and religious communities coexisted and interacted in a vibrant and open democracy.  The Jewish majority in Israel itself was made up of a wide array of ethnic, religious and cultural communities due to the great Jewish immigration to the State of Israel. 

As President Rivlin had said in 2015, Israel had shifted from a country with a clear majority, the secular Jewish population, to a country of four distinct minority groups: secular Jews, the modern-Orthodox society, the ultra-Orthodox society and the Arab population, without one clear majority.  Those four groups were the tribes of the people of Israel, the President had said.  He had also emphasized the need to build a partnership between the different populations that made up Israeli society, which should be based on a feeling of security within each population, a joint responsibility for the fate and future of the State of Israel, and justice and equality in creating a common Israeli identity. 

Israel’s longstanding commitment to the rule of law and to the principles of democracy and equality before the law were enshrined in the Declaration of Independence.  It clearly stipulated that the State of Israel as a Jewish State would be based on democratic values of freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel.  It would ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex, safeguard the holy places of all religions, and be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations. 

The catastrophe of the Holocaust and the Jewish people’s tragic history had shaped Israel’s fundamental values and respect for human rights and human life and the obligation to protect minorities.  This was a guiding light in all spheres of life in Israel and served as a defining principle for the legislative, executive and judiciary sectors in carrying out their duties, Ms. Raz Shechter said.

Israel was confronted with ongoing security challenges, amidst a volatile and often hostile Middle East, including devastating attacks on Israeli citizens, originating from Gaza and the West Bank, said the Permanent Representative.  The country, she continued, had put a lot of effort in finding the delicate and proper balance between the commitment to the rule of law and the obligation to defend its citizens against terrorism and the spread of violence.

It was Israel's principled position that the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination was not applicable beyond a State's national territory and did not apply with respect to the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.  Referencing the Palestinian communication to the Committee, the Ambassador recalled that Israel had asked for the postponement of the dialogue with the Committee until a decision was made regarding the question of the Committee’s jurisdiction.  Although Israel’s request had been denied, Israel was nevertheless appearing before the Committee and would do the utmost possible to engage in as constructive and helpful manner as possible.

NOAM NEUMAN, Senior Director, Office of the Deputy Attorney General of Israel, said that Israel had taken many steps to advance the implementation of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination and address some of the Committee’s recommendations.  Those included the adoption of the legislation on racially motivated crimes as aggravating circumstances and on legal aid.  Courts continued to play a crucial role in the advancement and protection of human rights throughout the country.  One such case was the reversal by the High Court of Justice in May 2019 of the ministerial decision to deny entry into Israel to Palestinians in order to attend a private memorial ceremony.  The Court had demanded that each entry request be examined on a case-by-case basis as opposed to the issuing of a blanket prohibition.

In January 2016, the Ministerial Committee for the Advancement of Integration into Israel of Israeli Citizens of Ethiopian Origins had adopted an action plan to address racism against this population group.  As a result, a unit for the coordination of the fight against racism and discrimination had been set up in the Ministry of Justice.  It was mandated with conducting prevention activities and receiving complaints of racism and racial discrimination.  To date, the unit had received 737 complaints, 40 per cent of which were from people of Ethiopian descent, but also from Arabs and Orthodox Jews.

To improve the situation of Israeli minorities, the Government had adopted the plan for the encouragement of economic development among Arabs 2016-2020 with a budget of $2.69 billion; the 2018 plan to reduce social and economic gaps between different population groups in the eastern neighbourhood of Jerusalem, with a total budget of $123 million; the plan for the economic and social situation of the Bedouin population in the Negev 2017-2021; and the programme for the socioeconomic development of the Druze and Circassian populations. 

Israel was looking forward to a frank and constructive dialogue with the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, Mr. Neuman concluded. 

Questions by the Country Rapporteur

RITA IZSÁK-NDIAYE, Committee Rapporteur for Israel, remarked that the report in front of the Committee, which had been submitted in March 2017, lacked some important developments that had occurred since then and regrettably left many of the Committee’s concerns unanswered.  That was why the dialogue with the delegation of Israel would be very important in updating the Committee on new developments and progress in the country. 

The Rapporteur welcomed the efforts of Israel to improve the situation of disadvantaged groups, especially in the area of the inclusion of minorities in the civil service and action plans to close the gaps between minority and majority groups. 

Jews made up 75 per cent of the total population of 8.8 million, Arabs comprised about 20 per cent, and the rest were made up of non-Arab Christians and persons without religious affiliation.  It was not clear, however, who were the minorities in Israel and who needed the protection of the State from discrimination.  The report mentioned Arab, Druze, Circassians and Bedouin groups, but also referred to ultra-orthodox Jews as minorities.  Could the delegation explain?

The issue of Palestinians and the situation in Palestinian territories had, once again, been omitted from the report, noted Ms. Izsák-Ndiaye with regret.  As a State party to the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, Israel was bound to respect the obligations imposed by the Convention with respect to any person and territory over which it exercised jurisdiction.  This obligation applied equally to its own territory and that which it occupied, stressed the Rapporteur.

The 2018 Basic Law was a subject of concern and criticism by United Nations human rights Special Procedures because it stipulated that the right to national self-determination in Israel was “unique to the Jewish people”, in contrast to the United Nations Charter which stipulated the right to self-determination of all peoples.  The law established Hebrew as an official language and downgraded Arabic from an official language to a “special status” language, thus carrying a symbolic and negative message to all Arabic-speaking communities.  The law also constitutionally elevated “Jewish settlement as a national value”, although they were prohibited under international law.  The law declared Jerusalem, “complete and united” as the capital of Israel. 

The Committee was deeply concerned about the fragmentation along ethnic, linguistic and religious lines in any society, and about any steps that could increase tensions and hamper peaceful coexistence of various communities.  Many Arabic speakers and Palestinians considered the 2018 Basic Law as a provocation, the Rapporteur noted, and asked whether Israel intended to amend it and respond to concerns expressed by numerous national and international actors. 

The Committee remained concerned about problematic and discriminatory laws, including the 1950 Law of Return, which guaranteed every Jewish person the exclusive right to enter Israel as an “oleh” or Jewish immigrant.  The 1952 Law on Citizenship conferred automatic Israeli citizenship to any Jewish person who entered Israel under the Law of Return, however, Palestinian refugees were not afforded the same right and status.  The 1950 Absentee Property Law had led to the confiscation of Palestinian property and had created significant obstacles for Palestinians to successfully establish their right to property and land in Israel and East Jerusalem.  Were those and other discriminatory laws still in effect?

What were the main institutions in charge of human rights protection, elimination of racial discrimination, and protection of minorities, including the plans and the timeframe for the establishment of a national human rights institution?  Reportedly, the Government often referred to organizations that operated as quasi-Government entities - World Zionist Organization or Jewish National Fund - in matters of legislation and policy in areas that carried critical importance for the various communities, for example land and urban planning.  What were their mandates and what means were in place to hold them accountable for their actions?

Allegations of discrimination were routinely addressed by the courts which, if claims were justified, ordered redress.  Could the delegation provide data and statistics on those court cases?  What pieces of legation could be used to claim a violation of equal treatment in the different fields of life?  Following the 2015 protests by Ethiopians, a steering committee had been formed to examine allegations of racism and discrimination affecting this community – could the delegation update the Committee on this situation?

The Rapporteur took positive note of the many initiatives taken to increase the participation of minorities in public life and welcomed the increase of Arab employees holding senior positions.  What was being done to increase the minority representation in the Knesset?

Bedouins had the worst socio-economic indicators from all population groups, particularly in the area of housing, Ms. Izsák-Ndiaye noted with concern.  Taking note of the specific and targeted measures to improve their situation, including the five-year development plan, the Rapporteur expressed alarm about the plans that would see the transfer of the residents of the unrecognized Bedouin villages in the Negev to temporary structures.  Civil society organizations were concerned that those would become camps on the outskirts of regional and local Bedouin councils, leaving more than 100,000 Bedouin people internally displaced and exposing them to repeated forced displacement.

The Domari Gypsy people, who were today Muslims and spoke Arabic, numbered between 1,200 and 1,500 people.  They suffered historic discrimination, neglect, poverty and adult illiteracy.  Was Israel aware of the situation of the Dom people and were there any policies and laws to protect and promote their identity and human rights?

As for refugees and asylum seekers, the Rapporteur recalled that Israel was a party to several international treaties concerning refugees and stateless people, including the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol.  All decisions on status were made by the Minister of Interior pursuant to the entry into Israel Law.  The status and rights of persons in need of international protection were not regulated in primary legislation. 

The procedure to be recognized as stateless applied only to persons who had entered Israel regularly and did not ensure protection of the largest group of stateless in Israel: stateless Bedouins born in Israel and persons who had entered irregularly, mostly from African countries.  The reasons for the statelessness of the Bedouins varied and included the disorder in the registration during the British Mandate and the early years of the State of Israel, the limited access this group had to State authorities, and the 1959 expulsion of tribe members who had been later returned.  As a result of their lack of status, Bedouins and their descendants did not have access to services and rights in Israel.  Since 2010, the State had revoked the citizenship of some 2,600 Arab Bedouins, rendering them stateless, without due process.

It was regrettable that Palestinians were mentioned only once in Israel’s report, which remained silent on discriminatory practices, Ms. Izsák-Ndiaye said.  The occupation posed a great challenge as it divided the Palestinians into different categories governed by different sets of laws and policies: Israeli civil law governing Palestinian citizens of Israel, Israeli permanent residency law governing the Palestinians in the city of Jerusalem, while Israeli military law applied to Palestinians, including those in refugee camps and those under military occupation in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. 

The Committee remained concerned about the consequences of the legislation, policies and practices which amounted to de facto segregation, and which weakened the Palestinian community as a whole and their sense of a shared national identity. 

Some 1.9 million Palestinian citizens of Israel were designated non-Jewish citizens.  They were accorded second-class legal status, received inferior services, suffered from discriminatory and restrictive zoning laws, and faced restrictions in access to jobs and opportunities.  The Palestinians living in East Jerusalem faced onerous requirements to constantly prove that their so-called “centre of life” was Jerusalem.  They lived under a constant threat of forced evictions, house demolitions, or residency revocation. 

In the West Bank, Israeli domestic law was applied extraterritorially to Israeli settlers, while the Palestinians were subjected to the military law, which resulted in lower human rights standards applied to Palestinian suspects and defendants compared with Israeli suspects and defendants.  The application of two different legal and judicial systems on the sole basis of nationality or origin was inherently discriminatory and violated the principle of equality before the law.

Israel held that since its withdrawal from Gaza in 2005, it had lost the effective control of the Strip and was no longer the occupying power and thus no longer bound by the obligation to provide for the welfare of the population.  However, Israel continued to control border crossings, the airspace, the territorial sea and had declared a maritime blockade and limits to the fishing zone.  The blockade had severely restricted the movement of people and goods and impeded the ability of the Palestinians to access basic services, including safe drinking water.  Lack of adequate medical services in the Gaza Strip forced many Palestinians to seek medical care in the West Bank or Israel, however, the permits were issued only for patients that met the exceptional “humanitarian” criteria defined by the Israeli authorities. 

How did Israel plan to comply with the Fourth Geneva Convention to ensure that the occupied territories had adequate medical supplies and sufficient hygiene and public health standards?

The Committee was concerned about the intensification of incursions and raids by the Israeli security forces into various parts of the West Bank, targeting specifically Palestinian civil society organizations and Palestinian homes, resulting in arbitrary arrests and detention. 

Settler violence was increasing too, causing the death of 19 Palestinians in 2019.  Many Palestinians were forced to leave the areas as a result of violence, while Israeli settlements continued to expand.  Israel continued to occupy the Syrian Golan, where Syrian citizens continued to suffer from discriminatory policies, particularly related to land and water allocation.  Over the years, the expanding Israeli settlements and their activities had reduced the access of Syrian farmers to water, due to discriminatory policies related to prices and fees.  The application of the Citizenship Law continued to disrupt family ties and Syrians in the occupied Golan were severely affected by family separation.

Questions by the Committee Experts

GUN KUT, Committee Rapporteur for Follow-up to Concluding Observations, recalled that the Committee had adopted concluding observations on Israel in February 2012 and thanked the State party for submitting the interim follow-up report on time.  In 2012, the Committee had asked Israel to ensure equal access to work and social welfare benefits to non-Jewish populations and decouple them from the obligation to serve in the Israeli military; revoke the 2003 temporary law on return and facilitate family reunification of all citizens irrespective of their ethnicity or national origin; and to ratify the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families.

Israel reported that it had put in place affirmative action policies and programmes to significantly increase the number of minority employees in the civil service and had greatly expanded access to work for Druze and Jews of Ethiopian origin.  At the same time, Israel was swiping away core citizen rights of non-Jews, including the right to self-determination, and wiping away the fundamental rights of large parts of the population.  Each move was a part of the large strategic plan to fragment the non-Jewish population, including through the strategic transfer of the non-Jewish population, in violation of international humanitarian law. 

The Committee could not access the implementation of the Convention in relation to the right to work or the right to education for all the people and territories over which Israel claimed jurisdiction.  The country was fast moving in another direction, denying its responsibility under the international human rights treaties, and renouncing its responsibility for the non-Jews and people in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem.

An Expert asked about the impact of the use of artificial intelligence and algorithms on human rights and asked about efforts to prevent, mitigate and provide reparation for algorithmic bias, including in law enforcement operations.  Was there an independent monitoring body for law enforcement with a mandate to assess the use of artificial intelligence by law enforcement officials and ensure there was no discrimination in its use?  Was any data available on cases of racial discrimination arising from the use of artificial intelligence and what was being done to prevent it from occurring?

Israel occupied Palestinian territories and exercised its jurisdiction there, therefore it was under the obligation to inform the Committee about the status of implementation of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination in the occupied territories.  The continuous extension of Israeli settlements into the occupied Palestinian territories was illegal and was an obstacle to peace.  What was the Israeli vision of the settlement policies and what would their position be in the peace negotiations?

The Committee was concerned about the rise in hate speech against refugees and asylum seekers, for example Sudanese and Eritreans, and against minorities, including by politicians.  How could a complaint against racially or ethnically motivated misconduct of the police be lodged and what follow up was provided?

An Expert raised concerns about the situation of human rights defenders, noting that many – individuals and organizations alike - were designated as terrorists.

NOUREDDINE AMIR, Committee Chairperson, expressed regret that Arabic translation of the Committee’s dialogue with Israel was not available.  Arabic was an official language of the United Nations and a language of many people in the world, including in Israel and Palestine.  The Chair hoped that the translation would soon be made available.

Replies by the Delegation

AVIVA RAZ SHECHTER, Permanent Representative of Israel to the United Nations Office at Geneva, said that the delegation had listened carefully to the many questions that the Committee Experts had raised, and which covered a wide range of topics. 

Israel attached the greatest importance to pursuing peace with its neighbours, including the Palestinians, she said.  It had repeatedly proven its willingness to go to great lengths in that pursuit, provided that there were real guarantees to its security.  The realities on the ground were complex and gave rise to certain dilemmas, but the delegation found that the concerns raised by some the Committee members in this context pertained more to the political process and only had a weak connection to matters of racial discrimination. 

The issue of settlements was a core political issue that had been discussed in political forums, and could not be informed in any meaningful way by the discussions in the Committee, Ms. Raz Shechter said. 

While there were many researched questions that came up in the review, there were unfortunately certain other comments that showed little understanding of the basic circumstances in Israel.  Israel, the Permanent Representative continued, was dismayed by the baseless allegations pretending that there was a strategic scheme by Israel to fragment the Arab population.  Instead, the Government policies to promote the Arab population told a completely different story. 

The delegation was also disturbed by the untruth that Israel supposedly treated human rights defenders as terrorists.  There were 20,000 active non-governmental organizations that operated freely in Israel on a wide array of issues.  Israel welcomed the participation of civil society in the process leading to this review, but it was aggravating that some of the non-governmental organizations that submitted reports to the Committee were exploiting this opportunity to present false facts that were later reflected in the questions raised by some members of the Committee, Ms. Raz Shechter said.  In order to ensure that the discussion remained focused and constructive, the delegation would relate its responses first to those issues that pertained more directly to the area of responsibility of the Committee, she concluded.

A delegate said that the Law on the Nation-State was only one piece in the legislative puzzle of Israel.  It did not derogate human rights protected in the other 15 basic laws and in the laws protecting the rights of minorities.  The principle of equality was deeply embedded in the Constitution.  The Law on the Nation-State sought to enable the right to self-determination of the Jewish people.  Minority groups within Israel enjoyed religious, cultural and linguistic freedoms.  Israel remained committed to those goals, despite living in a region where the commitment to the principles of equality, human rights and democracy were lacking.

Another delegate, an Israeli Arab member of the Israeli Police and a Muslim, said that the Arabs in Israel today had better chances at quality education than previous generations.  The Israeli police force was a decent institution, he said.  Its doors were open before every citizen in the country, regardless of their background or religion.  Today, Arab citizens of Israel were directors of medical wards in hospitals, university lecturers, and police commanders, and thousands of Arab students were enrolled in universities.  The doors in Israel were indeed open, he reiterated.

In 2016, Israel had created a special unit to improve policing services in the Arab communities, combat the violence, and provide personal security to Arab citizens.  The plan called for the establishment of 18 police stations in Arab towns and communities; so far, eight such stations had been set up to serve the Arab citizen and provide personal security to the Arab mother.  More than 600 young Arab men and 55 Arab women had joined the police.  This was a revolution, the delegate said; today, one could see an Arab Muslim policewoman supplying policing services to an Arab citizen.  Israel had invested 15 billion shekels - €4 billion – into this programme. 

According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, the population of Israel numbered 9.09 million in October 2019.  Of those, over 6 million were Jews.

Israel had received a large number of asylum applications in relation to its size - 70,000 since 2009, of which 36,000 had been received from Eastern European applicants.  There were several ways to file an asylum claim.  An asylum seeker was not held in custody nor removed from the country while the application was in the process, in line with the principle of non-refoulement.   The Population and Immigration Authority had a unit dedicated to handling asylum applications. 

In recent years, there had been an influx of people who entered the country illegally, usually from Egypt.  The principle of non-refoulement was duly respected and Israel had agreements with a number of countries for the safe relocation of Sudanese and Ethiopian nationals who entered the country illegally.  The Supreme Court had approved the relocation to third country policy.

Many migrants without legal status, including families with children, had voluntarily left Israel.  In 2018, the authorities had issued exceptional stay permits to 30 migrant families, extending their stay to allow the children to complete the school year.

As for migrant workers, a part of their monthly pay was deposited in their account, which could be collected after they concluded their contract and left the country.  Since the entry into force of the law, 1,784 people had exited Israel and collected the deposit.

In May 2002, following a wave of terrorist attacks against the Israeli population, the Government had suspended the issuing of residence permits for purposes of family reunification for individuals living in enemy States or in areas from which terrorist attacks were launched against Israel.  The continuation of terrorist attacks against Israel, including from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, was an evidence of some people abusing the residence permits for purposes of family reunification to continue their terrorist activities.  Nevertheless, the law continued to provide for the issuing of residence permits for family reunification for certain categories of the population and under certain conditions.

In 2010, the Government had made a formal decision to eliminate all forms of racism, discrimination and inequity in the Israeli medical system.  In cooperation with many stakeholders, including civil society organizations, guidelines had been developed to prescribe or proscribe actions that could be considered racist and discriminatory.  Cultural communication and elimination of racism and discrimination was included in the nursing school curricula and in hospital staff training.

The delegation explained that a common practice among the women immigrating from Ethiopia was the use of injectable contraception, in line with the health standards and guidelines.  In 2016, the policy prohibiting individuals who came from Ethiopia to donate blood had been reversed and today, everyone could donate blood regardless of their religion or origin, with the exception of those who had been in endemic areas for the previous 12 months.

Israel had a keen desire to provide medical treatment to everyone in the Gaza Strip and to provide care to all who could not access such treatment there.  A patient could not be transferred to Israel for medical care without a medical and security check and approval.  Israeli doctors had trained hundreds of Palestinian doctors and residents.  This was a very good bridge of cooperation and an effective way to assist the Palestinian neighbours to offer better medical care in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

Israel was examining the use of artificial intelligence and the question of human rights must be taken into account, a delegate said.  The National Digital Israeli Initiative and the Digital Israel Bureau in the Ministry for Social Equality had been set up, while a multi-stakeholder body was developing guidelines on the human rights-based approach of artificial intelligence.

The law contained a detailed definition of racial discrimination and provided for adequate sanctions.  Earlier this year, a new law had been adopted that qualified the motive of racism or hostility toward the public as an aggravated circumstance in murder offences.  Given the sensitivity of the issue, and in order to ensure that the right to freedom of expression was fully protected, the Office of the Attorney-General had to approve every indictment for the incitement to racism.

The unit for the coordination of the fight against racism in the Ministry of Justice had replaced the hotline against racial discrimination.  The unit was accessible by telephone and email. 

As for the criminal prosecution of racism and incitement to violence, hatred and racism, the delegation said that in the 2014-2015 period, there had been 60 indictments for racial motives, 31 had been registered in 2016-2017, and 13 cases in 2018.

Concerning the different legal regimes with regard to Israel, the eastern part of Jerusalem, the Golan Heights, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, as mentioned by Committee members, there were certain differences between the law that was relevant to each of these territories, which came from the fact that a different source of law governed obligations that Israel had in each of these cases. 

Within Israel’s sovereign territory, including the Golan Heights and the eastern neighbourhoods of Jerusalem, the primary legal framework that applied to its citizens, regardless of their ethnic origin, sex or religious belief, was the law of the State, which was a basic principle that was relevant to every State in the world.

In the West Bank, the relevant body of law was the customary law of belligerent occupation.  Israel also applied the humanitarian provisions of the Fourth Geneva Convention and multiple layers of laws, including Jordanian law, British mandate law, and even Ottoman law.  The military commander must respect these laws, but also amend and modify them to meet civilian and security needs as part of the State obligation to maintain pubic order and security. 

As for the Gaza Strip, ever since 2005 when Israel completed its disengagement plan, Israel had had no effective control over that territory.  As a result, under international law, the law of occupation had no bearing on the relationship between Israel and Gaza, which was regulated by other branches of law.  In June 2007, Hamas had seized control over the Gaza Strip from the Palestinian Authority through a violent coup.  Since then, Hamas and other terrorist organizations, such as the Islamic Jihad, had been constantly striving to improve their military capabilities and use them against Israel and its civilian population.  Since the disengagement from Gaza in 2005 and up until the 2014 Gaza conflict, Hamas and other terrorist organizations had fired almost 12,000 rockets and mortars at Israel.  During the 2014 Gaza conflict, they fired more than 4,500 rockets and mortars.  Last week, over 500 rockets had been launched against civilian settlers in Israel.  This situation was governed by the law of armed conflict.  The naval blockade aimed to supress the smuggling of arms into Gaza. 

Following the disengagement from the Gaza Strip in 2005 after the Hamas terrorist attacks, Israel had put in place the process governing the transfer of goods into this area.  This procedure was in line with international humanitarian law and its sovereignty over the borders.  Israel had allowed the passage of humanitarian good into the Gaza Strip above and beyond its obligation under international law, stressed the delegation.

Dual use materials were subjected to special considerations, including security considerations on the ground, to ensure that they were not used to construct weapons or to allow infiltration into Israel.  Any item not listed in the dual use materials list could be freely transferred into the Gaza Strip.  To date, 13 million tons of goods and materials for reconstruction had been transferred into Gaza.

On access to water in the Gaza Strip, the delegation said that since the end of the disengagement process and up to the present day, all water supply and sewage systems had been under the exclusive control of the Palestinians.  There were thousands of unapproved wells in the Gaza Strip, which seriously harmed the quality of water in the aquifer and depleted the quantity of water within.

Israel was not aware of any content that incited hatred in textbooks and teaching materials and cautioned against launching such baseless accusations.  All textbooks and teaching materials were approved by the Ministry of Education, a delegate said, and all students were taught democracy, equality and freedom.  Special programmes in many schools taught students about religions and interfaith relations.

The delegation expressed concern about hate speech, incitement to violence and expressions of hatred towards Jews and Israel in the West Bank and Hamas-controlled areas, and about the brainwashing of Palestinian teenagers into committing terrorist attacks against Jews.

Roma were entitled to accessing goods and services on an equal basis with Jews, however, there was very little motivation among the Roma families to cooperate with the social services department in the Old Town of Jerusalem.

Several national human rights institutions operated in Israel, including the State Controller Office and the Ombudsmen, the unit for the coordination of the fight against racism, the Equal Opportunities Commission, the Commission for Equal Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the Ombudsmen of the Ministry of Health, and others.

Extensive measures had been taken to prevent violence and ideologically based offences against Palestinians in the West Bank under Israeli control and to investigate and prosecute the offenders. 

Follow up Questions and Answers

RITA IZSÁK-NDIAYE, Committee Rapporteur for Israel, reiterated the concern about the lack of a general provision on equality and the prohibition of racial discrimination, and the fact that the definition of racial discrimination was not in line with the Convention.  She asked the delegation about the minority communities within the Jewish population and steps taken to prevent all forms of discrimination against Jewish minority women.

The Committee remained deeply concerned about the fragmentation of the Israeli society in its Jewish and non-Jewish sectors and hugely different outcomes they had: school dropout rates of Arab children were double those of Jewish children, life expectancy for Jewish men was 81 years and for Arab men it was 77, infant mortality rate for Jewish children was 2.2 per 100,000 live births, while for Arabs it stood at 6 per 100,000.  What strategic approaches were being taken to close the gaps in opportunities and life chances?

Responding, the delegation said that equality before the law, including for minorities, was the basic principle of the Israeli laws.  All existing laws were to be interpreted in line with this basic principle, while many laws recognized the right to equality and prohibited discrimination in a number of areas.  The High Court of Justice had reaffirmed on several occasions that the principle of equality was a constitutional one.

In 2016, Israel had initiated the examination of the nationality of a group of Bedouins who, by mistake, had been registered in the population registry as citizens rather than permanent residents.  An accelerated naturalization procedure for those individuals who did not qualify as citizens was offered.

Concluding Remarks

RITA IZSÁK-NDIAYE, Committee Rapporteur for Israel, in her concluding remarks, said that many issues had been left open and that the Committee’s concluding observations would reflect the concerns about racism and racial discrimination in Israeli society in line with its international legal obligations.  The situation was clearly difficult and the discussion about nationality, language, religion was emotionally charged and sensitive.  Israel’s society was a fragmented one, a society in which laws, policies and institutions reflected the dominance of the Jewish population.  The challenge for the Israeli democracy was to protect those of different origin, those who were numerically weaker and those on the opposite end of the power balance, but who still belonged and wanted to belong.

AVIVA RAZ SHECHTER, Permanent Representative of Israel to the United Nations Office at Geneva, concluded by thanking the Committee for the opportunity to listen to its concerns.  The delegation had provided much information, data and figures in a constructive way.  Israel placed a great importance on the respect of human rights, democracy and the rule of law.  It would continue to strengthen the inclusion of all it its citizens comprising its diverse society and ensuring that no one was left behind or felt deprived or excluded.

NOUREDDINE AMIR, Committee Chairperson, thanked the delegation and recalled that the delegation could send additional information in writing within 48 hours.

___________

For use of the information media; not an official record

Follow UNIS Geneva on:Website | Facebook | Twitter | YouTube |Flickr