The PA basic law provides every person the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and expression, orally, in writing, or through any other form. PA laws do not specifically provide for freedom of press. 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 over the last year--most notably through harassment, intimidation, and arrest.
Israeli law provides for certain protections to Palestinian residents of Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza. Israeli authorities, however, continued to restrict press coverage and place limits on certain forms of expression in the Palestinian Occupied Territories--particularly by restricting Palestinian journalists’ rights of movement and through violence, arrests, and intimidation.
Freedom of Speech and Expression: Although no PA law prohibits criticism of the government, there were media reports PA authorities arrested some journalists and bloggers who either criticized or covered events that criticized the PA and PA officials. Additionally, there were several complaints during the year that the PA prevented journalists from covering events in the West Bank biased toward Hamas.
In the Gaza Strip, individuals publicly criticizing Hamas authorities risked reprisal by Hamas, including arrest, interrogation, seizure of property, and harassment. Civil society and youth activists, social media advocates, journalists, 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.
In Jerusalem, Israeli authorities punished displays of Palestinian political symbols and public expressions of anti-Israeli sentiment with fines or imprisonment. Israeli authorities, however, did not always enforce these restrictions. Israeli security officials regularly prohibited or interrupted meetings or conferences held in Jerusalem affiliated with the PLO or the PA, or with PA officials in attendance. They also restricted coverage of incidents that might reflect badly on Israeli policies.
For instance, on August 26, authorities fined two Palestinian journalists, Palestinian Public Broadcasting Corporation cameraman Ali Yasin and Russia Today television cameraman Mohamed Esho, for refusing to leave the scene when ordered to do so by Israeli police outside of al-Aqsa Mosque gates. Yassin stated that as he and his fellow journalists covered Israeli police actions to prevent Muslim worshipers from entering al-Aqsa Mosque, a police officer approached them and asked for their identification cards. Subsequently, he cited them with a fine of 475 shekels (about $121) for “obstruction of movement.” After the intervention of the Jerusalem Municipality Media Department, authorities cancelled the fines.
Many Palestinian journalists working in East Jerusalem or throughout Israel contended that Israeli forces were complicit in permitting extremist Israelis to attack or intimidate Palestinian journalists. For example, on August 16, Jewish Israeli extremists attacked Palestinian Public Broadcasting Corporation correspondent Christine Rinawi and other journalists in front of the Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon in southern Israel, while they covered news related to the deteriorating health of Palestinian prisoner Mohammed Allan. According to the Palestinian journalists on the scene, the Israeli police did nothing to stop the settlers’ attacks.
Press and Media Freedoms: Across the occupied territories, independent media operated with restrictions. The PA Ministry of Information requested that Israeli reporters covering events in the West Bank register with the ministry. According to the PA deputy minister of information, the ministry provides permits to Israeli journalists only if they do not live in an illegal settlement. While officially the PA was open to Israeli reporters covering events in the West Bank, Palestinian journalists reportedly pressured Israeli journalists not to attend PA events.
The PA took steps to permit Hamas publications in the West Bank, but it also imposed restrictions on a Hamas television outlet. In May 2014 the PA lifted a West Bank distribution ban on the pro-Hamas Filistin and al-Risala newspapers. Israeli authorities, however, forced the Ramallah-based printing house to stop printing and distributing these pro-Hamas newspapers in the West Bank. Until November 30, authorities reportedly permitted pro-Hamas al-Aqsa television to work in the West Bank, albeit only by contracting through West Bank communications companies. Subsequently, PA security services circulated instructions to Palestinian communications companies to stop providing all services to al-Aqsa television.
During the 2014 Gaza conflict, Hamas reportedly harassed journalists--including several from Western outlets--to prevent them from reporting on the hostilities in a way that would reflect unfavorably on Hamas or possibly divulge sensitive information.
Hamas modestly loosened some restrictions on PA-affiliated publications in the Gaza Strip, although significant restrictions remained. In May 2014 Hamas lifted its ban on three West Bank-based newspapers--al-Quds, al-Ayyam, and al-Hayat al-Jadida. Hamas authorities permitted broadcast within Gaza of reporting and interviews featuring PA officials. Hamas allowed, with some restrictions, the operation of non-Hamas-affiliated broadcast media in the Gaza Strip. For instance, the PA-supported Palestine TV reportedly operated in the Gaza Strip.
Hamas also sought to restrict the movement of journalists in Gaza--both at crossing points and within the area. On February 3, Hamas security forces in Gaza prevented the chief editor of Siyasat magazine and commentator, Atef Abu Seif, from leaving the Gaza Strip to travel to Morocco.
Within areas of the West Bank where Israel controls access, Palestinian journalists complained the Israeli authorities restricted their freedom of movement and ability to cover stories. The IDF does not recognize any Palestinian press credentials or credentials from the International Federation of Journalists. Few Palestinians held Israeli press credentials following the Israeli revocation of the vast majority of their credentials during the Second Intifada, which began in 2000.
Israel does not issue journalists permits to travel into Jerusalem or west of the separation barrier. Palestinian journalists who are able to obtain permits on other grounds, as well as Palestinian Jerusalemite journalists, reported incidents of harassment, racism, and occasional violence when seeking to cover news in Jerusalem, especially in the Old City and its vicinity. For example, on June 21, Israeli authorities prevented Tahsin al-Astal, the deputy head of the Palestinian Journalists’ Syndicate and the Gaza editor of al-Hayat al-Jadida daily, from entering the West Bank to participate in the General Secretariat meeting of the syndicate in Ramallah.
Palestinian journalists reportedly also faced discrimination, harassment, and violence in Jerusalem. On August 4, cameraman Abdul Karim Darwish of al-Bashir ProMedia was covering the arrest of five security guards of al-Aqsa Mosque when Israeli police seized his camera, detained him, and interrogated him at a police station in Jerusalem. Subsequently, authorities released him without charge.
Violence and Harassment: There were numerous reports that PA security forces harassed, detained (occasionally with violence), prosecuted, and fined journalists during the year. Moreover, PA security forces also at times reportedly demanded deletion of footage showing security personnel. For example, on July 8, the Palestinian Intelligence Service arrested and detained Ro’ya Media cameraman Amr Halayqa for five days, during which officials interrogated him and another journalist, Haitham Warasneh. Authorities accused them of inciting against the PA. They appeared before a judge, who, after verifying their credentials as journalists, released them.
Some Palestinian journalists claimed the PA obstructed the activities of media organizations with Hamas sympathies and limited media coverage critical of the PA. For instance, on March 17, the Palestinian Intelligence Service arrested Radi Karameh, presenter at Radio Alhuriya, after raiding his house. Authorities interrogated him and charged him with “libel and defamation” against the Palestinian president and senior officials. Karameh said the interrogators insulted him and yelled at him that his reporting should be “patriotic” and free of any criticism of the president. He added that authorities told him not to cover anti-PA activities and subsequently released him.
On November 5, the PA ordered the closure of the Ramallah office of Qatar-funded al-Araby al-Jadid newspaper, accusing the paper of lacking proper licensing requirements and for publishing malicious news about the PA security services.
The PA had an inconsistent record of protecting Israeli and international journalists from harassment by Palestinian civilians or their own personnel.
In the Gaza Strip, Hamas at times arrested, harassed, and pressured journalists, sometimes using violence. Reportedly, Hamas summoned and detained journalists for questioning to intimidate them. Hamas also constrained journalists’ freedom of movement during the year, attempting to ban access to some official buildings as well as to several prodemocracy protests.
For example, on April 29, Hamas security officers attacked journalists covering a peaceful rally calling for an end to the internal division. Security officers badly beat the journalists, and detained a number of them briefly. The Foreign Press Association reported other Hamas tactics to harass or restrict journalists, including efforts to establish “vetting procedures” that would effectively blacklist certain reporters or sending a series of intimidating text messages to journalists.
Throughout the year there were dozens of reported Israeli actions that prevented Palestinian journalists from covering news stories in the West Bank, Gaza, and Jerusalem. These actions included harassment by Israeli soldiers and acts of violence against journalists. On May 2, the IDF suppressed a peaceful march organized by the Palestinian Journalists’ Syndicate for World Press Freedom Day. Israeli security forces fired rubber bullets and tear gas at the participating journalists, injuring several journalists including the head of the syndicate, Abdelnasser Najjar.
Palestinian journalists also claimed that Israeli security forces detained Palestinian journalists and forced them to delete images and videos under threat of violence or arrested/administrative detention. For instance, on August 28, at a demonstration in Bil’in village near Ramallah, IDF soldiers detained Hamza Yaseen, a volunteer photographer with B’Tselem. Reportedly soldiers beat him and deleted the images in his camera’s memory before smashing the camera. Authorities then arrested him and transferred him to the Benyamin police center before releasing him after midnight.
From October through November, there were many reports of Palestinian journalists injured by rubber-coated steel bullets/live fire or tear gas while covering demonstrations and clashes between Palestinian protesters and Israeli security forces. On October 30, IDF soldiers physically attacked several journalists trying to cover clashes between Palestinian stone throwers and the IDF near Beit El at the outskirts of Ramallah. Israeli soldiers kicked and pepper sprayed a number of cameramen and photographers as they covered the clashes. Israeli soldiers also assaulted and pepper sprayed Palestinian paramedics, who rushed to the scene to assist the injured reporters.
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 rules. Media throughout the occupied territories reported practicing self-censorship.
In Gaza civil society organizations reported Hamas censored television programs and written content, such as newspapers and books.
While 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, they learned what was acceptable and self-censored publications accordingly.
The Israeli government closed or threatened to close a number of West Bank radio broadcasters, primarily under allegations of incitement to violence against Israeli citizens. In November the Israeli government shut three radio stations in Hebron and confiscated broadcasting equipment. On November 3, the IDF closed Fatah-affiliated Hurriyah Radio; on November 21, the IDF shut al-Khalil Radio; and on November 28, the IDF raided and closed Dream Radio. The IDF threatened two other Palestinian radio stations with closure for alleged incitement to violence. On November 27, al-Nas Radio, one of the two leading stations in Jenin, north of the West Bank, received an IDF warning letter to cease and desist incitement to violence. The previous day, on November 26, a Hebron-based independent Radio One FM received the same IDF letter.
Additionally, on August 27, the IDF threatened to shut the Alreef radio station near Hebron alleging the station’s broadcast interfered with Ben Gurion Airport’s operations, although the station has been broadcasting since 2007. According to the station manager, Mahmoud Diab, he received a call from an Israeli intelligence officer three months before this incident in which the intelligence officer accused the station of incitement against Israelis. Despite the military order, the station continued to broadcast.
Over the past two years, Palestinian local broadcaster Wattan TV faced additional setbacks in its legal efforts to retrieve its foreign-funded equipment confiscated in 2012 by the IDF from its Ramallah Studio (in Area A of the West Bank). In June 2014 the Israeli High Court of Justice rejected Wattan’s petition challenging the confiscation of its equipment, following several hearings during which authorities did not allow Wattan’s lawyers, for security reasons, to view the evidence the IDF presented against Wattan. While attorneys for Wattan TV contended they proved the broadcasts posed no threat to communications in Israel (such as airport communications), they complained about an opaque legal process that allowed the government to withhold testimony from the parties to the case based on security concerns. The case remained pending at year’s end.
Libel/Slander Laws: There were some accusations of slander or libel against journalists in the West Bank as well as suppression of journalists on national security grounds. For example, on August 5, the PA Preventive Security Service arrested freelance journalist and editor of Quds News Network Yousef Shalabi from Tulkarem. Authorities interrogated him about charges of “inciting sectarian strife” in his reporting. He spent a night in jail before a court date was set for October 6.
In Gaza there were reports, specifically during the Gaza conflict of 2014, that Hamas used security justifications or slander or libel laws to censor public criticism. For instance, on August 5, the Hamas public prosecutor summoned Mushera al-Haj, a journalist for Bawabet Alhadaf electronic newspaper, regarding a Facebook comment criticizing the Ministry of Health in the Gaza Strip, after the death of a child at the al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital. Authorities accused her of libel and defamation for her posting. After refusing to apologize, al-Haj said authorities arrested her and took her to al-Ansar Prison. Officials subsequently released her.
There were some reports Israeli authorities used security justifications or slander or libel laws to censor public criticism.
While there were no PA restrictions on access to the internet, there were reports that the PA actively monitored e-mail and social media, pressuring and harassing activists and journalists. There were multiple instances when the PA arrested or detained Palestinians because of their posts on social media. For example, on July 21, the Military Intelligence Service in Tulkarem summoned the editor at al-Fajr al-Jadid TV, Sami al-Sai, for his posting on Facebook about security officers selling gasoline coupons, which were for official use only. During his interrogation authorities asked him to provide the names of his sources, including the officer who allegedly sold those coupons. Authorities subsequently released him without charge.
Palestinian civil society organizations and social media practitioners stated Hamas authorities monitored the internet activities of Gaza Strip residents and took action to intimidate or harass them. For instance, on July 8, Hamas’s Internal Security in Gaza interrogated freelance journalist and media student Tareq al-Farra about his writings on Facebook. Authorities summoned al-Farra to Internal Security headquarters in Khan Younis, blindfolded him, and placed him in a detention room where they instructed him to remain standing. Authorities then interrogated him about his writings and postings on Facebook in which he criticized the Hamas government’s decision to close the Jawwal telecom company. Authorities then forced him to surrender his password to his Facebook page and to write an apology on his Facebook account. Authorities released him but instructed him not to change his Facebook password.
Israeli authorities did not restrict access to the internet. They did monitor Palestinians’ online activities, however, and arrested a number of Palestinians for incitement, including for posts on social media. For example, media reported that Jerusalem District Police arrested Jerusalem-based, Arab-Israeli attorney Tareq Barghout on suspicion of publishing material that incited violence on Facebook. Barghout was the defense attorney in a high-profile stabbing case.
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. Palestinian law provides for academic freedom, but individuals or officials from academic institutions reportedly self-censored curricula. There were no reports the PA officially interfered with education during the year. While there was no overt threat to academic freedom, faculty members knew there were security elements present 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. Palestinians in Gaza reported that generally there was limited interference by Hamas--the de facto authority in Gaza--at the primary, secondary, or university levels. In Gaza public schools, Hamas reportedly interfered in teaching methodologies or curriculum deemed to violate Islamic identity, the religion, or “traditions,” as defined by the de facto Hamas authority. Hamas interfered if there were reports of classes or activities that mixed genders. UNRWA reported no such Hamas interference in its Gaza schools.
Hamas authorities sought to disrupt some educational, cultural, and international exchange programs. They routinely required Palestinians to obtain exit permits prior to departing Gaza. Students participating in certain cultural and education programs (including programs sponsored by foreign governments and international organizations) can face questioning from de facto Hamas authorities, for example, on the purpose and duration of travel and the process for coordinating the visas. These authorities can and did deny exit for travelers, whether through the Rafah or Erez crossings.
Hamas authorities also interfered in local cultural programs. There were continued reports the de facto government suppressed cultural expression that might offend local religious and cultural values and identity.
Armed conflict in the Gaza Strip resulted in damage to schools, which at times restricted access to education by Palestinian residents. For example, at least 90 schools in the Gaza Strip were destroyed during engagements between Israeli government forces and Hamas militants during Operation Protective Edge. In addition some persons displaced by the conflict sheltered in school buildings. The start of the 2014-15 school year was delayed as a result. Further, Israeli restrictions on movement adversely affected academic institutions and access to education in the West Bank, because Israeli checkpoints, although they decreased in number, created difficulties for students and faculty commuting to schools and university campuses. In numerous instances students and educators reported being late or missing days of classes due to significant delays at checkpoints (see section 2.d.). Additionally, Palestinian students and educators reported harassment and physical assault by Israeli settlers when going to school in areas such as Hebron, Nablus, Salfeet, and Qalqilya. Local press reports cited instances of students incarcerated by Israeli authorities for taking part in demonstrations deemed unlawful and for allegedly throwing stones at Israeli soldiers.
Palestinian government officials and Palestinian university officials accused the ISF of attacking several university campuses, especially in areas close to Israeli settlements. In particular, officials from the al-Quds University Abu Dis campus accused Israeli soldiers of harassing Palestinian university students on campus and attempting to provoke them into confrontations. In August the university’s Abu Dis campus issued a press release accusing Israeli forces of throwing tear-gas grenades into the campus and igniting a fire on university grounds. On November 9, al-Quds University administrators invited diplomatic staff from international missions in Jerusalem and the West Bank to survey damage to the campus grounds caused by two ISF attacks that took place on October 28 and November 2. University surveillance cameras showed the ISF entering the university campus shooting rubber-coated bullets and live fire, sound grenades, and tear gas without any apparent immediate threat, causing dozens of injuries. Additionally, the Palestine Technical University--Khadoori in Tulkarem--which is also the site of an active Israeli military facility, was the site of clashes between students and Israeli soldiers. From December 16 to 20, the IDF injured 87 students at the university by using live fire, rubber bullets, and tear gas to disperse demonstrations on campus.
During the year the Israeli Supreme Court continued to uphold with few exceptions the 2000 Israeli ban on students from the Gaza Strip attending West Bank universities. Students in the Gaza Strip generally did not apply to West Bank universities because they understood Israeli authorities would deny permit requests. During the year Israeli authorities several times prevented students at schools adjacent to the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif from reaching their classrooms.
Israeli travel restrictions also prevented students in the West Bank and Gaza from participating in cultural programming within the Palestinian Territories and study programs abroad. In some instances Israeli officials denied Palestinian travel permits, thus preventing transit to Jerusalem for visa interviews or to cross the Allenby Bridge to Jordan. In other cases delays in permit approvals by Israeli officials caused Palestinians to miss the travel dates for their exchange programs abroad or to miss cultural programming in Jerusalem or the West Bank. In some instances students were asked to submit to security interviews prior to receiving permits. In the past two years, Israeli authorities detained some students indefinitely without charge following their security interview--which caused some students to refuse to attend security interviews due to fear of detention, which made them unable to obtain a travel permit.
The travel challenges were particularly acute for Palestinians from Gaza, since Israeli authorities often denied travel permits through Erez. In these instances Palestinians from Gaza could elect to travel through the Rafah crossing, but Egyptian authorities have closed Rafah, opening the crossing only for special categories of travelers for 12 days during the year. With the increase in commercial activity between Gaza, the West Bank, and Israel, Israeli border officials increased the detention and interrogation of Palestinians from Gaza traveling with business permits.