State of Israel
1. Overview of the human rights and democracy situation: Israel is a democracy with established and independent institutions, robust checks and balances, a free democratic debate free media and ‘basic laws’ enumerating fundamental rights. However, several political parties have recently questioned the ability of institutional and quasi-constitutional bodies, in particular judicial authorities, to scrutinise legislative or normative initiatives coming from the elected executive and legislative branches. Many human rights NGOs –mainly those active on Israel’s responsibilities as an occupying power in the occupied Palestinian territory or on rights of persons belonging to minorities and migrants – continue to raise concerns about restrictions on the work of civil society and how public debate and media create hostility towards them. The status of minorities is a case in point as the balance between defining characters of the State of Israel as Jewish and democratic is being constantly debated, mainly after the approval of the so-called ‘Jewish Nation State Law’ in 2018. In the occupied Palestinian territory, the situation remained challenging: fatalities related to the conflict decreased from 2018, a peak year because of fatalities in the so-called ‘Great March of return’, but demolitions and violence by settlers increased. The closure on Gaza remained a challenge for Palestinian civilians' freedom of movement. Concerns over the use of force and inadequate law enforcement by Israeli security forces towards Palestinians remain.
2. EU action - key focus areas: As in previous years, the EU focused on five priority areas set out in the EU Human Rights and Democracy Country Strategy for Israel (HRDCS) for the period 2016-2020: Israel's responsibilities as an occupying power; children and armed conflict; upholding democratic values; situation of Arab minority; asylums seekers, migrants and foreign workers.
3. EU bilateral political engagement: During 2019, HRDCS priorities were outlined through political work of the EU, via its delegation in Tel Aviv. This work consisted in numerous meetings with Israeli authorities, NGOs and Members of the Parliament. The EU delegation conveyed EU positions regarding specific draft legislative initiatives. Priorities were raised during specific events organised by the EU delegation and EU Member States' missions. The EU and EU Member States marked Human Rights Day 2019 with a series of initiatives. The EU delegation organised a special event dedicated to the commemoration the 30th Anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. It also organised a visit for EU Member States’ Heads of Mission to a shelter for ultra-orthodox women victims of domestic violence and supported the Tel Aviv Human Rights Film Festival 'Solidarity'. The EU organised a briefing for EU Member States with NGOs, submitting contributions to the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights ahead of Israel's review.
The EU closely followed the situation of Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) and human rights activists. The EU delegation hosted a briefing by Mr. Omar Shakir (Human Rights Watch), in November 2019 following the decision by the Israeli Supreme Court to uphold the government’s decision to revoke his work visa. Representatives of the EU delegation attended his trial in Jerusalem District Court in 2018 and the EU External Action Service issued statements in 2018 and 2019.
On Children and Armed Conflict, the EU and the Netherlands hosted a briefing by journalist and writer Yonah Jeremy Bob on Israel’s Military Court system. A briefing by UNICEF was held giving an overview on arrest and detention of Palestinian children by Israeli forces. The EU organised a number of activities focusing on Asylum and Migration issues, including visits to asylum seeker communities and a day-care centre for status-less children. The EU held several briefings, including one with UNHCR and NGOs on the situation of asylum seekers and one with NGOs to present their submissions on asylum seekers to the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The EU also held a briefing on Israel’s migrant workers, looking at issues such as bilateral agreements signed by Israel with countries of origin.The EU actively engaged in activities regarding human rights of the Arab minority in Israel. It organised meetings between Heads of Mission of the EU Member States and political representatives of the Arab population, and a briefing on the Israeli government's 5-year plan aimed at strengthening economic and educational integration of the Arab minority.
4. EU financial engagement:In the framework of the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR) program, the EU supported 21 human rights organisations on their own or in partnerships to implement 10 actions intervening to address in a variety of ways to EU's identified priorities. These actions achieved important effects in a series of fields, including: establishment of a high school in a Bedouin village; opening by the Hebrew University of a Hebrew-language International Human Rights Treaty database; to positive measures on the implementation of legislation against discriminations; establishment of community-police local partnership committees in towns with a predominantly Arab population (Tamra, Jisr aZarka and Kufar Qassem).
5. Multilateral context: Israel was reviewed by the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination on 4-5 December 2019 (concluding observations adopted on 12 December 2019), and by the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights on 2-3 October 2019 (concluding observations adopted on 18 October 2019). Israel was reviewed in the context of the Universal Periodic Review of the Human Rights Council on 23 January 2018. Israel noted recommendations pertaining to the incorporation of the definition of torture from the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment into domestic legislation. Israel has not offered a standing invitation to all Special Procedures mandate holders. It continues to refuse cooperating with the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of Human rights in the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967. Israel has in 2019 received reminders of pending visit requests from the Special Rapporteur on Racism, the Working Group on people of African Descent, the Special Rapporteur on Toxic Waste. Still pending visit requests remain from the Special Rapporteur on Torture, the Working Group on Mercenaries, the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders and the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention. The last visit by Special Procedures was the Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women in 2016.