The PA basic law provides for freedom of movement, but the PA at times effectively restricted freedom of movement into Israel for Gazans by declining to make referrals to Israeli authorities on their behalf. Between April and June, the PA Ministry of Health decreased the number of referrals it issued to Gazan residents in need of medical care in Israel. Following the death of three infants unable to leave Gaza for medical care, the PA reversed its permit cuts. The PA basic law does not specify regulations regarding foreign travel, emigration, or repatriation.
Until the PA deployed personnel to Gaza’s border crossings on November 1 and Hamas authorities departed the crossings, Hamas authorities restricted some foreign travel into and out of Gaza and required exit permits for Palestinians departing through the Gaza-Israel Erez crossing. Hamas closed the Erez crossing for a week in March/April, stranding international aid workers inside Gaza. Hamas also prevented some Palestinians from exiting Gaza for reasons related to the purpose of their travel or to coerce payment of taxes and fines. There were some reports unmarried women faced restrictions on their travel out of Gaza.
The ISF regularly imposed significant restrictions on Palestinians’ movement within the West Bank, into and out of Gaza, and foreign travel. At times the ISF increased restrictions on the movement of Palestinians citing security justifications.
A key barrier to Palestinian movement was the security barrier that divides the majority of the West Bank from Israel, most parts of East Jerusalem, and some parts of the West Bank. The barrier runs up to 11 miles (18 kilometers) east of the Green Line in some places, isolating an estimated 25,000 West Bank Palestinians living in communities west of the barrier from the remainder of the West Bank. Other significant barriers to Palestinian movement included internal ISF road closures and Israeli restrictions on the movement of Palestinian persons and goods into and out of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Israeli restrictions on movement affected virtually all aspects of Palestinian life, including access to places of worship, employment, agricultural lands, schools, and hospitals, as well as the conduct of journalism and humanitarian and NGO activities.
Additional restrictions on Palestinian activities and development in Area C zones of the West Bank included Israeli confiscation of postdemolition assistance. Such restrictions affected both nonrefugees and refugees.
The PA, Hamas, and Israel generally cooperated with humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons and refugees. Nonetheless, Israeli officials imposed controls on movement of materials, goods, and persons into and out of Gaza and, as a result, constrained UNRWA’s ability to operate in Gaza. AI and HRW reported difficulties by foreign workers in obtaining Israeli visas, which affected the delivery of humanitarian assistance in the West Bank and Gaza. AI and HRW also reported that the Israeli government denied their employees permits to enter Gaza. On October 30, the Israeli government denied entry to the West Bank to an AI employee who planned to visit relatives in the West Bank and Israel. AI claimed the employee was questioned about his work with AI prior being denied entry on public security grounds.
During the year Israeli authorities imposed movement restrictions on UNRWA staff, resulting in the loss of 1,261 UNRWA workdays in the West Bank and Jerusalem. The majority were due to increased Israeli demands to search UNRWA vehicles at checkpoints between Bethlehem and Jerusalem, especially UNRWA buses transporting 100 UN personnel to UNRWA West Bank Field Office in Jerusalem.
Humanitarian organizations continued to raise concerns about the “shrinking operational space” for international NGOs in Gaza following Israel’s publication of allegations that staff of international NGOs had diverted goods and funds to Hamas. In one case in 2016, Israeli authorities arrested an employee of an international NGO returning to Gaza from Israel through the Erez crossing and held him for 21 days before he had access to a lawyer of his choosing. He claimed he was physically and psychologically tortured and gave a false confession under duress, according to representatives of the NGO. Israeli authorities held the employee in detention for a total of 50 days before filing charges against him. Israeli authorities held several hearings, but there was no resolution at the end of the year.
Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Israeli security operations in the West Bank and Jerusalem led to 13 refugee fatalities as of September, of whom six were allegedly killed while conducting an attack on the ISF or Israeli civilians. Most injuries were caused by Israeli use of live ammunition. There were 134 Palestinians reported injured by Israeli authorities in West Bank refugee camps, according to UNRWA, of whom 70 were injured by live ammunition.
According to UNRWA, between November 2016 and April 30, at least 25 tear-gas canisters used by ISF personnel landed in UNRWA installations during confrontations between ISF and Palestinians. UNRWA reported a significant increase in the use of tear gas by the ISF in and around densely populated refugee camps, in particular in the Aida, Jalazone, and Dheisheh camps. UNRWA also reported instances in which ISF personnel entered UNRWA facilities. On April 3, Israeli police entered the UNRWA Shu’fat Boys’ School in Shu’fat refugee camp in East Jerusalem and threw two stun grenades and two tear-gas canisters. The incident affected 23 UNRWA staff members and more than 300 students, including a third-grade student whose leg was injured.
On January 10, the ISF fatally shot 33-year-old Mohammad Subhi Ahmad Khamis Salhi during an ISF search and arrest operation in El Fara’ Camp. A Palestinian eyewitness claimed Salhi was shot without cause by a group of soldiers who entered the family home. Israeli media, citing ISF sources, claimed Salhi was shot because he tried to stab soldiers with a kitchen knife.
In-country Movement: PA authorities did not interfere with Palestinians’ movement within the West Bank.
Hamas authorities did not enforce routine restrictions on internal movement within Gaza, although there were some areas of Gaza to which Hamas prohibited access. Increased pressure to conform to Hamas’s interpretation of Islamic norms generally restricted movement by women.
The ISF routinely detained for several hours Palestinians residing in Gaza who had permits to enter Israel for business, and subjected them to interrogations and strip searches at Israeli-controlled checkpoints.
Israel imposed significant restrictions on Palestinian movement in the West Bank and between the West Bank and Jerusalem. Israeli authorities frequently prohibited travel between some or all Palestinian West Bank towns and deployed “flying” (temporary) checkpoints. Palestinians who lived in affected villages stated that “internal closures” continued to have negative economic effects. During periods of potential unrest, including on some major Israeli, Jewish, and Muslim holidays, Israeli authorities enacted “comprehensive external closures” that precluded Palestinians from leaving the West Bank and Gaza. These closures also resulted in Palestinian economic losses. For example, the 11-day extended closure enacted by the Israeli government during the Sukkot holiday in October resulted in estimated economic losses of up to $86 million, according to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics. The bulk of these losses comprised lost wages for Palestinian laborers working inside Israel. Israeli authorities also imposed movement restrictions on Palestinian towns and villages.
From September 26-27, Israeli authorities blocked the main and bypass road entrances to the Palestinian town of Beit Surik, on the outskirts of Jerusalem, while conducting arrest operations. Israeli authorities damaged Palestinian property while conducting raids, sealed off entries and exits, and confiscated vehicles. The Israeli government stated collective restrictions were imposed only if a military commander was convinced there was a military necessity for the action and that the imposition on the everyday lives of Palestinian civilians was not disproportionate.
Israeli authorities restricted or prohibited Palestinian travel on 41 roads and sections of roads throughout the West Bank, including many of the main traffic arteries. These restrictions on Palestinian travel affected a total of more than 400 miles of roads on which Israelis may travel freely. The ISF also imposed temporary curfews confining Palestinians to their homes during ISF arrest operations. During the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, Israeli authorities eased restrictions on Palestinians entering Jerusalem and Israel, allowing Muslim men over the age of 30 who applied for and obtained special prayer permits, as well as Muslim men over 40 without permits, to visit the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount for religious services.
The Israeli government continued construction of the security barrier, which ran largely inside the West Bank and along parts of the 1967 Green Line. Israeli authorities extended the barrier in the Cremisan Valley near Bethlehem and began land clearing to extend the barrier through Walajah village, also near Bethlehem. By use of special permits, Israel continued to restrict movement and development near the barrier, including access by some international organizations. Palestinian lawyers reported that Israeli authorities allowed many Palestinians who had been separated by the barrier from their land access to their property for only a few days each year.
Private security companies employed by the Israeli government controlled many points of access through the security barrier. International organizations and local human rights groups claimed these security companies did not respond to requests to allow movement of goods or NGO representatives through the barrier. Many Palestinians and NGOs reported higher levels of mistreatment at checkpoints run by security contractors than at those staffed by IDF soldiers.
The barrier affected the commute of Palestinian children to school in Jerusalem and some farmers’ access to land and water resources. Palestinian farmers continued to report difficulty accessing their lands in Israeli-controlled Area C of the West Bank and in the seam zone, which is a closed area between the security barrier and the Green Line. NGOs and community advocates reported numerous Palestinian villages owned land in the seam zone rendered inaccessible by the barrier. A complicated Israeli permit regime (requiring more than 10 different permits) prevented these Palestinians from fully using their lands.
Israel eased restrictions limiting access to farmland in Gaza to 328 feet (100 meters) from the boundary with Israel. Despite this easing, reports indicated Israel continued to enforce “buffer zone” restrictions on nonfarmers attempting to enter within 328 feet (100 meters) of the land boundary between Gaza and Israel and that Israeli authorities sprayed pesticides into Gaza across the border fence, onto lands cleared by the ICRC for farmers to return. The extent to which authorities permitted access along the border remained unclear. UNOCHA reported Palestinians in Gaza considered areas up to 984 feet (300 meters) from the perimeter fence to be a “no-go” area, and up to 3,280 feet (1,000 meters) to be “high risk,” which discouraged farmers from cultivating their fields. UNOCHA estimated nearly 35 percent of the Gaza Strip’s cultivable land was located in the restricted area. The Palestinian human rights NGO al-Mezan reported that as of October 20 Israeli authorities arrested 119 farmers, and shot and injured another 13 for cultivating land in or near the buffer zone.
Gaza’s fishing waters were largely inaccessible to Palestinians due to Israeli restrictions that allowed fishing only within six nautical miles of land. The Israeli government stated these restrictions were necessary for security reasons. Israeli authorities eased the naval blockade in May, extending fishing limits from six to nine nautical miles. The extension was temporary and returned to six nautical miles in June. The United Nations reported the nautical restriction was “of particular concern.” Israeli naval patrol boats strictly enforced the new limit, which represented a reduction from the 20-nautical-mile limit established in the 1994 Agreement on the Gaza Strip and Jericho Area. Israeli naval forces regularly fired warning shots at Palestinian fishermen entering the restricted sea areas, in some cases directly targeting the fishermen, according to UNOCHA. Israeli armed forces often confiscated fishing boats intercepted in these areas and detained the fishermen. Palestinian fishermen reported confusion over the exact limits of the new fishing boundaries.
During the year Israeli security forces restricted movement in Palestinian-majority neighborhoods of Jerusalem and Jerusalem’s Old City. Israeli security forces periodically blocked entrances to the East Jerusalem neighborhoods of Issawiya, Silwan, and Jabal Mukabber. In the West Bank, Israeli military authorities continued to restrict Palestinian vehicular and foot traffic and access to homes and businesses in downtown Hebron, citing a need to protect several hundred Israeli settlers resident in the city center. The ISF continued to occupy rooftops of private Palestinian homes in Hebron as security positions, forcing families to leave their front door open for soldiers to enter.
Following the July 14 attack by three Arab Israelis that killed two Israeli police at the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount, Israeli police closed the compound and cancelled Friday prayers at the al-Aqsa Mosque for the first time since 1969. Following the compound’s reopening two days later, Israeli police erected new security screening equipment, including metal detectors, at entrances to the site used by Muslim worshippers. The Waqf (the government of Jordan Islamic trust and charitable entity that administers the site) rejected these changes, characterizing them a violation of the status quo at the holy site. Muslim worshippers refused to enter the site pending full revocation of all newly imposed security measures, triggering a wave of popular protests in Jerusalem and the West Bank that continued until the INP removed the equipment on July 27.
Visits by Jewish activists to the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount, some facilitated by Israeli authorities, increased to record levels during the year. A single-day record 1,079 Jewish activists visited on Tisha b’Av (August 1), which commemorates the destruction of the Jewish Temples. Over the week-long Jewish holiday of Sukkot, activists conducted 2,266 visits, a 40-percent increase over the number of visits conducted during Sukkot in 2016. The Israeli government, in accordance with the status quo understanding with the Jordanian authorities managing the site, prohibits non-Muslim worship at the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount. But police have become more permissive of silent Jewish prayer and other religious rituals performed on the site in violation of this understanding, according to the Jerusalem Islamic Waqf, Jewish Temple Mount groups, and local media. Israeli authorities, citing security concerns, mostly prevented Knesset members (MKs) and government ministers from visiting the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount; however, for the first time since October 2015, Israeli PM Netanyahu ordered Israeli police to permit MK visits for one day on August 29. Police subsequently permitted Israeli MK Yehuda Glick to visit the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount on October 25, according to the Waqf. The Israeli government, citing security concerns, also continued to impose intermittent restrictions on Palestinian access to certain religious sites, including the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount. Waqf officials said Israeli police increased restrictions on Waqf operations, and renovation and repair projects at the site. Travel restrictions, including limited access to Jerusalem during major Jewish holidays, as well as continued construction of Israel’s security barrier, impeded the movements of Palestinian Muslims and Christians in the West Bank.
Foreign Travel: PA authorities did not limit West Bank residents’ foreign travel. The PA does not control border crossings into or out of the West Bank.
Hamas authorities in Gaza enforced movement restrictions on Palestinians attempting to exit Gaza to Israel via the Erez Crossing and to Egypt via the Rafah Crossing. Israeli authorities often denied Palestinian applications for travel permits through the Erez Crossing. Entry and exit from the Gaza Strip at the Erez Crossing was largely limited by Israel to humanitarian cases. According to the NGO Gisha, there were 5,819 average monthly exits from Gaza between January and October, a significant drop compared with the monthly average in 2016 (12,150). This prevented Palestinians from transiting to Jerusalem for visa interviews, to Jordan (often for onward travel) via the Allenby Bridge, and to the West Bank for work or education.
During the year the Israeli Supreme Court continued to uphold with few exceptions the Israeli ban imposed in 2000 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 permits.
Increased Israeli travel restrictions also allowed fewer students than the previous year in the West Bank and Gaza to participate in cultural programming within the Palestinian Territories, as well as study programs abroad. Delays in permit approvals by Israeli officials caused Palestinians to miss the travel dates for their exchange programs abroad or for cultural programming in Jerusalem or the West Bank. In some cases 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 other students to refuse to attend these interviews due to fear of detention.
Permit denials increased for staff of international organizations and for some categories of medical care inside Israel, according to Israeli NGOs. There were several reports that Gazans in need of urgent medical care could not get permits from the Israeli government in sufficient time. Aya Khalil Abu Metlaq, a five-year-old girl, died from a metabolic disorder on April 17 while waiting for a permit to exit Gaza for medical treatment in Jerusalem. The NGO Gisha claimed many of the security holds placed by Israeli authorities on Palestinians seeking to exit Gaza for work, education, or family events were arbitrary. Israeli border officials increased rates of detention and interrogation of Palestinians from Gaza seeking business permits.
Because Egyptian authorities also maintained the closure of the Rafah Crossing for all but 28 days of the year (as of December 5) except for special categories of travelers, Palestinians in Gaza remained virtually confined. Egyptian authorities enforced movement restrictions on Palestinians attempting to exit Gaza via the Rafah Crossing. The Egyptian government periodically allowed border crossings for a few days at a time--and mostly only in one direction--for passenger travel and humanitarian aid.
Restrictions on access to Jerusalem had a negative effect on Palestinian patients and medical staff trying to reach the six Palestinian hospitals in Jerusalem that offered specialized care unavailable in the West Bank. According to Palestine Red Crescent Society (PRCS), IDF soldiers at checkpoints at times harassed and delayed ambulances from the West Bank or refused them entry into Jerusalem, even in emergency cases. When ambulances lacked access, medics moved patients across checkpoints from an ambulance on one side to a second ambulance (usually one of five East Jerusalem-based ambulances) or a private vehicle on the other side. The PRCS reported hundreds of such actions impeding humanitarian services during the year. Most included blocking access to those in need, preventing their transport to specialized medical centers, or imposing delays at checkpoints lasting up to two hours.
Palestinians possessing Jerusalem identity cards issued by the Israeli government needed special documents to travel abroad. The Jordanian government issued passports to Palestinians on the basis of individual requests.
According to NGOs such as Ir Amim and B’Tselem, residency restrictions prevented family reunification, particularly between East Jerusalem Palestinian residents of Jerusalem and West Bank-based spouses or children. Israeli authorities permitted children in the Gaza Strip access to a parent in the West Bank only if no other close relative was resident in the Gaza Strip. Israeli authorities did not permit Palestinians who were abroad during the 1967 War or whose residence permits the Israeli government subsequently withdrew to reside permanently in the occupied territories. It was difficult for foreign-born spouses and children of Palestinians to obtain residency. Authorities required Palestinian spouses of Jerusalem residents to obtain a residency permit with reported delays of several years to obtain them.
Exile: Continued Israeli revocation of Jerusalem identity cards amounted to forced exile of Palestinian residents of Jerusalem to the West Bank, Gaza, or abroad, according to HRW. According to HRW the Israeli Ministry of Interior renewed “temporary” orders authorizing the revocation of Jerusalem residency rights from legal residents. Between 1967 and 2016, Israel revoked the residency status of 14,595 Palestinian residents of Jerusalem. Revocations continued in recent years, averaging approximately 100 per year, but not approaching the high point of 2008, when Israel revoked the Jerusalem identity cards of 4,577 individuals. In 2015 Israel revoked the status of 84 Palestinian residents of Jerusalem. Reasons for revocation included acquiring residency or citizenship in another country by Palestinian residents of Jerusalem; living “abroad” (including in the West Bank or Gaza) for more than seven years; or, most commonly, being unable to prove a “center of life” (interpreted as full-time residency) in Jerusalem. Some Palestinians who were born in Jerusalem but studied abroad reported losing their Jerusalem residency status. On September 13, the Israeli HCJ ruled that the Israeli government could not revoke Palestinian residence for “breach of loyalty.” The ruling followed then interior minister Roni Bar’s 2006 revocation of the residency of four Jerusalem residents elected to the PLC.
Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs)
UNOCHA estimated that, at the end of 2016, 47,200 persons in Gaza remained displaced due to destruction caused by the 2014 war. Reconstruction progressed slowly. The Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism enabled the entry of construction materials to rebuild 8,000 of the 11,000 individual homes destroyed in Gaza, but more than 3,000 homes were not yet rebuilt.
According to UNOCHA, Israeli settlement activity was a driver of displacement in the West Bank and Jerusalem. In the West Bank and Jerusalem, authorities demolished hundreds of Palestinian homes and other Palestinian structures due to residents’ lack of difficult-to-obtain Israeli building permits. According to UNOCHA, ACRI, and other NGOs, Israeli restrictions made it almost impossible for Palestinians to obtain permits in Area C and Jerusalem, while providing preferential treatment for Israeli settlers in these areas. UNOCHA noted that in many cases Palestinian displacement resulted from a combination of factors including settler violence, movement restrictions, and restricted access to permits, services, and resources. Israeli authorities displaced Palestinians in Jerusalem by revoking residency status and through forced evictions. In some cases Israeli authorities facilitated takeover of Palestinian property by Israeli organizations via court actions asserting a claim to Palestinian properties owned by Jews before 1948.
UNRWA and other humanitarian organizations provided services to IDPs in the Gaza Strip and West Bank, with some limitations due to Israeli restrictions on movement and border access.
Protection of Refugees
Access to Asylum: According to UNRWA, as of the end of 2016, there were 818,535 registered Palestinian refugees in the West Bank and more than 1.3 million in the Gaza Strip. Almost one-quarter (24 percent) of Palestinian refugees in the West Bank lived in camps, as did approximately 40 percent in Gaza. Some Palestinians, registered with UNRWA as refugees, who lived in Syria prior to the Syrian civil war were reportedly living in Gaza. In addition, Syrians of Palestinian descent (without UNRWA refugee status) were also reportedly living in Gaza after fleeing the Syrian civil war.
Access to Basic Services: All UNRWA projects in the West Bank and Gaza Strip required Israeli government permits, but UNRWA does not apply for permits in refugee camps.
Palestinian refugees in the West Bank and Gaza were eligible to access UNRWA schools and primary health care clinics, although in some cases, movement restrictions limited access to UNRWA services and resources in the West Bank.
Beginning in 2014 Israeli authorities required that UNRWA trucks use only commercial crossings into Jerusalem, at which they faced significant delays, long detours, and increased search demands. UNRWA continued to seek to use standard checkpoint crossings instead of commercial crossings, with mixed results. UNRWA reported that service delivery was problematic in the area between the security barrier and the Green Line, particularly near Bartaa, in three refugee communities near Qalqilya, and in four communities northwest of Jerusalem.
The deterioration of socioeconomic conditions during the year in Gaza severely affected refugees. UNRWA reported that food security continued to be at risk. A continuing shortage of UNRWA school buildings in Gaza during the year resulted in a double-shift system and shorter school hours.
Essential infrastructure in Gaza, including water and sanitation services, continued in a state of severe disrepair. Israeli restrictions limited the import of spare parts and components. Israeli import restrictions on certain commodities considered to be dual use continued to impede humanitarian operations in Gaza, including those directed toward refugees. In December 2016 Israeli authorities introduced a requirement whereby approval of UNRWA projects remains valid for only one year. As project implementation timelines often exceeded one year, this new requirement necessitated applications for re-approval of projects, which hampered implementation and increased transaction costs for multiple UNRWA projects.
According to NGOs, 40,000 to 50,000 Palestinians in Gaza lacked identification cards recognized by Israel. Some were born in Gaza, but Israel never recognized them as residents; some fled Gaza during the 1967 war; and some left Gaza for various reasons after 1967 but later returned. A small number lacking recognized identification cards were born in the Gaza Strip and never left, but had only Hamas-issued identification cards. The Israeli government controlled the Palestinian Population Registry, which allows stateless persons to obtain status.