Presenting Israel's response to questions posed by the expert Committee on its initial and second report, Ruth Halperin-Kaddari, Professor of Law and author of Israel's report, said her Government abhorred practices such as polygamy, "honour killings" and female genital mutilation attributed to the cultural expression of some population groups.
So far as "honour killings" were concerned, in recent decisions, the Supreme Court had repeatedly held the opinion that violence against a female relative for the purpose of preserving family honour, which could reach murder, was a condemnable practice and had handed down a sentence of 18 years in one such case, she said. The increased awareness of law enforcement authorities had been expressed through unobtrusive activities directed at moving the girl or woman in danger beyond the reach of her family members.
The 23-member Committee reviews reports of States parties submitted in accordance with article 18 of the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women. That article requires States to submit reports within one year after accession, and thereafter at least every four years. Such reports are to focus on legislative, judicial and administrative measures adopted by States to give effect to the Convention's provisions.
Commenting after the presentation of Israel's report, experts emphasized that the principle of equality needed to be clearly spelled out in the Israeli Constitution. While they commended efforts to improve the conditions of non-Jews, concern was expressed about the non-participation of minority women in Israel's public life. Further, the importance of economic and social programmes to benefit people living in the occupied territories was stressed.
Experts also emphasized the need for a national mechanism to aid the advancement of women in Israel and said there should be a programme to implement the Platform for Action adopted at the Beijing Fourth World Conference on Women. They also deplored the late distribution of Israel's written replies to their questions and said it had made it difficult to conduct a constructive exchange.
In her presentation of Israel's response this morning, Ms. Halperin-Kaddari was joined by the Director-General of Israel's Ministry of Justice, Nili Arad.
The Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. tomorrow, 22 July to hear the second and third periodic reports of Argentina.
Response by Israel
Responding to questions posed by Committee members on her country's initial and second reports, presented on 17 July, NILI ARAD, Director-General, Ministry of Justice of Israel, said personal status was the only sphere governed by religious law in her country. It was generally under the jurisdiction of religious tribunals maintained by various religious communities. The rulings of such religious tribunals were, under certain circumstances, subject to Supreme Court review. The role of religious tribunals in governing personal status, which had originated in the Mandatory Law of 1920s, had been perpetuated by Israel as those tribunals had been considered basic and essential to its social fabric.
Equality and non-discrimination were already well established in a number of laws in Israel, she said. Those included the 1951 Women's Equal Rights Law, the 1973 Spouses (Property Relations) Law, the 1988 Equal Employment Opportunities Law and the 1996 Male and Female Workers Equal Pay Law. In addition, a proposal to establish a national authority for the advancement of gender equality was currently under review.
RUTH HALPERIN-KADDARI, Professor of Law and author of Israel's report to the Committee, said questions posed to Israel seemed to indicate that the report's use of the terms "culture" and "cultural" with regard to misogynistic practices had implied acceptance of those practices. She clarified that such practices as polygamy, "honour" killings and female genital mutilation attributed to cultural expression of some population groups were abhorred by the Israeli Government. In that context, the police force had focused special attention to the uniqueness of the Arab population and to Arab women's higher risk of falling victim to domestic violence, in all its courses, training sessions and contacts with field units.
The increased awareness of law enforcement and treatment authorities had been expressed through unobtrusive activities directed at moving the girl or woman in danger beyond the reach of her family members, she said. "Honour killings" were a clear expression of gender-based violence against women of Arab and Bedouin society. In a number of recent decisions, the Supreme Court had clearly defined its position on those killings. It had repeatedly held the opinion that violence against a female relative for the purpose of preserving family honour, which could reach murder, was a condemnable practice. In a recent case, the Court had handed down a sentence of 18 years.
Currently, four Arab women served on the police force and the police operated in Arab communities with the same procedures which governed its operation in Jewish communities, according to which a woman victim of sexual assault had to be questioned by a female investigator, she said. Out of the existing 12 shelters for battered women, one was in an Arab village and was fully financed by the Government. In addition, there were two halfway houses which accommodated Arab women and girls following their stay in shelters. Plus, out of the 100 posts for social workers who treated girls in distress, 20 were held by Arab social workers. There were 11 hotlines in Israel, two of which served Arab communities. According to police data, in 1996 there were 13,600 complaints of spousal abuse brought by Jewish women and 1,367 complaints brought by Arab women. As far as sexual offenses were concerned, there were 1,972 brought by Jewish women as opposed to 117 by Arab women.
Ms. ARAD said the Ministry of Education included a unit headed by the Supervisor of Arab Education. That unit was responsible for maintaining the uniqueness of Arab education through instruction in Arabic, Arab history, religion, folklore, culture and history. The Ministry's budget for kindergartens and preschools was equal for the Jewish and Arab populations. In 1995, 341 classrooms, which constituted 25 per cent of all new classrooms, had been constructed in Arab-Israeli elementary schools. In addition, a programme called "Science and Technology" had been implemented in 15 Arab villages and the importance of teaching computers in Arab schools had been emphasized. The Director of Study Programmes for the Arab Population in the Ministry of Education was currently reviewing textbooks used in Arab schools for gender stereotyping. Also, Arab teachers, in the last three years, had participated in workshops on stereotype elimination.
Ms. HALPERIN-KADDARI said the Civil Service Commission had acted in recent years to increase the number of Arab employees in civil service. So far as health services were concerned, the Ministry of Health had earmarked money for improving services to the Arab and Bedouin populations. There was a special infant-mortality reduction project administered by the Ministry, targeted primarily at those sections. Most Bedouins were married to very close relatives, so that the rate of congenital defects was very high and that explained half their infant mortality rate. However, their access to immunization coverage and hospital births had improved. Between 1994 and 1996, a three-phase programme had been implemented to build approximately 50 family-health clinics for Arab population at the cost of $10 million.
Ms. ARAD said the civil system had succeeded in circumventing some of the difficulties that were posed to women by religious laws. There had been a gradual removal of issues from the jurisdiction of religious tribunals. Mixed marriages could be conducted in Israel only in so far as the various religious laws allowed them. However, such marriages conducted abroad were recognized and civil family courts had jurisdiction over those. Adoption in Israel was predicated upon the adopters and adoptee belonging to the same religion and could be carried out only by a man and woman formally married to each other. Non-consensual divorce was a criminal offense. However, since marriage and divorce were governed by religious law, the Penal Law could not invalidate a divorce which had taken effect in accordance with religious law.