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Afghanistan

On August 15, the Taliban took control of Kabul, declaring the establishment of an “Islamic Emirate” throughout the country.  On September 7, the Taliban announced an interim “caretaker government” made up exclusively of male Taliban members.  On September 22, the Taliban expanded its interim “caretaker government,” adding some representatives of religious and ethnic minority groups including Hazaras, Tajiks, Uzbeks, Turkmen, Nuristani, and Khawaja, but no women.  By year’s end, the U.S. government had not yet made a decision as to whether to recognize the Taliban or any other entity as the Government of Afghanistan or as part of such a government.

Executive Summary

Following their takeover in August, the Taliban did not establish a clear and cohesive legal framework, judicial system, or enforcement mechanisms.  The Taliban conveyed that those laws enacted under the former government of Afghanistan that were in effect prior to their takeover remained in effect unless the laws violated sharia.  Taliban leaders issued decrees specifying acceptable behaviors under their interpretation of sharia, but variously described them as “guidelines” or “recommendations” and unevenly enforced them.  Press reports following the Taliban takeover raised fears the group would consider Christian converts as apostates.  These reports, combined with statements from some Taliban leaders starting in August reserving the right to enforce harsh punishments for violations of the group’s strict interpretation of sharia, drove some Christian converts into deeper hiding, according to International Christian Concern, an international nongovernmental organization (NGO) that focuses on persecution of Christian communities.  At year’s end, there were no reports of Taliban representatives having directed sharia-related punishments.  According to Amnesty International, Taliban fighters killed 13 Shia Hazaras in Daykundi Province on August 31; the Taliban denied the allegations.  In November and December, the Taliban detained 28 members of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community in Kabul.  According to members of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community, the Taliban falsely accused them of belonging to ISIS-Khorasan (an affiliate of ISIS and a U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organization, also known as ISIS-K).  The Taliban held 18 of them through year’s end.  The NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW)reported the Taliban expelled Shia Hazara members from their homes in several provinces in October, in part to redistribute land to Taliban supporters.  In August, Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen said in an interview with National Public Radio (NPR) that the group would respect the rights of members of religious minority groups, including Shia Hazaras.  On November 16, Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid told the press, “We are providing a safe and secure environment for everyone, especially the Hazaras.”  Both prior to and immediately following the Taliban takeover, predominantly Shia Hazara communities expressed fear the Ashraf Ghani administration and the Taliban lacked the ability to protect them from violence and discrimination.  According to Hazara community and NGO representatives, Shia Hazaras continued to face longstanding and widespread discrimination by Ghani government officials in public service delivery, public sector hiring, and other areas before August 15.After the Taliban takeover, Taliban leaders publicly pledged to protect the rights of Sikhs and Hindus, although some Sikhs and Hindus reported they had ceased to congregate at their gurdwaras (places of worship), and others sought to resettle abroad due to fear of violent attacks by the Taliban and ISIS-K.  In November and December, high level Taliban representatives held meetings with leaders of Shia, Sikh, and Hindu communities, reportedly to offer protection and improve relations.  According to community representatives, in these meetings the Taliban laid out rules for the behavior of women, forbade the playing of music, and presented restrictions on businesses owned by minority religious group members.  Some Hazara political figures expressed continued concern over the Taliban’s commitment to support freedom of worship but commented that this engagement represented a shift from the Taliban’s approach between 1996 and 2001.  According to civil society groups, at year’s end, approximately 150 members of the Sikh and Hindu communities remained in the country, down from approximately 400 at the start of the year.  The Taliban closed the Ministry for Women’s Affairs in September, announcing the reconstituted Ministry for the Propagation of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, charged with enforcing the Taliban’s interpretation of sharia, would be housed in the same building.  While enforcement varied by province and district, local Taliban representatives enforced decrees on gender segregation, women’s dress and head covering, men’s facial hair, unaccompanied women, and music.  On December 3, Taliban “Supreme Leader” Hibatullah Akhunzada issued a decree stating that women should not be considered property and must consent to marriage.  Media reported the Taliban framed the decree as a call to adhere to broader Islamic law on women’s rights.  Some observers praised the decree; others said it did not go far enough because it did not mention a woman’s right to work or to access education and other public services.

the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (ISIS-K claimed responsibility.  ISIS-K also conducted such attacks against other groups.  In total, for the first six months of the year, 20 incidents targeted the Shia Hazara community resulting in 143 killed and 357 injured, compared with 19 attacks attributed to ISIS-K and other anti-government elements in 2020.  According to UNAMA, during the second half of the year, attacks claimed by or attributed to ISIS-K increased and expanded beyond the movement’s previous areas of focus in Kabul and the eastern part of the country.  Between August 19 and December 31, the United Nations recorded 152 attacks by the group in 16 provinces, compared with 20 attacks in five provinces during the same period in 2020.  In addition to targeting the Taliban, ISIS-K also targeted civilians, in particular Shia minorities, in urban areas.  ISIS-K claimed responsibility for suicide attacks on two Shia mosques in Kunduz and Kandahar cities on October 8 and 15.  On October 8, an ISIS-K suicide bomber killed 70 to 80 members of the Hazara community at a mosque in Kunduz.  On October 15, a suicide bomber attack targeting the largest Shia mosque in Kandahar, the Fatima Mosque (also known as the Imam Bargah Mosque), killed more than 50 worshippers and injured at least 100.  Two December 10 attacks in western Kabul targeting a predominantly Shia Hazara neighborhood remained unclaimed at year’s end.  Prior to the Taliban takeover, antigovernment forces carried out several attacks on religious leaders that resulted in fatalities.  According to the Ministry of Haj and Religious Affairs (MOHRA), over the last two decades, the Taliban and other extremist groups had killed 527 religious scholars, including approximately 50 Sunni and Shia religious leaders killed between February 2020 and July 2021.  Prior to their August takeover and as previous years, the Taliban killed and issued death threats against Sunni clerics for preaching messages contrary to the Taliban’s interpretation of Islam.  Taliban fighters killed progovernment imams and other religious officials throughout the country, and the Taliban warned mullahs not to perform funeral prayers for Ghani administration security officials.  On May 8, unidentified individuals detonated a car bomb in front of the Sayed ul-Shuhada school in a predominantly Shia Hazara community, killing at least 85 civilians and injuring another 216.  No group claimed responsibility for the attack.  According to press interviews in October, Shia Hazaras struggled to take what some characterized as a “life or death” risk to go to mosque on Fridays.

Sikhs, Hindus, Christians, and other non-Sunni Muslim minority groups continued to report that some Sunni Muslims verbally harassed them, although Hindus and Sikhs stated they still were able to practice their respective religions in public prior to August 15.  According to international sources, Baha’is and Christians continued to live in constant fear of exposure and were reluctant to reveal their religious identities to anyone.  Christian groups reported public sentiment, as expressed in social media and elsewhere, remained hostile towards converts and to Christian proselytization.  They said individuals who converted to or were studying Christianity reported receiving threats, including death threats, from family members.  Christians and Ahmadiyya Muslims reported they continued to worship only privately and in small groups, at home or in nondescript places of worship, to avoid discrimination and persecution.  Prior to the Taliban takeover in August, observers said local Muslim religious leaders continued their efforts to limit social activities, such as concerts, which they considered inconsistent with Islamic doctrine.

The U.S. embassy in Kabul suspended operations on August 31.  In October and November, the U.S. government condemned ISIS-K attacks on Shia mosques and engaged Taliban leadership to press for the protection of religious minorities from repression and violence.  On November 29-30, a U.S. government delegation met with senior Taliban representatives in Qatar.  The U.S. delegation expressed “deep concern regarding allegations of human rights abuses and urged the Taliban to protect the rights of all Afghans, uphold and enforce its policy of general amnesty, and take additional steps to form an inclusive and representative government.”  After August 31, the U.S. government also conveyed this message consistently in meetings with the so-called Taliban Political Commission in Doha, Qatar, through the Afghanistan Affairs Unit.  efore the Taliban takeover in mid-August, U.S. embassy officials worked with the government to promote understanding of religious freedom and the need for the acceptance and protection of religious minorities.  To enhance the Ghani administration’s capacity to counter violent religious extremism and foster religious tolerance, embassy representatives met with the Office of the National Security Council (ONSC) and MOHRA, among other government agencies.  The embassy regularly raised concerns about public safety and freedom to worship with security ministers.  Until the Taliban takeover, embassy officials continued to meet regularly with leaders of major religious groups, as well as religious minorities, scholars, and NGOs, to discuss ways to enhance religious tolerance and interreligious dialogue.  While working with the Ghani administration, the embassy sponsored programs for religious leaders to increase interreligious dialogue, identify ways to counter violent religious extremism, empower female religious leaders, and promote tolerance for religious diversity.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 37.5 million (midyear 2021).  According to Pew Forum data from 2009, Sunni Muslims constitute approximately 80-85 percent of the population, and Shia make up approximately 10-15 percent.

According to religious community leaders, the Shia population, approximately 90 percent of whom are ethnic Hazaras, is predominantly Jaafari, but also includes Ismailis.  Other religious groups, mainly Hindus, Sikhs, Baha’is, and Christians, together constitute less than 0.3 percent of the population.  According to Sikh leaders, there are fewer than 150 members of the Sikh and Hindu communities remaining in the country, compared with an estimated 400 at the start of the year and 1,300 in 2017.  Most members of the Sikh and Hindu communities are in Kabul, with smaller numbers in Ghazni and other provinces.  Hindu community leaders estimate there are fewer than 50 remaining Hindus, all male and primarily businessmen with families in other countries.

The Ahmadiyya Muslim community in the country numbers in the hundreds.  Reliable estimates of the Baha’i and Christian communities are not available.  There are small numbers of practitioners of other religions.  There are no known Jews in the country, following the departure of the country’s last known remaining Jew after the Taliban takeover.

Hazaras live predominantly in the central and western provinces as well as in Kabul; Ismaili Muslims live mainly in Kabul and in the central and northern provinces.  Followers of the Baha’i Faith live predominantly in Kabul, with a small community in Kandahar.  Ahmadi Muslims largely live in Kabul.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Religion and ethnicity in the country were often closely linked.  Sikhs, Hindus, Christians, and other non-Muslim minorities reported continued harassment from Muslims, although Hindus and Sikhs stated that prior to the Taliban takeover, they continued to be able to publicly practice their religions.

According to international sources, Baha’is and Christians lived in constant fear of exposure and were reluctant to reveal their religious identities to anyone.  According to some sources, converts to Christianity and individuals studying Christianity reported receiving threats, including death threats, from family members opposed to their interest in Christianity.  They said fears of violent societal repression had further increased since the Taliban takeover.

According to Christians and Ahmadi Muslims, members of their groups continued to worship only in private to avoid societal discrimination and persecution, including harassment from neighbors and coworkers.  They also said that following the Taliban takeover in August, relatives and neighbors who were aware of their identities were more likely to treat them harshly or report them to the Taliban, whether out of self-preservation or to curry favor with the Taliban.

Prior to the Taliban takeover, women of several different faiths, including Sunni and Shia Islam, continued to report harassment from local Muslim religious leaders over their attire.  Clerics in numerous provinces preached that woman must wear modest dress and that the faithful should publicly enforce a strict implementation of sharia law.  As a result, some women said they continued to wear burqas or other modest dress in public in rural areas and in some districts in urban areas, including in Kabul, before the Taliban takeover, in contrast to other more secure, Ghani administration-controlled areas, where women said they felt comfortable not wearing what they considered conservative clothing.  Almost all women reported wearing some form of head covering.  Some women said they did so by personal choice, but many said they did so due to societal pressure and a desire to avoid harassment and to increase their security in public.  Prior to the Taliban takeover, observers said local Muslim religious leaders continued their efforts to limit social activities, such as concerts, considered by the religious leaders to be inconsistent with Islamic doctrine.  Following the Taliban takeover, media reported instances of local Muslim religious leaders becoming more prohibitive of such activities.

Prior to the Taliban takeover, Ahmadiyya Muslims said they did not proselytize due to fear of persecution.  Ahmadiyya Muslims reported an increasing need to conceal their identity to avoid unwanted attention in public and their intent to depart the country permanently if there was a peace agreement with the Taliban.  Before the Taliban takeover of Kabul, members of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community said they were able to intermittently perform weekly congregational prayer at a nondescript location in Kabul.  According to international Ahmadiyya Muslim organizations with close ties to Ahmadi Muslims in the country, following the Taliban takeover, fear of persecution by the Taliban and its sympathizers had driven community members to refrain from worship at their center in Kabul.  Approximately 100 Ahmadi Muslims departed the country in the aftermath of the Taliban takeover.  As of year’s end, hundreds remained in country.  Ahmadi Muslims said they received direct as well as indirect threats against their safety in the form of notes, telephone messages, and other menacing communications because of their faith.  Ahmadi Muslim representatives said they did not initially report or publicize these threats because they feared additional verbal harassment and physical abuse from Taliban representatives.

Prior to the Taliban takeover, Christian representatives reported public opinion, as expressed in social media and elsewhere, remained hostile toward converts to Christianity and to the idea of Christian proselytization.  They reported pressure and threats, largely from family, to renounce Christianity and return to Islam.  They said Christians continued to worship alone or in small congregations, sometimes 10 or fewer persons, in private homes due to fear of societal discrimination and persecution.  The dates, times, and locations of these services were frequently changed to avoid detection.  There continued to be no public Christian churches.  Following the Taliban takeover, Christians described raids by Taliban on the homes of Christian converts even after they had fled the country or moved out.  Christian sources stated the Taliban takeover emboldened intolerant relatives to threaten them with violence and inform on converts should they continue their practice of Christianity.

Prior to the Taliban takeover, some Sikhs and Hindus had refused to send their children to public schools because other students harassed their children, although only a few private school options were available to them due to the decreasing sizes of the two communities and their members’ declining economic circumstances.  According to community members, since the Taliban takeover, the small number of remaining Sikh and Hindu children did not attend school due to school closures related to COVID-19 and inclement winter weather.

Until the Taliban takeover, Kabul’s lone synagogue remained occupied by the self-proclaimed last remaining Jew in the country, and a nearby abandoned Jewish cemetery was still utilized as an unofficial dump; reportedly many abandoned Islamic cemeteries were also used as dumping sites.  The lone known Jew departed Afghanistan in late August, saying he feared the Taliban would be unable to protect him from an ISIS-K attack.

Prior to the Taliban takeover, NGOs reported some Muslims remained suspicious of development assistance projects, which they often viewed as surreptitious efforts to advance Christianity or engage in proselytization.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

On August 31, the U.S. embassy in Kabul suspended operations.

In October and November, the U.S. government condemned ISIS-K attacks on Shia mosques and engaged Taliban leadership to press for the protection of religious minorities from repression and violence.  On November 29-30, a U.S. government delegation met with senior Taliban representatives in Qatar.  U.S. government officials expressed “deep concern regarding allegations of human rights abuses and urged the Taliban to protect the rights of all Afghans, uphold and enforce its policy of general amnesty, and take additional steps to form an inclusive and representative government.” U.S. representatives also expressed concern over the status of religious minorities in a meeting with senior Taliban representatives in Islamabad, Pakistan, in December.  The U.S. government also conveyed this message consistently in meetings with the “Taliban Political Commission” in Doha after August 31 through the Afghanistan Affairs Unit.

Before the Taliban takeover in mid-August, U.S. embassy officials worked with the government to promote understanding of religious freedom and its importance as well the need for the acceptance and protection of religious minorities.  In meetings with members of the President’s staff, the ONSC, MOHRA, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Hajj and Religious Affairs, and the Ulema Council, embassy officials promoted understanding of religious freedom as well as the need to enhance the government’s capacity to counter violent religious extremism.

Prior to the Taliban takeover, senior embassy officials engaged leaders of the Sikh and Hindu communities in June to understand their concerns and their ability to practice their faith freely.

Until the Taliban takeover, embassy officials met with both government and religious officials to promote cooperation with ulema councils and emphasize the potential strong impact international Islamic scholars could have on moderating the Taliban.  The embassy coordinated with the ONSC, as well as other governmental and nongovernmental stakeholders, to promote respect for religious diversity.  While working with the Ghani administration, the embassy sponsored programs for religious leaders to increase interreligious dialogue, identify ways to counter violent religious extremism, empower female religious leaders, and promote tolerance for religious diversity.

Prior to the Taliban takeover, the embassy also used social media to support religious freedom.  On May 20, the Ambassador, responding to a Taliban-attributed attack in Ghor in which three Hazara shopkeepers were killed, condemned via Twitter the Taliban’s and ISIS-K’s targeting of Hazaras.  This followed the Ambassador’s condemnation of the May 8 attack on a Kabul girls’ school in a Hazara community that resulted in the deaths of more than 80 persons.

Following the Taliban takeover, the United States continued to support the Afghan people.  The United States remained committed to providing humanitarian assistance and basic needs support to the Afghan people and continued to advocate for the need to respect the human rights, including religious freedom, of all Afghans through its engagements with the Taliban.

Israel, West Bank and Gaza

Read A Section: Israel

West Bank and Gaza

Executive Summary

The country’s laws and Supreme Court rulings protect the freedoms of conscience, faith, religion, and worship, regardless of an individual’s religious affiliation.  The 1992 Basic Law:  Human Dignity and Liberty describes the country as a “Jewish and democratic state.”  The 2018 Basic Law:  Israel – The Nation State of the Jewish People determines, according to the government, that “the Land of Israel is the historical homeland of the Jewish people; the State of Israel is the nation state of the Jewish People, in which it realizes its natural, cultural, religious and historical right to self-determination; and exercising the right to national self-determination in the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish People.”  In September, the Lod District Court sentenced Zion Cohen to three years in prison for carrying out a series of 2020 arson bombings of religious courts.  On June 9, according to press reports, police arrested 12 protesters who threw heavy objects towards them in a protest by a small ultra-Orthodox sect near Bar-Ilan Street in Jerusalem against the construction of part of the city’s light rail through an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood.  Clashes broke out in April and May with “Day of Rage” demonstrations throughout the West Bank and East Jerusalem against Israeli actions in Sheikh Jarrah, the Damascus Gate, and the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount in Jerusalem.  On April 13, on the evening of the first day of Ramadan, media and officials from the Jordanian Waqf in Jerusalem, which administers the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount, reported that the Israeli National Police entered the site and disconnected loudspeakers used for the call to prayer after the Waqf’s call to prayer disrupted an official Memorial Day service for fallen soldiers attended by Israeli President Reuven Rivlin in the adjacent Western Wall Plaza.  During the last Friday of Ramadan on May 7 and again on May 10, Israeli police entered the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount using teargas, stun grenades, and rubber tipped bullets to disperse Palestinians they said were throwing rocks.  While the government stated it was rare for any individual to be barred entry to the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount, human rights and civil society organizations said Israeli authorities periodically banned individual Palestinian residents of the occupied territories, and Arab/Palestinian and Jewish citizens of Israel from the site.  The government reiterated that non-Islamic prayer was not allowed on the grounds of the site, but non-Muslim visitors were allowed.  Some religious minority groups said the police were not interested in investigating attacks on members of their communities.  The Chief Rabbinate continued not to recognize as Jewish some citizens who self-identified as Jewish, including Reform and Conservative converts to Judaism and others who could not prove Jewish matrilineage to the satisfaction of the Chief Rabbinate.  As a result, the government prohibited those individuals from accessing official Jewish marriage, divorce, and burial services in the country.  Some Jewish individuals and groups performed religious acts such as prayers and prostration on the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount despite the longstanding historical norms against overt non-Islamic prayer there.  On July 8, the Supreme Court, by a vote of 10-to-one, rejected 15 petitions challenging the Basic Law of Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish People (Nation State law).  The government maintained its policy of not accepting new applications for official recognition from religious groups but stated that members of unrecognized religious groups remained free to practice their religion.  Members of some religious minorities said that the government did not provide the same service and benefits to them as to the country’s majority Jewish population.

During a one-week period in May, amid tensions in Jerusalem and violence in Gaza, ethnic-based violence and civil unrest broke out in a number of mixed Jewish-Arab cities in the country, leading to multiple deaths and injuries.  The violence during the unrest included gunfire, stone throwing by protesters (both Jewish and Arab/Palestinian citizens), arson attacks on synagogues, desecration of Muslim gravestones, and vandalism of automobiles.  The Israel National Police (INP) made approximately 1,550 arrests during and after the unrest with the overwhelming majority of the arrestees being Arab/Palestinian citizens.  On May 12 in the mixed Jewish-Arab town of Lod, Jews shot and killed Moussa Hassouna in clashes between residents.  Later on May 12, Arab/Palestinian citizens in Lod stoned the car of Jewish resident Yigal Yehoshua who died on May 17 after being hit in the head with a thrown brick.  In the northern city of Acre on May 11, Arab/Palestinian citizens set fire to a hotel leading to the death of 84 year-old retiree Aby Har-Even on June 6.  On May 19, teenager Mohammed Mahamid Kiwan died after he was shot on May 18 at the Mei Ami junction on Route 65.  His family said police were responsible.  In April, during the period leading up to the unrest, Palestinian youths in Jerusalem physically attacked ultra-Orthodox individuals and posted videos of the attacks on the social media app TikTok.  On July 1, police arrested Palestinian Jerusalemites for defiling graves in the Har Hamenuchot Cemetery while filming themselves on TikTok.  Jewish individuals and groups continued to engage in nationalist violent hate crimes against Palestinians and their property in the West Bank and Arab/Palestinians in the country, (which the attackers called “price tag” attacks to exact a “price” for actions taken by the government against the attackers’ interests).  Tension continued between the ultra-Orthodox community and other citizens, including concerns related to service in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), housing, public transportation, participation in the workforce, and adherence to COVID-19 regulations.  In its annual Israel Religion and State Index poll of 800 adult Jews published in September, the nongovernmental organization (NGO) Hiddush reported that 65 percent of respondents identified as either secular (48 percent) or traditional not religious (17 percent), the same result as in the 2020 poll.

In meetings with Israeli government officials, the Ambassador, Charge d’Affaires, and other U.S. embassy officials stressed the importance of religious pluralism and respect for all religious groups.  Numerous high-level U.S. officials made formal stops at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust remembrance site, to keep a public spotlight on antisemitism and highlight religious tolerance.  Senior U.S. officials spoke publicly about the importance of maintaining the historic status quo at the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount and conveyed this message in meetings with government officials.  Throughout the year, embassy officials used social media platforms to express U.S. support for tolerance and the importance of openness to members of other religious groups.  Embassy-supported initiatives focused on interreligious dialogue and community development and advocated a shared society for Arab and Jewish populations.  The embassy also promoted the reduction of tensions between religious communities and an increase in interreligious communication and partnerships by bringing together representatives of many faith communities to advance shared goals and exchange knowledge and experience, and through engagements aimed at greater integration of the Arab minority into the broader national economy, especially the high-tech sector.

This section of the report covers Israel within the 1949 Armistice Agreement line as well as Golan Heights and East Jerusalem territories that Israel occupied during the June 1967 war and where it later extended its domestic law, jurisdiction, and administration.  The United States recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in 2017 and Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights in 2019.  Language in this report is not meant to convey a position on any final status issues to be negotiated between the parties to the conflict, including the specific boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem or the borders between Israel and any future Palestinian state.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 8.8 million (midyear 2021).  According to the country’s Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) classification system (2020 data), approximately 73 percent of the population is Jewish, 18 percent Muslim, 2 percent Christian, and 1.6 percent Druze.  The remaining 5 percent consists of those the CBS classifies as “other.”  This includes those who identify as Jewish but do not satisfy the Orthodox Jewish definition of “Jewish” that the government uses for civil procedures, such as many immigrants from the former Soviet Union.  There are also relatively small communities of Samaritans, Karaite Jews, Messianic Jews, Seventh-day Adventists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and members of the Baha’i Faith.  The majority of non-Jewish citizens are of Arab/Palestinian origin.  This includes approximately 77 percent of the country’s 182,000 Christians, according to the CBS as of December.  Non-Arab/Palestinian Christians are mainly those who emigrated from the former Soviet Union in the 1990s as descendants of Jews or alongside Jewish family members and their descendants.

According to the annual religion and state poll conducted by religious freedom NGO Hiddush, 57 percent of Jewish citizens do not affiliate with any religious group, 19 percent are “Zionist Orthodox,” 11 percent “ultra-Orthodox,” 6 percent “Reform,” 5 percent “Conservative,” and 2 percent “National Orthodox.”

The Arab/Palestinian Muslim, Druze, and Christian communities are located throughout the country.  In the Galilee region, some communities are homogenous, while others feature a mix of these groups.  There are dozens of Muslim-majority communities in the Negev.  In addition to an Alawite community in Ghajar, there are several Druze communities in the Golan Heights.

In 2019, the most recent year for which results are available, the CBS and the Jerusalem Institute estimated 563,200 Jews, 345,800 Muslims, and 16,150 Christians lived in the current municipal boundaries of Jerusalem, accounting for approximately 99 percent of the city’s total population of 936,400 as of 2019.

According to government and NGO data, there are approximately 330,000 foreign workers in the country, including 97,000 documented Palestinian workers; 31,000 undocumented Palestinian workers; 98,000 migrant workers with permits, 77,000 non-Palestinian undocumented workers (either migrant workers without a permit or tourists who overstayed their visa); and 31,000 asylum seekers, of whom an unknown number work.  Foreign workers and asylum seekers include Protestants, Roman Catholics, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Seventh-day Adventists, Orthodox Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, and Muslims.  According to the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, Catholics among the foreign worker population include 19,000 Filipinos, 15,000 Indians, 5,655 Sri Lankans, 2,500 Colombians, and 1,100 individuals from other South American countries.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

Although the country has no constitution, a series of “Basic Laws” enumerate fundamental rights, which serve as the country’s constitutional foundation.  The 1992 Basic Law:  Human Dignity and Liberty describes the country as a “Jewish and democratic state” and references the Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel, which protects freedom to practice or not practice religious beliefs, including freedom of conscience, faith, religion, and worship, regardless of an individual’s religion.  The law incorporates religious freedom provisions of international human rights covenants into the country’s body of domestic law, which applies to citizens and Palestinian residents.

The Basic Law:  Israel – The Nation State of the Jewish People (Nation State Law)” recognizes “the exercise of the right to national self-determination in the State of Israel” as “unique to the Jewish People” and calls for promotion of “Jewish settlement” as a national value.  The law recommends – but does not require – that judges use Jewish jurisprudence and heritage as a source of legal principles in cases in which there is no relevant legislation or judicial precedent.

The Chief Rabbinate of Israel is the supreme religious authority in the country and the law provides its council with authorities to handle Jewish religious services and rule on matters involving halacha (Jewish religious law).  The Council of the Chief Rabbinate consists of Orthodox rabbis chosen by an assembly of rabbis, local government leaders, government ministers, and laypersons appointed by the government.

Until March 1, the Chief Rabbinate retained the sole authority to issue certificates of conversion to Judaism within the country under Orthodox interpretations of Jewish law, although the government provided funding for both Orthodox and non-Orthodox conversion programs.  Relatives of Jewish converts could not receive residency rights, except for the children of converts born after the parent’s conversion was complete.  On March 1, the Supreme Court ruled that the government must recognize Conservative and Reform conversions performed in the country for the purpose of immigration, citizenship, and registration.

The Population and Immigration Authority of the Ministry of Interior (MOI) recognizes Conservative and Reform conversions in the country for the purpose of being registered as Jewish in the population registry.  However, those who convert through a non-Orthodox denomination, whether inside or outside the country, are not able to obtain such religious services as marriage, divorce, or burial in a Jewish cemetery.  Descendants of Jews qualify for immigration under this law regardless of the religious beliefs under which they were raised.  The law considers those who were eligible for immigration and converted as adults to another religious tradition, including Messianic Judaism, as no longer eligible for benefits under the Law of Return.

The Law of Return provides the right for any Jew, including those who converted to Judaism, or any child or grandchild of a Jew, to immigrate from a foreign country with his or her spouse and children.  Under the law, the minor children of a grandchild of a Jew receive humanitarian status but are not automatically granted citizenship.  Non-Jews who are not descendants of Jews do not have this route to immigration.  Under this law, those who completed an Orthodox Jewish conversion inside or outside the country are entitled to immigration, citizenship, and registration as Jews in the civil population registry.  Those who completed conversion to Judaism in a recognized community outside the country, regardless of affiliation, are eligible for these benefits even if they are not recognized as Jewish by the Chief Rabbinate; this would include Reform, Conservative, and other affiliations of Judaism.

The law recognizes only Judaism, Christianity, Islam, the Druze faith, and the Baha’i Faith.  Christian religious communities recognized according to the adopted Ottoman millet (court) system include Eastern Orthodox, Latin (Roman Catholic), Gregorian-Armenian, Armenian Catholic, Syrian Catholic, Chaldean (Chaldean Uniate Catholic), Greek Catholic Melkite, Maronite, Syrian Orthodox, and Evangelical Episcopal.  The Anglican and Baha’i communities are recognized through a British Mandate-era law adopted by the government.  The government does not recognize other religious communities, including major Protestant denominations with a presence in the country, as distinct religious communities.  The two legal pathways to formal recognition, according to laws adopted from the British Mandate period, include petitioning either the Prime Minister’s Office or the MOI.  Groups may appeal rejected applications to the Supreme Court.

Recognized religious communities are exempt from taxation of places of worship and may have separate courts to apply their religion’s personal status laws.  Municipalities may levy property taxes on religious properties not used for prayer, such as schools, monasteries, pilgrim hostels, and soup kitchens.

Legislation establishes religious councils for Jewish communities and for the Druze.  The Ministry of Religious Services (MRS) has jurisdiction over the country’s 133 Jewish religious councils that oversee the provision of religious services for Jewish communities.  The government finances approximately 40 percent of the religious councils’ budgets, and local municipalities fund the remainder.  The MOI Department of Non-Jewish Affairs has jurisdiction over religious matters concerning non-Jewish groups and oversees the religious council for the Druze.  The Department of Non-Jewish Affairs annually convenes an interreligious council of all recognized religions, including Judaism, which serves as a discussion forum for recognized religious communities.  The council did not meet in 2021 and 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic; the last meeting took place in 2019, and it is planned to convene again in 2022.

The law criminalizes the damage, destruction, or desecration of religious sites (subject to seven years’ imprisonment) and actions that “harm the freedom of access” of worshippers to religious sites (subject to five years’ imprisonment).  Certain religious sites considered antiquities receive further protection under the antiquities law.  The Ministry of Tourism is responsible for the protection and upkeep of selected non-Jewish religious sites, while the MRS protects and maintains selected Jewish religious sites.  The law also provides for up to five years’ imprisonment for actions “likely to violate the feelings of the members of the different religions” regarding their religious sites.  The law grants the government, not the courts, the authority to decide the scope of the right to worship at certain religious sites.

The law criminalizes willfully and unjustly disturbing any meeting of persons lawfully assembled for religious worship or assaulting someone at such a meeting.  It also criminalizes intentionally destroying, damaging, or desecrating any object held sacred by any group of persons, with punishment of up to three years’ imprisonment for violations.  Government regulations recognize 16 sites as holy places for Jews, while various other budgetary and governmental authorities recognize an additional 160 places as holy for Jews.

The law criminalizes calling for, praising, supporting, or encouraging acts of violence or terrorism where such actions are likely to lead to violence, including calls for violence against religious groups.  The law criminalizes statements demeaning, degrading, or showing violence toward someone based on race, but provides an exception for statements citing a religious source, unless there is proof of intent to incite racism.  The infliction of “injury to religious sentiments” constitutes a criminal offense and is punishable by one year’s imprisonment.  Such injury includes publishing or saying something that is liable to offend the religious sentiment or faith of others.

The law states that acts of enmity towards a person or a group due to religious affiliation with or membership in a religious group are considered offenses under aggravating circumstances, and penalties are set at double the penalty for the original offense or 10 years imprisonment, whichever is the lesser penalty.

The Jordanian Waqf in Jerusalem administers the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount, while the Jordanian Ministry of Islamic Affairs and Holy Places supports maintenance and salary of the Waqf staff in Jerusalem.

The Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled since 1993 that Jews have the right to pray on the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount, but police may restrict this right in the name of public order and safety.  The court reiterated in 2019 that its precedent on this issue is nonintervention in government decisions, “except in highly unusual cases when the decision constitutes a major distortion of justice or is extremely unreasonable.”  The court upheld this position again in a decision in 2020.

The law prohibits institutions that receive government funding from engaging in commemoration of the Nakba, or “catastrophe,” the term used by Palestinians to refer to the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians during the country’s 1948 War of Independence.  Activities forbidden by the law include rejection of the existence of Israel as a “Jewish and democratic state” or commemorating “Israel’s Independence Day or the day on which the State was established as a day of mourning.”

The law requires citizens to obtain a permit from the MOI or the Prime Minister for travel to countries with no diplomatic relations with Israel, including Hajj travel to Saudi Arabia; the government issues these permits in the vast majority of cases.  Illegal travel is punishable by a prison sentence or fine if the traveler does not request prior approval.

It is illegal to proselytize to a person younger than 18 without the consent of both parents.  The law prohibits offering a material benefit to potential converts while proselytizing.

The government provides separate public schools for Jewish and Arab/Palestinian children, with instruction conducted in Hebrew and Arabic, respectively.  For Jewish children there are separate public schools available for religious and secular families.  Individual families may choose any public school for their children regardless of ethnicity or religious observance.  Minor children have the right to choose a public secular school instead of a religious school regardless of parental preference.  By law, the state provides the equivalent of public school funding to two systems of “recognized but not official” (a form of semiprivate) ultra-Orthodox religious schools affiliated with ultra-Orthodox political parties, the United Torah Judaism-affiliated Independent Education System and the Shas-affiliated Fountain of Torah Education System.

Churches receive partial government funding to operate “recognized but not official” schools.  Palestinian residents in Jerusalem may send their children to one of these church schools or a private school operated by the Jerusalem Islamic Waqf; both include religious instruction.  Some Israeli-funded public schools in Jerusalem use the Palestinian Authority (PA) curriculum.  Religious education is part of the PA curriculum for students in grades one through six in these schools, with separate courses on religion for Muslims and Christians.  Students in these schools may choose which class to take but may not opt out of religion courses.

The Chief Rabbinate determines who may be buried in Jewish state cemeteries, limiting this right to individuals considered Jewish by Orthodox Jewish standards.  The law provides for the right of any individual to burial in a civil ceremony and requires the government to establish civil cemeteries in various areas around the country.  The law criminalizes the intentional desecration of, or trespass on, places of burial, which is punishable by three years’ imprisonment.

Laws inherited from the Ottoman Empire and British Mandate periods establish the legal authority of religious courts operated by officially recognized religious communities over their members in matters of marriage, divorce, and burial.  The law allows for civil registration of two persons as a married couple outside of the religious court system only if they married outside the country or if the partners are of different religions and their respective religious courts do not object to a civil registration, or if both partners are listed as “lacking religion” in the population registry.  A law mandating women’s equality contains language that explicitly exempts matters of marriage, divorce, and appointments to religious positions.

The only domestic marriages with legal standing and that may be registered are those performed according to the religious statutes of recognized religious communities.  Marriages performed outside of the country may be registered with the MOI.  Members of some unrecognized groups may process their personal status documents, including marriage licenses, only through the authorities of one of the recognized religious communities, if those authorities agree.

The law imposes a two-year prison sentence for persons who conduct a marriage or are married in a Jewish wedding or divorce outside the Chief Rabbinate’s authority in the country.

Religious courts have exclusive jurisdiction over divorce cases when the husband and wife are registered with the same recognized religion.  Members of religious groups not permitting divorce, such as Catholics, may not obtain a divorce.  Paternity cases among Muslim citizens are the exclusive jurisdiction of sharia courts.  Civil courts have jurisdiction over personal status cases when religious courts lack jurisdiction, as in cases of interfaith and same-sex couples.

Matters stemming from divorce proceedings, including alimony, child support, child custody, guardianship, and property division, are under the parallel jurisdiction of religious and civil courts.  The first court to receive a case acquires exclusive jurisdiction over it.  The Jordanian Waqf administers Islamic courts in Jerusalem for Muslim residents, with the Ministry of Awqaf and Islamic Affairs in Jordan having appellate authority.

In accordance with halacha, a Jewish woman whose husband refuses to give her a get (Jewish legal writ of divorce) may not legally remarry in the country.  While a rabbinical court may order a husband to give a get, it does not have the power to terminate the marriage if he refuses.  In such cases, rabbinical courts may impose community-based punishments on the husband, including avoiding financial dealings with a get-refuser, excluding him from community activities, and advertising these decisions to the public.  The law permits rabbinical courts to hear cases of get refusals in which the spouses are not Israeli citizens, if certain other conditions are met (for example, if the couple lives abroad in a location where there is no rabbinical court).

Secular courts have primary jurisdiction over questions of inheritance, but parties may file such cases in religious courts by mutual agreement.  Decisions by these bodies are subject to Supreme Court review.  The rabbinical courts, when exercising their power in civil matters, apply religious law, which differs from civil law, including in matters relating to the property rights of widows and daughters.  A child born to a woman still married to another man is considered a mamzer (child of an unpermitted relationship) under Jewish law, which restricts the child’s future marriage prospects in the observant Jewish community.

Military service is compulsory for Jewish citizens, male Druze citizens, and male Circassian citizens (Muslims originally from the northwestern Caucasus region who migrated in the late nineteenth century).  The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) do not consider conscientious objection on the basis of religious belief as a reason for exemption from military service.

Religious Jewish women and ultra-Orthodox men may request an exemption from military service.  For most ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Druze religious students, military service is postponed for several years, after which they receive an exemption.  A petition on the conscription of ultra-Orthodox men was pending at the Supreme Court as of the year’s end.  Arab Muslims and Christians as well as Druze and Circassian women receive a de-facto exemption by not being called for military service.  Those exempt from military service may volunteer for it or for national civil service.  Members of Jehovah’s Witnesses are not eligible for the national civil service program.

Membership in a recognized religion is recorded in the National Registry and generally passed from parents to children unless a person changes it through a formal conversion to another recognized religion.  Religious identification is listed in the National Registry but not on official identity cards.

All citizens who meet the Chief Rabbinate’s criteria as “Jewish” under Jewish religious law are recorded as Jewish, whether Orthodox or not (unless they convert to another religion).  Approximately 450,000 citizens who identify as Jewish but do not meet the Chief Rabbinate’s criteria as “Jewish” as well as members of religious groups that are not recognized are recorded as “lacking religion.”  The vast majority are immigrants from the former Soviet Union and their children, who gained citizenship under the Law of Return but are not recognized as Jewish by the Chief Rabbinate because they cannot prove they meet the Orthodox definition of Jewish through matrilineal descent.

The Law of Citizenship and Entry, first passed in 2003 and renewed annually, explicitly prohibited residence status for non-Jewish Iranians, Iraqis, Syrians, Lebanese, and Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza, including those who are spouses of Israeli residents or citizens, unless the MOI makes a special determination, usually on humanitarian grounds.

The law declares in the context of labor rights that Shabbat and Jewish holidays are national days of rest, while permitting non-Jewish workers alternate days of rest.  The law criminalizes (up to one month imprisonment) employers who open their businesses and employ Jews on Shabbat, except those who are self-employed.  There are exceptions for essential infrastructure and the hospitality, culture, and recreation industries.  The law instructs the Minister of Labor and Welfare to take into account “Israel’s traditions,” among other factors, when considering whether to approve permits to work on Shabbat.  The law prohibits discrimination against workers who refuse to work on their day of rest based on their religion and regardless of whether they are religiously observant.

The law prohibits discrimination in employment and occupation, including against employees, contractors, or persons seeking employment based on age, race, religion, national origin, ethnicity, sex, sexual orientation, and disability.

The law states that public transportation operated and funded by the national government may not operate on Shabbat, with exceptions for vehicles bringing passengers to hospitals, remote localities, and non-Jewish localities and for vehicles essential to public security or maintaining public transportation services.

The Chief Rabbinate has sole legal authority to issue certificates of kashrut (i.e., complying with Jewish dietary laws), which certify a restaurant or factory’s adherence to Jewish dietary laws.  Businesses are allowed to display a declaration regarding the kashrut standards they observe and the organization that supervises those standards but may not use the words “kosher” or “certificate” without a kashrut license from the rabbinate.  The Chief Rabbinate has the authority to indicate businesses that violate this law.

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights with a reservation stating that matters of personal status are governed by the religious law of the parties concerned and the country reserves the right to apply that religious law when inconsistent with its obligations under the covenant.

Government Practices

Because religious and national identities were often closely linked, it was often difficult to categorize many incidents as being solely based on religious identity.

In September, the Lod District Court sentenced Zion Cohen to three years in prison for carrying out a series of bomb attacks on rabbinical courts; it also ordered him to pay a 10,000-shekel ($3,200) fine.  Authorities arrested Cohen in 2020 in connection with the attacks.  Cohen confessed and said his aim was to prevent the courts providing religious services to the secular public to further his goal of separating religion and state.

On June 9, according to press reports, police arrested 12 demonstrators who threw heavy objects towards them in a protest by a small ultra-Orthodox sect near Bar-Ilan Street in Jerusalem; the group was protesting the construction of part of the city’s light rail system through an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood.  On August 24, approximately 300 ultra-Orthodox demonstrators gathered at the Bar-Ilan junction intersection, blocking the road, to protest the light rail line’s construction.  Police used water cannons to disperse the crowd.  Authorities said that they arrested four individuals for disturbing the peace and that one police officer was injured by pepper spray.  According to press, the protesters said the construction of the rail line was a “decree of expulsion and annihilation” aimed at Jerusalem’s ultra-Orthodox community.

Clashes broke out in April and May with “Day of Rage” demonstrations throughout the West Bank and East Jerusalem against Israeli actions in Sheikh Jarrah, Damascus Gate, and the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount in Jerusalem.  The Palestinian National and Islamic Factions in the West Bank called on Palestinians across West Bank cities, villages, and refugee camps to participate in a “Day of Rage” on May 11 to protest actions by Israeli security forces and Israelis living in East Jerusalem against Palestinians at the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount compound and in Sheikh Jarrah.

According to press and NGO monitors, multiple events related to the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount contributed, along with other factors, to escalations resulting in unrest and conflict across Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza.  On April 13, on the evening of the first day of Ramadan, media and Waqf officials reported that the Israeli National Police entered the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount and disconnected loudspeakers used for the call to prayer after the Waqf’s call to prayer disrupted an official Memorial Day service for fallen soldiers attended by Israeli President Reuven Rivlin in the adjacent Western Wall Plaza.

On June 17, the government charged a police officer, whose name was not released, with reckless homicide in the 2020 killing of Iyad Halak, an autistic Palestinian man, in Jerusalem’s Old City.  Following an investigation, the Ministry of Justice said that Halak had not posed any danger to police.  At Halak’s funeral, the press reported that mourners chanted, “Khaybar, Khaybar, oh Jews, the army of [the Prophet] Mohammed will return,” a taunt referring to the seventh century Muslim massacre and expulsion of the Jews of Khaybar.

During the last Friday of Ramadan on May 7, Israeli police entered the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount using teargas, stun grenades, and rubber tipped bullets to disperse Palestinians they said were throwing rocks.  Media reported that in the aftermath, Palestinians stockpiled stones on the compound for use against the police and far-right Israeli nationalists planning to march through the Old City.  On May 10, Israeli police entered the compound again and used stun grenades, teargas, and rubber tipped bullets to disperse Palestinians.  The Palestinian Red Crescent said that more than 300 individuals suffered injuries.  In an attempt to ease tensions and reduce potential for clashes, Israeli police temporarily barred non-Muslims from visiting the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount.

On December 13, authorities released Raed Salah, the head of the outlawed northern branch of the Islamic Movement, from Megiddo Prison, where he served 17 months of a 28-month sentence for incitement to terrorism in 2019 when he preached at the funeral for three terrorists who were involved in the killing of police officers at the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount.  A crowd of approximately 1,000 supporters greeted Salah upon his return to his home in Umm al-Fahm.  On December 20, Knesset member (MK) Mazen Ghnaim, a member of the Ra’am Party and the ruling coalition, met with Salah, which caused opposition politicians to state that Ghnaim was “supporting terrorism.”

On February 2, former Yitzhar settlement Yeshiva Rabbi Yosef Elitzur was convicted of incitement to violence for publishing articles in 2013 calling on Jews to rise up against Palestinian violence and calling on authorities not to arrest those who committed violent hate-filled attacks against Palestinians in what the attackers called “price tag” attacks (attacks with the stated purpose of exacting a “price” for actions by the government contrary to the attackers’ interests).  According to the prosecution, Elitzur was also one of the authors of a book stating the killing of non-Jews is permitted according to halacha.  On March 18, Elitzur was sentenced to four months’ probation and a fine.  On May 5, the prosecution appealed the sentence, and demanded a sentence of nine months’ imprisonment.  The appeal was pending as of the year’s end.

The government continued to allow controlled access to the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount.  The government expressed continued support for the post-1967 status quo pertaining to the site to allow non-Muslim visitors but prohibit non-Islamic worship there, while stating that Israel respected Jordan’s “special role” at the site, as reflected in the 1994 Israel-Jordan peace treaty.  The Waqf said that Israeli authorities continued to interfere in the Waqf’s administration of the site, including delaying longstanding maintenance and restoration work.  Israeli officials and activists again stated the Waqf sometimes attempted to conduct repairs without coordinating with Israeli authorities.  In addition to the police banning individual Waqf staff members from the site, the Waqf said that it had a reduced capacity to administer the site because Israeli authorities refused to grant permits to new staff hired to work there, leaving the Waqf seriously understaffed.

On October 5, the Jerusalem Magistrate Court ruled that “silent Jewish prayer” on the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount did not violate existing police rules on the site.  The ruling was in response to a case involving a 15-day administrative restraining order against a man whom police had removed from the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount on September 29 on grounds that he disturbed public order by engaging in Jewish prayer.  The judge ruled that silent prayer “does not in itself violate police instructions,” which prohibit “external and overt” non-Islamic prayer on the site.  Al-Monitor said the Magistrate’s Court’s ruling was “unprecedented” and “seem[ed] to question the status quo that has prevailed over the site.”  The Jerusalem District Court overturned the lower court’s ruling on October 8, ruling that the INP had acted “within reason,” and “the fact that there was someone who observed [him] pray is evidence that his prayer was overt.”  Minister of Public Security Omer Bar-Lev supported the appeal, saying “a change in the status quo will endanger public security and could cause a flare-up.”  The Waqf said the lower court’s ruling was “a flagrant violation” of the complex’s sanctity and a “clear provocation” for Muslims.

In April during the beginning of Ramadan, Israeli authorities restricted the number of Palestinians allowed to enter Jerusalem from the West Bank for the purpose of traveling to the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount to 10,000 vaccinated persons because of “high morbidity rates” from coronavirus in the West Bank.  Israeli military authorities said the measures were to allow freedom of worship and religion, while also preventing the spread of COVID-19 in the area.

In December, the press reported that a religious extremist group had invoked halachic law in calling for the killing of Religious Affairs Minister Matan Kahana.  Haaretz said the exact identity of the group was unknown, but other sources stated it was “a religious extremist fringe group.”  According to the newspaper, sources tied the threats to Kahana to several religious reforms he promoted, including regarding conversions, kashrut certification, a compromise with non-Orthodox Jewish movements on an egalitarian (mixed gender) prayer space at the Western Wall, and his participation in a government that excluded ultra-Orthodox parties.  The country’s security service, Shin Bet, stated it viewed the threat as an immediate danger to Kahana and ordered bodyguards and security for the Minister as soon as the threat was discovered.

On June 22, Channel 13 News reported that Minister of Public Security Omer Bar Lev (Labor) and Chair of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee Ram Ben Barak (Yesh Atid) requested assistance from the Attorney General and the Minister of Defense in defining as a terror organization Lehava (an acronym for “prevention of assimilation in the Holy Land,” which also translates as “flame”), described by press as a radical right-wing Jewish supremacist group.  These officials further asked the Minister of Defense and the Attorney General to outlaw Lehava as well as the registered NGO that funds it, The Fund for Saving the People of Israel.  According to the Anti-Terrorism Law, the Minister of Defense, with the approval of the Attorney General, has the authority to designate an organization as a terrorist group.  On September 12, a group of prominent rabbis, described in the press as religious Zionist and ultra-Orthodox, signed a petition protesting this initiative, stating that Lehava was within its rights to protest intermarriage, acted in accordance with the law and the Torah, and was not involved in violence or illegal activity.  Following the petition, NGO Tag Meir, an umbrella of Jewish groups working to monitor and counter hate crimes and religion-based racism in the country, urged the government to declare Lehava a terrorist organization.

Due to elections in March and the change in government in June, the Supreme Court postponed until January 6, 2022, the implementation of a 2017 verdict that struck down the exemption of ultra-Orthodox men from military service.  This was the 10th time the court postponed the implementation.  On August 22, the Ministerial Committee for Legislation approved a draft bill calling for the gradual increase in the number of ultra-Orthodox men serving in the IDF.  The bill includes yearly benchmarks for ultra-Orthodox serving in the military and a deduction in government support for yeshivas if those benchmarks are not achieved.

While some ultra-Orthodox communities stated that mandatory conscription was a violation of the right to conscientious objection on the basis of religious beliefs, the Ministry of Defense rejected this argument.  The IDF reported increasing numbers of ultra-Orthodox recruits since at least 2011, mainly into dedicated ultra-Orthodox units such as the Netzah Yehuda Battalion.

Authorities continued to allow use of a temporary platform south of the Mughrabi Bridge and adjacent to the Western Wall, but not visible from the main Western Wall Plaza, for non-Orthodox “egalitarian” (mixed gender) Jewish prayers.  Authorities designated the platform for members of the Conservative and Reform movements of Judaism, including for religious ceremonies such as bar and bat mitzvahs.  On November 4, the Supreme Court criticized the government for its lack of progress upgrading the area to a more permanent egalitarian prayer space.  On December 7, the government told the Supreme Court it intended to continue to upgrade the egalitarian plaza but did not mention steps it would take towards further equality and recognition included in the 2016 Western Wall Agreement.  The 2016 agreement was a compromise between Orthodox and non-Orthodox communities, which the government “froze” in 2017, that included the construction of a permanent plaza for mixed gender prayer managed by non-Orthodox groups, and a merged entry to all prayer spaces adjacent to the Western Wall.  The government requested to update the court on developments within six months.

The Supreme Court case was a combination of lawsuits against the government, some dating back to 2013, that would allow prayer for all religious streams of Judaism at the Western Wall.  It resulted in the 2016 Western Wall Agreement.  In 2018, a special government committee approved expansion of the temporary platform for members of the Conservative and Reform movements.  The non-Orthodox Jewish movements stated that upgrading the prayer space alone would not fulfill their 2016 agreement with the government.  In addition, observers stated that scaffolding prevented visitors from touching the sacred wall in the egalitarian prayer space since a rock fell there in 2018.  Over the same period, the Western Wall Heritage Foundation managed large construction projects in the main plaza, making routine inspections for loose rocks at the main plaza without blocking access to the wall.

On September 2, the Supreme Court rejected a petition by female rabbis demanding structural improvements to prevent collapse of the Mughrabi Bridge (the only entrance for non-Muslims to the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount, that crosses over the women’s section of the main Western Wall Plaza); the court accepted the state’s argument that it was taking action to restore the wooden beams on metal bases which support the bridge.  The court added, “in a place like the Temple Mount, where any change could lead to political or security turbulence, the decision of state institutions to not change the existing situation on the ground is a practical and reasonable decision in which there is no room to intervene.”

In November and December, the press reported that despite the government’s declared intention to create an egalitarian prayer space at the Western Wall, the proposal appeared to be losing support within the ruling coalition.  Minister of Religious Affairs Kahana said the vast majority of Jews in Israel were Orthodox and that it would not be right to give control of parts of the space to the Conservative and Reform streams.  Kahana said the issue “must be studied, to see how we resolve the [religious] wars.”  Other members of the cabinet continued to publicly support the plan.  According to Haaretz, the two key components of the proposal were creating a new and enhanced space on the southern side of the Western Wall for egalitarian prayer and providing official recognition to the Conservative and Reform movements at the site.  The newspaper reported that “the disagreements [were] about that second component.”  Under the government’s original plan, a new authority would have been created to govern the egalitarian space and representatives of the Reform and Conservative movements would sit on its board.  However, Haaretz reported that two Orthodox members of the cabinet, Kahana and Housing Minister Ze’ev Elkin, found this unacceptable and suggested that the egalitarian prayer space continue to operate under the auspices of the Prime Minister’s Office or, alternatively, be handed over for supervision to the Jewish Agency.  Leaders of the non-Orthodox movements rejected that plan.  At year’s end, the government had taken no action to move the proposed changes forward.

Israeli authorities in some instances barred specific individuals from the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount site, including Jewish activists believed to have violated the status quo understanding prohibiting non-Islamic prayer, Muslims believed to have verbally harassed or acted violently against non-Muslim visitors to the site or incited others to violence, and public figures whose presence authorities feared would inflame tensions.  Banned individuals included Waqf guards and administrative and maintenance staff and imams delivering sermons at the site, as well as prominent activists.  The Israeli government said that some individuals – including both Muslims and Jews – were prevented access to the site during the year because they could have caused disturbances and riots.  The government said Israeli security prevented access to the site for 389 Muslims and 99 Jews during 2021 due to previous incidents of public disorder at the site, including assaulting or interfering with police, or based on intelligence information.  The Wadi Hilweh Information Center reported that Israeli authorities banned 357 individuals from the site during the year.

While the government stated it was rare for any individual to be barred entry to the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount, human rights and civil society organizations said Israeli authorities banned some Palestinian residents in the occupied territories, and Arab/Palestinian and Jewish citizens of Israel from the site.  Palestinian civil society organizations said that, in a practice that began in 2020, police continued to check the identify cards of individuals entering the Old City to visit the site for Friday prayers and would bar from entry those with West Bank identity cards and return them to the West Bank.  In May, media reported that Israeli police blocked several buses of Arab/Palestinian citizens of Israel outside of Jerusalem from visiting the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount.  Police said they stopped the buses because they had intelligence indicating some of the passengers were planning to riot at the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount.

At the main Western Wall Plaza, the place of Jewish worship nearest the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount and Judaism’s holiest site, the government continued to prohibit the performance of any “religious ceremony that is not in accordance with the customs of the place, [or] which harms the feelings of the public towards the place.”  Authorities interpreted this prohibition to include mixed-gender Jewish prayer services, over the objections of the Jewish Conservative and Reform movements.  The organization Women of the Wall, whose membership is composed of mostly Reform and Conservative Jewish women and whose goal is to secure the official right for women to pray at the Western Wall, stated that their monthly presence at the wall for more than 30 years had established them as part of the “customs of the place.”

Authorities continued to prohibit visitors from bringing private Torah scrolls to the main Western Wall Plaza and women from accessing the public Torah scrolls or giving priestly blessings at the site.  Authorities, however, permitted women to pray with tefillin and prayer shawls pursuant to a 2013 Jerusalem District Court ruling stating it was illegal to arrest or fine them for such actions.  On several occasions, MK Gilad Kariv (Labor) used his parliamentary immunity to bring Torah scrolls for the use of Women of the Wall and referred to the prohibition as illegal.

Within COVID-19 limitations, authorities allowed Women of the Wall to hold its monthly service in a barricaded portion of the women’s area of the main Western Wall Plaza.  Ultra-Orthodox protesters harassed and attacked Women of the Wall members repeatedly during their monthly services by throwing coffee or bottles at them, screaming, cursing, blowing whistles, or pushing them.

Representatives of Women of the Wall said police or ushers from the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, which administers the main Western Wall Plaza and which is ultra-Orthodox-run, were reluctant to intervene when ultra-Orthodox women and men disrupted the women’s monthly prayer service with screaming, whistling, and pushing.  Ahead of a November 5 service held by Women of the Wall, tension rose when former Shas MK Aryeh Deri called MKs and the public to attend the service and prevent MK Kariv from bringing Torah scrolls to the women’s section, which Deri said would be a “desecration of the Western Wall.”  The Western Wall Heritage Fund announced it would not take responsibility for maintaining public order at the plaza, leading to increased INP presence the day of the service.  With President Isaac Herzog’s intervention, and his promise to hold a meeting on non-Orthodox prayer at the Western Wall, most MKs refrained from attending the service at the Western Wall on November 5.  MK Ben Gvir of the Religious Zionist Party still attended to protest against the Women of the Wall, expressing outrage that police confronted protesters who attempted to reach the women who were conducting services at the site.  According to the NGO Israel Religion Action Center (IRAC), INP and the Western Wall Heritage Fund guards confronted Women of the Wall during the service.  The President held a meeting on pluralistic prayer at the Western Wall on December 1.

A 2017 petition to the Supreme Court by Women of the Wall asking that ushers and police prevent disruption of their services was pending at year’s end.

In May, the Jerusalem Municipality opened a parking lot on property it had leased from the Armenian Church in 2020.  In July, the Church signed a new contract with the Jerusalem Municipality extending the lease for 99 years, and the municipality announced that a Jewish-Australian developer would construct a new hotel on the property.  Palestinians widely criticized the Church for leasing the property to the municipality, including public statements by PA figures.  PA Minister of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates Riyad Malki raised the transaction with his Armenian counterpart and asked for Armenian Foreign Ministry assistance in pressuring the Church to cancel the lease.  Malki characterized the deal as opening the door for “the gradual encroachment of Israel’s settler-colonialism into the Armenian Quarter in Jerusalem,” and said it “risks accelerating the obliteration of the Palestinian, Muslim, and Christian character of Jerusalem.”

On February 24, the Supreme Court ordered the government to answer a series of questions by April 22 regarding its plan to build an aerial cable car over a Karaite (a Jewish religious movement) cemetery in Jerusalem.  This order was in response to petitions filed by the Karaite community, the NGO Emek Shaveh, and the NGO Israel Union for Environmental Defense from 2019 and 2020.  According to the Karaite community, the cable car would desecrate the cemetery, thus preventing its further use.  The government stated the cable car was meant to solve accessibility problems to holy sites such as the Western Wall, but some NGOs said the project was meant to specifically promote Jewish touristic sites in East Jerusalem and to reinforce the country’s claims of sovereignty over the area.  Despite respective statements by Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli and Environmental Protection Minister Tamar Zandberg on November 26 and December 13 opposing the project, the government told the Supreme Court on December 28 that it supported the construction of the cable car.  The petition was pending at year’s end.

In October, Palestinian demonstrators sporadically clashed with the INP after the Israeli Nature and Parks Authority began landscaping work on public land adjacent to the Islamic al-Yusufiya Cemetery and unearthed human remains in a shallow grave.  The cemetery, which is hundreds of years old, is affiliated with the Islamic Waqf.  Multiple graves and headstones are located in the disputed area adjacent to the cemetery, some dating from Jordanian control of Jerusalem and others allegedly from recent burials conducted without authorization.  According to an October 11 report in Haaretz, the Israel Nature and Parks Authority said, “This territory is a national park and open public space, outside the Muslim cemetery.  The Muslim Waqf, unlawfully and in violation of court orders, placed several graves there.  During works with the Jerusalem Development Authority to develop the open public space, a shallow dig was uncovered with several bones in it.  The matter is being investigated.  The works at the site are ongoing under court orders.”  On October 17, the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court rejected requests submitted by the Committee for the Care of Islamic Cemeteries in Jerusalem to suspend bulldozing and exhuming graves on the site.  However, the court restricted construction activity to only light work, such as covering ground, placing grids, and gardening, and prohibited demolition, excavation, casting, or drilling.  Authorities did not allow construction that would impact any graves at the site.  On October 28, Israeli authorities fenced the walls surrounding the area and installed surveillance cameras.  On October 29, police deployed stun grenades and tear gas to disperse demonstrators who threw rocks at the site.  The PA President’s advisor for religious and Islamic affairs described the bulldozing as an ongoing crime against the cemetery, while the Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem stated that “no tomb was damaged during the works, and there is no intention to displace any grave, even if built illegally.”

Some former mosques and Islamic cemeteries remained sealed and inaccessible, including to Muslims.  These sites belonged to the defunct pre-state Waqf (distinct from the current Jordanian-administered Waqf in Jerusalem) until confiscated by the state after the 1948 War of Independence.  Other former mosques continued to be used for secular purposes.

Government restrictions on gathering for prayer varied due to the COVID-19 pandemic and included limitations on the number of worshippers at the Western Wall as well as requiring a “Green Pass,” which indicated a person’s vaccination status, to enter synagogues.

In June, before taking office as Minister of Finance, Avigdor Lieberman said that raising the number of ultra-Orthodox Jews in the workforce would be one of his main goals.  In particular, he said bringing ultra-Orthodox men into the labor force would be a major challenge.  According to the Jerusalem Post, at the beginning of 2020, approximately 53 percent of ultra-Orthodox men were employed, compared with more than 85 percent of non-ultra-Orthodox men.  According to Reuters, those ultra-Orthodox men who did not work in paid employment were devoted full-time to religious studies and relied on government allowances and handouts from donors.  Lieberman said, “We will do everything to provide them [the ultra-Orthodox] an education and enable them to learn a profession and stand on their own two feet, as opposed to [depending on] charity and all the stipends.”

On July 7, in office as Finance Minister, Lieberman revoked the eligibility of fathers studying full-time in yeshivas for childcare subsidies, a move which, according to press coverage, enraged ultra-Orthodox political leaders.  According to the decision, to be eligible for such subsidies, fathers would need to work or study in a nonreligious educational institute for at least 24 hours a week, which would preclude full-time yeshiva study.  Lieberman said the changes were designed to prioritize “those who work and pay taxes.”  United Torah Judaism party leader Moshe Gafni called Lieberman “an evil man” for the policy change, while Shas party chairman Deri described the decision as “destructive and wicked.”  In response, Lieberman said, “Those who are harming the Haredi [ultra-Orthodox] community are the MKs of Shas and United Torah Judaism.  They want to leave the entire Haredi public without a living, so that they will remain dependent on handouts and financial assistance all their lives.”  After the new policy was formally announced in August, lawyers and ultra-Orthodox organizations filed court petitions against the policy shift as discriminatory against the ultra-Orthodox.  The implementation of the plan was initially delayed until November and then until the new year.  On November 10, a Supreme Court panel rejected the ultra-Orthodox organizations’ request for an interim order on the policy itself but issued an interim order that required the government to explain the basis for its authority to change the rules regarding subsidies for ultra-Orthodox childcare after the school year had already started in September.  The case remained pending at year’s end.

The security barrier that divided the majority of the West Bank from the rest of the country also divided some communities in Jerusalem, affecting residents’ access to places of worship.  The government stated that the barrier was needed for security reasons.

Several groups, including religious minorities and human rights NGOs, continued to criticize the Nation State Law.  On July 8, the Supreme Court, by a vote of 10-to-one, rejected 15 petitions challenging the Nation State Law.  According to the court’s opinion, the law should be interpreted in a way that does not detract from individual or cultural rights at the subnational level and the provisions of the Nation State Law do not diminish “the components of the state’s democratic identity that are anchored in other Basic Laws.”  The ruling further stated that, although some of the provisions of the law raise “difficulties,” it should be interpreted in light of the country’s other basic laws, in particular the basic laws on the Knesset, on human dignity and liberty, and on freedom of occupation, which specifically address the dual character of the country as a Jewish and democratic state.  Haaretz reported that the law had been “lambasted for the absence of the words ‘equality’ and ‘democracy’ in the text.”  Justice Minister Gideon Saar said that the court recognized “the essence and character of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people.”  The Adalah Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights said the decision “enshrined Jewish supremacy and racial segregation as founding principles of the Israeli regime.”

On November 4, the Knesset approved the state budget, which included 40 million shekels ($12.91 million) for Conservative and Reform Judaism for 2022, to be managed through a new department for Progressive Judaism at the Ministry of Diaspora Affairs.  While Progressive Judaism organizations welcomed the funding, the NGO Jewish Pluralism Watch of the Conservative Judaism movement stated the department managing the funds should have been placed in the Ministry of Religious Services, stating that the latter should stop serving Orthodox Judaism only.

In March, NGOs Emek Shaveh and the Arab Culture Association filed a petition with the Supreme Court against the Ministry of Jerusalem and Heritage, demanding that criteria for funding heritage sites by the ministry not exclude non-Jewish sites.  In response, on August 9, the ministry stated it was only responsible for the conservation of Jewish-related heritage while other offices were funding heritage sites of minority populations.  The petition was pending at the year’s end.

In a November 29 meeting with Communications Minister Yoaz Hendel, a delegation of representatives of the ultra-Orthodox community asked to discuss “kosher phones,” a special phone service widely used by their community, despite its announced boycott of the government, which does not include ultra-Orthodox members.  The “kosher cellphones” are configured only for calls and text messages, with no Internet access or apps.  Unlike other users, owners of kosher phones are not able to change their provider while keeping their number.  A story in Haaretz said, “But this is not just about numbers.  It’s about the rabbis controlling the free flow of information into their communities.  Without that control, their power over their followers is greatly diminished.”  The Jerusalem Post reported that Hendel had pointed out that “kosher phones” were a sort of fiefdom within Israeli telecommunications; unlike other phone numbers, since “kosher” numbers could not be moved from one company to another, severely limiting competition.

Following the March elections, Gilad Kariv, former head of the national Reform movement, became the first Reform rabbi member of Knesset.  In his first speech in the Knesset on May 5, Kariv said that the “Jewish pluralist renewal,” including his election, elevated the principles of “tolerance, equity, and most importantly, the recognition that there is more than one way to be a Jew.”  He stated that “heavy obstacles” had been put in the way of this renewal, especially “the monopoly over Israeli Judaism that had been given to one particular stream and institution,” a reference to Orthodoxy and the Chief Rabbinate.

On June 28, MK Meir Porush (United Torah Judaism) responded to the appointment of Kariv as the Chair of the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, by comparing him as a Reform Jew to a pig pretending to be kosher.  MK Itamar Ben Gvir (Religious Zionism) responded by saying Kariv is the number one enemy of halacha.

On May 4, Rabbi David Yosef of the Har Nof neighborhood of Jerusalem announced he was retiring following a 2020 Women of the Wall and IRAC petition demanding a disciplinary hearing against him, after his repeated alleged incitement against Women of the Wall.  Yosef served as rabbi in a public servant position in which the office holder is required to act in accordance with the civil service regulations.

In 2019, six Orthodox women halacha students and NGOs petitioned the Supreme Court to permit women to take the halacha examinations used to ordain rabbis.  While Orthodox women cannot become rabbis, passing the examinations is equal to receiving a bachelor’s degree and grants an advantage when applying for certain public sector positions.  On October 21, in its response to the petition, the state offered a compromise whereby the Religious Services Ministry would establish “an alternative, independent examination framework” for women and men.  The petitioners opposed the compromise, arguing it further strengthened the existing discrimination against women and constituted a waste of resources.  The petition was pending at the year’s end.  On June 30, Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef threatened that the rabbinate would not conduct any exams to ordain state-authorized rabbis, including for men, if the court ruled that women could be ordained in contradiction to halacha.

The government employed an “appropriate representation” policy for non-Jewish minorities in the civil service.  The percentage of Arab/Palestinian employees in the public sector was 13.2 percent (61.5 percent of them entry-level), according to the Civil Service Commission.  The percentage of Arab/Palestinian employees in the 62 government-owned companies was approximately 2.5 percent; however, during the year Arab/Palestinian citizens held 12 percent of director positions in government-owned companies, up from 1 percent in 2000, and Arab/Palestinain workers held 13.2 percent of government positions, up from 5 percent in 2000, according to Sikkuy-Aufoq, an NGO that supports full equality between Jewish and Arab/Palestinian citizens.  Of the 13.2 percent, 68 percent were employed in government health services.

Women’s rights and religious freedom NGOs filed a petition with the Supreme Court on May 12 against the Ministry of Religious Services, demanding appropriate representation for women on religious councils.  According to the petitioners, only eight women served on religious councils nationwide, despite an Attorney General directive from 2016 and a 2017 Ministry of Religious Service directive requiring a minimum representation of 20-33 percent.  According to the petitioners, 80 percent of the councils had no women members.  In August, the government responded to the court, stating the Minister of Religious Affairs was working to promote appropriate representation for women in religious councils. The petition was pending at year’s end.

According to the Jerusalem Post, Minister of Foreign Affairs Yair Lapid, in remarks on July 14 to the Global Forum on Combatting Antisemitism, said that antisemitism was part of a broad family of hatreds and that antisemites start by attacking Jews but “always” move on to focus their hate and violence on other groups as well.  After pointing to the slave trade, the massacre of Tutsis in Rwanda, the deaths of Muslims at the hands of Muslim extremists, and fatal attacks on members of the LGBTQI+ community, Lapid said, “The antisemites are all those who persecute people not for what they’ve done, but for what they are, for how they were born… Antisemitism isn’t the first name of hatred, it’s the family name; it’s all those consumed by hatred to the point that they want to murder and destroy and persecute and banish people just because they’re different.”  According to the Times of Israel, Lapid’s comments “ignited a firestorm of criticism and a fierce left-right dustup in the Hebrew-language media.”  The website reported that “right-wingers, led by opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu,” said that Lapid’s comments were “scandalous and irresponsible, warping history and emptying the concept of antisemitism of all content.”  In a July 26 article in Haaretz defending his statement, Lapid wrote, “The State of Israel is in need of a dramatic and fundamental change in direction in its fight against antisemitism, and it must acknowledge that in recent years, it has abjectly failed in that battle.”

The MOI continued to rely on the sole discretion and approval of the Jewish Agency, a parastatal organization, to determine who qualified to immigrate as a Jew or as a descendant of a Jew.  The government continued to deny applications from individuals, including those holding Messianic or other Christian beliefs, whom the government said became ineligible when they converted to another religion.

A group of Orthodox rabbis continued to operate a private conversion court for children of families whom the state or rabbinical courts did not recognize as Jews.  The Chief Rabbinate and MOI continued not to recognize non-Orthodox converts to Judaism as Jews, although they remained eligible for immigration under the Law of Return if they converted outside the country.

After the Supreme Court’s March 1 decision that the government must recognize Conservative and Reform conversions performed in the country, the Jerusalem Post reported that Chief Sephardic Rabbi Yizhak Yosef said, “What Reform and Conservative call ‘conversion’ is nothing but a forgery of Judaism.”  The Times of Israel reported that Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi David Lau said that those who undergo Reform or Conservative conversions “are not Jews.”  Saying the decision “was mainly symbolic,” the New York Times cited a report by the Israel Religious Action Center that only 30 or 40 foreigners convert each year.  In a December 6 article, Haaretz stated that of the approximately 80 non-Orthodox converts who applied for citizenship since the ruling, only three had been approved by the Ministry of Interior.  Rabbi Andrew Sacks, the director of the Rabbinical Assembly for the Conservative-Masorti movement, said that the ministry was “slow-walking the implementation of the conversion process.”

The court’s decision became an issue in the campaign for the March 23 election.  Then Prime Minister Netanyahu reposted a tweet that said, the decision [about recognizing conversions] should be left to “the people and the Knesset.”  Then Interior Minister Deri, leader of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, promised to introduce legislation to ensure only Orthodox conversions would be recognized in the country.  Leaders of both Shas and the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party said they would not join a government coalition that was not committed to overturning the court’s decision.  During the campaign, United Torah Judaism posted a video showing pictures of dogs wearing prayer shawls and kippahs, with a voiceover, “The Supreme Court says they’re Jewish.”  Finance Minister Lieberman, then a candidate to replace Netanyahu, said he and his party would “continue to fight against religious coercion and preserve the character of Israel as a Jewish, liberal, Zionist state.”  Yair Lapid, then head of the Knesset opposition said, “Israel must have complete equality of rights for all streams of Judaism – Orthodox, Reform, or Conservative.”

In July, Kan News reported that Minister of Religious Services Kahana planned to introduce legislation to liberalize conversions to Judaism.  In December, Kahana outlined the framework for his proposed changes, which he said he planned to introduce in Knesset legislation.  As part of Kahana’s proposed framework, municipal rabbis would be able to establish conversion courts to allow them to convert citizens of Jewish descent who were not considered Jewish according to religious law.  According to the Jerusalem Post, Kahana’s legislation would grant the chief rabbis and the Council of the Chief Rabbinate the power, under certain circumstances, to revoke the appointment of a rabbinical judge on the new conversion courts.  On December 29, the government postponed a vote on the legislation after determining it lacked sufficient support to advance the bill.  On the same day, Chief Rabbi David Lau, whose authorization is required for all conversions in the country, wrote the Prime Minister saying if the bill moved forward, “I will be forced to declare myself no longer responsible for anything to do with conversions.”  He added that the reforms had the potential to cause an “irreparable” split among the Jewish people: “two states for two peoples, divided Judaism instead of united Judaism.”  Finance Minister Lieberman said that Lau’s threat to freeze conversions “is not appropriate to the status of the chief rabbi and may lead to proceedings being taken to end his term.”  Minister of Communications Yoaz Hendel said, “A public servant should fulfill the government’s decisions, and if he does not do so, he should not be in office.”

On October 6, Minister Kahana said that although he believed marriage is a religious construct, he believed there should be legal alternatives for those unable to marry in the country’s religious institutions.  He said, “I believe that every citizen needs to be able to actualize their partnership in a legal manner.  I think that marriage is a religious term which should remain ‘according to the religion of Moses and Israel.’  There are enough rabbis, much wiser than me in Judaism and Jewish law, who have outlines for [legal, nonreligious partnerships].”  A member of the opposition Shas party responded by saying, “Kahana is not the minister of religious services, he is the minister of destroying religion and the destruction of Jerusalem.”  In a November interview with the Times of Israel, while declining to offer specific proposals, Kahana said, “I am opposed to civil marriage.  I believe that the concept of marriage, the sacred connection between a man and a woman, in the State of Israel, must remain in the province of halachic Judaism.”

On July 20, the Supreme Court approved an agreement to halt the practice of the Chief Rabbinate using information collected during Jewish status investigations (used to verify individuals’ Jewish status) to question the validity of third parties claiming Jewish ancestry.  The agreement was a result of a 2017 petition by NGOs and individuals affected by the practice.

In February, KAN News reported that the Ashkelon Rabbinical Court conducted Jewish status investigations during two cases of divorce involving Jewish Ethiopian-Israelis and refused to give a writ of divorce prior to the confirmation of the couples’ Jewish status, even though they married in the country in accordance with the rules of the Chief Rabbinate.

In November, the Rabbinate granted ultra-Orthodox music and film entertainer Shuli Rand permission to marry TV personality Zufit Grant despite his wife’s refusal to accept a get from him, thus denying him a divorce.  After his first wife refused to agree to a divorce, Rand reportedly received an exemption signed by 100 rabbis that allowed him to remarry.  NGOs including Mavoi Satum, an organization that aids women who have been refused a Jewish divorce by their husbands, and The Center For Women’s Justice continued to criticize the inequality facing women who cannot remarry because they are unable to obtain a get from their ex-husbands and who consequently are denied similar permission to marry again.

In August, a Tel Aviv rabbinical court “canceled” the 18-year marriage of a couple, following claims of abuse, after the husband refused a get.  In November, the same court overturned its decision, following pressure from ultra-Orthodox public figures, according to Haaretz.

On October 6, Alon Tal, a Conservative Jewish member of Israel’s governing coalition, criticized the then-pending bill opening the kashrut-certification market, saying he was “hugely disappointed” to discover that the reform plans were “intent on excluding anybody that is not Orthodox.”  On October 28, before passage of the bill, the two chief rabbis of the country issued a joint declaration that stated, “The decision on the new kashrut outline is the destruction of kashrut and reflects a trend towards the displacement of Judaism of Israel, another step in making Israel a state of all its citizens.”  The statement also said that changing the kashrut system could lead to “conversion and marriage outside the framework of the Chief Rabbinate, which will inevitably lead to the separation of communities in Israel.”   They also said Israeli rabbis should refuse to cooperate with the reform efforts and refrain from granting certification to any establishment without the authorization of the Chief Rabbinate Council.

On November 4, the Knesset passed a law opening the kashrut-certification market to competition.  According to the law, beginning on January 1, 2022, religious councils would be able to award kashrut certification anywhere in the country, not only in the cities to which they belong.  Then, from January 1, 2023, both private organizations and religious councils would be able to award kashrut certificates, while the Rabbinate would go from certifying food as kosher to performing a regulatory function, certifying others to certify food as kosher.  The new law does not allow for non-Orthodox kashrut certificates.

According to Haaretz, after the kashrut-certification bill was passed, Sephardic Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef organized a conference of rabbinical judges opposing the reforms regarding kashrut certification and conversion.  After the conference, Yosef issued a statement saying that he “utterly rejects the … dangerous initiatives to destroy Kashrut and Judaism in Israel.”  After reviewing the statement, the judicial ombudsman, retired Supreme Court Justice Uri Shoham, asked the Minister of Religious Affairs to consider dismissing Yosef from his position on the Grand Rabbinical Court.

At a December 6 meeting of ultra-Orthodox religious parties, MKs discussed a range of options, including boycotts and mass protests, to oppose various reforms impacting the ultra-Orthodox that were under consideration by the government.  One Shas MK said that the government was seeking to establish “a nation of all its citizens in place of a Jewish and democratic state.”  Another participant said the government was waging a “culture war against the ultra-Orthodox” and that the country was engaged in “a real war” over the future of the Jewish people.

In August, NGOs Hiddush and Secular Forum, in a letter to the IDF Chief of Staff, protested Military Rabbinate orders published during the year that restricted the use of kitchenette facilities during Shabbat, or for preparing nonkosher foods, following complaints from soldiers.  According to the NGOs, the Military Rabbinate was not authorized to order restrictions on food not served by the IDF, and its actions constituted “religious coercion.”

During a June 8 press conference, MK Yaakov Litzman of United Torah Judaism called on soon-to-be Prime Minister Naftali Bennett to “take off his yarmulke, for he disgraces it.”

Yitzhak Pindrus of United Torah Judaism said in the Knesset on June 28 that the Minister of Religious Services should follow the path of a biblical character who killed people who intermarried, referring to such marriages as “miscegenation.”

On October 13, MK Bezalel Smotrich (Religious Zionism) directed his comments from the Knesset plenary’s podium towards Arab MKs, referring to them as “anti-Zionists,” “terror supporters,” and “enemies.”  He also said: “You’re here by mistake, it’s a mistake that Ben-Gurion didn’t finish the job and didn’t throw you out in 1948.”

The website Al-Monitor reported that there were varied opinions within the country about the Muslim political party Ra’am becoming the first Arab party to join a government.  Members of then Prime Minister Netanyahu’s party protested in front of the homes belonging to members of Prime Minister Bennett’s Yamina party to pressure Yamina from joining a coalition that included Ra’am.  A member of the Ra’am party told Al-Monitor that the “responses [in the street] to the move are positive and give us credit,” adding that joining the government was the first step in “a long journey.”

Members of some religious minorities said that the government did not provide the same service and benefits to them as to the country’s majority Jewish population and in many jurisdictions made it difficult for members of minority groups to obtain permits needed for new construction.  In January, the Druze and Circassian mayors’ forum chairman demanded that the problem of urban planning be addressed in those local council districts facing high fines for illegal construction.

The MRS listed 21 dedicated cemeteries in Israel and West Bank settlements for burial of persons the government defined as “lacking religion,” and 33 cemeteries for civil burial, but only three were available for use by the general public regardless of residence, and one had been full for several years.  The state permitted other cemeteries located in agricultural localities to bury only “residents of the area.”  This, according to Hiddush, left the majority of the country’s population deprived of the ability to exercise its right, as mandated by law, to be buried in accordance with secular or non-Orthodox religious views.  The two MRS-administered cemeteries in West Bank settlements were available only for the burial of Israeli citizens.  On September 12, the Supreme Court rejected a 2019 petition by Hiddush that demanded civil burial in agricultural localities for individuals who were not local residents and who did not have another alternative.  According to the government, the existing issues regarding civil burial could not justify burial outside of place of residence, as the law mandates.  The court invited Hiddush to submit a new petition regarding a specific locality, rather than a principled petition.

According to Hiddush, an absolute majority of the MRS licenses for civil burial are held by Jewish Orthodox NGOs and religious councils and some of these organizations conducted a “less religious burial” rather than a secular one, did not allow burial in a coffin, and stated on their websites that their services were only for non-Jews.

Those exempt from compulsory military service continued to have the option to join the National Service, a civilian alternative in which volunteers work for two years to promote social welfare in schools, hospitals, or NGOs.  According to government officials and NGOs, this alternative was more popular among women from Jewish Orthodox backgrounds than other exempt groups.

According to representatives of the ultra-Orthodox Eda Haredit community, some of their members did not receive an exemption from military service because its yeshivas were not recognized by the state and young men studying in those yeshivas did not submit draft exemption applications.  As a result, dozens of them were arrested every month, community members said.

According to the Karaite community’s NGO, during the year the IDF requested religious Karaite women who sought to be exempted from military service to declare their status as religious women at a rabbinical court; the Karaite community said this would be contrary to its beliefs.  Up until 2020, Karaite women were able to submit a letter from a Jewish Karaite court to the IDF to prove their status.  On March 21, three Karaite women petitioned the Supreme Court concerning this matter and as a result, the IDF announced on June 6 that it exempted them from military service.  Due to the IDF’s action, the women’s petition was “deleted” on June 10.

According to the website of Brigham Young University’s Jerusalem Center, the government maintained an agreement with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that no member of the Church “will engage in proselytizing of any kind” within Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza as a condition to lease land for its campus on the Mount of Olives.  Some other unrecognized Christian communities reported that the MOI Department of Non-Jewish Affairs discouraged them from proselytizing or holding large public gatherings outside their houses of worship.

The Center of Scientology Israel reported that it was targeted by the NGO Israeli Center for Victims of Cults using derogatory labels on their website and categorizing it as a cult.  The NGO Yad L’Achim paid for a campaign to target Scientology online.

The government maintained its policy of not accepting applications for official recognition from unrecognized religious groups, including evangelical Christian churches and Jehovah’s Witnesses, but stated that no religious community applied for recognition during the year.  The government stated some leaders of unrecognized religions were invited to and participated in official events and ceremonies, along with the leaders of recognized religions.

After the Supreme Court ordered the government on April 29 to explain why it would not discuss a 2017 application by the Jehovah’s Witnesses for recognition, the government told the court on December 29 that it had tasked the Ministerial Committee on Internal Affairs to review the request.  The government asked the committee to submit an update to the court within 90 days.

On June 15, the Supreme Court ruled that the Knesset Finance Committee had no authority to reject the application for tax-deductible status submitted by the Messianic Jews’ NGO Yachad Ramat HaSharon, and ordered that the NGO be granted tax-deductible status.  A similar petition by the Jehovah’s Witnesses NGO Watchtower Association was pending at the year’s end.  In 2020, the Finance Committee rejected applications for tax-deductible status by the two NGOs despite objections from legal advisors in the Ministry of Justice and the Tax Authority.  On December 8 and 13, the Knesset Finance Committee discussed the Watchtower Association’s application and decided on a Tax Authority audit of the group to take place in 2022 due to concerns raised by Shas MK of alleged missionary activity directed at minors.

Separate public and semipublic school systems varied widely in educational quality around the country, according to NGOs and international organizations.  During the year, Arab/Palestinians including Christians, Muslims and Druze, as well as ultra-Orthodox students, passed the matriculation exam at lower rates than their non-ultra-Orthodox Jewish counterparts.  The government continued educational and scholarship programs to benefit Arab/Palestinian students.  Between the academic years of 2009-10 and 2020-21, the percentage of Arab/Palestinian students enrolled increased significantly:  in undergraduate programs from 13 percent to 19 percent, in master’s degree programs from 7 percent to 15 percent, and in doctoral programs from 5 percent to 7 percent, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics.

According to the Israel Democracy Institute (IDI), the gap in funding for Jewish students and Arab/Palestinian students in elementary and middles schools continued to narrow, but the largest gap in funding was found in high schools.  According to IDI, the gap was not solely a result of differences in the Ministry of Education budget, but was also influenced by local government funding and parental contributions.

According to the Secular Forum, growing “religionization” (hadata) of the education system continued, including in textbooks and through programs in schools taught by Orthodox NGOs.  On April 7 the Supreme Court ruled that government funding previously granted to pluralistic Jewish organizations’ activities in secular schools must be “reexamined” after the government cancelled this funding in 2019.  Prior to the ruling, the state only granted such funding to Orthodox organizations, some of which promoted a pro-settler agenda, according to the NGO Molad – The Center for the Renewal of Israeli Democracy.  According to Haaretz, in November, the Ministry of Education reissued its previous policy on funding Jewish organizations’ activities in secular schools and did not comply with the court’s ruling.   The Israel Religious Action Center said the ministry’s actions ignored the court’s ruling and sought to continue a policy that was rejected by the High Court.  The ministry told Haaretz it has begun acting to fulfill the court’s ruling.

Public Hebrew-language state schools taught Jewish history, culture, and some basic religious texts.  Many ultra-Orthodox religious schools in the “recognized but not official” category continued not to offer a basic humanities, mathematics, and science curriculum.  The government, however, included a basic curriculum for public ultra-Orthodox schools.  Public Arabic-speaking schools continued to teach religion classes on the Quran and the Bible to both Muslim and Christian Arab students.  A few independent mixed Jewish-Arab schools also offered religion classes.  For example, the curriculum at the nonprofit school Hand-in-Hand:  Center for Jewish-Arab Education, which received a third of its funding from the government, emphasized commonalities in the holy writings of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

The government funded approximately 34 percent of the budget of Christian school systems in the “recognized but not official” category, in which schools had autonomy over hiring teachers, admitting students, and the use of school property, according to church officials.  The government repeated its offer made in previous years to fully fund Christian schools if they became part of the public school system, but churches rejected this option, stating that, unlike in Orthodox schools, they would lose autonomy over hiring, admitting students, and use of property.  Church leaders criticized the disparity between government funding for their schools and those affiliated with the ultra-Orthodox political parties United Torah Judaism and Shas, which were also categorized as “recognized but not official” but received full government funding.

On August 28, the Jerusalem Post said that, according to a report by the Shoresh Institute, 50 percent of children from the country’s fastest growing sectors (including 43 percent from the ultra-Orthodox and Arab communities) “are getting a third-world education that will not be able to support a first world economy.”  The author of the Shoresh report, Dan Ben-David, said that these and broader challenges facing the country’s school system “turn the national education picture into a ticking time bomb.”

Seventh-day Adventists and others who worshipped on Saturday stated they faced difficulty traveling to their houses of worship in cities in which public transportation was unavailable on Shabbat, including Jerusalem.

Some unrecognized religious groups, including Jehovah’s Witnesses and Seventh-day Adventists, received a property tax exemption on their houses of worship, although others, such as Buddhists and the Church of Scientology, did not.

In an October 26 meeting, Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked announced that the northern Druze town of Mughar would receive city status, making it the country’s first majority-Druze city.  Shaked noted that her decision was proof of the “courageous and strong ties between the Druze and Jewish people.” According to the press, the elevation to status as a city would make various planning, economic, and organizational processes easier and would provide greater authority to local officials.  According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, 57.5 percent of the residents of Mughar were Druze while 21.4 percent were Muslims and 21.1 percent Christians.

Christian leaders reported little difficulty obtaining visas for clergy to serve in the country, except for Christian clergy from Arab countries, some of whom reported long delays for, and periodic denials of their visa applications.  The government stated Christian clergy from Arab countries were subject to the same entry laws and similar security procedures as clergy from other parts of the world and that any visa delays or denials were due to security reviews.  The government also said there were some “unavoidable delays” in cases of applicants from countries that did not have diplomatic relations with Israel.  Church officials noted that the clergy visas did not allow the bearer access to basic social benefits such as disability insurance or national health insurance, even for those who had served in the country for more than 30 years.

The MOI appointed and funded approximately half of the Druze and Muslim clerics in the country and continued to train Druze and Muslim clerical employees of the state on how to work with government ministries.  Muslim leaders criticized the MOI for appointing non-Muslims – mostly Druze former military officers – to head the Muslim Affairs Department at the ministry.  Muslim leaders again said the MOI routinely monitored and summoned for “talks” those whom the ministry suspected of opposing government policies.  The government said it did not monitor clerics, but government employees of all faiths were “expected not to incite against the state in their official capacities.”  The government stated the remaining Druze and Muslim clerics were not state employees due to either the preference of the local community or lack of MOI budgetary resources.  Muslim leaders stated sharia court judges, who were Ministry of Justice employees, were their preferred religious representatives.

No Islamic seminaries remained in the country, and students of Islam traveled elsewhere, primarily to Jordan or the West Bank, to study.  The government stated there were “Islamic colleges” in Umm al-Fahm, Baqa’a al-Gharbia, and Kfar Baraa.  Muslim leaders continued to reject this assertion and stated that none of those institutes was an Islamic seminary.

The government continued to promote measures to encourage increased Jewish-Israeli residence and economic development in the thinly populated Negev Desert in the south of the country, including development plans for military industries, railways, the expansion of Road 6, and a phosphate mine.  Civil society organizations criticized government plans, stating they could lead to the displacement of 36,000 Bedouins.  The government made more funding available for government-approved Bedouin cities and towns to relocate Bedouins displaced by economic expansion.

 

On October 21, Minister of Interior Shaked announced that the government planned to establish 11 new localities in the Negev, including removing planning obstacles regarding the Jewish town of Hiran.

 

In reports on its website, the NGO Adalah:  The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel continued to state that the government discriminated against the Bedouin residents of the Negev in several ways, including charging those in unrecognized villages the highest water prices in the country; refusing to classify camels as “farm animals”; preventing Bedouin herders from using the grazing land in the region; not addressing overcrowded and unsanitary conditions in local schools; and displacing residents to allow for the expansion of primarily Jewish towns and the relocation or expansion of government military facilities.

In a June 3rd report to the UN Human Rights Council’s Special Rapporteur on the Right Adequate Housing, Adalah stated that the government pursued two main policies discriminating against Bedouin citizens living in the Negev:  “denying their historical land rights and instead labelling them as trespassers” and forcibly displacing and …urbanizing them by concentrating them into a limited number of urban/semi-urban townships and recognized villages.”

On October 20, the Supreme Court rejected a petition against the State Attorney’s decision asking that the government reopen an investigation against police officers involved in the 2017 shooting of teacher Yaqub Musa Abu al-Qian.  Police shot Abu al-Qian during an operation to demolish homes in the unrecognized village of Umm al-Hiran, which was scheduled to be replaced by the Orthodox-only Jewish town of Hiran.  In 2020, Adalah and the NGO Public Committee Against Torture in Israel filed the petition with the Supreme Court on behalf of Abu al-Qian’s family.  The court ruled that the State Attorney’s decision and the preliminary investigation procedure conducted by the Department for Investigation of Police Officers indicated that they made their decision after an in-depth examination and extensive collection of evidence, and that there was no need for the court to intervene in the decision.  The NGOs’ petition disputed the details of the government’s account of the incident.

Bedouin residents in Umm al-Hiran continued to not fulfill their obligations, under the 2018 Development and Settlement of Bedouin in the Negev Agreement with the government, to demolish their structures and relocate to vacant plots in the Bedouin town of Hura.  Jewish families sponsored to move into Hiran by the OR Movement, an organization dedicated to expanding the Jewish Israeli population of the Negev and Galilee regions, remained in the forest outside Umm al-Hiran, living in mobile homes donated by the Jewish National Fund, while waiting for village land vacated by Bedouins to become available for them.

In November, the cabinet approved a draft resolution to legalize three unrecognized Bedouin villages in the southern Negev:  Rakhma, Hashm al-Zena, and Abda.  The NGO Negev Coexistence Forum said approximately 4,000 Bedouin lived in the villages.  NGOs subsequently wrote the Labor Ministry asking that it change the text of the government’s resolution, because it included problematic conditions that would “doom it to failure.”  On November 3, the government also said it would establish a new planned Bedouin community in the south.  On December 6, the Knesset completed the first reading of a bill to enable thousands of homes constructed without permits in Arab communities in the Negev and elsewhere to be connected to the country’s electrical grid.

An August 4 report by the State Comptroller said that the Arab/Palestinian Bedouins of the Negev were the most impoverished community in the country, lagging far behind all the others.  The report also noted that, despite the planned investment of billions of shekels over the years, gaps between Bedouin settlements and their neighbors in the Negev continued to grow.  State Comptroller Matanyahu Engelman stated that basic municipal and regional infrastructure for Bedouin communities such as sanitation, water, and electricity as well as sidewalks and roads lagged far behind and that the government “is responsible for increasing governance in the Negev.”  He also said that blame did not lie with local and state authorities alone, but that the Bedouin community shared responsibility for compounding these problems.  The Arab/Palestinian Muslim Ra’am Party demanded greater investment in Bedouin communities.

On May 26, Haaretz reported that the Tel Aviv-Jaffa planning and building committee gave its approval to a plan to legalize the Tasso Muslim cemetery in Jaffa, the only Islamic cemetery in the city.  According to the report, the zoning plan required the approval of the district planning and building committee before it could take effect.

The IDF continued to have only Orthodox Jewish chaplains.  The government employed civilian clergy of different faiths, including Muslim imams, as chaplains at military burials when non-Jewish soldiers died in service.

In some ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods, private organizations posted “modesty signs” demanding women obscure themselves from public view to avoid distracting devout men.  The Beit Shemesh municipality received several extensions from the Supreme Court, which ordered it to remove such signs in 2018.  On July 1, because Beit Shemesh had not removed the signs, the Supreme Court ordered the Attorney General to develop a national enforcement policy within 90 days that would allow the implementation of the court’s verdict, due to the failure at the local level to remove such “modesty signs.”  The court ruled that 30 days after the new policy was in place, fines would be imposed on municipalities for lack of enforcement.

Women’s photos were regularly vandalized in cities with large ultra-Orthodox populations.  The AP reported in October that vandals “widely believed to be ultra-Orthodox extremists” defaced the photograph of a 94-year-old female Holocaust survivor five times since the April start of the outdoor exhibit that included the photo.  According to media reports, due to failed local law enforcement, companies did not include women in their advertisements, to prevent them from being vandalized.  In a December 2020 Knesset hearing, the police stated it had opened 21 investigations following the vandalizing of women’s photos in public spaces between 2018-2020; police closed 19 of these investigation files without charges and transferred one for prosecution.

On January 10, the Supreme Court denied the Chief Rabbinate’s request to hold an additional hearing on a petition by NGOs Adalah and the Secular Forum against a ban on bringing foods forbidden to Jews during Passover (foods with grains or leavening agents, known as hametz) into public hospitals during the holiday.  The court ruled in 2020 that hospitals must allow nonkosher food for those that wanted it during Passover.  On March 10, Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef asked the Attorney General to postpone the ruling’s implementation due to “insufficient preparation time” and to handle the matter by means of legislation.  According to the Secular Forum, most hospitals adhered to the Supreme Court ruling and made nonkosher food available during Passover for staff and patients who wanted it.  However, during March, the Secular Forum wrote two hospitals in Jerusalem and Netanya threatening them with contempt of court charges because they continued to ban hametz in their facilities during Passover, despite the court’s ruling.  In December, the Secular Forum submitted another petition to the Supreme Court demanding to stop a similar ban on allowing external food into military bases during Passover.  The petition was pending at year’s end.

On July 6, the coalition government failed to renew the Law on Citizenship and Entry, resulting in its expiration and paving the way for family reunification of some 3,000 Palestinians and their Israeli citizen spouses.  Under the law, non-Jewish spouses of Israelis from certain countries and the West Bank and Gaza had been denied residency without a special determination from the MOI.  Although the law lapsed, Interior Minister Shaked ordered the ministry to continue functioning as though the law were in place.  On September 14, three NGOs, including HaMoked, petitioned the Court for Administrative Affairs demanding that the MOI respect the consequences brought about by the expiration of the law.  On November 11, the government responded, supporting Shaked’s continued handling of Palestinians’ requests in accordance with the now-expired regulations, stating that Shaked could implement “interim procedures and regulations” until a new law was passed.  No new procedures were published by year’s end, however.  On November 15, the court rejected the three NGOs’ request for an injunction prohibiting the handling of requests based on the expired law.  As a result, the petitioners appealed to the Supreme Court on November 17.  At year’s end, both the petition and new legislation remained pending.

According to the NGO HaMoked, there were approximately 10,000 Palestinians living in the country, including in Jerusalem, on temporary stay permits because of the citizenship and entry law, with no legal guarantee they could continue living with their families.  When the previous citizenship and entry law was not renewed and expired in July, HaMoked petitioned the Supreme Court to direct the Ministry of Interior to adjudicate reunification applications.  HaMoked and Israeli media reported that the Ministry of Interior refused to deal with these applications, and as of December, there were 1,680 such applications waiting to be reviewed.  There were also cases of Palestinian spouses of Palestinian residents living in East Jerusalem without legal status.  Some Palestinian residents moved to Jerusalem neighborhoods outside the security barrier to live with their nonresident spouse and children while maintaining Jerusalem residency.  According to Christian religious leaders, this situation remained an especially acute problem for Christians because of their small population and consequent tendency to marry Christians from the West Bank or elsewhere (Christians who hold neither citizenship nor residency).  A Christian religious leader expressed concern that this was a significant element in the continuing decline of the Christian population, including in Jerusalem, which negatively affected the long-term viability of their communities.

According to NGOs, community members, and media commentators, several factors contributed to Christian emigration.  These included political instability, the inability to obtain residency permits for spouses due to the (now expired) 2003 Law of Citizenship and Entry, the limited ability of Christian communities in the Jerusalem area to expand due to building restrictions, the difficulties Christian clergy experienced in obtaining Israeli visas and residency permits, the loss of confidence in the peace process, and economic hardships created by the construction of the security barrier and the imposition of travel restrictions.  The government stated such difficulties stemmed from the “complex political and security reality” and not from any restrictions on the Christian community itself.

The law continued to prevent the Israel Land Authority (ILA), which administered the 93 percent of the country in the public domain, to lease land to foreigners.  In practice, however, foreigners were allowed to lease if they could show they would qualify as Jewish under the Law of Return.  This public land included approximately 12.5 percent owned by the Jewish National Fund (JNF), whose statutes strictly prohibit sale or lease of land to non-Jews.  The application of ILA restrictions continued to limit the ability of Muslim and Christian residents of Jerusalem who were not citizens to purchase property built on state land, including in parts of Jerusalem.  In recent years, however, an increasing number of Palestinian citizens in Jerusalem have acquired property built on ILA-owned land.  During the year, Arab/Palestinian citizens were allowed to place bids on JNF land, but sources stated that the ILA granted the JNF another parcel of land whenever an Arab/ Palestinian citizen of the country won a bid.  Despite a 2018 Supreme Court ruling that the ILA Executive Council must include an Arab/ Palestinian citizen, Druze, or Circassian member to prevent discrimination against non-Jews, there were no members from these groups on the council at year’s end.

The Greek Orthodox Patriarchate continued its legal efforts to block the transfer of properties in Jerusalem’s Old City to Ateret Cohanim, a Jewish organization that signed a 99-year lease for the properties in 2004.  Courts previously ruled in favor of Ateret Cohanim, and in 2020 the district court ruled against reopening the case to hear new evidence brought forward by the Church.  A Supreme Court hearing is set for 2022 to determine if the case should be reopened based upon the new evidence.

On December 12, 13 heads of Christian communities in Jerusalem issued a joint statement entitled, “The Current Threat to the Christian Presence in the Holy Land,” that said, “Christians have become the target of frequent and sustained attacks by fringe radical groups.  Since 2012 there have been countless incidents of physical and verbal assaults against priests and other clergy, attacks on Christian churches, with holy sites regularly vandalized and desecrated, and ongoing intimidation of local Christians who simply seek to worship freely and go about their daily lives.  These tactics are being used by such radical groups in a systematic attempt to drive the Christian community out of Jerusalem and other parts of the Holy Land.”  The statement acknowledged “the declared commitment of the Israeli government to uphold a safe and secure home for Christians in the Holy Land” but said, “It is therefore a matter of grave concern when this national commitment is betrayed by the failure of local politicians, officials and law enforcement agencies to curb the activities of radical groups who regularly intimidate local Christians, assault priests and clergy, and desecrate Holy Sites and church properties.”  The appeal continued, “The principle that the spiritual and cultural character of Jerusalem’s distinct and historic quarters should be protected is already recognized in Israeli law with respect to the Jewish Quarter.  Yet radical groups continue to acquire strategic property in the Christian Quarter, with the aim of diminishing the Christian presence, often using underhanded dealings and intimidation tactics to evict residents from their homes, dramatically decreasing the Christian presence, and further disrupting the historic pilgrim routes between Bethlehem and Jerusalem.”

Haaretz reported that the statement marked the beginning of a campaign that included a dedicated website and articles in the media.  In a statement, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the allegations made by the Christian leaders were “baseless and distort the reality of the Christian community in Israel” and that the Christians’ joint statement “could lead to violence and bring harm to innocent people.”  In an editorial, Haaretz stated, “The Christian leadership in Jerusalem may be exaggerating the sense of threat against them, to draft support from communities throughout the world… However, this does not justify the government’s irresponsible behavior toward the Christian public.  The government must recognize that the Christian congregations have an important place in Jerusalem’s human mosaic.  The government must pay attention to the needs and problems of Christian communities.”

On December 29, at an annual New Year’s reception for the spiritual and lay leaders of Christian churches and communities, President Herzog affirmed his commitment to freedom of worship and religion in the country.  Herzog said that each of the Christian groups was “a blessing and an integral part” of the country’s mosaic.  He explicitly rejected all forms of racism, discrimination, and extremism as well as any threat to Christian communities in the country.  Interior Minister Shaked also made remarks, saying that the new year offered an opportunity to build new bonds of friendship and cooperation among all religions.

In December, an interministerial team approved a proposal by Minister of Interior Shaked to exempt tourist groups that fell into the category of “Jewish tourism” from entry restrictions associated with the omicron variant of COVID-19.  According to the press, Christian organizations said the decision was unfair especially given the impending Christmas holidays.  According to a lead editorial in Haaretz, “this is a discriminatory exception, not to say a bigoted one.”  In a statement, the Foreign Ministry said, “These unfounded allegations of discriminatory conduct are outrageous, false, and dangerous.”

In April, the news website Al-Monitor reported that then Minister of Tourism Orit Farkash-Hacohen said that after the signing of the Abraham Accords normalizing relations between Israel and four Arab states, “Israel’s tourist branch began preparing for Muslim tourism.”  Senior ministry officials said the ministry was expecting tens of thousands of Muslim tourists in the upcoming months and that the ministry was mapping religious Islamic sites throughout the country.

In a December Hebrew-language press interview, Arab Muslim MK and member of the governing coalition Mansour Abbas told journalist Mohammad Magadli, “The State of Israel was born as a Jewish state, and the question is how we integrate Arab society into it.”  Responding to Magadli’s comment that no Arab MK ever said such a thing before, Abbas replied: “I was at a demonstration against the Nation State Law, and I don’t want to mislead anyone.  The question is: ‘What is the status of an Arab citizen in the Jewish state of Israel?’  That’s the question.  So the challenge now is not just for Mansour Abbas, but for the Jewish public and the Jewish citizen.”  According to Haaretz, Abbas’s remarks resulted in an immediate backlash.  Masoud Ghanim, former head of the United Arab List (UAL), the bloc of parties that traditionally represented Arab constituencies in the Knesset, said “We in the movement and the party do not recognize the state as Jewish.  Of course, we do not deny the reality in which the State of Israel defines itself as Jewish, but we do not accept or recognize this reality.”  Ayman Odeh, the chairman of the Joint List, which served as an umbrella group for four Arab parties until the UAL left the group in January, said, “This is our homeland, citizens by right, and we will work for the state to be egalitarian and democratic.”

Under the Israeli Antiquities Law, excavations within a sacred site require the approval of a ministerial committee, which includes the Ministers of Culture, Justice, and Religious Affairs.  The government stated that Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) researchers “have greatly intensified their research on ‘non-Jewish’ periods in the history of the land of Israel, [including] the Prehistoric, Early Bronze, Byzantine, Muslim, Mamluk, and Ottoman periods.”  Palestinian residents of Jerusalem and Muslim leaders continued to protest archaeological excavations and construction work done at the City of David National Park in the Silwan neighborhood outside the Old City, and in the Old City near the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount, including an elevator for persons with disabilities being installed at the rear of the Western Wall Plaza.  Some NGOs monitoring archaeological practices in Jerusalem continued to state the IAA emphasized archaeological finds that bolstered Jewish claims while minimizing historically significant archaeological finds of other religions.  Archeologists from Emek Shaveh continued to dispute the government’s representation of the “Pilgrimage Road,” a tunnel dug by the IAA and inaugurated in Silwan in 2019 as being historically part of the pilgrimage route to the Jewish Second Temple.  Emek Shaveh said the excavation method did not establish with certainty the date and purpose of the road.  NGOs such as the City of David Foundation (EL-AD) and the Jerusalem Institute for Strategic Studies continued to concur with the government’s position.

According to Haaretz, an interagency meeting in the spring organized by the Justice Ministry’s director general found that the government was not adequately enforcing a ban on polygamy among the Bedouin population.  A presentation at the meeting said that hundreds of polygamous men were detected in recent years, without consequences.  The director of the country’s sharia courts, Iyad Zahalka, said all polygamous marriages must be registered in a sharia court.

At year’s end, the 120-member Knesset had 13 members from religious minorities (nine Muslims, three Druze, and one Christian), compared with 18 religious minority members (11 Muslims, five Druze, and two Christians) in the previous Knesset.  There was one Muslim member of the cabinet, but no Druze or Christians.  In June, then Jewish Agency Chairman Herzog appointed Gadeer Kamal-Mreeh, a Druze woman and former MK, to be the senior representative for the Jewish Agency in Washington, D.C.

President Herzog hosted Muslim, Jewish, Christian, Druze, and Baha’i leaders to issue a joint call for worldwide vaccination against COVID-19.  In a joint statement, the leaders said that “saving the life of any human being – all created in the image of God – is the greatest religious obligation of all” and, “it is manifestly clear that the mass vaccination of entire populations is our primary tool for defeating this terrible pandemic.”

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Because religious and national identities were often closely linked, it was often difficult to categorize many incidents as being solely based on religious identity.

In September, authorities charged Muad Hib with murder for killing his mother and hiding her body in August, after she converted from Islam to Orthodox Christianity.  Prosecutors stated that her conversion was the motive for the killing.

Amid tensions in Jerusalem and violence in Gaza, ethnic-based violence and civil unrest broke out during a one-week period in May in a number of mixed Jewish-Arab cities in the country, including Lod, Acre, Jaffa, Haifa, and Ramle.  Incidents of violence included automobile vandalism; gunshots fired at a group of Jewish individuals, stone throwing by both Jewish and Arab protestors; arson attacks on synagogues; and desecration of Muslim gravestones.  Armed Jewish Israelis clashed with Palestinians in East Jerusalem neighborhoods.  Responding to the violence, the government reassigned additional security personnel, including border police from the West Bank, to augment INP personnel.  The INP reported it made approximately 1,550 arrests, with the overwhelming majority of the arrestees being Arab/Palestinian citizens.  Security officials said the arrested Jewish citizens were predominately “middle-aged nationalist extremists.”

On May 12 in the mixed Jewish-Arab town of Lod, Jews shot and killed Moussa Hassouna in clashes between residents.  Later on May 12, Arab/Palestinian citizens in Lod stoned the car of Jewish resident Yigal Yehoshua who died on May 17 after being hit in the head with a thrown brick.  In the northern city of Acre on May 11, Arab/Palestinian citizens set fire to a hotel leading to the death of 84 year-old retiree Aby Har-Even on June 6.  On May 19, teenager Mohammed Mahamid Kiwan died after he was shot on May 18 at the Mei Ami junction on Route 65.  His family said police were responsible.

According to the Lod Municipality, Arab/Palestinian citizens perpetrated five arson attacks against four synagogues in the city, and shattered windows of two additional synagogues.  Media reported that Jewish individuals threw stones at worshippers at the Lod Dahmash Mosque on May 12 during prayer time and shattered the windows of the mosque.  On May 13, unknown individuals desecrated an Islamic Cemetery in Lod, tried to set it on fire, and broke 10 of its gravestones.

In the aftermath of the civil unrest, the state filed indictments against 150 persons.  Some NGOs said most were against Arab/Palestinian citizens and expressed concern that the INP disproportionately targeted Arab/Palestinian citizens.  A significant number of demonstrations calling for calm and coexistence were held in multiple cities after the civil unrest.

On September 9, three minors attacked a worshipper and caused damage to a synagogue in Acre.  The police later arrested and released the suspects to house arrest.

In April, during the period leading up to the civil unrest, Palestinian youth in Jerusalem physically attacked ultra-Orthodox individuals and posted the attacks on the social media app TikTok.  The first video of a young Palestinian Jerusalemite slapping a Yeshiva student on the Jerusalem Light Rail was posted on the social network on April 15.  According to the government, the police opened 14 investigations and arrested 31 suspects for being involved in such attacks.  Four of the cases led to indictments, and one suspect was convicted and sentenced to 10 months imprisonment, six months probation and a fine of 2,500 shekels ($810).  On July 1, police arrested Palestinian Jerusalemites for defiling graves in the Har Hamenuchot Cemetery while filming themselves on TikTok.

Racial and religiously motivated attacks by Jewish individuals and groups continued to take place during the year against individuals – particularly Arab/Palestinian citizens of the country and Palestinians of the West Bank and their property – with the stated purpose of exacting a “price” for actions taken by the government against the attackers’ interests.  The attacks occurred against both Christian and Muslim targets.  The NGO Tag Meir continued to organize visits to areas where these attacks occurred and sponsored activities promoting tolerance in response to the attacks.  On March 12, Jewish individuals set cars on fire and sprayed graffiti with a Star of David and the writing: “enough with intermarriage” in the village of Ein Naqquba in the central part of the country.

According to Tag Meir, the assailants also poured gasoline on the home of two families, including on the window of the room of a six-year-old and a seven-year-old, and tried to set it on fire.  Tag Meir stated that “only a miracle” prevented a disaster similar to that of the 2015 Duma arson attack in the West Bank, which resulted in the death of a Palestinian couple and their infant child.  The INP opened an investigation on March 12.

On March 25, unknown individuals spray-painted the words “deport or kill” on a car in the predominantly Arab town of Kfar Qasim.  They also punctured the tires of dozens of cars and spray-painted Stars of David on them.  Police opened an investigation into the case.

On March 1, unknown assailants set fire to the entrance of the monastery of the Romanian Church in Jerusalem near the ultra-Orthodox Jewish neighborhood of Mea Shearim.  The local priest put out the fire quickly.  According to Church officials, this was the fourth act of vandalism in 2021 that targeted the same monastery.  Christian representatives said they believed religious Orthodox Jews were the probable assailants.  The Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem said the arson was “a sign of hatred for the Christian religion” among some Israelis.

On April 5, arson attacks took place against two synagogues in Bnei Brak and Ramat Gan.  On May 8, according to media reports, police arrested an individual from Rosh HaAyn for committing the attacks.

Swastikas were painted on synagogues several times during the year.  On July 31, unknown individuals painted swastikas on the structures of two synagogues in Bnei Brak.  The individuals also left photos of Shira Banki, a 16-year-old who was stabbed to death at the Jerusalem Pride Parade in 2015, at the sites.  On August 26, individuals painted swastikas on the door of a Tel Aviv synagogue.

On November 6, ultra-Orthodox Rabbi Meir Mazuz said that Jews from the former Soviet Union and Reform Jews were nonbelievers who were destroying Judaism in the country.

Christian clergy and pilgrims continued to report instances of ultra-Orthodox Jews in Jerusalem harassing or spitting on them.

During the year, ultra-Orthodox women attacked members of Women of the Wall during their monthly prayers at the Western Wall.  For example, on June 11, ultra-Orthodox protesters shredded and desecrated dozens of prayer books belonging to Women of the Wall.

On July 17, during the Jewish holiday of Tisha B’Av, a day of fasting when Jews commemorate the destruction of the temples, activists of Liba Yehudit, a national-ultra-Orthodox NGO described by Haaretz as “ultra-extreme,” put up a makeshift partition in the middle of the egalitarian prayer area of the Western Wall Plaza, intended to divide those praying by gender, and yelled and cursed to disrupt those praying there for the holiday.  According to Haaretz, “hundreds of right-wing, Orthodox Jews, mostly teenagers” disrupted the reading of the Book of Lamentations by a female member of the Conservative movement, which organized the annual event.  Haaretz described Liba as “an extreme right-wing group, which has been trying to prevent the non-Orthodox from having access to a new and revamped prayer plaza at the southern end of the site.”

On July 18, on Tisha B’Av, Prime Minister Bennett tweeted thanks to the Public Security Minister and the Israel Police Inspector General for “maintaining freedom of worship for Jews on the Mount.”  On November 19, the Prime Minister’s Office said that the government’s policy regarding the status quo at the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount, which prohibits non-Islamic worship, had not changed and what Bennett actually meant was that both Jews and Muslims had “freedom of visitation rights.”

In March, during Passover, an unknown individual spread hametz outside of synagogues in Bnei Brak and Ramat Gan.

According to missionary organizations, societal attitudes toward missionary activities and conversion to other religions continued to be negative.  Some Jews continued to oppose missionary activity directed at Jews, saying it amounted to religious harassment, and reacted with hostility toward Jewish converts to Christianity, such as Messianic Jews.

On June 2, according to Jehovah’s Witnesses, police closed an investigation of a 2019 complaint regarding an attack on two Jehovah’s Witnesses members during door-to-door activity in Bat Yam.  The police stated there were no grounds for a further criminal investigation.  After the initial complaint was filed, police summoned one of the Jehovah’s Witnesses and told her that the individual who had attacked her later submitted a complaint against her for making threats and trespassing in her efforts to convert him to Christianity.

According to media reports, members of the NGO Lehava used violence and incited violence against Palestinians and Arab/Palestinian citizens of the country during the period of civil unrest in May.

Lehava continued to criticize or assault Arab men who were in relationships with Jewish women and to harass “mixed” couples.  On June 9, the police interrogated Lehava Director Ben-Zion Gopstein on suspicion of incitement to violence following posts in social media regarding intermarriage.  A trial against Gopstein for offenses of incitement to terrorism, violence, and racism, which began in 2020, was ongoing at year’s end.

The NGO Yad L’Achim continued to disrupt instances of cohabitation between Jewish women and Arab men and viewed itself as a “Jewish rescue corps” which recovers Jewish women from “hostile” Arab villages, according to Yad L’Achim’s website.

In October, the Jerusalem Post reported that police arrested several members of La Familia, often described in the press as an ultranationalist fan club for the Beitar Jerusalem soccer team, following the group’s violent attack on a fan who was cheering the team’s Muslim player.  In May, a court agreed to a request by the team, which disavowed La Familia, to ban three of the group’s leaders from attending the team’s games.

There continued to be reports of ultra-Orthodox Jews in public areas of their neighborhoods harassing individuals who did not conform to Jewish Orthodox traditions, such as driving on Shabbat or wearing clothing that they perceived as immodest.  The harassment included verbal abuse, spitting, and throwing stones, and kicking cars driving on Shabbat.

Tension continued between the ultra-Orthodox community and other citizens, including concerns related to service in the IDF, housing, public transportation, participation in the workforce, and adherence to COVID-19 regulations.

On April 30, a deadly stampede occurred at Mt. Meron during the annual pilgrimage to the tomb of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai on the Jewish holiday of Lag BaOmer, with an estimated 100,000 persons in attendance.  Press reports stated that 45 men and boys were killed, and approximately 150 were injured in the deadliest civil disaster in the country’s history.  Many commentators suggested the ultra-Orthodox community’s extensive autonomy in the country was a major contributing factor to the catastrophe, with ultra-Orthodox MK Moshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism) calling for greater government control over the pilgrimage site.  On June 20, the government approved the establishment of a state commission of inquiry into the event.

Although the Chief Rabbinate and rabbis of many ultra-Orthodox denominations continued to discourage Jewish visits to the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount site due to the ongoing halakhic (Jewish legal) debate about whether it is permissible or forbidden for Jews to enter the Temple Mount, some Orthodox rabbis continued to say entering the site was permissible.  Many among the self-identified “national religious” Zionist community stated they found meaning in visiting the site.  Groups such as the Temple Institute and Yaraeh continued to call for increased Jewish access and prayer there as well as the construction of the third Jewish temple on the site.  In some cases, Israeli police prevented individuals from praying and removed them; in other cases, reported by the Waqf, on social media, and by NGOs, police appeared not to notice the activity.

According to local media, some Jewish groups escorted by Israeli police performed religious acts such as prayers and prostration.  Some Jewish visitors publicly noted that the INP was more permissive to them in permitting silent prayer.

NGOs reported that some LGBTQI+ minors who revealed their sexual orientation in religious communities faced expulsion from their homes and stigmatization by rabbis.  NGOs noted reports of mental illness among the LGBTQI+ minor community because of this treatment, leading some to attempt suicide.  Other NGOs noted that an increasing number of rabbis, educators, and community leaders in Orthodox Jewish communities were adopting a more inclusive approach to LGBTQI+ minors.

Several religious NGOs, Orthodox and non-Orthodox, conducted private, unrecognized religious services such as marriages and conversions, and issued unrecognized Kashrut certificates to provide an alternative to the Chief Rabbinate for Jews who could not or did not want to use the Rabbinate’s services.  According to the NGO Panim, 2,486 weddings took place outside of the rabbinate’s authority in 2019, compared with 2,610 in 2018.  These included unofficial Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, and secular ceremonies.

According to Bar Ilan University’s Rackman Center for the Advancement of the Status of Women, thousands of Jewish women were trapped in various stages of informal or formal get refusals, especially in the Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox communities.  The Rackman Center stated that in some instances a woman’s husband made granting a get contingent on his wife conceding to extortionate demands, such as those relating to property ownership or child custody.  According to the Center for Women’s Justice, one in three Jewish women who divorced faced such demands.

NGOs, including Mavoi Satum and Itim, promoted the use of prenuptial agreements to prevent cases of aginut (in which a woman whose husband is unwilling or unable to grant her a get).  Such agreements provide financial incentives paid by a refusing spouse until the termination of the marriage.

Analysis by Natanel Fisher at the Sha’arei Mishpat Academic College of Law and Science based on data from the Central Bureau of Statistics found that approximately 85,000 married couples in Israel, constituting 7 percent of all married couples in the country, involved a Jewish and a non-Jewish partner.  In 90 percent of the cases, the non-Jewish partner was “without religious classification,” in most cases from the former Soviet Union, and while many of them consider themselves Jewish, the rabbinate did not recognize them as such.  The article stated that nearly 60 percent, or 52,000 out of 87,000 such couples involve a woman who is not Jewish, which means that their children would not be considered Jewish either.

A variety of NGOs continued to try to build understanding and create dialogue among religious groups and between religious and secular Jewish communities, including Neve Shalom-Wahat al-Salam, the Abraham Fund Initiative, Givat Haviva, the Hagar and Hand-in-Hand integrated Jewish-Arab bilingual schools, Hiddush, Israeli Religious Action Center, Mosaica, Tag Meir, and Interfaith Encounter Association.  For example, the number of children studying at integrated Yad BeYad Jewish-Arab schools in the school year beginning in September was 2,000, up from 1,800 in the previous year.

Despite the labor law, some foreign domestic workers stated that some employers did not allow their domestic workers to take off their weekly day of worship.

In April, the news website Al-Monitor reported that approximately 20 families from the Gur Hasidic community had bought apartments in the southern city of Dimona.  In response, one resident wrote on social media, “It’s not suitable… An extreme group like this can only ruin it.”  Dimona’s mayor, in a radio interview, suggested that the Gur Hasidim should go elsewhere.

In its annual Israel Religion and State Index poll of 800 adult Jews conducted in July and published in September, the NGO Hiddush reported that 65 percent of respondents, the same result as the 2020 poll, identified as either “secular” (48 percent) or “traditional-not-religious” (17 percent), with positions regarding public policy on religion and state close to the positions of secular Israelis.  Of those surveyed, 81 percent supported freedom of religion and conscience, and 59 percent supported the separation of religion and state.  Sixty-one percent supported equal status for the Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform traditions.  A large majority did not see the need for religious conversion approved by the Chief Rabbinate as a condition for the state to recognize the Judaism of new immigrants, with 35 percent considering conversion via the Chief Rabbinate necessary, compared with 34 percent in the previous year.  Thirty-five percent stated immigrants should be recognized as Jewish if they identify as such, and 35 percent stated immigrants should be recognized as Jewish if they undergo either an Orthodox, Conservative, or Reform conversion.  Of those surveyed, 23 percent accepted the position of the ultra-Orthodox parties that yeshiva students should be exempted from military or civic service.

According to the Hiddush poll, 63 percent of the country’s adult Jewish population supported recognition by the state of freedom of choice in marriage, doing away with the rabbinate’s monopoly, and equally recognizing civil and non-Orthodox religious marriages.  According to the same survey, 51 percent of the public stated that had they been allowed a choice, they would not have married in an Orthodox ceremony, compared with 35 percent who expressed the same sentiment in 2009, 39 percent in 2013, and 47 percent in 2016.  Eighty-one percent supported freedom of religion and conscience while 59 percent supported separation of religion and state.  According to the poll, the majority (73 percent) did not observe Shabbat according to religious law.

In a report released December 22, the government’s Central Bureau of Statistics stated that 84 percent of the country’s Christian community said that they were satisfied with life in the country.  Also, according to the study, Arab Christian women had some of the highest education rates in the country.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

In meetings with Israeli government officials, the Ambassador, Charge d’Affaires and other embassy officials stressed the importance of religious pluralism and respect for all religious groups.  Numerous high-level U.S. officials made formal stops at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust remembrance site, to keep a public spotlight on antisemitism and highlight religious tolerance.  The U.S. Secretary of Defense visited Yad Vashem in April and the U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations visited the site in November.  The U.S. Ambassador’s first official event was to Yad Vashem on December 2, shortly after his arrival in Israel, and he publicly condemned antisemitism on social media.

In November, the Charge d’Affaires hosted an interfaith reception for representatives of the country’s diverse religious groups.

Senior U.S. officials spoke publicly about the importance of maintaining the status quo at the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount and conveyed this message in meetings with government officials.  Throughout the year, embassy officials used social media platforms to express U.S. support for tolerance and the importance of openness to members of other religious groups.  Embassy officials advocated for the right of persons from all faiths to practice their religion peacefully while also respecting the beliefs and customs of their neighbors.  The embassy also issued public statements condemning attacks on places of worship.

Embassy-supported initiatives focused on interreligious dialogue and community development and advocated a shared society for Arab and Jewish populations.  One project was the Jerusalem Intercultural Center for an interreligious community economic development program in the Old City.  Another project brought together three interfaith groups in Jerusalem’s Jewish and Palestinian neighborhoods to meet with U.S. experts, coordinators, and fellow interfaith groups to transform attitudes through constructive conversations on each religion’s similarities and differences.

The embassy also promoted the reduction of tensions between religious communities and an increase in interreligious communication and partnerships by bringing together representatives of many faith communities to advance shared goals and exchange knowledge and experience.  Embassy programs supported mixed Jewish-Arab educational and community initiatives to reduce societal tensions and violence through sports, the arts, environmental projects, and entrepreneurship.

Continuing embassy initiatives included a project by the Citizens Accord Forum that brought together Bedouins and Jews of Ethiopian descent to address violence and build strong relationships between their communities.  Both Ethiopian and Bedouin religious leaders were interviewed about the principles of their Shmagloch and Sulha methods (traditional conflict resolution methods of the respective communities), with the interviews recorded and broadcast at an online convention in August.  Embassy support to the Tag Meir Forum continued to provide joint training sessions for Muslim and Jewish teachers to promote interreligious tolerance in classrooms.

The embassy worked to mitigate interreligious and intercommunal tensions between the country’s non-Jewish and Jewish citizens through the greater integration of the Arab minority into the broader national economy, especially the high-tech sector.

Throughout the year, the embassy highlighted events, programs, religious holidays and observances, and news related to interfaith dialogue and religious freedom across embassy social media platforms and in conversations with reporters.

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West Bank and Gaza

Jordan

Executive Summary

The constitution declares Islam the religion of the state but safeguards “the free exercise of all forms of worship and religious rites” as long as these are consistent with public order and morality.  It stipulates there shall be no discrimination based on religion.  It does not address the right to convert to another faith, nor are there penalties under civil law for doing so.  According to the constitution, matters concerning the personal and family status of Muslims come under the jurisdiction of sharia courts.  Under sharia, converts from Islam are still considered Muslims and are subject to sharia but are regarded as apostates.  Converts to Christianity from Islam reported that security officials continued to question them to determine their “true” religious beliefs and practices.  The government continued to deny official recognition to some religious groups, including Baha’is and Jehovah’s Witnesses.  Converts to Islam from Christianity and from Christianity to Islam continued to report security officials questioning them regarding their religious beliefs and practices, as well as some instances of surveillance.  Muslim women were unable to attend congregational Friday prayers throughout the year as part of the government’s efforts to reduce crowd sizes, although the government eased most COVID-19 pandemic-related restrictions in September.  Members of some unregistered religious groups continued to face problems registering their marriages and the religious affiliation of their children, and also renewing their residency permits.  The government continued to monitor mosque sermons and required that preachers refrain from unsanctioned political commentary and adhere to approved themes and texts.  The Judicial Council issued an order in February requiring adherents of unrecognized Christian denominations to use an ecclesiastical court (instead of civil courts) to adjudicate Personal Status Law (PSL), but it reversed the order in March.

Some converts to Christianity from Islam continued to report ostracism as well as physical and verbal abuse from their families and communities, and some worshipped in secret due to the social stigma they faced.  Some converts reported persistent threats of violence from family members concerned with protecting traditional honor.  Religious leaders reported continued online hate speech directed towards religious minorities and moderates, frequently through social media.  Some social media users defended interfaith tolerance, with posts condemning content that criticized Christianity or tried to discourage interfaith dialogue.  In December, the German broadcaster Deutsche Welle (DW) suspended a 10-year-old partnership with Roya TV, a privately owned, Amman-based satellite television channel, over “the discovery of anti-Israeli and antisemitic comments and caricatures in social media disseminated” by Roya.

U.S. embassy officers continued to engage with government officials at all levels, including the Minister of Awqaf, Islamic Affairs, and Holy Places (Minister of Awqaf), Grand Mufti, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates, and officials at the Royal Hashemite Court, to raise the rights of religious minorities, the protection of cultural resources, and interfaith tolerance.  Embassy officers also engaged with Muslim scholars, Christian community leaders and members, and representatives of unrecognized religious groups to promote interfaith tolerance and dialogue.  The embassy supported programs promoting religious tolerance, as well as civil society programs seeking to preserve the cultural heritage of religious minorities.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the population at 10.9 million (midyear 2021).  According to U.S. government estimates, Muslims, virtually all of whom are Sunni, make up 97.1 percent of the population while Christians make up 2.1 percent.  Church leaders’ estimates of the size of the Christian community range from approximately 1.8 percent to as high as 3 percent of the country’s population.  Groups constituting less than 1 percent of the population include Buddhists, Baha’is, Hindus, and Druze (who are considered Muslims by the government).  According to the Royal Institute for Interfaith Studies (RIIFS), there is also a small community (consisting of a few migrant families) of Zoroastrians and Yezidis.  Most of the more than one million migrant workers are from Egypt, South and Southeast Asia, and sub-Saharan Africa.  Migrant workers from sub-Saharan Africa and South and Southeast Asia are often Christian or Hindu.  There are an estimated 760,000 refugees and other displaced persons registered with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees from 57 countries of origin, including more than 670,000 Syrians, 67,000 Iraqis, and 13,000 Yemenis.  The government states there are 1.3 million Syrians present in the country.  The Syrian and Iraqi refugee populations are mostly Sunni Muslim.  Shia Muslims and Christians account for less than one-third of the Iraqi refugee population.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution declares Islam “the religion of the state” but safeguards “the free exercise of all forms of worship and religious rites,” as long as these are consistent with public order and morality.  It stipulates there shall be no discrimination in the rights and duties of citizens on grounds of religion and states the King must be a Muslim.  The constitution allows for religious courts, including sharia courts for Muslims and ecclesiastical courts for Christian denominations recognized by the government.  According to the General Iftaa Department, the office charged with issuing religious guidance in the form of fatwas, in adjudicating personal status cases, sharia courts follow the Hanafi school of Islamic jurisprudence.

The constitution does not address the right to convert to another faith, nor are there penalties under civil law for doing so.  The constitution and the law, however, allow sharia courts to determine civil status affairs for Muslims; these courts do not recognize converts from Islam to other religions.  Under sharia, converts from Islam and their children are still considered Muslims and are subject to sharia but are regarded as apostates.  Neither the penal code nor the criminal code specifies a penalty for apostasy.  Sharia courts, however, have jurisdiction over marriage, divorce, and inheritance, and individuals declared to be apostates may have their marriages annulled or be disinherited, except in the case of a will that states otherwise.  Any member of society may file an apostasy complaint against such individuals before the Sharia Public Prosecution.  The Sharia Public Prosecution consults with the Council of Church Leaders (CCL), a government advisory body comprising the heads of the country’s 11 officially recognized Christian denominations, before converting a Christian to Islam to make sure the conversion is based on religious conviction and not for purposes of marriage and/or divorce.  The penal code contains articles criminalizing acts such as incitement of hatred, blasphemy against Abrahamic faiths, undermining the regime, or portraying citizens in a manner that violates their dignity.  The penal code criminalizes insulting the Prophet Muhammad, punishable by one to three years’ imprisonment.  Written works, speeches, and actions intended to cause or resulting in sectarian strife, including conflicts between religious groups, are punishable by one to three years’ imprisonment and a fine not exceeding 200 Jordanian dinars ($280).  The law also provides a term of imprisonment not exceeding three months or a fine not exceeding 20 dinars ($28) for anyone who publishes anything that offends religious feelings or beliefs and for anyone who speaks within earshot of another person in a public space and offends that individual’s beliefs.

Authorities may prosecute individuals who proselytize Muslims under the penal code’s provisions against “inciting sectarian conflict” or “harming the national unity.”  Both of these offenses are punishable by imprisonment of up to three years or a fine of up to 200 dinars ($280).

Islamic religious groups are granted recognition through the constitution and do not need to register with the government.  Non-Islamic religious groups must obtain official recognition through registration.  If registered as “denominations,” they may administer rites such as marriage.  Recognized religious groups may also own land, open bank accounts, and enter into contracts.  Religious groups may alternatively be registered as “associations.”  If so, they must work through a recognized denomination on matters such as marriage, divorce, and inheritance, but they may own property and open bank accounts.  They must obtain government approval to accept foreign funding.  Recognized non-Islamic religious groups are tax-exempt but do not receive the government subsidies granted to Islamic religious groups.

Religious groups not recognized as denominations or associations lack legal status and may not undertake basic administrative tasks such as opening bank accounts, purchasing real estate, or hiring staff.  Individuals may exercise such activities on behalf of the unrecognized group, however.  To register as a recognized religious denomination, the group must submit its bylaws, a list of its members, its budget, and information regarding its religious doctrine to the Ministry of Interior and Prime Ministry.  In determining whether to register or recognize Christian groups, the Prime Minister confers with the Ministry of the Interior (MOI) and the CCL.  Although the practice is not explicitly mandated by law or the constitution, church and government leaders have stated that the CCL must endorse recognition for new Christian groups prior to the Prime Minister’s approval.  To achieve official recognition as denominations, Christian groups must be recommended by the MOI and approved by the cabinet.  The government also refers to the following criteria when considering recognition of Christian groups:  the group’s teachings must not contradict the nature of the constitution, public ethics, customs, or traditions; the Middle East Council of Churches, a regional body comprising four families of churches (Catholic, Orthodox, Eastern Orthodox, and Protestant/Evangelical), must recognize it; its religious doctrine must not be antagonistic to Islam as the state religion; and the group’s membership must meet a minimum number of citizens, although a precise figure is not specified.

An annex to the 2014 Law for Councils of Christian Denominations lists 11 officially recognized Christian religious groups:  Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Armenian Orthodox, Melkite Catholic, Anglican, Maronite Catholic, Lutheran, Syrian Orthodox, Seventh-day Adventist, United Pentecostal, and Coptic.  In 2018, five additional evangelical Christian denominations, formerly registered under the Ministry of Justice (MOJ), were recognized by the MOI as associations but not as religious denominations and, as a result, none have been permitted to establish an ecclesiastical court:  the Free Evangelical Church, Church of the Nazarene, Assemblies of God, Christian and Missionary Alliance, and Baptist Church.  Religious groups such as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Jehovah’s Witnesses are not registered and gather in unofficial meetings places.  The government granted legal status as an association to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 2018.

The CCL serves as an administrative body to facilitate tax and customs exemptions, as well as to issue civil documents related to marriage or inheritance.  In other matters, such as issuing work permits or purchasing land, the denominations interact directly with the relevant ministries.  Religious groups that do not have representatives on the CCL handle administrative tasks through the ministry relevant to the task.  Unrecognized Christian groups do not have representatives on the CCL, have no legal status as entities, and must have individual members of their groups conduct business with the government on their behalf.

According to the constitution, a special provision of the law regulates the activities and administration of finances of the Islamic awqaf (religious endowments).  Per this provision of the law, the Ministry of Awqaf manages mosques, appoints imams, pays mosque staff salaries, manages Islamic clergy training centers, and subsidizes certain mosque-sponsored activities, such as holiday celebrations and religious observances.  Other Islamic institutions are the Supreme (Sharia) Justice Department, headed by the Office of the Supreme (Sharia) Justice (OSJ) and in charge of the sharia courts, and the General Iftaa Department, which issues fatwas.

The government requires imams to adhere to officially prescribed themes for Friday sermons.  Muslim clergy who do not follow government policy may be suspended, issued a written warning, banned from delivering Friday sermons for a certain period, or dismissed from the Ministry of Awqaf.  In addition to these administrative measures, a preacher who violates the law may be imprisoned for a period of one week to one month or given a fine not to exceed 20 dinars ($28).

The law forbids any Islamic cleric from issuing a fatwa unless authorized by an official committee headed by the Grand Mufti in the General Iftaa Department.  This department is independent from the Ministry of Awqaf, with the rank of Grand Mufti being equal to that of a government minister.

The law prohibits the publication of media items that slander or insult “founders of religion or prophets” or that are deemed contemptuous of “any of the religions whose freedom is protected by the constitution,” and it imposes a fine on violators of up to 20,000 dinars ($28,200).  The government’s Media Commission regulates the publishing and distribution of all books and media.  If the Media Commission deems that passages “violate public norms and values, are religiously offensive, or are insulting to the King,” it can request a court order to prohibit the distribution of the book.

By law, public schools provide Islamic religious instruction as part of the basic national curriculum; non-Muslim students are allowed to opt out.  Private schools may offer alternative religious instruction.  The constitution provides “congregations” (a term not defined in the constitution, but which, according to the legal code, includes religious groups recognized as denominations and associations) the right to establish their own schools, provided “they comply with the general provisions of the law and are subject to the control of government in matters relating to their curricula and orientation.”  To operate a school, religious institutions must receive permission from the Ministry of Education, which ensures the curriculum meets national standards.  The ministry does not oversee religious courses if religious groups offer them at their places of worship.  In several cities, Christian groups, including Baptists, Orthodox, Anglicans, and Roman Catholics, operate private schools and are able to conduct religious instruction.  Private schools, both nonreligious and religious, are open to adherents of all religions.

Knowledge of the Quran is required by law for Muslim students in both public and private schools but is optional for non-Muslims.  Every student, however, must pass an Arabic language exam in their final year of high school that includes linguistic mastery of some verses of the Quran.  Islamic themes appear in lesson examples of other subjects’ curriculums.  The Islamic religion is an optional subject for secondary education certificate exams for non-Muslim students following the standard curriculum, or for Muslim students following international curricula.

The constitution specifies the judiciary shall be divided into civil courts, religious courts, and special courts, with religious courts divided into sharia courts and tribunals of other religious communities.  According to the constitution, matters concerning personal status, which include religious affiliation, marriage, divorce, child custody, and inheritance, are under the jurisdiction of religious courts.  Matters of personal status in which the parties are Muslim fall within the exclusive jurisdiction of sharia courts.  A personal or family status case in which one party is Muslim and the other is non-Muslim is heard by a civil court unless both parties agree to use a sharia court.  According to the constitution, matters of the personal status of non-Muslims whose religion the government officially recognizes are under the jurisdiction of denomination-specific courts of religious communities, except for matters of inheritance, when sharia is applied to all persons, regardless of religious affiliation.  Such ecclesiastical courts exist for the Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Melkite Catholic, Armenian Orthodox, Coptic, Syrian Orthodox, and Anglican communities.  According to the law, members of recognized religious groups lacking their own courts may take their cases to civil courts, which, in principle, follow the rules and beliefs of the litigants’ denomination in deciding cases, unless both parties to a case agree to use a specific religious court.  There are no tribunals for atheists or adherents of unrecognized religious groups.  Such individuals must request a civil court to hear their case.

The OSJ appoints sharia judges, while each recognized non-Islamic religious community selects the structure and members of its own tribunal.  The law stipulates the cabinet must ratify the procedures of each non-Islamic religious (ecclesiastical) court.  All judicial nominations must be approved by a royal decree.

According to the constitution, sharia courts also exercise jurisdiction with respect to cases concerning “blood money” (diya) in which the two parties are Muslims or one of the parties is not a Muslim and the two parties consent to the jurisdiction of the sharia courts.  Sharia courts also exercise jurisdiction regarding matters pertaining to Islamic awqaf.  Muslims are also subject to the jurisdiction of sharia courts on civil matters not addressed by civil status legislation.

Sharia courts do not recognize converts from Islam as falling under the jurisdiction of their new religious community’s laws in matters of personal status.  Sharia court judges may annul the marriages of converts and transfer child custody to a Muslim nonparent family member or declare the children “wards of the state” and convey an individual’s property rights to Muslim family members.

According to the PSL, in accordance with its interpretation of sharia, marriages between a Muslim woman and a non-Muslim man are not permitted; the man must convert to Islam for the marriage to be considered legal.  If a Christian woman converts to Islam while married to a Christian man, her husband must also convert to Islam for their marriage to remain legal.  If a Christian man converts to Islam while married to a Christian woman, the wife does not need to convert to Islam for the marriage to remain legal.  There is no legal provision for civil marriage or divorce for members of unrecognized religious groups.  Members of nonregistered Christian groups, as well as members of groups registered as associations, must obtain marriage certificates from any recognized Christian denomination with an ecclesiastical court, such as the Anglican or Orthodox Churches, which they then may take to the Civil Status Bureau to receive their government marriage certificates.

Sharia governs all matters relating to family law involving Muslims or the children of a Muslim father.  The PSL stipulates that mothers, regardless of religious background, may retain custody of their children until age 18.  Minor children of male citizens who convert to Islam are considered Muslims and are not legally allowed to reconvert to their father’s prior religion or convert to any other religion.  Like citizenship, religion is transmitted only via the father.  Female children of a Muslim father who converts to Christianity remain registered as Muslims and thus are ineligible to marry a non-Muslim.

In accordance with sharia, adult children of a man who has converted to Islam become ineligible to inherit from their father if they do not also convert to Islam, unless the father’s will states otherwise.  All citizens, including non-Muslims, are subject to the PSL, which mostly follows Islamic legal provisions regarding inheritance if no equivalent inheritance guidelines are codified in their religion or if the state does not recognize their religion.  In practice, Christian ecclesiastical courts use sharia-based rules to adjudicate inheritance.

National identification cards issued since May 2016 do not list religion, but religious affiliation is contained in records embedded in the card’s electronic chip and remains on file in other government records.  National identification cards are renewed every 10 years.  Passports issued since May 2016 do not list religion.  Passports are renewed every five years.  Atheists and agnostics must list the religious affiliation of their fathers as their own.  Per the ban on conversion from Islam under sharia, converts from Islam are not allowed to change their religion on electronic records.  Converts to Islam must change their religion on their civil documents, such as family books (a national registration record issued to every head of family), and on electronic records.

According to the electoral law, Christians are allocated nine of 130 parliamentary seats.  Christians may not run for office in electorates not designated as Christian seats.  No seats are reserved for adherents of other minority religious groups.  The law stipulates that Muslims must hold all parliamentary seats not specifically reserved for Christians.  There are no reserved seats for the Druze population.  The government classifies Druze as Muslims and permits them to hold office as Muslims.

Although the constitution prohibits discrimination based on religion, labor law does not explicitly prohibit it.

The National Center for Human Rights, a quasi-independent institution established by law, receives both government and international funding.  The Prime Minister nominates its board of trustees, and the King ratifies their appointment by royal decree.  The board appointed in 2019 includes Islamists, former cabinet ministers, former judges, members of parliament, religious leaders, and civil society representatives.

The law prohibits parties formed on the basis of religion or sect, as well as membership in unlicensed parties.

In 2020, the Court of Cassation, the country’s highest court, dissolved the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood’s (JMB) legal identity, saying the organization had failed to resolve its legal status.  Authorities shut down the Brotherhood’s headquarters and several offices in 2016 and transferred ownership of the property to a government-authorized offshoot, which said it severed ties with the broader movement.  The Ministry of Social Development’s committee in charge of the JMB’s legal dissolution announced on December 21, 2020, that the Court of Cassation’s final decision declaring the JMB officially dissolved had been implemented and directed any creditors to address financial or legal claims on the JMB to the ministry.

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Government Practices

Converts to Islam from Christianity continued to report security officials questioning them regarding their religious beliefs and practices, as well as some instances of surveillance, as part of the government’s effort to prevent nominal conversions of convenience for the purpose of receiving advantageous divorce or inheritance benefits.  Likewise, some converts to Christianity from Islam reported instances of harassment by security officials, in-person and electronic surveillance, and bureaucratic delays or rejections of document requests, including passport applications.  Others reported security forces pressured converts to denounce their conversions and to recite Quranic verses in their offices.  Christian converts belonging to unregistered denominations described personal accounts of being summoned to security forces offices on several consecutive days, putting their jobs at risk.  Christians converts from larger Jordanian tribes with more supportive families tended to avoid some of the more extreme examples of scrutiny.  Some converts to Christianity from Islam reported they continued to worship in secret to avoid scrutiny by security officials.  Because of the sharia ban on conversion, government officials generally refused to change the religion listed on official documents from Islam to any other religion.  Accordingly, the converts’ religious practice did not match their official religion, opening them up to claims of apostasy and personal status issues involving marriage, divorce, and inheritance.

During the year, the government Media Commission banned distribution of 15 books for insulting Islam, five for insulting Christianity, and 19 for “unethical” content, including books that contained sexual content without caveating for age and “promoting homosexuality.”  The commission banned 20 books in 2020.

Members of religious groups unable to obtain religious divorces converted to another Christian denomination or to Islam to divorce legally, according to reports from religious leaders and the MOJ.  The chief of the OSJ continued to ensure that Christians wanting to convert to Islam did not have a pending divorce case at one of the Christian religious courts to prevent them from converting for the sole purpose of obtaining a legal divorce.  The OSJ continued to enforce the interview requirement for converts to Islam, introduced in 2017, to determine whether their conversion reflected a genuine religious belief.

Youth Sub-Committee Member Wafa al-Khadra resigned from the Royal Committee for the Modernization of the Political System in July after she critiqued Eid al-Adha sacrifice practices, saying theses rituals “lacked mercy.”  Social media users called for her resignation, calling her a “heretic” and stating her comments insulted Islam.  Al-Khadra said her statement had been taken out of context and clarified that some individuals sacrificed sheep in an inhumane way.  A public prosecutor declined to proceed with an apostasy complaint lodged against al-Khadra.

As part of its COVID-19 pandemic response, the government instituted defense orders and ordered periodic comprehensive lockdowns, including places of worship, on Fridays, and daily curfews from October 2020 to April 2021.  The government intermittently allowed Muslim worshippers to walk to their local mosques for Friday prayers when driving was prohibited.  Protesters throughout the year demanded the government ease restrictions on congregational prayers at mosques.  Muslim religious leaders wrote a letter in March to the King requesting permission to perform group prayers in mosques, while others expressed support for the government’s efforts to combat the pandemic.  In March, the spokesperson for the Ministry of Awqaf said the ministry’s decision to suspend Friday prayers aimed to preserve human life and complied with Islamic laws.  Greek Orthodox Bishop Christophoros Atallah, in his capacity as CCL President, also affirmed during a March press conference that worshippers should remain committed to the government’s efforts to combat the pandemic.  After the government decided to reopen all sectors in September, mosques partially opened, on the conditions that adherents comply with crowd-size mandates.  Worshippers accused the government of having double standards when applying defense orders, since it allowed large gatherings of individuals for concerts, while preventing in-person worship.  Churches reported they continued to meet online and in person except during periods of general lockdown.  According to RIIFS, 58 percent of respondents supported the government’s decision to close places of worship for health and safety purposes during the pandemic, 27 percent opposed the closures, and 15 percent were neutral.

The same RIIFS survey found 24 percent of respondents believed government closures affected Muslim women’s freedom of worship, since they were not allowed to participate in Friday prayers at mosques, while 49 percent did not believe the closures affected women’s ability to worship.  When polled by RIIFS, 43 percent of the country’s religious experts viewed the decision to prevent women from attending Friday prayers as discriminatory, while 39 percent said the decision did not discriminate between men and women, on the grounds that Friday prayers were only obligatory for men under the experts’ interpretation of sharia.  At year’s end, women were still not allowed to attend Friday prayers.

Muslim and Christian leaders worked with the government to raise awareness regarding the pandemic during Friday and Sunday sermons, according to RIIFS.  The Ministry of Awqaf used social media to publish statements on the significance of helping others, donating to relief funds, and following government measures.  Religious charitable societies distributed health supplies and food to citizens around the country.  Religious leaders also preached about the importance of vaccines during the government’s rollout.

The Ministry of Awqaf continued to monitor sermons at mosques and required that preachers refrain from political commentary not approved by the government.  Authorities continued to disseminate themes and required imams to choose from a list of recommended texts for sermons.  Imams violating these rules risked being fined or banned from preaching.

Unofficial mosques continued to operate outside Ministry of Awqaf control in many cities, and imams outside of government employment preached without ministry supervision.  Ministry of Awqaf investigations uncovered some unregistered imams leading prayers in mosques during the year.  In these cases, the government ordered all attendees and imams to cease their activities and gather in a designated mosque in their area for the Friday sermons led by a registered imam.  Friday prayers in major cities were consolidated into central mosques, over which the Ministry of Awqaf had more oversight, continuing a process that began in 2018.  The ministry allowed smaller mosques to continue Friday sermons along with their areas’ central mosque.

On January 26, Greek Orthodox Bishop Christophoros Atallah, in his capacity as CCL President, sent a letter to the Judicial Council and Royal Court requesting they refer all Christian PSL cases to the CCL instead of to civil courts.  Atallah’s letter said adherents of unrecognized Christian denominations used the civil courts to enter into “illegal marriages” and “gain legitimization” by bypassing the CCL.  Judicial Council Chief Justice Mohammad al-Ghazo subsequently issued a memorandum on February 5 requiring Christians to use the CCL for PSL cases.  Evangelical Christian church leaders expressed concern regarding their ability to function as churches, and in early March, after lobbying by the evangelical churches, the Judicial Council retracted its order and convoked a meeting with Christian leaders to resolve the dispute.  Evangelicals said they had been specifically targeted because the CCL and government officials viewed them negatively, associating their religious groups with proselytization and U.S.-based, pro-Israel evangelical denominations.

Authorities continued to deny a license to an unrecognized Christian church to operate a publishing house and approval for a private Baptist school in the city of Zarqa.

During the year, expatriate religious volunteers from the evangelical Christian community continued to report bureaucratic delays in the renewal of residency permits and what they termed occasionally arbitrary rejections of paperwork.  In 2018, the government began enforcing a new residency policy to limit the ability of churches to sponsor religious volunteers for residency.  Observers suggested that the volunteers were illegally proselytizing Muslims.  Authorities previously allowed the churches to obtain residency status for religious volunteers with the approval of the MOI and a letter of sponsorship from the church.  Volunteers were required to obtain additional approvals, including from the Ministry of Labor, lengthening the average renewal process by several months, according to church officials.  Some expatriate religious volunteers reported the government refused to grant residency permission, forcing them to depart the country.

The government policy of not recognizing the Baha’i Faith continued, but the government continued to allow Baha’is to privately practice their religion and included them in officially sponsored interfaith events.  Sharia courts and the courts of other recognized religions continued not to issue Baha’is the marriage certificates required to transfer citizenship to a foreign spouse or to register for government health insurance and social security.  The Department of Civil Status and Passports also continued not to recognize marriages conducted by Baha’i assemblies, but it issued family books to Baha’is, allowing them to register their children, except in cases of marriages between a Baha’i man and a Baha’i woman when the marriage was erroneously registered as Muslim.  In those cases, the children were considered illegitimate and were not issued birth certificates or included in family books and subsequently were unable to obtain citizenship or register for school.  The Baha’is were able to obtain some documents such as marriage certificates through the civil courts, although they reportedly were required to pay fees that sometimes amounted to more than 500 dinars ($710) for documents normally available for five dinars ($7) through religious courts.  Some Baha’is traveled to other countries to obtain officially recognized marriages and others sought marriages from sympathetic Muslim clergy, a process that Baha’is deemed unsustainable and unacceptable.  Members of the Baha’i community stated that they continued to lobby the government unsuccessfully for recognition.

In an article that detailed the problems facing the foreign-born wives in Baha’i families, the news website Middle East Monitor stated that these women seeking to become naturalized citizens, as allowed by the country’s laws, were unable to do so because of the government did not recognize the Baha’i Faith and the government did not issue marriage certificates to Baha’i couples.  As a result, the women faced limited options in employment, career, education, and travel outside the country.

There continued to be two recognized cemeteries registered in the name of the Baha’i Faith through a special arrangement previously agreed between the group and the government.  Baha’i leaders reported they continued to be unable to register other properties under the name of the Baha’i Faith but remained able to register property under the names of individual Baha’is.  In doing so, the Baha’i leaders said they continued to have to pay new registration fees whenever they transferred property from one person to another at the death of the registered owner, a process that created a large financial burden.  Baha’i leaders said they were using the civil courts to challenge their group’s property registration restrictions, stating they were unable to legally protect Baha’i assets if individuals who registered Baha’i property under their names decided to misappropriate funds or property.  The Baha’i community’s request for religious exemptions for property registration fees remained pending.

The government continued to deny official recognition to other religious groups, including the Jehovah’s Witnesses.  Some unrecognized religious groups reported they continued to operate schools and hospitals and were able to hold services and meetings if they maintained a low profile.  Some unregistered Christian denominations said that although all religious groups were equal in the eyes of the constitution, the government practiced favoritism toward specific Christian groups that had more political power, which increased tensions among these religious groups.

In early December, the Director of the Public Security Directorate, Major General Hussein al-Hawatmeh, announced an increase in security force presence in Christian areas and public areas decorated for the holidays throughout the month.  Christian leaders expressed their appreciation to the authorities for protecting churches and Christian spaces during the holidays.

The government authorized Christian civil servants leave for Sunday worship and religious holidays.

Religious minorities, including Christians and Druze, continued to serve in parliament and as cabinet ministers.  Members of religious minorities served as deputy prime ministers, senators, members of parliament (MPs), and ambassadors.  The cabinet appointed in October included one Druze member and two Christian members, unchanged from the previous cabinet.  A Christian MP served as House Second Deputy Speaker for parliament’s 2020-21 and 2021-22 terms.

The government continued to record Druze as Muslims on civil documents identifying the bearer’s religious affiliation, without public objection from the Druze.  Druze continued to report discrimination, and the way constituencies were geographically distributed hindered their coreligionists from reaching high positions in government civil service and official departments.  The government did not include members of the Druze community in the Political Modernization Committee, established by the King in June to reform the political system, despite the committee’s assurances that it would consider the country’s demographics and to include representation from all facets of society.

Christians and Druze achieved general officer rank in the military, but Muslims continued to hold most of the senior positions across the security and intelligence services.

The national school curriculum, including materials on tolerance education, did not mention the Holocaust, but some private schools included it in their curricula.  An Anti-Defamation League study found examples of antisemitic tropes in public school textbooks, including a passage that says, “Treason and the breaking of pacts are among the characteristics of the Jews.”  Another textbook, used for 12th grade history, described the Zionist movement as “a racist, settler political movement aimed at establishing a national homeland for the Jews in Palestine, founded on historical claims without basis in truth,” and said that Jewish links to Jerusalem are “founded on historical and religious claims without any actual grounds on which to base them.”

Christian leaders reported many Jordanians believed Christianity arrived in the country during the Crusades due in part, said the leaders, to the national secondary school curriculum’s practice of not teaching Jordan’s pre-Islamic history nor acknowledging that there was a Christian presence in the region prior to the rise of Islam.

Members of non-Muslim religious groups, especially unregistered groups, continued to report occasional threats by the government to arrest them for disrupting public order if they proselytized Muslims.  Security officials continued to refuse to renew residency permits for some foreign religious leaders and religious volunteers after raising concerns their activities could incite extremist attacks, according to multiple nongovernmental organizations (NGOs).  Others were denied residency permits on the basis of proselytization accusations.

Christian groups that maintained a lower profile noted examples of security forces monitoring them only when other Christian denominations submitted official complaints against them.

The government deemed some children, including children of unmarried women or interfaith marriages involving a Muslim woman and converts from Islam to another religion, “illegitimate” and denied them standard registration.  The government issued these children, as well as orphans, special national identification numbers, which made it difficult for these children to attend school, access health services, or receive other documentation.

In June, the Bible Society of Jordan posted a verse from the Book of Psalms, Psalms 37:11 – “The meek shall inherit the earth” – on city entrances and bridges in Amman, an annual practice to honor Jordan’s Independence Day.  The banners sparked widespread controversy; several social media users posted antisemitic commentary equating the Book of Psalms only with Judaism and the promotion of Zionism.  MP Hasan Riyati sent a request to the House Speaker to investigate the “authorities that licensed a Torah verse to be hung around the city in a country whose religion is Islam and whose main enemy is the Zionists.”  The Greater Amman Municipality (GAM) subsequently removed the banners and issued a statement saying it would not allow anyone to post statements that violate public morals.  Christians and some Muslims criticized the GAM’s statement, arguing the verse was in line with public morals.  Others saw the controversy as an opportunity to educate the public, explaining the verse was found in the holy books of both Christians and Jews and that the Quran contained a similar verse.  GAM Mayor Yousef Shawarbeh met with Christian leaders to offer an apology; he removed the GAM statement from official media but did not reinstall the banners.  Christian youth groups held a protest outside the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate offices, saying the government’s apology was insufficient.  Many citizens asked the government to take concrete actions against hate speech and against those who did not respect the religious freedom of Christians in the country.

In December, MP Suleiman Abu Yahya stated the Jews attempted to “poison” the Prophet Muhammad and “would not hesitate to poison Jordanians” during a parliamentary hearing on Project Prosperity, a planned energy-for-water project involving Jordan, Israel, and the United Arab Emirates.

In September, parliament approved legislation to develop public lands adjacent to the Jordanian side of the Jordan River identified by some scholars as Jesus’s baptism site, which some MPs said would promote religious tourism, support local communities, and provide job opportunities.  The law would also establish a nonprofit charitable foundation supervised by a Board of Trustees, appointed by the Royal Hashemite Court, and would grant fee and tax exemptions.  Christian leaders largely supported the law, noting it would deepen church connections around the world as pilgrims travelled to the country, and it would supplement the national economy.

Throughout the year, RIIFS, established under the patronage of Prince Hassan bin Talal, organized periodic discussions and sponsored initiatives with religious leaders and social activists to promote political pluralism, cultural diversity, religious tolerance, and civic responsibility in the country and throughout the region.  It also held comparative religion seminars on Muslim and Christian doctrinal teachings.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Converts from Islam to Christianity reported continued social ostracism, threats, and physical and verbal abuse, including beatings, insults, and intimidation, from family members, neighbors, and community or tribal members.  Some reported they worshipped in secret because of the social stigma they faced as converts, while others reported persistent threats of violence from family members protecting traditional honor.  According to international NGOs, female converts from Islam were particularly vulnerable to harassment and pressure to renounce their conversions.  Church leaders continued to report incidents of violence, pressure, and discrimination against religious converts and persons in interfaith romantic relationships; the latter continued to report ostracism and, in some cases, feuds among family members and violence toward those involved.  Some converts from Islam expressed interest in resettlement abroad due to discrimination and threats of violence.  Converts from Christianity to Islam also reported social stigma from their families and Christian society.  Christian women married to Muslim men were more often stigmatized.  Nonbelievers reported societal intolerance and discrimination.  Although an individual’s religion was no longer written on identification cards, one’s religion could often be surmised based on personal and family names.

Religious leaders reported continuing online hate speech, frequently through social media, directed towards religious minorities and those who advocated religious moderation.  One NGO reported increased online hate speech towards the Christian community in direct response to radio and internet broadcasts of local services to the local Christian community.  This NGO turned off comments on websites and blocked repeat offenders on its social media accounts in an effort to avoid hate speech.  Religious broadcasts were an alternative to regular in-person services, which were not allowed when the country was under periodic comprehensive lockdowns due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  NGO sources said the negative responses were the reactions of Muslims to their first real exposure to Christianity.  NGOs disagreed on the prevalence of hate speech in local society.  One NGO worried about calls from the local community to criminalize hate speech in new laws or amendments, believing it would lead to selective application of the law.

Some religious leaders privately associated hate speech, intolerance, and extremism with poverty and lack of educational opportunities in the country.

Criticism online and in social media continued to target converts from Islam to other religions.  Religious minorities expressed concerns that some Muslim leaders preached intolerance.  Christians reported they self-segregated into Christian enclaves in Amman and its outskirts to escape social pressure and threats.  Although Christians clustered in specific neighborhoods and sought life abroad for safety and community support, Christian leaders stated it was difficult to categorize the desire to relocate solely based on religious identity; Christians relocated to the cities and moved abroad seeking economic opportunities as well.

Observers reported friction between Christian denominations on the CCL and evangelical churches not recognized by the government.  Leaders from some CCL-affiliated churches said there were “recruitment efforts” and “hidden agendas” against their members and Jordanian society writ large by evangelical churches, and that evangelical churches were disrupting interfaith harmony, creating rifts in local society and undermining the CCL’s relationship with the government and security services.  CCL leaders stated they worried that outsiders “causing trouble” would bring unwanted attention on the Christian community.  Members of the evangelical community said that some CCL leaders applied pressure on the government to not recognize evangelical churches in the country.

In an April Yarmouk TV broadcast, a University of Jordan professor, Ahmad Nofal, accused Jews of “ruling the world” and stated there was no differentiation between “Zionists” and “Jews.”  He also accused Zionists of purposefully harvesting organs and infecting Palestinians with diseases.  In November, Nofal asked on Yarmouk TV, “Do the Europeans love the Jews that much?…They want to dump them on us….Instead of doing what Hitler did – massacring and burning and whatever – they dump them on the Middle East.”

In April, Jordanian analyst Mohammed Faraj, on Lebanon’s Mayadeen TV, denounced a Holocaust memorial ceremony held in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), saying that commemorating the Holocaust was a UAE attempt to cover up the real massacres perpetrated by Israel against the Palestinians.  He said it was a “Zionist strategic policy” to focus on only six million of the 42 million who were killed in World War II.

In May, former MP Saud Abu Mahfouz, in a video posted to YouTube, said that Jews are “bastards [who have] all the money of [Irving] Moskowitz, of Rothschild, and of Sheldon Adelson.”  With their “deeds [and] filth…[Jews] are provoking the Islamic identity.”

When criticizing Israeli government policies in November, Roya TV, a privately owned, Amman-based satellite channel, published a cartoon on social media that appeared to show Lord Balfour and a Jewish man wearing a kippah and holding the map of Israel and Palestinian territories in a police lineup.  Also in November, Roya posted a video with an exaggerated reenactment of an Orthodox Jew when discussing an energy-for-water deal between Jordan, the UAE, and Israel.  In December, the German broadcaster DW suspended a 10-year-old partnership with Roya over “the discovery of anti-Israeli and antisemitic comments and caricatures in social media disseminated” by Roya.  A senior DW executive apologized for overlooking “these disgusting images.”  In response, Roya’s CEO said that “criticism of illegal, inhuman, or racist actions by Israel as a state” should be distinguished from antisemitism.

A Christian boxer’s death sparked criticism online in April after some individuals sent their condolences to his family using the phrase, “May God have mercy on him.”  Some individuals criticized those offering condolences, claiming mercy should be reserved only for Muslims.

In July, the Religion News Service reported on a debate in the country over the possibility of opening up to Shia pilgrims, long discouraged from visiting the tombs of the relatives of the Prophet Muhammad, most prominently Jafar, Muhammad’s cousin and the brother of Ali, the first leader of Shia Islam.  Zaid Nabulsi, a lawyer and prodemocracy advocate, first made the suggestion in a Facebook post, noting that most of the sites of interest to Shia pilgrims are in the impoverished southern part of the country.  Government officials said no change in policy was being considered.

The Catholic Center for Studies and the international Muslim Council of Elders, based in Abu Dhabi, organized a conference in Amman in September, “Media Against Hate.”  More than 100 Arab media professionals attended the meeting, which was sponsored by Prince Ghazi bin Mohammed.  Attendees discussed the use of legacy and social media in spreading and countering hate speech.  Religious leaders expressed skepticism regarding officially and unofficially organized interfaith conferences in the country, saying such conferences did not increase intercommunal harmony and were often a facade for the West.

In a poll published by RIIFS that included 400 Muslims, 83 Christians, and nine individuals identified as “other,” 83 percent of respondents agreed all worshippers should have equal rights to practice their religion regardless of cultural, social, and religious backgrounds, and any discrimination in this regard should be considered a human rights violation; 7 percent disagreed; and 10 percent were neutral.  In the same study, 74 percent said that religious rites were practiced freely in the country and that it had appropriate legislation allowing freedom of worship.

In a poll conducted by a Dubai-based public relations firm in June and involving a team of international experts, 57 percent of the country’s citizens between the ages of 18 and 24 agreed that religion was “the most important” factor to their personal identity, compared with 34 percent overall for youth polled in the 17 Arab states included in the survey.  Only one other state included in the survey had a larger percentage of respondents agreeing with this response.  Other choices offered by the poll as possible responses included family/tribe, nationality, Arabic heritage, political beliefs, language, and gender.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

Embassy officers, including the Ambassador, continued to engage with government officials at all levels, including the Minister of Awqaf, Grand Mufti, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates, and senior officials at the Royal Hashemite Court, to advocate for the rights of religious minorities, the protection of cultural resources, and interfaith tolerance.

Embassy officers continued to meet frequently with representatives of religious communities, including unrecognized groups, religious converts, expatriate religious volunteers, and interfaith institutions such as RIIFS and the Jordanian Interfaith Coexistence Research Center, to discuss issues related to religious freedom.

The embassy continued to advise the government’s Baptism Site Commission on its efforts to increase revenue from religiously based tourism, create jobs, preserve the country’s religious heritage, and highlight religious pluralism.  The embassy used social media to promote religious tolerance and mark religious holidays, including through posting video messages, which generally received positive responses from social media audiences.

Vietnam

Executive Summary

The constitution states that all individuals have the right to freedom of belief and religion.  The law provides for significant government control over religious practices and includes vague provisions that permit restrictions on religious freedom in the stated interest of national security and social unity.  The Law on Belief and Religion (LBR) maintains a multistage registration and recognition process for religious groups.  Some religious leaders, particularly those representing groups that either did not request or receive official recognition or certificates of registration, reported various forms of government harassment, including physical assaults, detentions, prosecutions, monitoring, and denials of, or no response to, requests for registration and other permissions.  Some civil society organizations reported severe crackdowns on members of unregistered groups, particularly in the Central Highlands.  Religious freedom activists said local authorities approved registration applications based more on religious groups’ perspective on politics than on religious doctrine.  Authorities did not recognize any new religious organizations during the year.  Many religious leaders across the country reported improving conditions compared with prior years, such as better relations between unregistered religious groups and local authorities and a reduction in aggressive forms of harassment.  Members of recognized groups or those with certificates of registration said they were generally able to practice their beliefs with less government interference.  Members of some religious groups continued to report that some local and provincial authorities used noncompliance with the required registration procedures to slow, delegitimize, and suppress religious activities of groups that resisted close government management of their leadership, training programs, assemblies, and other activities.  The government did not hold any government official accountable for failure to follow legal deadlines and written registration notification requirements as stated in the LBR.

There were reports of conflicts, at times violent, between members of unregistered and registered or recognized religious groups or between believers and nonbelievers.  Religious activists blamed authorities for “manipulating” recognized religious groups and accused their agents or proxies of causing conflicts in order to suppress the activities of unregistered groups.

The U.S. Ambassador and other senior embassy and consulate general officials regularly urged authorities to allow members of all religious groups to operate freely.  They sought reduced levels of government intervention in the affairs of recognized and registered religious groups and urged an end to restrictions on, and harassment of, groups without recognition or registration.  They stressed to government officials that progress on religious freedom and human rights was critical to an improved bilateral relationship.  The Ambassador, the Consul General in Ho Chi Minh City, and other senior U.S. government and embassy officers advocated for religious freedom in visits across the country, including to the Mekong River Delta and Central Vietnam.  With the Government Committee on Religious Affairs (GCRA), the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and provincial and local authorities, embassy and consulate general officials raised specific cases of abuses, as well as of government harassment, against Catholics; Protestant groups, including independent Pentecostal groups; the United Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV); independent Hoa Hao groups; independent Cao Dai groups; and ethnic minority house churches such as the Duong Van Minh group.  U.S. government officials called for the increased registration of church congregations around the country and for improvement in registration policies by making them more uniform and transparent, and they urged the government to peacefully resolve outstanding land rights disputes with religious groups.  U.S. government officials also called for unfettered access to religious materials by prisoners.  The Ambassador and other embassy and consulate general officials met with religious leaders of both registered and unregistered religious groups and attended religious ceremonies to demonstrate support for religious freedom.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total population at 102 million (midyear 2021).  The government’s 2019 National Population and Housing Census reported approximately 13 million religious adherents, accounting for 14 percent of the total population.  The census noted Roman Catholics represented the largest number of adherents, with six million followers, accounting for 45 percent of the total number of believers nationwide and 6 percent of the overall population.  The census, which recorded only Buddhists formally registered with the Vietnam Buddhist Sangha (VBS) showed them as the second largest religious group, accounting for five million followers, or 35 percent of the total number of religious adherents nationwide, and 5 percent of the overall population.

According to the census data, VBS membership decreased from nearly seven million in 2009 to approximately five million in 2019.  The VBS noted that this number did not account for potentially tens of millions of others who believe in and observe Buddhist practices to various degrees without formal participation in a registered Buddhist religious group.  The GCRA estimates the number of Buddhist followers is more than 10 million.  Within the Buddhist community, Mahayana Buddhism is the dominant affiliation of the Kinh (Viet) ethnic majority, while approximately 1 percent of the total population, almost all from the ethnic minority Khmer group, practices Theravada Buddhism.

According to the census, Protestants were the third largest group, with nearly one million followers, accounting for 7 percent of the total number of believers nationwide and 1 percent of the overall population.  The census results contrast with January 2018 statistics released by the GCRA in which 26 percent of the population was categorized as religious believers participating in registered activities, with 15 percent of the population Buddhist, 7 percent Catholic, 2 percent Hoa Hao Buddhist, 1 percent Cao Dai, and 1 percent Protestant.  GCRA officials, however, estimated 90 percent of the population followed some sort of faith tradition, registered or otherwise.  According to observers, many religious adherents chose not to make their religious affiliation public for fear of adverse consequences, resulting in substantial discrepancies among various estimates.

According to government statistics, the total number of religious adherents reportedly decreased by roughly 2.5 million and the ratio of religious adherents dropped from more than 18 percent to 14 percent of the total population between the 2009 and 2019 censuses.  Catholics and Protestants saw increases in membership, while Buddhists and religious groups based on local traditions saw a declining number of adherents, according to census data.  Anecdotal reporting from provincial VBS, Catholic, and Protestant leaders, however, indicated membership in all religious traditions continued to grow.

Smaller religious groups combined constitute less than 0.16 percent of the population and include Hindus (mostly an estimated 70,000 ethnic Cham in the south-central coastal area); approximately 80,000 Muslims scattered throughout the country (approximately 40 percent are Sunni, and 60 percent practice Bani Islam); an estimated 3,000 members of the Baha’i Faith; and approximately 1,000 members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Church of Jesus Christ).  Religious groups originating in the country (Buu Son Ky Huong, Tu An Hieu Nghia, Minh Su Dao, Minh Ly Dao, Tinh Do Cu Si Phat Hoi, and Phat Giao Hieu Nghia Ta Lon) comprise a total of 0.34 percent of the population.  A small, mostly foreign, Jewish population resides in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City.  National statistics on religious adherents from the GCRA and the Vietnam Fatherland Front, an umbrella group for government-affiliated organizations under the guidance of the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV), are considered less comprehensive, as they do not account for members of unregistered religious groups.

Other individuals have no religious affiliation or practice animism or the veneration of ancestors, tutelary and protective saints, national heroes, or local, respected persons.  Many individuals blend traditional practices with religious teachings, particularly Buddhism and Christianity.  Research institutions, including the Vietnam Academy of Social Sciences, estimate there are approximately 100 “new religions,” mostly in the North and Central Highlands.

Ethnic minorities constitute approximately 14 percent of the population.  Based on adherents’ estimates, two-thirds of Protestants are members of ethnic minorities, including groups in the Northwest Highlands (H’mong, Dzao, Thai, and others) and in the Central Highlands (Ede, Jarai, Sedang, and M’nong, among others).  The Khmer Krom ethnic group overwhelmingly practices Theravada Buddhism.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

The constitution states that all individuals have the right to freedom of belief and religion, including the freedom to follow no religion.  The constitution acknowledges the right to freedom of religion or belief of those whose rights are limited, including inmates or any foreigners and stateless persons.  It states all religions are equal before the law and the state must respect and protect freedom of belief and religion.  The constitution prohibits citizens from violating the freedom of belief and religion or taking advantage of a belief or religion to violate the law.

The LBR and implementing Decree 162 serve as the primary documents governing religious groups and their activities.  The LBR reiterates citizens’ rights to freedom of belief and religion and states that individuals may not use the right of belief and religious freedom to undermine peace, national independence, and unification; incite violence or propagate wars; proselytize in contravention of the state’s laws and policies; divide people, nationalities, or religions; cause public disorder; infringe upon the life, health, dignity, honor, or property of others; impede the exercise of civic rights and performance of civic obligations; or conduct “superstitious activities” or otherwise violate the law.

The government recognizes 38 religious organizations that affiliate with 16 distinct religious “traditions,” as defined by the government:  Buddhism, Islam, the Baha’i Faith, Catholicism, Protestantism, Hoa Hao Buddhism, Cao Dai, Buu Son Ky Huong, Tinh Do Cu Si Phat Hoi, Tu An Hieu Nghia, Phat Duong Nam Tong Minh Su Dao, Minh Ly Dao Tam Tong Mieu, Cham Brahmanism, Hieu Nghia Ta Lon Buddhism, and the Seventh-day Adventist Church.  Distinct denominations within these religious traditions must seek their own registration and/or recognition.  Five additional groups – the Assemblies of God, Ta Lon Dutiful and Loyal Buddhism, Vietnam Full Gospel Church, Vietnam United Gospel Outreach Church, and Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Vietnam – have “registrations for religious operation” but are not recognized as official organizations.

The law specifies that recognized religious organizations and their affiliates are noncommercial legal entities.  The law also stipulates that religious organizations are allowed to conduct educational, health, social protection, charitable, and humanitarian activities in accordance with relevant laws.  The government does not allow unauthorized organizations to raise funds or distribute aid without seeking approval and registration from authorities.

The GCRA, one of 18 “ministerial units” under the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), is responsible for implementing religious laws and decrees; it maintains offices at the central, provincial, and, in some areas, district levels.  The law lays out specific responsibilities for central-, provincial-, and local-level GCRA offices and delegates certain religion-related management tasks to provincial- and local-level people’s committees (i.e., local leaders).  The central-level GCRA is charged with disseminating information to authorities and assuring uniform compliance with the legal framework on religion at the provincial, district, commune, and village levels.

The law prohibits forcing others to follow or renounce a religion or belief.

Military conscription is universal and mandatory for males between 18 and 25 years of age, although there are exceptions.  None of the exceptions is related to religious belief.

The law requires individuals to register religious activities with communal authorities where the “lawful premises for the religious practice is based,” and it prescribes two stages of institutionalization for religious organizations seeking to gather at a specified location to “practice worship rituals, pray, or express their religious faith.”  The first stage is “registration for religious operation” with the provincial- or national-level GCRA, depending on the geographic extent of the group’s activities.  Registration for religious operation allows a group to organize religious ceremonies and religious practice; preach and conduct religious classes at approved locations; elect, appoint, or designate officials; repair or renovate headquarters; engage in charitable or humanitarian activities; and organize congresses to approve its charter.  To obtain registration, the group must submit a detailed application with information about its doctrine, history, bylaws, leaders, and members, as well as proof it has a legal meeting location.  The relevant provincial GCRA office or the MHA – depending on whether the group in question is operating in one or more provinces – is responsible for approving a valid application for registration within 60 days of receipt.  The law requires the relevant provincial GCRA office or the MHA to provide any rejection in writing.

The second stage of institutionalization is recognition.  A religious group may apply for recognition after it has operated continuously for at least five years following the date it received approval of its “registration for religious operation.”  A religious group is required to have a legal charter and bylaws, leaders in good standing without criminal records, and to have managed assets and conducted transactions autonomously.  To obtain recognition, a group must submit a detailed application to the provincial- or national-level GCRA, depending on the geographic extent of the organization.  The application must include a written request specifying the group’s structure, membership, geographical scope of operation and headquarters location; a summary of its history, dogmas, canon laws, and rites; a list and the resumes, judicial records, and summaries of the religious activities of the organization’s representative and tentative leaders; the group’s charter; a declaration of the organization’s lawful assets; and proof of lawful premises to serve as a headquarters.  The relevant provincial people’s committee or the MHA is responsible for approving a valid application for recognition within 60 days of receipt.  The law requires the relevant provincial people’s committee or MHA to provide any rejection in writing.  Recognition allows the religious group to conduct religious activities in accordance with the organization’s charter; organize religious practice; publish religious texts, books, and other publications; produce, export, and import religious cultural products and religious articles; renovate, upgrade, or construct new religious establishments; and receive lawful donations from domestic and foreign sources, among other rights.

The law states religious organizations and their affiliates, clergy, and believers may file complaints or civil and administrative lawsuits against government officials or agencies under the relevant laws and decrees.  The law also states religious organizations and individuals have the right to bring civil lawsuits in court regarding the actions of religious groups or believers.  There were no analogous provisions in previous laws.

Under the law, a religious organization is defined as “a religious group that has received legal recognition” by authorities.  The law provides a separate process for unregistered, unrecognized religious groups to receive permission for specific religious activities by applying to the commune-level people’s committee.  Regulations require the people’s committee to respond in writing to an application within 20 working days of receipt.  The law specifies that a wide variety of religious activities requires advance approval or registration from authorities at the central and/or local levels.  These activities include “belief activities” (defined as traditional communal practices of ancestor, hero, or folk worship); “belief festivals” held for the first time; the establishment, division, or merger of religious affiliates; the ordination, appointment, or assignment of religious administrators (or clergy with administrative authority); establishment of religious training facilities; conducting religious training classes; holding major religious congresses; organizing religious events, preaching or evangelizing outside of approved locations; traveling abroad to conduct religious activities or training; and joining a foreign religious organization.

Certain religious activities do not need advance approval but instead require notification to the appropriate authorities.  Activities requiring notification include recurring or periodic “belief festivals”; dismissing clergy; conducting fundraising activities; reporting enrollment figures at a seminary or religious school; repairing or renovating religious facilities not considered cultural-historical relics; ordaining, appointing, or assigning religious clergy (such as monks); transferring or dismissing religious administrators (or clergy with administrative authority); conducting operations at an approved religious training facility; conducting routine religious activities (defined as “religious preaching, practicing religious tenets and rites, and management of a religious organization”); and holding the internal conferences of a religious organization.

The law provides prisoners access to religious counsel as well as religious materials, with conditions, while in detention.  It reserves authority for the government to restrict the “assurance” of that right.  Decree 162 states detainees may use religious documents that are legally published and circulated, in line with legal provisions on custody, detention, prison, and other types of confinement.  Prisoner access to religious counsel and materials must not, however, affect the rights of others to freedom of religion and belief or nonbelief or contravene other relevant laws.  The decree states the Ministries of Public Security, Defense, and Labor, Invalids and Social Affairs shall be responsible for providing guidelines on the management of religious documents and the time and venue for the use of these documents.

The law specifies that religious organizations must follow numerous other laws for certain activities.  Religious organizations may conduct educational, health, charitable, and humanitarian activities in accordance with the law, but the law does not provide clarification as to which activities are permitted.  In addition, construction or renovation of religious facilities must occur in accordance with laws and regulations on construction, and foreigners participating in religious activities must abide by immigration laws.

Publishing, producing, exporting, or importing religious texts must occur in accordance with laws and regulations related to publishing.  Legislation requires all publishers be licensed public entities or state-owned enterprises.  Publishers must receive prior government approval to publish all documents, including religious texts.  By decree, only the Religious Publishing House may publish religious books, although this is not enforced in all cases.  Any bookstore may sell legally published religious texts and other religious materials.

The constitution states the government owns and manages all land on behalf of the people.  According to the law, land use by religious organizations must conform to the land law and its related decrees.  The land law recognizes that licensed religious institutions and schools may acquire land-use rights and lease or be allocated land.  The law specifies religious institutions are eligible for state compensation if their land is seized under eminent domain.  The law allows provincial-level people’s committees to seize land via eminent domain to facilitate the construction of religious facilities.  Under the law, provincial-level people’s committees may grant land use certificates for a “long and stable term” to religious institutions if they have permission to operate, the land is dispute-free, and the land was not acquired via transfer or donation after July 1, 2004.

Religious institutions are not permitted to exchange, transfer, lease, donate, or mortgage their land-use rights.  In land disputes involving a religious institution, the chairperson of the provincial-level people’s committee has authority to settle disputes.  Parties may dispute the chairperson’s decision by appealing to the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment or filing a lawsuit in court.

In practice, if a religious organization has not obtained recognition, members of the congregation may acquire a land-use title individually.

The renovation or upgrade of facilities owned by religious groups requires notification to authorities, although it does not necessarily require a permit, depending on the extent of the renovation.

The government does not permit religious instruction in public and private schools.  This prohibition extends to private schools run by religious organizations.

There are separate provisions of the law that permit foreigners legally residing in the country to request permission to conduct religious activities, teach, attend local religious training, or preach in local religious institutions.  The law requires religious organizations or citizens to receive government permission in advance of hosting or conducting any religious activities involving foreign organizations, foreign individuals, or travel abroad.  Regulations also contain requirements for foreigners conducting religious activities within the country, including those involved in religious training, ordination, and leadership, to seek permission for their activities.

The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Government Practices

Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) reported cases of government officials physically abusing individuals from religious minority groups, particularly ethnic minorities in the Central Highlands and Northern Highlands, although it was not clear the reported cases were related to religious affiliation.  In the Northwest and Northern Highlands, leaders representing both registered and unregistered religious groups said authorities increasingly used nonviolent or less aggressive means, for example, inviting representatives to tea or offering to pay for property repairs, to pressure them to comply with government demands, including seeking registration and ceasing illegal gatherings.  Because religion, ethnicity, and politics were often closely linked, it was difficult to categorize many incidents as being solely based on religious identity.

In December, authorities in Tuyen Quang Province detained at least 56 members of the ethnic Hmong Duong Van Minh group when they gathered to pay respects following the death of their founder and leader, Duong Van Minh.  Due to what authorities said was the mourners’ failure to comply with COVID-19 mitigation requirements and undergo testing following likely COVID-19 exposure, police raided Duong Van Minh’s home on December 12, where Hmong members had gathered.  Police, who had arrived in support of local health authorities, allegedly beat and arrested those who failed to comply with testing protocols.  According to government officials, however, the government worked with Duong Van Minh’s family to ensure COVID-19 testing of children who were present and to facilitate the funeral service in a relatively timely manner.  Government officials also said the mourners gathering at Duong Van Minh’s home exceeded the number of persons permitted to gather under COVID-19 mitigation restrictions and refused to submit to testing following the detection of confirmed COVID-19 cases.  Police reportedly forcibly held more than 36 followers incommunicado in several quarantine centers, where those detained reported police interrogated them for hours on their religious activities and threatened them to force them to renounce their faith, including through what some described as torture and beatings.  Others reported being held and beaten at police stations in Ham Yen District.  Several persons reported police “tortured” them until they signed confessions and other documents renouncing their faith and threatened them with extended detention in a quarantine center without the ability to communicate with family or friends if they refused.  At year’s end, 21 Duong Van Minh followers remained in detention.

Local authorities in some parts of the Central Highlands reportedly intimidated and threatened violence against members of certain unregistered Protestant groups that had reported human rights violations to international bodies or had attempted to force these groups’ members to recant their faith or join a registered religious organization.  Vietnamese security officers arrested and detained at least 21 individuals in the Central Highlands province of Dak Lak on July 16.  All were released by July 18.  Many of those detained had participated in civil society training organized by a U.S.-based human rights NGO and were members of two ethnic minority Protestant churches, the Evangelical Church of Vietnam and the Vietnam Good News Mission Church, which had long been targeted by authorities.  At least one victim reported that police officers beat him during interrogations and threatened to kill him.  Some detainees also reported authorities told them that studying their rights under the LBR and constitution was illegal, and they reported that authorities threatened them in order to make them renounce their faith.

Government officials in different parts of the country reportedly continued to monitor, interrogate, arbitrarily detain, and discriminate against some individuals, at least in part because of their religious beliefs or affiliation.  The majority of the victims of the reported incidents were members of unregistered groups engaged in political or human rights advocacy activities or with ties to overseas individuals and organizations that were outspoken and critical of authorities.  There were several reports of local authorities banning, disrupting gatherings, and confiscating publications of new religious movements, such as Dang hoang thien cach mang the gioi dai dong (The Party of God’s Revolution for the Great Unity) in Dong Nai and Binh Phuoc Provinces, Tam Linh Ho Chi Minh (The Spirit of Ho Chi Minh) and Long Hoa Di Lac I (Followers of Maitreya Buddha) in Vinh Phuc Province, and in a number of cases arresting leaders and followers of other religious groups, such as Phap mon can khai vung tru luat lam chinh tam (The Dharma Door of Enlightening Universal Law and Unified Consciousness) in Kinh Mon town, Hai Duong Province.

According to reports from the NGO Boat People SOS (BPSOS), during the year local police in Dak Lak and Phu Yen Provinces questioned at least 30 members of the unregistered Evangelical Church of Christ, Good News Mission Church, and International Degar Church at local police stations or their residences.  BPSOS stated that in some cases, local police forced individuals to report to police stations and then interrogated them for hours before releasing them without charges.  Authorities reportedly demanded those detained to cease affiliation with unregistered religious groups and refrain from providing “negative” reports to international organizations.  Local police in some cases demanded some religious adherents request permission from authorities prior to traveling outside of their communes.  Independent Cao Dai adherents similarly reported police harassed them to prevent them from participating in civil society events, including during a virtual Southeast Asia Freedom of Religion or Belief conference in December.

In September, Tien Giang Province authorities arrested three independent Cao Dai leaders and detained them for hours while questioning them about their religious activities.

There were multiple reports of government discrimination against individual religious believers and religious groups across the country.  Members of some religious groups whose members were poor or ethnic minorities continued to report that authorities denied them some of the legal benefits to which they were entitled.  The Vietnam Baptist Convention (VBC), an unregistered group, reported that few of its members received any pandemic-related assistance from government authorities, and a number reported difficulties obtaining COVID-19 vaccines when such assistance would have been routinely administered to local communities.  A VBC pastor in Hanoi reported difficulty acquiring a “land use right certificate” from local officials and said that his neighbors, who were not affiliated with a religious group, had no difficulty receiving a certificate.

Protestant and Catholic groups continued to say that legal restrictions and lack of legal clarity on operating faith-based medical and educational facilities made them wary of attempting to open hospitals or parochial schools, despite government statements welcoming religious group participation in health, education, and charitable activities.  Catholic representatives said the government refused to return hospitals, clinics, and schools it seized in 1954 and 1975.

On September 6, Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh signed a decision assigning the portfolio of religious affairs and human rights issues to Deputy Prime Minister Pham Binh Minh, the senior of four Deputy Prime Ministers.

According to the GCRA, in northern mountainous provinces, local authorities cumulatively granted registrations to nearly 800 local congregations, known as “meeting points,” and they recognized 14 local congregations, out of more than 1,600 local congregations.  The registrations and recognitions affected approximately 250,000 congregation members in total (of which 95 percent were ethnic minorities, mostly H’mong).  In the Central Highlands, local authorities granted registration to more than 1,400 local congregations and recognized 311 local congregations, together affecting nearly 584,000 congregation members.

The Ministry of Public Security estimated approximately 70 Protestant groups comprising nearly 200,000 members operated outside of the legal framework mandated by the LBR.  These groups neither sought nor received registration certificates or recognition during the year.

Authorities did not recognize any new religious organizations during the year.  The GCRA registered approximately 70 local congregations in 2020, to include four Protestant local congregations, approximately 50 Catholic parishes, and 12 Cao Dai local congregations.  Many unregistered religious groups continued to report that the registration of religious activities with local authorities remained difficult.  Some well-established and recognized religious groups such as the Catholic Church reported challenges in their efforts to establish new parishes in the Northwest Highlands.  Registered and unregistered religious groups continued to state that government agencies sometimes did not respond to registration applications or approval requests for religious activities within the stipulated time period, if at all, and often did not specify reasons for refusals as required by law.  In other cases, religious groups were unaware they had been granted local approval of religious activities.  Some local authorities reportedly requested documents or information beyond what was stipulated by law.  Several religious leaders said authorities sometimes solicited bribes to facilitate approvals.  Authorities attributed the delays and denials to the applicants’ failure to complete forms correctly or provide complete information.  Religious groups said the process of registering groups or notifying authorities of activities in new or remote locations was particularly difficult.  Some religious groups reported that authorities urged them to register as affiliates of recognized religious groups instead of as new groups.

GCRA officials stated that government officials assisted unregistered religious groups to navigate the bureaucratic procedures required for registration, using features such as an interactive portal on the GCRA website that allowed religious organizations to track the status of their document submissions.  The GCRA, however, acknowledged the web portal was not useful for remote religious groups that often lacked the technical skills to utilize the digital forms provided by the government.  The GCRA continued to provide provincial-level training to facilitate local registration of religious groups.

Local authorities continued to obstruct the assignment and transfer of religious leaders to unregistered local congregations, particularly those who were from other localities.  In several cases, local authorities harassed members of these unregistered local congregations.  The Evangelical Church of Vietnam-North (ECVN) reported the recognition of its local congregations was still time consuming, although many of them had been operating stably for many years without official confirmation of their registration and, from their perspective, had fully met the registration requirements.  According to the ECVN, authorities recognized 23 local congregations and granted registration to approximately 500 out of 1,200 local congregations and houses of worship (meeting points).  The ECVN reported it continued to experience difficulties obtaining registration of its meeting points with local authorities in Quang Binh and Nghe An Provinces.

At year’s end, the VBC was still awaiting the final results of a new approach, initiated in 2020, to register local congregations, in coordination with the GCRA.  Unlike earlier applications, in which representatives of local congregations completed the relevant paperwork for local authorities in relative isolation, the VBC chief pastor completed multiple registration packages under his name for submission to the GCRA.  The VBC said it submitted approximately 30-40 registration applications for local congregations in the Northwest Highlands in recent years under the old approach but was unable to verify the number of registration requests still pending.

Authorities required most, if not all, applicants seeking the registration of their religious operation or recognition of their organization to include in their applications language stating the religious organization would be in harmony with the nation and would serve the Vietnamese people.  For example, the Catholic Church used the slogan “Live the gospel amidst the nation,” while the VBS used “dharma, nation, and socialism.”  Religious groups continued to publicize the slogans after their registration and recognition.

According to local religious leaders, authorities continued to impose a rigid upper management structure on religious organizations.  According to religious community representatives, authorities preferred a two-level, top-down hierarchy to better control the religious organization and its affiliates through the religious group’s internal administrative structure.

For example, the Catholic Church reported that the authorities no longer recognized “sub-parishes,” as they had in the past.  As a result, the Church was required to establish full parishes, a lengthy and challenging process, or to register local congregations; the authorities did not recognize anything in between.  Under the old approach, sub-parish status gave a religious community more leeway than a local congregation on some issues.  A local congregation did not have the right to submit paperwork for the construction of religious facilities or for religious practice, example, but a sub-parish could submit that paperwork.

According to several Catholic bishops, parishes in remote areas or with majority ethnic minority populations continued to face difficulty registering with provincial authorities due to their inconsistent application of national laws.  Catholic leaders reported that the most problematic regions were in the Central Highlands (Gia Lai, Dak Lak, Dak Nong, Kon Tum, and Lam Dong Provinces), and the Northwest Highlands, including Son La, Lao Cai, and Yen Bai Provinces.

According to local religious leaders, Protestant groups also experienced authorities’ inconsistent interpretation and enforcement of the law when attempting to register their local congregations.  Local authorities in Dien Bien Province, for example, continued to deny the registration applications of an independent Pentecostal congregation in Noong Luong commune, Dien Bien District, Dien Bien Province, stating that the congregation was affiliated with an unrecognized religious group.  The Pentecostal group’s religious leader, however, said the law did not require a local congregation to be affiliated with a recognized organization to receive registration.  The leader also noted that members had practiced their faith at the local congregation for nearly 30 years before filing registration applications in April 2017.  Dien Bien authorities continued to deny registration of a group called Assembly of God of Vietnamese People (Hoi Thanh Phuc Am Ngu Tuan Nguoi Viet), reasoning that the applicant’s dogma was indistinguishable from that of the recognized Assembly of God of Vietnam (Giao hoi Phuc Am Ngu Tuan Viet Nam).

The VBC reported authorities did not register new local congregations in Thanh Hoa, Hanoi, Hai Phong, Quang Ninh, Hai Duong, and the Northwest Highlands.

Religious leaders reported that the central authorities continued to deny applications for the religious operation of several Protestant groups – Vietnam Baptist Convention (VBC), United Presbyterian Church in Vietnam, and the Full Gospel Church of Vietnam led by Pastor Ly Xuan Hoa.  Religious freedom advocates stated that the determining factor as to whether local authorities approved registration applications was more closely linked to the religious groups’ perspective on politics than on religious dogma.  The GCRA continued to deny public access to pending registration actions.

There were reports that local authorities denied new ID applications in which applicants identified their religion and that authorities ignored applicants’ expressed faith and labeled them “nonbelievers” or members of another religion.  VBS, however, reported that despite initial difficulties, it had resolved its ID problems by coordinating with authorities and was able to provide the relevant documentation to its members.

During the year, most religious ceremonies and services were cancelled or were conducted online due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  There were reports of authorities disrupting gatherings that violated pandemic restrictions, including religious gatherings.  Authorities continued monitoring, preventing, or disrupting the gatherings of some unregistered groups and harassed their members in different ways, including bringing Christian leaders into police stations for questioning and threatening that they could not celebrate Christmas.  In most cases, members of these religious groups were also involved in human rights advocacy activities or had links to individuals and organizations that were critical of the government.  Religious leaders in urban areas and the ethnic-majority Kinh largely reported authorities permitted them to practice without significant restrictions as long as they acted transparently and facilitated or allowed official oversight.  This remained true for both officially registered and unregistered religious groups.  Unrecognized religious denominations operating in the Central and Northwest Highlands and in certain parts of the Mekong Delta – especially those that had a predominantly ethnic minority following – were more likely to report harassment from government officials.  Recognized religious denominations in these areas reported rapid growth and generally fewer problems with officials.

There were no clear regulations for religious expression in the military, leaving individual unit commanders to exercise significant discretion.  According to religious leaders of multiple faiths, the government did not permit members of the military to practice religious rites at any time while on active duty; military members were required to take personal leave to do so.  State-run media, however, reported military officials praying for peace and happiness while visiting pagodas.

Male Khmer Krom Buddhists traditionally enter the monastery for a period of at least one month before the age of 20.  Adherents reported that mandatory conscription into the military with no possibility of alternative service interfered with this traditional religious rite of passage.

In March, authorities permitted the display of Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh’s Zen Buddhism calligraphy works for the first time at a Ho Chi Minh City exhibition.

According to the monks of Thien An Monastery in Thua Thien in Hue Province, senior provincial leaders visited the monastery on September 22 and discussed land-related issues.  At the meeting, authorities committed to establishing a working group to resolve land issues and to help the monastery obtain “stable and harmonious development.”

Many ordained pastors conducted pastoral work, despite not having completed the paperwork mandated by law to be recognized as clergy by the government.  For example, the ECVN reported only approximately one-fifth of its pastors had applied to be officially recognized by the government.

Some pastors of unregistered groups stated that authorities did not interfere with their clerical training, despite their lack of legal authorization.

According to family members, unlike in previous years, prisoners, including Catholics Le Dinh Luong, Ho Duc Hoa, Nguyen Nang Tinh, and Protestant Nguyen Trung Ton, had access to the Bible and other religious materials.

Media sources continued to report tension and disputes between Catholics and authorities in Thanh Hoa, Nghe An, Ha Tinh, Quang Binh, Thua Thien Hue, and Binh Thuan Provinces, mostly regarding land disputes or relating to the activities of human and environmental rights advocacy groups.  In March and April, local authorities of Ky Khang commune, Ky Anh District, Ha Tinh Province prevented Du Thanh parishioners from building a fishpond.  The local authorities accused parishioners of encroaching on agricultural land and starting construction work without permits, while parishioners said the work they were carrying out on parish property did not require a permit.  State-run media and progovernment websites accused the parish leadership of inciting the parishioners to act against the authorities and causing social unrest prior to National Assembly and People’s Council elections, while the parish leadership stated the authorities harassed them because of their criticism and protests.

Leaders of the unregistered Christian Duong Van Minh group reported local authorities in Ha Giang, Thai Nguyen, and Cao Bang Provinces no longer destroyed “Nha Don” structures built years ago for storing funeral-related items and were allowing the renovation of a small number of these structures.  However, local authorities in parts of Tuyen Quang Province continued prohibiting and destroying these structures.  The Duong Van Minh group, which the government considered either an “evil-way” religion or an “illegal organization,” reported local authorities monitored key members and stated that local police officials “visited” their residences from time to time or “invited” them to local authorities’ headquarters.  Those who refused such “invitations” said they were not subjected to reprisals.

Provincial and local authorities continued to exercise eminent domain over land belonging to individuals and religious organizations in the name of social and economic development projects.  Authorities continued many projects that required the revocation of land rights and the demolition of properties of religious organizations or individuals across the country.  Authorities reportedly did not intervene effectively in many land disputes that involved religious organizations or believers, and in most of these cases, the religious organizations or believers were unsuccessful in retaining land use rights.  Such actions resulted in land disputes involving recognized, registered, and unregistered religious organizations.

State media and progovernment websites alleged that Catholic priests in many parishes occupied – or urged their parishioners to use or illegally occupy – land legally used by non-Catholics or authorities.  There were also cases in which Catholics were alleged to have “misused” their land, for example, by turning an agricultural plot into a soccer field without the approval of the proper authorities.  From March to May, Dang Cao parishioners at Dien Doai commune, Dien Chau District, Nghe An Province unsuccessfully, attempted to fill and level an aquaculture pond to expand parish church facilities and build a fence surrounding a stadium it claimed as church property.  The parish also claimed a lot that was used as community property of the commune.  Many parishioners in this area said they were dissatisfied with the local authorities concerning the construction of a north-south highway in which the local authorities exercised eminent domain over parish land without providing adequate compensation and assistance.  Local authorities said they considered the parish’s claims groundless and unreasonable.  Some progovernment websites accused the parish leadership of attempting to cause social unrest before the May National Assembly and People’s Council elections.

From June to October, independent Hoa Hao followers in An Giang reported that local authorities and state-recognized Hoa Hao Buddhist groups in Phu Tan District, An Giang Province, citing a need to build a new pagoda, advocated tearing down the 100-year-old An Hoa Tu Pagoda.  That building is one of the first independent Hoa Hao pagodas built by Prophet Huynh Phu So, founder of the Hoa Hao religious tradition.  Independent Hoa Hao followers opposed the pagoda’s demolition due to its religious importance; they proposed it be renovated instead.  Plainclothes police reportedly assaulted independent Hoa Hao Buddhists who tried to prevent the pagoda’s demolition.  The government temporarily halted demolition of the pagoda, and it remained intact at year’s end.

Members of some unregistered religious groups, including independent Pentecostals in Dien Bien; unregistered Baptists in Thanh Hoa; Duong Van Minh in Tuyen Quang, Ha Giang and Cao Bang; and ethnic minority Protestants in the Central Highlands; reported administrative difficulties and an inability to access social welfare benefits.  There were cases in which individuals from these groups stated that local authorities told them the “difficulties would go away” if they recanted their faith.  Duong Van Minh followers in Cao Bang Province, for example, said local authorities denied new residential registrations and subsequently denied or delayed approval of businesses for those Duong Van Minh followers who lacked residential registration.  Local authorities required Duong Van Minh followers to sign a commitment to stop following Duong Van Minh if they wanted to receive assistance the authorities provided to ethnic minority households to construct housing.  In many cases, the individuals said they assumed authorities discriminated against them because of their faith.

On February 22, the Central Commission for Propaganda and Education of the Communist Party issued guidance on ethnic and religious issues.  Among its key contents relating to religion was an affirmation of the state’s respect for and guarantee of religious freedom that noted that religions are equal with each other and before the law.  The guidance also stressed the state’s determination to combat those who act against the Communist Party, the state, and “solidarity” under the cover of religion.  Numerous state officials, the GCRA, Ministry of Information and Communication, Ministry of Culture, Sport and Tourism, Ministry of Education and Training, Vietnam Fatherland Front, local authorities, and others helped to disseminate the key messages of the guidance.  In connection with issuing the guidance, state officials, state-run media, and progovernment websites highlighted the foundation and operation of “illegal religious groups” that, they said, conducted activities that went against well-established and well-recognized religions and what they called “fine national traditions.”

The government continued efforts to deepen knowledge about the LBR among government officials and religious adherents.  Authorities also called for registered and recognized religious organizations to share publicly more information about their dogma and belief systems in an effort to persuade religious adherents to affiliate with established faith groups rather than with “new religious movements” or groups about which the government lacked information.

State-run media and progovernment blogs continued to accuse religious leaders and members who were vocal in their opposition to the government of exploiting religion for personal gain and of “colluding with hostile forces with the purpose of inciting public disorder and acting against the Communist Party and State.”  On July 12, Propaganda and Education magazine, a publication of the Communist Party, published an article criticizing outspoken priests.  The article labeled such priests “extremists” and asserted their criticism was fabricated or based on distorted information in order to tarnish the Communist Party and state, “to sow seeds of division,” and “to disrupt social order.”

State-run media and progovernment websites sometimes equated particular Christian denominations and other religious groups, often ones associated with ethnic groups such as the Vang Chu H’mong in the Northwest Highlands, Ha Mon Catholics and Degar Montagnard Protestants in the Central Highlands, and Khmer Krom in the southwestern region, with separatist movements, blaming them for political, economic, and social problems.

State media reported local and provincial authorities in the northern mountainous provinces, including Cao Bang, Tuyen Quang, Bac Can, and Thai Nguyen, continued to call the Duong Van Minh religious group a threat to national security, political stability, and social order.  State media and progovernment websites continued referring to the group as “an evil-way religion” or “an illegal group.”  Some progovernment websites continued sharing sensational stories about Duong Van Minh’s leading a depraved life and misappropriating contributions of his followers for personal use.

A National Assembly deputy, Major General Sung Thin Co, at a National Assembly meeting in March criticized local officials for a “lack of responsibility and understanding about the Duong Van Minh group” and for turning it into an illegal organization.  According to Co, Duong Van Minh and his group helped H’mong to modify what he called outdated and burdensome traditions.  Progovernment websites heavily criticized General Co’s statement.

Several provincial-government, state-run, and progovernment websites continued referring to Falun Gong as an “evil-way religion” and an “extremist religious group.”  Many progovernment websites associated Falun Gong with acts against the Communist Party and the state and with having a hostile political agenda.  Some accused Falun Gong of doing harm to traditional culture and disrupting the social order and public safety.  During the year, local police in several provinces, including Hanoi, Yen Bai, Quang Binh, Can Tho, An Giang, Tien Giang, and Tra Vinh, disrupted gatherings of Falun Gong practitioners and confiscated their publications and other items.  In a number of cases, local police summoned the practitioners to local police stations for interrogation or fined them for violating COVID-19-related restrictions.  On July 7, local authorities of Tan Hung commune, Cai Be District, Tien Giang Province fined seven Falun Gong practitioners more than 50 million dong ($2,200) for violating social distancing regulations when they were found gathering at the house of a practitioner.  On September 29, local police of Tan Xa commune, Thach That District, Hanoi city summoned two Falun Gong practitioners for disseminating materials relating to the group.  Local police confiscated nearly 170 publications and items relating to Falun Gong and required them to stop the dissemination of similar materials.

During the year, authorities at the central to local levels encouraged the engagement of recognized religious groups in charitable and healthcare activities.  Many religious groups and religious adherents directly organized and ran these activities or joined with authorities and other organizations and individuals to do so.  Religious groups also contributed to COVID-19-related funding and communication campaigns.  Thousands of members of different religious organizations volunteered to work at field hospitals, directly taking care of COVID-19 victims or otherwise assisting persons in need.

In what observers stated was a growing trend, local authorities permitted religious organizations to operate social services and to gather for training.  For example, in Hanoi and surrounding areas, city officials continued to allow Protestant house churches to operate drug rehabilitation centers.

Most representatives of religious groups continued to report anecdotally that adherence to a registered religious group generally did not seriously disadvantage individuals in nongovernmental, civil, economic, and secular life, but that adherence to an unregistered group was more disadvantageous.  Religious leaders said that religious belief itself did not lead to official discrimination, but rather it was the implication of being affiliated with any type of extralegal group that could attract additional scrutiny from authorities.  Practitioners of various registered religious groups served in local and provincial government positions and were represented in the National Assembly.  In May, one Catholic priest and four VBS monks were elected to the 499-member National Assembly.  Many nationally recognized religious organizations, such as the VBS, as well as other clergy and religious followers, were members of the Vietnam Fatherland Front.  High ranking government officials sent greetings and visited churches during Christmas and Easter and attended Vesak activities commemorating the birth of the Buddha.  The official resumes of the top three CPV leaders stated they followed no religion; however, while many senior CPV leaders were reported to hold strong religious beliefs, particularly Buddhist, they generally did not publicly discuss their religious affiliation.

During the year, the GCRA initiated a three-year review of the LBR and its implementing decree in numerous provinces.  The National Assembly Committee for Culture, Education, Youth, Adolescence and Children and the Vietnam Fatherland Front also met with local authorities and leaders of religious organizations to oversee implementation of the law.  During the year, authorities conducted many of the training sessions and inspections related to the review online.  On July 24, GCRA Buddhism Department Director Nguyen Phuc Nguyen gave a presentation about the LBR and its implementing decree at the VBS online proselytizing center.  The National Assembly Committee for Culture, Education, Youth, Adolescence and Children on October 8 worked with Tuyen Quang authorities to share information about the implementation of the laws in the field of belief and religions, among other legal rights and obligations.

Although the law prohibited publishing all materials, including religious materials, without government approval, some private, unlicensed publishing houses continued to unofficially print and distribute religious texts without active government interference.  Other licensed publishers printed books on religion.  Publishers had permission to print the Bible in Vietnamese and other languages, including Chinese, Ede, Jarai, Banar, M’nong, H’mong, C’ho, and English.  Other published texts included works pertaining to ancestor worship, Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, and Cao Dai.

The Church of Jesus Christ continued to report authorities permitted it to import sufficient copies of the Book of Mormon, although at year’s end, the Church was still working with the GCRA to import additional faith-based periodicals.

Authorities permitted Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, Baha’i, and Buddhist groups to provide religious education to adherents in their own facilities, and religious leaders noted increased enrollment in these education programs in recent years.  Students continued to participate in online training sessions on fundamental Buddhist philosophy when many pagodas could not organize offline training, due to COVID-19.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

There were reports of conflicts, at times violent, between members of unregistered and registered or recognized religious groups or between religious adherents and nonbelievers.  Religious activists blamed the authorities for “manipulating” members of recognized religious groups and accused undercover government agents and proxies of causing these conflicts to intimidate or suppress the activities of unregistered groups.

On October 14, the Ministry of Information and Communication fined “Rap Nha Lam” 45 million dong ($2,000) for producing and disseminating a music clip insulting Gautama Buddha following strong protests of Buddhist communities and the public against the clip.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

Representatives of the embassy and the consulate general in Ho Chi Minh City regularly raised concerns about religious freedom with a wide range of government officials and CPV leaders, including the President, Prime Minister, and senior officials in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Public Security, the GCRA, and other government offices in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, and various provinces and cities.  They stressed to government officials that progress on religious freedom and human rights was critical to an improved bilateral relationship.

The Ambassador, Charge d’Affaires, and other embassy and consulate general officials continued to urge authorities to allow all religious groups to operate freely, including the UBCV, Protestant and Catholic house churches, and independent Cao Dai and Hoa Hao groups.  They also sought greater freedom for recognized and registered religious groups, advocated for access to religious materials and clergy for persons who were incarcerated, and urged an end to restrictions on unregistered groups.  Embassy and consulate general officials raised specific cases of abuses, as well as of government harassment against Catholics, Protestant groups, the UBCV, independent Hoa Hao groups, independent Cao Dai, and ethnic minority house churches with the GCRA, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and provincial and local authorities.  U.S. government officials continued to call for the increased registration of church congregations around the country and for improvement in registration policies to make them more uniform and transparent.  In addition, U.S. officials urged the government to peacefully resolve outstanding land rights disputes with religious groups.

The Department of State senior official for international religious freedom raised these issues during the annual U.S.-Vietnam Human Rights Dialogue in November, and raised specific concerns about implementation of the LBR, the status of religious believers detained or imprisoned, property issues involving religious groups, and the situation of ethnic religious minority groups.

The Ambassador and other embassy and consulate general officials met with religious leaders of both registered and unregistered religious groups and attended religious ceremonies to demonstrate support for religious freedom.  On March 25, the Consul General in Ho Chi Minh City met with Archbishop Nguyen Chi Linh, President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Vietnam, during her visit to Thua Thien-Hue Province.  On April 12, the Ambassador and the Consul General met with Pastor Le Quoc Huy, General Secretary of the Vietnam Evangelical Alliance, in Ho Chi Minh City.  On May 24, the Consul General met with Deputy Patriarch of the VBS Thich Tri Quang on the occasion of Vesak.

Embassy and consulate general officials traveled throughout the country, including to the Northwest and Central Highlands, to monitor religious liberty and meet with religious leaders.  Representatives of the embassy and consulate general maintained frequent contact with leaders and members of numerous religious communities, including recognized, registered, and unregistered organizations.

West Bank and Gaza

Read A Section: West Bank And Gaza

Israel

Executive Summary

West Bank and Gaza Strip residents are subject to the jurisdiction of separate authorities, with different implications for the fabric of life.  Palestinians in the West Bank are subject to Jordanian and Mandatory statutes in effect before 1967, military ordinances enacted by the Israeli military commander in the West Bank, and, in the relevant areas, Palestinian Authority (PA) law.  Israelis living in the West Bank are subject to military ordinances enacted by the military commander and to Israeli law and Israeli legislation.  The PA exercises varying degrees of authority in the small portions of the West Bank where it has some measure of control.  Although PA laws theoretically apply in the Gaza Strip, the PA does not have authority there, and Hamas continues to exercise de facto control over security and other matters.  The PA Basic Law, which serves as an interim constitution, establishes Islam as the official religion and states the principles of sharia shall be the main source of legislation, but provides for freedom of belief, worship, and the performance of religious rites unless they violate public order or morality.  It also proscribes discrimination based on religion, calls for respect of “all other divine religions,” and stipulates all citizens are equal before the law.  The Israeli government continued to allow controlled access to religious sites in Jerusalem, including the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount (the site containing the foundation of the First and Second Jewish temples and the Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa Mosque).  Israeli authorities in some instances barred specific individuals from the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount site.  On September 10, Israeli police temporarily closed off all entrances to the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount after a Palestinian resident of East Jerusalem attempted to stab an Israeli Border Police officer.  Police shot the suspect, who later died of his wounds.  Later in September, a Palestinian woman attempted to stab police officers outside the Chain Gate to the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount, and police shot and killed her.  On November 17, a Palestinian youth stabbed two Israeli Border Police officers in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City, and a civilian shot and killed him.  On November 21, a Palestinian teacher shot and killed an Israeli tour guide and wounded four others with an automatic weapon near the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem.  Security officials shot and killed the attacker immediately after the assault.  In April and May, clashes occurred in the West Bank and East Jerusalem between Israeli security forces and Palestinian protesters at the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount.  The Palestinian National and Islamic Factions in the West Bank called on Palestinians across West Bank cities, villages, and refugee camps to participate in a “Day of Rage” on May 11 to protest Israeli Security Force and Israeli settler attacks against Palestinians at the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount compound and in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah.  On April 13, at the start of Ramadan, media and Waqf officials reported that Israeli National Police (INP) entered the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount and disconnected loudspeakers used for the call to prayer without coordinating with Waqf officials, to avoid disrupting an official Memorial Day service attended by then Israeli President Reuven Rivlin in the adjacent Western Wall Plaza.  During the last Friday of Ramadan on May 7, Israeli police entered the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount and al-Aqsa Mosque using teargas, stun grenades, and rubber-tipped bullets to disperse Palestinians who were throwing rocks.  Media reported that in the aftermath, Palestinians stockpiled stones on the compound in anticipation of confrontations with police and far-right Israeli nationalists planning to march through the Old City.  On May 10, Israeli police entered the compound again and used stun grenades, teargas, and rubber-tipped bullets to disperse Palestinians.  The Palestinian Red Crescent stated that more than 300 individuals were injured.  In an attempt to ease tensions and reduce the potential for clashes, Israeli police temporarily barred non-Muslims from visiting the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount.  Palestinians at times violently protested when Jewish groups visited the site of Joseph’s Tomb in Nablus, throwing rocks and bottles at Israeli Defense Force (IDF) personnel providing security, who responded by firing tear gas and rubber bullets.  On September 26, Palestinian protesters attacked buses carrying approximately 500 Jewish worshipers traveling to the site and injured two Israeli soldiers escorting the convoy.  According to police, the protestors used live fire, stones, and homemade explosive devices.  On November 4, the Israeli Supreme Court rejected an appeal submitted by the PA Hebron Municipality against the establishment of an elevator at the Ibrahimi Mosque/Tomb of the Patriarchs.  Some official PA media channels, as well as social media accounts affiliated with the ruling Fatah political movement, featured content praising or condoning acts of violence against Jews, often referring to assailants as “martyrs.”  Both Palestinians and Israelis evoked ethnoreligious language to deny the historical self-identity of the other community in the region or to emphasize an exclusive claim to the land.  The PA and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) continued to provide “martyr payments” to the families of Palestinians killed while engaged in violence against Israelis or of those killed by Israeli military actions, including victims of air strikes in Gaza, and also continued to provide separate stipends to Palestinians in Israeli prisons, including those convicted of acts of terrorism involving Jewish targets.  In June, the German nongovernmental organization (NGO) Georg Eckert Institute for International Textbook Research released the findings from its European Union-commissioned review of PA curriculum assessing the extent of inciteful content.  The report found the curriculum had eliminated some prior inciteful content and included promotion of UNESCO standards such as respect for human rights and pluralism, but the report also highlighted the enduring presence of problematic content, including “antisemitic references” that contain negative stereotypes of the Jewish people and some content that delegitimized the State of Israel.

Hamas, a U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organization with de facto control of Gaza, the U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organization Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), and other extremist groups disseminated antisemitic materials and advocated violence through traditional and social media channels as well as during rallies and other events.  Hamas also continued to enforce restrictions on Gaza’s population based on its interpretation of Islam and sharia.  According to the Israeli government, Hamas and other groups launched more than 4,360 unguided rockets and mortars toward Israeli population centers, killing 13 between May 10 and 21 during the “Days of Rage.”  The United Nations reported that during the May fighting, attacks by the Israeli military killed 260 Palestinians in Gaza.

During the year, there were incidents of violence that perpetrators justified at least partly on religious grounds.  Actions included individual killings, physical attacks and verbal harassment of worshippers and clergy, and vandalism of religious sites.  There was also harassment by members of one religious group of another, social pressure to stay within one’s religious group, and antisemitic content in media.  Amid tensions in Jerusalem and conflict in Gaza, ethnic-based violence and civil unrest broke out during a one-week period in May in a number of mixed Jewish-Arab cities in Israel, including Jerusalem.  The INP reported it made approximately 1,550 arrests during that time, with the overwhelming majority of the arrestees being Arab/Palestinian citizens of Israel.  Security officials characterized the arrested Jewish citizens as predominately middle-aged nationalist extremists.  On December 16, gunmen killed yeshiva student Yehuda Dimentman near Jenin in the West Bank.  On March 1, unknown assailants set fire to the entrance of a Romanian Orthodox Church monastery in Jerusalem near the ultra-Orthodox Jewish neighborhood of Mea Shearim.  According to local press and social media, some settlers in the West Bank continued to justify “price tag” attacks on Palestinian property, such as the uprooting of Palestinian olive trees, vandalism of cars and buildings, arson, and slashing of tires as necessary for the defense of Judaism.  (“Price tag” attacks refer to violence by Jewish individuals and groups against individuals, particularly Palestinians and Arab/Palestinian citizens of Israel, and property with the stated purpose of exacting a “price” for actions taken by the government contrary to the attackers’ interests.)  According to the Times of Israel, on October 13, vandals sprayed nationalist slogans and damaged cars in the Palestinian village of Marda in the West Bank.  Slogans painted on walls included “price tag” and “demolish enemy [property], not Jewish.”  According to media reports, on November 9, unidentified individuals vandalized nearly two dozen vehicles and a building in the Palestinian town of al-Bireh with slogans such as “enemies live here” and “price tag.”  On April 28, arsonists set three Palestinian cars ablaze in Beit Iksa, a village outside Jerusalem.  According to media reports, dozens of Jewish residents of a nearby neighborhood chanted, “May your village burn,” until police arrived and dispersed the crowd.

Senior U.S. officials worked to harness normalization between Israel and predominantly Muslim countries, which would improve access for Muslim worshippers to Islamic sites.  Senior U.S. officials publicly raised concerns about antisemitism among PA officials and more broadly in Palestinian society throughout the year.  Senior White House officials and other U.S. officials repeatedly pointed out that Palestinian leaders did not consistently condemn individual terrorist attacks, including the November Hamas attack at Haram al Sharif/Temple Mount, nor speak out publicly against members of their institutions, including Fatah, who advocated violence.  U.S. embassy officials met with Palestinian religious leaders to discuss religious tolerance and a broad range of issues affecting Christian, Muslim, and Jewish communities.  They met with political, religious, and civil society leaders to promote interreligious tolerance and cooperation.  U.S. representatives met with representatives of religious groups to monitor their concerns about access to religious sites, respect for clergy, and attacks on religious sites and houses of worship.  They also met with local Christian leaders to discuss their concerns about threats to the presence of Christian communities in Jerusalem and the West Bank, as well as ongoing Christian emigration.

This section of the report covers the West Bank and Gaza and East Jerusalem territories that Israel occupied during the June 1967 war.  In 2017, the United States recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.  Language in this report is not meant to convey a position on any final status issues to be negotiated between the parties to the conflict, including the specific boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem or the borders between Israel and any future Palestinian state.

Section I. Religious Demography

The U.S. government estimates the total Palestinian population at 2.9 million in the West Bank and 2 million in the Gaza Strip (midyear 2021).  According to the U.S. government and other sources, Palestinian residents of these territories are predominantly Sunni Muslims, with small Shia and Ahmadi Muslim communities.  The Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics reports an estimated 441,600 Jewish Israelis reside in Israeli settlements in the West Bank.  Israeli statistics do not count settlements in East Jerusalem as part of the West Bank.  Palestinian officials use the figure of 751,000 Jewish residents in the West Bank which includes settlements in the suburbs of Jerusalem.  According to various estimates, 50,000 Christian Palestinians reside in the West Bank and Jerusalem, and according to media reports and religious communities, there are approximately 1,300 Christians residing in Gaza.  Local Christian leaders state Palestinian Christian emigration has continued at rapid rates.  A majority of Christians are Greek Orthodox; the remainder includes Roman Catholics, Melkite Greek Catholics, Syrian Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, Armenian Catholics, Coptic Orthodox, Maronites, Ethiopian Orthodox, Syrian Catholics, Anglicans, Lutherans, other Protestant denominations, including evangelical Christians, and small numbers of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Church of Jesus Christ) and Jehovah’s Witnesses.  Christians are concentrated primarily in Bethlehem, Ramallah, and Nablus; smaller communities exist elsewhere.  Approximately 360 Samaritans (practitioners of Samaritanism, which is related to but distinct from Judaism) reside in the West Bank, primarily in the Nablus area.

The Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics estimates 569,900 Jews, 349,600 Muslims, and 12,900 Christians live in Jerusalem, accounting for the vast majority of the city’s total population of 952,000, as of 2020.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious Freedom

Legal Framework

Residents of the occupied territories are subject to the jurisdiction of different authorities.  Palestinians in the West Bank are subject to Jordanian and Mandatory statutes in effect before 1967, military ordinances enacted by the Israeli military commander in the West Bank in accordance with its authorities under international law, and, in the relevant areas, PA law.  Israelis living in the West Bank are subject to military ordinances enacted by the Israeli military commander and Israeli law and legislation.  West Bank Palestinian population centers mostly fall into Areas A and B, as defined by the Oslo-era agreements.  Under those agreements, the PA has formal responsibility for civil administration and security in Area A, but Israeli security forces frequently conduct security operations there.  The PA maintains civil administration in Area B in the West Bank while Israel maintains security control in this area.  Israel retains full security and administrative control of Area C (which constitutes approximately 60 percent of the West Bank) and has designated most Area C land as either closed military zones or settlement zoning areas.

Palestinians living in the portion of the West Bank designated as Area C in the Oslo II Accord are subject to military ordinances enacted by the Israeli military commander.  PA civil and criminal law applies to Palestinians who live in Area B, while Israel retains the overriding responsibility for security.  Although per the Oslo II Accord, only PA civil and security law applies to Palestinians living in Area A of the West Bank, Israel applies military ordinances enacted by its military commander whenever the Israeli military enters Area A, as part of its overriding responsibility for security.  The city of Hebron in the West Bank – an important city for Jews, Muslims, and Christians as the site of the Ibrahimi Mosque/Tomb of the Patriarchs – is divided into two separate areas:  area H1 under PA control and area H2, where approximately 800 Israeli settlers live and where internal security, public order, and civil authorities relating to Israelis and their property are under Israeli military control.

The Oslo Accords stipulate that protection of 12 listed Jewish holy sites and visitors in Area A is the responsibility of Palestinian police, and the accords created a joint security coordination mechanism to ensure “free, unimpeded and secure access to the relevant Jewish holy site” and “the peaceful use of such site, to prevent any potential instances of disorder and to respond to any incident.”  Both sides agreed to “respect and protect the listed below religious rights of Jews, Christians, Muslims and Samaritans” including “protection of the Holy Sites; free access to the Holy Sites; and freedom of worship and practice.”

Israeli government regulations recognize 16 sites as holy places for Jews, while various other budgetary and governmental authorities recognize an additional 160 places as holy for Jews.

The Israeli Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled since 1993 that Jews have the right to pray on the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount, but police may restrict this right in the name of public order and safety.  The court reiterated in 2019 that its precedent on this issue is nonintervention in government decisions, “except in highly unusual cases when the decision constitutes a major distortion of justice or is extremely unreasonable.”

The Jordanian Waqf in Jerusalem administers the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount, while the Jordanian Ministry of Islamic Affairs and Holy Places supports maintenance and salary of the Waqf staff in Jerusalem.

The Israeli “Nakba Law” prohibits institutions that receive Israeli government funding from engaging in commemoration of the Nakba (“catastrophe”), the term used by Palestinians to refer to the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians during Israel’s 1948 War of Independence.  Activities forbidden by the law include rejection of the existence of Israel as a “Jewish and democratic state” or commemorating “Israel’s Independence Day or the day on which the State was established as a day of mourning.”

In 2007, Hamas staged a violent takeover of PA government installations in the Gaza Strip and has since maintained a de facto government in the territory, although the area nominally falls under PA jurisdiction.

An interim Basic Law applies in the areas under PA jurisdiction.  The Basic Law states Islam is the official religion but calls for respect of “all other divine religions.”  It provides for freedom of belief, worship, and the performance of religious rites unless they violate public order or morality.  It criminalizes the publishing of writings, pictures, drawings, or symbols of anything that insults the religious feelings or beliefs of other persons.  The Basic Law also proscribes discrimination based on religion and stipulates all citizens are equal before the law.  The law states the principles of sharia shall be the main sources of legislation.  It contains language adopted from the pre-1967 criminal code of Jordanian rule that criminalizes “defaming religion,” with a maximum penalty of life in prison.  Since 2007, the elected Palestinian Legislative Council, controlled by Hamas, has not convened.  The Palestinian Constitutional Court dissolved the Palestinian Legislative Council in December 2018 and called for new elections.  The President of the PA promulgates executive decrees that have legal authority.

There is no specified process by which religious groups gain official recognition; each religious group must negotiate its own bilateral relationship with the PA.  The PA observes 19th-century status quo arrangements reached with Ottoman authorities, which recognize the presence and rights of the Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Armenian Orthodox, Syrian Catholic, Coptic Orthodox, Ethiopian Orthodox, Melkite Greek Catholic, Maronite, Syrian Orthodox, and Armenian Catholic Churches.  The PA also observes subsequent agreements that recognize the rights of the Episcopal (Anglican) Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church, and the Council of Local Evangelical Churches (a coalition of evangelical Protestant churches present in the West Bank and Gaza).  The PA recognizes the legal authority of these religious groups to adjudicate personal status matters such as marriage, divorce, and inheritance.  Recognized religious groups may establish ecclesiastical courts to issue legally binding rulings on personal status and some property matters for members of their religious communities.  The PA Ministry of Awqaf and Religious Affairs is administratively responsible for these family law issues.

Islamic or Christian religious courts handle legal matters relating to personal status, including inheritance, marriage, dowry, divorce, and child support.  For Muslims, sharia determines personal status law, while various ecclesiastical courts rule on personal status matters for Christians.  By law, members of one religious group may submit a personal status dispute to a different religious group for adjudication if the disputants agree it is appropriate to do so.

The PA maintains some unwritten understandings with churches that are not officially recognized, based on the basic principles of the status quo agreements, including with the Assemblies of God, Nazarene Church, and some evangelical Christian churches, which may operate freely.  Some of these groups may perform some official functions, such as issuing marriage licenses.  Churches not recognized by the PA generally must obtain special one-time permission from the PA to perform marriages or adjudicate personal status matters if these groups want the actions to be recognized by and registered with the PA.  These churches may not proselytize.

By law, the PA provides financial support to Islamic institutions and places of worship.  A PA religious committee also provides some financial support for Christian cultural activities.

In Jerusalem, the Israeli government provides separate public schools for Jewish and Arab children with instruction conducted in Hebrew and Arabic, respectively.  For Jewish children, there are separate public schools available for religious and secular families.  Individual families may choose a public school system for their children regardless of ethnicity or religious observance.  Minors have the right to choose a public secular school instead of a religious school regardless of parental preference.  By law, Israel provides the equivalent of public school funding to two systems of “recognized but not official” (a form of semiprivate) ultra-Orthodox religious schools affiliated with ultra-Orthodox political parties:  the United Torah Judaism-affiliated Independent Education System and the Shas-affiliated Fountain of Torah Education System.  Churches, however, receive only partial government funding to operate “recognized but not official” schools.  Palestinian residents in Jerusalem may send their children to one of these church schools or a private school operated by the Jerusalem Islamic Waqf; both include religious instruction.  Some Israeli-funded public schools in Jerusalem use the PA curriculum.

Religious education is part of the curriculum for students in grades one through six in public schools the PA operates as well as in some Palestinian schools in Jerusalem that use the PA curriculum.  There are separate courses on religion for Muslims and Christians.  Students may choose which class to take but may not opt out of religion courses.  Recognized churches operate private schools in the West Bank that include religious instruction.  Private Islamic schools also operate in the West Bank.

Palestinian law provides that in the defunct Palestinian Legislative Council, six seats be allocated to Christian candidates, who also have the right to contest other seats.  There are no seats reserved for members of any other religious group.  A 2017 presidential decree requires that Christians head nine municipal councils in the West Bank (including Ramallah, Bethlehem, Birzeit, and Beit Jala) and establishes a Christian quota for representation on these councils and one additional municipal council.

PA land laws prohibit Palestinians from selling Palestinian-owned lands to “any man or judicial body corporation of Israeli citizenship, living in Israel or acting on its behalf.”  While Israeli law does not authorize the Israel Land Authority, which administers the 93 percent of Israeli land in the public domain, to lease land to foreigners, in practice, foreigners have been allowed to lease if they could show they qualify as Jewish under the Law of Return.

Although the PA removed the religious affiliation category from Palestinian identity cards issued in 2014, older identity cards continue to circulate, listing the holder as either Muslim or Christian.

Israel’s Law of Citizenship and Entry, first passed in 2003 and renewed annually, explicitly prohibited residence status for non-Jewish Iranians, Iraqis, Syrians, Lebanese, and Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza, including those who are spouses of Israeli residents or citizens, unless the Israeli Ministry of Interior (MOI) makes a special determination, usually on humanitarian grounds.

The Jordanian Waqf administers Islamic courts in Jerusalem for Muslim residents, with the Ministry of Awqaf and Islamic Affairs in Jordan having appellate authority.

There is no Israeli legal requirement regarding personal observance or nonobservance of the Jewish Sabbath (Shabbat) from sunset on Fridays until sunset on Saturdays and on Jewish holidays.  The law, however, declares in the context of labor rights that Shabbat and Jewish holidays are national days of rest, while permitting non-Jewish workers alternate days of rest.  The law criminalizes (up to one month imprisonment) employers who open their businesses and employ Jews on Shabbat, except those who are self-employed.  There are exceptions for essential infrastructure and the hospitality, culture, and recreation industries.  The law instructs the Israeli Minister of Labor and Welfare to take into account “Israel’s tradition,” among other factors, when considering whether to approve permits to work on Shabbat.  The law prohibits discrimination against workers who refuse, based on their religion and regardless of whether they are religiously observant, to work on their day of rest.

Israeli law states public transportation operated and funded by the national government may not operate on Shabbat, with exceptions for vehicles bringing passengers to hospitals, remote localities, and non-Jewish localities and for vehicles essential to public security or maintaining public transportation services.

Government Practices

Because religion and ethnicity or nationality are often closely linked, it was difficult to categorize many incidents as being solely based on religious identity.

On September 10, Israeli police temporarily closed off all entrances to the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount after a Palestinian resident of East Jerusalem attempted to stab an Israeli Border Police officer.  Police shot the suspect, who later died of his wounds.

Later in September, a Palestinian woman attempted to stab police officers outside the Chain Gate to the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount, and police shot and killed her.

On November 17, a 16-year-old Palestinian stabbed two Israeli Border Police officers in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City, and a civilian shot and killed him.

On December 19, a 20-year-old Palestinian attempted to stab two ultra-Orthodox Jews in a parking lot near the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem and fled the scene.  Israeli police later arrested the attacker, and no injuries were reported.

On November 21, a Palestinian teacher shot and killed an Israeli tour guide and wounded four others with an automatic weapon near the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem.  The U.S.-designated terrorist group Hamas said the gunman was a senior member of its movement in East Jerusalem.  Security officials shot and killed the attacker immediately after the assault.

On December 4, Israeli police shot and killed a Palestinian after he stabbed and wounded an ultra-Orthodox Jew near the Damascus Gate just outside Jerusalem’s Old City.  Israeli police released surveillance video in which the attacker could be seen stabbing the Jewish man and then trying to stab a Border Police officer before being shot and falling to the ground.  The Religion News Service reported that a widely circulated video filmed by a bystander appeared to show an officer from Israel’s paramilitary Border Police shooting the attacker when he was already lying on the ground, and another appeared to show police with guns drawn preventing medics from reaching him.  The United Nations’ Human Rights Office, PA officials, some Joint List and Meretz members of the Knesset (MKs), and Israeli and Palestinian human rights groups such as B’Tselem and Al-Haq described the police shooting as an extrajudicial execution.  Israeli investigators cleared the officers of any wrongdoing.  Magen David Adom, the Israeli emergency medical service, said it treated an ultra-Orthodox man in his 20s who was stabbed.  Police identified the attacker as a 25-year-old from Salfit in the West Bank.

On December 18, Israeli Border Police arrested a 65-year-old Palestinian woman for the stabbing of an Israeli man near a checkpoint close to the Ibrahimi Mosque/Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron.

On October 20, the trial of an Israeli Jewish minor, accused in the 2018 killing of a Palestinian woman, Aysha al-Rabi, a resident of Bidya village, began at the Central District Court in Lod.  Prosecutors accused the minor, then 17, of throwing a two-kilogram (4.4 pound) stone through al-Rabi’s car windshield “with the intent of using it to harm Arab passengers out of an ideological motive of racism and hostility toward Arabs.”  In 2019, authorities arrested and later released four other suspects who, like the defendant, were yeshiva students from the settlement of Rehelim.  According to press reporting, the prosecution linked the defendant’s DNA to the stone that caused al-Rabi’s death and also linked him to Kahanism, which Haaretz described as a “far-right anti-Arab ideology inspired by Rabbi Meir Kahane.”  In January, authorities stated that the stone throwing that killed al-Rabi, a mother of eight, was a terror attack but declined to recognize her as a victim of terrorism.  Press reports said that authorities said the decision was reached because al-Rabi was not an Israeli citizen and the killing occurred outside Israel’s recognized borders.  At year’s end, the trial was continuing and the accused remained under supervised house arrest.

Clashes broke out in April and May with “Day of Rage” demonstrations throughout the West Bank and East Jerusalem against Israeli actions at Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount.  The Palestinian National and Islamic Factions in the West Bank called on Palestinians across West Bank cities, villages, and refugee camps to participate in a “Day of Rage” on May 11 to protest actions by Israeli security forces, and Israelis living in East Jerusalem against Palestinians at the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount compound and in Sheikh Jarrah.

According to press and NGO monitors, multiple events related to the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount contributed, along with other factors, to escalations resulting in unrest and conflict across Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza.  On April 13 on the evening of the first day of Ramadan, media and Waqf officials reported that Israeli National Police entered the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount and disconnected loudspeakers used for the call to prayer to avoid disrupting an official Memorial Day service for fallen soldiers attended by then Israeli President Rivlin in the adjacent Western Wall square.  The incident was condemned by PA officials as a “hate crime.”

On June 17, the New York Times reported that the government charged a police officer, whose name was not released, with manslaughter in the 2020 killing of Iyad Halak, an autistic Palestinian man, in Jerusalem’s Old City.  Following an investigation, the Ministry of Justice said that Halak had not posed any danger to police.  At Halak’s funeral, the press reported that mourners chanted, “Khaybar, Khaybar, oh Jews, the army of [the Prophet] Mohammed will return,” a taunt referring to the seventh century Muslim massacre and expulsion of the Jews of Khaybar.

During the last Friday of Ramadan on May 7, Israeli police entered the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount and al-Aqsa Mosque using teargas, stun grenades, and rubber tipped bullets to disperse Palestinians who were throwing rocks.  Media reported that in the aftermath, Palestinians stockpiled stones in the compound in anticipation of confrontations with police and far-right Israeli nationalists planning to march through the Old City.  On May 10, Israeli police entered the compound again and used stun grenades, teargas, and rubber tipped bullets to disperse Palestinians.  The Palestinian Red Crescent stated that more than 300 individuals were injured.  In an attempt to ease tensions and reduce potential for clashes, Israeli police temporarily barred non-Muslims from visiting the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount.

According to the Jerusalem Post, on December 24, PA security forces used tear gas and batons to disperse more than 50 Palestinians, some armed with Molotov cocktails, who were attempting to march to Joseph’s Tomb in Nablus, in Area A of the West Bank, a site of religious significance to Jews, Christians, and Muslims.  On December 26, more than 200 Palestinians tried to march on the shrine, but PA authorities had cordoned off the area and prevented the demonstrators from reaching the site.  Individuals that the newspaper identified as “activists” said that these attempts to set fire to the building were intended as a response to “settler crimes” against Palestinians.  The PA security forces stated that they received “clear and firm” instructions to protect the tomb.

On January 10, Israeli Border Police arrested a Palestinian teenager after he threw a Molotov cocktail at Rachel’s Tomb, a Bethlehem shrine of religious significance to Jews, Christians, and Muslims under Israeli Jurisdiction in Area C.  During unrest in April, police and media reported that dozens of youths threw stones and Molotov cocktails at the shrine.  The shrine remained separated from the West Bank by a barrier built during the 2000-2005 Second Intifada, and Palestinians were able to access it only if permitted by Israeli authorities.  Residents and citizens of Israel continued to have relatively unimpeded access.  Israeli police closed the site to all visitors on Saturdays for the Jewish Sabbath (Shabbat).  In October, Palestinian demonstrators sporadically clashed over several days with the INP after the Israeli Nature and Parks Authority began landscaping work on public land adjacent to the Islamic al-Yusufiya Cemetery in East Jerusalem and unearthed human remains in a shallow grave.  During demonstrations against the construction work, Palestinian protestors reportedly chanted, “Khaybar, Khaybar, oh Jews, the army of [the Prophet] Mohammed will return.”  The cemetery, which is hundreds of years old, is affiliated with the Jordanian Waqf.  Multiple graves and headstones are located in the disputed area adjacent to the cemetery, some dating from Jordanian control of Jerusalem and others allegedly used more recently and without authorization.

According to an October 11 report in Haaretz, the Israel Nature and Parks Authority said, “This territory [adjacent to the al-Yusufiya Cemetery] is a national park and open public space, outside the Muslim cemetery.  The Muslim Waqf, unlawfully and in violation of court orders, placed several graves there.  During works with the Jerusalem Development Authority to develop the open public space, a shallow dig was uncovered with several bones in it.  The matter is being investigated.  The works at the site are ongoing under court orders.”  On October 17, the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court rejected requests submitted by the Committee for the Care of Islamic Cemeteries in Jerusalem to suspend bulldozing and exhuming graves.  However, the court restricted construction activity to only include light work, such as covering ground, placing grids, and gardening, and prohibited demolition, excavation, casting, or drilling.  Authorities did not allow construction that would affect any graves at the site.  On October 28, Israeli authorities fenced the walls surrounding area and installed surveillance cameras.  On October 29, the PA President’s advisor for religious and Islamic affairs described the bulldozing as an ongoing crime against the cemetery, while the Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem stated, “No tomb was damaged during the works, and there is no intention to displace any grave, even if built illegally.”

In general, NGOs, religious institutions, and media continued to state that arrests of Israelis in religiously motivated crimes against Palestinians rarely led to indictments and convictions.  Palestinians stated that they faced procedural difficulties in filing complaints with Israeli police, who are located at stations within settlements or at military-run liaison offices outside those settlements.  Data from the NGO Tag Meir, which tracks hate crimes, and media reports indicated in recent years Israeli authorities had indicted few suspects in attacks on religious sites.

Israeli government officials made public statements against “Israeli extremists’ attacks” on Palestinians and made efforts to enhance law enforcement in the West Bank, including through task forces, increased funding, and hiring additional staff members.  According to Haaretz, on December 13, Minister of Public Security Omer Bar-Lev said the government viewed settler violence “severely” and it was taking steps to address the issue, including increasing police in the West Bank and providing clearer instructions to the IDF on how to deal with attacks by Jews on Palestinians.  The report stated that Minister of Defense Benjamin Gantz had promised to increase enforcement against such attacks, which the newspaper said had increased 150 percent from 2019.  Other political leaders criticized Bar-Lev.  Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked said, “The settlers are the salt of the earth.  The violence that is shocking is the dozens of cases of stone-throwing and beatings of the Jews that happen daily… with the encouragement and support of the Palestinian Authority.”  Minister of Religious Affairs Matan Kahana said, “It is sad to see a security man rich in experience and years get such a false and distorted narrative.”

According to a December 15 report by the Times of Israel, security officials said that the year saw a drastic spike in violence by what they termed Jewish extremists in the West Bank.  According to the Times of Israel, in 2020, the Shin Bet internal security service registered 272 violent incidents in the West Bank; through the middle of December, the agency recorded 397.  On the same day, Haaretz reported that, according to government figures, there were 135 stone-throwing incidents targeting Palestinians during the year, up from 90 in 2019, and 250 other violent incidents, up from 100 in 2019.  The newspaper also reported that violence against the Israeli security services also rose, from 50 incidents in 2019 to 60 in 2021.

In a fact sheet reviewing the years 2005-2021 released in December, the Israeli NGO Yesh Din stated, “The State of Israel is evading its duty to protect Palestinians in the West Bank from Israelis who seek to harm them.  Long-term monitoring of the outcomes of investigations into ideological offenses committed by Israelis shows that Israeli law enforcement agencies leave Palestinians in the occupied Palestinian territories defenseless to attacks and harassment perpetrated by Israeli settlers.” According to Yesh Din statistics, Israeli police failed to make arrests in the investigation of 81 percent of the files opened between 2005 and 2021, and 92 percent of all investigation files were closed without an indictment.

Attacks in the West Bank on Palestinians by Israeli citizens, some of whom asserted their right to settle in what they stated was the historic Jewish homeland of Judea and Samaria, continued, as well as Palestinian attacks on settlers.  The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) reported 496 attacks by Israeli settlers against Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem during the year, including 370 attacks that resulted in property damage and 126 attacks that resulted in casualties, three of which were fatal.  According to UN monitors, this was the highest reported level of settler-related violence since UNOCHA began recording incidents in 2005 and represented a 40 percent increase in the number of incidents, compared with 2020.  Comparable to the UN, the IDF recorded 446 incidents of settler violence during the year.  UNOCHA updated its metrics to incorporate more information from civil society about violence against Israelis.  During the year, “in the context of the occupation and conflict,” UNOCHA estimated that there were 82 Palestinian fatalities and 16,421 Palestinians injured and three Israeli fatalities and 146 Israelis injured in West Bank violence, including in East Jerusalem.  The Israeli government said that UNOCHA did not provide information about actions by Hamas in its public statistics and did not fully cover attacks targeting Israelis.

The Israeli government said it thwarted 270 “significant attacks” in the West Bank.  During the year, according to the Israeli government, there were 7,153 cases of “hostile destructive activity” in the West Bank and Gaza which included stone-throwing, Molotov cocktails, shootings, stabbings, and assaults with vehicles.  Of these activities, 4,417 were missiles fired from the Gaza Strip during May.  The Israeli police recorded more than 2,400 cases of Molotov cocktails and stone-throwing in Jerusalem.  The Israeli government said that during the year, 19 Israeli citizens and residents in Israel lost their lives following these attacks, and more than 3,000 were injured.

The government of Israel continued to discourage Israeli citizens in unofficial capacities from traveling to the parts of the West Bank under the civil and security control of the PA (Area A), with large road signs warning Israelis against entering these areas and stating it was dangerous for Israelis and against Israeli law to do so.  Significant numbers of Arab/Palestinian citizens of Israel, and some Jewish and other Israelis, chose to privately visit Area A without repercussions, according to media and individuals who visited.  Media reported that while these restrictions in general prevented Jewish Israelis from visiting numerous Jewish religious sites, the IDF provided special security escorts for Jews to visit religious sites in Area A under Palestinian control, particularly Joseph’s Tomb in Nablus and the Shalom al Israel Synagogue in Jericho.  Some Jewish religious leaders said the Israeli government policy limiting travel to parts of the West Bank prevented Jewish Israelis from freely visiting several religious sites in the West Bank including Joseph’s Tomb, because they were denied the opportunity to visit the site on unscheduled occasions or in larger numbers than permitted through IDF coordination.  IDF officials said requirements to coordinate Jewish visits to Joseph’s Tomb were necessary to ensure Jewish-Israelis’ safety.  The Israeli government said that Jewish worshippers could only visit Areas A and B of the West Bank with the protection of the IDF and that the PA was not fulfilling its commitments under the Oslo Accords to ensure freedom of religion for Jewish worshippers in these areas.  Palestinian and Israeli security forces coordinated some visits by Jewish groups to PA-controlled areas within the West Bank, which generally took place at night to limit the chance of confrontations with Palestinians who opposed the visit.

Palestinians at times violently protested when Jewish groups visited holy sites in areas in the West Bank under Palestinian control, where freedom of access was guaranteed by the PA in the Oslo Accords, particularly Joseph’s Tomb in Nablus (located in Area A).  On September 26, Palestinian protesters attacked buses carrying approximately 500 Jewish worshipers traveling to the site, resulting in minor injuries to two Israeli soldiers escorting the convoy.  According to police, the protestors used live fire, stones, and homemade explosive devices.  The Israeli government said the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) facilitated seven visits to the site during the year.

On November 2, according to the Jerusalem Post, which cited Palestinian media, Palestinians and Israeli security forces clashed in the vicinity of Joseph’s Tomb.  The violence involved gunfire from both sides.  Palestinian rioters placed burning tires in the middle of streets in the city to impede Israeli forces and Jewish visitors who were set to visit Joseph’s Tomb later that night.

The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs previously stated that Israeli officials, including high-ranking politicians and senior officials from law enforcement bodies, had declared an unequivocal zero-tolerance policy towards the phenomenon of “price tag” offenses committed by Israeli settlers against Palestinians.  The Nationalistic Motivated Crimes Unit of the Judea and Samaria Police District of the INP was tasked with preventing and investigating ideologically based offenses in the West Bank and with supporting other police districts in the investigation of such crimes.  The Israeli government maintained an interagency team overseeing law enforcement efforts in the West Bank related to incitement, “violent uprisings,” and “ideological crimes.”

The Israeli government continued to allow controlled access to the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount and said freedom of worship at the site was a supreme value.  The government expressed continued support for the post-1967 status quo pertaining to the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount to allow non-Muslim visitors but prohibit non-Islamic worship on the compound, while stating that Israel respected Jordan’s “special role” at the site, as reflected in the 1994 Israel-Jordan peace treaty.  The Waqf said that Israeli authorities continued to interfere in the Waqf’s administration of the site, including delaying longstanding maintenance and restoration work.  Israeli officials and activists again stated the Waqf sometimes attempted to conduct repairs without coordinating with Israeli authorities.  In addition to the police banning individual Waqf staff members from the site, the Waqf said that it had a reduced capacity to administer the site because Israeli authorities refused to grant permits to new staff hired to work there, leaving the Waqf seriously understaffed.

Israeli police continued to be responsible for security at the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount, with police officers stationed both inside the site and at entrances.  Police conducted routine patrols on the outdoor plaza and inside buildings on the site and regulated pedestrian traffic exiting and entering the site.  Israeli police continued to maintain exclusive control of the Mughrabi Gate entrance, through which non-Muslims may enter the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount site, and allowed visitors through the gate during set hours.  Police sometimes restricted this access, citing security concerns.

In April at the beginning of Ramadan, Israeli authorities restricted the number of persons allowed to enter al-Aqsa Mosque to 10,000 vaccinated Palestinians entering from the West Bank because of “high morbidity rates” from coronavirus in the West Bank.  Israeli military authorities said the measures were being taken to allow freedom of worship and religion, and also to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the area.

According to local media, some Jewish groups performed religious acts such as prayers and prostration on the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount despite the ban on non-Islamic prayer.  The Israeli government reiterated that overt non-Islamic prayer was not allowed on the grounds of the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount.  NGOs, media, and Jewish Temple Mount advocacy groups continued to report that in practice, police generally allowed discreet non-Muslim prayer on the site.  The news website Al-Monitor reported in October that although the country’s two chief rabbis repeatedly said Jews were not to set foot in the Temple Mount out of concern they could inadvertently step into an area which, in Jewish law, it was forbidden to enter unless one was ritually pure.  In recent years, some Jews had entered the mosque and tried to offer prayers.  In August, the New York Times reported that Rabbi Yehuda Glick, whom the newspaper described as a “right-wing former lawmaker,” led “efforts to change the status quo for years” and said that Glick livestreamed his prayers from the site.  The report said that although the government officially allowed non-Muslims to visit the site each morning on the condition that they did not pray there, “In reality, dozens of Jews now openly pray every day [at the site]… and their Israeli police escorts no longer attempt stop them.”  The New York Times reported that Glick and activists ultimately sought to build a third Jewish Temple on the site of the Dome of the Rock, an idea that Azzam Khatib, the deputy chairman of the Waqf council, said “will lead to a civil war.”  According to the Religion News Service, one group known as the Temple Institute hoped to build a third temple where one of the al-Aqsa complex’s three mosques now stands and to reinstate ritual animal sacrifices.  The group’s website reported that it was working with an architect on a design.  In September, al-Monitor reported, “In the past, doing so [praying out loud or making movements of genuflection], could lead to the person being detained and ejected from the site, as Jews are not allowed to pray there.  But more recently, a warning is reportedly more common.  Last July Israel’s Channel 12 filmed Jews praying silently at the site while police officers watched.”  Police continued to screen non-Muslims for religious articles.  Police allowed Jewish male visitors who were visibly wearing a kippah and tzitzit (fringes), and those who wished to enter the site barefoot (in accordance with interpretations of halacha, Jewish religious law) to enter with a police escort.

On October 5, the Jerusalem Magistrate Court ruled that “silent Jewish prayer” on the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount did not violate existing police rules on the site.  The ruling was in response to a case involving a 15-day administrative restraining order against a man whom police had removed from the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount on September 29 on grounds that he disturbed public order by engaging in Jewish prayer.  The judge ruled that silent prayer “does not in itself violate police instructions” that prohibit “external and overt” non-Muslim prayer on the site.  Al-Monitor said the Magistrate’s Court’s ruling was “unprecedented” and “seem[ed] to question the status quo that has prevailed over the site.”  The Jerusalem District Court overturned the lower court’s ruling on October 8, ruling that the INP had acted “within reason,” and “the fact that there was someone who observed [him] pray is evidence that his prayer was overt.”  Minister of Public Security Bar-Lev supported the appeal, saying “a change in the status quo will endanger public security and could cause a flare-up.”  The Waqf said the lower court’s ruling was “a flagrant violation” of the complex’s sanctity and a “clear provocation” for Muslims.

On July 17, during the Jewish holiday of Tisha B’Av, a day of fasting when Jews commemorate the destruction of the temples, activists of Liba Yehudit, a national-ultra-Orthodox NGO described by Haaretz as “ultra-extreme,” put up a makeshift partition in the middle of the egalitarian prayer area of the Western Wall Plaza, intended to divide those praying by gender, and yelled and cursed to disrupt those praying there for the holiday.  According to Haaretz, “hundreds of right-wing, Orthodox Jews, mostly teenagers” disrupted the reading of the Book of Lamentations by a female member of the Conservative movement, that organized the annual event.  Haaretz described Liba as “an extreme right-wing group, which has been trying to prevent the non-Orthodox from having access to a new and revamped prayer plaza at the southern end of the site.”

On July 18, on Tisha B’Av, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett tweeted thanks to the Public Security Minister and the Israel Police Inspector General for “maintaining freedom of worship for Jews on the Mount.”  On November 19, the Prime Minister’s Office said that the government’s policy regarding the status quo at the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount, which prohibits non-Islamic worship, had not changed and what Bennett actually meant was that both Jews and Muslims had “freedom of visitation rights.”

The Waqf continued to restrict non-Muslims who visited the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount from entering the Dome of the Rock and other buildings dedicated for Islamic worship, including the al-Aqsa Mosque, unless they were participating in a Waqf-sponsored visit.  It also lodged objections with Israeli police concerning non-Muslim visitors wearing religious symbols or religious clothing.  Israeli police sometimes acted upon these objections.

Waqf officials repeated previous years’ complaints concerning their lack of control of access to the site.  The Waqf objected to non-Muslims praying or performing religious acts on the site and to individuals whom they perceived to be dressed immodestly or who caused disturbances, but they lacked authority to remove such persons from the site.  Waqf officials stated Israeli police did not coordinate with the Waqf on decisions regarding entry and barring of Muslim and non-Muslim visitors to the site.  Waqf employees remained stationed inside each gate and on the plaza, but Waqf officials exercised only limited oversight.  Throughout the year, the government extended visiting hours in the afternoon by 30 minutes to prevent large groups forming at the entrance for non-Muslims, in accordance with COVID-19 health restrictions.

The PA Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Muhammad Ahmad Hussein, issued a fatwa denying access to the site to Muslims from countries that established diplomatic relations with Israel, but the Jordanian Waqf rejected the fatwa.  The Waqf stated that Muslim visitors from those countries were brought by Israeli officials without coordination with the Waqf.  The government welcomed these visits as a positive outcome of normalization and as demonstrating freedom of religion.

Many Jewish religious leaders, including Shmuel Rabinovitch, the government-appointed Rabbi of the Western Wall and the Holy Sites of Israel, continued to say Jewish law prohibited Jews from entering the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount for reasons of ritual purity.  Some Jewish religious leaders, Knesset members, and activists called for reversing the policy of banning non-Islamic prayer at the site to provide equal religious freedom for all visitors.

The government continued to allow Knesset members and ministers to visit the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount site.  Members of the Knesset were required to inform the Knesset guard at least 24 hours prior to the visit to allow for coordination with the police.

At the main Western Wall Plaza, the place of worship nearest the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount and Judaism’s holiest site, the government continued to prohibit the performance of any “religious ceremony that is not in accordance with the customs of the place, [or] which harms the feelings of the public towards the place.”  Authorities interpreted this prohibition to include mixed-gender Jewish prayer services, over the objections of the Jewish Conservative and Reform movements.  The organization Women of the Wall, whose membership is composed of mostly Reform and Conservative Jewish women and whose goal is to secure the official right for women to pray at the Western Wall, stated that their monthly presence at the wall for more than 30 years had established them as part of the “customs of the place.”

Authorities continued to prohibit visitors from bringing private Torah scrolls to the main Western Wall Plaza and women from accessing the public Torah scrolls or giving priestly blessings at the site.  Authorities, however, permitted women to pray with tefillin and prayer shawls pursuant to a 2013 Jerusalem District Court ruling stating it was illegal to arrest or fine them for such actions.  On several occasions, MK Gilad Kariv (Labor) used his parliamentary immunity to bring Torah scrolls for the use of Women of the Wall and referred to the prohibition as illegal.

Within COVID-19 limitations, authorities allowed Women of the Wall to hold its monthly service in a barricaded portion of the women’s area of the main Western Wall Plaza.  Ultra-Orthodox protesters harassed and attacked Women of the Wall members repeatedly during their monthly services by throwing coffee or bottles at them, screaming, cursing, blowing whistles, or pushing them.

Representatives of Women of the Wall complained of a lack of effort by police or ushers from the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, which administers the main Western Wall Plaza and which is ultra-Orthodox-run, to intervene when ultra-Orthodox women and men disrupted their monthly prayer service with screaming, whistling, and pushing.  Ahead of a November service held by Women of the Wall, tension rose when former Shas MK Aryeh Deri called MKs and the public to attend the service and prevent MK Kariv from bringing Torah scrolls to the women’s section, which Deri said would be a “desecration of the Western Wall.”  The Western Wall Heritage Fund announced it would not take responsibility for maintaining public order at the plaza, leading to increased INP presence on November 5.  With President Isaac Herzog’s intervention, and his promise to hold a meeting on pluralistic prayer at the Western Wall, most MKs refrained from attending the service at the Western Wall on November 5.  MK Ben Gvir of the Religious Zionist Party still attended to protest against the Women of the Wall, expressing outrage that police confronted protesters who attempted to reach the women who were conducting services at the site.  According to the NGO Israel Religion and Action Center (IRAC), INP and the Western Wall Heritage Fund guards confronted Women of the Wall during the service.  The President held a meeting on pluralistic prayer at the Western Wall on December 1.

A 2017 petition to the Supreme Court by Women of the Wall asking that ushers and police prevent disruption of their services was pending at year’s end.

Authorities continued to allow use of a temporary platform south of the Mughrabi Bridge and adjacent to the Western Wall, but not visible from the main Western Wall Plaza, for non-Orthodox “egalitarian” (mixed gender) Jewish prayers.  Authorities designated the platform for members of the Conservative and Reform movements of Judaism, including for religious ceremonies such as bar and bat mitzvahs.  On November 4, the Supreme Court criticized the government for its lack of progress upgrading the area to a more permanent egalitarian prayer space.  On December 7, the government told the Supreme Court it intended to continue to upgrade the egalitarian plaza but did not mention steps towards further equality and recognition included in the 2016 Western Wall Agreement.  The 2016 agreement was a compromise between Orthodox and non-Orthodox communities, which the government “froze” in 2017, that included the construction of a permanent plaza for mixed-gender prayer managed by non-Orthodox groups, and a merged entry to all prayer spaces adjacent to the Western Wall.  The government requested to update the court on developments within six months.

The Supreme Court case was a combination of lawsuits against the government, some dating back to 2013, that would allow prayer for all religious streams of Judaism at the Western Wall.  It resulted in the 2016 Western Wall Agreement.  In 2018, a special government committee approved expansion of the temporary platform for members of the Conservative and Reform movements.  The non-Orthodox Jewish movements stated that upgrading the prayer space alone would not fulfill their 2016 agreement with the government.  In addition, observers stated that scaffolding prevented visitors from touching the sacred wall in the egalitarian prayer space since a rock fell there in 2018.  Over the same period, the Western Wall Heritage Foundation managed large construction projects in the main plaza, making routine inspections for loose rocks at the main plaza without blocking access to the wall.

On September 2, the Supreme Court rejected a petition by female rabbis demanding structural improvements to prevent collapse of the Mughrabi Bridge (the only entrance for non-Muslims to the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount, that crosses over the women’s section of the main Western Wall Plaza); the court accepted the state’s argument that it was taking action to restore the wooden beams on metal bases which support the bridge.  The court added, “in a place like the Temple Mount, where any change could lead to political or security turbulence, the decision of state institutions to not change the existing situation on the ground is a practical and reasonable decision in which there is no room to intervene.”

In November and December, press reported that despite the government’s declared intention to create an egalitarian prayer space at the Western Wall, the proposal appeared to be losing support within the ruling coalition.  Minister of Religious Affairs Kahana said the vast majority of Jews in Israel were Orthodox and that it would not be right to give control of parts of the space to the Conservative and Reform streams.  Kahana said the issue “must be studied, to see how we resolve the [religious] wars.”  Other members of the cabinet continued to publicly support the plan.  According to Haaretz, the two key components of the proposal were creating a new and enhanced space on the southern side of the Western Wall for egalitarian prayer and providing official recognition to the Conservative and Reform movements at the site.  The newspaper reported that “the disagreements [were] about that second component.”  Under the government’s original plan, a new authority would have been created to govern the egalitarian space and representatives of the Reform and Conservative movements would sit on its board.  However, Haaretz reported that two Orthodox members of the cabinet, Kahana and Housing Minister Ze’ev Elkin, found this unacceptable and suggested that the egalitarian prayer space continue to operate under the auspices of the Prime Minister’s Office or, alternatively, be handed over for supervision to the Jewish Agency.  Leaders of the non-Orthodox movements rejected that plan.  At year’s end, the government had taken no action to move the proposed changes forward.

The Jordanian Waqf in Jerusalem administered the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount, while the Jordanian Ministry of Islamic Affairs and Holy Places supported maintenance and salary of the Waqf staff in Jerusalem.  The issue of the use of the Gate of Mercy (Bab al-Rahma), a building within the Haram al-Sharif/Temple that was reopened by the Waqf in 2019 after it had been closed since 2003, remained unresolved.  The Israeli government stated it regarded the reopening as a violation of the status quo.  An Israeli court extended a court order issued in July 2020 to close the site, but by year’s end the INP had not enforced the order.  The Waqf said it did not recognize the authority of Israeli courts over the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount.  Throughout the year, Muslim worshippers could generally enter the site, although Israeli police sometimes conducted security searches there.

Israeli authorities in some instances barred specific individuals from the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount site, including Jewish activists believed to have violated the status quo understanding prohibiting non-Islamic prayer, Muslims believed to have verbally harassed or acted violently against non-Muslim visitors to the site or incited others to violence, and public figures whose presence authorities feared would inflame tensions.  Banned individuals included Waqf guards and administrative and maintenance staff and imams delivering sermons at the site, as well as prominent activists.  The Israeli government said that some individuals – including both Muslims and Jews – were prevented access to the site during the year because they could have caused disturbances and riots.  The government said Israeli security prevented access to the site for 389 Muslims and 99 Jews during 2021 due to previous incidents of public disorder at the site, including assaulting or interfering with police, or based on intelligence information.  The Wadi Hilweh Information Center reported that Israeli authorities banned 357 individuals from the site during the year.

While the government stated it was rare for any individual to be barred entry to the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount, human rights and civil society organizations said Israeli authorities banned some Palestinian residents in the occupied territories, and Arab/Palestinian and Jewish citizens of Israel from the site.  Palestinian civil society organizations said that, in a practice that began in 2020, police continued to check the identify cards of individuals entering the Old City to visit the site for Friday prayers and would bar from entry those with West Bank identity cards and return them to the West Bank.  In May, media reported that Israeli police blocked several buses of Arab/Palestinian citizens of Israel outside of Jerusalem from visiting the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount.  Police said they stopped the buses because they had intelligence indicating some of the passengers were planning to riot at the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount.

Media reported that Israeli authorities barred Sheikh Ekrima Sabri, former imam of al-Aqsa Mosque, former Palestinian Grand Mufti, and current head of the private Higher Islamic Council in Jerusalem, from the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount for several months due to charges of incitement.  In March, government security officials briefly detained Sabri before releasing him.  Sabri said that police arrested him for planning to take part in the commemoration of the Prophet Muhammad’s night journey to Jerusalem and ascension to heaven.  He said authorities accused him of violating a court decision that closed the Bab al-Rahma/Gate of Mercy.  On October 10, police again summoned Sabri for questioning; before his interrogation, he told media outlets that he expected to be asked about decisions by Israeli courts allowing Jewish prayer at the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount.  Palestinian media reported Israel banned Sabri for a week after the interrogation.  In November, Israeli authorities detained Sheikh Najeh Bakirat, Deputy Director-General of the Jerusalem Islamic Waqf, for four days and subsequently banned him from entering the site for 20 days and from entering the West Bank for 30 days.

Human rights and civil society organizations said Israeli authorities at times also restricted some Muslims from entering the site based on gender and age.  Israeli authorities have not issued permits for Gazans to visit the site during Islamic holidays since 2017, when it issued several hundred permits for Gazans during Ramadan, according to UN reports.  Muslims who were Israeli citizens, Palestinian residents of Jerusalem, or foreigners already present in Israel did not need permits to visit the site.

The Waqf also said that Israeli authorities continued to interfere in the Waqf’s administration of the site, including delaying longstanding maintenance and restoration work.  Israeli officials and activists again stated the Waqf sometimes attempted to conduct repairs without coordinating with Israeli authorities.  In addition to the police banning of individual Waqf staff members, the Waqf said that it had a reduced capacity to administer the site because Israeli authorities refused to grant permits to new staff hired to work at the site, leaving the Waqf seriously understaffed.

Israel only allowed Palestinians who had obtained certification of their COVID-19 vaccination or a certificate of COVID-19 recovery to enter Israel, a restriction which applied also to Palestinian Muslims or Christians coming from the West Bank for religious purposes.

The IDF continued periodically to limit access to the Ibrahimi Mosque/Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron, a site of significance to Jews, Christians, and Muslims as the tomb of Abraham.  The Israeli government said there were longstanding entry arrangements which should not be considered as restricting access.  Palestinian leaders continued in statements to local media to oppose the IDF’s control of access, citing Oslo Accords-era agreements that gave Israel and the PA shared responsibilities for the site, although Israel retained full security responsibility for it; the Oslo Accords and 1997 Hebron Accords gave “civil powers and responsibilities” including “planning authority” for the site to the Hebron Municipality.  Some Muslim leaders publicly rejected a Jewish connection to the site.

The IDF again restricted Muslim access to the Ibrahimi Mosque/Tomb of the Patriarchs during 10 days corresponding to Jewish holidays and Jewish access during 10 days corresponding to Islamic holidays.  The IDF restricted Muslims to one entry point, which was staffed by soldiers with metal detectors, while granting Jews access via several entry points.  Citing security concerns, the IDF periodically closed roads approaching the site and, since 2001, had permanently closed Shuhada Street, the former main Hebron market and one of the main streets leading to the holy site, to Palestinian-owned vehicles.  The government said the closure was done to prevent confrontations.  Both Muslims and Jews were able to pray at the site simultaneously in separate spaces, a physical separation that was instituted by the IDF in November 1994 following an attack earlier in the year by an Israeli that killed 29 Palestinians.  Israeli authorities continued to implement frequent bans on the Islamic call to prayer from the Ibrahimi Mosque/Tomb of the Patriarchs, stating the government acted upon requests by Jewish religious leaders in Hebron in response to requests of Jewish worshippers at the site.  The PA Ministry of Awqaf and Religious Affairs reported that Israel prevented calls to prayer at the Ibrahimi Mosque/Tomb of the Patriarchs 525 times during the first 10 months of the year, including 59 times in March and 44 times in April, per Palestinian media.  Passover was celebrated from March 27 to April 3.

In 2020, then Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and then Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit approved a 2019 decision by Israel’s then Minister of Defense Naftali Bennett, shortly before Bennett left office, to bypass the Hebron municipality and expropriate land at the Ibrahimi Mosque/Tomb of Patriarchs in Hebron.  The Israeli government stated it intended to renovate the site and establish elevators to make it accessible to persons with disabilities to “promote the rights of people with disabilities and allow access to religious sites for every population.”  The Israeli government said it proceeded with the plan after multiple attempts to gain PA, Hebron municipality, and Waqf support for increased access to the site for persons with disabilities.  According to the Jerusalem Post, “Hebron’s Jewish community and right-wing politicians and activists have long lobbied to make the site wheelchair accessible.”  The paper stated that the only way that Jewish sanctuaries within the site could be reached is by climbing a long staircase.

On November 4, the Israeli Supreme Court rejected an appeal submitted by the PA Hebron municipality against the establishment of an elevator at the Ibrahimi Mosque/Tomb of the Patriarchs.  On June 10, Defense Minister Gantz approved the implementation of the elevator project as well as the building of a road to facilitate access to the site.  On August 12, after some site preparation for the project had begun, the Palestinian Ministry of Awqaf and Religious Affairs announced the closure of all other mosques in Hebron for Friday prayers on August 13 and asked Muslims to gather at the Ibrahimi Mosque/Tomb of the Patriarchs to “denounce” the Israeli occupation.  On August 13, Israeli security forces used stun grenades to disperse a large crowd of Muslim worshippers who gathered outside the mosque for Friday prayers in the protest.  Jamal Abu Aram, director of the Hebron Waqf, told the Palestinian news agency Ma’an that the Waqf estimated the crowd to number from 15,000 to 20,000 persons.

On November 28, the first day of Hanukkah, President Herzog lit a menorah candle in the Ibrahimi Mosque/Tomb of the Patriarchs, and said, “The historical affinity of the Jewish people to Hebron, to the Cave of the Patriarchs, [and] to the heritage of our matriarchs and patriarchs is not in doubt.  Recognition of this attachment must be beyond all controversy.”  Herzog said, “In this holy space dedicated to all the sons of Abraham, we have to continue dreaming of peace, between all faiths and creeds in this land, and to condemn any hatred and violence.”  The PA and the Hebron municipality said they viewed the shrine as exclusively Muslim.  The PA Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Herzog’s visit was “a dangerous attempt to Judaize the site.”  Palestinian and Israeli demonstrators protested in the center of Hebron during Herzog’s visit.

Israeli authorities and settlers, who were often armed, prevented access by Palestinians to several mosques in the West Bank located within Israeli settlements.  Israeli authorities declared all legal settlements as restricted Israeli military zones.  Palestinians were unable to visit them without Israeli government approval.

In December, Israeli Minister of Religious Affairs Kahana announced that the government would build seven of the 30 new synagogues included in his ministry’s budget in the West Bank.  He also decided to earmark 25 percent of the ministry’s budget for the construction of mikvehs (Jewish ritual baths) to building mikvehs in the West Bank.

In March, the NGO Emek Shaveh and the Arab Culture Association petitioned the Supreme Court to end what they said was the discriminatory policy of the Ministry of Jerusalem and Heritage in allocating budgetary outlays for work on heritage sites.  The petition cited calls by the ministry that included criteria that excluded non-Jewish historical sites from qualifying for funding.  In response, the ministry’s legal advisor said that “the ministry was established with the aim of conserving the country’s national and Zionist heritage.”  In August, the ministry formally responded to the pending petition, reiterated its view of its role, and stated that “other government ministries invest budgets also in minority heritage sites.”  The Attorney General supported this argument.  At year’s end, the Supreme Court had not ruled on the petition.

The Israeli NGO Machsom (“Checkpoint”) Watch’s website compared “freedom of worship and ritual at sites of heritage and religion” for Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank.  According to Machsom Watch, Israeli Jews had “free access…at any site that [was] considered a heritage or sanctified site.”  The NGO said some of these sites were Palestinian and had “undergone ‘Judaization’” while Palestinians were “denied access to numerous heritage and ritual sites” and “some such sites [were] appropriated by Jews or neglected and vandalized.”  In a 2020 report, Machsom Watch stated that the Israeli government had used three strategies to “erase” Muslim religious sites in the West Bank:  enclosing sites within closed military zones, including sites in nature reserves; divesting shrines of their Islamic religious identity by opening them to the general public; and declining to recognize the site as having any religious significance in Islam.  The NGO said Israeli authorities gave more weight to sites associated with Biblical prophets than to sites significant only to Muslims.  Machsom Watch said Israeli authorities denied Palestinians any access to 13 sites in the West Bank that were of traditional Muslim heritage, worship, or prayer or that were important to multiple faiths.  The NGO said some of these sites were dilapidated and frequently the object of vandalism by Israeli settlers.

The Israeli government said it coordinated access to the Prophet Samuel’s Mosque during the year for 1,500 Palestinian residents of the Nebi Samuel and al-Khalaila villages.  The site has both a mosque and synagogue and, with the villages, is located in the West Bank, but inside the Israeli barrier.

In August, Emek Shaveh reported that the government approved a plan for the development of the archaeological and holy site of the Prophet Samuel’s Mosque, a site held sacred by Jews as the tomb of the Biblical prophet Samuel, which is inside an Israeli national park in the West Bank.  The NGO said that the plan ignored the adjacent village of Nabi Samuel, which experienced a lack of new construction since its proposed master plans had not been approved and building permits therefore could not be issued.  Emek Shaveh said that the government had previously rejected a similar plan, following objections from residents of Nabi Samuel and from Emek Shaveh and another NGO, Bimkom.  According to Emek Shaveh, although the site is considered holy to Jews, Christians, and Muslims, most visitors were Jewish worshippers.  The Israeli government said the site had more than 270,000 visitors during the year, including Jews, Muslims, and tourists of other religions.

According to press reports, on November 24, shortly before the start of Hanukkah, Israel Nature and Parks Authority officials erected a large electric menorah on the roof of the Mosque of the Prophet Samuel.  Israeli officials repositioned the menorah to the entrance of the synagogue after the local Palestinian population protested the installation.  A local Palestinian leader said the Muslim community previously asked Israeli authorities for permission to light up a crescent on top of the mosque, but the request was denied.  A senior official in the Palestinian Ministry of Awqaf and Religious Affairs condemned the erection of the menorah as an “infringement upon the sanctity” of the site.

On February 24, the Supreme Court ordered the government to answer a series of questions by April 22 regarding its proposal to build an aerial cable car over a Karaite cemetery in Jerusalem’s Old City.  This order was in response to three petitions which were filed by the Karaite community, the Emek Shaveh, and the NGO Israel Union for Environmental Defense, which the court considered in several sessions over the last three years.  The court suspended work on the cable car project to examine why the project was approved through the National Infrastructure Committee, unlike other projects, which went through Jerusalem’s District and Planning Committee, a distinction that the court said deprived citizens of the opportunity to offer their opinions and submit reservations and objections.  The justices also questioned the government’s designation of the cable car as a transportation rather than tourism project, and why the route could not be modified to avoid the Karaite community.  During the year, the government continued to promote the establishment of a cable car route from the First Station cultural complex in Jerusalem to the Dung Gate of the Old City that would pass over the cemetery.  According to the Karaite community, the cable car would desecrate the cemetery, thus preventing its further use.  The government stated the cable car was meant to solve accessibility problems to holy sites such as the Western Wall, but some NGOs said the project was meant to specifically promote Jewish tourism in East Jerusalem and to reinforce Israel’s claims of sovereignty over the area.  Despite a November 26 statement by Israeli Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli and a December 13 statement by Israeli Environmental Protection Minister Tamar Zandberg against the project, the government told the Supreme Court at the end of December that it supported the construction of the gondola line.

The barrier that divided the majority of the West Bank from Israel also divided some communities in Jerusalem, affecting residents’ access to places of worship, employment, agricultural lands, schools, and hospitals as well as the conduct of journalistic, humanitarian, and NGO activities.  The government stated that the barrier was needed for security reasons.

In May, the Jerusalem municipality opened a parking lot on property it had leased from the Armenian Church in 2020.  In July, the Church signed a new contract with the Jerusalem municipality extending the lease for 99 years, and the municipality announced that a Jewish-Australian developer would construct a new hotel on the property.  Palestinians widely criticized the Church for leasing the property to the municipality, including public statements by PA figures.  PA Minister of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates Riyad Malki raised the transaction with his Armenian counterpart and asked for Armenian Foreign Ministry assistance in pressuring the Church to cancel the lease.  Minister Malki characterized the deal as opening the door for “the gradual encroachment of Israel’s settler-colonialism into the Armenian Quarter in Jerusalem,” and said it “risks accelerating the obliteration of the Palestinian, Muslim, and Christian character of Jerusalem.”

The PA Ministry of Awqaf and Religious Affairs continued to provide imams with themes they were required to use in weekly Friday sermons in West Bank mosques and to prohibit them from broadcasting Quranic recitations from minarets prior to the call to prayer.

Unrecognized religious groups such as Jehovah’s Witnesses faced a continued PA ban on proselytizing but stated they were able to conduct most other functions unhindered.  Palestinian authorities generally recognized on a case-by-case basis personal status documents issued by unrecognized churches.  The PA, however, continued to refuse to recognize personal status legal documents (e.g., marriage certificates) issued by some of these unrecognized churches, which the groups said made it difficult for them to register newborn children under their fathers’ names or as children of married couples.  Many unrecognized churches advised members with dual citizenship to marry or divorce abroad and to register the action officially in that location.  Some converts to unrecognized Christian faiths had recognized churches with which they were previously affiliated perform their marriages and divorces.  Members of some faith communities and faith-based organizations stated they viewed their need to do so as conflicting with their religious beliefs.

Religious organizations providing education, health care, and other humanitarian relief and social services to Palestinians in and around East Jerusalem continued to state that the physical barrier begun by Israel during the Second Intifada in 2003 impeded their work, particularly south of Jerusalem in West Bank Christian communities around Bethlehem.  Clergy members stated the barrier and additional checkpoints restricted their movements between Jerusalem and West Bank churches and monasteries as well as the movement of congregants between their homes and places of worship.  Christian leaders continued to state the barrier hindered Bethlehem-area Christians from reaching the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.  They also said it made visits to Christian sites in Bethlehem difficult for Palestinian Christians who lived on the west side of the barrier.  Foreign pilgrims and religious aid workers also reported difficulty or delays accessing Christian religious sites in the West Bank because of the barrier.  The Israeli government previously stated it constructed the barrier as an act of self-defense and that it was highly effective in preventing terrorist attacks in Israel.

Christian expatriate workers in Israeli settlements complained that lack of public transportation on Saturdays prevented them from participating in religious activities and worship in Jerusalem.

The Israeli Ministry of Religious Services (MRS) listed 21 dedicated cemeteries in Israel and West Bank settlements for burial of persons the government defined as “lacking religion,” and 33 cemeteries for civil burial, but only three were available for use to the general public regardless of residence, and one had been full for several years.  The state permitted other cemeteries located in agricultural localities to bury only “residents of the area.”  This, according to the religious freedom and equal rights advocacy NGO Hiddush, left the majority of Israel’s population unable to exercise its right, as mandated by law, to be buried in accordance with secular or non-Orthodox religious views.  The two MRS-administered cemeteries in West Bank settlements were available only for the burial of Israeli citizens.  On September 12, the Supreme Court rejected a 2019 petition by Hiddush that demanded civil burial in agricultural localities for individuals who were not local residents and who did not have another alternative.  According to the Israeli government, the existing issues regarding civil burial could not justify burial outside of place of residence.  The court invited Hiddush to submit a new petition regarding a specific locality, rather than a general petition.

According to Brigham Young University’s Jerusalem Center, the Israeli government maintained an agreement with the Church of Jesus Christ stating that no member of the Church would “engage in proselytizing of any kind” within Israel, the West Bank, or Gaza as a condition of its lease of land for its campus on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem.

In June, German NGO Georg Eckert Institute for International Textbook Research (GEI) released the findings from its European Union-commissioned review of PA curricula from 2017 and 2019 assessing the extent of inciteful content.  The report found the curriculum included promotion of UNESCO standards for peace, tolerance, and nonviolence in educational material, but the report also highlighted the enduring presence of problematic content, including instances of antagonism toward Israel and the glorification of violence.  The review praised the curriculum’s focus on human rights and pluralism and elimination of some prior inciteful content, while noting other content still veered beyond a “narrative of [political] resistance” and including antisemitic references and language delegitimizing the State of Israel.  It found “ambivalent – sometimes hostile – attitudes towards Jews and the characteristics they attribute to the Jewish people,” noting “frequent use of negative attributions in relation to the Jewish people in, for example, textbook exercises [that] suggest[ed] a conscious perpetuation of anti-Jewish prejudice, especially when embedded within the current political context.”  The report also noted that GEI’s overview of 18 textbooks released online for the academic year 2020/2021 included increased representation of female and Christian positions as well as “reduction in the text and images that have escalatory potential:  including the alteration of a specific teaching unit that included antisemitic content by several significant changes of the narrative.”

The Israeli curriculum monitoring NGO IMPACT-se stated the GEI report contained “omissions, obfuscations, and even apologetics for Jew-hate and violence.”  In a May update of its previous reviews of the curriculum used by Palestinian schools, IMPACT-se stated that the PA curriculum moved further from meeting UNESCO standards and that the newly published textbooks were found to be “more radical” than those previously published.  According to the NGO, there is “a systematic insertion of violence, martyrdom and jihad across all grades and subjects.”  IMPACT-se’s analysis cited examples of antisemitic tropes and the inclusion of violent wording in otherwise neutral subjects.

Consistent with UN practices globally, the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Middle East (UNRWA) used the same curriculum and textbooks as used by PA schools in the occupied territories.  In recent years, UNRWA conducted reviews of new textbooks introduced by the PA to ensure they align with UN values.

While Israeli law does not authorize the Israel Land Authority (ILA), which administers the 93 percent of Israel in the public domain, to lease land to foreigners, in practice foreigners were allowed to lease if they could show they would qualify as Jewish under the Law of Return.  This public land includes approximately 12.5 percent owned by the Jewish National Fund (JNF), whose statutes prohibit sale or lease of land to non-Jews.  The application of ILA restrictions historically limited the ability of Muslim and Christian residents of Jerusalem who were not Israeli citizens to purchase property built on state land, including in parts of Jerusalem.  In recent years, however, an increasing number of Arab/Palestinian citizens of Israel in Jerusalem acquired property built on ILA-owned land.  Arab/Palestinian citizens could participate in bids for JNF land, but sources stated that the ILA granted the JNF another parcel of land whenever an Arab/Palestinian citizen of Israel won a bid.  Despite a 2018 Supreme Court ruling that the ILA Executive Council must have representation of an Arab, Druze, or Circassian member to prevent discrimination against non-Jews, there were no members from these groups on the council at year’s end.

The Greek Orthodox Patriarchate continued its legal efforts to block the transfer of properties in Jerusalem’s Old City to Ateret Cohanim, a Jewish organization that signed a 99-year lease for the properties in 2004.  Courts previously ruled in favor of Ateret Cohanim, and in 2020, the district court ruled against reopening the case to hear new evidence brought forward by the Church.  A Supreme Court hearing was set for 2022 to determine if the case should be reopened based upon the new evidence.

On December 12, 13 heads of Christian communities in Jerusalem issued a joint statement entitled, “The Current Threat to the Christian Presence in the Holy Land,” that said, “Christians have become the target of frequent and sustained attacks by fringe radical groups.  Since 2012 there have been countless incidents of physical and verbal assaults against priests and other clergy, attacks on Christian churches, with holy sites regularly vandalized and desecrated, and ongoing intimidation of local Christians who simply seek to worship freely and go about their daily lives.  These tactics are being used by such radical groups in a systematic attempt to drive the Christian community out of Jerusalem and other parts of the Holy Land.”  The statement said, “The declared commitment of the Israeli government to uphold a safe and secure home for Christians in the Holy Land,” but it added, “It is therefore a matter of grave concern when this national commitment is betrayed by the failure of local politicians, officials, and law enforcement agencies to curb the activities of radical groups who regularly intimidate local Christians, assault priests and clergy, and desecrate Holy Sites and church properties.”  The statement continued, “The principle that the spiritual and cultural character of Jerusalem’s distinct and historic quarters should be protected is already recognized in Israeli law with respect to the Jewish Quarter.  Yet radical groups continue to acquire strategic property in the Christian Quarter, with the aim of diminishing the Christian presence, often using underhanded dealings and intimidation tactics to evict residents from their homes, dramatically decreasing the Christian presence, and further disrupting the historic pilgrim routes between Bethlehem and Jerusalem.”

Haaretz reported that the statement marked the beginning of a campaign that included a dedicated website and articles in the media.  In a statement, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the statements made by the Christian leaders were “baseless and distort the reality of the Christian community in Israel” and that the Christians’ joint statement “could lead to violence and bring harm to innocent people.”  In an editorial, Haaretz stated, “The Christian leadership in Jerusalem may be exaggerating the sense of threat against them, to draft support from communities throughout the world… However, this does not justify the government’s irresponsible behavior toward the Christian public.  The government must recognize that the Christian congregations have an important place in Jerusalem’s human mosaic.  The government must pay attention to the needs and problems of Christian communities.”

On December 29, at an annual New Year’s reception for spiritual and lay leaders of Christian churches and communities, President Herzog affirmed his commitment to freedom of worship and religion in the country.  Herzog said that each of the Christian groups was “a blessing and an integral part” of the country’s “mosaic.”  He explicitly rejected all forms of racism, discrimination, and extremism as well as any threat to Christian communities in the country.  Interior Minister Shaked also made remarks, saying that the new year offered an opportunity to build new bonds of friendship and cooperation among all religions.

In December, a ministerial-level team approved a proposal by Minister of Interior Shaked to exempt tourist groups that fell into the category of “Jewish tourism” from entry restrictions associated with the omicron variant of COVID-19.  According to press, Christian organizations said the decision was unfair, especially given the impending Christmas holidays.  According to a lead editorial in Haaretz, “This is a discriminatory exception, not to say a bigoted one.”  In a statement, the Foreign Ministry said, “These unfounded allegations of discriminatory conduct are outrageous, false, and dangerous.”

In April, Al-Monitor reported that then Israeli Minister of Tourism Orit Farkash-Hacohen said that after the signing of the Abraham Accords normalizing relations between Israel and four Arab states, “Israel’s tourist branch began preparing for Muslim tourism.  Senior ministry officials said the ministry was expecting tens of thousands of Muslim tourists in the upcoming months and that the ministry was mapping religious Muslim sites throughout the country.”

In a March 17 interview on Palestine TV, PA presidential advisor Mahmoud al-Habbash said, “When Theodor Herzl, the so-called ‘father of political Zionism,’ visited Palestine at the beginning of the twentieth century and saw that Palestine is [sic] inhabited, teeming with life, and brimming with a culture that has strong historical roots, he said, ‘Where will we establish our projected [state]?  We must turn Palestine into a land with no people, by depopulating it.’”  Al-Habbash said Herzl’s “purpose was to depopulate Palestine and bring in the Jews from all over the world… The Jews have no connection to the [Middle] East, to Palestine, or to the Semite race.”

Palestinian leaders, media, and social media regularly used the word “martyr” to refer to individuals killed during confrontations with Israeli security forces, whether those individuals were involved in confrontations or were innocent bystanders.  Some official PA media channels, social media sites affiliated with the Fatah political movement, and terrorist organizations glorified terrorist attacks on Jewish Israelis, referring to the assailants as “martyrs.”  Several local Fatah chapters posted memorials, including photographs, of suicide bombers.  On several occasions on PA television, senior PA and Fatah official Jibril Rajoub extolled “martyrs” and prisoners serving sentences in Israeli prisons for conducting terrorist attacks.  According to the Israeli NGO Palestinian Media Watch, beginning in 2020, the PA transferred funds to the PLO to allow the continuation of “martyr payments” to families of Palestinians killed during terrorist acts or of those killed in Israeli military actions, including victims of air strikes in Gaza, as well as stipends to Palestinians in Israeli prisons, including those awaiting charges and those convicted of acts of terrorism.

The PA Ministry of Awqaf and Religious Affairs continued to pay for construction of new mosques, maintenance of approximately 1,800 existing mosques, and salaries of most Palestinian imams in the West Bank.  The ministry also continued to provide limited financial support to some Christian clergy and Christian charitable organizations.

The PA’s Palestinian Broadcasting Company’s code of conduct states it does not allow programming that encourages “violence against any person or institution on the basis of race, religion, political beliefs, or sex.”  Some official PA media channels as well as social media accounts affiliated with the ruling political movement Fatah, however, featured content praising or condoning acts of violence against Jews.  On October 21, on official PA television, Fatah Deputy Chairman Mahmoud al-Aloul, appearing with Latifa Abu Hmeid, whose sons were convicted of the killing of Israelis, said, “I’m completely happy that next to me is sitting a giant of endurance… I don’t at all think there is anyone who exceeds her endurance and stamina:  the mother of five prisoners and also the mother of martyrs… We can’t speak about all the prisoners, but we are proud of them all… They live in the heart, conscience, and awareness of every Palestinian.”

Both Palestinians and Israelis evoked ethnoreligious language to deny the historical self-identity of the other community in the region or to emphasize an exclusive claim to the land.  On October 1, on official PA television, PA Grand Mufti Hussein said, “The injustice will certainly pass and the occupation will pass… If we turn to the history of Palestine, it has been occupied by many peoples and many invaders have entered it, but in the end the occupation left and the invaders left… Jerusalem will certainly be liberated and return to the embrace of Islam, noble and strong, with its holy sites and its people, and the evil will pass, Almighty Allah willing.”  On April 25, MK Itamar Ben Gvir said in his inaugural speech before the Knesset, “I will act, with God’s help, to restore sovereignty to Jerusalem in general and to the Temple Mount in particular, so that images such as those we saw last night, of groups of thugs beating police officers, shouting ‘Hamas, Hamas’ and informing us that they are the bosses of Jerusalem and mainly of the Temple Mount – will not be seen or heard.”

Antisemitic material continued to appear in official PA media.  In a June 29 recorded speech opening a conference on Zionism at al-Quds University in Gaza that was posted on the PA official media website WAFA and on Palestine TV, President Abbas said, “I salute the efforts made to hold this conference, which refutes the Zionist narrative that falsifies the truth and history, and which all documents and research confirm that it is a product of colonialism.  They planned and worked to implant Israel as a foreign body in this region to fragment it and keep it weak.”  In a June 8 Fatah Movement-Nablus Branch Facebook post, a picture of a wounded baby and an image of a Star of David with red drops of blood appeared in an advertisement encouraging Palestinians to boycott Israeli products.

Palestinian residents of Jerusalem and Muslim leaders continued to protest archaeological excavations and construction work done at the City of David National Park in the Silwan neighborhood outside the Old City and in the Old City near the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount.  Some NGOs monitoring archaeological practices in Jerusalem continued to state the Israeli Antiquities Authority (IAA) emphasized archaeological finds that bolstered Jewish claims in Jerusalem while minimizing historically significant archaeological finds of other religions.  Emek Shaveh said that Israeli authorities were “using archaeological sites as a pretext for barring Palestinians from sites in Area C.”  The government stated that IAA researchers “have greatly intensified their research on ‘non-Jewish’ periods in the history of the land of Israel, [including] the Prehistoric, Early Bronze, Byzantine, Muslim, Mamluk, and Ottoman periods.”  Archeologists from Emek Shaveh continued to dispute the government’s representation of the “Pilgrim’s Road,” a tunnel dug by the IAA and inaugurated in Silwan in 2019, as being historically part of the pilgrimage route to the Jewish Second Temple.  Emek Shaveh said IAA’s excavation method did not establish with certainty the date and purpose of the road.  NGOs such as the City of David Foundation and the Jerusalem Institute for Strategic Studies continued to support the government’s position.

In February, a Palestinian contractor damaged part of a wall while doing road work near the Iron Age site of Mount Ebal/al-Burnat, a West Bank archeological site in Area B near Nablus, where some believe a biblical altar erected by Joshua sits.  The contractor said he was unaware that the wall was part of the antiquities site.  The Jerusalem Post reported one “right-wing [Israeli] politician” said, “There are relentless attempts to weaken our hold on our homeland and to obscure the Jewish people’s glorious past in the land of Israel, both through terrorist acts and destruction of archaeology.”

In August, Elad, which the Times of Israel described as a “right-wing organization,” and the Israeli Nature and Parks Authority (INPA) opened a Center for Ancient Agriculture in the Valley of Hinnom in East Jerusalem where tourists were invited to learn about Biblical-era agriculture traditions.  The center was located in olive tree groves tended in the past by Palestinian residents of the surrounding areas who stated that they were the landowners responsible for maintenance of the grove.  Emek Shaveh said that the center was part of a series of projects advocated by Elad to expand Jewish Israeli presence in East Jerusalem.  The INPA responded that the center was “open to all.”

During the year, the Israeli government retained its previous regulations regarding visa issuance for foreigners to work in the West Bank, regulations Christian institutions said impeded their work by preventing many foreign clergy and other religious workers from entering and working.  Christian leaders said Israel’s visa and permit policy also adversely affected schoolteachers and volunteers affiliated with faith-based charities working in the West Bank.  Clergy, nuns, and other religious workers from Arab countries said they continued to face long delays in receiving visas and reported periodic denials of their visa applications.  Officials from multiple churches expressed concern that non-Arab visa applicants and visa-renewal applicants also faced long delays.  The Israeli government said that the large number of requests resulted in delays in process times.  During the year, 1,404 foreign clergy entered Israel, and 2,230 visas were granted (including new issuances and extending visas for those already present).

According to church officials, Israel continued to prohibit some Arab Christian clergy, including bishops and other senior clergy seeking to visit congregations or ministries under their pastoral authority, from entering Gaza.  Some clergy complained of body searches by Israeli security when entering or exiting Gaza, including a nun subjected to a body search and requested to remove her religious habit, and a priest who was asked to disrobe for examination of his chemotherapy pump despite possessing medical documentation from an Israeli doctor.  Additionally, some Arab clergy reported Israel denied permission for them to leave Gaza for more than a year, and thus they were unable to renew visas or permits, preventing them from returning once they were permitted to leave.

In recent years, Israeli authorities issued permits for some Christians to exit Gaza to attend religious services in Jerusalem or the West Bank and for Muslims from the West Bank to enter Jerusalem for Ramadan.  On November 25, COGAT announced a quota of 500 permits for Christian Gazans to visit family in East Jerusalem or the West Bank, 200 permits for Gazans wishing to travel abroad via the Allenby Bridge Crossing, and 15,000 permits for Christian Palestinians in the West Bank to enter Israel.  Haaretz reported that Israel made approximately 1,000 permits available to Gaza Christians to enter Israel and the West Bank for Christmas celebrations.  The Israeli government said that COGAT issued 24,016 permits during the year for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza to travel to Jerusalem for major religious holidays such as Easter, Ramadan, or Christmas.  Of that number, 245 were issued for Christian residents of Gaza.

The Israeli NGO Gisha stated that while Israeli authorities did not issue permits to Palestinians from Gaza due to COVID-19 until December, thereby essentially restricting them from being able to go to Israel or the West Bank except in urgent humanitarian cases, it permitted foreigners to enter Israel for much of the year to study religion and to attend religious events, such as weddings, funerals, and bat or bar mitzvahs.  Furthermore, Israelis were able to move to and from settlements in the West Bank, including for religious worship and gatherings.  Gisha said that even in previous years, religious travel from Gaza was extremely limited, and announcements for “holiday permits” – if available – often came with little time for individuals to prepare for travel, file applications on time, and appeal permit denials; no Muslims were issued permits for religious travel since 2018, according to Gisha.

On July 6, the coalition government failed to renew the Law on Citizenship and Entry resulting in its expiration and paving the way for family reunification of some 3,000 Palestinians and their Israeli citizen spouses.  Under the law, non-Jewish spouses of Israelis from certain countries and the West Bank and Gaza had been denied residency without a special determination from the Israeli MOI.  Although the law lapsed, Interior Minister Shaked ordered the ministry to continue functioning as though the law were in place.  On September 14, three NGOs, including HaMoked, petitioned the Court for Administrative Affairs demanding that the MOI respect the consequences brought about by the expiration of the law.  On November 11, the government responded, supporting Shaked’s continued handling of Palestinians’ requests in accordance with the now-expired regulations, stating that Shaked could implement “interim procedures and regulations” until a new law was passed.  No new procedures were published by year’s end, however.  On November 15, the court rejected the three NGOs’ request for an injunction prohibiting the handling of requests based on the expired law.  As a result, the petitioners appealed to the Supreme Court on November 17.  At year’s end, both the petition and new legislation remained pending.

According to the NGO HaMoked, there were approximately 10,000 Palestinians living in the country, including in Jerusalem, on temporary stay permits because of the citizenship and entry law, with no legal guarantee they could continue living with their families.  When the previous citizenship and entry law was not renewed and expired in July, HaMoked petitioned the Israeli Supreme Court to direct the MOI to adjudicate reunification applications.  HaMoked and Israeli media reported that the ministry refused to deal with these applications, and as of December, there were 1,680 such applications waiting to be reviewed.  There were also cases of Palestinian spouses of Palestinian residents living in East Jerusalem without legal status.  Some Palestinian residents moved to Jerusalem neighborhoods outside the security barrier to live with their nonresident spouse and children while maintaining Jerusalem residency.  According to Christian religious leaders, this situation remained an especially acute problem for Christians because of their small population and consequent tendency to marry Christians from the West Bank or elsewhere (i.e., Christians who held neither citizenship nor residency).  A Christian religious leader expressed concern that this was a significant element in the continuing decline of the Christian population, including in Jerusalem, which negatively affected the long-term viability of Christian communities.

According to NGOs, community members, and media commentators, factors contributing to Christian emigration included political instability, the inability to obtain residency permits for spouses due to the 2003 Law of Citizenship and Entry, limited ability of Christian communities in the Jerusalem area to expand due to building restrictions, difficulties Christian clergy experienced in obtaining Israeli visas and residency permits, loss of confidence in the peace process, and economic hardships created by the establishment of the barrier and the imposition of travel restrictions.  The Israeli government stated such difficulties stemmed from the “complex political and security reality” and not from any restrictions on the Christian community.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious Freedom

Because religion and ethnicity or nationality are often closely linked, it was difficult to categorize many incidents as being solely based on religious identity.

During the year, there were incidents of deadly violence that perpetrators justified at least partly on religious grounds.  Actions included individual killings, physical attacks and verbal harassment of worshippers and clergy, and vandalism of religious sites.  There was also harassment by members of one religious group of another, social pressure to stay within one’s religious group, and antisemitic content in media.

Amid tensions in Jerusalem and conflict in Gaza, ethnic-based violence and civil unrest broke out during a one-week period in May in a number of mixed Jewish-Arab cities in Israel, including Jerusalem.  Armed Jewish Israelis clashed with Palestinians in East Jerusalem neighborhoods.  Responding to the violence, the government reassigned additional security personnel, including border police from the West Bank, to augment INP personnel.  The INP reported it made approximately 1,550 arrests in cities across Israel and in Jerusalem, with the overwhelming majority of the arrestees being Arab/Palestinian citizens of Israel.  Security officials characterized the arrested Jewish citizens as predominately middle-aged nationalist extremists.

According to the press, on December 16, unknown gunmen killed Yehuda Dimentman near Jenin in the West Bank.  Dimentman was a student at a yeshiva near where the attack took place.  The attackers fired on a car carrying Dimentman as it was leaving the closed settlement of Homesh.  Authorities said that two other individuals traveling with Dimentman were injured in the attack.

Israeli media reported that on December 1, two Israeli ultra-Orthodox Jews drove into downtown Ramallah, an Area A city in the West Bank and seat of the PA.  Israeli media described the men as wearing clothing and hairstyles preferred by an ultra-Orthodox group and by ultra-nationalist settler youth and driving a vehicle with speaker mounts and painting that matched other vehicles some member of the ultra-Orthodox group drive while playing Jewish techno music.  One of the passengers told reporters afterwards that they were lost and had been given bad directions by an Arab gas station attendant.  A Palestinian crowd attacked the vehicle with cinderblocks and stones, and after the passengers left the vehicle, set it ablaze.  PA security forces escorted the Israeli men to safety and turned them over to Israeli police, who subsequently held the two for interrogation and potential charges.  Israelis are banned by an Israeli military order from entering Area A, as noted by large signs on all roads entering Area A.  Hamas praised the assault as an “act of resistance” and criticized the PA security forces for safeguarding the two Israelis.

On March 1, unknown assailants set fire to the entrance of a Romanian Orthodox Church monastery in Jerusalem near the ultra-Orthodox Jewish neighborhood of Mea Shearim.  The local priest put out the fire quickly.  According to Church officials, this was the fourth act of vandalism during the year that targeted the same monastery.  Christian representatives said they believed religious Orthodox Jews were the probable assailants.  The Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem said the arson was “a sign of hatred for the Christian religion” among some Israelis.

According to local press and social media, some settlers in the West Bank continued to justify their attacks on Palestinian property, or “price tag” attacks, such as the uprooting of Palestinian olive trees, vandalism of cars and buildings, arson, and slashing of tires as necessary for the defense of Judaism.  According to the Times of Israel, on October 13, vandals sprayed nationalist slogans and damaged cars in the Palestinian village of Marda in the West Bank.  Slogans painted on walls included “price tag” and “demolish enemy [property], not Jewish.”

Media reported that on April 28, arsonists set three Palestinian cars ablaze in Beit Iksa, a village outside Jerusalem in the West Bank and wrote, “Jews, let’s win” on the road, along with “Tiktok” and a Star of David, possibly referencing a series of videos posted on the social media app appearing to show Palestinians attacking random ultra-Orthodox Jews without provocation.  According to media reports, dozens of Jewish residents of a nearby neighborhood chanted, “May your village burn,” until police arrived and dispersed the crowd.  Some Palestinian residents stated to media outlets that an Israeli fire truck came but did not put the fire out, and they had to wait for a Palestinian fire truck, which took longer to arrive.

On November 9, unidentified individuals vandalized nearly two dozen vehicles and a building in the Palestinian town of al-Bireh, in the West Bank, with slogans such as “enemies live here” and “price tag.”  According to an AP report, Palestinian eyewitnesses said a group of Israeli settlers was responsible for the vandalism.

The Israeli government said that several times during the year, unknown persons sprayed graffiti on Joshua’s Tomb in the Palestinian village of Kifl Hares in the West Bank.

According to members of more recently arrived faith communities in the West Bank, including Jehovah’s Witnesses, established Christian groups opposed the efforts of the recent arrivals to obtain official PA recognition because of the newcomers’ proselytizing.

Political and religious groups in the West Bank and Gaza continued to call on members to “defend” al-Aqsa Mosque.

Following the announcement of the normalization agreements establishing relations between Israel and four Arab countries (the Abraham Accords), Muslims from the Gulf were at times harassed in person and vilified on social media by Palestinian Muslims for visiting the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount as part of visits to Israel

Jehovah’s Witnesses continued to state that burial of its members remained challenging since most cemeteries belonged to churches.  Jehovah’s Witnesses said the challenge was greatest in Bethlehem, where churches from the main traditions control most graveyards and refused access to them.

According to Palestinian sources, some Christian and Muslim families in the occupied territories pressured their children, especially daughters, to marry within their respective religious groups.  Couples who challenged this societal norm, particularly Palestinian Christians or Muslims who sought to marry Jews, encountered considerable societal and family opposition.  Families sometimes reportedly disowned Muslim and Christian women who married outside their faith.  Various Israeli and Palestinian groups continued to protest against interfaith social and romantic relationships and other forms of cooperation.

Christian clergy and pilgrims continued to report instances of ultra-Orthodox Jews in Jerusalem harassing or spitting on them.  In May, Armenian media reported that “Jewish youths” attacked an Armenian priest, sending him to the hospital with injuries.  Police reportedly arrested three of the attackers.

The Israeli government said that only one complaint was filed during the year regarding an assault on Christian clergy in Jerusalem, and that the suspect was questioned but not indicted.  In addition, it reported there was one complaint filed by church officials in Jerusalem for “blasphemy of a holy place;” no suspects were found in that case.  Church officials reported that despite presenting video evidence to Israeli police in these attacks, police took insufficient action.

The Times of Israel reported that Palestinian protestors hung a Nazi flag bearing the swastika symbol in the West Bank village of Beit Ummar near Hebron on September 25.  In October, the Times of Israel reported that Palestinian vandals drew the swastika symbol during several protests in the West Bank against Israeli settlements and outposts.  On October 23, Israeli police arrested a Palestinian man suspected of spray-painting swastikas along a road used by settlers in the West Bank village of Hawara, near Nablus.  During protests in August against the Israeli Evyatar settler outpost, Palestinians from the nearby town of Beita erected a flaming star of David with a swastika in the center.

In a December sermon at al-Aqsa Mosque, Issam Amira stated that COVID-19 spread because of the conduct of Muslim rulers.  He said that this happened because of “infidel and licentious media” had spread immorality, and rulers had “permitted and promoted homosexuality” and had followed “feminist organizations.”

In a December 8 interview on Palestine TV, Jihad al-Harazin, a professor of law and political science at al-Quds University, asked why the world “weeps” over the “so-called Holocaust” committed by the Nazis when it appears to ignore “the crimes that are being committed daily,” including the death of 12-year-old Mohammed Durrah, who was killed in Gaza in 2000.

Palestinian historian Ashraf al-Qasas during a November 2 interview with Gaza-based Alkofiya TV, said, “Jews constitute surplus, and could not integrate into society.”  He also said, “The Jews were a pile of garbage that you wanted to get rid of… and you do this by dumping them on the neighbors you hate:  the Muslims.”

Although the Chief Rabbinate and rabbis of many ultra-Orthodox Jewish denominations continued to discourage Jewish visits to the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount site due to the ongoing halakhic (having to do with Jewish law and jurisprudence) debate about whether it was permissible or forbidden for Jews to enter the Temple Mount, some Orthodox rabbis continued to say entering the site was permissible.  Many among the self-identified “national religious” Zionist community stated they found meaning in visiting the site.  Groups such as the Temple Institute and Yaraeh continued to call for increased Jewish access and prayer there as well as for the construction of a third Jewish temple on the site.

According to the Wadi Hilweh Information Center, visits to the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount site during the year by activists associated with the Temple Mount movement decreased to 18,500 from 30,000 in 2019, the most recent year for which numbers are available, largely due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Despite Israeli labor law mandating workers were entitled to take a weekly day off for worship, some foreign domestic workers in Jerusalem stated that some employers did not allow them to do so.

The research and consulting firm PSB took a June poll of youth between the ages of 17 and 24 in 17 Arab states and the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and reported 17 percent of respondents in the occupied territories said that their religion was the most important factor in their personal identity, compared with 34 percent regionwide.  Other choices offered by the poll as possible responses included family/tribe, nationality, Arabic heritage, political beliefs, language, and gender.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy and Engagement

Senior White House, embassy, and other U.S. officials raised concerns about PA officials’ statements or social media postings that promoted antisemitism or encouraged or glorified violence and used public diplomacy programming and messaging aimed to combat antisemitism and promote nonviolence more broadly in Palestinian society throughout the year.  U.S. government officials repeatedly and publicly pointed out that Palestinian officials and party leaders did not consistently condemn individual terrorist attacks nor speak out publicly against members of their institutions, including Fatah, who advocated violence.

U.S. government representatives met with political and civil society leaders to promote tolerance and cooperation to combat religious prejudice.  These meetings included discussions of the groups’ concerns about religious tolerance, access to religious sites, respect for clergy, attacks on religious sites and houses of worship, and local Christian leaders’ concerns about ongoing Christian emigration from the occupied territories.

U.S. government representatives met with representatives of a range of religious groups from Jerusalem, the West Bank, and when possible, the Gaza Strip.  Engagement included meetings with Orthodox, ultra-Orthodox, and Reform rabbis, as well as representatives of various Jewish institutions, regular contacts with the Greek Orthodox, Latin (Roman Catholic), and Armenian Orthodox patriarchates, and meetings with the Holy See’s Custodian of the Holy Land, leaders of the Anglican and Lutheran Churches, the Syrian Orthodox Church, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and leaders of evangelical Christian groups, as well as Muslim community leaders.

Senior U.S. officials spoke publicly about the importance of maintaining the status quo at the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount.  Throughout the year, embassy officials used social media platforms to express U.S. support for tolerance and the importance of openness to members of other religious groups.  The embassy also issued public statements condemning attacks on places of worship.

The Department of State and UNRWA in July entered into a Framework for Cooperation on “shared goals and priorities; continued support; monitoring and reporting; and communication and partnership” in the UN agency’s delivery of education, primary health care, relief and social services, and other humanitarian assistance to Palestinian refugees.  The framework noted, “The United States and UNRWA condemn without reserve [sic] all manifestations of religious or racial intolerance, incitement to violence, harassment or violence against persons or communities based on ethnic origin or religious belief, including antisemitism, Islamophobia, anti-Catholicism, anti-Arabism, or other forms of discrimination or racism against Palestinians, Israelis, or other individuals or communities based on ethnic origin or religious belief.”

Embassy-supported initiatives focused on interreligious dialogue and community development and advocated constructive relationships among Palestinian and Israeli populations.  Initiatives included support for the Jerusalem Intercultural Center’s interreligious community economic development program in the Old City, and for the Interfaith Encounter Association’s efforts to bring together three interfaith groups in Jerusalem’s Israeli and Palestinian neighborhoods to meet with U.S. experts, coordinators, and fellow interfaith groups with the aim of transforming attitudes through constructive conversations on each religion’s similarities and differences.  Embassy officials advocated for the right of persons from all faiths to practice their religion peacefully while also respecting the beliefs and customs of their neighbors.

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