20 October 2014
The Human Rights Committee today completed its consideration of the fourth periodic report of Israel on its implementation of the provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Presenting the report, Eviator Manor, Permanent Representative of Israel to the United Nations Office at Geneva, said despite constant security challenges, Israel had taken significant steps in the implementation of the Covenant. He spoke about the Operation Protective Edge military campaign this summer which he said was forced upon Israel by Hamas who acted deliberately to inflame the situation. However, Israel remained committed to peace and was willing to make historic and painful compromises to realize the creation of a demilitarized Palestinian State living side-by-side with the Jewish State of Israel.
Emi Palmor, Director-General, Ministry of Justice of Israel, highlighted significant developments in Israel’s ongoing efforts to protect and promote civil and political rights. Israel had a very open and dynamic society with a very active media and a court system ready to intervene to remedy wrongs, said Ms. Palmor, listing legislative advances and initiatives to advance the Arab population of Israel. She also emphasized that Israel’s position regarding the application of the Covenant to the West Bank or the Gaza Strip was known.
During the discussion, Committee Experts asked about the recent Operation Protective Edge, about the extra-territorial application of the Covenant to Gaza and the West Bank and about the military blockade of Gaza. They asked about the settlement policy, the prohibition of torture, and reports of excessive use of force by authorities. It was reported that Israel gave first-class rights and benefits to Jewish Israeli citizens but treated others as second-class citizens, alleged Experts, asking about provisions for the Bedouin People, and returns of asylum seekers, particularly those from Eritrea and South Sudan. Juvenile justice, gender equality, access to water, punitive housing demolitions, the use of administrative detention and the teaching of the Holocaust were also discussed.
In concluding remarks, Nigel Rodley, Chairperson of the Committee, said the Covenant was not a matter of auto-interpretation by every State. Outstanding issues of concern included the settlements, punitive house demolitions, the defence of necessity for torture, the use of 15 days incommunicado detention and apparent attempts to reduce civil space. Nevertheless, Israel had made some positive steps, but a system was only as good as it worked in practice.
In concluding remarks, Mr. Manor said Israel placed great importance on respect for human rights and had achieved significant developments in law and practice. Since its establishment, Israel had faced many security threats which strained its balance in both protecting the safety and wellbeing of its citizens and human rights – it was a delicate line and Israel was doing its best.
The delegation of Israel included the Director-General of the Ministry of Justice, and other Ministry of Justice representatives, including the Deputy Attorney General, as well as representatives of the Israel Defence Forces, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Prime Minister’s Office and the Permanent Mission of Israel to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
The Committee will next meet in public at 10 a.m. on Thursday, 23 October to hear progress reports from its Special Rapporteurs on follow-up to concluding observations and follow-up to views. On Thursday afternoon, it will continue its readings of its Draft General Comment on Article 9 of the Covenant.
The Committee is reviewing the fourth periodic report of Israel (CCPR/C/ISR/4).
Presentation of the Report
EVIATOR MANOR, Permanent Representative of Israel to the United Nations Office at Geneva, said since the submission of its last periodic report, Israel, despite facing constant security challenges, had taken significant steps in the implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which would be addressed today. On June 12 three Israeli teenagers were kidnapped by Hamas terrorists. Since then Southern Israel, followed by most of the country, had become a continuous target of ever-increasing rocket and other terrorist attacks from the Gaza Strip, including cross-border attacks and various attempts to kill and kidnap civilians via tunnels that penetrated into Israeli civilian residential areas within Israeli sovereign territory. Israel had a duty to protect the lives of its civilians, that very same right to life which underlined the Covenant and constituted its very fabric, said Mr. Manor.
Before launching Operation Protective Edge, Israel had shown great restraint by calling for the cessation of the rocket attacks. In response Hamas had escalated its attacks. Operation Protective Edge, which lasted for 50 days this summer, was forced upon Israel by Hamas who acted deliberately to inflame the situation, said Mr. Manor. The rise of Hamas and the ensuing violence caused the Israeli public to doubt whether its sacrifices for peace could be reciprocated. The continued presence of a terrorist Government in Gaza and its constant attempts to gain power in the West Bank severely undermined a constructive dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians. Hamas was an Islamist organization similar to Al Qaeda, ISIL or Boko Haram, said Mr. Manor, and it threatened the human rights of Israelis and Palestinians alike both in the West Bank and Gaza.
Israel remained committed to peace. It was willing to make historic and painful compromises to realize the creation of a demilitarized Palestinian State living side-by-side with the Jewish State of Israel. Israelis and Palestinians would have to work together to resolve numerous complex problems. That would only be possible if their work was built on a foundation of truth, mutual recognition and security, concluded Mr. Manor.
EMI PALMOR, Director-General, Ministry of Justice of Israel, highlighted significant developments in Israel’s ongoing efforts to protect and promote civil and political rights from 2011 to 2014. Israel was pleased to inform the Committee of a project initiated by the Minerva Centre for Human Rights at the Hebrew University for the Ministries of Justice and Foreign Affairs to enhance cooperation between State authorities, scholars and civil society organizations in the reporting process and in the implementation of human rights conventions. The fourth periodic report being presented today was the first chosen by that project. Furthermore, in 2011 a joint inter-ministerial team was established, led by the Deputy Attorney General, which was dedicated exclusively to the review and implementation of the concluding observations of human rights committees.
Israel was very fortunate to have a very open and dynamic society with a very active media and a court system ready to intervene to remedy wrongs. Recent legislative advances included the 2012 Expansion of Adequate Representation for Persons of the Druze Community in the Public Service Law; the amended Religious Judges Law of 2013 which aimed to provide better representation of women; the Adjustment of Works of Art, Performances and Broadcasts for Persons with Disabilities Law of 2014; and the Pupil’s Rights Law also of 2014 which added sexual orientation and gender identity to the prohibited grounds of discrimination against pupils. Many positive developments had been made to advance and promote the Arab population, said Ms. Palmor, including six Government resolutions allocating five billion Shekels to programmes such as promoting employment, particularly that of Arab women, education and health services and improving public transport serving Arab localities.
A report was released in February 2013 by the Commission of Inquiry established by the Government to assess whether mechanisms for examining and investigating complaints raised in relation to violations of the laws of armed conflict conformed with Israel’s obligations under the rules of international law. The report found that Israeli mechanisms generally did comply but nevertheless made several recommendations which were currently being studied by a committee. In June 2013 the function of the Inspector for Complaints against interrogators of the Israel Security Agency had been transferred to the Ministry of Justice, a move that would result in further strengthening of the autonomy of that important office. Ms. Palmor briefed on the landmark decision of the High Court of Justice of 16 September 2013 in response to a petition filed by non-governmental organizations which determined that holding a person who had entered Israel illegally for periods of up to three years, under the 1954 Prevention of Infiltration Law, was a violation of their rights, including the rights to liberty and dignity, and was unconstitutional. The Court consequently annulled Section 30A of the Prevention of Infiltration Law. On 22 September 2014 the High Court of Justice ruled in a further petition on the matter that holding persons in detention for up to one year constituted a rights violation, did not meet the proportionality criteria and was also unconstitutional.
Israel’s position regarding the application of the Covenant to the West Bank or the Gaza Strip had been presented to the Committee previously and was in the report, noted Ms. Palmor. However, Israel intended to address every question put before it, including relating to the West Bank or the Gaza Strip, but hoped that the heart of the discussion would be balanced and not focused completely on the situation in those areas. Finally, she referred to Operation Protective Edge, saying Israel was a peace-loving State committed to achieving genuine peace with the Palestinian people. It favoured talks with representatives of the two sides. Ms. Palmor expressed sincere hope that the conflict would be resolved in a respectful manner which brought about peace and prosperity to both sides and the Middle East region as a whole.
Questions by the Experts
A Committee Expert said that following Israel’s previous report in July 2010, the Committee highlighted in its concluding observations four areas on which it asked the State party to report within one year, regarding the blockade of Gaza and issues concerning torture and juvenile justice and related to the protection of the Bedouin People. He was happy to note that Israel had cooperated and submitted information within one year, although the replies were not found fully satisfactory by the Committee at the time and so further questions would be raised on those issues today. Israel was also commended for complying with the request to submit its next periodic report within three years, due to the Committee’s concerns about the human rights situation.
The Expert recalled that Israel last came before the Committee in the aftermath of operation Cast Lead which lasted from 27 December 2008 to 18 January 2009. Today they were meeting in the aftermath of the third round of violence in six years, of Operation Protective Edge from 8 July to 16 August, which led to the killing of many people, including 500 children, and the displacement of tens of thousands of people. The Committee had many urgent concerns regarding human rights and was pleased to note that the delegation was willing to answer all questions in that regard.
Would Israel consider ratifying the first and second Optional Protocols to the Covenant, which respectively related to individual communications and to the abolition of the death penalty? Would Israel consider withdrawing its reservation to Article 23 of the Covenant?
Contrary to Israel’s position, the Committee in 2007 stated that the provisions of the Covenant applied to the people in the occupied Palestinian territories, including the Gaza Strip. That view was not only endorsed by this Committee but also the International Court of Justice and followed mutatis mutandis by other human rights treaty bodies. Israel’s position left millions of people over which it exercised effective control without formal entitlements to their fundamental human rights and freedoms. What was the State party’s position on the principle of inclusiveness enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that human rights were extended to everyone?
It was reported that Israel gave first-class rights and benefits to Jewish Israeli citizens but treated others as ‘second-class citizens’. Could the delegation please comment, as well as on reports of a three-tiered legal system for Jewish Israeli citizens, Palestinian citizens of Israel and occupants of Israeli-occupied East Jerusalem?
The large number of asylum seekers, particularly from Eritrea and Sudan, led to Israel building a border fence which had proved to be very effective. The Committee recognized Israel’s sovereign right to control its borders, but asked whether asylum seekers coming through the Sinai had any possibility to request asylum at the border. The report itself stated that at least some, if not most, Eritrean asylum seekers at the Sinai border had been subject to ill treatment. How did the State party ensure those people were not exposed to refoulement at the border?
Israel had one of the lowest rates of recognition of asylum seekers as refugees worldwide, said an Expert, asking how it ensured that no rejected asylum seeker was returned to a country where he could be at risk of ill treatment or other rights violation amounting to non refoulement. Eritreans worldwide had one of the highest acceptance rates for asylum of any nationality, 80 per cent in Europe, he noted. In light of the armed conflict which recently erupted in South Sudan, could the delegation give information on the return of asylum seekers to that country?
The resumption of the policy of punitive demolitions of housing was a concern. What participation had the Palestinians and Bedouins had in the planning and zoning process, and decision-making about demolitions? An Expert said the planning and zoning regime made it almost impossible for Palestinians to acquire building permits while facilitating conditions for Israelis to build housing in the settlement areas, including in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. In those circumstances, Palestinians were compelled to build housing without permits.
Regarding women’s healthcare, an Expert noted that representatives of Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv had confirmed on Sunday that they had treated the daughter of Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh. The hospital said that his daughter had been admitted for a number of days, noting that she was one of over 1,000 Gazans that the hospital treated every year. That was humanitarianism ‘above and beyond the logic of clash’, said the Expert, but what was Israel doing to ensure the Bedouins’ and Palestinians’ access to health services, education, adequate housing, water and sanitation?
The right to ancestral land and traditional livelihood of the Bedouin population was raised by an Expert who said Bedouin communities residing in the West Bank were particularly at risk of displacement due to demolition and eviction orders. The majority of Bedouins expressed opposition to being relocated into urban townships which would destroy their economies and way of life.
The Committee was concerned that Palestinian populations were disproportionately threatened by water shortages in the West Bank, and further about the access by all residents of the occupied Palestinian territories, including East Jerusalem, and the Occupied Syrian Golan, to natural resources including agricultural land and also adequate water supplies.
An Expert asked about efforts to ensure the linguistic rights of Arab citizens of Israel. What percentage of health service staff spoke Arabic? What percentage of Arabic-speaking staff was in the civil service? Did all Ministries accept documents in Arabic? To what extent did Israel promote cultural rights in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories, including East Jerusalem, and in the Occupied Syrian Golan?
On gender equality, an Expert welcomed advances with regard to parental rights and legislation on women’s employment. The Committee welcomed the Government’s efforts to employ in particular Arab women, commending the increase in Arab women, and asked how Israel ensured equality for women, in particular Israeli Arab women and minority women. The Expert also asked about reports of the segregation of women and difficulties in obtaining a divorce.
Arab-women citizens of Israel suffered marginalization on many grounds, confronted with patriarchal customs and male-controlled rules reflecting the gender hierarchy in their culture and belonging to a minority. In particular there were many concerns about their access to health care, particularly obstetric and gynaecological services. What action was taken following the Beit Shemesh event when a number of women were attacked by a group of ultra-orthodox men, asked an Expert?
The delegation was asked what action had been taken regarding numerous claims from Arab workers and students who faced dismissals and threats of suspension over their publication of anti-war views during Israel’s military offensive in Gaza in summer.
Israel was a developed country with a representational democracy, an elected Government fully responsible to its people and universal suffrage. It was the forty-fourth largest economy in the world with the highest standard of living in the Middle East and the highest life expectancy in the world, commented an Expert, adding that Israel shared with Western democracies respect for human rights and was a tolerant country where Arabs and Jews coexisted peacefully. Often the most reliable critics of Israel were the Israelis themselves, continued the Expert, but unfortunately the pioneers who had built the country, the survivors of the Holocaust, were passing away. He asked how Israel remembered the Holocaust, and what goals survivors would have wished to transmit to the next generations. Did Israel believe the teaching of the Holocaust should be related to other genocides? Alarmingly young people were slowly forgetting the historical elements of the Jewish tragedy, he said, asking how contemporary Israeli educators addressed those challenges.
Response by the Delegation
The Arab population made up 20 per cent of Israel’s total population and to promote the situation and rights of the Arab population of Israel, some five billion Shekels had been invested into programmes. Although gaps remained progress was being made. Describing various initiatives a delegate spoke about the January 2012 resolution on the integration of Arab populations into the labour force which especially focused on women, and had a budget of 730 million Shekels. Challenges included the geographical dispersion of the Arab population, two thirds of whom lived in Northern Israel where there were only limited employment opportunities. In 2010 24.6 per cent of Arab women and 65 per cent of Arab men were employed, but the current employment data now showed that 27.7 per cent of Arab women and 70 per cent Arab men were employed. To date, 17 career centres were open and running with a further four to be established; they were one-stop shops for employment and in 2013 provided job placements for over 3,000 persons.
On education, a delegate said the proportion of Arab students studying first degrees at the tertiary level was slowly increasing and was currently 14 per cent, compared to 11 per cent in 2010. The gaps between Arab and Jewish students were still large, but new goals were set in 2013 which aimed to get more students from minorities into tertiary education, using a budget of 530 million Shekels. In 2014 the Prime Minister’s Officer created a three-year scholarship system to support students from the Arab populations in their first degrees. In 2013, 600 Arab students received the scholarship, over 50 per cent of who were women.
Public transport services to serve Arab communities had been increased. There were more bus routes and bus stops and by 2011 there were 5,655 bus rides per day countrywide. In the last three years over 100,000 housing units were marketed in Arab communities, a delegate added.
On the integration of the Arab population into the Israeli Government and civil service, a delegate said Israel sought to reflect its multi-cultural nature in the public sector, including the Arab population that represented 20 per cent of the population and were an important economic force. In April 2014 the number of Arab staff working in the civil service stood at 8.82 per cent, an increase from the 6.17 per cent in 2007. The percentage represented 6,451 staff members out of the total civil service staff of around 70,000.
On gender equality, a delegate mentioned that the proportion of women in the Knesset had increased from 19 to 22.5 per cent. There had also been an increase in the number of women ministers, and the Ministers of Health, Justice, Culture and Immigrant Absorption were all women. To date 65 per cent of civil service staff members were women. More women held second and academic degrees than men, though more men had a PHD degree. Forty six per cent of the top-ranking positions were held by women. Regarding women’s representation in the judicial system, a delegate confirmed that to date 49.9 per cent of Justices were women.
The issue of segregation of women in the public sphere was indeed worrying, and in 2014 the Government adopted a resolution in which it declared that the segregation of women, whether in ceremonies, public events, funerals, public transportation or any other place in the public sphere was illegal, and that affirmative Government action was required to eradicate it. The Ministry of Justice adopted recommendations prohibiting segregation by gender and promoting criminal legislation to provide sanctions. A draft bill would be presented in the near future, as well as an amendment to the anti-discrimination law.
Regarding freedom of divorce in Israel, Ms. Palmor said she had been asked to head a new task force on the matter, noting that Jewish law demanded both consent of the man and the woman for divorce. Israel was trying to deal with the issue as best it could in a delicate manner.
Ms. Palmor said she was happy to hear the issue of remembering the Holocaust being raised, as she was herself the daughter of two Holocaust survivors. The memory of the Holocaust was taught through the school system. Last year it was even suggested that the subject should start to be taught at Kindergarten level which led to public debate about whether that was too young. There were many museums about the Holocaust and commissions of young people were sent to Poland to learn about it first-hand, not only Jewish youth but students from all parts of Israeli society. Teaching the Holocaust was seen as an opportunity to teach about human rights and difficulties of being a minority, and to make sure such a thing did not happen again anywhere in the world, nor to any people, not just the Jewish people.
A delegate who served on Israel’s Inter-Agency Committee to implement treaty body concluding recommendations gave practical examples of its work. One example was, following a recommendation by the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, two classrooms for minors imprisoned in a prison in Gaza were established. Another example was the raising of the age of minority from 16 to 18 years in military courts of the West Bank, and another was the transfer of the Inspector for Complaints against interrogators of the Israel Security Agency from that agency into the Ministry of Justice to bolster its autonomy.
There had long been a debate about the applicability of the Covenant to the West Bank and Gaza Strip ranging from legal considerations to practical applicability. Israel acted in accordance with Article 29 of the Vienna Convention on the Law on Treaties which found that international human rights instruments were territorial bound. The relation between the law on armed conflict and the law on human rights remained an area of serious academic debate. Israel found a profound connection between the two, but, as per current State practice worldwide, Israel viewed that those two systems of law remained distinct and applied in different circumstances. Therefore the Palestinian population remained subject to the laws of armed conflict. Furthermore, changing realities on the ground – such as full withdrawal of Israeli forces in 2006 and the rise of the Hamas led-terrorist organization and administration – Israel clearly did not have control of Gaza and the responsibility for Gaza civilians lay with the Hamas regime. Over 95 per cent of Palestinians fell under Palestinian and not Israel jurisdiction, the delegate noted.
Israel tried to balance the need to protect its borders with the human rights of the individuals claiming asylum. In 2013 the Knesset amended legislation to lower the financial incentive for migrants to enter Israel while remaining in accordance with its international legal obligations. A delegate reiterated the changes following Supreme Court rulings on the maximum time that people who entered Israel illegally could be held, as outlined in the presentation of the report.
Of the 47,200 individuals who had entered Israel illegally and were currently residing in the country, 9,200 were Sudanese and 34,800 were Eritrean. About 730 of those were minors who enjoyed full education the same as any Israeli child in Israel. Those individuals were not forcibly returned to their countries. At the beginning of October this year there were only 2,000 such individuals resident in one facility. There they had access to education and health services, as well as welfare and psychological amenities when needed. The authorities did not forcibly prevent them from working and many accessed work mostly in the tourist industry, restaurants and hotels.
The sheer number of people seeking to enter Israel illegally and the issues raised by their presence were a challenge for the economic and social sectors in Israel. Israel was the only developed country with a long land border with Africa which made it comparatively easier to enter. That was why a fence was erected along the Israeli-Egyptian border, in the Sinai. Furthermore, due to its unique geo-political location and the instability around its borders it was impossible for Israel to enter into bilateral agreements with its neighbours to manage the issue, as seen in European and other countries. Israel signed the Refugee Convention in 1951 and ratified it in 1954. The principle of non refoulement was enshrined into Israel case law through a High Court Ruling meaning a person could not be deported to a place where his life would be in danger, and was applicable to any Government authority decision dealing with deportation.
Regarding punitive demolitions, a delegate said in 2013there had been an alarming increase in terrorism in both the West Bank and Israel, ranging from stone and Molotov cocktail throwing to the abductions and murders of three Israeli teenagers by Hamas. The general deterioration of the security situation in the West Bank made it necessary to increase the demolition of residences of perpetrators in a limited area. The delegate spoke about the judicial process and the eventual ruling by the court that the circumstances in the West Bank presented a serious threat to Israel and its citizens. Israeli’s policy on the use of forced demolition as a deterrent was only used in exceptional circumstances, the delegate emphasized.
Regarding water resources and supply to the West Bank, a delegate spoke about the provisions of the Interim Agreement on Water Use between the Israeli and Palestinian authorities exercised through the Joint Water Committee. Regrettably in recent times the Palestinian side had declined to discuss any water and sewage projects in the West Bank which may benefit Israelis, said a delegate. Israeli had so far exceeded its obligations under the Interim Agreement, continued the delegate, citing wells and other infrastructure approved by the Joint Water Committee, but was concerned about the growth of illegal wells being drilled in violation of the Interim Agreement which threatened the aquifer and risked an ecological disaster.
On administrative detention, a delegate spoke about safeguards to protect individuals against human rights abuses and arbitrary detention. Any detention order was subject to multi-level judicial review which was independent from the chain of command. Military Court judgements could not be revoked, circumvented or superseded by any authority except the Supreme Court, the delegate noted. Hearings in the Military Courts were conducted with simultaneous translation into Arabic. Any individual detained was informed of his rights and given the option to legal representation of their choice, and notice was given to his family. There were currently no minors or women in administrative detention in the West Bank, he noted.
A delegate briefed on action taken following the recommendations of the Goldberg Committee on the regularization of housing of the Bedouin community in the Negev, including new projects and financial compensation. He also spoke about the provision of healthcare for Bedouin population, such as the establishment of clinics in schools. To date there were 50 health clinics providing medical services, including maternal healthcare, for the Bedouin population in addition to 10 physicians. A resolution to build four medical clinics to provide emergency health care at night and weekends was adopted and the clinics would be opened in 2015. Three additional mother-and-child clinics were to be opened soon. The rate of immunization coverage of Bedouin children was over 90 per cent which was similar to Jewish Israeli children. On education, a delegate described measures which included programmes to reduce school drop-out by Bedouin children, increase literacy, diagnose learning difficulties and special educational needs and expand technological education.
Israel routinely explored the position of joining the first Optional Protocol but so far its position remained the same, confirmed a delegate. Regarding the second Optional Protocol, the delegate said to date Israel had only executed Adolf Eichmann for his heinous crimes during the Holocaust, but it still had several legal provisions which could allow the death penalty, and thus could not sign the Optional Protocol at this time. Its reservation to the Covenant also remained, it was confirmed.
The declaration of a state of emergency had been in place since 1948, four days after the founding of Israel. It remained in force due to the ongoing conflict with Israel’s neighbours and constant attacks on the lives and property of its citizens. However in recent years the Government had been considering the cancellation of the state of emergency, said a delegate, describing the annulment of some laws and enactment of others to that end. The Knesset was debating the right against terrorism bill in a bid to annul further legislation which rested upon the state of emergency, such as a bill on work and rest hours, she noted.
Questions by the Experts
The impact of the military blockade on Gaza was raised by an Expert who said water in the Gaza Strip was mostly undrinkable and food was insecure for most households. The blockade hampered freedom of movement and restricted access to healthcare, including hospitals in the West Bank. The blockade had adverse effects on the economy and had delayed reconstruction in Gaza. The United Nations, including the Secretary-General, said the blockade was a form of collective punishment. The Committee had already recommended it be lifted. What measures had Israel taken to ameliorate the adverse situation in Gaza, including with regard to the freedom of movement, and to lift the blockade?
What actions had been taken to conform with the International Court of Justice Advisory Opinion of 2004 to ensure Palestinians had access to their lands and livelihoods? What about reports that only nine of the 18 gates to Gaza were opened on a daily basis? Most people living in the occupied Palestinian territories were deprived of the right to choose their residence in their own country, especially East Jerusalem where residents were reportedly treated as foreigners in their own country.
The Committee was concerned that the settlement policy of Israel undermined the right to self-determination of the Palestinian people. Could the delegation comment on that, as well as on the Committee’s concerns regarding the second report of the Turkel Commission and the Panel of Enquiry?
Excessive use of force by the Israeli forces, particularly the Israeli Defence Force, continued to be a serious concern. An Expert said the Committee had reports of executions of people protesting against this summer’s large-scale military operation in Gaza at demonstrations, and that the victims had posed no threat to the Israeli Defence Force. A concrete example was the shooting and killing in May 2014 of two teenage boys in demonstrations commemorating what Palestinians call Nakba Day by the Israeli Defence Force. Another example was the demolition of properties during arrests which seemed disproportionate. The problem of excessive use of force was compounded by the absence of credible and independent investigations and accountability in general. How many investigations had been conducted, what convictions had resulted? What effective remedies were there for victims – how could Palestinians get justice?
Israel appeared to have a water-tight system to protect those who had engaged in abuse and ill-treatment contrary to the Covenant, said an Expert, hoping the State party could convince him otherwise.
To what State practice was Israel referring when it said international human rights law did not apply in situations when international humanitarian law did? The proposition that those two bodies of law could not apply at the same time was quite unique, commented an Expert. The Committee welcomed the transfer of the Inspector for Complaints against interrogators of the Israel Security Agency to the Ministry of Justice which was an important step. How many investigations or sentences had been made so far?
In a follow-up question, an Expert asked again whether asylum seekers at the Egypt-Israel border could make an application at the border fence or were handed over to another authority.
There was no definition of torture in the law, said an Expert, noting that Israeli law allowed ‘moderate physical pressure’ but there was a fine line between that and not only torture but also cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment. There were many allegations of the use of the ‘banana position’ which entailed bending somebody over backwards. The position did not cause wounds or lasting health damage but it was very painful, especially if used repeatedly. What exactly was ‘moderate physical pressure’ and what was permitted by it? Was sexual abuse covered in the penal code?
On juvenile justice, an Expert said 700 children were detained annually by the Israeli Defence Forces and Israeli police. There was no doubt that sometimes juveniles committed serious offences that had to be examined but there was also no doubt that they had to be treated in accordance with international law on justice for minors. The establishment of a juvenile court, among other measures, was a positive step. How did the authorities ensure that robust treatment applied to adults, such as the use of hand ties, was not applied to children? Despite new guidelines, thousands of children reported having had hand ties used on them.
On the freedom of religion and non-discriminatory access to places of worship, an Expert asked about reports of the denial of access to mosques for people who did not fall into certain age categories, and reports of verbal and physical assaults in a West Bank mosque in April this year.
The granting of exemptions from defence service for reasons of conscience was raised, and the delegation was asked what steps were taken to cease repeated imprisonment for refusal to serve in the armed forces of Israel. The Committee was concerned about the impact of the 2011 Foreign Funding Law on the operations of non-governmental organizations, subjecting them to rigorous reporting requirements, to declare foreign funding and threatening heavy sanctions for non-compliance.
Unlike its provision of electricity Israel provided only limited quantities of water to Gaza. But several infrastructures, for drinking water, sewage and electricity, were close to collapse, not only endangering Gazan life but also threatening a total lack of drinking water in the near future which could lead to viral epidemics that would affect both Israelis and Palestinians. Israel may not be to blame but it was the only actor capable of extricating Gaza from the crisis, namely by transferring drinking water to Gaza. Did Israel have any strategy for what would sooner or later become another humanitarian emergency?
Response by the Delegation
The Turkel Commission was established in June 2010 to review Israel’s investigation mechanisms into alleged violations of the rules of armed conflict, recalled a delegate. It found that Israel generally complied with the rules of international law. However, the Commission offered suggestions for improvements, including suggestions for mechanisms dealing with complaints of excessive use of force by the authorities.
Another recommendation by the Turkel Commission was to consider the possibility of including an offence of torture in domestic legislation, and the Implementation Committee was currently doing that. Allegations of sexual assaults or the threat of it, by Israeli Defence Forces, was rejected outright by the delegation. It was true that complainants of abuses were often reluctant to provide evidence after filing their complaint, which was usually fatal or almost fatal to any investigation. However, an initiative with civil society had created a new possibility for complainants to attend the District Coordination Office in the West Bank to give their evidence, in the presence of a non-governmental organization representative.
Mechanisms for people who crossed the border into Israel illegally were further outlined by a delegate who said individuals were usually captured by the authorities and provisionally detained. They could then apply for asylum; so far some 4,500 asylum applications had been registered. Those individuals lived on the streets of Tel Aviv and other places, or in an open facility. Alleged assaults were dealt with by various mechanisms depending upon the context in which the person was being held, for example the police, a prison or the Israeli Defence Forces.
Israel did not remove people to countries if there was a risk to their life, reiterated a delegate. For example, if an asylum application by a person from Eritrea was rejected, the person could still remain in Israel under a temporary protection measure similar to that used in many European countries. Although the person was not allowed to work in theory and had no work permit, Israel did not enforce it in practice so the person had the means to make a livelihood. Israel was trying to find the best solution to balance the important and competing interests at stake, he added.
Ideological-motivated crimes such as hate crimes against Muslims and other minorities were deplorable actions which the Government took very seriously, emphasized a delegate. In response the Government had taken resolute measures which had been successful and greatly reduced the phenomenon. A very large police force of 30 officers, with an additional 50 officers yet to be allocated, had been established in the West Bank that worked not only to investigate violations and public order offences against Palestinians but also to prevent them.
Since 12 September 2005, when the last Israeli Defence Forces left the Gaza Strip as part of the Israeli disengagement initiative, Israel did not have de facto control in the Gaza Strip and any claim to the contrary was incorrect. The area had turned into a hostile zone similar in every aspect to an enemy State engaged in war with Israel. The Supreme Court found that Israel did not have a general duty to ensure the welfare of the people of Gaza. However, in spite of the threats of Hamas and even during the last operation in Gaza, Israel had worked to minimize harm to civilians.
Outlining ways in which it had addressed the humanitarian needs of the people of Gaza, a delegate described how the Israeli Defence Forces provided advance warnings to civilians before areas were shelled, and other efforts which went significantly beyond the requirements of international humanitarian law. Specially designated humanitarian officers were placed in combat units to function as advisors to the Israeli Defence Forces to minimalize the impact of operations on the civilians in the combat zone.
During Operation Protective Edge more than 600 Palestinians were treated in Israeli field hospitals. Israel ensured the continuous supply of food, medical supplies, fuel and animal feed, facilitating the passage of over 5,600 trucks through the Kerem Shalom border crossing, although some 3,000 trucks could not cross due to continued shelling of crossings by Hamas. At times Israel suspended military operations to allow humanitarian aid into Gaza, and itself donated food aid as well as other needed items such as electricity generators. At the same time the Hamas terrorists continuously attacked crossing points despite the fact that humanitarian aid came through them.
In empathy for civilians affected by Operation Protective Edge Israel continued to exercise flexibility to allow people in and out of Gaza, continued the delegate. It liaised with UNRWA and the Palestinian Authority to allow reconstruction materials into Gaza with relevant assurances that they would not be used for terrorist purposes. Elderly Palestinians were allowed into Israel to pray at Temple Mount, and produce from Gaza was allowed to be marketed in the West Bank.
Operation Protective Edge was being assessed by fact-finding missions headed by a General alongside high ranking Israeli Defence Force officers from a range of areas such as artillery or intelligence, none of whom served in the chain of command in the operation, and all of whom were experienced in the field of investigations. The missions were provided with ongoing legal advice from the Israeli Defence Forces legal directorate. The fact-finding missions were expected to complete their assessments as soon as possible and all required resources had been provided to that end.
Regarding the entry of Gaza residents into Israel, a delegate said the High Court of Justice had affirmed that foreigners did not have a legal right to enter Israeli sovereign territory. However, despite the lack of legal rights and the fact that the Gaza Strip was controlled by Hamas, Israel took calculated risks to allow people in need of urgent medical care into its territory, in addition to businessmen who imported goods into Gaza and staff of international organizations. In addition, Gaza residents could travel to Egypt through the Rafah Crossing which was not controlled by Israel in any way, rather by Egypt and Hamas. To Israeli knowledge, on average 40,000 Palestinians crossed into Egypt through the Rafah crossing per month, said the delegate.
The main water source for Gaza came from an aquifer which was not controlled by Israel in any way. Some 6,000 illegal wells had been dug by the Palestinians and if the water quality from those wells was bad then that was the only possibility for the Palestinians. However, Israel had agreed to supply water from its national system at a reasonable cost and the quality of the water supplied was identical to water in Israel and met all international standards. The damage to the Gaza aquifer was clear and impossible to reverse, commented the delegate.
A delegate reported on complaints made about the central command of the Israeli Defence Forces dating to 2003. He noted that the bulk of the complaints, some 164, related to events taking place in the West Bank. Regarding prosecutions against Israel law enforcement officials, a delegate said a total of 21 incidents resulting in 26 deaths in the West Bank in 2013 were examined, noting that subsequently seven indictments against Israeli soldiers, including one Colonel, had been filed. The Colonel was subsequently convicted for physically attacking a foreign national using the butt of his rifle and sentenced to two months imprisonment. Another soldier was convicted for manslaughter for shooting and killing a foreign national who attempted to climb the Israeli security barrier and was sentenced to seven months in prison.
On juvenile justice, a delegate said the military justice system in the West Bank, due to the nature of the conflict and the severity of crimes committed there, meant that crimes were often ideologically motivated and complex, even when committed by minors. Every police action in West Bank villages had the possibility of escalating into widespread violent riots and the Palestinians in the West Bank sought to indoctrinate children and young people against Israel leading them to throw stones, Molotov cocktails and so on. He noted that the age of minority had been increased to 18 and briefed the Committee on developments in the juvenile justice system.
Freedom of religion was upheld in the West Bank by the authorities, confirmed a delegate, who also noted that permits for people to enter Israel on Friday for Temple Mount prayers were granted to Muslim men aged 55 and above and Muslim women aged 45 and above. For Ramadan in 2013 permits were given to one million Palestinians to enter Israel to pray at Temple Mount, and more internal crossings were opened to facilitate the entry of thousands of vehicles. Regrettably the same entry could not be facilitated in 2014 as Ramadan fell during Operation Protective Edge and the security situation did not allow it.
Regarding settlements, a delegate recalled the recent history of dismantling settlements in Sinai and the Gaza Strip, and of some in the West Bank. The settlements were a core issue to be discussed by the two parties during negotiations on a permanent peace settlement, he said.
The temporary, defensive non-violent security fence in the West Bank had significantly decreased the number of terrorist attacks on Israeli civilians which began in 2000. The legality of the fence had been affirmed several times by Israel’s highest courts. The fence was a temporary measure and not an attempt to annex territory. The route of the fence was based only on security concerns and topographical considerations. There were agricultural gates allowing farmers to cross into their lands and when that was not possible farmers were entitled to compensation. The fence had been extremely effective: the inescapable conclusion was it had brought about a dramatic reduction in Palestinian terror and the loss of lives on both sides.
EVIATOR MANOR, Permanent Representative of Israel to the United Nations Office at Geneva, thanked the Committee, reiterating that the delegation had focused its best efforts to answer all the questions asked today. Israel placed great importance on respect for human rights and had achieved significant developments in law and practice. Since its establishment Israel had faced many security threats which strained its balance in both protecting the safety and wellbeing of its citizens and human rights – it was a delicate line and Israel was doing its best. Mr. Manor repeated the words of his opening statement that Israel remained committed to peace. He assured the Committee that Israel would examine all of its recommendations carefully.
NIGEL RODLEY, Chairperson of the Committee, said the delegation was high-level and spoke with authority on all issues of concern to the Committee. That there was not as much time as would be desired was in no small measure due to the fact that Israel’s written responses did not address many key concerns raised in the List of Issues and so had to be asked again today. The delegation was reminded that it could submit in writing any questions it felt were unanswered within the next 48 hours.
The Covenant was not a matter of auto-interpretation by every State. Of Israel’s two arguments, first its non-recognition of the extra-territoriality of the Covenant and second, that the Covenant did not apply during an armed conflict, the latter was only shared by one other country. The settlements were considered unlawful by most of the world, and were in many ways at the heart of other problems discussed today. There was no interpretation of international humanitarian law which allowed for punitive house demolitions, he said. On torture, Mr. Rodley said Israel’s defence of necessity for a human rights crime led to scepticism about what happened to the victims. He added that the use of 15 days incommunicado detention was exorbitant and created the potential for serious abuse. A further concern was Israel’s apparent attempts to reduce civil space, especially as traditionally it was a very tolerant country open to criticism from both the Jewish and non-Jewish population.
Positive steps included the possible implementation of recommendations from the Turkel Commission on the use of force in armed conflict, and that some recommendations from the fact-finding missions on Operation Protective Edge were already being implemented. The statistics of prosecutions of some law enforcement officials on the West Bank were also encouraging, although there had not yet been prosecutions stemming from Operation Cast Lead. However, a system was only as good as it worked in practice, he emphasized.
For use of the information media; not an official record