UN CEDAW Reviews Israel: Committee Experts Voice Concern over Inequalities and the Need for Measures to Eliminate Discrimination against Palestinian Women Citizens of Israel in Education, Employment and Political Life

On 6 July 2005, the UN Committee for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) held a one-day session at UN headquarters in New York to review Israel's Third Periodic Report, which details the steps and measures Israel has taken to comply with the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women. The Convention is the first human rights treaty dedicated to the protection of women's rights. This review session marks only the second time that the Committee, comprised of 23 expert members, has reviewed Israel's record on women's rights – the first being in 1997 – since its ratification of the Convention in 1991.

Four delegates from the Working Group on the Status of Palestinian Women Citizens of Israel (the WG) attended the UN review session and presented reports and data on discrimination faced by Palestinian women citizens of Israel in all aspects of life. The WG is comprised of Adalah: The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, the Arab Association for Human Rights, Kayan, Ma'an – The Union of Bedouin Women in the Naqab, the Al-Tufula Center and Women Against Violence.

A nine-person delegation, headed by Attorney Shavit Matias, a Deputy Attorney General in the Ministry of Justice, represented the Israeli government before the Committee.

The Committee focused its attention on Israel's responses to a List of Issues - 30 questions posed by the Committee - after examining Israel's Third Periodic Report, the WG's report and the reports of other NGOs at a preliminary meeting held in January 2005. The goal of the WG's report was to draw attention to Israel's violations of the CEDAW and institutionalized discrimination against Palestinian women citizens. Attorney Sonia Boulos represented the WG at that meeting. 18 of the 30 questions concerned issues of discrimination against Palestinian women citizens of Israel in the various fields discussed by the WG. During the review session, Committee members raised numerous questions and concerns about the status of Palestinian women citizens of Israel, as raised by the WG's delegates.

For example, one Committee member stated that it is “obvious” that Palestinian women had “second-class status compared with Jewish women in Israel." She referred to statistics which reveal that there are only five Palestinian female judges in Israel, compared with 254 Jewish female judges, and that, while some 64.4% of Israel's civil servants are Jewish women citizens, less than 2% are Palestinian women citizens.

Committee members also addressed the subject of violence against women, and pointed to the discrimination faced by Palestinian women regarding the lack of suitable frameworks for their care. One member noted that out of the 48 shelters for victims of violence in Israel, only two serve Arab women. Deleted: She also questioned "the basis for allocating resources to shelters to ensure that support [is] provided to both Jewish and Arab women."

Another Committee member, referring to Palestinian women citizens of Israel married to non-Israeli Arab men, asked about what measures have been taken “to protect the family unit of Palestinian Israeli women married to men from the Occupied Territories or other Arab countries."

Concern was also noted regarding the "great disparities between Jews and non-Jews in terms of life expectancy and infant mortality," and Israel was questioned over the reasons for that gap and what efforts were being undertaken to bridge it.

Several Committee members remarked on discrimination against Palestinian Bedouin women citizens of Israel living in the unrecognized villages in the Naqab Added: and pointed out the unjust discrimination against them regarding the lack of access to water, health care, and educational and employment opportunities.

Regarding the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPTs), the Committee expressed its opposition to Israel's unilateral position – rejected by all other UN human rights treaty bodies, international human rights law experts, and the International Court of Justice – that it is not responsible for the implementation of the Convention in these areas. Committee members also expressed concern that the Israeli military's activities, and its policy of home demolitions were “affecting the lives of Palestinian women in every sense.”

After the session, the Committee issued a press release in which it revealed its concern over the lack of genuine equality in Israel, and demanded that Israel adopt the appropriate steps to end discrimination against Palestinian women in the fields of education, employment and participation in public life. The Committee pointed to the absence of suitable representation for Arab women in the public sector and the judiciary. The Committee also expressed its concern over Israel's adoption of a personal status regime which does not guarantee women's right to equality regarding personal status laws.

All quotations used in this press release can be found in a UN Press Release (WOM/1511) issued on 6 July 2005, immediately following the Committee's review of Israel. The UN press release is available at: http://www.un.org/News/Press/docs/2005/wom1511.doc.htm

The statements delivered by the delegates of the Working Group on the Status of Palestinian Women Citizens of Israel at the NGO Meeting with CEDAW representatives, 5 July 2005.

All reports and statements issued by the Working Group, Israel's reports and other information on CEDAW, can be accessed at http://www.adalah.org/eng/cedaw.php