Israel and the occupied territories
(The Report on the occupied territories is appended at the end of this Report.)
Israel (1) has no constitution; however, the law provides for freedom of worship, and the Government generally respects this right in practice.
There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom during the period covered by this report. The Basic Law describes Israel as a "Jewish and democratic state." The overwhelming majority of non-Jewish citizens are Muslims, Druze, and Christians and generally are referred to as Israeli Arabs. Israeli Arabs are subject to various forms of discrimination, some of which have religious dimensions. Israeli Arabs and other non-Jewish Israelis, are, in fact, generally free to practice their religions.
Relations between religious groups--between Jews and non-Jews, between Muslims and Christians, and between the different streams of Judaism--often are strained. Societal tensions between Jews and non-Jews exist primarily as a result of the Arab-Israeli conflict; such tensions increased significantly during the period covered by this report.
The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government in the context of its overall dialog and policy of promoting human rights.
Section I. Religious Demography
Based on its pre-1967 borders, Israel has a total area of approximately 7,685 square miles, and its population is approximately 6.4 million (including Israeli settlers who live in the occupied territories). According to government figures, about 80 percent of the population are Jewish, although an unknown number of these citizens do not qualify as Jews according to the definition espoused by Orthodox Judaism. Additionally, non-Jews (usually Christian) who immigrate to Israel with their Jewish relatives often are counted as Jews for statistical purposes. According to government figures, among the Jewish population, approximately 4.5 percent are Haredi, or ultra-Orthodox, and another 13 percent are Orthodox. About one-third of the Jewish population describe themselves as "Traditional." Traditional Jews practice many Jewish traditions but do not consider themselves religious. About half of the Jewish population define themselves as "secular." Many secular Jews observe some Jewish religious traditions. A growing but still small number of traditional and secular Jews associate themselves with the Conservative, Reform, and Reconstructionist streams of Judaism, which are not officially recognized in the country. However, these streams receive a small amount of government funding and are recognized by the country's courts.
About 20 percent of the population generally are referred to as Israeli Arabs. About 80 percent of Israeli Arabs are Muslim, approximately 10 percent are Christian, and about 10 percent are Druze. The country's Arab population is concentrated in the north, east-central, and southern parts of the country. There also are small numbers of evangelical Christians and Jehovah's Witnesses.
Most Israeli Arabs are concentrated in the north and south of the country. Many Israeli Arabs associate themselves with the secular parties in Israel, including the Communist Party, which has a majority Arab membership. Other Israeli Arabs associate with parties aligned with the Islamic Movement or with small, Arab-centered parties. Many Jews also associate with parties representing their religious or ethno-religious beliefs. The remainder of citizens identify with various secular parties.
There are a number of missionary groups operating in the country.
Section II. Status of Religious Freedom
Israel has no constitution; however, the law provides for freedom of worship, and the Government generally respects this right in practice. The Declaration of Independence describes the country as a "Jewish state," but also provides for full social and political equality regardless of religious affiliation. The discrepancies that exist in the treatment of various communities in Israeli society are based on several variables, including the distinction between Jewish and non-Jewish citizens. Israeli Arabs and other non-Jewish Israelis are, in fact, generally free to practice their religions. Due to the historic influence of Orthodox Jewish political parties, the Government implements certain policies based on interpretations of religious law. For example, the national airline, El Al, and public buses in most cities do not operate on the Sabbath; however, some private bus companies operate on Saturday. According to the law, Jews in most professions may not work on the Sabbath. This law generally is enforced in the retail sector; however, it is inconsistently enforced in the entertainment sector. Additionally, streets in some Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods are closed to vehicles on the Sabbath.
The Government recognizes 5 religions, including 10 Christian groups. The status of some Christian organizations with representation in the country heretofore has been defined by a collection of ad hoc arrangements with various government agencies. Several of these organizations seek to negotiate with the Government in an attempt to formalize their status.
The Government funds both religious and secular schools in the country, including non-Jewish religious and secular schools. Some secular Jewish schools have adopted a religious education program developed by the non-Orthodox streams. Schools in Arab areas, including Arab parochial schools, receive significantly fewer resources than comparable Jewish schools.
Jewish religious holidays such as Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, and Passover are state holidays. Arab municipalities often recognize Christian and Muslim holidays.
Restrictions on Religious Freedom
Orthodox Jewish religious authorities have exclusive control over Jewish marriages, divorces, and most burials. Many Jewish citizens object to such exclusive control, and it has been at times a source of serious controversy in society.
Under the Law of Return, the Government grants automatic citizenship and residence rights to Jewish immigrants and their families. Based on a recent decision by the Attorney General, residency rights will not be granted to relatives of converts to Judaism, except to children of female converts who are born after the mother's conversion is complete. The Law of Return does not apply to non-Jews or to persons of Jewish descent who have converted to another faith. Approximately 36 percent of the country's Jewish population was born outside of the country. The Government designates nationality on national identity documents, but not on passports. Groups representing persons who consider themselves Jewish but who do not meet the Interior Ministry's criteria have sought a change in the rules or to have the nationality designation completely removed from identity cards. Many Arab groups also support removing the clause from the cards. In the fall of 2000, then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak initiated an effort to remove the clause from identity cards; however, this policy was not enacted during the period covered by this report.
The Government generally continued to permit Muslim citizens to make the Hajj during the period covered by this report. However, for security reasons, the Government imposes restrictions on its Muslim citizens who perform the Hajj, including requiring that they be over the age of 30. The Government does not allow Hajj pilgrims to return if they leave the country without formal permission. The Government justifies these restrictions on the grounds that Saudi Arabia remains officially at war with the country, and that travel to Saudi Arabia therefore is subject to security considerations.
The Government states that it is committed to granting equal and fair conditions to Israeli Arabs, particularly in the areas of education, housing, and employment. However, the Government does not provide Israeli Arabs, who constitute approximately 20 percent of the population, with the same quality of education, housing, employment, and social services as Jews. In addition, government spending is proportionally far lower in predominantly Arab areas than in Jewish areas; on a per capita basis, the Government spends two-thirds as much for Arabs as for Jews. Although such policies are based on a variety of factors, they reflect de facto discrimination against the country's non-Jewish citizens.
At least two of the Israel Defense Force (IDF) soldiers who were killed in action since September 2000 were Muslim. Additionally, one of the three IDF soldiers kidnaped by Hezbollah in October 2000 is a Muslim. After the family of one of the soldiers who was killed could not find a Muslim cleric to perform his burial, the public focused on the fact that the IDF does not employ a Muslim chaplain. In late 2000, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon ordered the IDF to hire a Muslim chaplain; however, by the end of the period covered by this report, the IDF was unable to find a Muslim cleric who was willing to serve as an IDF chaplain.
There are approximately 130,000 Bedouin in the Negev; of this number, about half live in 7 state-planned communities and the other half live in 45 settlements that are not recognized by the Government. New building in the unrecognized villages is considered illegal and subject to demolition. In May 2001, the High Court sustained a demolition order for a mosque in the unrecognized village of Husseinya, which was built without a permit in 1996. The mosque had not been demolished by the end of the period covered by this report. In 2000 the Ministry of Interior and the Attorney General declared that residents of Husseinya could list their village's name as their place of residence on their identification cards.
Government funding to the different religious sectors is disproportionate. Non-Orthodox streams of Judaism and the non-Jewish sector receive proportionally less funding than the Orthodox Jewish sector. For example, only 2 percent of the Ministry of Religious Affairs budget goes to the non-Jewish sector. The High Court of Justice heard a case in 1997 alleging that the budgetary allocation to the non-Jewish sector constituted discrimination. In 1998 the Court ruled that the budget allocation constituted "prima facie discrimination" but that the plaintiff's petition did not provide adequate information about the religious needs of the various communities. In May 2000, the same plaintiffs presented a case on the specific needs of religious communities regarding burials. The court agreed that non-Jewish cemeteries were receiving inadequate resources and ordered the Government to increase funding to such cemeteries; the Government had begun implementing this decision by the end of the period covered by this report.
In civic areas in which religion is a determining criterion, such as the religious courts and centers of education, non-Jewish institutions routinely receive less state support than their Orthodox Jewish counterparts.
Government resources available to Arab public schools are less than proportionate to those available to Jewish public schools. Many public schools in Arab communities are dilapidated and overcrowded, lack special education services and counselors, have poor libraries, and have no sports facilities. Israeli Arab private religious schools are considered among the best in the country; however, parents often must pay tuition for their children to attend such schools due to inadequate government funding.
Israeli-Arab organizations have challenged the Government's "Master Plan for the Northern Areas of Israel," which listed as priority goals increasing the Galilee's Jewish population and blocking the territorial contiguity of Arab villages and towns, on the grounds that it discriminates against Arab citizens.
Each recognized religious community has legal authority over its members in matters of marriage and divorce. Secular courts have primacy over questions of inheritance, but parties, by mutual agreement, may bring inheritance cases to religious courts. Jewish and Druze families may ask that some family status matters, such as alimony and child custody, be adjudicated in civil courts as an alternative to religious courts. Christians may only ask that child custody and child support be adjudicated in civil courts as an alternative to religious courts. Muslims have no recourse to civil courts in family-status matters.
Orthodox Jewish religious authorities have exclusive control over Jewish marriages, divorces, and most burials. The State does not recognize marriages or conversions to Judaism performed in the country by non-Orthodox rabbis. In June 2001, the Chief Rabbinate issued new regulations stipulating that immigrants who arrived in the country after 1990 must be investigated to confirm that they are Jewish before they can be married in a Jewish ceremony. Many Israeli Jews who wish to marry in secular or non-Orthodox religious ceremonies do so abroad, and the Ministry of Interior recognizes such marriages. However, many Jewish citizens object to such exclusive control, and it has been at times a source of serious controversy in society, particularly in recent years, as thousands of immigrants from the former Soviet Union have not been recognized as Jewish by Orthodox authorities. For example, following the Dolphinarium discoteque bombing in June 2001, which killed 21 Israelis, some religious authorities questioned whether several of the young victims, who were immigrants from the former Soviet Union, qualified for Jewish burial. One of the victims ultimately was buried in a special part of a cemetery reserved for persons whose Jewish identity was "in doubt." Newspapers reported that the decision caused pain to many Russian immigrants.
In August 2000, former Prime Minister Barak announced his plans to "separate religion from politics" by promoting a "civil-social revolution," consisting of a number of measures including: Drafting a constitution, incorporating the Ministry of Religious Affairs into the Ministry of Justice, lifting restrictions on transportation during the Sabbath, allowing for some form of civil marriages, eliminating the nationality clause from identification cards, and introducing a new core curriculum in all state-funded schools. These proposals triggered a national debate on religion and society. However, none of these proposed reforms had been implemented by the end of the period covered by this report.
Under the Jewish religious courts' interpretation of personal status law, a Jewish woman may not receive a final writ of divorce without her husband's consent. Consequently, there are thousands of so-called "agunot" in the country who are unable to remarry or have legitimate children because their husbands either have disappeared or refused to grant a divorce.
Rabbinical tribunals have the authority to impose sanctions on husbands who refuse to divorce their wives or on wives who refuse to accept a divorce from their husbands. However, in some cases rabbinical courts have failed to invoke these sanctions. In cases in which a wife refuses to accept a divorce, the rabbinical courts occasionally allow a husband to take a second wife; however, a wife may never take a second husband. Rabbinical courts also may exercise jurisdiction over and issue sanctions against non-Israeli persons present in the country.
A group of more than 100 Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform women continued a long legal battle to hold women's prayer services at the Western Wall. In May 2000, the High Court ruled that women could pray aloud and wear prayer shawls at the Western Wall. In November 2000, an expanded High Court reheard the case; a decision was pending at the end of the period covered by this report. Most Orthodox Jews believe that mixed gender prayer services violate the precepts of Judaism, and Jews generally still are unable to hold egalitarian (mixed gender) prayer services at the Western Wall. The Conservative movement is experimenting with conducting services at a different, recently excavated portion of the wall. The North American Reform Movement has rejected such an alternative.
Some Islamic law courts have held that Muslim women may not request a divorce, but that women may be forced to consent if a divorce is granted to a man.
Members of unrecognized religious groups (particularly evangelical Christians), sometimes face problems obtaining marriage certificates or burial services. However, informal arrangements provide relief in some cases.
The Government has recognized only Jewish holy places under the 1967 Protection of Holy Sites Law. However, the Government states that it also protects the holy sites of other faiths. The Government also states that it has provided funds for some holy sites of other faiths. Muslim groups complain that the Government has been reluctant to refurbish mosques in areas where there is no longer a Muslim population.
A 1977 anti-proselytizing law prohibits any person from offering or receiving material benefits as an inducement to conversion; however, there have been no reports of the law's enforcement. A bill that would have restricted proselytizing further was promulgated in 2000; however, similar bills did not reach a final vote in the past and local observers do not believe that this bill will be enacted. Christian and other evangelical groups asserted that the draft bills were discriminatory and served to intimidate Christian groups.
Missionaries are allowed to proselytize, although the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) voluntarily refrains from proselytizing under an agreement with the Government.
There were no prosecutions of the over 120 cases of harassment filed by members of Jehovah's Witnesses between 1998 and 2000. There were no complaints of harassment of members of Jehovah's Witnesses during the period covered by this report.
There were no reports of religious prisoners or detainees.
Forced Religious Conversion
There were no reports of forced religious conversion, including of minor U.S. citizens who had been abducted or illegally removed from the United States, or of the Government's refusal to allow such citizens to be returned to the United States.
Section III. Societal Attitudes
Relations between different religious groups often are strained, both between Jews and non-Jews and among the different streams of Judaism. Tensions between Jews and non-Jews exist primarily as a result of the Arab-Israeli conflict, and increased significantly during the period covered by this report.
In October 2000, Israeli Arabs held a number of demonstrations in the north to protest against discriminatory governmental policies and the Israeli Defense Force's use of excessive force to disperse Palestinian demonstrators in the occupied territories. Police used rubber bullets and live ammunition to disperse demonstrators, killing 13 Arab citizens and injuring over 300. These events, which coincided with the beginning of the Intifada in the occupied territories and renewed tension on the country's northern border, significantly harmed Jewish-Arab relations in the country.
Religion generally was not a component of the demonstrations. However, there were a number of violent incidents between Arab and Jewish citizens following the demonstrations, including several incidents in which religious sites were targeted.
In early October 2000, in the Arab town of Sha'faram, a crowd of Arab youths attacked and damaged slightly an ancient synagogue during demonstrations held to protest police actions in nearby towns. The mayor and other Arab citizens of the town attempted unsuccessfully to protect the synagogue. Following the attack, the mayor of Sha'faram apologized publicly to Jewish Israelis.
In October 2000, a crowd of Jewish Israelis attacked and damaged moderately a mosque in Tiberias. Police attempted unsuccessfully to prevent the attack. On the same day, small crowds of Jewish Israelis attempted to damage mosques in Jaffa and Akko; however, police successfully prevented these attacks. Jewish participants in the attack reported that they were angry over Hezbollah's kidnapping of three Israeli soldiers near the border with Lebanon.
In June 2001, after a suicide bomber killed 21 young Israelis at the Dolphinarium discotheque in Tel Aviv, a large crowd of Jews attacked a mosque across the street from the explosion while 8 men were inside. The crowd threw stones at the mosque; however, police prevented the participants from reaching the building. After several hours, police used armored vehicles to evacuate the men from the mosque.
Animosity between secular and religious Jews continued during the period covered by this report. Non-Orthodox Jews have complained of discrimination and intolerance. Persons who consider themselves Jewish but who are not considered Jewish under Orthodox law particularly complained of discrimination. Instances of ultra-Orthodox Jewish groups or individuals verbally or physically harassing women for "immodest dress" or other violations of their interpretation of religious law are not uncommon.
Observant Jews also faced some discrimination. In May 2001, the Beersheva labor court ruled that employers could not discriminate against employees or job applicants who refuse to work on the Sabbath. The case was brought by an engineer who was refused a position because he did not work on the Sabbath. The judge ruled that "an employer is obligated to behave equally towards job seekers, including setting conditions of acceptance that do not take into account the potential employees' beliefs or religion, unless the job functions require distinctions, such as work on the Sabbath."
Israeli Arab groups allege that many employers use the prerequisite of military service to avoid hiring non-Jews, including for jobs that are unrelated to national security.
Israeli Arabs are underrepresented in the student bodies and faculties of most universities and in higher level professional and business ranks. Arab citizens hold only 50 of the country's 5,000 university faculty positions. Well-educated Arabs often are unable to find jobs commensurate with their level of education.
According to the National Insurance Institute, 42 percent of Israeli Arabs live below the poverty line, compared with 20 percent of the total population.
Societal attitudes toward missionary activities and conversion generally are negative. Israeli Jews frequently are opposed to missionary activity directed at Jews and occasionally are hostile toward Jewish converts to Christianity. Such attitudes often are attributed to the frequent periods in Jewish history in which Jews were coerced to convert to Christianity.
Christian and Muslim Israeli Arab religious leaders complain that missionary activity that leads to conversions frequently disrupts family coherence in their community. Muslims consider any conversion from Islam to be apostasy.
In recent years, evangelical Christians, Jehovah's Witnesses, and Reform and Conservative Jews complained of incidents of harassment, threats, and vandalism directed against their buildings, and other facilities, many of which were committed by two ultra-Orthodox groups, Yad L'Achim and Lev L'Achim. There were no such incidents reported during the period covered by this report.
There are numerous nongovernmental organizations maintaining dialog between different religions. Interfaith dialog often is linked to the peace process between Israel and its Arab neighbors.
Section IV. U.S. Government Policy
The U.S. Embassy consistently raised issues of religious freedom with the Foreign Ministry, the police, and the Prime Minister's office. In March 2001, members of the U.S. International Commission on International Religious Freedom met with government officials, religious leaders, and nongovernmental (NGO) representatives to discuss a number of religious freedom issues.
Embassy representatives, including the Ambassador, routinely meet with religious officials. These contacts included meetings with Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and Baha'i leaders at a variety of levels.
Embassy officials maintain a dialog with NGO's that follow human and civil rights issues, including religious freedom. These NGO's include the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, the Israel Religious Action Center, Adalah, and others.
Embassy representatives attended meetings of groups seeking to promote interfaith dialog, including the Interreligious Coordinating Council in Israel, the Anti-Defamation League, and others. The Embassy provided small grants to local organizations promoting interfaith dialog and to organizations examining the role of religion in resolving conflict.
(1) The religious freedom situation in the occupied territories is discussed in the annex appended to this report.
The occupied territories (including areas subject to the jurisdiction of the Palestinian Authority)
The Palestinian Authority (PA) does not have a constitution, nor does it have a specific law guaranteeing religious freedom; however, the PA generally respects this right in practice. Although there is no official religion in the occupied territories, Islam is treated de facto as the official religion.
Israel exercises varying degrees of legal control in the West Bank. Israel has no constitution; however, Israeli law provides for freedom of worship, and the Israeli Government generally respects this right in practice.
There was no change in the status of the PA's respect for religious freedom during the period covered by this report. In previous years, there were allegations that a small number of Muslim converts to Christianity were harassed by PA officials; however, there were no such reports during the period covered by this report. The Israeli Government's closure policies in the occupied territories restricted the ability of Palestinians to reach places of worship, particularly during religious holidays.
There generally are amicable relations between Christians and Muslims. Societal attitudes are a barrier to conversions from Islam. Relations between Jews and non-Jews, as well as among the different branches of Judaism are strained. Following the outbreak of the Intifada in October 2000, there were a number of attacks on places of worship and religious shrines.
The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom issues with the PA in the context of its overall dialog and policy of promoting human rights.
Section I. Religious Demography
The occupied territories are composed of the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem. The Gaza Strip covers an area of 143 square miles, and its population is 1,138,563 persons. The West Bank (excluding East Jerusalem) covers an area of 2,238 square miles, and its population is approximately 2,191,300 persons. East Jerusalem covers an area of 27 square miles and its population is approximately 390,000 persons.
The vast majority (98.4 percent) of the Palestinian residents of the occupied territories are Sunni Muslims. According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, there are 40,055 Palestinian Christians living in the territories. However, according to the sum of estimates provided by individual Christian denominations, the total number of Christians is approximately 200,000. A majority of Christians are Greek Orthodox (approximately 120,000), and there also are a significant number of Roman Catholics and Greek Catholics (about 50,000 total), Protestants, Syriacs, Armenians, Copts, Maronites, and Ethiopian Orthodox. In general Christians are concentrated in the areas of Jerusalem, Ramallah, and Bethlehem. In early 2001, approximately 1,000 Christians from Bethlehem left the occupied territories for other countries. According to Christian leaders, most of the Christians left their homes for economic and security reasons and not due to religious discrimination. Jewish Israeli settlers reside in the West Bank (approximately 171,000), Gaza (about 6,500), and Jerusalem. There is a community of approximately 550 Samaritans (an ancient offshoot of Judaism) located on Mount Gerazim near Nablus.
Several evangelical Christian missionary groups operate in the West Bank, including the Jehovah's Witnesses.
Foreign missionaries operate in the occupied territories. These include a handful of evangelical Christian pastors who seek to convert Muslims to Christianity. While they maintain a generally low profile, the PA is aware of their activities and generally does not restrict them.
Section II. Status of Religious Freedom
The Palestinian Authority has no constitution, and no single law in force protects religious freedom; however, the PA generally respects religious freedom in practice. Although there is no official religion in the occupied territories, Islam is treated de facto as the official religion.
The PA has not adopted legislation regarding religious freedom; however, both the draft Basic Law and the draft Constitution address religion. The draft Basic Law stipulates that "Islam is the official religion in Palestine," and that "respect and sanctity of all other heavenly religions (i.e., Judaism and Christianity) shall be maintained." The draft Basic Law was submitted for PA President Yasser Arafat's signature in 1997; however, it has not been signed into law. The March 2001 version of a draft constitution stipulates that "Islam is the official religion of the State, while other divine religions and their sanctity are respected." It is unclear whether the injunction to "respect" other religions would translate into an effective legal guarantee of religious freedom. The draft Basic Law and Constitution both state that the principles of Shari'a (Islamic law) are the primary bases for legislation.
Churches in Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza may be subdivided into three general categories: 1) churches recognized by the status quo agreements reached under Ottoman rule in the late 19th century; 2) Protestant and evangelical churches that were established between the late 19th century and 1967, which are fully tolerated by the PA, although not officially recognized; and 3) a small number of churches that became active within the last decade, whose legal status is more tenuous.
The first group of churches is governed by the 19th century status quo agreements, which the PA respects and which specifically established the presence and rights of the Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Armenian Orthodox, Assyrian, Greek Catholic, Coptic, and Ethiopian Orthodox Churches. The Episcopal and Lutheran Churches were added later to the list. These churches and their rights were accepted immediately by the PA, just as the British, Jordanians, and Israelis had done before. Like Shari'a courts under Islam, these religious groups are permitted to have ecclesiastical courts whose rulings are considered legally binding on personal status issues and some land issues. Civil courts do not adjudicate on such matters.
According to the PA, no other churches have applied for official recognition. However, the second group of churches, including the Assembly of God, Nazarene Church, and some Baptist churches, has unwritten understandings with the PA based on the principles of the status quo agreements. They are permitted to operate freely and are able to perform certain personal status legal functions, such as issuing marriage certificates.
The third group of churches consists of a small number of proselytizing churches, including Jehovah's Witnesses and some evangelical Christian groups. These groups have encountered opposition in their efforts to obtain recognition, both from Muslims, who oppose their proselytizing, and Christians, who fear that the new arrivals may disrupt the status quo. These churches generally operate unhindered by the PA. At least one of these churches reportedly planned to request official recognition from the PA during the period covered by this report; however, it deferred its request after the outbreak of the Intifada in October 2000.
In practice the PA requires individuals to be at least nominally affiliated with some religion. Religion must be declared on identification papers, and all personal status legal matters must be handled in either Shari'a or Christian ecclesiastical courts. In the absence of legal protection of religious freedom, there are no statutory or regulatory remedies for violations of that freedom.
Islam is the de facto official religion of the Palestinian Authority, and its Islamic institutions and places of worship receive preferential treatment. The PA has a Ministry of Waqf and Religious Affairs that pays for the construction and maintenance of mosques and the salaries of many Palestinian imams. The Ministry also provides some Christian clergymen and Christian charitable organizations with limited financial support. The PA does not provide financial support to any Jewish institutions or holy sites in the occupied territories; however, it paid for the refurbishment of Joseph's Tomb after it was damaged by Palestinian demonstrators (see Section II).
The PA requires that religion be taught in PA schools. Until recently, only courses on Islam were taught, and Christian students were excused from them. However, during the period covered by this report, the PA implemented a compulsory curriculum that requires the study of Christianity for Christian students in grades one through six.
The Palestinian Authority observes several religious holidays, including, Eid al-Fitr, Eid al-Adha, Zikra al-Hijra al-Nabawiya, and the Prophet Muhammed's birthday. Christians also may observe the holidays of Christmas and Easter.
The PA does not officially sponsor interfaith dialog; however, it does attempt to foster goodwill among religious leaders. The PA makes a strong effort to maintain good relations with the Christian community, and there is no pattern of PA harassment of Christians. Within the Ministry of Religious Affairs, there is a portfolio covering Christian affairs, and PA Chairman Arafat has an advisor on Christian affairs. Six Christians and one Samaritan sit on the 88-member Palestinian Legislative Council in seats set aside for representatives of these religions.
Israel has no constitution; however, the law provides for freedom of worship, and the Government generally respects this right in practice.
The Israeli Government gives preferential treatment to Jewish residents of the occupied territories and East Jerusalem in the areas of permits for home building and civic services. For example, Muslim Arab residents of Jerusalem pay the same taxes as Jewish residents; however, Arab residents receive significantly fewer municipal services than Jewish residents. There is a general consensus among Palestinian and Israeli human rights organizations that many of the national and municipal policies enacted in Jerusalem are designed to limit or diminish the non-Jewish population of Jerusalem. According to these activists, the Israeli Government uses a combination of zoning restrictions on building for Palestinians, confiscation of Palestinian lands, and demolition of Palestinian homes to "contain" non-Jewish neighborhoods.
The Israeli Government attempts to maintain amicable relations with all of the major religious denominations represented in Jerusalem, and to facilitate their worship requirements. For example, the Israeli Government provides police support to facilitate processions in and around the Old City during the Holy Week of Easter.
Restrictions on Religious Freedom
In previous years, the PA limited speech on religious subjects in some instances.
Since the outbreak of the Intifada, officials in the PA's Ministry of Waqf and Islamic Affairs have prohibited non-Muslims from entering the sanctuary of the Haram al-Sharif. Waqf officials stated that this is a temporary closure because they cannot justify allowing non-Muslims to visit the Haram at a time when Palestinian Muslims from the occupied territories are prevented from worshiping there.
Personal status law for Palestinians is based on religious law. For Muslim Palestinians, personal status law is derived from Shari'a, and the varied ecclesiastical courts rule on personal status issues for Christians. In the West Bank and Gaza, Shari'a pertaining to women is part of the Jordanian Status Law of 1976, which includes inheritances and marriage laws. Under the law, women inherit less than male members of the family do. The marriage law allows men to take more than one wife, although few do so. Women are permitted to make "stipulations" in the marriage contract to protect them in the event of divorce and questions of child custody. However, only an estimated 1 percent of women take advantage of this section of the law, leaving most women at a disadvantage when it comes to divorce or child custody.
Due to the Intifada, political violence escalated significantly during the period covered by this report. At least 654 persons were killed between late September 2000 and late June 2001 in demonstrations, violent clashes, and military and civilian attacks, including 516 Palestinians, 136 Israelis, and 6 foreign nationals. Additionally, at least 14,959 persons were injured during this period. On September 28, Israeli opposition leader Ariel Sharon visited the Temple Mount (Haram al-Sharif) in Jerusalem. On September 29, some Palestinians attending Friday prayer services at the Haram al-Sharif threw stones at police in the vicinity of the Western Wall. Police used rubber-coated metal bullets and live ammunition to disperse the demonstrators, killing 4 persons and injuring approximately 200. Palestinians throughout the occupied territories reacted to this incident by participating in violent demonstrations against IDF soldiers; such demonstrations and ensuing clashes between Palestinians and IDF soldiers occurred daily during the period covered by this report. A number of Israelis and Palestinians also were killed in politically related violence perpetrated by individuals and groups during the year. Israeli settlers harassed, attacked, and sometimes killed Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Palestinian civilians also harassed, attacked, and sometimes killed Israelis civilians and settlers.
Due to the increased violence and security concerns, the Israeli Government imposed closure on the occupied territories in October 2000, and this closure still was in place at the end of the period covered by this report. Closure on the West Bank and Gaza and between towns and cities within the occupied territories ("internal closure") impeded significantly freedom of worship for Muslims and Christians during the period covered by this report. Even before the outbreak of the Intifada in October 2000, Palestinians in the occupied territories were required to obtain a permit to enter Jerusalem. The Israeli Government frequently denied requests for permits and Israeli security personnel sometimes denied permit holders access to Jerusalem, even to visit holy sites. During periods of closure, Palestinians from the occupied territories were prevented from traveling to pray inside the Haram al-Sharif (Temple Mount) in Jerusalem. In practice Israeli closure policies prevented tens of thousands of Palestinians from reaching places of worship in Jerusalem and the West Bank, including during religious holidays, such as Ramadan, Christmas, and Easter. On a number of occasions, the Israeli Government also prevented worshipers under the age of 45 from attending Friday prayers inside the Haram al-Sharif; the Israeli Government stated that it did so in an effort to prevent outbreaks of violence following Friday prayers (see Section III). The Israeli Government states that it imposes closure on the occupied territories for security reasons; however, many Palestinians believe that the real purpose of closure is ethnically-based harassment and humiliation.
In early April 2001, Israeli authorities prevented thousands of Muslims from reaching the Nabi Musa shrine near Jericho, the site of an annual three-week Muslim celebration. Israeli officials stated that they decided to cancel the religious festival because the PA intended to turn the event into a "political rally."
During the period covered by this report, due to the Israeli Government's closure policy, a number of Palestinian religious leaders were prevented from reaching their congregations. For example, on March 9, 2001, Israeli soldiers prevented the Latin Patriarch, Michel Sabbah, from entering the town of Ein Areek to perform a Mass. On April 14, 2001, Israeli soldiers prevented the Legal Advisor at the Latin Patriarchate, Majdi al-Siryani, from attending the Ritual of the Holy Fire in Jerusalem. A second group of soldiers then prevented him from reaching a mass in Bethlehem. The Israeli Government pledged to create a "hotline" to facilitate the movement of clerics through checkpoints in March 2001; however, it had not done so by the end of the period covered by this report. Several clergymen reported that they were subject to verbal harassment at checkpoints during the period covered by this report.
Palestinian violence against Israeli settlers sometimes prevented settlers from reaching Jewish holy sites in the occupied territories during the period covered by this report. Other Israelis were unable to reach Jewish sites in the occupied territories such as Rachel's Tomb and the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron due to the ongoing violence, including on religious holidays.
A 1995 ruling by the Israeli High Court of Justice theoretically allowed small numbers of Jews under police escort to pray on the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif. Israeli police consistently have declined to enforce this ruling, citing public safety concerns. Since the outbreak of the Intifada, Israeli police have prevented all non-Muslims (including Jews seeking to pray) from entering the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif.
Abuses of Religious Freedom
Since the establishment of the PA, there have been periodic allegations that a small number of Muslim converts to Christianity sometimes are subject to societal discrimination and harassment by PA officials, including detention and questioning by security forces. In recent years, there were several unconfirmed allegations that converts to Christianity were subjected to such treatment. In some cases, conversion may have been only one of several factors leading to the mistreatment. In previous years, the PA stated that it investigated such allegations, but it did not make known to any outside party the results of these investigations.
One Christian religious leader in Jerusalem was attacked by IDF personnel during the period covered by this report. On January 9, 2001, Israeli soldiers at a checkpoint in the West Bank fired at the car of Latin Vice-Patriarch and Archbishop of Nazareth Paul Marcuzzo; his car bore diplomatic license plates and was flying the Vatican flag. Archbishop Marcuzzo was not injured in the shooting. The following day, the Israeli Minister of Justice visited Marcuzzo and apologized for the incident.
According to some Palestinian individuals and human rights organizations, Israeli soldiers sometimes arbitrarily enforced closure to offend religious sensibilities. For example, the Palestinian Society for the Protection of Human Rights and the Environment (LAW) reported instances in which Israeli soldiers closed the al-Ram checkpoint at sundown during Ramadan preventing thousands of Muslims from returning home to break their fasts. There also were several unconfirmed accounts that IDF personnel at checkpoints coerced Palestinians to break their fasts during Ramadan as a condition for being allowed to pass through the checkpoint.
On June 4, 2001, the day that Muslims celebrate the Prophet Mohammed's birthday, IDF personnel closed the al-Ibrahimi mosque in Hebron in violation of the Hebron Protocol, which stipulates that the mosque should be available to Muslims worshipers on Muslim holidays. Israeli police personnel also arrested 7 Muslims who were near the mosque.
There is no evidence that the IDF has deliberately targeted places of worship. However, mosques and churches were damaged during exchanges of gunfire between IDF personnel and Palestinian gunmen. For example, on October 20, 2000, IDF gunfire damaged the mosque in the Aida Refugee Camp. On December 20, 2000, Israeli forces reportedly fired at the al-Abrar mosque in Salfit. On several occasions between November 2000 and March 2001, the al-Nur mosque in Rafah reportedly was hit by Israeli shells.
There were no reports of religious detainees or prisoners in the occupied territories.
Forced Religious Conversions
There were no reports of forced religious conversion, including of minor U.S. citizens who had been abducted or illegally removed from the United States, or of the PA or the Israeli Government's refusal to allow such citizens to be returned to the United States.
Section III. Societal Attitudes
Generally there are amicable relations between Christians and Muslims. However, tensions do exist and occasionally surface. Relations between Jews and non-Jews, as well as among the different branches of Judaism, often are strained. Tensions between Jews and non-Jews exist primarily as a result of the Arab-Israeli conflict, as well as Israel's control of access to sites holy to Christians and Muslims. Non-Orthodox Jews have complained of discrimination and intolerance.
Societal attitudes are a barrier to conversions, especially for Muslims converting to Christianity. During the period covered by this report, one senior Christian cleric reportedly quietly dissuaded a number of such prospective converts from being baptized in Jerusalem for fear that they would be ostracized by their families or subjected to violence. In previous years, there were reports that some Christian converts from Islam who publicized their religious beliefs were harassed.
There are some reports of Christian-Muslim tension in the occupied territories. In May and June 2001, Israeli press reports accused Muslim Tanzim militia members of deliberately opening fire on the Israeli neighborhood of Gilo from Christian areas in Beit Jala in order to draw IDF fire onto the Christian homes. In response to inquiries, several Palestinian Christian leaders in the area denied that the shooting was motivated by anti-Christian sentiments.
Interfaith romance is a sensitive issue. Most Christian and Muslim families in the occupied territories encourage their children--especially their daughters--to marry within the faith. Couples that have challenged this societal norm have encountered considerable societal and familial opposition. Some Christian women who have married Muslim men received death threats from Christian family members and community figures.
In general evangelical churches have not been welcomed by the more established Christian denominations.
The strong correlation between religion, ethnicity, and politics in the occupied territories at times imbues the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with a religious dimension. The rhetoric of some Jewish and Muslim religious leaders was harsher during the period covered by this report, especially following the outbreak of the Intifada in October 2000. There also were a number of attacks on Muslim and Jewish places worship and religious shrines in the occupied territories. On October 7, following the IDF evacuation from the Jewish religious site of Joseph's Tomb, about 1,000 Palestinian protesters entered the religious site, desecrated religious literature, burned the site, and damaged the roof and an outer wall in an unsuccessful attempt to demolish the tomb. Some Israeli Government officials criticized the PA for failing to prevent the attack. The PA began to repair the tomb the following day.
On October 10, 2000, a crowd of Palestinians attempted to burn the Shalom al Yisrael synagogue in Jericho. The PA began to repair the synagogue immediately following the attack.
On October 10, 2000, a crowd of Jewish settlers threw rocks at apartment buildings that are part of a Franciscan project that provides housing to low-income parishioners on the property of St. James's Latin Church (Mar Ya'acoub) in Beit Hanina. The church itself was not damaged; however, several windows and solar panels on the apartment buildings were broken.
Palestinian human rights groups reported on several incidents in which Israeli settlers vandalized mosques in Hebron in the presence of IDF personnel; the IDF soldiers reportedly did not attempt to intervene. On October 12, 2000, Israeli settlers set fire to a mosque in Huwara, causing more than $20,000 in damage. On November 21, 2000, settlers set fire to the Imam Ali mosque in Huwara. On December 29, 2000, Israeli settlers ransacked the Prophet Yaqeen mosque in Hebron. On April 8, 2001, settlers vandalized the al-Aqtat mosque in Hebron and desecrated religious literature.
On a number of occasions, Muslims on the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif threw stones at Jews who were praying at the Western Wall below (also see Section II).
The rhetoric of some Jewish and Muslim religious leaders was harsh and at times constituted an incitement to violence during the period covered by this report. For example, PA-controlled television stations frequently broadcast anti-Semitic statements by Palestinian political and spiritual leaders and PA officials. Some prominent Israelis also made public anti-Arab statements.
Instances of ultra-Orthodox Jewish groups verbally or physically harassing Jewish citizens for "immodest dress" or other violations of their interpretation of religious law occurred in previous years.
Section IV. U.S. Government Policy
The U.S. Consulate General in Jerusalem maintains an ongoing, high-level dialog with officials in the Palestinian Authority, including Chairman Arafat, and (in conjunction with Embassy Tel Aviv) with Israeli officials on human rights issues, including issues of religious freedom. The Consulate also maintains contacts with representatives of the Islamic Waqf--an Islamic trust and charitable organization that owns and manages large amounts of real estate, including the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem--as well as with the various Christian churches and Jewish communities in Jerusalem.
The Consulate investigates allegations of abuses of religious freedom. During the period covered by this report, the Consulate investigated a range of charges, including allegations of Israeli settler violence against places of worship; allegations regarding Christian emigration from the Bethlehem area; allegations regarding the harassment of Christian clergymen in the Jewish Quarter; and allegations concerning access to holy sites.