There were reports of abuses of religious freedom, including detentions.
The Public Committee Against Torture submitted affidavits in March to the Israeli attorney general on behalf of nine Palestinian women that alleged Israeli intelligence officials used religion as one of the means to threaten and embarrass women it questioned. Israeli intelligence officials publicly stated that these claims were untrue.
Israeli police in August detained four members of the Women of the Wall, a group that organizes monthly women’s services at the holy site, for wearing prayer shawls at the Western Wall. The group’s chairperson, Anat Hoffman, was again arrested in October on the same charges, but was released the next day. Israeli authorities refuted her claim that she was mistreated while in detention.
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. The Israeli government’s strict closures and curfews hindered residents from practicing their religion at key holy sites, such as the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem and the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.
The process by which the Israeli government granted Palestinians access to various sectors of the Occupied Territories at times involved de facto discrimination based on religion. The Israeli government made some accommodations for Palestinian Christians in the West Bank to access Jerusalem for religious purposes, granting 20,000 permits without age restrictions for West Bank Christian Palestinians to visit Israel during Christmas. Israeli authorities issued 500 permits to members of Gaza’s Christian community under the age of 16 and over the age of 35 to enter Israel, Jerusalem, and the West Bank for religious reasons and family visits during Christmas. However, it did not issue permits to all members of a family, which may have reduced the overall number of permits used, as some families opted not to be separated during the holidays. It issued no permits for Gazans between 16 and 35 years of age.
Israel made few accommodations for Palestinian Muslims to enter Jerusalem for religious purposes. The Israeli human rights organization Gisha filed an appeal in February 2011 on behalf of four Gazan Muslims above the age of 40 who were denied permits to enter Jerusalem to pray at the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount during the Prophet Mohammed’s birthday in 2011. Gisha argued that Israel categorically rejected requests from Gazan Muslims and was obligated to set reasonable criteria that allow Muslims from Gaza to travel in areas under Israeli control for purposes of prayer. An Israeli court in August rejected Gisha’s argument and accepted the premise that the state’s obligation to Gazans is limited to permitting travel in “exceptional humanitarian cases.” The court imposed court costs on Gisha and the plaintiffs of 25,000 NIS ($6,250).
The Israeli government kept in place an amended visa issuance process for foreigners working in Jerusalem and the West Bank, which also significantly impeded the work of Christian institutions. Christian advocates claimed that the difficulty of obtaining permits gradually worsened in the past decade. Israeli authorities continued to limit visas for Arab Christian clergy serving in the West Bank or Jerusalem to single-entry visas, complicating their 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.
Israel generally prohibited Arab Christian clergy from entering Gaza, including bishops and other senior clergy seeking to visit congregations or ministries under their pastoral authority.
During the month of Ramadan, Israeli authorities eased restrictions for Palestinian West Bank residents who did not hold permits to enter Jerusalem to worship at Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount to include men and women over the age of 40 and children under 12. The requirement for males and females between the ages of 13 and 40 to obtain permits remained in place. Israeli authorities also temporarily permitted Palestinians to use three additional checkpoints (Gilo, Shu’fat Camp, and Az Zeitoun) along the separation barrier, instead of just the Qalandiya crossing. The Israel government continued to ban access for Gaza residents to East Jerusalem.
The Israeli government started building a separation barrier in 2002 due to security concerns. This barrier, like restrictions on permits, 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 separation barrier significantly impeded Bethlehem-area Christians, including clergy, 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 congregants 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, will separate the convent and school from the Palestinian communities they serve, and cut off area residents from their lands. The Salesian nuns were joined by the neighboring Franciscan friars in their suit to prevent the construction. Israeli court hearings were slated for early 2013.
The PA and Israeli Defense Force (IDF) jointly provided Jews access for approved visits to holy sites in the West Bank in areas under PA security control (Area A), particularly to Joseph’s Tomb in Nablus. Jewish groups visited the site during hours of darkness and with a significant PA and IDF security escort. Some Jews complained that securing an IDF escort required extensive coordination. On May 19, Palestinians reportedly threw Molotov cocktails at Israeli troops guarding 1,500 Jewish worshipers at Joseph's Tomb. There were no reports of damages or injuries.
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 the civil and security control of the PA. This restriction has prevented Jewish Israelis from routinely visiting several Jewish holy sites, although the IDF occasionally provided security escorts for groups to visit selected Jewish holy sites. Beginning in 2009, the Israeli Ministry of Defense gradually lifted restrictions on Arab Israelis visiting Area A cities in the West Bank.
Again 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.
Again 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 for 10 nonconsecutive days, including Passover and Yom Kippur; Jews were restricted access for 10 nonconsecutive days corresponding with Muslim holidays. Muslims could enter only through one entry point and had to submit to intensive IDF security screening. Jews had access to several entry points and were not required to submit to security screening. Both Muslims and Jews were able to pray at the site simultaneously. In only one place, through the tomb of Abraham, was each able to see the other through Plexiglas.
The Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount has been under Israeli control since 1967 but the Jerusalem Islamic Waqf maintained administrative custody of the holy places. The Israeli National Police (INP) was responsible for security of the compound, with police stationed outside each entrance to the site. The INP conducted routine patrols on the outdoor plaza, regulated traffic in and out of the compound, screened non-Muslims for religious paraphernalia, and generally prohibited them from praying publically in the compound. Israeli police had exclusive control of the Mughrabi Gate entrance--the only entrance through which non-Muslims could 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. 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.
The Government of Israel restricted access to the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount by Muslims from Jerusalem and the West Bank. The Israeli government provided Muslims from Gaza no opportunity to access the site. Israel’s permitting regime also generally restricted most West Bank Muslims from accessing the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount, although some with permits to enter Jerusalem generally were able to visit the site. Israeli security authorities in Jerusalem frequently restricted residents in East Jerusalem from entering the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount compound for Friday prayers. 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, most frequently Jerusalem Islamic Waqf employees. Waqf officials complained that Israeli police violated agreements regarding control of access to the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount site. Israeli reinforcement of the ramp leading to the Mughrabi Gate of the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount, as well as excavations in the immediate vicinity, continued during the year without consultation with the Islamic Waqf.
Although most Orthodox rabbis continued to discourage Jewish visits to the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount compound, a small but growing number of rabbis in recent years have softened their view against Jews entering the compound. During the year 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 Palestinian worshippers and Israeli police. According to Jewish worship groups, as of October, Jewish visits to the site surpassed 12,000, up 30 percent from 2011. On October 6, IDF soldiers dispersed Muslim worshipers who clashed with a group of Jewish visitors. PA President Abbas called the IDF response and treatment of Palestinian worshipers “an assault on the site.” In October a Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court judge noted that police should allow Jews to pray at the compound. Some fringe Israeli groups supported this view and called on the Israeli government to implement a time-sharing plan at Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount that would set aside certain hours for Jewish worship, similar to one used at the Ibrahimi Mosque/Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron. Palestinians objected to any change at the site.
Again during the year, 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.
The Israeli authorities imposed a full closure on the West Bank September 16-18 during the Jewish New Year holiday. During the closure, authorities prohibited West Bank residents who held Israeli-issued access permits from entering Jerusalem or Israel, except those working for international organizations or in a humanitarian capacity. On September 17, Israeli forces closed all northern entrances to the Silwan area of East Jerusalem to facilitate access of Israeli settlers to the area.
The PA began refusing church-issued documents from the First Baptist Church of Bethlehem in 2011. The First Baptist Church told a journalist in March that PA officials informed the church that it lacked the authority to function as a religious institution in the West Bank. A small number of proselytizing groups, including Jehovah’s Witnesses and some evangelical Christians, continued to meet official resistance in their efforts to obtain recognition in areas Israel and the PA administered.
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 delivered intolerant and anti-Semitic sermons. The PA also prohibited the broadcast of Quran 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.
As in past years, some observers of archaeological practices in Jerusalem alleged that the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), a government entity, exploited archaeological finds that bolstered Jewish claims to the city while overlooking other historically significant archaeological finds.
Likewise, the Western Wall Heritage Foundation continued to promote ongoing archaeological excavations north of the Western Wall plaza.
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. Supporters of the center cited an 1894 ruling by the Islamic Law court, stating that the cemetery was no longer sacred because it was abandoned and claiming that it served as a municipal parking lot for almost 50 years without a single complaint. In late March the U.S.-based human rights NGO Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) released a video it claimed confirms that excavations of “archaeological artifacts and human remains” continued in secret in the cemetery, despite claims by the Wiesenthal Center that such digs would end at the site. Historian and Columbia University professor Rashid Khalidi, whose ancestors are buried at the Mamilla Cemetery, publicly refuted the Wiesenthal Center’s assertions and claimed that Israeli authorities “systematically disrespected” Muslim and Christian sites of cultural, religious, and historical significance.
PA President Mahmoud Abbas, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the CRIHL, and foreign governments continued to denounce so-called “price tag” attacks. “Price tag” attacks refer to illegal actions (ranging from vandalism of houses of worship and arson to physical assault) that Israeli settlers carried out to exact a “price” for Israeli government actions they viewed as contrary to their interests. Although Israeli authorities made arrests in a few of the “price tag” incidents, there were no prosecutions by the end of the year. As an example, on September 4, suspected “price tag” vandals spray-painted “Jesus is a monkey” and set fire to the doors of Latrun monastery in the West Bank. Israeli officials pledged to punish the culprits, but there were no arrests by year’s end.
Both Muslim and Christian Palestinians accused Israeli officials of attempting to foster animosity among Palestinians by exaggerating reports of Muslim-Christian tensions. Palestinian Muslim and Christian opinion makers and businesspeople denied an Israeli ambassador’s claims in a March 9 Wall Street Journal opinion piece and April 22 60 Minutes episode that Muslim persecution of Christians has spurred Christian migration from Jerusalem and the West Bank. Palestinians countered that Israel’s policies were chiefly responsible for Christian flight and not interreligious tensions between the two communities.
In explaining increased emigration, church leaders cited the limited ability of Christian communities in the Jerusalem area to expand due to building restrictions, difficulties in obtaining Israeli visas and residency permits for Christian clergy, Israeli government family reunification restrictions, and taxation problems.
On December 4, the IDF demolished a mosque in the village of al-Mufarqarah in the South Hebron Hills in the West Bank. The mosque was first demolished in November 2011 and was in the process of being rebuilt.
The Chief Rabbinate of Israel, the heads of churches in Jerusalem, the PA Ministry of Islamic Waqf, and the PA Islamic Sharia courts continued dialogue through the CRIHL. (The CRIHL is 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 leaders of the major Christian denominations in Jerusalem.)
The Israeli High Court ruled in 2010 that the segregation of men and women on some public streets and sidewalks in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish neighborhood of Mea She’arim in Jerusalem was illegal. A large sign pointing to a women-only sidewalk was still posted in October in Mea She’arim despite the ruling, according to a press report. A Jerusalem city council member charged with removing illegal signs told the press that the sign was mistakenly not removed and that “there is no [legal] segregation whatsoever.” The ruling ended a tradition of gender segregation during the Jewish festival of Sukkot. Local authorities gave permission to erect a barrier again this year and the High Court upheld its previous decision, stating that 2011 was the last year such a barrier would be allowed.
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 had to use separate areas to visit and pray, and the women’s section is less than half the size of the men’s section. The gender restrictions were also enforced on non-Jews visiting the site.
On September 20, commemorating the 43rd anniversary of an attempt by an Australian national to set fire to al-Aqsa mosque, PA President Abbas issued a statement that Jerusalem “will forever be Arabic, Islamic, and Christian” and called the attack the first in a series aimed at demolishing al-Aqsa and building “the alleged Temple in order to uproot its citizens, Judaize it and eternalize its occupation.” Western Wall Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, an Israeli government-appointee who administers the Western Wall complex, condemned the statement for denying Jewish ties to Jerusalem and claimed that Palestinians sought to “appropriate for themselves and their faith the holy city of King David.”
At a nationally televised West Bank rally held on January 9 to mark the 47th anniversary of the founding of the Fatah party, Grand Mufti of Jerusalem Mohammed Hussein--a PA-appointee--quoted a hadith (text traditionally attributed to the prophet Mohammad) reading “The hour of judgment will not come until you fight the Jews…The Jews will hide behind stones and behind the tree. The stone and tree will cry, ‘Oh Muslim, Oh Servant of God, this is the Jew behind me, come and kill him.’” A video of the sermon posted on YouTube (since removed) shows Hussein being introduced by an unidentified man saying “Our war with the descendants of the apes and pigs is a war of religion and faith.”
Official PA media generally sought to control and eliminate statements and material that it thought could incite violence, including criticism about the policies and actions of the Government of Israel and Israeli citizens. However, there were several instances in which official media carried explicitly intolerant material. The official PA daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida on November 19 published a piece perpetuating blood libel that said “the oppressive invaders” [a reference to Israel] are “hungry for human blood and liver.” On January 6, PA TV aired a sermon in Al-Bireh, the West Bank, in which the preacher propagated conspiracy theories of Jewish world domination. He stated, “Oh servants of Allah, every evil and catastrophe on the land of Palestine--moreover, in the whole world--is caused by the Jews…This is the history of the Jews. Many a covenant have they violated. Many a prophet they have slayed.”