On 22 July 2005, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (the Committee) issued its Concluding Observations, following its review Israel’s Third Periodic Report on its implementation of the Convention the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (the CEDAW). In its Concluding Observations, the CEDAW Committee emphasized 14 areas of concern and recommendations regarding Israel’s violation of the basic rights of Palestinian women citizens of Israel and Palestinian women living in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPTs), which are safeguarded under the CEDAW.
Four delegates from the Working Group on the Status of Palestinian Women Citizens of Israel (the WG) attended the review session held at the beginning of July 2005, at which they presented a statement to the Committee and answered questions from Committee members. The delegates, Abeer Baker, Hanan El-Sanah, Marie Badarne and Nisreen Mazzawi, presented data and reports compiled by the WG on discrimination faced by Palestinian women citizens of Israel in all aspects of life, including education, employment, health, political participation, access to services in support of battered women and women at risk, and personal status laws. Many of the issues highlighted by the WG in its reports were reflected in the Concluding Observations issued by the Committee.
Delegates from the OPTs also participated in the review session, and submitted reports on behalf of the following NGOs: The Women’s Centre for Legal Aid and Counseling, Al-Haq, and the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights – Gaza.
The 14 issues brought before the Committee by the WG and other groups representing Palestinian women citizens of Israel and Palestinian women living in the OPTs on which the Committee issued Concluding Observations are as follows:
The Right to Equality: As stated by the WG in its reports to the Committee, Israel lacks a constitutionally-protected right to equality, which has a disproportionately negative impact on Palestinian women citizens of Israel, who are subject to compound discrimination on the basis of both sex and nationality. Regarding the right to equality, the Committee recommended that “a definition of discrimination in line with article 1 of the Convention, as well as provisions on the equal rights of women in line with article 2 (a) of the Convention, be included in the new Constitution that is in the process of being drafted, or in a basic law.”
Political Participation and Participation in Public Life: The Committee voiced its concern about the low level of representation of “Israeli Arab women” in decision-making positions in elected and appointed bodies in all areas of public life, including local authorities and the civil service. The Committee further encouraged Israel to “take sustained measures, including temporary special measures…and to establish concrete goals and timetables so as to accelerate the increase in the representation of women, including ‘Israeli Arab women.’”
Family Unification: The Committee raised its concern about the Nationality and Entry into Israel Law (Temporary Order) – 2003, (the “Ban on Family Unification Law,” noting that the Law “has already adversely affected the marriages and family life of Israeli Arab women citizens and Palestinian women from the Occupied Territories.” The Committee called on Israel to reconsider its family unification policies, with a view “to facilitating family reunification of all citizens and permanent residents” and to bring the Law into line with articles 9 and 16 of the Convention. The Committee further requested Israel to provide “detailed statistical information and analysis of the short- and long-term impact of this Order on affected women.”
Education and Health: The Committee also stated its concern “that Israeli Arab women remain in a vulnerable and marginalized situation, especially in regard to education and health.” The Committee recommended that Israel “take urgent measures” to “reduce the drop-out rates of Israeli Arab girls and increase the number of Israeli Arab women at institutions of higher education.” The Committee also urged Israel “to review and revise textbooks in the Arab education system in order to eradicate gender stereotypes,” and to “allocate adequate resources to improve the status of Israeli Arab women’s health, in particular with regard to infant mortality.”
The Situation of Palestinian Bedouin Women Citizens of Israel: The Committee voiced its concern that Bedouin women living in the Naqab (Negev) desert ”remain in a vulnerable and marginalized situation, especially in regard to education, employment and health,” and that it is “especially concerned with the situation of Bedouin women who live in unrecognized villages with poor housing conditions and limited or no access to water, electricity and sanitation.” The Committee requested that Israel “take effective measures to eliminate discrimination against Bedouin women and to enhance respect for their human rights through effective and proactive measures …” The Committee also called upon Israel to provide, in its next periodic report, “a comprehensive picture of the situation of Bedouin women and girls in regard to their educational opportunities and achievements, and access to employment and health-care services, and to provide an assessment of the impact of policies in those areas that directly affect them.”
Polygamy and Child Marriages: The Committee urged Israel to “take active measures to enforce the prohibition of polygamy and adherence to the minimum age of marriage,” and recommended that it “take comprehensive and effective measures, including public awareness-raising campaigns, aimed at eliminating the practices of polygamy and early-age marriage.”
The Implementation of the CEDAW in the OPTs: The Committee stated its regret at Israel’s position that the Convention does not apply in the OPTs and its refusal to report on the status of implementation of the Convention in these areas, noting that Israel’s position is “contrary to the views of the Committee and of other treaty bodies, including the Human Rights Committee, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the Committee against Torture and also of the International Court of Justice.” The Committee further urged Israel to reconsider its position and to give full effect to the implementation of its obligations under the Convention in regard to all persons under its jurisdiction, including women in the OPTs.
The Committee added that it is concerned at “the number of incidents at Israeli checkpoints which have a negative impact on the rights of Palestinian women,” and called upon Israel “to ensure that the Israeli authorities at the checkpoints are instructed to ensure the access to health-care services for pregnant women, while protecting the security of Israel.”
The Working Group on the Status of Palestinian Women Citizens of Israel is comprised of Adalah: The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, the Arab Association for Human Rights, Kayan Feminist Organization, Ma’an – The Union of Bedouin Women in the Naqab, the Al-Tufula Center and Women Against Violence