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. Nonetheless, 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 sometimes charged its critics with libel and slander based on a Jordanian law from the 1960s still in effect in the West Bank.
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 media reports that PA authorities arrested some journalists and bloggers who criticized the PA and PA officials. In February a PA court sentenced Palestinian activist Anas Awwad to one year in prison for “extending his tongue” against PA leadership. President Abbas pardoned him shortly after the sentence.
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 on the internet, faced punitive measures, including raids on their facilities and residences, arbitrary detention, and denial of permission to travel outside 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. During August and September, security services of the Hamas de facto government carried out a campaign to clamp down against anyone suspected of affiliation with the Egyptian-inspired Tamarud (“Rebellion”) movement.
In Jerusalem displays of Palestinian political symbols were punishable by fines or imprisonment, as were public expressions of anti-Israeli sentiment. Israeli security officials regularly shut meetings or conferences held in Jerusalem affiliated with the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), PA, or with PA officials in attendance. For example, in June Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch issued a decision to shut a Palestinian puppet theater festival at the Hakawati Palestinian National Theatre in Jerusalem on the grounds that it was funded by the PA in violation of the Oslo Accords.
On July 1, Israeli authorities released cartoonist Mohammed Sabaaneh from military prison, where he was held since his arrest when he attempted to return to the West Bank from Jordan on February 16. Israeli authorities arrested him for having “contacts with a hostile organization.”
Press Freedom: Across the occupied territories, independent media operated with 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 non-Hamas-affiliated press and media outlets. HRW reported Hamas continued to ban three newspapers from being circulated in Gaza that are printed in the West Bank, al-Quds, al-Ayyam, and al-Hayat al-Jadida. 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 January Hamas security raided the homes of six journalists, detaining them and some of their family members. The International Federation of Journalists criticized the crackdown and called for their release.
On July 25, Hamas authorities closed pan-Arab Al Arabiya TV and the West Bank-based Ma’an News Agency in Gaza over accusations that they “spread fabrications” aimed at “harming the Palestinian national interest and resistance.” Hamas allowed the stations to reopen on November 19.
On July 26, Hamas also shut a local television production company called Lens, accusing it of providing television services to the Israeli news channel I24 News.
Officials at the three 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), claimed that when they tried to deliver copies of their newspapers into Gaza in spite of the Hamas ban, they were restricted from doing so by Israeli authorities. 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. On December 24, however, the PA removed some Israeli journalists covering Christmas activities from Bethlehem in apparent retaliation for Israeli government limits on Palestinian media working in Israel, although the journalists reportedly also did not have the proper press credentials. Palestinian journalists also pressured some Israeli journalists to leave press events before they were able to cover them, reportedly by frustrated Palestinian journalists who claimed they were angry that Israeli journalists had “unlimited access” in the West Bank, while Israeli authorities denied the majority of Palestinian journalists entry into Israel and often restricted them from reporting within the West Bank due to closures, curfews, and checkpoints (see section 2.d.). In areas of the West Bank where Israel controls access, Palestinian journalists complained that they were repeatedly prevented from covering stories because the IDF does not recognize any Palestinian press credentials or credentials provided by the International Federation of Journalists. Few Palestinians held Israeli press credentials following Israeli revocation of the vast majority of their credentials during the Second Intifada, which began in 2000.
In January the IDF returned in damaged condition some of the confiscated equipment and files taken from Wattan TV, one of two Palestinian television stations, along with al-Quds Educational Television, which Israeli security forces raided in February 2012. In August Israeli military courts issued a decision to retain the remainder of equipment confiscated. In December Wattan TV argued before the Israeli High Court of Justice that the confiscation should be overturned, asserting that the station had always operated legally. The court had not issued a final ruling by the end of the year.
Violence and Harassment: PA security forces reportedly harassed, detained (occasionally with violence), prosecuted, and fined journalists several times during the year.
On August 23, Palestinian security forces attacked journalists covering demonstrations in Ramallah and Hebron against the Egyptian government. Security forces reportedly threatened several photographers and cameramen and confiscated their equipment. Agents from the PA’s Preventive Security Organization attacked photojournalist Ahmad Milhem of Wattan TV while he covered the demonstration in Ramallah, confiscating his camera and erasing the footage. Security forces also attacked other journalists, including Mohammad al-Qeeq of Majd TV, Muath Mish’al of Anadolu News Agency, and Mohammad al-Arouri of TransMedia, at the same events.
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 July 16, the Hamas Internal Security Service summoned WAFA News Agency reporter in Gaza Hatem Abu Daqqa. According to local press reports, Abu Daqqa filed a news story addressing the water shortage problem in southern Gaza, which angered the Hamas authorities.
Palestinian journalists claimed Israeli authorities routinely harassed them when trying to report in Israeli-controlled areas of the West Bank. There were also reports of Israeli authorities detaining, assaulting, or intimidating journalists. In various incidents Israeli forces subsequently raided those journalists’ homes in the West Bank.
Palestinian journalists complained of harassment by Israeli security personnel in Jerusalem. On December 3, Palestinian photojournalist Muammar Awad was selected for additional security screening by Shin Bet agents after being refused entry to cover an event involving the Israeli prime minister in Jerusalem. According to Awad and local press reports, Awad was ordered to strip and was questioned for approximately 90 minutes. Awad, who holds a Jerusalem identification and a press card issued by the Israeli government, was then escorted out and not allowed to cover the event. He was not accused of any wrongdoing at the time, and charges were not filed against him.
On November 6, Israeli security forces arrested Palestinian journalist Mohammad Abu Khdeir of al-Quds at Ben Gurion airport when he returned from a professional visit to Egypt. Abu Khdeir asserted that during his month-long detention, authorities interrogated him regarding his work as a journalist and about interviews he conducted, especially with members of the Hamas leadership. Israeli authorities did not file any charges against Abu Khdeir and released him on December 5.
On March 1, the IDF shot Palestinian photographer Jihad Alqadi while he covered clashes in front of Ofer prison. Alqadi suffered injuries to his colon, spleen, and liver. There was no information available on the status of an investigation.
On June 5, the IDF wounded Associated Press photographer Nasser al-Shiyoukhi with a rubber bullet to the neck while he was covering clashes between the IDF and Palestinian youth in front of Ofer detention center near Ramallah.
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 guidelines. Media throughout the occupied territories reported practicing self-censorship.
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. On November 10, PA police forces arrested Radio Bethlehem 2000 journalist George Canawati for “slander and abuse.” Media reported that the arrest was “violent” and that he appeared in court with a black eye and torn shirt. As of December he had been released and awaited a court date. There were no known reports Hamas used security justifications or slander or libel laws to censor public criticism.
There were no known reports Israeli authorities used security justifications or slander or libel laws to censor 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.
The Committee to Protect Journalists noted in its annual report in February that in 2012 the PA blocked access to websites critical of President Abbas. The report stated the order to block the outlets came from Palestinian Attorney General Ahmad al-Mughni. These sites were soon unblocked after domestic and international criticism.
In July Hamas closed Ma’an and Al-Arabiya bureaus in Gaza and questioned the Ma’an bureau chief over a report on the Ma’an website.
Based on anecdotal reports from Palestinian civil society organizations and social media practitioners, Hamas authorities monitored the internet activities and postings of Gaza Strip residents. Individuals posting negative reports or commentary about Hamas, its policies, or affiliated organizations faced questioning, and at times authorities required them to remove or modify online postings. No information was available regarding punishment for not complying with such demands.
Israeli authorities did not restrict access to the internet; however, they monitored e-mail and internet chat rooms for security purposes.
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. During the year the PA did not interfere with education. 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 UNRWA 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. Students on foreign exchange programs continued to face 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 their children could travel. There were reports women and girls faced social theologically based pressure from the authorities for participating in international academic events.
Hamas authorities interfered in local cultural programs. For example, there were continued reports the de facto government cracked down on cultural expression that might offend local religious and cultural values, including placing significant pressure on women’s participation in events, such as when it banned women from participating in the UNRWA’s Gaza marathon in March. Hamas imposed restrictions requiring Palestinians in Gaza to obtain a license to organize public events in many private establishments, such as hotels and restaurants.
Israel at times prevented Palestinians from accessing education. Israeli 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 schools and university campuses (see section 2.d.).
The Israeli Supreme Court upheld the 2000 Israeli ban on students from the Gaza Strip attending West Bank universities. Generally, students in the Gaza Strip did not apply to West Bank universities because they understood that Israel would deny permit requests. Israeli travel restrictions also prevented students in Gaza from participating in study programs abroad.
In March Israeli soldiers apprehended 27 minors on their way to school in Hebron, five of whom were under the age of criminal responsibility, including some as young as age eight, for stone throwing.