Israeli police and army ‘keep the peace’ via an array of crowd-control devices from tear gas and rubber bullets to, as here, spraying Palestinians with stinking skunk water. 2014 photo by Jaafar Ashtiyeh, Getty Images.
2016 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices
By US Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor.
March 03, 2017
The Palestinian Authority (PA), according to PA basic law, has an elected president and legislative council. The PA exercised varying degrees of authority in restricted areas of the West Bank due to the Israel Defense Forces’ (IDF) continuing presence, and none over Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem due to Israel’s extension of Israeli law and authority to East Jerusalem in 1967 and an Israeli prohibition on any PA activity anywhere in Jerusalem. The PA only maintains civil and security control in Area A of the West Bank. The PA has only civil control of Area B and joint security control with Israel. The PA has no authority over Israeli residents of the West Bank or Palestinian residents in Area C of the West Bank (over which Israel has security and civil control).
Although PA laws apply in the Gaza Strip, the PA had little authority in the Gaza Strip, where Hamas exercises de facto control. The PA head of government is Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah. President Mahmoud Abbas, in office since he was elected to a four-year term in 2005, is also chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and general commander of Fatah. In the 2006 Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) elections, candidates backed by Hamas won 74 of 132 seats in elections that generally met democratic standards; however, the PLC has not functioned since 2007. 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.
Both PA and Israeli civilian authorities maintained effective control over their security forces. Hamas maintained control of security forces in the Gaza Strip.
The most significant human rights abuses were Palestinian terror attacks against Israeli civilians and security forces, which killed eight Israelis in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. Significant human rights abuses also included excessive use of force or deadly force by Israeli Security Forces (ISF) in a number of their interactions with Palestinian civilians; arbitrary arrest and associated alleged torture and abuse, often with impunity by multiple actors in the region; restrictions on civil liberties, particularly by Hamas in Gaza; and Israeli demolition of Palestinian homes and related displacement. Palestinian residents of the occupied territories had limited ability to hold governing authorities accountable for abuses.
Human rights problems in the parts of the West Bank under PA control included abuse and mistreatment of detainees, overcrowded detention facilities, prolonged detention, and infringements on privacy rights. Restrictions on freedom of speech, press, and assembly continued. There were limits on freedom of association and movement. Corruption–especially nepotism–violence against women, and societal discrimination were serious problems. At times the PA or PA-affiliated media and social media failed to condemn terror and embraced as “martyrs” individuals who died while carrying out attacks on Israeli civilians. Abuse of children and discrimination against persons with disabilities also were serious problems. Discrimination based on sexual orientation and HIV/AIDS status persisted. There were some limits on worker rights, and there was forced labor. Child labor, including forced labor, remained a serious problem.
Human rights abuses under Hamas included security forces killing, torturing, arbitrarily detaining, and harassing opponents, including Fatah members and other Palestinians with impunity. Terrorist organizations and militant factions in the Gaza Strip launched rocket and mortar attacks against civilian targets in Israel, and they did so at or near civilian locations in Gaza. Human rights organizations reported authorities held prisoners in poor conditions in detention facilities in the Gaza Strip, and Hamas publicly unlawfully executed persons without trial or after proceedings that did not meet “fair trial” standards. Hamas also infringed on privacy rights. Hamas restricted the freedoms of speech, press, assembly, association, religion, and movement of Gaza Strip residents. Discrimination against women and domestic violence were serious problems. Abuse of children and discrimination against persons with disabilities were problems. Hamas frequently promoted anti-Semitism. Discrimination based on sexual orientation and HIV/AIDS status persisted. Restrictions on worker rights continued. Forced labor, including by children, occurred.
Israeli forces killed 91 Palestinians, some of whom were attempting or allegedly attempting to attack Israelis. In a number of these incidents, there were reports of human rights abuses including allegations of unlawful killings related to actions by Israeli authorities. Additionally, there were reports of abuse of Palestinian detainees, including children, particularly during arrest and interrogation; austere and overcrowded detention facilities; improper security detention procedures; demolition and confiscation of Palestinian property; limitations on freedom of expression, assembly, and association; and severe restrictions on Palestinians’ internal and external freedom of movement. Violence by Israeli settlers against Palestinians continued to be a problem, although at reduced levels compared with 2015. Israeli authorities’ investigations of settler violence rarely led to indictments. Harassment and attacks against Palestinians in Jerusalem by Jewish extremist groups reportedly were common, and these incidents rarely led to investigations or indictments. The IDF and the Egyptian government maintained severe restrictions on movement into and out of the Gaza Strip, and Israeli authorities increased limits on the travel of Palestinians out of Gaza, including for humanitarian cases, business travelers, medical patients, foreign government-sponsored public diplomacy and exchange programs, and local staff of foreign governments.
The PA and Israeli authorities took steps to address impunity or reduce abuses, but there were criticisms they did not adequately pursue investigations and disciplinary actions related to violations. Impunity was a major problem under Hamas.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
There was one report that PA security services committed an unlawful killing. On August 23, PA Security Forces (PASF) officers beat to death Ahmad Halaweh when in custody in the PA’s Juneid prison. Halaweh was the primary suspect in the August 18 shooting deaths of a Palestinian Civil Police officer and a National Security Forces officer in Nablus. The PA’s Security Forces Justice Commission conducted an investigation into Halaweh’s death. As of December the investigation continued.
Palestinian terrorist groups and unaffiliated individuals committed unlawful killings of eight Israeli civilians and security forces in terrorist attacks in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, continuing violence dating from October 2015. On June 30, a Palestinian teenager stabbed and killed 13-year-old Israeli-American dual citizen Hallel Ariel in her home in the West Bank settlement of Kiryat Arba. The attacker, 16-year-old Muhammad Naser Mahmoud Tarayrah, also stabbed and wounded a private settlement security guard before the guard shot and killed him.
On July 1, a Palestinian shot and killed 48-year-old Israeli Michael Mark and injured his wife and two children near the West Bank settlement of Otniel. Subsequently, on July 27, the IDF shot and killed the suspected attacker, 29-year-old Muhammad Jbarah Ahmad al-Faqih during an exchange of gunfire in the West Bank town of Surif.
There were also attacks on Israeli civilians and security force members in Jerusalem throughout the year. On February 3, three Palestinians shot and killed a Border Guard officer, 19-year-old Hadar Cohen, and wounded two others outside the Old City’s Damascus Gate. Police shot and killed the three perpetrators, 20-year-old Ahmad Najeh ‘Abd a-Latif Abu a-Rob, 19-year-old Muhammad Ahmad Muhammad Kmeil, and 19-year-old Ahmad Najeh Isma’il Nassar to stop the attack.
During the year Gaza-based militants fired 15 rockets into Israel, according to the United Nations and the International nongovernmental organization (NGO) Safety Organization, the fewest since 2005. According to local media, Hamas unlawfully executed three persons in the Gaza Strip for alleged murder and one person–a Hamas military wing member–for alleged “behavioral and moral misconduct.” Hamas-controlled military courts issued death sentences against several persons for alleged collaboration with Israel. By law the PA president must ratify each death penalty sentence, but Hamas proceeded with these executions and issued death sentences without the PA president’s approval due to Hamas’ de facto control over the Gaza Strip.
Hamas security/police officers frequently put on intimidating displays of their strength, here celebrating the 27th anniversary of the group’s 1987 foundation. Photo by AP
During the year Israeli forces killed 91 Palestinians in the West Bank and Jerusalem, some of whom were attempting or allegedly attempting to attack Israelis. In some instances there were reports of possible ISF [Israeli Security Forces] use of excessive force against Palestinian civilians, mostly during attempted or alleged attacks against ISF personnel, or in the context of ISF use of live fire and rubber-coated steel bullets to confront violent demonstrators or at checkpoints and during security operations. In some cases the Palestinians killed did not pose a threat to life, and NGOs published multiple reports alleging ISF personnel committed unlawful killings. Some of those killed in the West Bank and Jerusalem were minors.
On March 24, IDF soldier Elor Azaria shot and killed 20-year-old Abed al-Fatah al-Sharif after he stabbed a soldier in Hebron’s Tel Rumeida neighborhood, near the Israeli settlement of the same name. Video footage obtained by NGO B’Tselem and eyewitness testimony indicated that the solider shot al-Sharif in the head after he lay injured and motionless on the ground. Amnesty International (AI) also released a statement that the shooting of a wounded and incapacitated person was unjustified. The IDF reportedly considered charging Azaria with murder, then downgraded the charge to manslaughter. As of December the trial continued.
On June 20, ISF personnel fired at a car of Palestinian teenagers, killing 15-year-old Mahmoud Badran and wounding four others, during a search for Palestinian suspects who had reportedly thrown rocks and Molotov cocktails at Israeli vehicles driving on highway Route 443. Human rights NGOs criticized ISF actions and rules of engagement and claimed that authorities could have stopped and searched the car. As of December Israel’s Military Advocate General was still investigating the incident.
Dawn raids – Israeli soldiers invade the Hebron district, including the al Fawwar refugee camp, and carried out raids/searches of Palestinian homes. January 2015 by Ma’an Images.
On August 16, IDF members shot and killed 19-year-old Muhammad Yusef Saber Abu Hashhash and wounded 32 other Palestinians during a raid in the al Fawwar Refugee Camp. An Israeli military spokesperson said Palestinians threw stones, Molotov cocktails, and improvised explosive devices at the soldiers, and they responded with crowd control measures, including firing 0.22 caliber bullets. According to B’Tselem, Abu Hashash and other youths climbed to a rooftop to throw stones at soldiers who were on nearby rooftops. A B’Tselem investigation, however, noted that the ISF fatally shot Abu Hashhash when he stepped out of his home and did not pose a danger to soldiers at that time.
There were reports that the ISF use of small-caliber live ammunition intended as a less-than-lethal tactic seriously wounded or killed Palestinians in the West Bank. Palestinians reported that the ISF deliberately targeted the lower extremities of demonstrators with 0.22-caliber live ammunition to disperse violent protests and respond to stone throwing or alleged stone throwing. In August the ISF shot and wounded at least 15 Palestinians in the knees or legs during security operations in the Duheisha refugee camp in Bethlehem. In another raid in December, the ISF shot and wounded four Palestinians in the legs after youth threw rocks and empty bottles at soldiers. Since 2015 ISF members have shot and killed at least four Palestinians, including one minor, with small-caliber fire to the head or torso.
The Military Advocate General (MAG) and Fact-Finding Mechanism, now headed by Major General Yitzhak Eitan, continued to investigate incidents that occurred during hostilities between Israel and Hamas and other armed groups in Gaza in 2014. On August 24, the MAG issued the fifth update of its investigation into the 2014 Gaza war, Operation Protective Edge, in which 1,462 Palestinian civilians died. Of more than 360 incidents reported to Israeli authorities, the MAG opened investigations into 31 “exceptional incidents” and issued indictments in three cases, for looting. It closed 80 cases without investigation and closed another 13 without charges after completing an investigation. Nearly three-quarters of the incidents remained under investigation two years after the end of the war. Human rights organizations expressed strong reservations about the scope, methods, and independence of the MAG’s inquiry.
NGOs continued to accuse Israel of using disproportionate force and indiscriminate fire to counter the threat posed by rockets or mortars launched from the Gaza Strip, which they claimed resulted in unnecessary and excessive civilian casualties during Operation Protective Edge. In May B’Tselem published a report analyzing 2,202 Palestinian fatalities that occurred during the hostilities in July and August 2014, in which it concluded that 63 percent (1,394) of those killed, including 526 children, were noncombatants.
NGOs and other observers also described the IDF response to a rocket that Palestinian militants fired August 21 and landed in Sderot as “disproportionate.” In response to the rocket attack, Israeli forces conducted 11 airstrikes firing 23 missiles. The IDF also fired 37 rounds from tanks. As a result of these strikes, one Palestinian was injured.
The Israeli government periodically launched strikes into the Gaza Strip against specific targets and in response to rockets and small arms fired into Israel by militant groups. IDF ground forces, tanks, ships, aircraft, and remote-controlled weapons fired on Palestinians inside the Gaza Strip. According to B’Tselem, these attacks killed Palestinians participating in hostilities, Palestinians not participating in hostilities, and some Palestinians who were the objects of targeted killing. On March 12, a 10-year-old boy and a six-year-old girl died when their home collapsed following an Israeli airstrike targeting a Hamas military position next to their home; the airstrike was in retaliation for rocket fire from Gaza into southern Israel.
There were also multiple reports of Israeli forces killing Palestinians in restricted areas in the Gaza Strip. Israel repeatedly warned Palestinians that they risked being shot if they entered a “buffer zone,” which extends 328 yards (300 meters) into Gaza territory from the border fence. On January 15, IDF soldiers shot and killed two Palestinians throwing stones near the border fence east of al-Bureij refugee camp. On May 5, the IDF fired tank shells targeting a Hamas observation post, killing a 54-year-old woman, in response to Palestinian militants firing mortar shells toward IDF troops. Israeli forces reportedly regularly enforced the “buffer zone” by firing toward Palestinians approaching at distances further from the fence.
In the buffer zone, Gaza border. Photo by Mohammed Abed/AFP
In the West Bank, there were no reports of politically motivated disappearances, but some detainees registered complaints with the PA’s Independent Commission for Human Rights (ICHR) that their arrests were arbitrary. In the Gaza Strip, Hamas security operatives carried out extrajudicial detentions based on political affiliation. Information concerning the whereabouts and welfare of those detained was not consistently or reliably available, and Hamas denied many of those detained due process or access to family and legal counsel. There was no new information on the disappearances in 2014 and 2015 of two Israeli citizens who crossed into Gaza and whom Hamas reportedly apprehended and held incommunicado.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The PA basic law prohibits torture or use of force against detainees; however, international and local human rights groups reported that torture and abuse remained a problem. Despite President Abbas’s commitment to investigate reports of torture in the 2012 ICHR report, the PA Ministry of Interior took no such investigating action during the year. PASF officers attended ICHR training sessions on human rights and the use of force throughout the year.
Palestinian detainees held by PA security forces registered complaints of abuse and torture with the ICHR. Reported abuses by PA authorities in the West Bank included forcing prisoners, including persons accused of affiliation with Hamas, to sit in a painful position for long periods; beating; punching; flogging; intimidation; and psychological pressure. Independent observers noted that abuse was not systematic or routinely practiced in PA prisons, although some prisoners experienced abuse during arrest or interrogation. The PA Corrections and Rehabilitation Centers Department, under the authority of the Ministry of Interior, continued to maintain a mechanism for reviewing complaints of prisoner abuse in civil prisons but reported no cases of inmate abuse by its staff.
Detainees held by Hamas filed claims of torture and abuse with the ICHR. Other human rights organizations reported that Hamas internal security, the drug unit of the “civil police force,” and “police” detectives tortured detainees. Antidrug units reportedly used torture and abuse to extract confessions. Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported that in the Gaza Strip, de facto security officials beat or kicked detainees, deprived them of sleep or proper food, hosed them with cold and hot water, and made them maintain uncomfortable positions for long hours. HRW also reported allegations of torture by Hamas’ military wing, including suspension from the ceiling and severe beatings. Hamas reportedly took little or no action to investigate reports of torture, and reports and documentation of abuses were limited, due to victims’ fear of retribution and lack of access to Gaza Strip prisoners’ rights NGOs or PA officials.
Human rights organizations such as the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (PCATI) and Defense of Children International (DCI)-Palestine reported that “physical interrogation methods” permitted by Israeli law and used by Israeli security personnel against Palestinian security detainees in the West Bank and East Jerusalem could amount to torture. The methods included beatings, forcing an individual to hold a stress position for long periods, and painful pressure from shackles or restraints applied to the forearms. Israeli officials stated they did not use techniques that could amount to torture. Israeli and Palestinian NGOs continued to criticize these and other Israeli detention practices they termed abusive, including isolation and prolonged solitary confinement, sleep deprivation, lack of food, exposure to the elements, and psychological abuse, such as threats to interrogate spouses, siblings, or elderly parents or to demolish family homes.
Israeli authorities reportedly used similar tactics on Palestinian minors. DCI-Palestine and other human rights NGOs claimed Israeli security services continued to employ abuse, and in some cases torture, to coerce confessions from minors whom they frequently arrested on suspicion of stone throwing or others acts of violence. Tactics included beatings, long-term handcuffing, threats, intimidation, and solitary confinement. In December Military Court Watch (MCW) released a briefing note, which reported that 90 percent of Palestinian children arrested by the IDF during the year were hand-tied, 84 percent blindfolded, 58 percent subjected to physical abuse, and 91 percent denied access to a lawyer prior to questioning.
According to Israeli Prison Service data, the ISF as of August held in detention 319 Palestinian children between the ages 12 and 17–an 82 percent increase compared with the monthly average for 2015. The MCW reported that official statistics most likely understated the number of minors detained and generally did not include minors held by the military and released within a few hours or a day–a number that was likely to be substantial and included children below the minimum age of criminal responsibility.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Overall physical conditions in prisons and detention centers in the West Bank were reportedly poor. The PA Corrections and Rehabilitation Centers Department, under the authority of the Ministry of Interior, continued to maintain a mechanism for reviewing complaints of prisoner abuse in civil prisons but reported no cases of inmate abuse by its staff.
The basic conditions of prisons in the Gaza Strip generally met minimum needs; for example, there were showers and places to sleep. Conditions, however, were reportedly poor; for example, prison cells were overcrowded.
IDF detention centers for security detainees were less likely than Israeli civilian prisons to meet international standards.
NGOs reported PA, Israeli, and Gaza prison centers lacked adequate facilities and specialized medical care for disabled detainees and prisoners.
Physical Conditions: Some PA prisons continued to be crowded and lacked ventilation, heating, cooling, and lighting systems conforming to international standards. Some prisons lacked sufficient space for programming and recreation. Authorities reported no deaths in PA prisons from adverse conditions. Authorities at times held male juveniles with adult male prisoners. Security services used separate detention facilities. Conditions for women were virtually identical to those for men; however, some detention centers for women had more limited outdoor recreation space.
Some Israeli government facilities, such as the Ofer Detention Center, provided living space as small as 15 square feet per detainee. NGOs stated that authorities appeared to use poor conditions or exposure to weather as an interrogation or intimidation method. Prisoners also continued to claim inadequate medical care. PCATI, DCI-Palestine, and the MCW noted that most reports of abuse or poor conditions occurred during arrest and interrogation, generally within the first 48 hours following arrest.
Authorities detained most Palestinian prisoners arrested by Israeli security forces in the occupied territories extraterritorially in Israel. According to NGO sources, Israeli government authorities transferred and held at least 7,000 Palestinians detainees, or an average of 84 percent of all prisoners from the West Bank, in Israeli prisons inside Green Line Israel.
Administration: Record keeping by PA authorities in the West Bank was adequate, with the Corrections and Rehabilitation Centers Department storing information on computers, but records were not publicly available. By law any person sentenced to imprisonment for a term of not more than three months may petition the PA public prosecutor to put him to work outside the prison instead of carrying out the sentence of imprisonment, unless the judgment deprives him of that option. Although the law allows for this option, the legal system did not have the capacity to implement such a process. Although ombudsmen cannot serve on behalf of prisoners, the ICHR played an ombudsman role. The PA investigated allegations of mistreatment.
Little information was available about prison administration in the Gaza Strip.
Record keeping by Israeli authorities in the West Bank was often only in Hebrew and, therefore, inaccessible to the Palestinian public. There were no reports of improvements in record keeping. There was an ombudsman. Detainees under Israeli control could have visitors. Human rights groups reported families of imprisoned Palestinians, particularly Gazans, had only limited ability to visit prisoners due to prison locations inside Israel and the lack of entry permits for most Palestinians. Overall, authorities held 84 percent of adult detainees and approximately 60 percent of minors from the West Bank in prisons in Israel rather than the West Bank.
NGOs claimed there was a systematic failure to investigate abuse claims made by Palestinians held in various Israeli interrogation and detention facilities. PCATI reported that, despite more than 1,000 complaints it had filed since 2001 regarding the use of torture in ISA interrogations–including allegations of beatings, sleep deprivation, holding in stress positions, and sexual abuse–no torture complaint resulted in a criminal investigation, prosecution, or conviction. PCATI claimed that the government regularly dismissed complaints of abuse following a primary examination by an ISA employee. Authorities exempted ISA facilities from regular independent inspections. NGOs reported that investigations of abuse at IDF and Israeli police facilities were slow and ineffective; they rarely led to prosecutions. Of 154 complaints filed by PCATI between 2007 and 2015 regarding IDF violence against detainees in the West Bank, two such complaints resulted in an indictment against a soldier on assault charges.
Independent Monitoring: The PA generally permitted the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) access to detainees and allowed regular inspections of prison conditions in accordance with the ICRC’s standard modalities. Human rights groups, humanitarian organizations, and lawyers indicated that, as in previous years, there were some difficulties in gaining access to specific detainees, depending on which security organization managed the facility.
The ICRC and other human rights organizations conducted monitoring visits to some prisoners in the Gaza Strip, but Hamas authorities denied its representatives permission to visit high-profile detainees and prisoners.
The Israeli government permitted visits by independent human rights observers. The government permitted the ICRC to monitor prison conditions in accordance with its standard modalities. NGOs sent representatives to meet with prisoners–including those on hunger strikes–and inspect conditions in prisons, detention centers, and IDF facilities, except ISA detention and interrogation facilities, since security prisoners and facilities remained inaccessible to independent monitors. NGOs such as Physicians for Human Rights Israel criticized Israeli authorities, however, for refusing to allow independent physicians to visit hunger-striking prisoners if ICRC visits also monitored those detainees and for refusing to release these detainees’ medical records. Detainees’ families and human rights groups reported delays and difficulties from Israeli authorities in gaining access to specific detainees. They also reported transfers of detainees without notice and claimed authorities used these practices at times punitively against prisoners engaging in hunger strikes.
In August the ICRC reported an “unprecedented” series of sometimes-violent demonstrations outside its East Jerusalem offices by Palestinian groups protesting the ICRC’s perceived failure to advocate on behalf of Palestinian hunger strikers and its reduction of family visits for male prisoners from twice to once per month. The ICRC reported an arson attack against two official ICRC vehicles and briefly closed its East Jerusalem office due to threats to staff.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
Palestinian law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, and PA prosecutors generally charged suspects promptly as a requirement to detain them. The PA criminal justice system, however, often did not lead to a prompt and speedy trial. There were also instances of detention without charge or trial for selected security detainees in PASF custody. On September 6, a PA magistrate court ordered the PA to release six detainees held without trial since March, some of whom authorities charged with plotting to carry out a terror attack against Israelis. Some NGOs said the detainees alleged authorities tortured them to confess to the charges.
Hamas also alleged that the PA repeatedly detained individuals during the year based solely on their Hamas affiliation, especially during high-profile security sweeps and in the period prior to municipal elections scheduled for October (which the PA then indefinitely postponed). Hamas reportedly practiced widespread arbitrary detention in the Gaza Strip, particularly of Fatah members, civil society activists, journalists, and others accused of publicly criticizing Hamas. Fatah officials claimed to media that Hamas abducted, threatened, and arrested several Fatah members working on municipal elections in the Gaza Strip prior to the election’s indefinite postponement.
Israeli civil law provides safeguards against arbitrary arrest and detention, but key safeguards do not apply to Palestinian security detainees. Israeli military law subjects Palestinian security detainees to its jurisdiction, which permits eight days’ detention prior to appearing before a military court. There is no requirement that a detainee have access to a lawyer until after interrogation, a process that may last weeks. The maximum period for a detention order covering the interrogation period, according to military law, is 90 days; however, if deemed necessary by Israeli security forces, authorities can renew detention indefinitely. NGOs reported authorities often held persons undergoing interrogations incommunicado for several weeks. The Israeli government denied such allegations. Authorities can hold security detainees after interrogation without trial for six-month renewable sentences on the “administrative detention” order of a military commander. Denial of visits by family, outside medical professionals, or others outside the ISA, the IDF, or the prison service occurred.
ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS
In West Bank Palestinian population centers, mostly Area A as defined by the Oslo-era agreements, containing 55 percent of the Palestinian population on approximately 18 percent of West Bank land area, the PA has formal responsibility for security and civil control. Since 2002, however, following the outbreak of the Second Intifada, Israeli security forces have regularly conducted security operations in Area A cities, often without coordinating with PA security forces. These incursions increased at the outbreak of violence beginning in October 2015 and continued at a lower level throughout the year. In Area B territory in the West Bank, which contained 41 percent of the population on approximately 21 percent of the territory, mostly small Palestinian villages and farmland, the PA has civil control, but Israel and the PA maintain joint security control. In Area C, which contains Israeli settlements, military installations, and 4 percent of the Palestinian population in small villages, farmland, and open countryside on approximately 61 percent of the land area, Israel retains full civil and security control.
Six PA security forces operated in the West Bank. Many of the security forces are under the PA Ministry of Interior operational control and follow the prime minister’s guidance. The Palestinian Civil Police have primary responsibility for civil and community policing. The National Security Force conducts gendarmerie-style security operations in circumstances that exceed the capabilities of the civil police. The Military Intelligence Agency handles intelligence and criminal matters involving PA security force personnel, including accusations of abuse. The Military Intelligence Agency is responsible for investigations into allegations of abuse and corruption involving PA security forces and can refer cases to court. The General Intelligence Service is responsible for external intelligence gathering and operations; the Preventive Security Organization is responsible for both internal intelligence gathering and investigations related to internal security cases (for example, antiterrorism, weapons violations, and money laundering). The Presidential Guard protects facilities and provides dignitary protection.
Generally, Palestinian security forces continued to demonstrate professional performance levels, especially while maintaining order during demonstrations on days of national significance to Palestinians, such as the “Nakba” and “Naksa” days, and throughout the period of heightened tensions and demonstrations beginning in the last quarter of 2015. The ICHR continued to report accusations of abuse and torture at the hands of the security forces to the PA.
The PA took significant steps to bring women into police forces in the West Bank to allow police work to cross-societal gender barriers. Of 7,798 police officers in the PA Civil Police, 335 were women. Women on the PA police force can search under women’s clothing for contraband. In 2014 the PA Presidential Guard established the Female Special Security Detachment, the first operational element for women in the PA security forces.
The PA continued efforts to prevent security-sector courts from trying civilians.
The PA maintained effective control over the security forces and has mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption. In September 2015 Palestinian Civil Police and National Security Forces personnel beat a Palestinian protester while preventing a group of demonstrators from reaching an Israeli checkpoint in the Bethlehem area. Authorities convicted six PASF officers of the beating and sentenced them to 1.5-month prison terms. On August 2, PASF officers beat at least five protesters while dispersing a group of demonstrators, in the Tulkarem district. According to local media, some of the demonstrators threw rocks at the officers. The PA established a committee to investigate the incident. On August 23, PASF officers beat to death a Palestinian, Ahmed Halaweh, in custody in Juneid Prison. Authorities wanted Halaweh for the August 18 fatal shooting of two PASF officers. By September the PA established a committee to investigate Halaweh’s death, and as of December the investigation continued.
In the Gaza Strip, Hamas forces exercised de facto control. Press and NGO reports suggested Hamas enforced strict control across all sectors of society. Impunity, however, remained a problem in the Gaza Strip. There were numerous instances when Hamas forces failed to deter violence, such as rocket attacks into Israel.
Israeli authorities maintained their West Bank security presence through the IDF, ISA, Israeli National Police (INP), and Border Guard. Israeli authorities took some steps to investigate and punish abuse and corruption, but there were reports of failure to take disciplinary action in cases of abuse (see section 1.a.). The IDF continued to open investigations automatically of claims of abuse in military police custody. NGOs stated that automatic investigations applied only to some military activity in the West Bank but not to individuals reporting abuse in custody. NGOs reported that impunity among Israeli security forces remained a problem, in part because mechanisms for investigating allegations were not effective. Reports of abuse go to the Attorney General’s Office; PCATI reported that authorities systematically disregarded abuse allegations. In May B’Tselem announced it would no longer refer Palestinian complaints of abuse or injury by the IDF to Israeli military investigators and the MAG, citing a desire to avoid contributing to what it called the pretense of a military law enforcement system in the West Bank. In its report, The Occupation’s Fig Leaf: Israel’s Military Law Enforcement System as a Whitewash Mechanism, B’Tselem criticized chronic flaws in Israeli military authorities’ investigative and oversight processes and a 3 percent rate of soldiers charged in response to more than 700 abuse complaints filed since 2000.
The funeral of 15-year-old Mahmoud Badran who was killed by Israeli troops on June 21, 2016 by an IDF officer who wrongly thought the car was carrying stone-throwers [whom it is alright to shoot dead?]. Beit Ur-Tahta near Ramallah on June 23, 2016. Photo by Abbas Momani/ AFP
NGOs also criticized Israeli accountability processes and efforts to investigate reports of killing of civilians. According to B’Tselem, in 2011 Israel began investigating every case in which the IDF killed civilians in the West Bank not taking part in hostilities. As of August the IDF reported it had opened investigations into more than 20 incidents and closed multiple cases. B’Tselem reported that investigation of these incidents since October 2015 resulted in only one indictment. Israeli law restricts the ability of Palestinians harmed by the acts of Israeli security forces to seek compensation in Israeli courts. For example, nearly three years after Israeli security forces shot and killed 16-year-old Samir Awad in the village of Budrus, the court had not indicted either of the two soldiers involved in the killing. The ISF shot and injured Awad while he was reportedly between fences and was trying to flee. The military said he intended to throw stones at the soldiers. In late December 2015, the State Attorney’s Office filed an indictment on charges of reckless and negligent use of a firearm. In September an Israel magistrate court judge delayed a hearing of the charges at the request of the soldiers’ attorneys. The case remained pending.
On September 20, B’Tselem published a report entitled The Whitewashing Procedure: The Ostensible Investigation of the Events of Operation Protective Edge, that concluded the bodies responsible for investigating the events of the 2014 war created a false impression of a functioning system that ostensibly sought to discover the truth, while not questioning those senior military officers responsible for violations during the war.
According to Israeli and Palestinian NGO and press reports, the IDF and INP did not respond sufficiently to violence perpetrated against Palestinians by Israeli settlers in the West Bank. The number of settler attacks perpetrated against Palestinians during the year decreased compared with 2015, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). As of November OCHA identified 101 incidents of settler violence (compared with 221 incidents in 2015) that resulted in Palestinian injuries or property damage. The Israeli NGO Yesh Din, citing Israeli security forces and MAG figures, reported that authorities closed 85 percent of investigative files into alleged settler violence due to the police investigators’ failure to locate suspects or find sufficient evidence to enable an indictment. Yesh Din claimed that law enforcement procedural and management failures led to meager results in terms of the indictment and conviction of offenders. Of the 7 percent of investigations of settler violence that led to an indictment, approximately one-third (or 1.9 percent of total investigations) resulted in a conviction.
In January the Israel Central District Attorney’s Office indicted two Jewish suspects in the July 2015 “price tag” arson attack on a Palestinian home in the West Bank village of Douma, which killed a toddler and his parents and severely injured his four-year-old brother. The perpetrators also spray-painted “Revenge!” and a Star of David on the wall of the home. The trial continued throughout the year without reaching a verdict.
The Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) and other NGOs stated Israeli security and justice officials operating in predominantly Palestinian East Jerusalem used excessive force and displayed bias against Palestinian residents in investigating incidents involving Palestinian and Israeli actors. Internal Israeli police reports, released as part of a freedom of information request, suggested that police operating in some areas of East Jerusalem conducted operations designed to “create friction” with Palestinian residents. These operations resulted in use of tear gas and rubber-tipped bullets, injuring Palestinians.
Israeli Border Police shoot rubber bullets at Palestinians who are marking Land Day, an annual commemoration of the 1976 shooting of six Arab-Israelis. Photo taken 30 March 2012 by EPA
According to ACRI, during various security raids in East Jerusalem, the ISF fired rubber-tipped bullets at the head and upper torso of Palestinians, including minors, in violation of police rules of engagement. There were multiple reports of blinding and serious injury from synthetic rubber-tipped bullets, which Israeli police introduced to replace softer sponge-tipped bullets beginning in summer 2014. According to ACRI, rubber-tipped bullets since summer 2014 inflicted approximately 40 serious injuries, including 14 persons who lost an eye or eyesight; half of these victims were minors.
12-year-old Ahmed Abu Humus on an artificial respirator after suffering from a sponge-tipped rubber bullet fired by Israeli border police.
On January 6, during clashes between Palestinians and Israeli Border Guard personnel who entered the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Issawiya, Border Guard officers shot 12-year-old Ahmed Abu Humus in the head with a sponged-tipped bullet. Abu Humus suffered extensive brain damage and as of September remained on an artificial respirator. Israeli police said they were investigating these incidents. Palestinians claimed authorities closed most investigations of injury from sponge- and rubber-tipped bullets in East Jerusalem for lack of evidence. Relaxed rules of engagement adopted in June also enabled INP and Border Guard forces, which constitute the primary security forces operating in East Jerusalem, to use live fire as a first resort against suspects engaged in throwing Molotov cocktails, shooting fireworks, or using slingshots.
ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES
PA law generally requires a warrant for arrest and provides for prompt judicial determination of the legality of detention, and these provisions were largely–but not uniformly–observed; however, there are exceptions that allow for arrest without a warrant. PA law allows police to hold detainees for 24 hours if there is sufficient evidence to charge a suspect, and for up to 45 days with court approval. Authorities held some prisoners, detained under orders from Palestinian governors, in lengthy pretrial detention, according to complaints received by the ICHR. As of August, for example, authorities had not brought before a judge two detainees arrested by the PA Preventive Security Organization in July. PA law requires that a trial start within six months or authorities must release the detainee. While some PA security forces reportedly detained persons outside of appropriate legal procedures, including without warrants and without bringing them before judicial authorities within the required time, there were no known detentions extending beyond the time limit without trial. Authorities generally informed detainees of the charges against them, albeit sometimes not until interrogation. Bail and conditional release were available at the discretion of judicial authorities. Authorities granted detainees access to a lawyer. Palestinian courts consistently afforded the right to counsel to indigents charged with felony offenses. Indigent defendants charged with misdemeanors, however, often did not receive counsel, although NGO efforts to represent indigent juveniles and adults in misdemeanor cases were at times successful. AI reported that PA security forces failed to provide prompt access to legal counsel to some detainees, effectively holding them incommunicado during interrogation.
The PA Military Intelligence Organization (PMI) operates without a service-specific mandate, but operates in a de facto manner to investigate and arrest security force personnel and civilians suspected of “security offenses,” such as terrorism. The PMI, however, conducted these activities in a manner consistent with the other PA security services. Hamas continued to charge that the PA detained individuals during the year solely due to their Hamas affiliation, but the PA presented evidence that it charged many of these individuals with criminal offenses under civil or military codes.
In the Gaza Strip, Hamas reportedly detained a large number of persons during the year, primarily without recourse to legal counsel, judicial review, or bail. There also were instances in which authorities retroactively issued arrest warrants and used military warrants to arrest civilians.
Israeli military courts had a conviction rate of more than 99 percent for Palestinians.
Israeli authorities operated under military and civilian legal codes in the occupied territories. Israeli military law applied to Palestinians in the West Bank, while Israeli civil law applied to Israeli settlers. Under Israeli military law, authorities can hold detainees for up to 90 days without access to a lawyer, with multiple 90-day extensions possible. Authorities frequently transferred detainees from the West Bank to Israel for detention or interrogation. The Israeli military courts had a conviction rate of more than 99 percent for Palestinians.
Authorities informed detainees of the charges against them during detention, but the MCW reported authorities did not always inform minors and their families at the time of arrest. Israeli authorities stated their policy was to post notification of arrests within 48 hours, but senior officers may delay notification for up to 12 days, effectively holding detainees incommunicado during the interrogation process. A military commander may request that a judge extend this period. In accordance with law, Israeli authorities generally provided Palestinians held in Israeli military custody inside Israel access to a lawyer of their choice (and provided lawyers for the indigent), but detainees often obtained lawyers only after initial interrogations, and impediments to movement on West Bank roads or at crossings often made consultation difficult and delayed trials and hearings. According to the MCW, most detainees saw their lawyer for the first time when they appeared before a military court. Military courts denied bail in most cases, including for minors.
NGOs claimed that Israeli authorities frequently failed to inform parents why authorities detained their children or where they took Palestinian minors when arrested. Under the law, minors who are 16 and 17 years old have the same pretrial detention periods as adults. In 2013 a military order reduced the time that authorities can detain Palestinian children between the ages of 12 and 15 before appearing before a military court judge, although there was no change for minors ages 16 and 17. The MCW subsequently reported these detention times were still at least twice as long as those applied to Israeli minors living in the West Bank. There is no legal requirement to audio and/or visually record interrogations involving minors. The IDF also entered Palestinian homes at night either to arrest or to take pictures of minors. DCI-Palestine claimed authorities abused minors to coerce confessions (see section 1.c.), and according to human rights organizations, this treatment could amount to torture in some cases. In the past Israeli officials denied such allegations. Military authorities began providing translations into Arabic of some of the recent changes to the military laws affecting minors.
NGOs reported a significant increase in detentions of minors including in the Jerusalem area, particularly temporary detentions authorities never registered in the Israeli prison system. The minimum age for criminal responsibility and custodial sentences in the West Bank was 12 years old. In February the ISF arrested a 12-year-old Palestinian girl for allegedly planning a stabbing attack at the Carmei Tzur settlement near Hebron. Authorities questioned her without her parents or counsel present and held her for nine days before she accepted a plea bargain to serve four months in a youth detention facility near Bethlehem.
Israeli legislation approved in August effectively lowered the minimum in East Jerusalem age for criminal responsibility for serious crimes such as attempted murder to 12. The minimum age for custodial sentences in East Jerusalem was 14. NGOs reported that increased sentences and mandatory minimum sentences under Israeli civil law for adults convicted of rock throwing, introduced in late 2015, led to increased use of pretrial detention and longer sentences for Palestinian minors in East Jerusalem arrested for the same charges. For example, in March a Jerusalem court sentenced seven Palestinian minors to between 12 and 39 months in prison for stone throwing. ACRI criticized the changes in security policies for East Jerusalem youth for undermining key protections in Israel’s Youth Law and for focusing on deterrence rather than minors’ rehabilitation.
In 2013 the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) released its report Children in Israeli Military Detention: Observations and Recommendations, which stated that “mistreatment of Palestinian children in the Israeli military detention system appears to be widespread, systematic, and institutionalized.” Subsequently, the military prosecutor for Judea and Samaria (West Bank) established a dialogue with UNICEF on children’s rights while in military detention and on specific actions authorities could take to improve the protection of these children. Later in 2013 the IDF Central Command for the West Bank implemented a pilot test in the West Bank that replaced the practice of night arrests of children suspected of security offenses with a summons procedure. In 2014 authorities indefinitely suspended this pilot program. The MCW reported that authorities delivered summonses prior to nighttime arrest raids of minors in only 1 percent of cases during the year. Nighttime arrest raids, including of Palestinian minors, were routine in East Jerusalem. Israeli authorities cited significant reforms related to criminal law and practice regarding minors in the West Bank. The MCW reported there had been little substantive improvement since the publication of the UNICEF report and that data from more than 400 MCW detainee testimonials collected by the MCW between 2013 and 2016 tended to confirm UNICEF’s conclusion that the mistreatment of child detainees was widespread.
The ISA continued its practice of incommunicado detention, including isolation from monitors, legal counsel, and family throughout the duration of interrogation. NGOs reported authorities used isolation to punish detainees or silence politically prominent Palestinian detainees; however, according to the Israeli government, the Israeli Prison Service does not hold detainees in separate detention punitively or to induce confessions. The Israeli government stated it does so only when a detainee threatens himself or others and authorities have exhausted other options–or in some cases during interrogation to prevent disclosure of information. In such cases the Israeli government maintained the detainee had the right to meet with ICRC representatives, Israeli Prison Service personnel, and medical personnel, if necessary.
Arbitrary Arrest: The ICHR reported that arbitrary arrest by the PA in the West Bank was common, particularly arrests based on political affiliation with Hamas. There were numerous reports PA security forces improperly detained Palestinian journalists. Security officials also arrested and abused Palestinians who posted criticism of the PA online, including on their Facebook pages.
The ICHR received complaints of arbitrary arrests by Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Many of these arrests and detentions appeared to be politically motivated, targeting political opponents and those suspected of ties to Israel.
Throughout the year there were reports Israeli security forces in East Jerusalem and in the West Bank arbitrarily arrested and detained numerous Palestinian protesters and activists, particularly those participating in demonstrations against the separation barrier or against killings of Palestinians.
Pretrial Detention: It was unclear how long detainees in Hamas custody stayed in pretrial detention or what legal means, if any, Hamas used to detain individuals. PA law allows police to hold detainees for 24 hours if there is sufficient evidence to charge a suspect, and for up to 45 days with court approval. It requires that a trial start within six months or authorities must release the detainee. Israeli authorities continued to detain administratively (hold suspected criminals indefinitely without presenting charges or going to trial) some persons on security grounds, for renewable six-month sentences. Security offenses included alleged incitement to violence on social media. Israeli authorities held approximately 720 Palestinians in administrative detention as of October. As of April Israeli authorities held 14 minors in administrative detention. Many NGOs called for the immediate end to administrative detention. A military court must approve the detention order, and detainees may appeal this ruling to the Military Appeals Court and to the Israeli High Court of Justice (HCJ). The HCJ, however, had yet to free a Palestinian under administrative detention. On September 11, the HCJ upheld a July 2015 law permitting the forced feeding of Palestinian hunger strikers, most of whom were protesting their administrative detention sentences. There were no cases where Israeli authorities attempted to force feed a Palestinian detainee engaged in a hunger strike, including administrative detainees 19-year-old Anas Shadid and 29-year-old Ahmad Abu Farah, who entered the fourth month of their hunger strike in December. Physicians for Human Rights-Israel opposed the HCJ ruling, and local press reported that most doctors in Israel refuse to participate in force-feeding of prisoners. According to B’Tselem, as of 2014 Israeli authorities held at least 69 Palestinians in administrative detention for a year or longer.
Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Palestinian detainees faced barriers from various authorities to their ability to challenge in court the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention and obtain prompt release and compensation if found to have been unlawfully detained. Palestinians held by Israeli authorities in administrative detention have no right to trial and can only challenge their detention before a military court judge in a closed setting; in cases where the evidence substantiating the charges against a detainee is classified, they have no means of examining the evidence and, in some cases, the charges to challenge their detention. Israeli authorities delayed or deprived some Palestinian detainees of visits by their families or lawyers. The ICHR reported that arbitrary detention by the PA continued to take place without formal charges against detainees or proper procedures for detention. Detainees held in PA custody faced delays in the enforcement of court rulings regarding their detention, especially obligations to release suspects who have met bail.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The PA basic law provides for an independent judiciary. The PA generally respected judicial independence and the autonomy of the High Judicial Council and maintained authority over most court operations in the West Bank. PA-affiliated prosecutors and judges stated that IDF prohibitions on movement in the West Bank, including restrictions on the ability to transport detainees and collect witnesses, hampered their ability to dispense justice. Women served as judges in both the criminal and military court systems.
Until 2011 the PA’s military court system had jurisdiction over crimes by civilians against state security or against the security forces. After Palestinian NGOs criticized this practice, the PA mandated that civilians appear before civilian courts. PA security services pressured the PA military justice court personnel to detain civilians charged with state security violations.
The PA civil, magistrate, and religious courts handled civil suits and provided an independent and impartial judiciary in most matters, but there were unconfirmed reports of various political factions attempting to influence judicial decisions. Citizens have the right to file suits against the government but rarely did so. Seldom-used administrative remedies are available in addition to judicial remedies. Authorities did not always execute court orders.
Hamas-appointed prosecutors and judges operated courts in the Gaza Strip, although the PA considered them illegal. No women served as criminal prosecutors in the Gaza Strip.
Gaza Strip residents may file civil suits. Unofficial anecdotal reports claimed Gaza Strip courts operated independently of the Hamas government and were at times impartial. HRW reported Hamas internal security regularly tried civil cases in military courts.
Israeli law provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected civil court independence. The IDF tried Palestinians accused of security offenses (ranging from rock throwing to membership in a terrorist organization to incitement) in military courts, which some NGOs claimed were inadequate and unfair. Israeli law defines security offenses to include any offense committed under circumstances that might raise a suspicion of harm to Israel’s security and which the IDF believes may link to terrorist activity.
PA law provides for the right to a fair trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. Defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence and the right to prompt and detailed information regarding the charges with free interpretation as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals. AI reported that PA political and judicial authorities sometimes failed to ensure adherence to basic due process rights, including promptly charging suspects. Trials are public, except when the court determines PA security, foreign relations, a party’s or witness’ right to privacy, protection of a victim of a sexual offense, or a so-called honor crime requires privacy. The law provides for legal representation, at public expense if necessary, in felony cases, but only during the trial phase. Defendants have the right to be present and to consult with an attorney in a timely manner during the trial, although during the investigation phase, the defendant only has the right to observe. Defendants have the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. Defendants may review government-held evidence, confront or question witnesses against them, or present witnesses and evidence during the trial–but not during the investigation phase. Suspects and defendants in the PA justice system have a right to remain silent when interrogated by the prosecutor according to the Palestinian penal procedure law. Defendants also have a legal right to counsel during interrogation and trial. They have the right to appeal. Authorities generally observed these rights.
Hamas authorities in the Gaza Strip followed the same criminal procedure law as the PA in the West Bank but implemented the procedures inconsistently.
Israeli authorities tried Israelis living in settlements in the West Bank and in East Jerusalem under Israeli civil law in the nearest Israeli district court. Israeli civil law applied to Palestinian residents of Jerusalem. Israel subjected West Bank Palestinians held by Israeli authorities to trial in Israeli military courts. Military trials of Palestinians and others in the occupied territories provided some, but not all, of the procedural rights granted in criminal courts. The same evidentiary rules used in Israeli criminal cases apply; for example, authorities cannot base convictions solely on confessions. Indigent detainees do not automatically receive free legal counsel for military trials, but almost all detainees had counsel, in part because NGOs represented them. The military courts use Hebrew, but the defendant has the right to simultaneous interpretation at every hearing. Various human rights organizations claimed the availability and quality of Arabic interpretation was insufficient, especially since most interpreters were not professionals. Instead, they were bilingual Israelis performing mandatory military service. Defendants can appeal through the Military Court of Appeals and petition the High Court of Justice. Israeli military courts rarely acquitted Palestinians charged with security offenses, although they occasionally reduced sentences on appeal.
Several NGOs claimed Israeli military courts, which processed thousands of Palestinians in the West Bank during the year, were not equipped to adjudicate each case properly. NGOs and lawyers reported many defendants elected to plead guilty and receive a reduced sentence than to maintain innocence and go through a trial that could last months, if not more than a year. Human rights lawyers also reported the structure of military trials–in military facilities with military officers as judges, prosecutors, and court officials, and with tight security restrictions–limited defendants’ rights to public trial and access to counsel.
NGOs reported that Israeli authorities continued to use confessions signed by Palestinian minors, written in Hebrew, a language most could not read, as evidence against them in Israeli military courts. The MCW reported that authorities showed 72 percent of Palestinian minors, or made them sign, documentation written in Hebrew at the conclusion of their interrogation. Some NGOs reported that authorities often coerced these confessions during interrogations. Israeli authorities disputed these findings and reported that interrogations took place only in Arabic and that authorities submitted no indictments based solely on a confession written in Hebrew.
POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES
NGOs reported that arrests on political grounds occurred in the West Bank and Gaza. There was no reliable estimate of the number of political prisoners the PA held during the year.
Hamas detained an estimated several hundred persons, allegedly because of their political affiliation, public criticism of Hamas, or suspected collaboration with Israel, and held them for varying periods. Observers associated numerous allegations of denial of due process with these detentions. The ICRC and NGOs had limited access to these prisoners. The Palestinian NGO Addameer reported that Israel continued to detain PLC members, most of whom had some affiliation with Hamas.
Israeli authorities did not accord administrative detainees an opportunity to refute allegations or access the evidentiary material presented against them in court. Israeli authorities permitted the ICRC access to administrative detainees.
CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES
A citizen can file a suit against the PA, including on matters related to alleged abuses of human rights, but this was uncommon.
Gaza Strip residents may file civil suits, including those related to human rights violations, but this was uncommon.
Israeli law grants Palestinians the possibility of obtaining compensation in some cases of human rights violations, even when the acts were legal.
January-April 2016 Israel demolished on average 29 Palestinian-owned buildings a week, according to the UN. Photo by EPA
In rare cases the IDF offered opportunities for compensation for demolished or seized Palestinian homes (see section 1.f.), subject to an appraisal, verification, and appeals process; Palestinians generally refused such offers, citing a desire not to legitimize the confiscation. The Israeli government sometimes charged demolition fees to demolish a home; this policy at times prompted Palestinians to destroy their homes to avoid the higher costs associated with Israeli demolitions. Palestinians had difficulty verifying land ownership in Israeli courts according to Israeli definitions of land ownership.
f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The PA penal procedure code generally requires the attorney general to issue warrants for entry and searches of private property; however, Palestinian judicial officers may enter houses without a warrant when there are emergency circumstances.
There were no specific reports the PA harassed family members for alleged offenses by an individual, although NGOs reported this tactic was common.
Hamas authorities in the Gaza Strip frequently interfered arbitrarily with personal privacy, family, and home, according to reporting from local media and NGO sources. Hamas authorities reportedly searched homes and seized property without warrants. They targeted journalists, Fatah loyalists, civil society members, youth activists, and those whom Hamas security forces accused of criminal activity. Hamas forces monitored private communications systems, including telephones, e-mail, and social media sites. They demanded passwords and access to personal information and seized personal electronic equipment of detainees.
While Hamas membership did not appear to be a prerequisite for obtaining housing, education, or government services, authorities commonly reserved employment in some government positions in Gaza, such as those in the security services, for Hamas members only. In several instances Hamas detained individuals for interrogation and harassment, particularly prodemocracy youth activists, based on the purported actions of their family members.
The IDF frequently raided Palestinian homes, including in Area A, most often at night, which it stated was due to operational necessity. These incursions increased beginning in October 2015 and continued at reduced, although still higher-than-historic, levels during the year. Under occupation orders only IDF officers of lieutenant colonel rank and above can authorize entry into Palestinian private homes and institutions in the West Bank without a warrant, based upon military necessity. There were no reported cases of IDF soldiers punished for violating this requirement.
In the West Bank and East Jerusalem, the Israeli Civil Administration (or ICA, part of Israel’s Ministry of Defense), the Jerusalem municipality, and the Ministry of Interior continued to demolish homes, cisterns, and other buildings and property constructed by Palestinians in areas under Israeli civil control on the basis that these buildings lacked Israeli planning licenses. Authorities demolished 1,085 Palestinian structures in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, more than twice the number demolished in 2015 (536) and higher than any year on record since 2009, when OCHA first began comprehensive record keeping on demolitions. Authorities did not offer compensation in these cases. Properties close to the separation barrier, IDF military installations, or firing ranges also remained subject to a heightened threat of demolition or confiscation. On July 26, the Jerusalem Municipality and Ministry of Interior demolished 19 Palestinian structures, including 13 homes in the East Jerusalem neighborhoods of Qalandiya, Issawiya, and Ras al-Amud for lacking building permits. According to the United Nations, these demolitions were the largest one-day total in East Jerusalem since at least 2009. Residents and NGOs reported authorities demolished the 11 homes in Qalandiya because they were too close to the separation barrier.
NGOs expressed great concern over the increase in demolitions in Area C of the West Bank. The ICA destroyed 896 structures in Area C in 220 incidents, displacing 1,326 persons and affecting many more. Of the 896 structures destroyed, 301 were donor-funded. By comparison the ICA destroyed 453 structures in the West Bank in 2015. The ICA targeted not only residential structures (including natural caves), but also commercial structures and infrastructure such as roads, water cisterns and pipes, and solar panels. In one Area C village, Khirbet Tana near Nablus, the ICA carried out four demolition operations, destroying between 23 and 53 structures and displacing between 12 and 87 persons in each incident; villagers built many of the affected structures from the debris of previous demolitions.
In February the ICA demolished 43 structures and displaced 59 persons in a one-day operation in Ein ar-Rashash village near Ramallah. In a majority of demolitions in Area C, the ICA claimed that structures lacked Israeli building permits and/or were illegally located in a closed military zone. Israeli authorities declared large parts of Area C as closed military zones after 1967.
The IDF continued its policy of “punitive demolitions.” Israeli authorities partially or fully demolished 29 family homes of Palestinians who carried out attacks on Israelis in Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Israel since 2014. These actions often also rendered dwellings near the demolished homes uninhabitable and displaced 142 Palestinians, including 58 children, according to the United Nations. NGOs widely criticized the punitive demolitions as collective punishment. Some NGOs and Palestinians criticized Israel for failing to apply the punitive demolition policy equally by also demolishing the homes of the families of three Israelis convicted in the 2014 abduction and murder of 16-year-old Muhammad Abu Khdeir from East Jerusalem. Israeli Ministry of Defense officials in a letter to Abu Khdeir’s family claimed that the deterrent effect of home demolitions would not be relevant in the Jewish community.
For example, on April 4, Israeli authorities demolished three homes in Qabatiya, near Jenin, that belonged to the families of Palestinian attackers, whom authorities shot and killed when they attempted an attack near the Old City’s Damascus Gate in East Jerusalem on February 3. The demolitions displaced 19 persons, including seven children, and damaged an adjacent commercial store. On August 15, Israeli authorities demolished the Bani Na’im (near Hebron) home of the family of the 17-year-old Palestinian attacker who stabbed to death 13-year-old Israeli Hallel Ariel in the Kiryat Arba settlement on June 30. Authorities partially demolished the first floor of the house, rendering the rest of the building uninhabitable and causing minor damage to surrounding homes.
Palestinians and human rights NGOs reported the IDF was largely unresponsive to Israeli settlers’ actions against Palestinians in the West Bank, including destruction of Palestinian property and agriculture (see section 6, National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities).
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
The PA basic law provides every person the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and expression, orally, in writing, or through any other form. PA laws do not specifically provide for freedom of press. PA security forces in the West Bank and members of the Hamas security apparatus in the Gaza Strip continued to restrict freedom of speech and press over the last year–most notably through harassment, intimidation, and arrest.
Israeli law provides for certain protections to Palestinian residents of Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza. Different legal standards and protections existed for Israeli citizens residing in the West Bank compared with Palestinian West Bank residents. Israeli authorities continued to restrict press coverage and place limits on certain forms of expression in the Palestinian Occupied Territories–particularly by restricting Palestinian journalists’ rights of movement and through violence, arrests, and intimidation.
Freedom of Speech and Expression: Although no PA law prohibits criticism of the government, media reports indicated PA authorities arrested journalists and social media activists who criticized, or covered events that criticized, the PA and PA officials. Additionally, there were several complaints during the year that the PA prevented journalists from covering events in the West Bank that it claimed were biased in favor of Hamas.
In the Gaza Strip, individuals publicly criticizing Hamas authorities risked reprisal by Hamas, including arrest, interrogation, seizure of property, and harassment. Media practitioners accused of publicly criticizing Hamas, including civil society and youth activists, social media advocates, and journalists, faced punitive measures, including raids on their facilities and residences, arbitrary detention, and denial of permission to travel outside Gaza.
De facto Hamas authorities imposed restrictions on the work of foreign journalists in the Gaza Strip, including lengthy interrogations of journalists at entry points to the Gaza Strip and refusal or long delays in providing permits to enter the Gaza strip. Some of this harassment appeared to be punitive reaction to what Hamas perceived as critical reporting.
In Jerusalem Israeli authorities prohibited displays of Palestinian political symbols–such as the Palestinian flag–and public expressions of anti-Israeli sentiment, punishable by fines or imprisonment. Israeli authorities, however, did not always enforce these restrictions. Israeli security officials prohibited PLO- or PA-affiliated groups from meeting in Jerusalem. They also restricted coverage of incidents that might reflect badly on Israeli policies.
For instance, on January 17, Israeli authorities cancelled a scheduled event at Al-Hakawati Palestinian National Theater in East Jerusalem entitled “CPR for Palestinian Cultural Institutions in East Jerusalem” because of the planned attendance of the PA minister of culture.
On February 2, the Israeli intelligence service detained Nader Bibars, director of Good Morning Jerusalem, a show produced in Jerusalem by Palestinian television. Authorities reportedly interrogated him on the political discussions on the show, many of which were critical of Israeli policies.
Press and Media Freedoms: Across East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza, independent media operated under restrictions. The PA Ministry of Information requested that Israeli reporters covering events in the West Bank register with the ministry. According to the PA deputy minister of information, the ministry provides permits to Israeli journalists only if they do not live in a settlement. While officially the PA was open to Israeli reporters covering events in the West Bank, Palestinian journalists reportedly pressured Israeli journalists at times not to attend PA events.
While the PA took steps to permit Hamas publications in the West Bank, it also imposed restrictions on a Hamas television outlet. In 2014 the PA lifted a West Bank distribution ban on the pro-Hamas Filistin and al-Risala newspapers. Israeli authorities, however, forced the Ramallah-based printing house to stop printing and distributing these pro-Hamas newspapers in the West Bank. PA security services circulated instructions to Palestinian communications companies to stop providing all services to Hamas-affiliated Al-Aqsa television.
In many instances throughout the year, Israeli authorities and PA security services arrested West Bank-based journalists working for Hamas or Islamic Jihad media outlets, including Al-Aqsa satellite television station, Filistin newspaper, and Palestine Today Television.
Earlier Hamas had modestly loosened some restrictions on PA-affiliated or pro-PA publications in the Gaza Strip, although significant restrictions remained. In 2014 Hamas lifted its ban on three West Bank-based newspapers–al-Quds, al-Ayyam, and al-Hayat al-Jadida. Hamas authorities permitted broadcast within Gaza of reporting and interviews featuring PA officials. Hamas allowed, with some restrictions, the operation of non-Hamas-affiliated broadcast media in the Gaza Strip. For instance, the PA-supported Palestine TV reportedly operated in the Gaza Strip.
Hamas sought to restrict the movement of journalists in Gaza–both at crossing points and within the area. On August 22, the Foreign Press Association issued a statement expressing concern over restrictions imposed by Hamas on the work of foreign journalists in the Gaza Strip. It claimed a number of international journalists complained of intrusive questioning as they entered the Gaza Strip and when applying for residence permits. In a few cases, authorities refused those reporters permits, provided permits of untenably brief duration, or told them their permits were conditional on not working with specific Palestinian journalists.
Within areas of the West Bank where Israel controls access, Palestinian journalists complained the Israeli authorities restricted their freedom of movement and ability to cover stories. The IDF does not recognize Palestinian press credentials or credentials from the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ). Few Palestinians held Israeli press credentials following the Israeli revocation of the vast majority of their credentials during the Second Intifada, which began in 2000. In October the Palestinian Center for Human Rights issued an annual report covering press freedoms in 2015-16 documenting what it claimed was a significant escalation of violations by Israeli authorities against media personnel.
Israel does not issue Palestinian journalists special permits to travel into Jerusalem or west of the separation barrier. Palestinian journalists who were able to obtain permits on other grounds, as well as Palestinian Jerusalemite journalists, reported incidents of harassment, racism, and occasional violence when seeking to cover news in Jerusalem, especially in the Old City and its vicinity.
For example, media reported that Israeli police attacked freelance photojournalist Said Rukon on April 30 as he covered the funeral procession of a former Palestinian prisoner in the Old City of Jerusalem. Rukon stated that an Israeli police officer approached him from behind while he was taking photographs of the event and pepper sprayed him directly in the face, causing Rukon to lose consciousness briefly.
While Israel does not exercise control within Gaza, it detained or interrogated journalists departing or returning from the area. On April 23, authorities arrested Palestinian journalist and deputy head of the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate Omar Nazzal at an Israeli-Jordanian border crossing during his travel to Sarajevo to attend a meeting of the European Federation of Journalists. As of September he remained in administrative detention without charge. According to the IFJ, authorities had administratively detained three Palestinian journalists since the start of the year.
Violence and Harassment: There were numerous reports that PA security forces harassed, detained (occasionally with violence), prosecuted, and fined journalists during the year. Moreover, PA security forces also at times reportedly demanded deletion of footage showing security personnel.
Some Palestinian journalists claimed the PA obstructed the activities of media organizations with Hamas sympathies and limited media coverage critical of the PA.
In November 2015 the PA ordered (but did not enforce) the closure of the Ramallah office of Qatar-funded al-Araby al-Jadid newspaper, accusing the newspaper of lacking proper licensing requirements and for publishing malicious news about the PA security services. On June 8, the PA called for the interrogation of Mohammed Abed Rabbo, a correspondent for the newspaper, in response to an investigative article he wrote. PA security forces interrogated Rabbo, but authorities released him without charge.
The PA also had an inconsistent record of protecting Israeli and international journalists from harassment by Palestinian civilians or their own personnel.
In the Gaza Strip, Hamas at times arrested, harassed, and pressured journalists, sometimes using violence. Reportedly, Hamas summoned and detained Palestinian and foreign journalists for questioning to intimidate them. Hamas also constrained journalists’ freedom of movement during the year, attempting to ban access to some official buildings as well as to several prodemocracy protests.
On January 3, Hamas police arrested Palestinian reporter Ayman Alul, who worked for an Iraqi television station, and held him for eight days for “disturbing public order and manipulating public opinion.” HRW reported that authorities tortured Alul during his detention. Hamas authorities released Alul several days later, after he signed an agreement and announced he would no longer cover political developments in Gaza.
Furthermore, on September 1, Hamas authorities arrested Palestinian journalist Mohamed Othman, who worked in Gaza for the pan-Arab television channel Al Araby Al Jadeed and a foreign news website. Although authorities gave no specific reasons for his arrest, Othman wrote investigative reports that often criticized Hamas. Authorities released him the following day pending further investigation, and authorities again released him without charge following a subsequent arrest for questioning on September 5.
Throughout the year there were dozens of reports of Israeli actions that prevented Palestinian or Arab-Israeli journalists from covering news stories in the West Bank, Gaza, and Jerusalem. These actions included harassment by Israeli soldiers and acts of violence against journalists. Palestinian journalists also claimed that Israeli security forces detained Palestinian journalists and forced them to delete images and videos under threat of violence or arrest/administrative detention.
On February 3, the Israeli police reportedly physically attacked Ali Yasin, a cameraman for Palestinian TV, as he covered events near the Old City of Jerusalem.
On May 23, the Foreign Press Association in Jerusalem criticized what it described as a “humiliating security check” imposed on Atef Safadi, an Arab photographer who worked for the European Press Photo Agency and held Israeli government-issued credentials. Safadi was the pool photographer for foreign media agencies assigned to cover a meeting between the Israeli and French prime ministers. Israeli security officers asked him to remove his clothing as part of security checks.
There were many reports of Palestinian journalists injured by rubber-coated steel bullets and live fire or tear gas while covering demonstrations and clashes between Palestinian protesters and Israeli security forces. On May 6, IDF soldiers shot Palestinian TV reporter Ahmad Othman with two rubber bullets as he covered a demonstration in Qalqilia against settlement activities in Kufur Qaddoum in the West Bank. IDF soldiers also shot freelance cameraman Samir Deik in his shoulder and leg with four rubber bullets at the same demonstration. Palestinian journalists asserted that the IDF targeted them to deter them from covering anti-Israeli demonstrations. On October 9, an Israeli soldier shot photographer Majdi Ishtayeh of the Associated Press with a rubber bullet while he covered clashes north of Jerusalem.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: The PA prohibits calls for violence, displays of arms, and racist slogans in PA-funded and controlled official media. There were no confirmed reports of any legal action against, or prosecution of, any person publishing items counter to these PA rules. Media throughout the occupied territories reported practicing self-censorship. There were reports of PA authorities seeking to erase images or footage from journalists’ cameras or cell phones.
On June 15, the Palestinian police physically attacked journalist Jihad Qasem and cameraman Amir Hamayel of Wattan TV and prevented them from covering police activity in Al Am’ari refugee camp near Ramallah. Police asked Qasem to unlock his personal mobile phone, but when he refused, police arrested him and Hamayel and took them to a nearby police station, where authorities eventually released them.
On September 16, Palestinian Authority security personnel attacked a group of journalists as they were covering a political march in the city of Jenin. The security agents forced some of the journalists to erase the recording in their cameras.
In Gaza civil society organizations reported Hamas censored television programs and written content, such as newspapers and books. For example, on May 24, Hamas security services interrogated Jamil Moamar of official Palestinian Radio regarding an article he wrote about financial corruption within the Hamas leadership.
While Israeli authorities retain the right to review and approve in advance the printing of all Jerusalem-based Arabic publications for material perceived as a security concern (as they also do with Israeli media), anecdotal evidence suggested Israeli authorities did not actively review the Jerusalem-based al-Quds newspaper or other Jerusalem-based Arabic publications. Jerusalem-based publications reported that, based on previous experiences with Israeli censorship, they learned what the censors considered acceptable and self-censored publications accordingly.
The government of Israel continued to raid and close Palestinian radio stations primarily under allegations they incited violence against Israeli civilians or security services. Israeli military laws govern incitement in the West Bank. NGOs and other observers said these regulations were vaguely worded and open to interpretation. The IDF generally cited two laws in its military orders when closing Palestinian radio stations–the 1945 Defense Emergency Regulations and the 2009 Order Concerning Security provisions. These laws generally define incitement as an attempt to influence public opinion in a manner that could harm public safety or public order. Israeli civil law applies to Israeli citizens and Palestinian residents of Jerusalem and provides a higher threshold for determining incitement. The penal code, for example, specifies that incitement relates only to incidents in which a person published something intended to incite to violence or terrorism and under the condition that there is a concrete possibility that this publication will lead to the committing of the act of violence or terrorism.
On August 31, the IDF raided and confiscated equipment from the Hebron-area Al-Sanabel radio station and issued a three-month closure notice (expiring November 30) on accusations of “repeatedly broadcasting inciting content.” This instance marked the fourth time in the last year Israeli forces unilaterally entered Area A to close a Palestinian radio station. In this instance, as in others, the government declined to cite specific content of concern. As of December the station was operating.
In November 2015 the Israeli government shut three radio stations in Hebron and confiscated broadcasting equipment. In November 2015 the IDF closed Fatah-affiliated Hurriyah Radio, al-Khalil Radio, and raided and closed Dream Radio. All three stations closed in November 2015 resumed operating by year’s end. The IDF threatened two other Palestinian radio stations with closure for alleged incitement to violence. In November 2015 al-Nas Radio, one of the two leading stations in Jenin, in the northern West Bank, received an IDF warning letter to cease and desist incitement to violence. The previous day Hebron-based independent Radio One FM received the same IDF letter, but the Israeli authorities took no further action against the two stations.
In the past two years, Palestinian local broadcaster Wattan TV faced additional setbacks in its legal efforts to retrieve its foreign-funded equipment confiscated in 2012 by the IDF from its Ramallah Studio (in Area A of the West Bank). In 2014 the Israeli High Court of Justice rejected Wattan’s petition challenging the confiscation of its equipment, following several hearings during which authorities did not allow Wattan’s lawyers, allegedly for security reasons, to view the evidence the IDF presented against Wattan. Attorneys for Wattan TV contended they proved the broadcasts posed no threat to communications in Israel (such as airport communications) and complained about an opaque legal process that allowed the government to withhold testimony from the parties to the case based on security concerns. Israeli authorities took no further action on the petition during the year.
Libel/Slander Laws: There were some accusations of slander or libel against journalists in the West Bank as well as suppression of journalists on national security grounds. For example, on July 25, the PA Preventive Security Organization arrested Palestinian journalist Mohammad Khabisa and accused him of defamation of an official agency and publishing false and slandering news. Khabisa, who worked for the Turkish Anadolu News Agency, published an article on his Facebook page criticizing what he described as the disproportionate size of the budget for the PA’s official WAFA News Agency. Khabisa’s report cited figures published by the PA Ministry of Finance. Authorities released him on the following day.
In Gaza there were reports during the 2014 conflict that Hamas used security justifications or slander or libel laws to censor public criticism.
Israeli authorities used security justifications or slander or libel laws to censor public criticism, particularly for West Bank-based Palestinian radio stations.
Internet was generally accessible throughout the West Bank and Gaza. Frequent power outages in Gaza, however, interrupted accessibility. Israel also did not permit the import of 3G and newer telecommunications technologies into the West Bank and Gaza, significantly limiting internet access by mobile devices.
While there were no PA restrictions on access to the internet, there were reports that the PA actively monitored social media, pressuring and harassing activists and journalists. There were multiple instances when the PA arrested or detained Palestinians because of their posts on social media. For example, on January 24, PA General Intelligence service arrested freelance activist Abdallah Bani Odeh for his writings on Facebook. Authorities detained Odeh for three days, during which he alleged authorities beat him and accused him of incitement on social media and leading suspicious activities in Palestinian universities.
Gaza-based Palestinian civil society organizations and social media practitioners stated Hamas authorities monitored the internet activities of Gaza Strip residents and took action to intimidate or harass them.
For instance, on January 1, authorities in the Hamas public prosecutor’s office summoned Ramzi Hirzallah, an employee of a currency exchange business and former Hamas member, and told him the de facto Interior Ministry filed a complaint, alleging he had slandered ministry officials on Facebook. On January 3, Hamas security officials arrested him and confiscated his cell phone and computers. According to HRW, Hamas authorities interrogated and harassed Hirzallah in detention and initially prevented human rights authorities from meeting with him. Hamas authorities released him a few days later but told him he could express criticism but not insult the Hamas de facto government.
Israeli authorities did not restrict access to the internet. They monitored Palestinians’ online activities, however, and arrested a number of Palestinians for incitement stemming from their posts on social media. For example, on March 9, Israeli authorities arrested Sami Al Sai, editor and correspondent of Al Fajer Al Jadeed Television, at his home in Tulkarem, in the West Bank. An Israeli military court sentenced Al Sai to nine months in prison for inciting violence.
ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS
In the West Bank, the PA did not restrict academic freedom, and there were no known reports of PA censorship of school curricula, plays, films, or exhibits in the West Bank. Palestinian law provides for academic freedom, but individuals or officials from academic institutions reportedly self-censored curricula. Faculty members reported there were PA security elements present on university campuses among the student body and faculty, which may have led to self-censorship.
Public and UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East) schools in Gaza followed the same curriculum as West Bank schools. Palestinians in Gaza reported that generally there was limited interference by Hamas at the primary, secondary, or university levels. In Gaza public schools, Hamas reportedly interfered in teaching methodologies or curriculum deemed to violate Islamic identity, the religion, or “traditions,” as defined by the de facto Hamas authority. Hamas interfered if there were reports of classes or activities that mixed genders. UNRWA reported no such Hamas interference in its Gaza schools.
Hamas authorities sought to disrupt some educational, cultural, and international exchange programs. They routinely required Palestinians to obtain exit permits prior to departing Gaza. Students participating in certain cultural and education programs (including programs sponsored by foreign governments and international organizations) faced questioning from de facto Hamas authorities, for example, on the purpose and duration of travel and the process for coordinating the visas. Hamas authorities denied exit permits for some travelers through the Rafah and Erez crossings.
Hamas authorities also interfered in local cultural programs. There were continued reports the de facto government suppressed cultural expression that might offend Hamas’ interpretation of religious and cultural values and identity.
Israeli restrictions on movement adversely affected academic institutions and access to education in the West Bank. The Israeli government does not allow students from Gaza to obtain permits to study in universities in the West Bank. Israeli checkpoints created difficulties for students and faculty commuting to schools and university campuses within the West Bank. In numerous instances students and educators reported being late or missing days of classes due to significant delays at checkpoints (see section 2.d.). Additionally, Palestinian students and educators reported harassment and physical assault by Israeli settlers when going to school in areas such as Hebron, Nablus, Salfeet, Qalqilya, and Abu Dis. Local press reported Israeli authorities detained Palestinian students for taking part in demonstrations and for allegedly throwing stones at IDF personnel.
Palestinian government officials and Palestinian university officials accused the ISF of attacking university campuses, especially in areas close to Israeli settlements during the year. Officials from the Al-Quds University Abu Dis campus continued to accuse Israeli soldiers of harassing Palestinian university students on campus and attempting to provoke students in confrontations.
Throughout the year Al-Quds University Administration accused the ISF of routinely firing tear gas onto the main campus, impacting students and faculty. In January contacts claimed that several hundred ISF officers entered the Abu Dis campus of Al Quds University, detained six night guards, and raided a student office in the Department of Islamic Studies, as well as the offices of four student political groups. The ISF officers removed computer hard drives and boxes of papers from these student offices and broke copy machines, doors, locks, chairs, and shelves. Observers said the ISF broke into four different areas of the university during the year and ransacked each location. In November a similar incident occurred where the ISF broke into the campus and raided an exhibit organized by the Islamic students association.
Additionally, the Palestine Technical University Khadoori (PTUK), colocated in Tulkarem with an active Israeli military facility, continued to be the site of clashes between students and IDF personnel. On March 15, observers at the university stated that the ISF entered the campus twice conducting “military maneuvers.” ISF personnel entered the engineering building and the department of agriculture and confiscated pamphlets and other documents. On November 17, PTUK staff members issued a press release noting that Israeli soldiers forcefully entered their computer center and confiscated campus video surveillance tape footage. The Arab American University in Jenin also accused the ISF of forcibly entering the campus on March 22 and confiscating materials.
The Israeli High Court ordered the Jerusalem Municipality in 2011 to correct the deficit of classrooms in East Jerusalem schools by the 2016-17 school year; however, according to local media, the deadline passed, and there was still a need for more than 2,000 classrooms. According to UN estimates, the city needed to build approximately 100 new classrooms annually in East Jerusalem to keep pace with population growth. Academic contacts noted that the Israeli government prevented copies of the Palestinian Authority curriculum from entering Jerusalem for use at East Jerusalem schools and that the Jerusalem Municipality instead sent an edited/censored version of the Palestinian Authority curriculum that deleted information on Palestinian history and culture. Local officials complained to Western diplomats about reported recent efforts by the Israeli Ministry of Education to tie funding of Palestinian schools to the use of Israeli curriculum and to “Israelize” the curriculum.
Israeli forces conducted raids of some East Jerusalem schools during the year, including an incident on October 17, when Israeli forces raided the Dar al-Aytam school located in Jerusalem’s Old City and first detained Samir Jibril, the director of the Palestinian Ministry of Education department, which oversees all Palestinian schools in East Jerusalem. Then they detained 10 Palestinian students for throwing rocks but released them the same day.
During the year the Israeli Supreme Court continued to uphold with few exceptions the 2000 Israeli ban on students from the Gaza Strip attending West Bank universities. Students in the Gaza Strip generally did not apply to West Bank universities because they understood Israeli authorities would deny permit requests. During the year Israeli authorities several times prevented students at schools adjacent to or located within the Haram Al-Sharif /Temple Mount from reaching their classrooms.
Israeli travel restrictions also prevented an increased number of students in the West Bank and Gaza from participating in cultural programming within the Palestinian Territories and study programs abroad. In other cases delays in permit approvals by Israeli officials caused Palestinians to miss the travel dates for their exchange programs abroad or to miss cultural programming in Jerusalem or the West Bank. In some instances authorities asked students to submit to security interviews prior to receiving permits. In the past two years, Israeli authorities detained some students indefinitely without charge following their security interview, which caused some students to refuse to attend security interviews due to fear of detention and made them unable to obtain a travel permit.
The travel challenges were particularly acute for Palestinians from Gaza, since Israeli authorities often denied travel permits through the Erez crossing. NGOs and international organizations reported a more than 50 percent increase in Israeli denials of Palestinian travel permits from Gaza, which prevented Palestinians from transiting to Jerusalem for visa interviews, the Allenby Bridge to Jordan for onward travel, and the West Bank for work or education. Denials increased for staff of international organizations and for some categories of medical care inside Israel, according to Israeli NGOs. According to Israel’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, only 46 percent of exit permit requests were approved during the year, compared with 80 percent of exit permit requests that were approved in 2013. Many NGOs believed most of the security holds that Israeli authorities placed on Palestinians seeking to exit Gaza for work, education, or family events were arbitrary. Israeli border officials increased the detention and interrogation of Palestinians from Gaza seeking business permits. Because Egyptian authorities also maintained the closure of the Rafah crossing, except for special categories of travelers for 45 days during the year (eight days exclusively for Hajj pilgrims), Palestinians from Gaza remained virtually confined to Gaza.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
FREEDOM OF ASSEMBLY
Palestinian law permits public meetings, processions, and assemblies within legal limits. It requires permits for rallies, demonstrations, and large cultural events, which the PA rarely denied. Both the PA and Hamas security forces selectively restricted or dispersed protests and demonstrations during the year. For example, in March PA security forces erected roadblocks and checkpoints to try to prevent supporters of a teachers’ strike from reaching protests in Hebron and Ramallah and arrested several dozen demonstrators at the pro-teacher rallies.
According to a Hamas decree, any public assembly or celebration in the Gaza Strip requires prior permission, in contradiction to the PA basic law. Hamas generally did not permit Fatah members to hold rallies. Activists reported Hamas officials harassed women in public and impeded their ability to assemble peacefully.
Hamas officials also attempted to impede potential criticism of Hamas policies by imposing arbitrary demands for the approval of meetings on political or social topics.
ACRI continued to report arbitrary restrictions on the freedom of assembly for Palestinians in Jerusalem, including the use of unlawful arrests to intimidate demonstrators. On March 18, police and Border Guard officers arrested three Palestinians in East Jerusalem’s Issawiya neighborhood for alleged disorderly conduct. Israeli authorities later admitted in court that they detained the suspects to prevent them from staging a peaceful protest during the day of the Jerusalem marathon, as part of its route ran adjacent to Issawiya in East Jerusalem. On August 24, Israeli police and Border Guard officers forcibly dispersed a group of demonstrators outside the Old City’s Damascus Gate. They were protesting peacefully in solidarity with Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike.
The IDF continued to use a 1967 military order that effectively prohibited Palestinian demonstrations and limited freedom of speech in the West Bank. The order stipulates that a “political” gathering of 10 or more persons requires a permit from the regional commander of military forces–which the commander rarely granted. The penalty for a breach of the order is up to 10 years’ imprisonment or a heavy fine. In February an Israeli military court indicted Palestinian human rights activist Issa Amro on 18 charges dating back to 2010. Human rights organizations stated Amro’s actions during these incidents were consistent with nonviolent civil disobedience, although military law prohibits them in the West Bank, including obstructing or insulting a soldier, participating in an unpermitted rally, and “incitement” (encouraging others to engage in civil disobedience). The trial, which began November 23, continued through the end of the year.
Various NGOs noted that the IDF did not respect freedom of assembly and often responded to demonstrators aggressively. Israeli security forces sometimes used force, including live fire, against Palestinians and others involved in demonstrations in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, resulting in the deaths of Palestinian civilians (see section 1.a.). The IDF used force particularly against weekly protests in or near Israeli settlements located in Area C. The IDF responded to protests with military crowd-control techniques or force, using tear gas and stun grenades to push back protesters, which NGOs alleged often amounted to using nonlethal force in a lethal manner. On July 1, OCHA reported that a 63-year-old Palestinian man died from tear gas inhalation, and the IDF injured another 21 at Qalandiya checkpoint. A group of Palestinians without permits had gathered at the checkpoint because they wanted to enter Jerusalem to pray during Ramadan, and when they refused to leave, the ISF used tear gas canisters and sound grenades to disperse them. Some Palestinians threw stones at the ISF; one soldier was reportedly injured.
The IDF Central Command declared areas of the West Bank to be “closed military zones,” where it prohibited public assembly. It maintained the same designation for areas adjacent to the separation barrier in the villages of Bil’in and Ni’lin every Friday during the hours in which Palestinian, Israeli, and international activists regularly demonstrated. There were frequent skirmishes between the protesters and IDF personnel. IDF and Israeli police stationed on the West Bank side of the barrier during weekly protests in those villages responded to rock throwing with tear gas, stun grenades, skunk water, sound bombs, and rubber-coated bullets.
FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION
In the West Bank, PA law allows freedom of association, but authorities sometimes limited it, including for labor organizations (see section 7.a.). The PA froze the assets of Future for Palestine, an NGO established by former PA prime minister Salaam Fayyad, in June 2015 for alleged money laundering. In December 2015 the High Court of Justice dismissed the charges against Fayyad and the NGO and restored the assets.
In the Gaza Strip, Hamas attempted to prevent various organizations from operating, including some it accused of being Fatah-affiliated, as well as private businesses and NGOs it deemed to be in violation of its interpretation of Islamic social norms. The Hamas “Ministry of Interior” has supervisory authority over all NGOs, allowing the ministry to request documents. There were instances when the de facto authorities temporarily closed NGOs that did not comply. Activists reported women’s rights groups faced significant pressure from Hamas.
Israel maintained prohibitions on some prominent Jerusalem-based Palestinian institutions, such as the Jerusalem Chamber of Commerce and the Orient House, which was the de facto PLO office in Jerusalem. Israeli authorities renewed a military closure order, initiated in 2001, for these and other institutions on the grounds they violated the Oslo Accords by operating on behalf of the PA in Jerusalem.
c. Freedom of Religion
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons
The PA basic law provides for freedom of movement, and the PA generally did not restrict freedom of movement. The basic law does not specify regulations regarding foreign travel, emigration, or repatriation.
Hamas authorities in the Gaza Strip restricted some foreign travel and required exit permits for Palestinians departing through the Gaza-Israel Erez crossing. Hamas also prevented some Palestinians from exiting Gaza because of the purpose of their travel or to coerce a behavior change, such as the payment of taxes and fines. There were some reports unmarried women faced restrictions on their travel.
The ISF regularly imposed the most significant restrictions on Palestinians’ movement within the occupied territories and foreign travel and, citing security, increased these restrictions even further at times.
Barriers to movement included checkpoints; a separation barrier that divides the majority of the West Bank from Israel, East Jerusalem, and other parts of the West Bank (as the barrier cuts up to 11 miles east of the Green Line in some places, isolating an estimated 25,000 Palestinians); internal road closures; and restrictions on the movement of persons and goods into and out of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Restrictions on movement affected virtually all aspects of life, including access to places of worship, employment, agricultural lands, schools, and hospitals, as well as the conduct of journalistic, humanitarian, and NGO activities.
In April Israeli authorities temporarily eased the naval blockade off the Gaza Strip coast, extending fishing limits from six to nine nautical miles. In June, however, the temporary extension expired, and authorities did not renew it. Authorities frequently fired at fishing boats that moved within the six-mile mark or towed them to Israeli ports and detained fishermen.
The PA, Hamas, and the Israeli government generally cooperated with humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons and refugees; however, Israeli government officials imposed controls on the entry and exit of goods and persons to and from Gaza and constrained UNRWA’s ability to operate freely in Gaza. AI and HRW also reported that the Israeli government denied their employees permits to enter Gaza. Humanitarian organizations also raised concerns about the “shrinking operational space” for international NGOs in Gaza following the Israeli government’s publication of allegations against staff of international NGOs for allegedly diverting goods and funds to Hamas. In one such case, Israeli authorities arrested an employee of an international NGO at the Erez Crossing returning to Gaza from Israel and held him for 21 days before he had access to a lawyer of his choosing. He claimed that during those 21 days, he was physically and psychologically tortured and gave a false confession under duress, according to representatives of the NGO. Israeli authorities held the employee in detention for 50 days before filing charges against him. Authorities continued to postpone the trial date and, as of year’s end, the defense had not received the evidence file from the prosecution.
Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: The Israeli government obstructed refugee access to UNRWA-provided humanitarian assistance in the West Bank. Essential infrastructure in the Gaza Strip, including water and sanitation services, continued in a state of severe disrepair, due in part to Israeli restrictions on importing spare parts and components. UNRWA reported that food security continued to deteriorate due to the effect of Operation Protective Edge on livelihoods, tunnel closures, and increases in food prices.
Israeli government restrictions on import of certain commodities considered dual use continued to impede UNRWA operations. In August UNRWA reported that an updated dual-use goods list issued by the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories restricted wood more than three-eighths’ inch thick, which Israeli authorities claimed Hamas was using to build smuggling and infiltration tunnels. UNRWA expected this new restriction would limit production of doors for infrastructure projects and furniture for its schools in the Gaza Strip.
During the year Israeli authorities imposed movement restrictions on Palestinian Refugee UNRWA staff, resulting in the loss of 157 UNRWA workdays in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
Israeli security operations in the West Bank and East Jerusalem led to both injuries and fatalities among seven Palestinian refugees, including one refugee minor, according to UNRWA. ISF personnel killed 30 refugees, according to UNRWA, during security operations. Most injuries occurred as the result of Israeli authorities’ use of live ammunition. There were 364 reported injuries from Israeli authorities in West Bank refugee camps, according to UNRWA, of which 156 were by live ammunition.
On March 1, the ISF fatally shot 21-year-old Nahed Fawzi Fayez Mteir and 21-year-old Iyad ‘Omar Mahmoud Sajdeyyah during clashes in Qalandia refugee camp after an IDF vehicle accidentally entered the camp, sparking clashes with camp residents that reportedly included the use of Molotov cocktails and gunfire. Mteir and Sajdeyyah were throwing stones at the ISF during the clashes, although reports varied as to whether they were actually throwing stones when they were shot. Other Palestinians also threw Molotov cocktails and improvised explosive devices at Israeli forces.
On February 10, the IDF shot and killed 15-year-old Omar Yusef Isma’il Madi at the entrance of al-Arrub refugee camp in the Hebron district, during a clash in which Palestinians were throwing rocks at IDF soldiers.
On August 16, IDF soldiers shot and killed 19-year-old Muhammad Yusef Saber Abu Hachach (Hashhash) during a large-scale IDF operation in Fawwar Refugee Camp in the West Bank governorate of Hebron.
In-country Movement: PA authorities did not interfere with movement within the West Bank.
Hamas authorities in general did not enforce routine restrictions on internal movement within the Gaza Strip, although there were some areas to which Hamas prohibited access. Increased pressure to conform to Hamas’s interpretation of Islamic norms generally restricted movement by women.
IDF soldiers routinely detained Palestinians residing in Gaza who had permits to enter Israel and conduct business for hours and subjected them to interrogations and strip searches at Israeli-controlled checkpoints.
The Israeli government imposed significant restrictions on movement in the West Bank and between the West Bank and Jerusalem. Israeli authorities frequently prohibited travel between some or all West Bank towns and deployed “flying” (temporary) checkpoints. Palestinians who lived in affected villages stated that such “internal closures” continued to have negative economic effects. During periods of potential unrest including on some major Israeli, Jewish, and Muslim holidays, Israeli authorities enacted “comprehensive external closures,” which precluded Palestinians from leaving the West Bank. Israeli authorities also imposed movement restrictions on entire Palestinian towns and villages.
For example, from February 4 to 6, Israeli authorities blocked the main and bypass road entrances to Qabatiya, near Jenin, while conducting arrest and punitive home demolition operations in the village. The Israeli government stated that such collective restrictions took place only if a military commander was convinced that there was a military necessity for the action and that the imposition on the everyday lives of Palestinian civilians was not disproportionate. While the exact number and placement of closures in the West Bank fluctuated, at the end of 2015, OCHA reported 543 total closures, including permanently staffed checkpoints, partial checkpoints, earth mounds, road closures, road blocks/barriers, earth walls, and trenches.
Israeli authorities restricted or entirely prohibited Palestinian travel on 41 roads and sections of roads throughout the West Bank, including many of the main traffic arteries, covering a total of more than 400 miles of roadway, upon which Israelis may travel freely. The IDF also imposed temporary curfews confining Palestinians to their homes during arrest operations. During the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, Israeli authorities eased restrictions on Palestinians entering Jerusalem and Israel, allowing Muslim men over the age of 35 who applied for and obtained special prayer permits, in addition to Muslim men over 45 without permits, to visit the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount.
The Israeli government continued construction of the separation barrier, which ran largely inside the West Bank and along parts of the Green Line (the 1949 Armistice line). Israeli authorities extended the barrier in the Cremisan Valley near Bethlehem and began land clearing to extend the barrier through Walajah village also near Bethlehem. By use of special permits, Israel continued to restrict movement and development near the barrier, including access by some international organizations. NGOs reported that Israeli authorities allowed many Palestinians, separated by the barrier from their land, access to their property only a few days each year.
Private security companies employed by the Israeli government controlled many points of access through the barrier, and international organizations and local human rights groups claimed these companies did not respond to requests to allow movement of goods and officials through the barrier. Many Palestinians and NGOs reported there were higher levels of mistreatment at checkpoints run by security contractors than at those staffed by IDF soldiers.
The barrier affected the commute of children to school in Jerusalem and some farmers’ access to land and water resources. Palestinian farmers continued to report difficulty accessing their lands in Israeli-controlled Area C and in the seam zone, the closed area between the separation barrier and the Green Line. The NGO Machsom Watch reported that numerous Palestinian villages had lands inaccessible in the seam zone, and a complicated Israeli permit regime (requiring more than 10 different permits) prevented Palestinians from fully using their lands.
Israel eased restrictions on access to farmland in the Gaza Strip to 328 feet from the boundary with Israel and to fishing areas along the coast. Despite this easing, reports indicated Israel continued to enforce “buffer zone” restrictions on non-farmers within 328 feet of the land boundary between Gaza and Israel and sprayed pesticides across the border fence over lands cleared by the ICRC for farmers returning to their lands. The exact extent where authorities permitted access along the border remained unclear. OCHA reported that Palestinians in Gaza considered areas up to 984 feet from the perimeter fence to be a “no-go” area, and up to 3,280 feet to be “high risk,” which discouraged farmers from cultivating their fields. OCHA estimated nearly 35 percent of the Gaza Strip’s cultivable land was located in the restricted area. Palestinian human rights NGO Al Mezan reported that Israeli authorities arrested 119 farmers and shot and injured another 13 for cultivating land in or near the buffer zone.
Gaza’s fishing waters were largely inaccessible to Palestinians due to Israeli restrictions that only allowed fishing within six nautical miles of land. While Israeli authorities eased the naval blockade in April, extending fishing limits from six to nine nautical miles, the extension was temporary and returned to six nautical miles in June. The United Nations reported that the nautical restriction was “of particular concern.” Israeli naval patrol boats strictly enforced the new limit, a reduction from the 20 nautical miles established in the 1994 Agreement on the Gaza Strip and Jericho Area. Israeli naval forces regularly fired warning shots at Palestinian fishermen entering the restricted sea areas, in some cases directly targeting the fishermen, according to OCHA. The Israeli armed forces often confiscated fishing boats intercepted in these areas and detained the fishermen, while Palestinian fishermen reported confusion over the exact limits of the new fishing boundaries.
During the year Israeli security forces restricted movement around parts of East Jerusalem, including Jerusalem’s Old City. Israeli security forces periodically blocked some entrances to the Palestinian East Jerusalem neighborhoods of Issawiya, Silwan, and Jabal Mukabber. Israeli military authorities continued to restrict Palestinian vehicular and foot traffic in the commercial center of Hebron, citing a need to protect several hundred Israeli settler residents in the area. They prohibited Palestinians from driving on most roads in downtown Hebron and from walking on Shuhada Street and other roads in and around Hebron’s Old City; Israeli settlers had free access to these roads. The IDF closed most shops on Shuhada Street and sealed entrances to Palestinian houses. Following July terrorist attacks in the Kiryat Arba and Otniel settlements, the IDF completely sealed some Hebron-area villages such as Sa’ir, Dura, and Bani Na’im for periods between two and five days, severely disrupting residents’ daily routines and livelihoods. Authorities closed Fawwar refugee camp for 25 consecutive days, adversely affecting the lives of 9,500 refugees. The IDF also continued to occupy rooftops of civilian homes as security positions, forcing families to leave their front door open for soldiers’ to enter their homes.
The INP restricted access for broad categories of Muslim worshippers at the Haram Al-Sharif/Temple Mount based on age or gender on two days during the year, corresponding to periods of increased Jewish visits to the site during or on days surrounding Jewish holidays. Additionally, in September 2015 the INP began maintaining a “black list” of female and male Muslim worshippers banned from the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount for alleged harassment of Jewish visitors. The banned individuals had no recourse to appeal their prohibition with the INP or through the Israeli court system. The INP also detained, or temporarily banned from the compound, guards and other employees from the Jordanian-appointed Islamic Waqf that administers the Haram Al-Sharif/Temple Mount. Police alleged the employees harassed Jewish “Temple Mount Activist” visitors or obstructed police and Israel Antiquities Authority inspections of the Waqf’s repair or renovation work on the Haram Al-Sharif/Temple Mount.
Foreign Travel: PA authorities did not limit residents’ foreign travel. The PA does not control border crossings into or out of the West Bank.
Hamas authorities in the Gaza Strip enforced movement restrictions on Palestinians attempting to exit Gaza to Israel via the Erez Crossing and to Egypt via the Rafah Crossing. Individuals permitted to enter or exit the Gaza Strip at the Erez Crossing were largely limited to humanitarian cases; the Israeli government authorities limited the number of businesspersons to cross during the year and revoked approximately 1,600 of 3,500 permits for businesspersons during the year.
Egyptian authorities enforced movement restrictions on Palestinians attempting to exit Gaza via the Rafah Crossing. The Egyptian government periodically allowed border crossing for a few days at a time–and mostly only in one direction for passenger travel and humanitarian aid. Authorities have closed the Rafah Crossing since October 2014, with exceptional partial openings on 45 days (eight days exclusively for Hajj pilgrims) during the year.
Palestinians from Gaza faced additional challenges for several months when travelers who obtained permits from the Israeli government to depart Gaza through the Erez Crossing reportedly could not obtain “no objection” certificates from Jordanian authorities to enter Jordan to use its international airport. Contacts reported, however, that issuance of no objection certificates appeared to return to normal in the last four months of the year. Palestinians from Gaza reported long, onerous, and costly procedures to obtain the certificates, which Jordanian authorities did not require West Bank residents to obtain.
Restrictions on access to Jerusalem had a negative effect on patients and medical staff trying to reach the six Palestinian hospitals that offered specialized care unavailable in the West Bank. IDF soldiers at checkpoints harassed and delayed Palestine Red Crescent Society (PRCS) ambulances from the West Bank or refused them entry into Jerusalem even in emergency cases. When ambulances lacked access, medics moved patients across checkpoints from an ambulance on one side to a second ambulance (usually one of five East Jerusalem-based ambulances) or a private vehicle on the other side. The PRCS reported hundreds of such actions taken against its teams and humanitarian services during the year. Most incidents included blocking access to those in need, preventing their transport to specialized medical centers, or maintaining delays at checkpoints for up to two hours.
The IDF restricted students in the Gaza Strip from studying in the West Bank or Israel and limited West Bank Palestinians from university study in Jerusalem and Israel (see section 2.a.). Palestinians possessing Jerusalem identity cards issued by the Israeli government needed special documents to travel abroad. Upon individual requests by Palestinians, the Jordanian government issued passports to them.
According to NGOs, residency restrictions prevented family reunification, particularly between East Jerusalem Palestinian residents and West Bank-based spouses or children. For a child in the Gaza Strip, Israeli authorities permitted access to a parent in the West Bank only if no other close relative was resident in the Gaza Strip. Israeli authorities did not permit Palestinians who were abroad during the 1967 War, or whose residence permits the Israeli government subsequently withdrew, to reside permanently in the occupied territories. It was difficult for foreign-born spouses and children of Palestinians to obtain residency. Authorities required Palestinian spouses of Jerusalem residents to obtain a residency permit with reported delays of several years to obtain them.
Although Israel allows some Gazans to enter the country for medical treatment on humanitarian grounds, according to the NGO Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), there was a significant reduction in the number of exit permits granted by the government for medical treatment during the year. Additionally, Israeli authorities increased the minimum age requirement from 35 years last year to 55 years for persons to apply for permits to escort patients out of Gaza. The PHR documented seven cases in which Israeli security forces interrogated ill patients, sometimes inside an ambulance, traveling from Erez crossing to a hospital in Israel or the West Bank, and in 2015 the NGO documented 20 cases in which the government conditioned an exit permit on providing information about their community in Gaza. The ISA claimed that it must scrutinize every patient crossing for medical treatment because Hamas attempts to smuggle funds, information, or persons into the West Bank or Israel via this route. According to media reports and the PHR, however, the targets of the interrogation were usually information about Gaza rather than security concerns about the patient. More broadly, the NGO Gisha reported that authorities blocked the entry of thousands of persons from Gaza during the year based on unspecified “security preclusions,” which was a sharp increase from prior years, and there was an increase in the number of interrogations at the crossing.
Exile: Continued Israeli revocation of Jerusalem identity cards amounted to forced exile to the occupied territories or abroad. According to HaMoked, an Israeli human rights organization, the Israeli Ministry of Interior during the year again renewed “temporary” orders authorizing the revocation of Jerusalem residency rights from legal residents. Between 1967 and 2014, Israel revoked the status of 14,416 Palestinians from East Jerusalem. The rate of revocations had decreased in recent years, averaging approximately 100 per year; in 2015 Israel revoked the status of 84 Palestinians from East Jerusalem. Reasons for revocation included having acquired residency or citizenship in another country; living “abroad” (including in the West Bank or the Gaza Strip) for more than seven years; or, most commonly, being unable to prove a “center of life,” interpreted as full-time residency, in Jerusalem. Some Palestinians who were born in Jerusalem but who studied abroad reported losing their Jerusalem residency status.
INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS
OCHA estimated that 53,000 persons in Gaza remained displaced from the destruction caused by the 2014 war. Reconstruction progressed slowly. Only 64 percent of all construction materials required to address the caseload from the 2014 conflict had entered Gaza. Of 11,000 completely destroyed homes, only 1,764 had been rebuilt.
As of September 8, Israel demolished 837 Palestinian-owned structures in Area C and East Jerusalem, a significant increase from 499 in 2015. According to OCHA, a number of policies drove displacement in the West Bank and East Jerusalem; these included displacements linked to settlement activity. In Area C and East Jerusalem, authorities demolished hundreds of Palestinian homes and other structures due to residents’ inability to obtain Israeli-issued building permits. According to OCHA and ACRI, residence restrictions made it almost impossible for Palestinians to obtain permits in Area C and East Jerusalem, while providing preferential treatment for Israeli settlements in these areas. OCHA noted that in many cases displacement resulted from a combination of factors, including settler violence, movement restrictions, and restricted access to services and resources. Authorities also displaced Palestinians in East Jerusalem due to forced evictions, facilitating takeover of their property by settler organizations via court action asserting a Jewish claim to Palestinian properties owned by Jews before 1948, and by revoking East Jerusalem Palestinians’ residency status.
UNRWA and other humanitarian organizations provided services to internally displaced persons in the Gaza Strip and West Bank, with some limitations due to Israeli restrictions on movement and border access.
PROTECTION OF REFUGEES
Access to Asylum: According to an UNRWA estimate, there were 805,209 registered Palestinian refugees in the West Bank and more than 1.3 million in the Gaza Strip. Almost one-quarter (24 percent) of refugees in the West Bank lived in refugee camps, as did approximately 40 percent of refugees in Gaza. Refugees included those displaced due to the 1948 conflict in Israel and their descendants. UNHCR was considering resettling vulnerable Syrian families and Syrian/Palestinian families stranded in Gaza due to the conflict in Syria.
Access to Basic Services: All UNRWA projects in the West Bank and Gaza Strip technically required Israeli government permits, but UNRWA does not apply for permits in refugee camps.
Beginning in 2014 Israeli authorities demanded that UNRWA trucks use only commercial crossings into Jerusalem, where they faced significant delays, long detours, and increased search demands, compared with the checkpoints used previously. UNRWA trucks continued to use standard checkpoint crossings instead of the commercial crossings, with mixed results. UNRWA reported that delivery of services was problematic in the area between the West Bank barrier and the 1949 armistice line, particularly in the Bartaa area and in three refugee communities near Qalqilya, and in four communities northwest of Jerusalem. Essential infrastructure in the Gaza Strip, including water and sanitation services, continued in a state of severe disrepair, due in part to inability to import spare parts and components because of Israeli import restrictions. During Operation Protective Edge, Israeli armed forces destroyed electrical, water, and other public infrastructure.
The deterioration of socioeconomic conditions during the year severely affected refugees in the Gaza Strip. UNRWA reported that food security continued to deteriorate.
A shortage of school buildings during the year meant that quality of education was a major problem, resulting in a double-shift system, shorter hours, and student overcrowding.
According to NGOs, 40,000 to 50,000 individuals in the Gaza Strip lacked identification cards recognized by Israel. Some of these persons were born in the Gaza Strip, but Israel never recognized them as residents; some fled from the Gaza Strip during the 1967 war; and some left Gaza for various reasons after 1967 and later returned. A small number were born in the Gaza Strip and never left, and they had only Hamas-issued identification cards. The Israeli government controlled the Palestinian Population Registry that would allow stateless persons to obtain status.
Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process
The PA basic law provides Palestinians with the ability to elect their government through democratic means, but the PA had not held elections in the West Bank or Gaza since 2006; Israeli authorities banned the PA from conducting political activities in East Jerusalem. Residents of the Gaza Strip, under Hamas control since 2007, were unable to choose their own government or hold it accountable. Civil society organizations in the Gaza Strip stated that Hamas and other conservative Islamist groups did not tolerate public dissent, opposition, civic activism, or the promotion of values contrary to their political and religious ideology.
Elections and Political Participation
Recent Elections: Authorities had scheduled municipal elections in both the West Bank and Gaza for October 8; however, the PA postponed the elections for at least four months. The action followed a PA High Court of Justice ruling that the elections could proceed in the West Bank but not in Gaza due to the administrative involvement of the Hamas terror organization in Gaza. In 2006 voters elected the 132-member PLC in a process under the PA basic law that international observers concluded generally met democratic standards in providing citizens the ability to choose their government peacefully. Hamas-backed candidates participated in the 2006 PLC elections as the “Change and Reform Movement” and won 74 of 132 seats. Fatah won 45 seats, and independents and candidates from third parties won the remaining seats. The PLC lacked a quorum and did not meet during the year. Although the Israeli government and the PA followed mutually agreed guidelines for Palestinians residing in Jerusalem to vote in 2005 and 2006, Israeli authorities did not allow all Palestinians in Jerusalem to vote, and authorities required those who could vote to do so via post offices (of which there were few), thereby impeding their ability to vote. No date was set for new national or municipal elections by year’s end.
Political Parties and Political Participation: The PA allowed a diversity of political parties to exist but limited the ability of Hamas members to campaign and organize rallies. In Gaza Hamas allowed other political parties to exist but severely restricted their activities. Fatah officials alleged to media that Hamas abducted, threatened, and arrested several Fatah members working on municipal elections in Gaza.
Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit the participation of women and members of minorities in the political process, and women and minorities did so. Legally women and minorities can vote and participate in political life on the same basis as men and nonminority citizens, although women faced significant social and cultural barriers in the West Bank and Gaza. There were 17 women in the 132-member PLC, which represented West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem districts, and there were three women in the 23-member cabinet. There were seven Christians in the PLC and three in the cabinet. Hamas generally excluded women from leadership positions in the de facto ministries in Gaza.
Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government
Palestinian law provides criminal penalties for official corruption, and the government respected the law, making progress in investigations and prosecutions during the year.
Corruption: Allegations of corrupt practices among Fatah officials continued, particularly related to favoritism and nepotism in public sector appointments.
In the Gaza Strip, local observers and NGOs alleged instances of Hamas complicity in corrupt practices, including preferential purchasing terms for real estate and financial gains from tax and fee collections from Gazan importers, but authorities severely inhibited reporting and access to information.
Local business representatives in Gaza also alleged the PA Ministry of Civil Affairs, which submits applications for the entry of restricted materials into Gaza to Israeli authorities, engaged in nepotism and gave preferential treatment to Gaza-based importers close to the ministry.
Financial Disclosure: PA ministers are subject to financial disclosure laws, but there was little accountability for nondisclosure. In 2015 a Palestinian anticorruption NGO reported that the PA began publicizing financial disclosure documents from public-sector employees, including ministers, via the PA Anti-Corruption Commission. There was no information on legal requirements for financial disclosure for Hamas authorities in Gaza.
Public Access to Information: PA law requires official PA institutions to “facilitate” acquisition of requested documents or information by any Palestinian, but it does not require agencies to provide such information. Reasons for denial generally referred to privacy rights and the necessity of security. Authorities made inadequate efforts to train officials on the implementation of the law. There was no information on the rights or legal procedures for Palestinians’ access to information from the de facto authorities in Gaza.
Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
Palestinian human rights groups and several international organizations generally operated without PA restriction, and officials cooperated with their efforts to monitor the PA’s human rights practices. Several PA security services, including General Intelligence and the Palestinian Civil Police, appointed official liaisons who worked with human rights groups.
Israeli and Palestinian human rights NGOs operating in East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza reported an increase in harassment, threats, and cyberattacks from Israeli settlers, right-wing Israeli NGOs, or anonymous sources. These NGOs reported increased telephonic harassment following widespread publication of a video naming and vilifying activists or supporters of four NGOs that reported on Palestinian human rights issues. B’Tselem, Rabbis for Human Rights, Breaking the Silence, and Al-Haq reported that some of their employees were subjected to intimidation, death threats, or physical assault.
In January two Israeli human rights activists from the NGO Ta’ayush were briefly detained, and a Palestinian fieldworker from B’Tselem was jailed for six days, after the Israeli NGO Ad Kan released video footage purporting to show the three activists conspiring to turn over to Palestinian security services a Palestinian who allegedly sold land to Israeli settlers. Selling land to settlers is a capital offense under the Jordanian-era penal code adopted by the PA; the PA did not enforce this law. Authorities released all three activists without charge for lack of evidence and jurisdiction. Subsequent media reports claimed that Ad Kan had infiltrated undercover activists into the organizations’ networks and fabricated the alleged land sale in what NGOs claimed was a case of entrapment.
Both Palestinian and Israeli human rights NGOs operating in the occupied territories reported that they faced sophisticated cyberattacks on their websites, servers, and internal databases. For example, Palestinian NGO Al-Haq reported that from September 2015 to June anonymous individuals hacked into e-mail accounts to impersonate Al-Haq employees and repeatedly threatened Al-Haq staff in the Netherlands working with the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) Office of the Prosecutor.
In the Gaza Strip, Hamas routinely harassed civil society groups, including by dissolving and closing peaceful organizations. Gaza-based NGOs reported that Hamas representatives appeared at their offices to seek tax payments, demand beneficiary lists and salary information, and summon NGO representatives to police stations for questioning. In one instance in May, Hamas closed an international NGO, confiscated the keys to the office and cars, and seized laptops. Hamas allowed the NGO to reopen several weeks later.
Palestinian, Israeli, and international NGOs monitored the Israeli government’s practices in the occupied territories and published their findings, although movement and access restrictions in the West Bank and Gaza Strip made it difficult to work. The Israeli government permitted some human rights groups to hold and publish press conferences, and it provided the ICRC with access to most detainees. Palestinian and Israeli human rights NGOs, however, reported a sharp increase during the year of private or anonymous harassment and threats.
The United Nations or Other International Bodies: PA and Israeli officials generally cooperated with and permitted visits by UN representatives or other organizations, such as the ICRC, although there were numerous reports the Israeli government blocked the delivery of humanitarian aid especially to Gaza. There were numerous reports Hamas harassed members of international organizations.
In 2014 the Human Rights Council established an international commission of inquiry “to investigate all alleged violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law in the ‘Occupied Palestinian Territory,’ including East Jerusalem, particularly in the occupied Gaza Strip, in the context of the military operations conducted since June 13.” The government of Israel announced it would not cooperate with the commission of inquiry, stating that it unfairly focused on Israel and not on terrorist attacks by Hamas. In 2014 the commission of inquiry presented findings that there were credible allegations of war crimes committed in 2014 by both Israel and Palestinian armed groups. The report expressed concern about the inherently indiscriminate nature of rockets and mortars fired at Israeli civilians by Palestinian armed groups, condemned the killing of persons suspected of being collaborators, and said Palestinian authorities consistently failed to bring violators of international law to justice. The commission also expressed concern regarding Israel’s extensive use of weapons with a wide kill and injury radius. Although these weapons were not illegal, their use in densely populated areas was highly likely to kill combatants and civilians alike. It also stated that impunity generally prevailed regarding violations allegedly committed by Israeli forces, in both Gaza and the West Bank.
In November 2014 the UN secretary-general announced a board of inquiry to investigate attacks on UN facilities in Gaza during Operation Protective Edge and incidents in which the IDF found weapons at those facilities. In April 2015 the board of inquiry released findings that Israel was responsible for damage to seven UN facilities in the Gaza Strip during Operation Protective Edge. The board also concluded that Palestinian militant groups used three UN facilities for storing weapons and for firing rockets and mortar shells.
In March the Human Rights Council called upon the relevant authorities to pursue the implementation of the recommendations contained in the reports of the independent commission of inquiry regarding Operation Protective Edge.
Palestinian officials submitted an instrument of ratification to the UN secretary-general as the depositary for the Rome Statute and presented a declaration accepting the ICC’s jurisdiction over alleged crimes committed “in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem, since June 13, 2014.” Following this announcement, the ICC Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) stated that it was opening a preliminary examination to determine whether there were crimes committed within the court’s jurisdiction on the territory of the “State of Palestine.” Palestinian officials indicated that they continued to submit information regarding alleged crimes to the OTP. Israeli officials strongly opposed the preliminary examination but maintained communication with the OTP. Palestinian human rights groups also submitted information regarding alleged crimes to the OTP.
Government Human Rights Bodies: The ICHR continued serving as the PA’s ombudsperson and human rights commission. The ICHR issued monthly and annual reports on human rights violations within Palestinian-controlled areas; the ICHR also issued formal recommendations to the PA. The ICHR was generally independent but faced resource shortages that limited its ability to work effectively. Local and international human rights NGOs cooperated with ICHR.
Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape is illegal under PA law, but the legal definition does not address spousal rape. Laws that apply in both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip relieve of any criminal responsibility rapists who marry their victim. Authorities generally did not enforce the law effectively in the West Bank or the Gaza Strip. Punishment for rape is five to 15 years in prison. Societal norms led to significant underreporting. In previous years there were reports police treated rape as a social and not a criminal matter and that authorities released some accused rapists after they apologized to their victims.
PA law does not explicitly prohibit domestic violence, but assault and battery are crimes. Authorities did not enforce the law effectively in domestic violence cases. NGOs reported women were frequently unwilling to report cases of violence or abuse to police due to fear of retribution. HRW in previous years reported that authorities prosecuted few domestic violence cases successfully. Many women and girls stated they believed the legal system discriminated against women. According to the PA’s Central Bureau of Statistics, violence against wives, especially psychological violence, was common in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. NGOs reported increased incidents of domestic violence and violence against women in Gaza due to displacement and heightened socioeconomic stress in the wake of the 2014 conflict.
The mandate of the PA Ministry of Women’s Affairs is to promote women’s rights, and it worked strategically to highlight multiple challenges Palestinian women face that required the attention, cooperation, and coordination of public institutions, NGOs, and the private sector, as well as international and regional organizations supporting women in addressing these challenges. It served as a reference for developing appropriate and gender-responsive policies to influence positively the socioeconomic and political conditions of women and men and enable women to enjoy fully their rights in equity within Palestinian society. In June 2015 the ministry developed a national strategy focused on preventing and protecting women from domestic, workplace, and community-based violence. Based on the strategy, the ministry was working with the Ministries of Social Affairs and Health to establish a National Observatory on Violence Against Women that would track, collect, and document cases of violence against women to help tailor prevention policies. Ministry of Justice prosecutors completed UN-provided training on investigating violence against women.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): There were reports FGM/C occurred in the past, but none during the year. The law prohibits FGM/C.
Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Provisions of Palestinian law discriminate against women. In 2011 President Abbas signed an amendment to the “honor killing” law that removed protection and leniency for perpetrators of crimes in defense of “family honor,” although some NGOs argued the amendment did not apply to the most relevant articles of the law and thus did not have a noticeable effect. On December 19, a PA Appeals Court increased a lower court’s sentence of a Palestinian man, who admitted to killing his two sisters in 2006 in what he claimed was defense of “family honor,” from eight years to life in prison with hard labor, after the PA Attorney General appealed the original sentence as too lenient. NGOs reported 28 documented reports of honor killings in 2015 but noted a concern of underreporting because there was often a discrepancy between how police document honor killings versus the method used by women’s organizations and due to lack of information on the situation in Gaza.
Sexual Harassment: No law specifically relates to sexual harassment, and it was a significant and widespread problem. NGOs reported that for some women, cultural taboos and fear of stigma compelled them to remain silent about sexual harassment. Some women claimed that when they reported harassment, authorities held them responsible for provoking men’s harassing behavior. Authorities in Gaza harassed women for “un-Islamic” behavior, including being in public after dark and walking with an unrelated man.
Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, and Jerusalem have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children; and to manage their reproductive health. Women reported barriers to information or services related family planning due to societal pressures–especially in Gaza–or the opposition of their spouse, and in some cases they lacked physical access to contraceptives. According to 2015 estimates by the UN Population Fund, 43 percent of Palestinian women between 15 and 49 used a modern method of contraception. While the contraceptive prevalence rate slightly increased in recent years, unmet need for family planning remained at 15 percent, due to a lack of availability and quality of family planning services. According to the Population Reference Bureau, total fertility rates averaged 4.2 children per woman, with one in three women reporting that their last pregnancy was unintended. Observers estimated the adolescent birth rate at 67 per 1,000 women between the ages of 15 and 49 in 2015, according to the UN Population Fund.
Discrimination: While the law provides for equality of the sexes, it also discriminates against women, as do traditional practices. Women can inherit, but not as much as men can. Men may take more than one wife; although they rarely did so in urban areas, the practice was more common in small villages. Women may add conditions to marriage contracts to protect their interests in the event of divorce and child custody disputes, but they rarely did so. Societal pressure generally discouraged women from including divorce arrangements in a marriage contract. Cultural restrictions associated with marriage occasionally prevented women from completing mandatory schooling or attending college. Families sometimes disowned Muslim and Christian women who married outside their religious group. Local officials sometimes advised such women to leave their communities to prevent harassment.
Hamas enforced a conservative interpretation of Islam on the Gaza Strip’s Muslim population that particularly discriminated against women. Authorities generally prohibited public mixing of the sexes. Plainclothes officers routinely stopped, separated, and questioned couples to determine if they were married; premarital sex is a crime punishable by imprisonment. Hamas’s “morality police” also punished women for riding motorcycles, smoking cigarettes or water pipes, leaving their hair uncovered, and dressing “inappropriately” (that is, in Western-style or close-fitting clothing, such as jeans or T-shirts). Women living in refugee camps in the Gaza Strip stated they felt unsafe using public bathing or latrine facilities.
Palestinian labor law states work is the right of every capable citizen; however, it regulates the work of women, preventing them from taking employment in dangerous occupations. The 2004 Ministry of Labor decree prohibits women from working in mining and quarrying, fireworks production, asphalt production, alcohol production, pesticides production, welding activities, and in forests and natural reserves, including lumber-related work.
Female education rates were high, particularly in the West Bank, and women’s attendance at universities exceeded that of men. Female university students, however, reported discrimination by university administrators, professors, and their male peers, according to the Geneva Center for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces. In 201, Hamas implemented a “modest” dress code at al-Aqsa University in Gaza, drawing criticism from the PA minister of higher education.
According to press and NGO reports, in some instances teachers in Gaza sent girls home for not wearing conservative attire in Hamas-run schools, although enforcement was not systematic.
Birth Registration: The PA registers Palestinians born in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and Israel requires the PA to transmit this information to the ICA. Since the PA does not constitute a state, it does not determine “citizenship” alone. Children of Palestinian parents can receive a Palestinian identity card (issued by the Israeli Ministry of Defense’s Civil Administration), if they are born in the occupied territories to a parent who holds a Palestinian identity card. The PA Ministry of Interior and the Israeli Civil Administration both play a role in determining a person’s eligibility.
Israel registers the births of Palestinians in Jerusalem, although Palestinian residents of Jerusalem sometimes reported years-long delays in the process.
Education: Education in PA-controlled areas is compulsory from age six through the ninth grade (approximately 16 years old). Education is available to all Palestinians without cost through high school.
In the Gaza Strip, primary education is not universal. UNRWA and authorities in Gaza provided instruction. In addition to the PA-provided curriculum, UNRWA provided specialized classes on human rights, conflict resolution, and tolerance. There were reports Hamas offered courses on military training in its schools during youth summer camps, to which parents of school-age children could apply.
In Jerusalem Palestinian children did not have access to the same educational resources as Israeli children, and NGOs reported that East Jerusalem needed additional classrooms in official municipal schools to provide adequate space for Palestinian children to attend official schools (see section 6, National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities). NGOs reported the municipality fell substantially short of a high court decision ordering the city to construct more than 1,000 classrooms in East Jerusalem by February to correct the chronic shortage. The Jerusalem municipality built 237 new classrooms and rented approximately 700 others in East Jerusalem in 2011-16.
Child Abuse: Child abuse was reportedly a widespread problem. The law prohibits violence against children; however, PA authorities and de facto authorities in Gaza rarely punished perpetrators of family violence.
Israeli security forces also were responsible for violence against children in custody and during arrest (see section 1.c.) in the West Bank and near the Gaza Strip buffer zone, according to NGO and UN reports.
Doctors Without Borders reported the number of children with posttraumatic stress disorder and other anxiety disorders, including depression, increased in recent years. The organization attributed a majority of the cases to trauma experienced during Israeli military incursions or to settler violence.
Early and Forced Marriage: Palestinian law defines the minimum age for marriage as 18; however, religious law allows persons as young as 15 years old to marry. Child marriage did not appear to be widespread, according to NGOs, including the Women’s Center for Legal Aid and Counseling. According to UNICEF data for 2015, 2 percent of girls were married by the age of 15. UN assessments found that economic conditions in Gaza following the 2014 conflict motivated some families to arrange for their daughters to marry at an early age to improve the economic situation of the family.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The PA considers statutory rape a felony based on the Jordanian penal code, which also outlaws all forms of pornography. Punishment for rape of a victim less than age 15 includes a minimum sentence of seven years. In Gaza suspects convicted of rape of a victim less than age 14 are eligible for the death penalty. There were reports that societal norms led to underreporting to the de facto authorities and police of sexual exploitation of children.
Child Soldiers: There were reports Hamas trained children as combatants.
Displaced Children: Conflict and demolition orders (see section 2.d.) displaced children in the occupied territories. UN data indicated that as of September 8, home demolitions displaced more children (697) in the West Bank and East Jerusalem during the year than totals for the same period of any previous year since 2009.
Approximately 386,000 Jewish settlers lived in the West Bank. The Jewish population in Gaza, aside from foreign nationals, was nonexistent. There were an estimated 201,000 Jewish Israelis living in settlements in East Jerusalem.
Rhetoric by some Palestinians and Muslim religious leaders included expressions of anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial. Anti-Israel sentiment was widespread and sometimes crossed the line into anti-Semitism in public discourse, including media commentary longing for a world without Israel and glorifying recent and historic terror attacks on Israelis. Following a string of attacks by Palestinians on Israelis in Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Israel beginning in October 2015, but decreasing beginning in April, Palestinian press and social media continued to circulate cartoons encouraging such attacks.
At times the PA failed to condemn incidents of anti-Semitic expression in official PA traditional and social media outlets.
In the Gaza Strip and West Bank, there were instances in which media outlets, particularly outlets controlled by Hamas, published and broadcast material that included anti-Semitic content, sometimes amounting to incitement to violence.
Trafficking in Persons
No PA law specifically prohibits trafficking in persons, and small numbers of children and adults reportedly experienced forced labor in both the West Bank and Gaza Strip, as well as in East Jerusalem, where Israeli law applies. In September the Jerusalem District Court upheld on appeal a 2012 court decision convicting an East Jerusalem Palestinian couple of subjecting a domestic worker from the Philippines to forced labor, including withholding her minimum wages, confiscating her passport, and denying her days off.
There were reports some children worked in forced labor in the West Bank, including in settlements. NGOs reported employers subjected Palestinian men to forced labor in Israeli settlements in industry, agriculture, construction, and other sectors. The PA was unable to monitor and investigate abuses in these areas and elsewhere because it did not control its borders and the Israeli government limited its authority to work in Areas B and C.
Persons with Disabilities
The PA ratified Palestinian Disability Law in 1999, but NGOs complained of very slow implementation. The law does not mandate access to buildings, information, or communications, although UNRWA’s policy is to provide accessibility in all new structures. The disability rights NGO Bizchut reported a lack of accessible transportation services in East Jerusalem, while the ICHR reported a lack of accessible transportation in Palestinian areas across the West Bank. The Disability Law prohibits discrimination due to a permanent or partial disability in physical, psychological, or mental capabilities.
Palestinians with disabilities continued to receive inconsistent and poor-quality services and care. The PA and de facto authorities in Gaza partially depended on UN agencies and NGOs to care for persons with physical disabilities and offered substandard care for persons with mental disabilities. Palestinians in Gaza reported little to no infrastructure accommodations for persons with mobility disabilities, and difficulty in importing wheelchairs and other mobility aids because of Israeli authorities’ control of goods transiting border crossings into Gaza. Fighting in the 2014 conflict destroyed a Gaza City Hamas-run center for the disabled.
There were reports Israeli authorities placed in isolation without a full medical evaluation detainees deemed mentally disabled or a threat to themselves or others. According to Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, isolation of prisoners with mental disabilities was common.
Familial and societal discrimination against persons with disabilities existed in both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
According to OCHA an estimated 27,500 Bedouin lived in Area C in the West Bank. Many of them were UNRWA-registered refugees, and Bedouins frequently inhabited areas designated by Israel as closed military zones or as areas planned for settlement expansion. Demolition and forced displacement by the Israeli government of Bedouin and herding communities continued in Area C, and many of these communities suffered from limited access to water, health care, education, and other basic services.
Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
Palestinian law, based on the 1960 Jordanian penal code, prohibits consensual same-sex sexual activity, although the PA did not prosecute individuals suspected of such activity. Societal discrimination based on cultural and religious traditions was commonplace, making the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza challenging environments for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons. Some Palestinians claimed PA security officers and neighbors harassed, abused, and sometimes arrested LGBTI individuals because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. NGOs reported Hamas also harassed and detained persons due to their sexual orientation or gender identity.
HIV and AIDS Social Stigma
While the PA Ministry of Health provided treatment and privacy protections for patients with HIV/AIDS, societal discrimination against affected individuals was common. Anecdotal evidence suggested societal discrimination against HIV/AIDS patients was also very common in Gaza.
Other Societal Violence or Discrimination
OCHA, Yesh Din, and other NGOs reported attacks by Israeli settlers on Palestinians and their property in the West Bank, undermining livelihoods and the physical security of Palestinians. The attacks included direct violence against Palestinian residents. Some Israeli settlers reportedly used violence against Palestinians to harass them and to keep them away from land settlers sought to acquire. On November 5, for example, a group of settlers threw rocks at Palestinians harvesting olives near Ramallah, injuring three Palestinians including one critically. Overall, OCHA reported incidents of settler violence against Palestinians decreased from 221 in 2015 to 101 as of November.
Palestinians claimed settlers perpetrated hit-and-run attacks against Palestinian pedestrians, although in most cases the circumstances were unclear. On September 8, an Israeli settler vehicle injured a Palestinian farmer on Israel highway Route 60 near Bethlehem and then fled; the Palestinian suffered broken bones. On September 10, an Israeli settler vehicle driving near Al-Khader village in Area C south of Bethlehem hit and killed a four-year-old Palestinian girl before fleeing. The drivers in the September 8 and 10 incidents later surrendered to Israeli police, who classified the events as traffic accidents and released the drivers without charge.
Many incidents of violence involved settlers trespassing onto Palestinian-owned land and damaging land and crops. In April settlers from the settlement of Beitar Illit pumped sewage onto Palestinian agricultural land in Husan, Bethlehem, damaging approximately 17 acres. In March settlers released their cattle to graze on Palestinian land in the village of Aqraba in Nablus, damaging more than 70 trees. During the annual olive harvest in the West Bank in October-November, NGO Rabbis for Human Rights documented 11 cases of settler intimidation and violence.
Attacks on olive trees, on which many rural Palestinians rely for their livelihoods, remained common. In July settlers from the settlement of Shilo and other neighboring outposts set fire to approximately 280 Palestinian-owned trees and several acres of cultivated land in As-Sawiya, Nablus, Kafr Malike, and Al-Mughayyir near Ramallah. OCHA reported that in August, Israeli authorities, accompanied by the right-wing Israeli NGO Regavim, uprooted 300 Palestinian-owned olive trees near Qalqiliya, arguing that authorities had designated these areas as “state land.”
In addition to damage to land and crops, OCHA also reported settler attacks on property such as livestock and vehicles. There were minor incidents of stone throwing and theft every month. In early August a group of armed Israeli settlers killed 11 sheep belonging to the East Tayba Bedouin community near Ramallah. In October a group of Israeli settlers forced a Palestinian family off agricultural land in Qaryout village, south of Nablus, during the annual olive harvest and vandalized their car with hatchets and other weapons.
Various human rights groups continued to claim authorities insufficiently investigated and rarely prosecuted settler violence. Some groups attributed this circumstance in part to the ICA’s neglect of Palestinian complaints, as well as to Palestinian residents’ reluctance to report incidents due to fears of settler retaliation or because the lack of accountability in most cases discouraged them. The Israeli NGO Yesh Din stated that authorities closed more than 85 percent of Israeli investigations of offenses against Palestinians in the West Bank without indictments. According to Yesh Din’s data, a police complaint filed by a Palestinian in the West Bank had a 1.9 percent chance of effective investigation resulting in the identification, arrest, and conviction of suspects.
In 2014 settlers from the settlement of Yitzhar assaulted two Palestinian men on Palestinian farmland. The settlers beat one of the men with a metal rod, breaking his arm and leg. The settlers hit the other Palestinian man on the neck, decapitating him. The incident occurred in the presence of an Israeli soldier, who ordered the assailants to leave the farmland and return to the settlement. The Palestinians filed a police report, but police closed the case citing insufficient information on the perpetrators’ identity. Police never asked the Israeli soldier for his testimony or attempted to locate witnesses. Yesh Din appealed the closure, but police again closed the case in November 2015 without launching an investigation. Yesh Din submitted a second appeal, but Israeli police in April closed the case citing a lack of evidence.
In 2012 four settlers from the outpost of Har Bracha Bet stole sacks of olives from Palestinian groves near Burin. The IDF and District Coordination Office personnel, who were at the site inspecting the cutting of 51 olive trees the previous day, caught the settlers in the act. The IDF failed to arrest the suspects. The IDF transferred the investigation of the damage to the olive trees, along with trespassing and theft of property, to the Samaria and Judea district police. Although there were witnesses to the incident who could identify the offenders, and the address of one of the suspects was known to police, the district police closed the case due to lack of evidence. Following the first appeal of the closure, records showed an attempt to contact one of the security personnel present at the site of the incident, but there was no evidence of subsequent investigations. Yesh Din further appealed, but the police again closed the case during the year due to lack of evidence.
“Price tag” attacks (property crimes and violent acts by extremist Jewish individuals and groups against Palestinians or in retaliation for activity they deemed antisettlement) continued.
On March 10, settlers set fire to a Palestinian home in a village south of Bethlehem and spray-painted “Death to Arabs” and “Leave” on the walls. Suspected Israeli settlers conducted two arson attacks, respectively in March and July, against Palestinian homes in the West Bank village of Douma, causing no injuries but damaging homes of the relatives of the Dawabsheh family (the victims of the 2015 price tag attack that left a toddler and his parents dead and four-year-old brother severely injured).
Harassment and attacks against Palestinians in Jerusalem by Jewish groups reportedly increased. The Jewish Israeli organization Lehava continued to protest social relationships between Jews and Palestinians, made anti-Christian and anti-Muslim statements, and reportedly assaulted Palestinians in West Jerusalem. Israeli media reported that Palestinians or their Israeli employers filed at least 20 complaints of harassment and assault–including with rocks and pepper spray–by Lehava activists in central Jerusalem during the year. Israeli police claimed they increased patrols in central Jerusalem following the reported attacks and harassment, but Israeli authorities rarely prosecuted these attacks successfully, failing to open investigations or closing cases for lack of evidence, according to local human rights groups and media.
Access to social and commercial services in Israeli settlements in the West Bank, including housing, education, and health care, was available only to Israelis. Israeli officials discriminated against Palestinians in the West Bank and Jerusalem regarding access to employment and legal housing by denying Palestinians access to registration paperwork. In both the West Bank and Jerusalem, Israeli authorities often placed insurmountable obstacles against Palestinian applicants for construction permits, including the requirement that they document land ownership in the absence of a uniform post-1967 land registration process, high application fees, and requirements that new housing be connected to often unavailable municipal works.
According to B’Tselem, in 2000 Israel began curtailing the Palestinian population registry by denying paperwork to Palestinians and effectively declaring Palestinians illegal residents. Some Palestinians defined as illegal residents faced harassment, arrest, or deportation to the Gaza Strip.
The World Bank reported that Palestinians suffered water shortages and purchased approximately half of their domestic water supply from Israel. Oslo-era agreements limited the amount of water Palestinians can draw from West Bank aquifers. According to AI Palestinians received an average of eight gallons less than the World Health Organization’s prescribed minimum daily water supply to maintain basic hygiene standards and food security. Political and fiscal constraints limited the PA’s ability to improve water network management and efficiency, including the requirement for Israeli approval to implement water-related projects and the PA’s lack of authority in Area C to prevent theft from the network, as well as the PA’s own management problems.
The Israeli military continued to destroy water cisterns, some of which donor countries had funded for humanitarian purposes. The Israeli military also destroyed unlicensed Palestinian agricultural wells, particularly in the Jordan Valley area of the West Bank, claiming they depleted aquifer resources.
Palestinians living within the borders of the Jerusalem Municipality, but cut off from it by the separation barrier, reported that the municipality failed to provide basic services, including water, police, and infrastructure.
NGOs alleged that Jerusalem municipal and Israeli national policies were aimed at decreasing the number of Palestinian residents of Jerusalem. Government-sponsored construction of new Israeli housing units–including in East Jerusalem settlements–continued, while building permits were difficult to obtain for Palestinian residents of Jerusalem. Authorities demolished homes built by Palestinian residents without legal permits. The Israeli NGOs Bimkom and Ir Amim stated that Palestinians in East Jerusalem continued to face barriers to purchasing property or obtaining building permits. Authorities generally zoned land owned or populated by Palestinians (including Israeli-Palestinians) for low residential growth. Authorities designated approximately 30 percent of East Jerusalem for Israeli settlements. Palestinians were able in some cases to rent Israeli-owned property, but they were generally unable to purchase property in an Israeli neighborhood. Israeli NGOs stated that after accounting for Israeli settlements, Israeli government property, and declared national parks, only 13 percent of all land in East Jerusalem was available for Palestinian construction.
The Israeli government and Jewish organizations in Jerusalem made efforts to increase Israeli property ownership or emphasize Jewish history in predominantly Palestinian neighborhoods of Jerusalem. Jewish landowners and their descendants, or land trusts representing the families, were entitled to reclaim property they had abandoned in East Jerusalem during fighting prior to 1949, but Palestinians who abandoned property in West Jerusalem during fighting in the same period had no legal claim to the property. Private Jewish organizations in Jerusalem acquired legal ownership of reclaimed Jewish property in East Jerusalem, including in the Old City, and sought to evict Palestinian families living there through protracted juridical action.
Although Israeli law entitles Palestinian residents of Jerusalem to full and equal services provided by the municipality and other Israeli authorities, the Jerusalem Municipality failed to provide sufficient social services, education, infrastructure, and emergency planning for Palestinian neighborhoods in Jerusalem. According to the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies, 82 percent of Jerusalem Palestinians lived in poverty, and 87 percent of East Jerusalem children lived below the Israeli poverty line–an increase from 2015. There was a chronic shortage of classrooms in East Jerusalem’s official school system, despite commitments made by Israeli authorities and a high court ruling that the municipality must close the gap of missing classrooms in East Jerusalem by year’s end. Authorities largely segregated bus services in Jerusalem between Israelis and Palestinians. Light-rail service completed in 2010 served both Palestinian and Israeli populations and crossed into East Jerusalem; NGOs reported, however, that of the 24 stops on the light rail, only five were in or near Palestinian neighborhoods. The Jerusalem municipality continued not to operate the light rail stop in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Shu’fat. Palestinian youth periodically threw rocks at the train in Shu’fat and caused minor damage.
Section 7. Worker Rights
a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining
PA law provides for the rights of workers to form and join independent unions and conduct legal strikes. The law requires conducting collective bargaining without any pressure or influence but does not explicitly provide for the right to collective bargaining. Antiunion discrimination and employer interference in union functions are illegal, but the law does not specifically prohibit termination or provide for reinstatement due to union activity.
The PA labor code does not apply to civil servants or domestic workers, although the law allows civil servants the right to form unions. The requirements for legal strikes are cumbersome, and strikers had little protection from retribution. Prospective strikers must provide written warning two weeks in advance of a strike (four weeks in the case of public utilities). The PA Ministry of Labor can impose arbitration; workers or their trade unions faced disciplinary action if they rejected the result. If the ministry cannot resolve a dispute, it can refer the dispute to a committee chaired by a delegate from the ministry and composed of an equal number of members designated by the workers and the employer, and finally to a specialized labor court, although authorities had not established the court as required by labor legislation.
The government did not effectively enforce labor laws and subjected procedures to lengthy delays and appeals. Penalties and enforcement were insufficient to deter violations. Authorities had not fully implemented the PA’s labor law at year’s end, and labor unions claimed the current system favored employers. During the year the Ministry of Labor continued conducting periodic medical examinations of workers as mandated by the labor law. Judges received training in labor regulations. The PA enforced the prohibitions on antiunion discrimination and employer interference in union functions; however, it inconsistently enforced laws regarding freedom of association. The PA did not seek to enforce collective bargaining rights for unions, with the exception of those representing PA employees. Hamas continued to maintain de facto control of the government and worker rights in Gaza, where the PA was unable to enforce labor law.
The PA respected freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining with some significant exceptions. Public-sector teachers, who comprised the most significant portion of the public-sector work force, engaged in protests and strikes in February and March over pay levels and other contract terms. In January the PA attempted to prevent some protesters from assembling and also attempted to arrest Bassam Zakarneh, head of the PA Public Employees Union, which the PA president dissolved by decree in 2014. Zakarneh fled arrest, and PA security forces briefly detained but released him again in February.
Labor unions were not independent of authorities and political parties.
Two main labor unions in the West Bank (the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions and the Federation of Independent and Democratic Trade Unions and Workers) competed for membership and political recognition.
Israeli law applies to Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Jerusalem, but authorities did not enforce it uniformly. Despite a 2008 high court ruling requiring Israeli law to be applied to workers in settlements, most settlements applied Jordanian labor law to Palestinian workers, which was the applicable law prior to 1967 and provides for lower wages and fewer protections than Israeli law. Palestinian workers in Jerusalem often joined West Bank unions or the Israeli General Federation of Labor (Histadrut); however, they could not vote in Histadrut elections.
b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
Forced labor occurred in the occupied territories. PA law does not expressly forbid forced or compulsory labor or human trafficking. Women working as domestic workers were vulnerable to forced labor conditions in both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, since the PA does not regulate domestic labor within households or in the large informal sector. Forced child labor also occurred (see section 7.c.).
c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
The Palestinian Authority has no unified or comprehensive set of child labor laws. The 2000 Unified Labor Law and the 2004 Palestinian Child Law prohibit the employment of any person under age 15. The law classifies children as persons under age 18 and restricts employment for those between 15 and 18. The law permits hiring children between ages 15 and 18 for certain types of employment under set conditions. The law allows children younger than age 15 to work for immediate family members under close supervision.
The law prohibits children from working more than 40 hours per week, operating certain types of machines and equipment, performing work that might be unsafe or damage their health or education, and working at night, in hard labor, or in remote locations far from urban centers. A 2012 presidential decree amended the law to include provisions on child labor accompanied by explicit penalties for violations. Authorities can penalize repeat offenders by having fines doubled and/or full or partial closure of their facility. Fines and enforcement were not sufficient to deter violations.
The Ministry of Social Affairs is responsible for coordinating efforts to protect children’s rights, while the Ministry of Labor’s Inspection and Protection Administration is responsible for enforcing the law. The Ministry of Labor reported that nearly 30 percent of its labor inspectors (similar to recent years) had intensive training and experience in dealing with child labor, and all newly hired inspectors were also to be trained in this area. During site visits Ministry of Labor inspectors raised awareness among business owners that labor by children under the age of 15 was illegal under Palestinian law.
Due to inadequate resources and logistical difficulties, PA authorities did not effectively enforce the law. Many cases of child labor violations reportedly occurred in home environments, for example, on family farms, which were not open to labor ministry inspection. Child protection officers with the Ministries of Social Affairs and Labor reported that they referred only employers who hired children under age 15 to work in dangerous conditions or hazardous jobs to the attorney general for prosecution; the Ministry of Labor referred only a few cases during the year. As of October the government had detected 16 cases involving child labor (below the age of 15), compared with 10 in 2015. In almost all cases, authorities removed children after the inspections. In many cases the employer called the parents to come and take the child while the inspectors from the Labor Ministry were present. The Ministry of Labor requires that employers keep lists of employees, including children, although some employers reportedly did not keep accurate records of children they employed, hiding them from inspection. In recent years PA officials reported fining “numerous” persons after successful investigations conducted by the PA Ministry of Labor. The ministry inspected only businesses operating in the formal economy and was unable to conduct investigations in the Gaza Strip. It did not have access to Israeli-controlled Area C of the West Bank (nearly 60 percent of the West Bank), where child economic exploitation and labor were most likely to occur, according to PA officials.
In the second quarter of the year, the PA estimated that 3.7 percent of children between the ages of 10 and 17 worked in the West Bank and Gaza–5 percent in the West Bank and 1.8 percent in Gaza. Palestinian child laborers deemed by the PA to be most vulnerable to forced labor and extreme weather conditions generally worked on family farms, in shops, as roadside and checkpoint street vendors, in car washes, in factories, or in small manufacturing enterprises.
Hamas reportedly did not enforce child labor laws in Gaza. Hamas reportedly encouraged children to work gathering gravel and scrap metal from bombsites to sell to recycling merchants and increased recruitment of youth for tunnel digging activities. There were also reports Hamas trained children as combatants.
The Israeli government stated it did not issue permits for Palestinian West Bank residents under the age of 18 to work in Israeli settlements in the West Bank, except in the Jordan Valley where the law allows issuing permits to persons age 16 and younger. There were reports during the year that some Palestinian children entered the settlements or crossed into Israel illegally, often smuggled, to seek work. The PA reported that Palestinian children engaged in child labor in Israeli settlements in the West Bank faced security risks, exploitation, and harassment, since they did not have access to legal protection or labor inspection.
Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at www.dol.gov/ilab/reports/child-labor/findings.
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
The law and regulations do not prohibit discrimination regarding race, language, sexual orientation and/or gender identity, HIV-positive status or other communicable diseases, or social status. Laws prohibit discrimination based on gender and disabilities; however, the government did not effectively enforce those laws and regulations.
There was discrimination based on the above categories with respect to employment and occupation. Women endured prejudice and, in some cases, repressive conditions at work. Women’s participation in the workforce was extremely low, particularly in Gaza, although gradually growing, according to PA statistics (see section 6, Women).
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
The PA cabinet approved a minimum wage of 1,450 New Israeli Shekel (NIS) ($38 per month, which went into effect at the beginning of 2013, but 38.9 percent of wage employees received less than the minimum wage in the second quarter of the year. In the West Bank, approximately 19.6 percent of wage employees in the private sector received less than the minimum monthly wage; these approximately 42,500 wage employees had an average monthly wage of 1,104 NIS ($289). In Gaza 78 percent of wage employees in the private sector received less than the minimum monthly wage; these approximately 83,900 wage employees had an average monthly wage of 734 NIS ($192). Palestinians working in Israeli settlements reported they continued to receive wages lower than the Israeli minimum wage, despite a 2008 high court ruling that Israeli labor laws apply to relations between Palestinian workers and Israeli employers in settlements in the occupied territories. In 2011, the date of the most recent official estimate, the PA estimated 25.8 percent of residents in the occupied territories lived below the poverty line of 7.49 NIS ($1.96) per day.
According to PA law, the maximum official Sunday to Thursday workweek was 48 hours. The law also allows for paid official and religious holidays, which employers may not deduct from annual leave. Workers must be paid time and a half for each hour worked beyond 45 hours per week and may not perform more than 12 hours of overtime work per week.
The PA Ministry of Labor was responsible for setting occupational health and safety standards, but its enforcement ability was limited, in part due to lack of staff. The ministry employed 62 labor inspectors during the year, including 14 to focus on child labor; this staff was inadequate to enforce compliance. The PA did not effectively monitor smaller worksites, which were at times below legal safety standards. Workers do not have the legal protection to remove themselves from situations that endangered their health or safety without jeopardy to their employment.
The PA was unable to monitor labor conditions in the Gaza Strip and had no authority to monitor labor safety in the 60 percent of the West Bank designated as Area C under the terms of Oslo-era agreements with Israel. The ministry cannot enforce Palestinian labor law in seam zones, the area east of the Green Line and west of Israel’s separation barrier, in Israel (where Palestinians were employed on permits or illegally), or in Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Israeli authorities did not conduct labor inspections in Israeli settlements, where Palestinian workers constituted a significant part of the workforce. The lack of a competent labor authority in the settlements increased workers’ vulnerability to exploitation. NGOs such as Kav LaOved stated that exploitative practices in Israeli settlements were widespread. Israeli NGOs brought some cases in Israeli labor courts on behalf of Palestinian workers employed by enterprises in the settlements.
Occupational safety and health were poor. Most dangerous work conditions were in rubble, garbage, and other solid waste collection; street vendor work, manufacturing, construction, car mechanic work, and work in metal workshops; and work on poultry farms, in gravel collection, and in building demolition. During the year Israeli authorities approved the export of scrap metal for recycling from Gaza to Israel, increasing labor demand in this sector.