Press Release
Department of Public Information · News Coverage Service · New York

15 July 1998


The Human Rights Committee this morning started consideration of a report presented by Israel on its efforts to implement the provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Mr. Joshua Schoffman, Deputy Attorney General of Israel, introduced the report and said that Israel was proud to be a Jewish State and was equally proud of being a democracy. He said Israel was a "true representative democracy" in which the enjoyment of rights by all of its residents and citizens had improved significantly over the years.

The Israeli delegation is also composed of Richard Bardenstein, Advisor to the Ministry of Justice; Malkiel Blass, Director of the Public Law division at the State Attorney's Office; Yosef Lamdan, Permanent Representative of Israel to the United Nations Office at Geneva; and Alexander Galilee, Deputy Permanent Representative.

Mr. Lamdan told the Committee that Israel hoped that the debate would be professional and devoid of the political considerations that usually accompanied discussions concerning the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Israel is one of 140 States parties to the International Covenant and is obliged to submit periodic reports to the Committee on its efforts to implement the provisions of the treaty.

When the Committee reconvenes at 3 p.m., it will continue its consideration of the Israeli report on civil and political rights.

Report of Israel

The initial report of Israel (document CCPR/C/81/Add.13) reviews the implementation of the treaty's provisions on an article-by-article basis. The report indicates that Israel has no formal constitution as yet. Instead, it has chosen to enact Basic Laws dealing with different components of its constitutional regime; these Basic Laws, taken together, comprise a "constitution-in-the-making". Its recognition of the universal right to self-determination is embodied in its Declaration of Independence, which affirms Israel's faithfulness to the principles of the United Nations Charter.

With regard to equality, the report says that given the lack of a written constitutional right to equality, the principle of gender equality has been given form largely through specific legislation and case law. In the Declaration of Independence, it was stated that the State of Israel will maintain complete equality in social and political rights for all citizens, irrespective of religion, race or sex.

The report states that Israel is a party to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. The current legislation does not contain an explicit definition of "torture" as such. Instead, a variety of statuary provisions cover all acts of torture, the report says.

According to the report, Israel has been living under a state of emergency since its inception in 1948.

Presentation of Report

JOSHUA SCHOFFMAN, Deputy Attorney General of Israel, introducing his country's initial report, recalled that Israel was celebrating its fiftieth anniversary this year, in parallel with the fiftieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights. Indeed, Israel's history had been intertwined with that of the United Nations.

Israelis were proud of being a Jewish State and were equally proud of being a democracy, Mr. Schoffman went on to state. The population of Israel had increased tenfold since 1948, both through natural increase and through the absorption of millions of immigrants from all over the world, most of them from countries without a democratic tradition.

War was declared on Israel even before its inception and it had faced armed attacks against the country and its citizens by those who did not recognize the legitimacy of its very existence, Mr. Schoffman said. The Arab minority, whose proportion within the population had risen over the years, had suffered from the ramifications of the Arab-Israeli conflict, which had impeded its legitimate quest for equal rights. Within the Jewish community, fundamental differences on what it meant to be a Jewish State had made the issue of religion and state a particularly divisive one, he added.

Mr. Schoffman underlined that despite those obstacles, Israel was a "true representative democracy" in which the enjoyment of rights by all of its residents and citizens had improved significantly over the years. Life expectancy had risen, as had the level of education and of health care; infant mortality had decreased dramatically; and the rate of improvement was significantly greater in the Arab population that in the Jewish population, though the gaps between the two sectors still existed.

Discussion of Report

In response to written questions prepared by Committee experts in advance, the delegation said that the main purpose of the ongoing Middle East peace process was to enable the people in the region to exercise their right to self-determination. The initial peace agreement had already prompted the establishment of a Palestinian Authority in Gaza and the West Bank.

The delegation said that the Palestinian Authority was fully responsible for the administration of its own affairs and for the maintenance of its internal security. The Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank had been exercising their self-determination by electing their own representatives and running their affairs within these territories. With regard to the situation in southern Lebanon, Israel had no direct governmental function there except for measures of self-defence against the terrorist group of Hezbolah. The forces in southern Lebanon acted independently and received no orders from the Israeli Government.

In response to a question on equality and non-discrimination, the Israeli delegation said that Israeli Arabs and other members of minorities enjoyed full equality and were not discriminated against in either education or employment. However, Arab women in Israel, on the whole, were far less employed outside of the home than were Jewish women. Of the 350,000 Arab women who were of working age, roughly 83 per cent did not belong to the workforce. The reluctance of the traditional Arab communities to allow women to work outside their homes stemmed from religious and economic concerns.

Furthermore, the delegation said that Israeli laws prohibited all forms of discrimination by private or public employers and other spheres of social activities.

Differences existed between the Jewish and non-Jewish populations in various ways that arose from Israel's fundamental identity as a Jewish State, the delegation said. Moreover, Israel acknowledged that over the course of its turbulent history, inequalities had arisen between Jews and non-Jews. Nevertheless, Israel remained committed to a policy of closing the gaps in treatment between the Jewish and non-Jewish sectors, and to ensuring equality of social and political rights for all of its citizens.

The delegation said the Bedouin population in Israel was perhaps the most disadvantaged single community in terms of per capita income, unemployment, and the level of infrastructure and services in their communities. There were approximately 100,000 Bedouins in the Negev, and roughly 38,000 in the Galilee. For most of Israel's history, the Bedouins had been engaged in a dispute with the Government over possession of lands and housing rights.

On State funding for religious institutions, the delegation said that until recently, local and national government funding for Jewish religious services was considered essentially the exclusive domain of Orthodox Jewish institutions. As a result of a petition filed by reform institutions, the Ministry of Religious Affairs had amended its funding allocation criteria to guarantee funding of Orthodox and non-Orthodox institutions on an equal basis.

Women in Israel enjoyed full equality in all spheres of social life, the delegation affirmed. In 1993, legislation had been enacted to ensure the advancement of women, particularly their representation in all sectors. Practical measures were also taken to achieve equality for women in the conduct of public affairs and in military service. The participation of women in internal job tenders in the civil service had been increasing consistently over the last several years. In Israel, men and women performed mandatory military service, although the conditions of service varied between the sexes.

The state of emergency, in vigour since the inception of Israel, had caused a tremendous problem in terms of financial and human resources, the members of the delegation said. The state of emergency had remained in force due to the ongoing state of war or violent conflict between Israel and its neighbours, and the attendant attacks on the lives and property of its citizens.

During the debate, several Committee experts expressed views on the attitude of Israel in the occupied Palestinian and other Arab territories where Israel was exercising effective occupation. One expert said that despite the transfer of power from Israeli military and civilian control to Palestinian control in Gaza and the West Bank, Israel still occupied populated areas in these territories. For that reason, Israel remained accountable to the Committee for the implementation of the Covenant in those territories. With regards to Lebanon in particular, Israel's obligation to implement the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights was obvious.

Some experts said that Israel was not observing the minimum standard of human rights, both inside and outside prisons. They also said that Israel had restricted Palestinian right of movement; refused to allow returning Palestinian refugees to go back to their homes; confiscated land and water; and refused to lease land to Arabs.
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