Israel Has the Most Multi-Cultural Society in the World, Delegation Says
Responding to questions raised by Committee Experts yesterday, the members of the Israeli delegation said that Israel was a country of destination for women who were victims of trafficking for purposes of prostitution. Israel condemned this in the strongest terms. At present, it was estimated that up to 3,000 women had been trafficked into Israel and the Government had put in place mechanisms to monitor the situation and to put an end to this phenomenon, the delegation said.
The delegation also told the Committee that the Israeli Ministry of Education had designed a policy which made early education a crucial stage to introduce the concepts of tolerance and co-existence. Since 1994, a new civic studies curriculum had been adopted which emphasized human rights and embraced universal democratic principles, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
In conclusion, the delegation said that Israel had the most multi-cultural society in the world, and the expression of Israel's multi-culturalism had been manifested in myriad ways; this would continue.
Over the course of the debate, Committee Experts raised questions on issues pertaining to Israeli restriction of access to water for Bedouin and Palestinians in the occupied territories; the destruction by Israeli forces of water wells in the Gaza Strip; the demolishing of houses in occupied Palestinian territories and in Bedouin "unrecognized" villages and towns; the lack of compensation to victims of administrative demolishing of homes; the issue of citizenship and nationality; violence in schools; the situation of HIV/AIDS; the problem of land distribution to Bedouin families; and the high rate of dropouts among Arab students, among other things.
The 18-member Committee will issue its conclusions and recommendations on the second periodic report of Israel towards the end of its three-week session which will conclude on 23 May.
As one of the 146 States parties to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Israel is obligated to present periodic reports to the Committee on how it is implementing the provisions of the treaty.
When the Committee reconvenes at 3 p.m. it will meet in private to discuss its concluding observations on country reports already considered this session. At 10 a.m. on Monday, 19 May, it is scheduled to hold a follow-up general discussion on article 3 of the Covenant on equal rights of men and women to the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights.
Responding to questions raised by Committee Experts during the previous meeting, the Israeli delegation said that concerning effective judicial review of decisions against migrant workers, courts were dealing extensively with the issue and their decisions were fully implemented. In many of the decisions handed down by labour courts, the need for change in labour relations and laws had been stressed. Court decisions also contained clauses ordering employers to change their rhetoric towards their employees.
On the issue of trafficking in women, the delegation said that Israel was a country of destination for women who were victims of trafficking for purposes of prostitution, and it condemned the practice of such acts in the strongest terms. At present, it was estimated that up to 3,000 women had been trafficked into Israel. The Government had put in place mechanisms to monitor the situation and to put an end to this phenomenon. Trafficking in persons was specifically prohibited by law in Israel. The Government had been preparing a bill on the issue of trafficking in which perpetrators would be severely penalized; and the bill would also provide victims with assistance, including facilities for their early return to their countries of origin.
The delegation said that violence against women was a serious matter that had prompted the Attorney General to deal with the issue vigorously. Israel had laws that prohibited rape, kidnapping, blackmail, sexual and other abuse of minors, and an extensive bill on organized crime was in its final stage before it passed into law. Although budgetary problems had been at the heart of decreasing the number of investigating judges on cases of rape, the issue had been considered seriously by the Attorney General, who was doing her best so that impunity would not prevail.
Arab-Israelis who graduated in certain educational fields could immediately find jobs, the delegation said. Because of shortages in social affairs, any person with the proper qualifications could easily be employed in that sector, while in some other sectors, even well-educated citizens could not find a job that matched their professional training.
With regard to affirmative action concerning women, the delegation said that among the branches of the Government, women held key posts in the judiciary. The post of Attorney General had been held by a women for the past 12 years, while other important judicial sections were headed by women, including as members of the Supreme Court. Women also enjoyed affirmative measures in other public positions.
Israeli law did not derogate the rights of people to adequate housing, the delegation said. In the Negev desert, however, there had been 25,000 illegal Bedouin houses built without any permits. A mediation programme had been implemented to resolve problems arising in relation with the Bedouin. They had been participating in decision making in their towns and villages.
Any homeless persons could enjoy certain benefits provided to them by the Government through social assistants, the delegation said. Each night, mobile units patrolled city corners in search of homeless person to either invite them to the soup kitchen centres or to distribute food to them. Many homeless persons were reluctant to receive such assistance. However, the phenomenon of homelessness was not a major problem in the country.
A request for marriage between an Israeli citizen and a foreigner was examined for its genuineness by Government agents, the delegation said. The authorities determined whether the marriage was genuine or fictitious for the purpose of gaining residence permit to stay in Israel. Past personal records of the individuals were also examined to verify that they were not involved in any form of criminal acts.
The Committee Experts raised a number of questions. An Expert asked why access to water in the Negev desert had been restricted; Israel had been depriving people across the border of their access to water; the situation would not help the quest for peace; a Canadian well had been destroyed in the Gaza Strip and it was making people thirsty; Israel did not seem to believe that the enjoyment of the right to water, to food and another basic needs by people across its borders might lead to peace. The Israeli law on marriage should be reconsidered because of the violation of the right of women to divorce.
Another Expert asked how the Government had arrived at maintaining only 7 Bedouin villages in Negev; about the amount of the development plan devoted to the Bedouin; what status was given to the 38 "unrecognized" Bedouin villages; and if compensation was awarded to those whose houses were demolished.
Other Experts also asked questions on the restriction of Palestinian workers in Israel from joining Israeli trade unions; internally displaced Palestinians in Israel and if they were allowed to return to their original places; forced eviction and administrative demolishing of Bedouin houses; the demolishing of Palestinian homes leaving 30,000 homeless; the concentration of homeless people in towns; the issue of citizenship and nationality; violence in schools; the situation of HIV/AIDS; the insufficient amount of water given to Palestinians compared to Jewish settlers in the occupied territories; the effect of the wall around the West Bank; the problem of land distribution to Bedouin family; and the high rate of dropouts among Arab students.
Reacting to the usage of the word "concentration" by an Expert to indicate concentration of people in towns, the Israeli delegation said it was inappropriate to use that word in connection with Israel due to what Jews had been subjected to historically.
Responding to the questions, the delegation said that the issue of water had been discussed with neighbouring Arab States and the process had taken five years until it was interrupted because of lack of peace in the region. In the peace agreement signed with Jordan, a clause had been included which provided for a 50-million volume of water supply to Jordan from Israeli side. The water supply by an Israeli company had been disrupted by the recent conflict in the occupied territories. Palestinians had been digging illegal wells without any permit, which was considered injurious to the amount of water pumped in the area.
The "green patrols" were not members of the police but they were under the order of the National Land Administration, whose main role was to monitor and control land from being squatted, the delegation said. They moved around the territory to prevent any illegal settlement by foreigners or unauthorized individuals.
On the issue of land allocation, the delegation said that allocation of land to both the Jewish and Bedouin population was equal. On average, every Bedouin family living in a permanent settlement held a 0.1 hectare of land per family. A Jewish village did not receive such allocation in the Negev, except in the city of Arad; and no affirmative measures should be taken regarding land allocation.
A ministerial committee dealing with Arab affairs had recommended in 2000 the adoption of a new plan for dealing with the Bedouin residing in the Negev. The plan set out to significantly improve the status of the Bedouin population within a fixed period of time, in order to close the gap between them and the rest of Israeli society.
The budgetary allocation of the national budget for education was a substantial amount, the delegation said. Most of the educational budget was devoted to study hours. Schools were provided with more hours to enforce programmes besides the normal hours. Since 1999, the study hours for Jews had progressed by 34 per cent while for Arabs the hours were increased by 50 per cent. The main principle of educational system was to put every body in schools.
The Ministry of Education had designed a policy which made early education a crucial stage to introduce tolerance and coexistence, the delegation said. Since 1994, a new civic studies curriculum had emphasized human rights and embraced universal democratic principles, including the International Declaration of Human Rights. The curriculum was identical in Arab and Jewish schools. Few mixed schools had been functioning to promote the principle of tolerance. The law on "pupils' rights" recognized the right to every child to an education. It contributed to non-discrimination within the school system as a whole and promoted rights discourse and consciousness.
The dropout rate among Arab students was higher than Jewish students, the delegation said. For Arabs it was 9 per cent while 5 per cent was attributed to Jewish students. The Government had been making efforts to reduce the rate of dropouts among both Arab and Jewish students.
In conclusion, the delegation said that Israel had the most multi-cultural society in the world. The multi-cultural injection had been reinforced through the coming of migrant workers. The expression of Israeli multi-culturalism had been manifested in myriad ways, and this would continue.