|Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor|
International Religious Freedom Report 2010
November 17, 2010
A report on the Occupied Territories (including areas subject to the jurisdiction of the Palestinian Authority) is appended at the end of this report.
The Israeli Basic Law on Human Dignity and Liberty (Basic Law) provides for freedom of religion, and the government generally respected this right in practice. While there is no constitution, government policy contributed to the generally free practice of religion, although governmental and legal discrimination against non-Jews and non-Orthodox streams of Judaism continued.
While the Basic Law does not specifically refer to freedom of religion, it does refer to the Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel, which explicitly provides for the protection of religious freedom. In addition, numerous Supreme Court rulings incorporate the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, including their religious freedom provisions, into the country's body of law; however, matters of personal status are governed in Israel by the religious law of the parties concerned, and "To the extent that such law is inconsistent with its obligations under the Covenant, Israel reserves the right to apply that law." The declaration describes the country as a Jewish state and promises full social and political equality, regardless of religious affiliation. The Basic Law describes the country as a "Jewish and democratic state." Government policy contributed to the generally free practice of religion.
There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom by the government during the reporting period. Government allocations of state resources favored Orthodox (including Modern and National Religious streams of Orthodoxy) and ultra-Orthodox (sometimes referred to as "Haredi") Jewish religious groups and institutions, discriminating against non-Jews and non-Orthodox streams of Judaism.
Some individuals and groups committed discriminatory practices against Israeli-Arab Muslims, evangelical Christians, and Messianic Jews at the same elevated level cited in the previous report. Relations among religious and ethnic groups--between Jews and non-Jews, Muslims and Christians, Arabs and non-Arabs, secular and religious Jews, and among the different streams of Judaism--often were strained during the reporting period.
When engaging the government on the topic of religious freedom, embassy officials raised such issues as the possibility of expanding the list of officially recognized religious groups, the necessity of investigating religiously motivated acts of violence against minority religious groups including Messianic Jews and Jehovah's Witnesses, and the need to clarify the practice of preventing entry into the country based on the Ministry of Interior's lists of suspected "missionaries."
Section I. Religious Demography
Based on its pre-1967 armistice lines, the country has an area of 7,685 square miles. The country has a population of 7.4 million (including settlers living in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem), of which 5.6 million are Jews; 1.5 million are Arab Muslims and Christians; and 320,000 are classified as "other"--mostly persons from the former Soviet Union who immigrated under the Law of Return but who did not qualify as Jews, according to the Orthodox Jewish definition used by the government for civil procedures.
According to the 2008 report of the Central Bureau of Statistics, 7 percent of the Jewish population is ultra-Orthodox; 10 percent is Orthodox; 39 percent describes themselves as "traditionally religious" or "traditionally non-religious;" and 44 percent describes themselves as "non-religious/secular" Jews, most of whom observed some Jewish traditions. It also estimates that 30 percent of the country's Jewish population was born outside the country. A growing but still small number of traditional and secular Jews associated themselves with the Conservative, Reform, and Reconstructionist streams of Judaism. Although not officially recognized for purposes of civil and personal status matters, groups composed of adherents of these streams of Judaism received a small amount of government funding and were recognized by the courts. There is a small but growing community of approximately 10,000 Messianic Jews.
Slightly more than 20 percent of the population is non-Jewish, the vast majority of whom are ethnic Arabs. Of the total population, Muslims (nearly all Sunnis) constitute 16.5 percent; Christians 2.1 percent; Druze 1.7 percent; and other religious groups 0.5 percent, including relatively small communities of, among others, Jehovah's Witnesses and Baha'is.
Religious communities were often concentrated in geographical areas according to religious beliefs. According to a 2010 report issued by the Bank of Israel and the Social Security Institution, the country is undergoing a generational demographic shift from a secular society toward a more religious society due to widely divergent birth rates. This demographic shift was a source of growing tension in 2010 between secular and ultra-Orthodox communities, including an allocation of housing, debates over future preparedness of the army, and the increasing burden of transfer payments made to ultra-Orthodox families, who are entitled to receive special government subsidies for families with five or more children.
The government reported that during 2009, it issued nearly 90,000 permits for foreigners to work in the country, and estimated that another 118,000 illegal foreign workers resided in the country. Foreign workers were members of many different religious groups, including Protestant, Roman Catholic, Orthodox Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, and Islamic traditions.
Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom
The Israeli Basic Law on Human Dignity and Liberty provides for freedom of religion, and the government generally respected this right in practice. While there is no constitution, government policy contributed to the generally free practice of religion.
In addition, numerous Supreme Court rulings incorporate the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, including their religious freedom provisions, into the country's body of law. The declaration describes the country as a Jewish state, establishing Judaism as the dominant religion while also providing for religious freedom and promising full social and political equality, regardless of religious affiliation. The Basic Law describes the country as a "Jewish and democratic state." Government policy continued to support the generally free practice of religion, although governmental and legal discrimination against non-Jews and non-Orthodox streams of Judaism continued.
At the founding of the country, the government inherited a pre-existing body of law from the British Mandate (1920 to 1948) and Ottoman (1517 to 1917) periods, which was only abrogated by the passing of specific legislation by the Knesset (parliament). The existence of Israel's Shari'a (Islamic Law) courts is therefore a continuation from the late Ottoman period, when its jurisdiction was already confined to issues of personal status, succession, and administration of waqf (religious endowments). The institution of the Chief Rabbinate as the supreme authority on halacha (Jewish law) and personal status issues also continues since the Ottoman period. The jurisdiction of each religious community over its own adherents' personal status issues is a continuation of the 1922 British Mandate which remains applicable today.
The law considers "religious communities" to be those recognized during the British Mandate period. These include: Eastern Orthodox, Latin (Roman Catholic), Gregorian-Armenian, Armenian-Catholic, Syrian Catholic, Chaldean (Chaldean Uniate Catholic), Greek Catholic Melkite, Maronite, Syrian Orthodox, and Jewish. The government has since recognized three additional religious communities--the Druze in 1957, the Evangelical Episcopal Church in 1970, and the Baha'i Faith in 1971. The fact that the Muslim population was not defined as a religious community was a vestige of the Ottoman period when Islam was the dominant religion and this has not limited Muslims from practicing their faith. A collection of arrangements with various government agencies defined the status of several Christian denominations with representation in the country. The government allows members of unrecognized religious groups to practice their religious beliefs.
With some exceptions each officially recognized religious community has legal authority over its members in matters of marriage, divorce, and burial. The Islamic law courts have exclusive jurisdiction in matters of personal status concerning Muslims. For unrecognized religious groups, no local religious tribunals exercised jurisdiction over their members in matters of personal status. In general only recognized religious communities received government funding for their religious services, though there are some exceptions, including for Samaritans and Karaites, which were not officially recognized religious communities.
A Muslim woman may petition for and receive a divorce through the Islamic law courts without her husband's consent under certain conditions, and a marriage contract may provide for other cases where she may obtain a divorce without her husband's consent. A Muslim man may divorce his wife without her consent and without petitioning the court.
Secular and non-Orthodox Jews who married in civil ceremonies or in non-Orthodox ceremonies performed abroad were able to divorce only via the rabbinical courts that operated according to halacha, or through courts abroad.
The 1967 Protection of Holy Sites Law safeguards the holy sites of all religious groups within the country and in Jerusalem. All holy sites enjoy certain protections under the penal law, which make it a criminal offense to damage any holy site, and historic sites are also protected by the antiquities law; however, the government provided significantly greater levels of government resources to Jewish holy places than to other religious sites.
A government policy since 1967, upheld repeatedly by the Supreme Court and routinely enforced by the police, denies religious freedom at the Temple Mount to all non-Muslims, although the government ensured limited access to the historic site to everyone regardless of religious beliefs. Only Muslims were allowed to pray at the site, although their access has been occasionally restricted due to security concerns. The police accompanied Jewish visitors to the site and removed them if they appear to be praying. Since 2000 the Jordanian Waqf that managed the site restricted all non-Muslims from entering the Dome of the Rock shrine and Al Aqsa Mosque.
Military service is compulsory only for Jews, Druze, and the 5,000-member Circassian community (Muslims from the northwestern Caucasus region who immigrated to various points in the Ottoman-controlled Middle East in the late 19th century). Government policy allows ultra-Orthodox Jews to refuse to serve based on religious reasons; in 2002 the Knesset passed the Tal Law to formalize this policy and set conditions on exemptions from military service. Israeli Arabs--both Muslim and Christian--are also exempted from compulsory service. The majority of Israeli Arabs opted not to serve in the army; however, some Christian and Muslim Arab citizens, mainly Bedouin, voluntarily enlist. Since 2007 Israeli Arabs and ultra-Orthodox Jews can perform national service for one to two years as volunteers in health, education, or welfare sectors in lieu of military service. This voluntary national service confers eligibility for similar national benefits accorded military veterans.
The Arrangements Law, drafted annually to guide government spending, exempts recognized religious groups from paying municipal taxes for any place of worship. Exemption from tax payments was also granted to some groups that have not been officially recognized by law. From 2002 until 2009 the government interpreted the exemption from municipal taxes to apply only to the portion of the property of religious organizations actually used for worship, but in 2010 the Knesset amended the law to exempt all portions of the property. Some not-for-profit religious organizations also received tax exemptions.
Secular courts have primacy over questions of inheritance, but parties, by mutual agreement, may also file such cases in religious courts. The rabbinical courts, when exercising these powers in civil matters, apply religious law, which varies from civil law, for instance, in matters relating to the property rights of widows and daughters. Family status matters are normally the purview of religious courts, but Jewish, Druze, and Christian families may ask for some cases, such as alimony and child custody in divorces, to be adjudicated in civil courts. Since 2001 Muslims have the right to bring matters such as alimony and property division associated with divorce to civil courts in family-status cases. In practice Muslims rarely choose this option. Paternity cases are the exclusive jurisdiction of Islamic law courts.
The MOI has jurisdiction over religious matters concerning non-Jewish groups, while the Ministry of Tourism is responsible for the protection and upkeep of non-Jewish holy sites. The Ministry of Religious Affairs has jurisdiction over the country's 133 Jewish religious councils, which oversee the provision of religious services for Jewish communities. A single non-Jewish religious council exists for the Druze and is overseen by the MOI's Department of Non-Jewish Affairs. Legislation establishing religious councils does not include non-Jewish religious communities other than the Druze to avoid interfering in their religious affairs. The government financed approximately 40 percent of the religious councils' budgets and local municipalities funded the remainder. The MOI provided a limited amount of direct funds for religious services for recognized non-Jewish communities.
Public Hebrew-language secular schools taught Jewish history and Jewish religious texts. These classes primarily covered Jewish heritage and culture, rather than religious belief. Public Arabic-speaking schools with Arab student bodies taught mandatory classes on the Qur'an and the Bible, since both Muslim and Christian Arabs attended these schools. Orthodox Jewish religious schools that are part of the public school system taught mandatory religion classes, as did independent ultra-Orthodox schools that received significant state funding. A few independent mixed Jewish-Arab schools also existed and offered religion classes.
Restrictions on Religious Freedom
Since the government did not have diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia, Muslim citizens traveled through another country, usually Jordan, to obtain travel documents for performing the Hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca). According to the government, travel to hostile countries, including travel to Saudi Arabia for the Hajj, may be restricted; however, these restrictions were based on security concerns rather than on religious or ethnic factors.
Muslim residents of the Be'er Sheva area continued to protest the municipality's intention to reopen the city's old mosque (1906-1948) as a museum rather than as a mosque for the area's Muslim residents. The building served as a court and prison until 1953, and as an archaeological museum until abandoned in 1992 due to structural problems. The High Court rejected a petition from the Israeli-Arab legal advocacy NGO Adalah to enjoin the municipality from renovating the structure into a museum, and a governmental committee also opposed changing its designation from a museum to a mosque after a thorough review. Both the city and the national police argued that a functioning mosque at that central location would disrupt daily life in the Old City of Be'er Sheva and lead to conflict between Muslim and Jewish communities. In 2006 the High Court proposed a compromise whereby the mosque would be used as a museum of Islamic culture and Eastern Nations, and the city agreed to dedicate the museum to the cultures of the sons of Abraham. In January 2007 Adalah rejected the court proposal, arguing that there was a need to uphold the religious rights of area Muslims who did not have a mosque. In June 2009 the court ordered the parties to reach an agreement within 60 days, but no agreement was reached and the case remained pending at the end of the reporting period.
The approximately 80,000 Bedouin living in unrecognized villages were unable to build or legally maintain mosques as a result of longstanding government policy to deny ownership claims, building requests, and municipal services in such communities. Mosques existed in unrecognized Bedouin communities but, as with homes and other community structures, the government considered them illegal and therefore subject to demolition.
In October 2008 the High Court ruled that the Simon Wiesenthal Center could continue construction at a site in Jerusalem that several Muslim organizations disputed because they argue that it is located on one section of the Mamilla Cemetery, a 1,000-year old Muslim cemetery containing the gravesites of several prominent Palestinian families and, according to Islamic tradition, Prophet Muhammad's companions and thousands of Salah ad-Din's warriors. Supporters of the U.S.-based center had cited an 1894 ruling by the Islamic Law court, which stated that the cemetery was no longer sacred because it was abandoned. The High Court explained in its ruling that the construction site had served as a municipal parking lot for almost 50 years without a single complaint leveled against such use, and Islamic authorities in 1929 had allowed construction in other parts of the abandoned cemetery.
Improvements and Positive Developments in Respect for Religious Freedom
In 2009, the Education Ministry approved the accreditation of the country's first fully independent Arab higher education institution, Mar Elias College. The college is operated by the Melkite (Eastern rite) Catholic Church and provided a higher education curriculum oriented toward coexistence for a diverse faculty and student body of Muslims, Christians, and Jews.
Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom
Some individuals and groups committed abusive and discriminatory practices against Israeli-Arab Muslims, evangelical Christians, and Messianic Jews with the same frequency cited in the previous report.
Relations among other religious and ethnic groups, including Muslims and Christians, Arabs and non-Arabs, and secular and religious Jews, also continued to be strained. Such religious and ethnic tensions were the result of historical grievances as well as cultural and religious differences.
On June 9, 2010, the Omar Bin Khattab mosque in the village of Ibtin in northern Israel was vandalized and defaced, with graffiti that included the Star of David and called for the destruction of the holy site.
On January 6, 2010, the Tel Aviv District Court convicted Eliyahu Aharoni of conspiracy to commit arson from a racist motive, and producing and carrying a weapon. Aharoni was one of six Jewish men in Tel Aviv arrested by police in 2009 for firebombing three Arab homes in an attempt to spread anti-Arab incitement to Jaffa and other mixed neighborhoods around Tel Aviv. The other five men were not indicted due to lack of evidence.
Numerous NGOs in the country remained dedicated to promoting Jewish-Arab coexistence and interfaith harmony. Their programs included events to increase productive contact between religious groups and to promote Jewish-Arab dialogue and cooperation. For example, the "House of Hope" in the Galilee town of Shfaram near Haifa, founded by Elias Jabbour, engaged Christian, Muslim, and Jewish communities in dialogue. Also, Father Elias Chacour, a Greek Catholic priest, gained state accreditation in 2009 for the first Israeli higher education institution established by the Arab community. The Nazareth-Galilee Academic Institution had Christian, Muslim, and Jewish students and faculty members and a central academic focus on Peace Studies.
Interfaith dialogue often was linked to ongoing peace efforts between Israelis and Palestinians and between the country and its Arab neighbors. A number of NGOs sought to build understanding and create dialogue among religious groups and between religious and secular Jewish communities. These organizations included the Gesher Foundation; Meitarim, which operated a pluralistic Jewish-oriented school system; the Interreligious Coordinating Council, which promoted interfaith dialogue among Jewish, Muslim, and Christian institutions; and the Council of Religious Institutions of the Holy Land, compromising the chief religious authorities of the area's Jewish, Muslim, and Christian establishments.
OCCUPIED TERRITORIES (INCLUDING AREAS SUBJECT TO THE JURISDICTION OF THE PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY)
The Palestinian Authority (PA) does not have a constitution, but has stated that the Palestinian Basic Law functions as its temporary constitution. The Basic Law states that Islam is the official religion and the principles of Shar'ia (Islamic law) shall be the main source of legislation and provides for freedom of belief, worship, and the performance of religious rites, unless they violate public order or morality. The Basic Law also proscribes discrimination based on religion and stipulates that all citizens are equal before the law and that basic human rights are liberties that shall be protected.
Israel exercises varying degrees of legal, military, and economic control in the Occupied Territories. Israel has no constitution, and while its Basic Law on Human Dignity and Liberty does not specifically refer to freedom of religion, it does refer to the Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel, which explicitly provides for the protection of religious freedom. In addition numerous Supreme Court rulings incorporate the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, including their religious freedom provisions, into the country's body of law.
The Israeli government generally respected the right to freedom of religion within the Occupied Territories during the reporting period. However, the strict closure policies and the separation barrier constructed by the Israeli government severely restricted the ability of Palestinian Muslims and Christians to reach places of worship and to practice their religious rites, particularly in Jerusalem. Israeli policies also limited the ability of Israeli Jews to reach places of worship in areas under Palestinian control.
The status of respect for religious freedom by the PA was unchanged during the reporting period. PA government policy contributed to the generally free practice of religion, although problems persisted during the reporting period. In the Gaza Strip, where Hamas maintained control throughout the reporting period, the PA was unable to curb Hamas' enforcement of conservative Islamic law, prevent Hamas' harassment of non-Muslims, or promote religious freedom.
Christians and Muslims generally enjoyed good relations during the reporting period. However, societal tensions remained high amongst Jewish communities, and between Jews and non-Jews; continuing violence heightened those tensions.
The U.S. government discusses religious freedom with the PA as part of its overall policy to promote human rights.
Section I. Religious Demography
The West Bank (excluding East Jerusalem) has an area of 2,238 square miles and a population of 2.7 million, including approximately 301,000 Israelis. East Jerusalem has an area of 27 square miles, and its population is 442,000 including approximately 182,000 Israelis. The Gaza Strip has an area of 143 square miles and a population of 1.5 million.
Approximately 98 percent of Palestinian residents of the Occupied Territories are Sunni Muslims. Although there is no official count, a detailed demographic survey from 2008 indicates there are about 50,000 Christians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and an estimated 1,000 to 3,000 Christians in the Gaza Strip. A majority of Christians are Greek Orthodox; the remainder consists of Armenian Orthodox, Copts, Episcopalians, Ethiopian Orthodox, Greek Catholics, Lutherans, Maronites, Roman Catholics, Syrian Orthodox, and several other Protestant denominations. Christians are concentrated primarily in the areas of Jerusalem, Ramallah, and Bethlehem, but smaller communities exist elsewhere. A very small number of adherents of several denominations of evangelical Christians, as well as Jehovah's Witnesses, reside in the West Bank. There is also a community of approximately 400 Samaritans in the West Bank.
According to local Christian leaders, Palestinian Christian emigration has accelerated since 2001, reducing the number of Christians in Jerusalem and the Occupied Territories. Most left for security and economic reasons, often related to the effects of the separation barrier; however, low birth rates among Palestinian Christians also contribute to their shrinking numbers.
Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom
The PA does not have a constitution but has stated that the Palestinian Basic Law functions as its temporary constitution. The Basic Law states that Islam is the official religion and the principles of Islamic law shall be the main source of legislation and provides for freedom of belief, worship, and the performance of religious rites, unless they violate public order or morality. The Basic Law also proscribes discrimination based on religion and stipulates that all citizens are equal before the law, and that basic human rights and liberties shall be protected. The PA sought to protect religious freedom in full and did not tolerate its abuse by either governmental or societal actors.
The construction of a separation barrier by the government of Israel, begun in 2002 due to state security concerns, has severely limited access to holy sites and seriously impeded the work of religious organizations that provide education, healthcare, and other humanitarian relief and social services to Palestinians, particularly in and around East Jerusalem. The government of Israel made some accommodations for Palestinian Christians in the West Bank to access Jerusalem for religious purposes, particularly around Easter, although few accommodations were made for Palestinian Muslims to enter Jerusalem for religious purposes.
In implementing construction of the barrier, the government of Israel confiscated property owned by Palestinians and several religious institutions, displaced Christian and Muslim residents, and tightened restrictions on movement for non-Jewish communities. Most Palestinians and religious institutions have refused compensation to avoid any perception that accepting compensation would legalize the confiscation of land and building of the barrier. According to the Israeli government, it sought to build the barrier on public lands where possible, and when private land was used, provided opportunities for compensation. In principle compensation was offered automatically with every confiscation order related to the barrier; however, owners needed to go through an appeals process. The value of the compensation was not automatic and was subject to appraisal and verification.
The PA requires Palestinians to declare their religious affiliation on identification papers and strongly enforces this requirement.
Islam is the official religion of the PA, and Islamic institutions and places of worship receive preferential treatment by the government. The PA has a Ministry of Awqaf and Religious Affairs that pays for the construction and maintenance of mosques and the salaries of most Palestinian imams in the West Bank. The ministry also provides limited financial support to some Christian clergymen and Christian charitable organizations. The PA does not provide financial support to Jewish institutions in the West Bank; most Jewish holy sites in the West Bank are controlled by the Israeli government.
Either Islamic or Christian religious courts must handle all legal matters relating to personal status, if such courts exist for the individual's denomination. In general all matters related to personal status--including inheritance, marriage, dowry, divorce, and child support--are handled by such courts, which exist for most Muslims and Christians.
All legally recognized individual sects are empowered to adjudicate personal status matters, and most do so. The PA does not have a civil marriage law. Legally, members of one religious group mutually may agree to submit a personal status dispute to a different denomination to adjudicate, but this is not known to occur. Churches that are not officially recognized by the PA must obtain special permission to perform marriages or adjudicate personal status matters; many unrecognized churches advise their members to marry or divorce abroad.
Personal status law for Palestinians is based on religious law. For Muslim Palestinians, personal status law is derived from Shari'a, while various ecclesiastical courts rule on personal status matters for Christians. A 1995 PA presidential decree stipulated that all laws in effect before the advent of the PA would continue in force until the PA enacted new laws or amended the old ones.
PA President Abbas has informal advisors on Christian affairs. Six seats in the 132-member Palestinian Legislative Council are reserved for Christians; there are no seats reserved for members of any other faith.
The PA observes the following religious holidays as national holidays: the Birth of the Prophet Muhammad, Eid al-Fitr, Eid al-Adha, Zikra al-Hijra al-Nabawiya, and Christmas. The PA maintains a Friday-Saturday weekend, but Christians are allowed to take Sunday off instead of Saturday. Christians take Easter as a paid religious holiday.
In East Jerusalem the site referred to by Muslims as the Haram al-Sharif (Noble Sanctuary) contains the Dome of the Rock and the al-Aqsa Mosque, among the holiest sites in Islam. Jews refer to the same place as the Temple Mount and recognize it as the foundation of the first and second Jewish temples. Like all of East Jerusalem, the location has been under Israeli control since 1967, when Israel captured the city. (The government of Israel formally annexed East Jerusalem in 1980, and Israel applies its laws in East Jerusalem.) However, the Haram al-Sharif is administered by the Jerusalem Islamic Waqf, a Jordan-funded and administered Islamic trust and charitable organization with ties to the PA.
Churches in the West Bank and Gaza operate under one of three statuses of recognition by the PA: churches recognized by the status quo agreements reached under Ottoman rule in the late 19th century and Protestant churches with established episcopates; Protestant, including evangelical, churches established between the late 19th century and 1967, which, although they exist and operate, are not recognized officially by the PA; and a small number of churches that have become active within the last decade and whose legal status is less certain.
The first group of churches is governed by 19th century status quo agreements reached with Ottoman authorities, which the PA respects. These agreements specifically established the presence and rights of the Armenian Orthodox, Assyrian, Coptic, Ethiopian Orthodox, Greek Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Syrian Orthodox churches. The Episcopal and Evangelical Lutheran churches were added later to this list. Upon its establishment, the PA recognized these churches and their rights. Like Islamic law courts, these religious groups are permitted to have ecclesiastical courts whose rulings are considered legally binding on personal status and some property matters for members of their religious communities. Civil courts do not adjudicate such matters.
Churches in the second category, which includes the Assemblies of God, Nazarene Church, and some Baptist churches, have unwritten understandings with the PA based on the principles of the status quo agreements. They are permitted to operate freely and are able to perform certain personal status legal functions, such as issuing marriage certificates.
The third category consists of a small number of proselytizing groups, including Jehovah's Witnesses and some evangelical Christian groups. These churches also generally operate unhindered by the PA.
The PA requires the teaching of religion in PA-operated schools with separate courses for Muslim and Christian students. A compulsory curriculum requires the study of Christianity for Christian students and Islam for Muslim students in grades one through six. A 2006 study concluded that textbooks continue to show elements of imbalance, bias, and inaccuracy but not incitement to violence. Critics noted that new textbooks often ignored historical Jewish connections to Israel and Jerusalem.
Restrictions on Religious Freedom
PA government policy contributed to the generally free practice of religion, although problems persisted throughout the reporting period. The PA did not take sufficient action during the reporting period to investigate and bring to justice persons who harassed, intimidated, and perpetrated attacks against some Christian residents of Bethlehem and Ramallah.
The government of Israel continued to apply travel restrictions during the reporting period that significantly impeded freedom of access to places of worship in the West Bank and Jerusalem for Muslims and Christians. Citing violence and security concerns, the Israeli government imposed a broad range of strict closures and curfews throughout Jerusalem and the Occupied Territories since 2000.
The government of Israel, as a matter of stated policy, opposes non-Muslim worship at the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount since 1967. Israeli police generally did not permit public prayer by non-Muslims and publicly indicated that this policy remained operative even though non-Muslims visited the compound. Israeli police regulated traffic in and out of the compound and screened non-Muslims for religious paraphernalia. However, in several instances during the reporting period, Israeli police reportedly facilitated the entrance of Jewish groups who attempted to perform religious services at the site.
The government of Israel during the reporting period severely restricted access for Muslims in the Occupied Territories to the Haram al-Sharif and occasionally restricted access for Muslims resident in Jerusalem. While West Bank Muslims with permits to enter Jerusalem were generally able to visit the site, and in isolated cases permits were issued for Muslims to enter Jerusalem for religious purposes, Israel's permitting regime generally restricted most West Bank Muslims from accessing the Haram al-Sharif; Muslims from Gaza were provided no opportunity by the government of Israel to access the site. Israeli security authorities in Jerusalem frequently restricted access to Friday prayers at the Haram al-Sharif for residents in East Jerusalem. Citing security concerns, authorities also frequently barred entry to male residents under the age of 50, and sometimes barred women under the age of 45. Infrequently, the Haram al-Sharif would be closed entirely, often after skirmishes at the compound between Arab youth and Israeli police. Israeli authorities in some instances barred specific individuals from the compound, including high-ranking Palestinian officials and Jerusalem Islamic Waqf employees. Waqf officials claim the Israeli security regime has reduced average attendance at Friday prayers from 45,000 prior to the Second Intifada to no more than 30,000 presently.
Waqf officials complained that Israeli police increasingly violate agreements regarding control of access to the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount site. Israeli police have de facto control of the compound by stationing police outside each entrance to the site and conducting routine patrols on the compound. Israeli police have exclusive control of the Mughrabi Gate entrance to the compound and in general allow non-Muslim visitors to enter the compound through the gate during set visiting hours. Waqf employees are stationed inside each gate and on the compound, and they may object to the presence of particular persons, such as individuals dressed immodestly or causing disturbances, but they lack effective authority to remove persons from the site.
Israeli authorities and Jerusalem Islamic Waqf officials generally prohibited non-Muslim worship at the Haram al-Sharif. The Israeli High Court ruled in 1997 that "Jews, even though their right to the Temple Mount exists and stands historically, are not permitted to currently actualize their right to perform public prayer on the Temple Mount." Although Orthodox Jewish teaching discourages Jewish visits to the compound, some Jewish organizations have challenged these restrictions. During the reporting period, several Jewish groups visited the compound, escorted by Israeli police, and performed religious acts such as prayers and prostration. Waqf officials condemned the visits, and in some instances, the visits initiated violence between Arab youth and Israeli police. Christians were also prohibited from performing public prayers at the site.
There were also disputes between the Jerusalem Islamic Waqf and Israeli authorities over Israeli restrictions on Waqf attempts to carry out maintenance and physical improvements to the compound and its mosques. Israeli officials said the Waqf is required to coordinate all changes to the compound with the Israeli government; Waqf officials generally refuse to coordinate maintenance and upkeep because they say it violates the status quo. The approval process for a permanent ramp leading to the Mughrabi Gate of the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount continued during the reporting period; however, excavations in the immediate vicinity of the Mughrabi Gate did not proceed.
The Israeli government amended its visa issuance process for foreigners working in Jerusalem and the Occupied Territories during the reporting period, significantly impeding the work of Christian institutions. Reports of Christian clergy, nuns, and other religious workers unable to secure residency or work legally increased during the reporting period. Israeli authorities continued to limit visas for Arab Christian clergy serving in the West Bank or Jerusalem to single-entry visas, complicating clergy travel, particularly to areas under their pastoral authority outside the West Bank or Jerusalem. This disrupted their work and caused financial difficulties to their sponsoring religious organizations. Clergy, nuns, and other religious workers from Arab countries faced long delays and sometimes were denied applications. The Israeli government indicated that delays or denials were due to security processing for visas and extensions.
Separately, Arab Christian clergy, including bishops and other senior clergy, were generally prohibited entry into Gaza to visit congregations or ministries under their pastoral authority.
During the reporting period, the Israeli government continued to construct a separation barrier in and around East Jerusalem and enforce a checkpoint regime, which had the effect of inhibiting the ability of Palestinians to practice their religion and seriously restricting access by West Bank Muslims and Christians to holy sites in Jerusalem and the West Bank.
The separation barrier significantly impeded Bethlehem-area Christians from reaching the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem and made visits to Christian sites in Bethany and Bethlehem difficult for Palestinian Christians who live on the Jerusalem side of the barrier. Foreign pilgrims and religious aid workers occasionally experienced difficulty obtaining access to Christian holy sites in the West Bank because of the barrier and Israeli restrictions on movement in the West Bank. The barrier and checkpoints also impeded the movement of clergy between Jerusalem and West Bank churches and monasteries, as well as the movement of congregations between their homes and places of worship.
Israel's closure policy significantly impeded the indigenous Christian community from accessing Jerusalem between Palm Sunday (March 28, 2010) and Easter Sunday (April 4, 2010). The Israeli Defense Ministry issued 10,000 temporary permits to access Jerusalem for Palestinian Christians in the West Bank and 500 permits for Christians in Gaza. However, it also instituted a week-long general closure of West Bank checkpoints on March 29, 2010, to coincide with the Jewish Passover holiday. At the time, Israeli officials acknowledged that the general closure impeded Christian access to Jerusalem, particularly for the annual Palm Sunday procession at the Mount of Olives and, on April 1, 2010, reopened some checkpoints for Christians to access Jerusalem.
Arab Christian leaders said Israeli security authorities obstructed access to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre during Easter Sunday (April 4, 2010) and days prior. Christians from the West Bank and Gaza said the permits accorded access to the greater Jerusalem area but did not assure access to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Israeli police providing crowd control outside the church subjected Arab Christians to greater scrutiny than pilgrims from Western states, and Arabs constituted no more than 20 percent of the attendants at the Holy Fire ceremony (April 3, 2010), the principal Easter celebration in Jerusalem.
During the reporting period, Israeli authorities severely limited the access of Palestinians to Rachel's Tomb, a shrine holy to Jews, Christians, and Muslims, but allowed relatively unimpeded access to Jewish visitors.
During the reporting period the IDF limited access to the Ibrahimi Mosque/Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron, a holy site revered by both Jews and Muslims as the tomb of Abraham. The IDF restricted Muslim access to the site for 10 nonconsecutive days, including Passover and Yom Kippur; Jews were restricted access to the site for 10 nonconsecutive days corresponding with Muslim holidays.
Access for Jews to holy sites in the West Bank was impeded by Israeli government restrictions on Israelis in areas under PA security control (Area A), particularly to Joseph's Tomb in Nablus. To protest the restrictions, approximately 80 Israeli Jews on February 21, 2010, entered PA-controlled territory, without coordinating with either Israeli or PA officials, in an attempt to visit the Shalom Al Israel synagogue in Jericho. IDF and Israeli Border Police evacuated and arrested them.
While there were no specific restrictions placed on Palestinians making the Hajj, all Palestinian religious groups faced restrictions in practice, such as closures and long waits at Israeli border crossings, which often impeded travel for religious purposes.
The Western Wall, the holiest site in Judaism, was open to visitors from all faiths during the reporting period, and Muslims and Christians were permitted to make individual prayers at the site. As a result of Israeli government action, at the Western Wall, men and women must use separate areas to visit and pray, and the women’s section is less than half the size of the men’s section. Women are not allowed to conduct prayers at the Western Wall while wearing prayer shawls, which are typically worn by Jewish men, and are not permitted to read from the Torah scrolls. The gender restrictions also affect Muslims and Christians at this site.
All Palestinian religious groups faced restrictions in practice, such as closures and long waits at Israeli border crossings, which often impeded travel for religious purposes.
Since early 2001 following the outbreak of the Second Intifada, the Israeli government has prohibited Israeli citizens in unofficial capacities from traveling to the parts of the West Bank under civil and security control of the PA. This restriction prevents Jewish Israelis from routinely visiting several Jewish holy sites, although the IDF occasionally provides security escorts for groups to visit selected Jewish holy sites; the restriction is enforced less frequently for Arab Israelis visiting Muslim and Christian holy sites in the West Bank, such as the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.
The PA in April 2010 claimed that the IDF prevented Palestinian laborers hired by the PA Ministry of Waqf and Religious Affairs from making renovations to the Ibrahimi Mosque/Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron, describing the move as an "assault on the PA's religious and national duties." Both Israel and the PA share responsibility for the site under the Oslo Agreements, although disagreements over division of responsibilities are significant.
Abuses of Religious Freedom
A member of the Women of the Wall, a group which challenges restrictions on women's rights at the Western Wall, was arrested in November 2009 at the Western Wall; media reports cited Israeli officials as attributing the woman's arrest to her wearing of a prayer shawl, which many Orthodox Jews consider male religious attire, and her reading aloud from the Torah. In January 2010 Israeli police detained Anat Hoffman, a founder of Women of the Wall and advocate for Reform Judaism in Israel, on suspicions of disturbing the peace for her role in organizing prayer services for women. On occasion authorities at the Western Wall permitted women's prayer services and mixed-gender ceremonies at the southern end of the Western Wall, outside the Western Wall plaza area.
Hamas maintained control of Gaza throughout the reporting period and exploited its security apparatus to arrest or detain Muslims in Gaza who did not abide by Hamas's strict interpretation of Islam.
The Jerusalem Municipality advocated increased Jewish influence and property ownership in East Jerusalem's Kidron Valley, or "Holy Basin," and on June 21, 2010, the Jerusalem Municipal Planning Council voted to demolish at least 22 Arab-owned properties in the al-Bustan neighborhood to make way for a Jewish-themed historical park. During the reporting period three Palestinian families in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem were forcibly evicted from their homes by Jewish activists seeking to establish a Jewish presence in the area, which is adjacent to the tomb of an ancient Jewish priest, according to some traditions. Israeli nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) claim that these projects are intended to wrap Jerusalem's Old City and Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount with Jewish-owned properties and communities, effectively severing Palestinian societal connections to the area.
In October 2008 the High Court ruled that the Center could continue construction because the site had served as a municipal parking lot for almost 50 years without a single complaint leveled against such use, and Islamic authorities in 1929 had allowed construction in other parts of the abandoned cemetery.
Forced Religious Conversions
There were no reports of forced religious conversion.
Abuses by Rebel or Foreign Forces or Terrorist Organizations
During the reporting period, terrorist organizations, including Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad carried out attacks against Israeli citizens, mostly in the form of indiscriminate rocket and mortar attacks from the Gaza Strip. The attacks were in part religiously motivated and attempts to recruit for and justify the attacks often relied on religious statements and imagery. Terrorists also often issued statements that contained anti-Semitic rhetoric in conjunction with the attacks.
Hamas, a designated foreign terrorist organization, maintained control of Gaza throughout the reporting period and enforced a conservative interpretation of Islam on Gaza's Muslim population. For instance, Hamas operated a women's prison during the reporting period to house women convicted of "ethical crimes" such as "illegitimate pregnancy." Hamas’s "morality police" during the reporting period punished women for riding motorcycles and dressing "inappropriately." Couples in public are routinely stopped, separated, and questioned by plainclothes officers to determine if they are married; premarital sex is a crime punishable by imprisonment. A 19-year-old male remained in prison without trial during the reporting period because he is homosexual, according to Human Rights Watch.
Hamas and other Islamic extremists in Gaza during the reporting period sought to bolster attendance at its youth programs and marginalize UN-run programs which did not teach a strict interpretation of Islam. Islamic extremists on June 27, 2010, burned and vandalized a UN-operated summer camp, accusing the UN of corrupting Gaza's youth with its summer program of games, sports, and human rights studies.
Hamas largely tolerated the small Christian presence in Gaza and did not force them to abide by Islamic law, although Christians were indirectly affected by Hamas's religious ideology. Hamas did not sufficiently investigate or prosecute religiously driven crimes committed by Muslim extremist vigilante groups in Gaza.
Hamas leadership also played a role in inciting violence on the Haram al Sharif/Temple Mount in September, February, and March, and Hamas sympathizers joined activists from Israel’s Islamic Movement Northern Branch to throw stones down onto Jewish worshipers at the Western Wall from the courtyard of the Al Aqsa Mosque following prayers.
Due to Hamas' continued control of Gaza, the PA was unable to pursue Gaza-based cases of religious discrimination.
Improvements and Positive Developments in Respect for Religious Freedom
The PA did not officially sponsor interfaith dialogue during the reporting period; however, it sent representatives to meetings on improving interreligious relations and attempts to foster goodwill among religious leaders. Throughout the reporting period, the PA issued directives restricting the content of sermons to religious topics and worked to prevent radical imams from preaching sermons that incite violence in the West Bank.
Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom
The strong correlation between religion, ethnicity, and politics in the Occupied Territories at times imbued the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with a religious dimension. Palestinian Christians and Muslims generally shared good relations, identifying more closely on ethnic and political similarities than religion. However, tensions were substantial between Jews and Palestinian Christians and Muslims, largely as a result of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Israel's control of access to sites holy to Christians and Muslims. Relations among Jews living in Jerusalem and the West Bank were strained based on different interpretations of Judaism, and some non-Orthodox Jews and Christians experienced discrimination and harassment on the part of some ultra-Orthodox (Haredi) Jews.
Israeli settlers in the West Bank on several occasions during the reporting period framed violence against Palestinian persons and property as necessary for the defense of Judaism. In November 2009 the dean of the extremist Od Yosef Hai yeshiva in the West Bank settlement of Yitzhar published what he described as a guide to killing non-Jews, which condoned among other things the killing of Christian and Muslim infants.
Settlers in the West Bank also committed attacks against Islamic holy sites, vandalizing and setting fire to three mosques and desecrating graves at a Muslim cemetery during the reporting period. Settlers on May 4, 2010, ignited copies of the Qu'ran to set fire to a mosque near Nablus; on December 11, 2009, settlers destroyed a mosque in the West Bank village of Yasuf, burned furniture, prayer carpets, and Islamic holy texts, and spray-painted Nazi slogans in Hebrew. The Israeli Defense Ministry condemned the attack and promptly launched an investigation. These attacks heightened tensions between Israeli settlers and Palestinians in the West Bank.
The PA and Islamic leaders in April 2010 publicly criticized the construction of a synagogue at the site of a 300-year-old historic synagogue in Jerusalem's Jewish Quarter. The PA said the reconstruction was "an act of aggression," and the head of the Palestinian Shari'a Courts said the reconstruction was an attempt to take over the Haram al-Sharif, approximately 660 feet away. The PA Ministry of Information in an April 2010 statement dismissed Jewish connection and presence in Jerusalem, affirming that Jerusalem "is an Arab, Palestinian, and Islamic and Christian city."
Palestinian media published and broadcast material criticizing the Israeli occupation, including dismissing Jewish connections to Jerusalem. During the reporting period official, PA media contained some derogatory statements about Jews. Other Palestinian media not under the control of the PA, particularly those controlled by Hamas, continued to use inflammatory language during the reporting period.
Unofficial Palestinian television broadcast content that sometimes praised holy war to expel the Jewish presence in the region. Some children's programs aired on Hamas television legitimized the killing of Israelis and Jews by terrorist attacks.
Some Jewish groups during the reporting period called for the destruction of the Islamic Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa Mosque to enable the rebuilding of a third Jewish Temple. In April 2010 a group called Eretz Israel Shelanu sponsored a series of advertisements on 200 Jerusalem city buses illustrating a reconstructed Jewish Temple over the Dome of the Rock; the advertisements were removed by the franchiser after the buses, which were mostly assigned to routes in East Jerusalem, provoked criticism and threats toward the bus company.
The ultra-Orthodox anti-missionary organization Yad L'Achim, led by Rabbi Shalom Dov Lifschitz, continued to harass individuals in settlements that it identified, often incorrectly, as "missionaries." The JIJ received more than 30 complaints in 2009 from Messianic Jewish and Christian leaders regarding posters displayed in their neighborhoods containing their photographs, names, and addresses, warning the public to "avoid the dangerous missionaries."
On October 7, 2009, police arrested Yaakov Teitel 18 months after receiving security video evidence of Teitel delivering explosives to the doorstep of David Ortiz. In March 2008 explosives left on the doorstep of David Ortiz, a Messianic Jewish leader in Ariel, seriously injured his son. Teitel, an Orthodox settler, confessed that he targeted the Ortiz family due to their religious beliefs and said he often worked with Yad L'Achim.
Hamas efforts to bolster the conservative Islamic nature of Gaza disturbed some Gazan Christians, and they raised concerns that Hamas failed to defend their rights as religious minorities.
Some Haredim at the Western Wall harassed visitors and Jews who did not conform to Orthodox traditions; on March 16, 2010, several Haredi men hurled Nazi slurs and threw chairs over the Western Wall's gender-separation barrier towards women conducting a prayer service. Members of the Jewish Conservative, Masorati, and Reform movements throughout the reporting period publicly criticized the growing "Haredization" of the Western Wall.
In May 2010 a senior rabbi in the fundamentalist Israeli settlement Kiryat Arba claimed Jewish law discourages women from working professionally, and he blamed working Jewish mothers for youth violence.
There were occasional reports of societal abuses or discrimination between Christians and Muslims, and societal attitudes continued to be a barrier to conversions, especially for Muslims converting to Christianity; however, conversion is not illegal under PA law. Both Muslim and Christian Palestinians accused Israeli officials of attempting to foster animosity among Palestinians by exaggerating reports of Muslim-Christian tensions.
Interfaith dating was a sensitive issue during the reporting period. Most Christian and Muslim families in Jerusalem and the Occupied Territories encouraged their children, especially their daughters, to marry within their respective religious groups. Couples who challenged this societal norm, particularly Palestinian Christians or Muslims who married Jews, encountered considerable societal and familial opposition.
Harassment of Messianic Jews (people who identify as Jews and follow Jewish traditions but who believe Jesus was the Messiah) by Orthodox Jews continued during the reporting period.
Established Christian groups in general did not welcome less-established churches. A small number of proselytizing groups, including Jehovah's Witnesses and some evangelical Christians, encountered opposition to their efforts to obtain recognition, both from Muslims who opposed their proselytizing and from Christians who feared the new arrivals might disrupt existing conditions.
Section IV. U.S. Government Policy
The U.S. government discusses religious freedom with the PA as part of its overall policy to promote human rights.
The U.S. consulate general in Jerusalem regularly met with religious representatives to ensure their legitimate grievances were reported and addressed. The consulate general maintained a high level of contact with representatives of the Jerusalem Islamic Waqf. U.S. government officials had frequent contact with Muslim leaders throughout Jerusalem and the West Bank. The consulate also maintained regular contact with leaders of the Christian and Jewish communities in Jerusalem, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip. During the reporting period, the consul general and consulate general officers met with the Greek Orthodox, Latin (Roman Catholic), and Armenian Patriarchs; leaders of the Syrian Orthodox, Anglican, and Lutheran churches; and Christian evangelical groups. Consulate general officers also met with members of the Samaritan and Baha'i communities. Consulate general officers met with Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, and Haredi rabbis and representatives of various Jewish institutions.
During the reporting period, the consulate general investigated a range of charges including allegations of damage to places of worship, incitement, and allegations concerning access to holy sites. Consulate general officers met with representatives of the Bethlehem and Ramallah-area Christian communities.