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. Different legal standards and protections existed for Israeli citizens residing in the West Bank compared with Palestinian West Bank residents. Israeli authorities 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, media reports indicated PA authorities arrested journalists and social media activists who 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 that it claimed were biased in favor of Hamas.
In the Gaza Strip, individuals publicly criticizing Hamas authorities risked reprisal by Hamas, including arrest, interrogation, seizure of property, and harassment. Media practitioners accused of publicly criticizing Hamas, including civil society and youth activists, social media advocates, and journalists, faced punitive measures, including raids on their facilities and residences, arbitrary detention, and denial of permission to travel outside Gaza.
De facto Hamas authorities imposed restrictions on the work of foreign journalists in the Gaza Strip, including lengthy interrogations of journalists at entry points to the Gaza Strip and refusal or long delays in providing permits to enter the Gaza strip. Some of this harassment appeared to be punitive reaction to what Hamas perceived as critical reporting.
In Jerusalem Israeli authorities prohibited displays of Palestinian political symbols--such as the Palestinian flag--and public expressions of anti-Israeli sentiment, punishable by fines or imprisonment. Israeli authorities, however, did not always enforce these restrictions. Israeli security officials prohibited PLO- or PA-affiliated groups from meeting in Jerusalem. They also restricted coverage of incidents that might reflect badly on Israeli policies.
For instance, on January 17, Israeli authorities cancelled a scheduled event at Al-Hakawati Palestinian National Theater in East Jerusalem entitled “CPR for Palestinian Cultural Institutions in East Jerusalem” because of the planned attendance of the PA minister of culture.
On February 2, the Israeli intelligence service detained Nader Bibars, director of Good Morning Jerusalem, a show produced in Jerusalem by Palestinian television. Authorities reportedly interrogated him on the political discussions on the show, many of which were critical of Israeli policies.
Press and Media Freedoms: Across East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza, independent media operated under 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 a settlement. While officially the PA was open to Israeli reporters covering events in the West Bank, Palestinian journalists reportedly pressured Israeli journalists at times not to attend PA events.
While the PA took steps to permit Hamas publications in the West Bank, it also imposed restrictions on a Hamas television outlet. In 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. PA security services circulated instructions to Palestinian communications companies to stop providing all services to Hamas-affiliated Al-Aqsa television.
In many instances throughout the year, Israeli authorities and PA security services arrested West Bank-based journalists working for Hamas or Islamic Jihad media outlets, including Al-Aqsa satellite television station, Filistin newspaper, and Palestine Today Television.
Earlier Hamas had modestly loosened some restrictions on PA-affiliated or pro-PA publications in the Gaza Strip, although significant restrictions remained. In 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 sought to restrict the movement of journalists in Gaza--both at crossing points and within the area. On August 22, the Foreign Press Association issued a statement expressing concern over restrictions imposed by Hamas on the work of foreign journalists in the Gaza Strip. It claimed a number of international journalists complained of intrusive questioning as they entered the Gaza Strip and when applying for residence permits. In a few cases, authorities refused those reporters permits, provided permits of untenably brief duration, or told them their permits were conditional on not working with specific Palestinian journalists.
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 Palestinian press credentials or credentials from the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ). 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. In October the Palestinian Center for Human Rights issued an annual report covering press freedoms in 2015-16 documenting what it claimed was a significant escalation of violations by Israeli authorities against media personnel.
Israel does not issue Palestinian journalists special permits to travel into Jerusalem or west of the separation barrier. Palestinian journalists who were 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, media reported that Israeli police attacked freelance photojournalist Said Rukon on April 30 as he covered the funeral procession of a former Palestinian prisoner in the Old City of Jerusalem. Rukon stated that an Israeli police officer approached him from behind while he was taking photographs of the event and pepper sprayed him directly in the face, causing Rukon to lose consciousness briefly.
While Israel does not exercise control within Gaza, it detained or interrogated journalists departing or returning from the area. On April 23, authorities arrested Palestinian journalist and deputy head of the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate Omar Nazzal at an Israeli-Jordanian border crossing during his travel to Sarajevo to attend a meeting of the European Federation of Journalists. As of September he remained in administrative detention without charge. According to the IFJ, authorities had administratively detained three Palestinian journalists since the start of the year.
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.
Some Palestinian journalists claimed the PA obstructed the activities of media organizations with Hamas sympathies and limited media coverage critical of the PA.
In November 2015 the PA ordered (but did not enforce) the closure of the Ramallah office of Qatar-funded al-Araby al-Jadid newspaper, accusing the newspaper of lacking proper licensing requirements and for publishing malicious news about the PA security services. On June 8, the PA called for the interrogation of Mohammed Abed Rabbo, a correspondent for the newspaper, in response to an investigative article he wrote. PA security forces interrogated Rabbo, but authorities released him without charge.
The PA also 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 Palestinian and foreign 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.
On January 3, Hamas police arrested Palestinian reporter Ayman Alul, who worked for an Iraqi television station, and held him for eight days for “disturbing public order and manipulating public opinion.” HRW reported that authorities tortured Alul during his detention. Hamas authorities released Alul several days later, after he signed an agreement and announced he would no longer cover political developments in Gaza.
Furthermore, on September 1, Hamas authorities arrested Palestinian journalist Mohamed Othman, who worked in Gaza for the pan-Arab television channel Al Araby Al Jadeed and a foreign news website. Although authorities gave no specific reasons for his arrest, Othman wrote investigative reports that often criticized Hamas. Authorities released him the following day pending further investigation, and authorities again released him without charge following a subsequent arrest for questioning on September 5.
Throughout the year there were dozens of reports of Israeli actions that prevented Palestinian or Arab-Israeli 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. Palestinian journalists also claimed that Israeli security forces detained Palestinian journalists and forced them to delete images and videos under threat of violence or arrest/administrative detention.
On February 3, the Israeli police reportedly physically attacked Ali Yasin, a cameraman for Palestinian TV, as he covered events near the Old City of Jerusalem.
On May 23, the Foreign Press Association in Jerusalem criticized what it described as a “humiliating security check” imposed on Atef Safadi, an Arab photographer who worked for the European Press Photo Agency and held Israeli government-issued credentials. Safadi was the pool photographer for foreign media agencies assigned to cover a meeting between the Israeli and French prime ministers. Israeli security officers asked him to remove his clothing as part of security checks.
There were many reports of Palestinian journalists injured by rubber-coated steel bullets and live fire or tear gas while covering demonstrations and clashes between Palestinian protesters and Israeli security forces. On May 6, IDF soldiers shot Palestinian TV reporter Ahmad Othman with two rubber bullets as he covered a demonstration in Qalqilia against settlement activities in Kufur Qaddoum in the West Bank. IDF soldiers also shot freelance cameraman Samir Deik in his shoulder and leg with four rubber bullets at the same demonstration. Palestinian journalists asserted that the IDF targeted them to deter them from covering anti-Israeli demonstrations. On October 9, an Israeli soldier shot photographer Majdi Ishtayeh of the Associated Press with a rubber bullet while he covered clashes north of Jerusalem.
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. There were reports of PA authorities seeking to erase images or footage from journalists’ cameras or cell phones.
On June 15, the Palestinian police physically attacked journalist Jihad Qasem and cameraman Amir Hamayel of Wattan TV and prevented them from covering police activity in Al Am’ari refugee camp near Ramallah. Police asked Qasem to unlock his personal mobile phone, but when he refused, police arrested him and Hamayel and took them to a nearby police station, where authorities eventually released them.
On September 16, Palestinian Authority security personnel attacked a group of journalists as they were covering a political march in the city of Jenin. The security agents forced some of the journalists to erase the recording in their cameras.
In Gaza civil society organizations reported Hamas censored television programs and written content, such as newspapers and books. For example, on May 24, Hamas security services interrogated Jamil Moamar of official Palestinian Radio regarding an article he wrote about financial corruption within the Hamas leadership.
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 concern (as they also do with Israeli media), 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 the censors considered acceptable and self-censored publications accordingly.
The government of Israel continued to raid and close Palestinian radio stations primarily under allegations they incited violence against Israeli civilians or security services. Israeli military laws govern incitement in the West Bank. NGOs and other observers said these regulations were vaguely worded and open to interpretation. The IDF generally cited two laws in its military orders when closing Palestinian radio stations--the 1945 Defense Emergency Regulations and the 2009 Order Concerning Security provisions. These laws generally define incitement as an attempt to influence public opinion in a manner that could harm public safety or public order. Israeli civil law applies to Israeli citizens and Palestinian residents of Jerusalem and provides a higher threshold for determining incitement. The penal code, for example, specifies that incitement relates only to incidents in which a person published something intended to incite to violence or terrorism and under the condition that there is a concrete possibility that this publication will lead to the committing of the act of violence or terrorism.
On August 31, the IDF raided and confiscated equipment from the Hebron-area Al-Sanabel radio station and issued a three-month closure notice (expiring November 30) on accusations of “repeatedly broadcasting inciting content.” This instance marked the fourth time in the last year Israeli forces unilaterally entered Area A to close a Palestinian radio station. In this instance, as in others, the government declined to cite specific content of concern. As of December the station was operating.
In November 2015 the Israeli government shut three radio stations in Hebron and confiscated broadcasting equipment. In November 2015 the IDF closed Fatah-affiliated Hurriyah Radio, al-Khalil Radio, and raided and closed Dream Radio. All three stations closed in November 2015 resumed operating by year’s end. The IDF threatened two other Palestinian radio stations with closure for alleged incitement to violence. In November 2015 al-Nas Radio, one of the two leading stations in Jenin, in the northern West Bank, received an IDF warning letter to cease and desist incitement to violence. The previous day Hebron-based independent Radio One FM received the same IDF letter, but the Israeli authorities took no further action against the two stations.
In 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 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, allegedly for security reasons, to view the evidence the IDF presented against Wattan. Attorneys for Wattan TV contended they proved the broadcasts posed no threat to communications in Israel (such as airport communications) and complained about an opaque legal process that allowed the government to withhold testimony from the parties to the case based on security concerns. Israeli authorities took no further action on the petition during the year.
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 July 25, the PA Preventive Security Organization arrested Palestinian journalist Mohammad Khabisa and accused him of defamation of an official agency and publishing false and slandering news. Khabisa, who worked for the Turkish Anadolu News Agency, published an article on his Facebook page criticizing what he described as the disproportionate size of the budget for the PA’s official WAFA News Agency. Khabisa’s report cited figures published by the PA Ministry of Finance. Authorities released him on the following day.
In Gaza there were reports during the 2014 conflict that Hamas used security justifications or slander or libel laws to censor public criticism.
Israeli authorities used security justifications or slander or libel laws to censor public criticism, particularly for West Bank-based Palestinian radio stations.
Internet was generally accessible throughout the West Bank and Gaza. Frequent power outages in Gaza, however, interrupted accessibility. Israel also did not permit the import of 3G and newer telecommunications technologies into the West Bank and Gaza, significantly limiting internet access by mobile devices.
While there were no PA restrictions on access to the internet, there were reports that the PA actively monitored 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 January 24, PA General Intelligence service arrested freelance activist Abdallah Bani Odeh for his writings on Facebook. Authorities detained Odeh for three days, during which he alleged authorities beat him and accused him of incitement on social media and leading suspicious activities in Palestinian universities.
Gaza-based 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 January 1, authorities in the Hamas public prosecutor’s office summoned Ramzi Hirzallah, an employee of a currency exchange business and former Hamas member, and told him the de facto Interior Ministry filed a complaint, alleging he had slandered ministry officials on Facebook. On January 3, Hamas security officials arrested him and confiscated his cell phone and computers. According to HRW, Hamas authorities interrogated and harassed Hirzallah in detention and initially prevented human rights authorities from meeting with him. Hamas authorities released him a few days later but told him he could express criticism but not insult the Hamas de facto government.
Israeli authorities did not restrict access to the internet. They monitored Palestinians’ online activities, however, and arrested a number of Palestinians for incitement stemming from their posts on social media. For example, on March 9, Israeli authorities arrested Sami Al Sai, editor and correspondent of Al Fajer Al Jadeed Television, at his home in Tulkarem, in the West Bank. An Israeli military court sentenced Al Sai to nine months in prison for inciting violence.
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. Faculty members reported there were PA security elements present on university campuses among the student body and faculty, which may have led to self-censorship.
Public and UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East) schools in Gaza followed the same curriculum as West Bank schools. Palestinians in Gaza reported that generally there was limited interference by Hamas 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) faced questioning from de facto Hamas authorities, for example, on the purpose and duration of travel and the process for coordinating the visas. Hamas authorities denied exit permits for some travelers through the Rafah and Erez crossings.
Hamas authorities also interfered in local cultural programs. There were continued reports the de facto government suppressed cultural expression that might offend Hamas’ interpretation of religious and cultural values and identity.
Israeli restrictions on movement adversely affected academic institutions and access to education in the West Bank. The Israeli government does not allow students from Gaza to obtain permits to study in universities in the West Bank. Israeli checkpoints created difficulties for students and faculty commuting to schools and university campuses within the West Bank. 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, Qalqilya, and Abu Dis. Local press reported Israeli authorities detained Palestinian students for taking part in demonstrations and for allegedly throwing stones at IDF personnel.
Palestinian government officials and Palestinian university officials accused the ISF of attacking university campuses, especially in areas close to Israeli settlements during the year. Officials from the Al-Quds University Abu Dis campus continued to accuse Israeli soldiers of harassing Palestinian university students on campus and attempting to provoke students in confrontations.
Throughout the year Al-Quds University Administration accused the ISF of routinely firing tear gas onto the main campus, impacting students and faculty. In January contacts claimed that several hundred ISF officers entered the Abu Dis campus of Al Quds University, detained six night guards, and raided a student office in the Department of Islamic Studies, as well as the offices of four student political groups. The ISF officers removed computer hard drives and boxes of papers from these student offices and broke copy machines, doors, locks, chairs, and shelves. Observers said the ISF broke into four different areas of the university during the year and ransacked each location. In November a similar incident occurred where the ISF broke into the campus and raided an exhibit organized by the Islamic students association.
Additionally, the Palestine Technical University Khadoori (PTUK), colocated in Tulkarem with an active Israeli military facility, continued to be the site of clashes between students and IDF personnel. On March 15, observers at the university stated that the ISF entered the campus twice conducting “military maneuvers.” ISF personnel entered the engineering building and the department of agriculture and confiscated pamphlets and other documents. On November 17, PTUK staff members issued a press release noting that Israeli soldiers forcefully entered their computer center and confiscated campus video surveillance tape footage. The Arab American University in Jenin also accused the ISF of forcibly entering the campus on March 22 and confiscating materials.
The Israeli High Court ordered the Jerusalem Municipality in 2011 to correct the deficit of classrooms in East Jerusalem schools by the 2016-17 school year; however, according to local media, the deadline passed, and there was still a need for more than 2,000 classrooms. According to UN estimates, the city needed to build approximately 100 new classrooms annually in East Jerusalem to keep pace with population growth. Academic contacts noted that the Israeli government prevented copies of the Palestinian Authority curriculum from entering Jerusalem for use at East Jerusalem schools and that the Jerusalem Municipality instead sent an edited/censored version of the Palestinian Authority curriculum that deleted information on Palestinian history and culture. Local officials complained to Western diplomats about reported recent efforts by the Israeli Ministry of Education to tie funding of Palestinian schools to the use of Israeli curriculum and to “Israelize” the curriculum.
Israeli forces conducted raids of some East Jerusalem schools during the year, including an incident on October 17, when Israeli forces raided the Dar al-Aytam school located in Jerusalem’s Old City and first detained Samir Jibril, the director of the Palestinian Ministry of Education department, which oversees all Palestinian schools in East Jerusalem. Then they detained 10 Palestinian students for throwing rocks but released them the same day.
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 or located within the Haram Al-Sharif /Temple Mount from reaching their classrooms.
Israeli travel restrictions also prevented an increased number of students in the West Bank and Gaza from participating in cultural programming within the Palestinian Territories and study programs abroad. 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 authorities asked students 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 and 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 the Erez crossing. NGOs and international organizations reported a more than 50 percent increase in Israeli denials of Palestinian travel permits from Gaza, which prevented Palestinians from transiting to Jerusalem for visa interviews, the Allenby Bridge to Jordan for onward travel, and the West Bank for work or education. Denials increased for staff of international organizations and for some categories of medical care inside Israel, according to Israeli NGOs. According to Israel’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, only 46 percent of exit permit requests were approved during the year, compared with 80 percent of exit permit requests that were approved in 2013. Many NGOs believed most of the security holds that Israeli authorities placed on Palestinians seeking to exit Gaza for work, education, or family events were arbitrary. Israeli border officials increased the detention and interrogation of Palestinians from Gaza seeking business permits. Because Egyptian authorities also maintained the closure of the Rafah crossing, except for special categories of travelers for 45 days during the year (eight days exclusively for Hajj pilgrims), Palestinians from Gaza remained virtually confined to Gaza.