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 an unratified 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. HRW reported that since 2007 most abuses against journalists in both the West Bank and Gaza were related to tensions between the PA and Hamas. The PA military judiciary detained civilian journalists, according to human rights organizations.
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 reports that the government was not fully tolerant of criticism. HRW reported in February that the PA repeatedly responded to peaceful demonstrations with violent attacks (see section 2.b., Freedom of Assembly).
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 detentions, and denial of permission to travel outside of Gaza. The ICHR reported numerous detentions of protesters in the Gaza Strip. For example, the ICHR reported at least 16 arrests of protesters in March alone and numerous instances in which Hamas quelled rallies and protests with 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. For example, the ISA warned organizers of a Palestinian agricultural trade show in East Jerusalem in September that they would face closure if they invited PA officials or displayed a Palestinian flag. In September Israeli police ordered shut a meeting in East Jerusalem on Israeli changes to Palestinian school curricula, and Israeli security officers questioned the organizers about their involvement in the meeting.
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’s 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. 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 reporting and interviews featuring officials from the PA to be locally broadcast. 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, but 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, with the exception of a few Palestinian journalists who worked as stringers for prominent international media outlets. As a result most Palestinian journalists were unable to cover stories outside the Palestinian-controlled areas of the West Bank.
Violence and Harassment: PA security forces reportedly harassed, detained occasionally with violence, and fined journalists several times during the year due to their reporting. HRW reported in April that the PA Preventative Security and General Intelligence services intimidated, detained, and assaulted journalists with impunity, including through detentions of civilian journalists by the military judiciary.
According to the Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms (MADA), PA police officers prevented Ibtihal Mansour, a reporter for al-Sharq al-Awsat Studies Center, from covering a sit-in against PA political arrests in Nablus on June 13. Mansour stated that, although she adhered to orders, two female officers in civilian clothes beat her up and tried to confiscate her camera and cell phone. She was released after the intervention of members of the public and other journalists.
PA security services summoned and questioned several journalists in the West Bank. For example, on September 10, the Palestinian intelligence services in Bethlehem summoned al-Aqsa TV cameraman Osayd Amarneh, whom they questioned about filming a protest and later released.
In the Gaza Strip, journalists faced arrest, harassment, and other pressure from Hamas due to their reporting. There were reports that 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.
During coverage of popular intra-Palestinian reconciliation protests on March 19 in Gaza City, Hamas internal security forces forcibly entered the Gaza City offices of CNN, NHK (Japan’s public broadcasting service), and Reuters, assaulted several journalists, seized equipment, and demanded that the journalists stop filming the protests.
According to MADA, on August 17, Hamas security personnel prevented Wisam Zu’bur, a photographer for al-Hurriya Media Center, from taking pictures near al-Rimal neighborhood in Gaza City.
There were reports during the year of Israeli authorities detaining or assaulting journalists due to their reporting or coverage. In various incidents Israeli forces subsequently raided those journalists’ homes.
For example, on August 19, Israeli forces reportedly assaulted Al Jazeera cameraman Nabeel Mizawi and correspondent Shireen Abu Akleh while the two were covering Friday prayers at al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem’s Old City. In a live report on Al Jazeera, Abu Akleh claimed that IDF personnel beat Mizawi and ordered them to stop filming. According to the report, IDF personnel also cut a voice cable to mute the broadcast.
Local media reported that on November 22, Israeli authorities arrested Israa Salhab, a reporter for al-Quds satellite station, after she anchored a program on Palestinian prisoners. She was released on November 28 and never faced official charges.
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 actions or prosecutions against any person publishing items counter to these PA guidelines.
Civil society organizations reported that Hamas censored television programs and written content, such as newspapers and books. On January 23, according to HRW, Hamas police officers entered three bookstores in Gaza and confiscated copies of two novels--Haidar Haidar’s A Banquet for Seaweed and Alaa’ al-Aswany’s Chicago--and searched for copies of a third book, Forbidden Pleasure, telling the store owners that the books were seized because the Hamas ministry of interior “deemed them “against sharia” (Islamic law).
There were no reports that the Israeli government monitored the media in the occupied territories. Israeli authorities retain the right to review and approve in advance of printing all Jerusalem-based Arabic publications for material perceived as a security threat. In practice anecdotal evidence suggested the 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 is acceptable and self-censored publications accordingly.
Libel Laws/National Security: There were instances in which slander and libel laws were used to suppress criticism. For example, on August 16, the PA attorney general banned the annual Palestinian Broadcasting Corporation’s Palestine TV Ramadan comedy program series, Watan ala Watar, in its third season, after PA security forces, representatives of the PA Ministry of Health, and the union of PA employees filed complaints claiming the program slandered members of their respective professions. On August 18, the PA attorney general issued final orders sanctioning the forcible suspension of the program.
There were no known reports that Hamas used security justifications or slander or libel laws to censure public critique.