There were reports of abuses of religious freedom, including of religious prisoners and detainees.
The PA has implemented a policy of unifying the message in weekly sermons in the West Bank in an effort to control incitement from the pulpit. Before the ban on incitement, imams sometimes were accused of delivering hateful sermons. The PA also prohibited the broadcast of Qur’an recitations from minarets in the West Bank prior to the call to prayer. The PA oversaw approximately 1,800 mosques in the West Bank and paid imams’ salaries.
Anti-Semitic sermons promoting incitement were given by clergy in Gaza, including one by a Hamas preacher that called for the death of Jews.
PA TV broadcasted a documentary in which Jewish religious rites were characterized as “sin and filth.” Some groups, like Hamas, continued to make frequent anti-Semitic statements during the year.
Members of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community contended that PA-appointed clerics declared Ahmadis to be apostates, resulting in a rise of anti-Ahmadiyya activity in the West Bank. These Ahmadis reported that the PA’s Sharia courts annulled several Ahmadiyya marriages during the year.
During the year the PA began refusing church-issued documents from the First Baptist Church of Bethlehem. PA officials claimed that status quo churches in the West Bank in 2010 demanded that the PA discontinue recognizing legal-status documents--particularly marriage certificates--issued by the First Baptist Church, stating that the documents were allowing West Bank Palestinians to convert from their original church in order to divorce and remarry under terms their original church did not permit.
The PA and Israeli Defense Force (IDF) jointly provided access for approved visits by Jews to holy sites in the West Bank in areas under PA security control (Area A), particularly to Joseph’s Tomb in Nablus. Some Jews complained that securing an IDF escort to Jewish holy sites in Area A required extensive coordination. Jewish groups visited the site during hours of darkness and with a significant PA and IDF security escort. The PA and IDF coordinated the visit of 1,300 Jewish worshipers who came to pray overnight on October 5 at Joseph’s Tomb in Nablus before Yom Kippur. Upon arrival the worshippers reportedly found spray-painted swastikas and other graffiti on the walls. The Israeli civil administration filed a complaint with the Palestinian Authority.
Some observers of archaeological practices in Jerusalem alleged that the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), a government entity, exploited archaeological finds that bolster Jewish claims to the city while overlooking other historically-significant archaeological finds. The archaeological finds in the area of Silwan underscore early Jewish history in Jerusalem; critics said that the IAA and Elad (a Jewish settler organization with excavation responsibilities) undervalued the area’s diverse religious history and were intent on highlighting only the city’s Jewish history.
The Western Wall Heritage Foundation continued to promote ongoing archaeological excavations north of the Western Wall plaza. Supporters of the project have said that the archaeological finds shed light on the Jewish presence in Jerusalem during the Second Temple period. However, the excavations occur in the Muslim Quarter underneath mostly Arab-owned properties, creating friction with the Old City’s Arab residents.
Construction for the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Museum of Tolerance in West Jerusalem continued during the year on the grounds of the Mamilla cemetery, a 1,000-year-old Muslim cemetery containing the gravesites of several prominent Palestinian families and, according to Islamic tradition, Prophet Muhammad’s companions and tens of thousands of Salah ad-Din’s warriors. In October 2008 Israel’s high court ruled that the Simon Wiesenthal Center could continue construction of the museum, despite the objections of several Muslim organizations. In July the national-level Jerusalem District Planning Committee voted to permit the issuance of construction permits for a revised, scaled-down plan of the museum. According to press reports, this construction has resulted in the excavation and dumping of skeletal remains. The project has received criticism from Islamic and Palestinian institutions. Supporters of the U.S.-based center cited an 1894 ruling by the Islamic law court, which stated that the cemetery was no longer sacred because it was abandoned. The high court explained in its ruling that the construction site had served as a municipal parking lot for almost 50 years without a single complaint leveled against such use, and noted that Islamic authorities in 1929 had allowed construction in other parts of the abandoned cemetery. Ahmad Natour, president of the Sharia appeals court, Israel’s religious court for Muslim issues, stated in February that the sanctity of Muslim cemeteries was “eternal” and disputed the authority of the judge who authorized the parking lot, claiming that the judge did not follow legal procedure and that he was later convicted of criminal fraud. Some Islamic groups continued to object to the project on religious grounds during the year. On June 27, between 50 and 70 original tombstones were demolished overnight by bulldozers in an area of the cemetery not slated for construction.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the Council of Religious Institutions of the Holy Land (CRIHL -- an umbrella body of Jewish, Christian, and Muslim religious institutions that includes the Chief Rabbinate of Israel, the PA Ministry of Islamic Waqf, the PA Islamic Sharia courts, and the Christians Patriarchates and Bishoprics of the Holy Land), and foreign governments strongly criticized the September 5 arson attack against a mosque in Qusra, in the West Bank, and a number of rabbis visited the village to express their criticism of the arson to residents. The prime minister’s spokesman called the arson “an act of extremism that aims to compromise the relationship between different religions in Israel,” and said that Prime Minister Netanyahu ordered police and security forces to arrest those responsible.
The government of Israel continued to apply travel restrictions during the year that impeded access to particular places of worship in the West Bank and Jerusalem for Muslims and Christians. Strict closures and curfews imposed by the Israeli government negatively affected residents’ ability to practice their religion at holy sites, including the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, as well as the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.
The Israeli government kept in place an amended visa issuance process for foreigners working in Jerusalem and the Occupied Territories, which also significantly impeded the work of Christian institutions. Reports of Christian clergy, nuns, and other religious workers unable to secure residency or work permits increased during the year. Christian advocates claimed that the difficulty of obtaining permits gradually worsened in the last 10 years. Israeli authorities continued to limit visas for Arab Christian clergy serving in the West Bank or Jerusalem to single-entry visas, complicating clergy travel, particularly to areas under their pastoral authority outside the West Bank or Jerusalem. This disrupted their work and caused financial difficulties for their sponsoring religious organizations. Clergy, nuns, and other religious workers from Arab countries faced long delays and sometimes authorities denied their applications. The Israeli government indicated that delays or denials were due to security processing for visas and extensions.
Separately Israel generally prohibited entry into Gaza by Arab Christian clergy, including bishops and other senior clergy to visit congregations or ministries under their pastoral authority.
The Israeli government granted 400 permits to members of Gaza’s Christian community to enter Israel and the West Bank to associate with family members located outside Gaza during Christmas. However, permits were not issued to all members of a family, which religious contacts said reduced the overall number of permits used, as families opted not to be separated on the holy day. No permits were issued for male Gazans between 16 and 45 years old.
The government of Israel’s construction of a separation barrier, begun in 2002 due to security concerns, limited access to holy sites and seriously impeded the work of religious organizations that provide education, health care, and other humanitarian relief and social services to Palestinians, particularly in and around East Jerusalem. The Israeli government made some accommodations for Palestinian Christians in the West Bank to access Jerusalem for religious purposes, although it made few accommodations for Palestinian Muslims to enter Jerusalem for religious purposes. During the month of Ramadan, the Israeli authorities temporarily increased access for Palestinian West Bank residents without a permit to Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount to include men over the age of 50 and women over the age of 45. Married men between the ages of 40 and 50 and women between the ages of 35 and 45 were made eligible for special permits. Israeli authorities also temporarily permitted West Bank residents to use the Beit El checkpoint to exit Ramallah en route to Jerusalem, instead of just the Qalandiya crossing.
The separation barrier significantly impeded Bethlehem-area Christians from reaching the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem and made visits to Christian sites in Bethany and Bethlehem difficult for Palestinian Christians who live on the Jerusalem side of the barrier. Foreign pilgrims and religious aid workers occasionally experienced difficulty obtaining access to Christian holy sites in the West Bank because of the barrier and Israeli restrictions on movement in the West Bank.
The barrier and checkpoints also impeded the movement of clergy between Jerusalem and West Bank churches and monasteries, as well as the movement of congregations between their homes and places of worship. Construction of the separation barrier continued south of Jerusalem near the Cremisan convent of Salesian nuns and their school of approximately 170 students. The barrier, if completed, would separate the convent and school from the Palestinian communities they serve.
The Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount has been under Israeli control since 1967 but the Jerusalem Islamic Waqf maintains administrative custody of the site. The government of Israel, as a matter of stated policy since 1967, opposes non-Muslim worship at the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount and many Jewish leaders promote the view that Jewish law prohibits Jews from entering the compound due to the risk of accidentally defiling the (unknown) location of the Temple’s Holy of Holies, and they instead direct worshippers to the Western Wall. Israeli police generally did not permit public prayer by non-Muslims and publicly indicated that this policy remained operative, even though non-Muslims visited the compound. Israeli police regulated traffic in and out of the compound and screened non-Muslims for religious paraphernalia.
The government of Israel restricted access to the Haram al-Sharif /Temple Mount for Muslims in the Occupied Territories and occasionally restricted access for Muslims resident in Jerusalem. While West Bank Muslims with permits to enter Jerusalem generally were able to visit the site, and in isolated cases permits were issued for Muslims to enter Jerusalem for religious purposes, Israel’s permitting regime also generally restricted most West Bank Muslims from accessing the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount. The Israeli government provided Muslims from Gaza no opportunity to access the site. Israeli security authorities in Jerusalem frequently restricted access to Friday prayers at the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount for residents in East Jerusalem. Citing security concerns, authorities also frequently barred entry of male residents under the age of 50, and sometimes barred women under the age of 45. Infrequently authorities would close the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount entirely, often after skirmishes at the compound between Arabs and Israeli police.
Israeli authorities in some instances barred specific individuals from the compound, including high-ranking Palestinian officials and Jerusalem Islamic Waqf employees. Waqf officials complained that Israeli police increasingly violated agreements regarding control of access to the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount site. Israeli police have de facto control of the compound, with police stationed outside each entrance to the site and also conducting routine patrols on the outdoor plaza. Israeli police have exclusive control of the Mughrabi Gate entrance -- the only entrance through which non-Muslims may enter the compound -- and in general allowed visitors through the gate during set visiting hours. Waqf employees were stationed inside each gate and on the plaza, and they could object to the presence of particular persons, such as individuals dressed immodestly or causing disturbances, but they lacked effective authority to remove persons from the site.
Israeli authorities and Jerusalem Islamic Waqf officials generally prohibited non-Muslim worship at the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount. The Israeli High Court ruled in 1997 that “Jews, even though their right to the Temple Mount exists and stands historically, are not permitted to currently actualize their right to perform public prayer on the Temple Mount.” Although most mainline Orthodox Jewish teaching discourages Jewish visits to the compound, some Jewish organizations have legally and physically challenged these restrictions. During the year several Jewish groups visited the compound, escorted by Israeli police, and performed religious acts such as prayers and prostration. Waqf officials criticized the visits, and in some instances, the visits sparked violence between Arabs and Israeli police. Christians were prohibited from performing public prayers at the site. According to local media reports, on August 23, Israeli police escorted some 40 Israeli activists onto the compound. The presence of the activists reportedly caused a commotion among Arab worshippers; police arrested five Arab worshippers and removed them from the area.
There were also disputes between the Jerusalem Islamic Waqf and Israeli authorities over Israeli restrictions on Waqf attempts to carry out maintenance and physical improvements to the compound and its mosques. Israeli officials said the Waqf is required to coordinate all changes to the compound with the Israeli government; Waqf officials generally refused to coordinate maintenance and upkeep because they said this violates previous agreements between Israel and the Jordanian government.
The approval process for a permanent ramp leading to the Mughrabi Gate of the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount continued during the year. Excavations in the immediate vicinity of the Mughrabi Gate did not proceed.
The Western Wall, the place of worship nearest the holiest site in Judaism, was open to visitors from all religions during the year, and Muslims and Christians were permitted to make individual prayers at the site. However, the Israeli government exercised its prohibition of mixed gender prayer services at religious sites. Men and women at the Western Wall must use separate areas to visit and pray, and the women’s section is less than half the size of the men’s section. The Western Wall Heritage Foundation, which manages the infrastructure at the Western Wall plaza, announced in August that it would replace the existing partition separating women and men with a one-way mirror, which would allow women to observe religious services in the men’s section, such as bar mitzvahs, while preventing men from seeing through to the women’s section. Women are not allowed to conduct prayers at the Western Wall while wearing prayer shawls and are not permitted to read from Torah scrolls. The gender restrictions also affect Muslims and Christians at this site.
Arab Christian leaders said that Israeli security authorities obstructed access to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem for Palestinian Christian residents of the West Bank, including clergy, which significantly reduced their ability to enter Jerusalem. Some Christian leaders said that Israeli authorities gave preferential treatment to Jews celebrating Passover and to international visitors making pilgrimages when the authorities enacted restrictions that impeded the activities of local Christians celebrating Easter. Jerusalem Christians had to pass through four police checkpoints before reaching the Church of the Holy Sepulchre; according to Christian advocates, pepper spray was used indiscriminately at the various checkpoints. On Good Friday, the Israeli police temporarily blocked the Latin Patriarch from entering the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and pushed him, to make way for pilgrims, setting off a small fight before the procession was allowed to continue, according to a joint report by the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel and the Jerusalem Inter-Church Centre. During other holy days, Christian leaders also stated that the police did not always honor requests to provide security escorts for religious processions, which left them vulnerable to harassment in the Old City from non-Christians.
During the year Israeli authorities severely limited the access of Palestinians to Rachel’s Tomb, a Bethlehem shrine holy to Jews, Christians, and Muslims under Israeli jurisdiction in Area C, but allowed relatively unimpeded access to Jewish visitors.
During the year the IDF limited access to the Ibrahimi Mosque/Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron, a holy site revered by Jews, Christians, and Muslims as the tomb of Abraham. The IDF restricted Muslim access to the site for 10 nonconsecutive days, including Passover and Yom Kippur; Jews were restricted access to the site for 10 nonconsecutive days corresponding with Muslim holidays. Muslims may enter only through one entry point, and must submit to intensive IDF security screening. Jews have access to several entry points and are not required to submit to security screening. Both Muslims and Jews are able to pray at the site simultaneously; in only one space, through the tomb of Abraham, can both sides see one another through Plexiglas.
While there were no specific restrictions placed on Palestinians making the Hajj, in practice, closures and long waits at Israeli-controlled crossings often impeded travel for religious purposes for all Palestinian religious groups.
Since early 2001, following the outbreak of the Second Intifada, the Israeli government has prohibited Israeli citizens in unofficial capacities from traveling to the parts of the West Bank under civil and security control of the PA. This restriction prevents Jewish Israelis from routinely visiting several Jewish holy sites, although the IDF occasionally provides security escorts for groups to visit selected Jewish holy sites. Beginning in 2009 restrictions on Arab Israelis visiting Area A cities in the West Bank gradually were lifted by the Israeli Ministry of Defense’s coordinator for government activities in the Territories.