28 May 2003

UN Committee Deeply Concerned about Persisting Inequalities between Jewish and Arab Citizens of Israel

On 23 May 2003, the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights ("the Committee") issued its Concluding Observations regarding Israel's implementation of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). Among the points noted by the Committee, 10 key issues related to Israel's failure to uphold its obligations under the ICESCR vis-a-vis Arab citizens of Israel. Israel is a State Party to the ICESCR, which it ratified in 1991, and as such, Israel has undertaken to protect and uphold the rights enshrined in this international human rights treaty.

Adalah Staff Attorneys Suhad Bishara and Morad El-Sana presented Adalah's Report and participated in the Committee's sessions in Geneva on 15-16 May 2003, which reviewed Israel's compliance with the ICESCR. Adalah provided information to the Committee highlighting Israel's discriminatory laws and practices against Arab citizens of Israel in the fields of social and economic rights; education rights; and land and housing rights. Many of the issues raised in Adalah's Report were adopted by the Committee in its Concluding Observations.

Twenty-four Israeli, Palestinian and international NGOs presented reports and testimonies to the Committee regarding violations of rights protected under the ICESCR in Israel and the 1967 Occupied Territories. The delegation representing the State of Israel consisted of 11 representatives of government ministries.

Concluding Observations

The Committee expressed grave concerns about "the deplorable living conditions of the Palestinians in the occupied territories, who - as a result of the continuing occupation and subsequent measures of closures, extended curfews, roadblocks and security checkpoints - suffer from the impingement of their enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights enshrined in the Covenant, in particular access to work, land, water, health care, education and food." The Committee reiterated its deep regret at Israel's "refusal to report on the occupied territories," and issued numerous Concluding Observations relating to Israel's violations of ICESCR rights of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories. Among the principal subjects of concern, suggestions, and recommendations for Israel vis-a-vis the implementation of the ICESCR and Arab citizens of Israel, the Committee noted the following:

(1) Israel's failure to implement the Supreme Court's decision in Qa'dan. The Committee urged the state "to undertake steps to facilitate the implementation of the judgment."

(2) Deep concern about "the continuing difference in treatment between Jews and non-Jews, in particular Arab and Bedouin communities, with their regard to the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights in the State Party's territory."

(3) Concern that the "excessive emphasis upon the State as a 'Jewish State' encourages discrimination and accords a second-class status to its non-Jewish citizens." This discriminatory attitude, according to the UNCESCR, is apparent in "the continuing lower standard of living of Israeli Arabs as a result, inter alia, of higher unemployment rates, restricted access to and participation in trade unions, lack of access to housing, water, electricity, health care and a lower level of education, despite the State party's efforts to close the gap."

(4) Concern that Israel's "domestic legal order does not enshrine the general principles of equality and non-discrimination." The Committee reiterated its recommendation that Israel "undertake steps to ensure equality of treatment for all Israeli citizens in relation to all Covenant rights."

(5) Concern that in spite of the enactment of the law on Equal Rights for People with Disabilities in 2000, "the majority of its provisions have not been implemented," and that "the situation is aggravated for persons with disabilities from the Arab sector." The Committee urged Israel "to undertake effective measures to combat discrimination against persons with disabilities ... with particular attention for persons with disabilities from the Arab sector."

(6) Concern about "the status of 'Jewish nationality,' which is a ground for exclusive preferential treatment for persons of Jewish nationality under the Israeli Law of Return, granting them automatic citizenship and financial government benefits, thus resulting in practice in discriminatory treatment against non-Jews, in particular Palestinian refugees."

(7) Concern about "the practice of restrictive family reunification with regard to Palestinians." The Committee reiterated its recommendation that, "in order to ensure equality of treatment and non-discrimination, the State party undertake a review of its re-entry and family reunification policies for Palestinians."

(8) Concern about "the general increase in unemployment ... which rose from 6.7% in 1996 to 10.5% in 2002, as well as about the significant increase in unemployment of the non-Jewish sectors: 13.5% for the Arab sector, and more than 15% for the Bedouin sector." The Committee recommended that Israel "take effective measures to reduce the rate of unemployment, and to pay particular attention to reducing the inequalities between the Jewish and non-Jewish sectors with respect to employment."

(9) Concern about "the persisting inequality in wages of Jews and Arabs in Israel, as well as the severe under-representation of the Arab sector in civil service and universities." The Committee strongly recommended that Israel "undertake measures to reduce the inequalities in wages between Jews and Arabs, in conformity with the principle of equal pay for work of equal value."

(10) Continued concern about "the situation of Bedouins residing in Israel, and in particular those living in villages that are still unrecognized ... Despite measures by the State party to close the gap between the living conditions of Jews and Bedouins in the Negev, the quality of living and housing conditions of the Bedouins continue to be significantly lower, with limited or no access to water, electricity and sanitation. Moreover, they continue to be subjected on a regular basis to land confiscations, house demolitions, fines for building 'illegally,' destruction of agricultural crops, fields and trees, and systematic harassment and persecution by the Green Patrol, in order to force Bedouins to resettle in 'townships' ... the present compensation scheme for Bedouins who agree to resettle in "townships" is inadequate." The Committee urged Israel "to recognize all existing Bedouin villages, their property rights and their right to basic services, in particular water, and to desist from the destruction and damaging of agricultural crops and fields, including in unrecognized villages ... and to adopt an adequate compensation scheme that is open to redress for Bedouins who have agreed to resettle in 'townships.'"

Highlights of Adalah's Report

Social and Economic Rights. According to official statistics, Arab citizens of Israel and Arab municipalities fall within the lowest socio-economic strata of Israeli society. Data from February 2003 shows that 46 of 47 towns with higher than average unemployment rates (over 10.3%) are Arab towns, and that the 25 towns with the highest unemployment rates, ranging from 13.9% to 24.8%, are Arab towns. Poverty rates among Arab families, individuals and children during 1998-2000 increased by 6-10% and were 2.5-3 times greater than among Jewish families, individuals and children.

Despite these findings, the state continues to discriminate against Arab citizens of Israel in the implementation of a variety of economic benefits and stimulus programs. In addition, the state is unable to fully account for funds spent under a NIS 4 billion (US $900 million) Multi-Year Plan for the Development of Arab Communities in Israel, but nevertheless uses the Plan as a justification for excluding Arab citizens of Israel and Arab municipalities from other socio-economic development initiatives.

Education Rights. Official government statistics show that, in all areas, ranging from early childhood education, through school drop-out, matriculation, and university-entry rates, Arab students fare significantly worse than their Jewish Israeli counterparts. These inequalities are due to discriminatory state policies.

Only 50% of Arab three- and four-year-olds are enrolled in kindergartens, whereas almost 90% of their Israeli Jewish counterparts are registered in schools; in the Naqab, only 27% of the needed kindergartens for Arab Bedouin children have been established in the recognized towns and the unrecognized villages. The drop-out rate among Arab youth is twice that of Jewish youth, however, Arab schools receive a small fraction of the truant officers, psychologists, and education counselors needed to begin to address this problem.

Matriculation rates of students who met university entrance requirements in 2000 also showed wide gaps: 44.1% of Jewish students met these requirements compared to 25.4% of Arab students. Only 9.6% of students enrolled in first degree programs in Israeli universities are Arab; the percentage decreases in MA and Ph.D. programs. While the Special Education Law (1998) guarantees free and individualized special education to all children with special needs or disabilities, the resources allocated by the state and the quality of treatment provided for Arab students also lag far behind those of Jewish students.

Land and Housing Rights. Ongoing discrimination in land planning and land allocation by the state have reduced the amount of land available to Arab citizens of Israel and dramatically increased the population and building density in Arab municipalities. In the Galilee, Arab municipalities have jurisdiction over 16.1% of the land, while Arab citizens comprise 72% of the population; in the northern Naqab, Arab municipalities have jurisdiction over 1.9% of the land, while Arab citizens comprise 25.2% of the population.

Arab citizens of Israel, in practice, are blocked from purchasing or leasing land in about 80% of the area of the state. The government and the Israel Lands Administration is continuing to perpetuate discriminatory policies and practices against Arab citizens of Israel in land allocation despite the Supreme Court ruling in Qa'dan, which prohibits this practice. In the unrecognized Arab Bedouin villages in the Naqab, the government continues to deny basic services to citizens such as connections to water and electricity networks and access to schools, health care facilities, etc., while systematically demolishing their homes and destroying their crops and livelihoods. At least 100 homes belonging to Arab Bedouin living in the unrecognized villages have been demolished between 2001-2002, and over 3,000 acres of crops have been destroyed. The government's new five-year plan for the Arab Bedouin in the Naqab is illegal and discriminatory; it does not fit the needs, suit the priorities or uphold the rights of the community. It is not a development plan, but rather, a plan to concentrate the Arab Bedouin living in the Naqab on a minimum amount of land.

Adalah's Report, presented as a series of three information sheets, and the Committee's Concluding Observations are available in full on our website at

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