The PA Basic Law provides every person the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and expression, orally, in writing, or through any other form. The PA does not have laws specifically providing for freedom of press; however, PA institutions applied aspects of a proposed 1995 press law as de facto law. In practice 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. According to reports, the PA began to charge its critics with libel and slander reportedly based on a Jordanian law from the 1960s still in effect in the West Bank.
According to the Palestinian Center for Rights and Media Freedoms, Hamas security forces prevented Egyptian television correspondent Majed Shiblaq and his wife, journalist Hanan Abu Dgeem, from participating in a media conference in Cairo due to supposed lack of coordination with the journalists’ union in Gaza and a lack of Hamas representation in the delegation.
Israeli authorities placed limits on certain forms of expression in the occupied territories.
Freedom of Speech: Although there is no PA law prohibiting criticism of the government, there were news reports PA authorities arrested some journalists and bloggers who were critical of the PA and PA officials. In October there were reports authorities charged Jihad Harb, a Palestinian writer and political analyst, with libel and slander after he wrote an article that criticized PA President Abbas’ policy of promoting public employees. HRW reported in April that the PA arrested Palestinian journalists for comments they deemed defamatory.
In the Gaza Strip individuals publicly criticizing authorities risked reprisal by Hamas, including arrest, interrogation, seizure of property, and harassment. Civil society and youth activists, social media advocates, and individuals associated with political factions accused of criticizing Hamas in public fora such as the Internet faced punitive measures, including raids on their facilities and residences, arbitrary detention, and denial of permission to travel outside of Gaza. The ICHR reported the detention of numerous protesters in the Gaza Strip. There were reports authorities harassed activists working to raise awareness on sensitive social matters, such as the role of women and domestic violence.
In East Jerusalem, under Israeli authority, displays of Palestinian political symbols were punishable by fines or imprisonment, as were public expressions of anti-Israeli sentiment and support for terrorist groups. Israeli security officials regularly shut down meetings or conferences held in East Jerusalem affiliated with the PA or with PA officials in attendance.
In February Israeli Defense Forces and Israeli Ministry of Communications officials raided two Palestinian television stations, Wattan and al-Quds Educational, which the IDF claimed used unauthorized frequencies, confiscating computers, editing units, transmitters, servers, cameras, project documents, and financial records. At year’s end, the GOI continued to withhold much of the equipment despite a December statement by the Attorney General’s office that most of the equipment would be returned. NGO sources stated that most of the documents and equipment the IDF seized were not involved in the transmission of broadcasts, indicating the raids likely were used to intimidate and silence critics.
Freedom of Press: Across the occupied territories, independent media operated with some restrictions.
In the West Bank, the PA placed some restrictions on independent media as well as official media. The PA maintained a distribution ban in the West Bank on the twice-weekly pro-Hamas al-Risala and the Filistin daily newspapers, both Gaza-based publications. Hamas’ al-Aqsa TV reportedly enjoyed some degree of access to work in the West Bank without harassment.
In the Gaza Strip, Hamas restricted independent media, especially for non-Hamas-affiliated press and media outlets. HRW reported Hamas continued to ban in Gaza three newspapers printed in the West Bank. Israel restricted the mainstream pro-PA dailies, independent al-Quds (based in Jerusalem), independent pro-Fatah al-Ayyam, and PA official daily al-Hayat al-Jadida (the latter two based in the West Bank), from importation into the Gaza Strip. Hamas authorities tolerated the broadcast of reporting and interviews featuring officials from the PA locally. Hamas allowed, with some restrictions, the operation of non-Hamas-affiliated broadcast media in the Gaza Strip. The PA-supported Palestine TV reportedly enjoyed access to operate in the Gaza Strip.
In East Jerusalem independent media were able to operate. As a general rule, Israeli media were able to cover the occupied territories, except for combat zones where the IDF temporarily restricted access. However, closures, curfews, and checkpoints limited the ability of Palestinian and foreign journalists to do their jobs (see section 2.d.). Israel revoked the press credentials of the majority of Palestinian journalists during the Second Intifada in 2000. As a result most Palestinian journalists were unable to cover stories outside Palestinian-controlled areas of the West Bank.
Violence and Harassment: PA security forces reportedly harassed, detained (occasionally with violence), prosecuted, and fined journalists several times during the year.
In March the PA’s Intelligence Service detained and questioned Useid Amarneh, a cameraman for the Gaza-based Al-Aqsa TV (affiliated with Hamas) in Bethlehem.
On September 18, the PA Preventive Security Service arrested Walid Khalid, a senior correspondent for Felesteen newspaper (a Gaza-based, Hamas-affiliated daily) in the West Bank. The PA Preventive Security Services arrested Khalid two weeks after release from his 17-year imprisonment in an Israeli prison. Initially, he was not interrogated or charged while detained. He eventually was charged with possession of a weapon and being a member of a militia. He was released with a conditional fine and ordered to appear in court for a decision on his case. There were no further developments in his case by year’s end.
On September 23, the PA Preventive Security Service arrested Mohammed Mona, a reporter for Quds Press (a pro-Hamas news agency based in London with offices in Gaza). He was still in detention at year’s end.
In the Gaza Strip, journalists faced arrest, harassment, and other pressure from Hamas due to their reporting. There were reports Hamas also summoned journalists for questioning in an attempt to intimidate them. Hamas also constrained journalists’ freedom of movement during the year, attempting to ban access to some official buildings, as well as several prodemocracy protests.
On September 25, members of Hamas Internal Security severely beat cameraman Ismail Alibdh, who was filming a burning house. Although he stopped filming when asked, they detained and beat him, releasing him after an hour. Threats were received by radio stations covering the burning house, in which a child perished.
Palestinian journalists claimed Israeli authorities routinely harassed them when trying to report in Israeli-controlled areas. There were also reports of Israeli authorities detaining, assaulting, or intimidating journalists. In various incidents Israeli forces subsequently raided those journalists’ homes.
For example, Israeli forces arrested Bahaa Khairi Moussa, director general of the Palestinian Al-Asir (Prisoner) Channel, in Jenin on May 17. Israeli forces thoroughly searched his house and confiscated the station’s transmission equipment. Mousa later was released, and the station resumed partial transmission using less powerful backup equipment.
In July Israeli security agents singled out four Palestinian journalists trying to cover a visiting foreign diplomat’s press conference in Jerusalem and made them undergo strip searches. Israeli and international journalists were not subjected to such searches. A subsequent group of invited Palestinian journalists opted not to cover the event when Israeli security forces informed them they also would have to undergo a strip search.
HRW reported that during the November Operation Pillar of Defense, Israeli forces unlawfully targeted journalists and media facilities. Those targeted were not directly involved in the hostilities. Israeli forces killed two cameramen, injured 10 media workers, and damaged multiple facilities.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: The PA prohibits calls for violence, displays of arms, and racist slogans in PA-funded and controlled official media. Media throughout the occupied territories practiced self-censorship. There were no confirmed reports of any legal action against, or prosecution of, any person publishing items counter to these PA guidelines.
Civil society organizations reported Hamas censored television programs and written content, such as newspapers and books.
There were no reports the Israeli government monitored the media in the occupied territories. 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 threat. 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, over time they came to know what was acceptable and self-censored publications accordingly.
Libel Laws/National Security: There were instances in which slander and libel laws were used to suppress criticism. According to HRW, in April PA security forces arrested Yusuf al-Shayeb and investigated him for libel after he wrote an article in AlGhad, a Jordanian newspaper, reporting on alleged corruption within the Palestinian foreign ministry mission to France and claiming the mission was spying on other Muslim nations.
There were no known reports Hamas used security justifications or slander or libel laws to censure public criticism.
There were no known reports Israeli authorities used security justifications or slander or libel laws to censure public criticism.
There were no PA restrictions on access to the Internet; however, there were reports that the PA, Hamas, and Israel monitored e-mail and Internet chat rooms. Individuals and groups could generally engage in the peaceful expression of views via the Internet, including by e-mail.
The Committee to Protect Journalists reported that, between February and April, the PA blocked access to eight news Web sites. The blocked Web sites were critical of President Abbas. The report stated the order to block the outlets came from Ahmad al-Mughni, the Palestinian attorney general. These sites were soon unblocked after domestic and international criticism.
In January the Palestinian Security Services arrested Rami Samara, news editor with WAFA news agency and Ajyal Radio in Ramallah. He was released after being questioned for three hours about writings on his personal Facebook page. Sameeh Shayeb subsequently was questioned after posting comments in support of Samara on his Facebook page. Both men were released without charge.
In April the PA’s Preventive Security Service arrested Palestinian blogger Jamal Abu Rihan and accused him of “slander of a public figure.” The arrest took place after Abu Rihan started a Facebook page entitled, “People Want to End Corruption.”
Based on anecdotal reports from Palestinian civil society organizations and social media practitioners, Hamas authorities monitored Internet activities and postings of Gaza Strip residents. Individuals posting negative reports or commentary about Hamas, its policies, or affiliated organizations faced questioning, and authorities at times required them to remove or modify online postings. No information was available regarding punishment for not complying with such demands.
On March 26, Hamas Intelligence Services summoned the editor in chief of the Jozour news Web site in Gaza and forced him to sign an affidavit stating he would abide by all instructions and guidelines issued by Hamas related to his work as a journalist. They told him if he refused to sign he would be subject to up to six months in jail.
On August 23, Hamas Internal Security agents arrested Saher Al-Aqraa, editor in chief of Al-Shola news Web site, a Gaza-based anti-Hamas electronic newspaper. Al-Aqraa was released on August 30 after reportedly being subjected to various forms of torture in an attempt to force him to close down his Web site.
In early September Hamas passed a law outlawing pornographic Web sites. All Internet providers must block access to pornographic Web sites or face a shutdown. Restrictions also applied to sites calling for equal roles for men and women.
Israeli authorities did not restrict access to the Internet; however, they monitored some Internet activity.
Academic Freedom and Cultural Events
In the West Bank the PA did not place restrictions on academic freedom, and there were no known reports of PA censorship of school curricula or plays, films, or exhibits in the West Bank. During the year, the PA did not interfere with education; however, restrictions on movement adversely affected academic institutions and access to education in the West Bank, as Israeli checkpoints, although they decreased in number, created difficulties for students and faculty commuting to university campuses (see section 2.d.). While there was no overt threat to academic freedom, faculty members were aware of security elements’ presence on university campuses among the student body and faculty, which may have led to self-censorship.
Public and UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East schools in Gaza followed the same curriculum as West Bank schools, and there was limited interference by Hamas at the primary and secondary level. At the university level there were no known reports of significant interference in teaching or studying.
In the Gaza Strip, Hamas authorities sought to disrupt some educational, cultural, and international exchange programs. Hamas prevented high school students from the Gaza Strip from participating in certain cultural and educational exchange programs, including programs sponsored by foreign governments and international organizations. Several students on one foreign exchange program faced difficulty when traveling out of Gaza to obtain visas for onward travel abroad. In some instances, families of the students petitioned Hamas’ ministry of education so that their children could travel. There were reports women and girls faced pressure from the authorities for participating in international academic events.
News outlets reported Hamas positioned its rocket launch sites adjacent to schools, playgrounds, and hospitals, leading Israel to target those launch sites and thereby put nearby innocents at risk.
Hamas authorities interfered in local cultural programs. For example, there were continued reports the de facto government continued to crack down on cultural expression that might offend local religious and cultural values, including significant pressure on women’s participation in events. Palestinians in Gaza must obtain express permission from the Hamas ministry of culture in order to organize events that might be deemed cultural. The Hamas-controlled Palestine Times reported in September the minister of culture signed a memorandum of cultural cooperation with Iran to build a new museum to commemorate the “resistance” against Israel and collaborate on a number of cultural activities.
In May Hamas shut down the Palestinian Festival of Literature because some of the dialogue was viewed as anti-Hamas.
The Israeli Supreme Court upheld the 2000 Israeli ban on students from the Gaza Strip attending West Bank universities; only three students, who began their studies in 2010 under foreign government scholarships, continued to receive permission during the year. The three students all faced delays in processing their permits, which they were required to do every three months. In general students in the Gaza Strip did not apply to West Bank universities because they understood that Israel would deny permit requests.
On October 8, there were reports Israeli police shut down a Palestinian school with more than 1,200 students between the ages of 12 and 18 in East Jerusalem for a period of one week. The police claimed the closure came as a result of suspicions children from the school threw stones in the nearby At-Tur neighborhood, injuring an Israeli settler. However, school authorities asserted no stones were thrown from school grounds and that the school bans such activities; they characterized the school closure as a form of collective punishment.
During the November Operation Pillar of Defense, Israeli bombs rendered a school in the Gaza Strip unusable.