"As is" reference - not a United Nations document
Country and Regional Issues
(General Affairs Council, 20 September 2016)
The main human rights objectives within the framework of the EU's relations with Israel are the situation of minorities, the preservation of a vibrant civil society, and respect for the laws of armed conflict and international human rights law, which covers Israel's responsibilities as an occupying power and includes issues relating to children and armed conflict.
In the course of 2015, the EU raised concerns and questions in relation to the economic and social rights of the Arab and Bedouin minorities, and to policies on asylum seekers, including their relocation to third countries. The EU also voiced its concern over Israel's demolition of humanitarian and other structures in Area C of the West Bank.
The EU closely followed the proposed NGO legislation that would place new requirements on NGOs which receive more than half of their funding from foreign government sources, and called on Israel to promote its active NGO sector and civil society, which are a fundamental element of Israel's vibrant democracy and of the shared values that underpin EU-Israel relations.
In its Foreign Affairs Council conclusions of July 2015, the EU stressed the need for compliance with international humanitarian law and international human rights law by states and non-state actors, emphasising the importance of accountability as a cornerstone of peace and security in the region.
Furthermore, the EU expressed its concerns on repeated occasions over the increased violence in the autumn of 2015 in Israel and the West Bank, notably East Jerusalem, through statements as well as bilateral and multilateral engagement. The EU has highlighted the need for all sides to do their utmost to prevent further violence.
Human rights issues were raised with the Israeli authorities on a regular basis in various formats. The Informal Working Groups on Human Rights and International Organisations and the Subcommittee on Political Dialogue were postponed upon request of the Israeli authorities. The Subcommittee on Migration, Health and Social Affairs (13-14 July, Brussels) addressed asylum policies, among other matters, with a particular focus on irregular migrants. The EU maintained a strong relationship with civil society organisations through regular consultations and by attending and organising NGO briefings. The EU Delegation also regularly undertook public diplomacy activities focused on human rights issues, including the organisation of two diplomatic outreach events, speeches and participation in other events.
Furthermore, the EU-Israel seminar on combating racism, xenophobia and anti-Semitism took place in Brussels in December 2015 and examined policies and tools to combat racism and xenophobia, with a particular focus on anti-Semitism.
The EU also contributed to the achievement of the human rights objectives through grants awarded to projects carried out by civil society organisations and others. EU support, channelled mainly through the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR), focused on the priority areas: reinforcing a favourable environment for civil society organisations and the promotion of human rights; advancing the rights of vulnerable groups or minorities within Israel; and enhancing respect for international humanitarian law and human rights in the occupied Palestinian territory, including the rights of children in armed conflict. Twenty-eight EIDHR projects were ongoing or signed in 2015. The CSO-LA (civil society organisations and local authorities) programme also contributed to the objectives of the HRCS by mainstreaming the inclusion of civil society organisations in local decision making and enhancing civic participation through five ongoing contracts with small Arab municipalities in 2015.
Palestinian refugees in the West Bank (approximately 800,000) and in the Gaza Strip (approximately 1 million) were confronted with a multitude of challenges in 2015. They continued to endure difficult economic and social conditions and deepening poverty. There was a considerable increase in violence and growing frustration with a stagnant economy and increasing lack of employability in the West Bank. Food security was granted to approximately 75% of Palestinian refugees living in refugee camps. In the Gaza strip, refugees suffered from further displacements following the hostilities in July and August 2014. The living conditions of many refugees have further deteriorated because of the impact of the closure of the Gaza strip in 2015. UNRWA, with substantial EU financial support, ensured the delivery of core essential services (i.p. food and health care) for refugees in Gaza.
The accession by Palestine to 18 international human rights, humanitarian, international criminal law, arms and diplomatic treaties on 31 December 2014, which came into effect in the course of 2015, has led to an increased awareness among security forces and government officials of Palestinian obligations regarding human rights, which have become part of the public discourse. However, this increased awareness has not yet translated into substantial improvements in practice.
The EU undertook a variety of actions in the course of 2015 in support of human rights in Palestine. Locally, via the Office of the EU Representative, the EU issued local statements, made site visits and attended court hearings. Throughout 2015, the EU closely followed developments, and raised concerns in regard to respect for human rights. The EU-Palestine Sub-committee on Human Rights, Good Governance and the Rule of Law did not take place in the course of 2015; it is planned for early 2016.
Although there continued to be a relatively positive environment in the West Bank in terms of respect for freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and freedom of the media, there remained causes for concern, for example journalists and bloggers being called in for questioning about posts on social media and blogs. Regarding freedom of association, while civil society organisations could generally operate freely in the West Bank, concerns persisted regarding the role of the NGO Affairs Committee established in December 2012, and a new regulation on not-for-profit corporations issued in 2015 which requires them to seek prior approval from the Council of Ministers in order to accept grants, donations, assistance and funding, and to state the purpose of such funding. All civil society platforms regard this new regulation as a serious violation of the freedom of association and a breach of the Palestinian Basic Law.
In Gaza, the right to freedom of expression remained under severe pressure with journalists being attacked by the de facto authority's security forces. Restrictions were also imposed on journalists' movements. Notwithstanding the Beach Camp Agreement on reconciliation between Hamas and the PLO, the work of civil society organisations in Gaza continued to be impeded by officials from the de facto authorities. The EU and its Member States continued to support the work of civil society organisations to promote human rights in Gaza. In the Strip, 40 000 civil servants are not being paid, which has resulted in increased rates of corruption as well as human rights violations such as torture by the police.
Other key concerns continue to be the death penalty, even though no executions were performed in 2015, and regular complaints of torture and ill-treatment in detention centres in both Gaza and West Bank. The EU continues to support local civil society organisations to prevent and combat torture. The work of EUPOL COPPS4 in training the Palestinian police in human rights is also noteworthy. Regular complaints of arbitrary detention were lodged with the Independent Commission on Human Rights, including complaints of violations of the right to due process of law, detention without providing fair trial guarantees, and detention upon the orders of the Governor.
As regards freedom of religion or belief and the rights of people belonging to a minority, Christians were well-represented at the political level. However, many Christians, along with secular Muslims, complained of increasing pressure in Palestinian society to accommodate conservative Islamic values, especially in Gaza.
Violence against women and their overall socio-economic vulnerability remained challenges for Palestinian society. As an important positive step, in 2014 President Abbas issued a decree amending the Penal Code to remove the power of the judiciary to take into account certain 'mitigating factors' when sentencing in cases of 'honour killings'. However, another provision remains in place, which gives any family member of the victim the right to relinquish his or her rights, following which a case is often dropped.
The use of children in the labour market continued to be a concern, with 3.5 % of all children aged between 10 and 17 in employment in Palestine.
Persons with disabilities continued to suffer from social exclusion and a lack of access to appropriate care, especially persons with mental disabilities. EU partnership with local authorities, ministries and civil society to address this concern has begun to yield results, for example in East Jerusalem an EU programme helped introduce support for children with special needs in the education sector.
Human rights permeate all aspects of the development cooperation of the European Union, the biggest multilateral donor of financial assistance. EU cooperation aims to build up the institutions of a future democratic, independent, contiguous and viable Palestinian state based on shared values in areas such as respect for human rights, democratisation and the rule of law.
3 *This designation shall not be construed as recognition of a State of Palestine and is without prejudice to the individual position of the Member States on this issue.
4 European Union Police Mission for the Palestinian Territories