West Bank and Gaza
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties
The PA basic law generally provides for freedom of expression but does not specifically provide for freedom of expression for members of the press and other media. The PA enforced legislation that NGOs claimed restricted press and media freedom in the West Bank, including through PASF harassment, intimidation, and arrest. Notably, Palestinian activists reported narrowing space for political discussion, with arrests of Fatah party opponents, critics of the PA, and peaceful protesters in the West Bank.
In Gaza, Hamas severely restricted freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, through arrests and interrogations of journalists as well as harassment and limitations on access and movement for some journalists. These restrictions led many journalists and activists to self-censor.
Israeli civil and military law provide only limited protections for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, for Palestinian residents of the West Bank. NGOs and Palestinian journalists alleged that Israeli authorities restricted press coverage and placed limits on certain forms of expression. These included restricting Palestinian journalists’ movement as well as using violence, arrests, closure of media outlets, and intimidation, according to media reports and the Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms. The Israeli government stated it allowed journalists maximum freedom to work and stated that it investigated any allegations of mistreatment of journalists.
Freedom of Expression: Although no PA law prohibits criticism of the government, media reports indicated PA authorities arrested West Bank Palestinian journalists, social media activists, and protesters who criticized the PA or covered events that criticized the PA. The law restricts the publication of material that endangers the “integrity of the Palestinian state.” The PA arrested West Bank journalists and blocked websites associated with political rivals, including sites affiliated with political parties and opposition groups critical of the Fatah-controlled PA. The Palestinian NGO Lawyers for Justice reported at least 40 cases were brought against political opponents of the PA since January.
On June 24, officers from the PSO entered the Israeli-controlled H2 area of Hebron, raided the house where Palestinian social media critic Nizar Banat was staying, and severely beat him. He died shortly afterward on the way to the hospital. The Security Forces Justice Commission indicted 14 low-level PASF officers on September 5. The PA failed to hold any higher-level officials responsible for Banat’s killing, although PA leadership would have had to coordinate closely with the IDF to enter the H2 area of Hebron (see section 1.a.). Israeli press reported that PA security forces arrested or summoned for interrogation dozens of political activists who participated in anti-PA protests following Banat’s killing and charged 16 with fomenting sectarian strife and insulting senior Palestinian officials.
In Gaza, Hamas arrested, interrogated, seized property from, and harassed Palestinians who criticized Hamas. Media practitioners accused of criticizing Hamas, including civil society and youth activists, social media advocates, and journalists, faced punitive measures including raids on their facilities and residences, unjust detention, and denial of permission to travel outside Gaza.
Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: Independent Palestinian media operated under restrictions in the occupied territories. Because of the political rivalry between Fatah and Hamas, journalists faced threats, interrogation, arrest without charge, intimidatory lawsuits, prosecutions, and bans on covering certain events, according to Reporters Without Borders (RWB). Many Palestinian journalists reported that they practiced self-censorship. Several websites regarded by the PA as opposition media have been inaccessible since 2017, RWB reported. Facebook also reportedly blocked several Palestinian media outlets, including Maydan al-Quds on November 21. Palestinian activists and journalists launched a campaign called “Facebook Censors Jerusalem” to raise awareness concerning Meta’s/Facebook’s alleged efforts to censor Palestinian content on its flagship social media platform. Sada Social, a nonprofit NGO focusing on the digital rights of Palestinians, alleged that social media platform’s algorithms removed posts that contained words such as “Hamas” or “martyr” without taking into consideration their contextual meaning.
Hamas permitted broadcasts within Gaza of reporting and interviews featuring PA officials. Hamas allowed, with some restrictions, the operation of non-Hamas-affiliated broadcast media in Gaza. For example, the PA-supported Palestine TV continued to operate in Gaza.
In areas of the West Bank to which Israel controlled access, Palestinian journalists claimed Israeli authorities restricted their freedom of movement and ability to cover stories. The ISF did not recognize Palestinian press credentials or credentials from the International Federation of Journalists. Few Palestinians held Israeli press credentials.
RWB stated that Israeli forces subjected Palestinian journalists to arrest, interrogation, and administrative detention, often without any clear grounds. In recent years, Israeli authorities also reportedly closed several Palestinian media outlets for allegedly inciting violence.
Violence and Harassment: There were numerous reports that the PA harassed, detained (occasionally with violence), prosecuted, and fined journalists in the West Bank during the year based on their reporting.
The NGO Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms (MADA) recorded 69 violations against Palestinian journalists by different Palestinian parties in the West Bank and Gaza in June, including 17 incidents of physical assault and two arrests, 11 confiscations and destruction of journalists’ equipment, 21 incidents of denial of coverage, eight cases of threats, and seven serious defamation cases in addition to several other violations. During a protest in Ramallah in June, MADA reported that freelance journalist Saja al-Alami, who was trying to cover the demonstration, alleged that plainclothes PA security forces attempted to assault her. Journalists reported Israeli security forces forcibly prevented them from covering a press conference on June 6 in front of the Israeli police station on Salah el-Din Street regarding the arrest of activist Mona al-Kurd. When al-Kurd was released, Israeli police allegedly used tear gas and sound bombs to obstruct coverage of the event, hitting al-Jazeera reporter Najwan Semari with shrapnel in her left foot. She was treated for the injuries at a local hospital.
In early May, press reports indicated the PASF had arrested journalist Hassan al-Najjar in mid-April for a couple of weeks after he released the recording of a telephone call between him and President Abbas. During the telephone call, al-Najjar had complained about being fired from the official Palestine TV by senior PA official and general supervisor of the Palestinian Broadcasting Corporation, Ahmad Assaf, for criticizing him.
On June 26, PA security forces reportedly hit Middle East Eye reporter Shatha Hammad in the face with a tear gas canister while she and several other journalists were covering a march in Ramallah city center following Banat’s killing.
The PA occasionally obstructed the West Bank activities of media organizations with Hamas sympathies and limited media coverage critical of the PA. For example in May 2020, PA police at a checkpoint stopped, assaulted, and arrested Anas Hawari, a journalist for the Hamas-affiliated Quds News Network, according to media reports and rights groups, including the Committee to Protect Journalists. Hawari’s lawyer said police knocked out one of Hawari’s teeth during the incident and confiscated his cell phone. Police later released Hawari on bail after charging him with insulting an official, resisting arrest, and violating COVID-19 lockdown measures. The case continued at year’s end. Journalists from al-Araby al-Jadeed also complained of harassment by the PASF, noting that they had been unable to obtain a media license from the PA for the previous five years.
In the aftermath of Nizar Banat’s killing, journalists reported that security personnel in civilian clothes harassed journalists and demonstrators while security and police officers in uniform refused to provide protection to members of the press who faced threats.
On November 4, MADA reported that Palestinian security services stormed the house of freelance journalist Naseem Maalla after midnight south of Nablus, confiscated his mobile telephone, and took him to PSO headquarters in Junaid Prison. Maalla was subject to several interrogations and reportedly tortured. He was accused of possessing a weapon, then of collecting and receiving money from illegal entities (“Hamas”). He was released on November 25.
The PA also had an inconsistent record of protecting Israeli and international journalists in the West Bank from harassment by Palestinian civilians or PA personnel.
On June 26, MADA reported that Palestinian security forces beat journalist Nasser Hamayel, a producer for ABC News. PA security arrested Hamayel while covering protests in Ramallah in support of Nizar Banat. Security forces transferred Hamayel to the General Investigation Center in al-Bireh, where he was detained for several hours and his mobile phone was confiscated. He was accompanied by a cameraman who was assaulted and prevented from filming.
On June 26 and 27, MADA reported that Palestinian security personnel and security forces in civilian clothes prevented an al-Jazeera crew from approaching Ramallah city center to broadcast live protests against the killing of Nizar Banat. al-Jazeera’s reporter, Jihan Awad, reported that she called police for protection and to enable them to pass but police did not help. Similar incidents were reported by al-Hurra TV channel journalists who were conducting interviews in downtown Ramallah while covering the events.
On June 30, according to MADA, a Facebook page called The Sons of Fatah Movement – Rapid Response published a post threatening seven Palestinian journalists who submitted a request to the United Nations for protection after they were subjected to a series of attacks by Palestinian security forces while documenting demonstrations in Ramallah. The journalists claimed police refused to protect them. The Facebook post criticized the journalists for seeking protection from the PA but not acting similarly against the “Israeli occupation” and alleged the journalists were linked to certain political parties.
In Gaza, Hamas at times arrested, harassed, and pressured, sometimes violently, journalists critical of its policies. Hamas reportedly summoned, detained, and questioned Palestinian journalists to intimidate them. Hamas also constrained journalists’ freedom of internal movement in Gaza during the year, attempting to ban access to some official buildings.
On January 11, MADA reported Hamas police prevented reporters and cameramen from Ma’an TV and al-Ghad al-Arabi TV from covering a sit-in organized by the owners of local markets demanding an end to the year-long COVID-19 lockdown. Hamas officers claimed filming was prohibited in the area and that the sit-in was organized without authorization from the de facto Ministry of Interior.
On April 24, MADA reported that Hamas-affiliated armed security forces in Gaza shoved journalist Mou’in al-Dabba and tore his shirt as he was covering an evening march in support of Jerusalem during which protestors burned tires. The armed forces apologized to al-Dabba after recognizing him and asked him not to publicize the assault. He reported on the incident anyway and was contacted by an unknown person and instructed to delete the post and file a formal complaint.
On May 17, MADA reported that the de facto authorities’ prosecutor’s office in Gaza prevented journalist Mohammad Awad, reporter of the Gaza-based Dunia al-Watan as well as regional al-Arabiya and al-Hadath TV from covering events in Gaza for the latter two regional outlets. Awad stated that he received a telephone call at midnight from a person who introduced himself as one of the de facto authority’s prosecutor’s officers. The person informed Awad that “there are instructions from the leadership” to prevent Awad from carrying out his work. Awad filed a complaint with the Government Media Office, the de facto authorities’ information office, which in turn referred him to the internal security office. The internal security office confirmed that the telephone call came from an official authority. The next day, an announcement against al-Arabiya and al-Hadath TV was distributed, describing them as “channels of sedition” and warning the journalists who work for them.
On July 3, MADA reported that Hamas security personnel assaulted journalist Muhammad al-Louh, a correspondent for al-Shabab Radio in Gaza, while he was covering high school examinations in Deir al-Balah. Al-Louh was wearing a distinctive press uniform with the name of the radio station while conducting interviews with high school students in al-Bureij refugee camp. He was banned by security personnel from reporting in a forbidden area. Al-Louh was then assaulted, slapped, and kicked for not responding to questions, and he sustained bruises on his hands and right leg.
Throughout the year, there were reports of Israeli actions that prevented journalists who were Palestinian from the West Bank and Gaza or Arab/Palestinian citizens of Israel from covering news stories in the occupied territories. These actions included alleged harassment and acts of violence against journalists by Israeli soldiers. Palestinian journalists also claimed that Israeli security forces detained Palestinian journalists and forced them to delete images and videos under threat of violence, arrest, or administrative detention. Israeli authorities defended these detentions on security grounds.
Palestinian journalists who were able to obtain permits to enter Israel as well as Jerusalem-based Arab/Palestinian journalists reported incidents of harassment, racism, and occasional violence when they sought to cover news in Jerusalem, especially in the Old City and its vicinity. In November the Journalist Support Committee, a nonprofit journalist advocacy organization, stated Israeli security forces had committed more than 678 acts of violence against Palestinian journalists since the beginning of the year, including detention and office closures. In June then Israeli public security minister Amir Ohana extended for six months the closure order against Palestine TV’s East Jerusalem office, and the office remained closed at the end of the year. In 2019 the public security minister at the time first ordered the closure when Israeli police raided the office according to Palestinian press.
RWB reported at least 21 Palestinian journalists were banned by Israel from traveling for unspecified reasons. When RWB inquired regarding the reasons for barring Palestinian journalist Majdooleen Hasoona of Turkish outlet TRT World from traveling from the West Bank to Turkey, Israeli authorities cited “security reasons” according to Palestinian press.
There were reports of Israeli forces detaining journalists in the West Bank. On January 28, Israeli forces reportedly allowed three cameramen – Suleiman Abu Srour from WAFA, Omar Abu Awad from Palestine TV, and Adel Nimah for Reuters – to cover Israeli demolitions in the Bedouin community of al-Wadi al-Ahmar near the Fayasil village of Jericho, but detained them for several hours afterwards, according to Palestinian media.
The Committee to Protect Journalists reported that 12 Israeli soldiers raided the Ramallah home of Alaa al-Rimawi, a reporter for the Qatari broadcaster al-Jazeera Mubasher and director of the local J-Media Network news agency (see above), on April 21 and arrested him. He was never charged with a crime and conducted a hunger strike for 16 days of his detention. While he had been issued a three-month administrative detention order, he was reportedly released in early June.
Israeli police officers detained, used violence against, and confiscated equipment of journalists during demonstrations in Jerusalem. During a protest at Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount on May 4, Israeli police reportedly beat with a baton Ahmad Gharabli, a Palestinian journalist working for Agence France-Presse (AFP), according to press reports.
On June 5, MADA reported that Israeli forces assaulted several female Palestinian journalists and prevented them from covering disputes between Palestinian families and Israeli settlers in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem. Israeli forces allegedly beat the crew of al-Jazeera regional television, who held Israeli press cards, damaged their camera, and detained for several hours correspondent Guevara al-Budairi, banning her from Sheikh Jarrah for 15 days. They also reportedly assaulted and expelled Yasmine Asaad, a correspondent for regional al-Sharq TV. Israeli forces also forced Ma’an News Network correspondent Maysa Abu Ghazaleh to put down her camera and stop taking pictures and physically forced Palestine TV reporter Christine Rinawi and freelance journalist Maram al-Bukhari away from the area.
On August 27, the Human Rights Defenders Fund (HRDF) reported that Israeli security forces arrested seven Palestinian journalists covering a peaceful demonstration against the establishment of new outposts and settler violence in the South Hebron Hills. According to the HRDF, the journalists were arrested, and their equipment was confiscated although they clearly identified themselves as journalists to the soldiers. Two of the journalists claimed they were attacked and beaten by the soldiers during the arrest. According to the soldiers, the journalists entered a closed military area illegally. The journalists were released later that day, issued a summons for an additional interrogation on August 29, after which their equipment was returned. They subsequently submitted a complaint to the Military Police. It was unclear if any action had been taken on the complaint by year’s end.
The Associated Press accused Israeli police of beating photographer Mahmoud Illean on December 17 while he was covering a protest in Sheikh Jarrah. Illean was admitted to a hospital for head injuries. Israeli police did not provide an explanation for the incident, stating that relevant authorities would investigate. There was no update at years end.
In the West Bank, the PA’s Palestinian News and Information Agency (WAFA) reported 384 Israeli violations against journalists during the year, including beatings, detentions, and use of tear gas and live and metal nonlethal ammunition.
On February 3, according to MADA, the mayor of Beit Sahour municipality harassed and threatened the director general of Radio Bethlehem 2000, George Canawati, concerning Canawati’s Facebook post alleging corruption in Beit Sahour. The mayor entered the radio station headquarters in Bethlehem looking for Canawati, who was not there at the time, complaining Canawati was targeting him. Canawati filed a complaint with the public prosecutor, who determined Canawati’s post did not in any way implicate the mayor.
On January 1, MADA reported that Israeli forces prevented a group of journalists representing various local, regional, and international agencies from covering a march organized by families in the Ramallah area, firing tear gas at them and forcing them away.
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 West Bank and Gaza reported practicing self-censorship. There were reports of PA authorities seeking to erase images or footage from journalists’ cameras or cell phones.
In the West Bank, MADA reported that on April 1 the Arab American University Radio (AAUP) dismissed journalist Ahmed Zayed following his telephone interview with Fatah PLC candidate Abu al-Tayyib Jaradat, who insulted the PA government and Fatah party regarding a disagreement on voters’ lists. The interview aroused discontent in the university and Fatah movement, leading the university to withdraw the interview and terminate the journalist’s contract.
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, on July 27, Palestinian police officers raided and closed the office of J-Media in al-Bireh in the West Bank and banned its 17 employees from entering the office or removing any personal belongings or journalistic equipment from it. Alaa al-Rimawi, J-Media’s director who also worked for al-Jazeera, was arrested by the PASF and held for three days in early July following a complaint against him by the Palestinian Ministry of Endowments for delivering a speech without permission at a mosque during the funeral of Palestinian opposition activist Nizar Banat. In July the PA Information Ministry stated that the closure of the J-Media office and several other media institutions was due to their failure to obtain the necessary legal licenses to carry out their work and not for reasons related to restrictions on media freedoms. The office remained closed at year’s end, although J-Media’s website remained active and accessible. The case against J-Media remained open.
On November 7, MADA reported Palestinian security forces detained Abdullah Bahsh, a journalist for the pro-Hamas Quds News Network, and deleted content on his mobile phone while he covered the demolition of a commercial complex by the PA’s Nablus municipal government. Although Bahsh reportedly had permission from authorities to document the demolition, three PSO officers asked him to leave the area after deleting media on his mobile phone and taking a copy of his identification card.
In Gaza civil society organizations reported Hamas censored television programs and written materials, such as newspapers and books.
On April 24, MADA reported the Cybercrime Investigation Department in Gaza summoned AFP journalist Sakher Abu al-Aoun after he published a post on Facebook criticizing a hospital for medical negligence and for treating his son differently than they would if he was the son of a Hamas official. An investigator took al-Aoun’s mobile phone and deleted the post, claiming he had a mandate from the prosecutor, after al-Aoun refused to delete it himself. Al-Aoun was interrogated for two hours and offered the option to either be detained or released on bail. He was ultimately released after the investigator learned al-Aoun’s son had died.
The Israeli government raided and closed Palestinian media sources in the West Bank, primarily based on allegations they incited violence against Israeli civilians or security services. Conviction of acts of incitement under military law is punishable by up to 10 years’ imprisonment. NGOs and observers stated Israeli military regulations were vaguely worded and open to interpretation. The ISF 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. The Palestinian Prisoners’ Center for Studies alleged that Israeli authorities arrested 390 Palestinians during the year for “incitement to violence” on social media.
While the Israeli government retained the authority to censor the printing of publications for security concerns, anecdotal evidence suggested authorities did not actively review the Jerusalem-based al-Quds newspaper or other Jerusalem-based Arabic publications. Editors and journalists from those publications, however, reported they engaged in self-censorship.
Libel/Slander Laws: Israel’s law allows for both civil legal proceedings in the form of damage compensation cases as well as criminal legal proceedings in the form of private complaints. The maximum sentence is up to one year imprisonment. There were accusations of slander or libel against journalists and activists in the West Bank and Gaza.
According to HRDF, Israeli individuals and right-wing NGOs used defamation lawsuits to discourage public criticism of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank. For example in July 2020 the Samaria Regional Council, an Israeli municipal body for settlers, sued former Knesset member and head of the Zulat Institute, Zehava Galon, after she criticized on Twitter their granting of a certificate of honor to two settlers who in 2019 allegedly shot and killed an alleged Palestinian attacker. According to B’Tselem, the settlers purportedly continued to shoot the Palestinian after he no longer posed a threat. In June 2020 an additional libel lawsuit against Galon, B’Tselem, and three individuals who tweeted on the incident was filed by Yehusha Sherman, who shot the attacker. The lawsuits continued at year’s end.
National Security: Human rights NGOs alleged that the PA restricted the activities of journalists on national security grounds.
On November 13, MADA reported that the Palestinian Intelligence Service summoned journalist Salah Abu Hassan, the programs director at Alam Radio in Hebron, and subjected him to interrogation for an hour about his work at the radio. According to MADA, the interrogation officer told Abu Hassan that radio programs could not speak against the government and that he had an obligation to preserve the public interest of the Palestinian society.
Authorities in the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem limited and restricted Palestinian residents’ freedoms of peaceful assembly and association. The Israeli military issued an order in 1967 which requires Palestinians in the West Bank to obtain a permit for any protest involving 10 or more persons; during the year there were no known instances in which Israeli authorities granted permission for such a protest. The Palestinian Basic Law requires PA permission for protests of 50 persons or more.
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
PA law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights, with some exceptions. The PA maintained security coordination with Israel throughout the year. IDF checkpoints and settlements constrained Palestinians’ movement throughout the West Bank, including access to their farmlands, according to NGOs and the PA. This was particularly true during the olive harvest, when Palestinian farmers who coordinated access to their olive groves with Israel’s Civil Administration and the PA sometimes had difficulty accessing their land, according to human rights groups.
Citing security concerns and frequent attempted terrorist attacks, Israel imposed significant restrictions on Palestinian movement in the West Bank and between the West Bank and Jerusalem.
In-Country Movement: In an effort to combat the spread of COVID-19, Hamas occasionally enforced restrictions on internal movement in Gaza. Pressure to conform to Hamas’s interpretation of Islamic norms generally restricted movement by women, who often had to travel in groups when visiting certain public areas such as the beach. There were sporadic reports of security officers requiring men to prove a woman with them in a public space was their spouse.
Israeli authorities often deployed temporary checkpoints that prohibited travel between some or all Palestinian West Bank towns. Palestinians who lived in affected villages stated that “internal closures” continued to have negative economic effects, lowering their employment prospects, wages, days worked per month, and their children’s ability to commute to school. During periods of potential unrest, including on some major Israeli, Jewish, and Muslim holidays, Israeli authorities enacted “comprehensive external closures” that prevented Palestinians from leaving the West Bank and Gaza.
Israel placed restrictions on Palestinian farmers accessing their land in the so-called seam zone west of the barrier and east of the Green Line, according to human rights groups, and there were some reports that soldiers operating the checkpoints at seam-zone access points did not allow farmers to move farming implements and machinery, including trucks for transporting olive harvests, into the area.
The Israeli travel permit system restricted Palestinians’ ability to travel from Gaza to the West Bank. Palestinian higher education contacts reported that permits for Gazans to attend West Bank universities were seldom granted. According to the NGO HaMoked, Israeli authorities required Palestinians from the West Bank who are married to a Palestinian in Gaza and reside in Gaza to sign a “Gaza resettlement form” and permanently forego their right to move back to the West Bank.
Israel has declared access-restricted areas (ARAs) on both the coastal and land borders around Gaza, citing evidence that Hamas exploited these areas at times to conduct attacks or to smuggle weapons and goods into Gaza. The lack of clear information regarding the ARAs created risks for Palestinians in Gaza who lived or worked either on the Mediterranean coast or near the perimeter fence. No official signage exists for the line of demarcation, and official policy changed frequently. Hamas’s use of certain technologies for rockets, drones, other weapons, and surveillance systems led Israel to restrict importation of dual-use equipment into Gaza including Global Positioning System (GPS) devices.
The lack of GPS devices made it more difficult for fishermen to locate and avoid restricted maritime activity areas. In addition, the permitted maritime activity area for Palestinians along the coastal region of Gaza changed between zero and 15 nautical miles multiple times throughout the year, according to Gisha, an Israeli organization that focuses on Palestinian freedom of movement. Gisha called the changes a form of collective punishment. Human rights NGOs asserted that confusion regarding permitted activity areas led to multiple instances of Israeli forces firing upon farmers and fishermen. According to the Israeli government, Hamas attempted to conduct terrorist activities by sea. According to the United Nations, regular electrical outages often made it necessary for Gazan farmers to work their fields after dark. In some instances, IDF soldiers shot at farmers near the ARA when farmers irrigated their fields at night. UNOCHA reported Palestinians in Gaza considered areas up to 1,000 feet from the perimeter fence to be a “no-go” area, and up to 3,300 feet to be “high risk,” which discouraged farmers from cultivating their fields. UNOCHA estimated nearly 35 percent of Gaza’s cultivable land was in these areas. On September 2, Israeli naval forces shot at multiple Palestinian fishing vessels near Abasan al-Khabira, a town close to an Israeli security fence, injuring one fisherman in the leg.
Major checkpoints, such as Container and Za’tara, caused disruptions in the West Bank when closed, according to media reports. When Container (near Bethlehem) was closed, it cut off one-third of the West Bank population living in the south, including Bethlehem and Hebron, from Ramallah and the north. Similarly, Za’tara checkpoint blocks traffic in and out of the entire northern part of the West Bank, including Nablus, Tulkarem, and Jenin, according to media reports. UNOCHA reported in its 2020 biennial survey that there were 593 permanent obstacles throughout the West Bank. Israeli restrictions on movement affected virtually all aspects of Palestinian life, including attendance at weddings and funerals, access to places of worship, employment, access to agricultural lands, schools, and hospitals, as well as the conduct of journalism and humanitarian and NGO activities. There were also reports of patients dying in traffic before reaching hospitals and ambulances on the way to accidents or scenes of attacks being stopped by the IDF for hours at a time.
Israeli authorities allegedly damaged Palestinian property in the West Bank during raids, sealed off entries and exits to homes and other buildings, and confiscated vehicles and boats. The Israeli government stated that it imposed collective restrictions only if an armed forces commander believed there was a military necessity for the action and that the imposition on the everyday lives of Palestinian civilians was not disproportionate. IDF veterans working at Israeli NGOs, however, described such operations as often being arbitrary.
Israeli authorities restricted or prohibited Palestinian travel on 29 roads and sections of roads (totaling approximately 36 miles) throughout the West Bank, including many of the main traffic arteries, according to B’Tselem. Israeli security forces also imposed temporary curfews confining Palestinians to their homes during arrest operations. Israel continued to restrict movement and development near the barrier, including access by some international organizations.
Palestinian farmers continued to report difficulty accessing their lands in Israeli-controlled Area C of the West Bank. NGOs and community advocates reported numerous Palestinian villages owned land rendered inaccessible by the barrier or settlements. A complicated Israeli permit regime (requiring more than 10 different permits) prevented these Palestinians from fully using their lands. The Israeli NGO HaMoked reported that government of Israel data showed a marked reduction in approvals of permits to cross the barrier compared with previous years. According to HaMoked, the IDF denied 73 percent of farmer permits in 2020, compared with 63 percent in 2019. Only 1 percent of these permits were denied for security reasons, according to the IDF. The vast majority of permits were denied due to difficulties navigating the military bureaucracy and failure to meet increasingly restrictive criteria, according to HaMoked. HaMoked also reported that Israeli authorities did not open gates to these areas early enough in the morning, which reduced the time Palestinian farmers had each day to cultivate their land.
PA-affiliated prosecutors and judges claimed that ISF prohibitions on movement in the West Bank, including Israeli restrictions on the PA’s ability to transport detainees and collect witnesses, hampered their ability to dispense justice.
Israeli restrictions on the importation of dual-use items, including wires, motors, and fiberglass that could be used for the production of weaponry or explosives, prevented some fisherman from being able to repair their boats.
In the West Bank, Israeli military authorities continued to restrict Palestinian vehicular and foot traffic and access to homes and businesses in the downtown H2 sector of Hebron, where approximately 22,000 Palestinians resided. This included a ban on Palestinians walking, driving, or exiting the front door of their homes on Shuhada Street and most of al-Sahleh Street. Israeli security forces cited a need to protect several hundred Israeli settlers resident in the city center. Israeli security forces continued to occupy rooftops of private Palestinian homes in the H2 sector as security positions, forcing families to leave their front door open for soldiers to enter. In response to these reports, the Israeli government stated that freedom of movement is not an absolute right but must be balanced with security and public order.
The Israeli government, citing security concerns, continued to impose intermittent restrictions on Palestinian access to certain religious sites, including the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount. Israeli officials cited security concerns when imposing travel restrictions, including limiting access to Jerusalem during major Jewish holidays as well as continuing construction of Israel’s barrier, which impeded the movements of Palestinian Muslims and Christians in the West Bank.
Foreign Travel: Hamas in Gaza occasionally enforced movement restrictions on Palestinians attempting to exit Gaza to Israel via the Erez Crossing and to Egypt via the Rafah Crossing. Palestinians returning to Gaza were regularly subject to Hamas interrogations regarding their activities in Israel, the West Bank, and abroad.
Hamas required exit permits for Palestinians departing through the Gaza-Israel Erez Crossing. Hamas also prevented some Palestinians from exiting Gaza based on the purpose of their travel or to coerce payment of taxes and fines. There were some reports unmarried women faced restrictions on travel out of Gaza.
On February 14, Gaza’s Supreme Judicial Council issued a notice allowing male guardians to restrict unmarried women’s travel. Following significant public backlash, the notice was revised to allow a male guardian (i.e., a father, brother, or grandfather) to apply for a court order preventing an unmarried woman from traveling if they assess the travel will cause “absolute harm.” She could also be prevented from traveling if the guardian had a pending lawsuit against her that requires a travel ban. The notice also allows parents and the paternal grandfather to apply for travel bans on their adult children and grandchildren if they can show travel could result in similar harm. According to HRW, on September 21, Palestinian border officials at the Rafah Crossing between Gaza and Egypt blocked Afaf al-Najar from traveling to Turkey, where she had received a scholarship to study media and communications, because her father had applied for a judicial travel ban. At an October 3 court hearing, a judge told al-Najar she could study for her degree in Gaza, suggesting he expected her to remain there. The case continued at year’s end.
Hamas restricts the entry of foreigners into Gaza unless a recognized local entity applies for their entrance prior to arrival. Hamas prohibited several international journalists from entering due to a lack of local agencies or persons applying for permits on their behalf.
During the conflict in May, Gazans were not able to get advanced medical care outside of Gaza for several weeks. The Palestinian Center for Human Rights and the ICRC filled the gap temporarily, then ceded the coordination role to the World Health Organization until coordination resumed.
Israeli authorities often denied or did not respond to Palestinian applications for travel permits through the Erez Crossing, including for patients seeking medical care unavailable inside Gaza, citing security concerns. On December 23, Israel granted 500 permits for Christians in Gaza to attend Christmas celebrations in the West Bank, although Israeli authorities largely limited entry and exit from Gaza at the Erez Crossing to humanitarian cases and limited permits to businesspersons and day laborers working in Israel. These limitations prevented some 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. There were reports from Gazans that Israeli authorities had imposed additional restrictions on items that could be brought through Erez into Israel, including not being allowed to carry cell phone chargers or more than one pair of shoes. The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated there were no such new restrictions.
The barrier that divides the majority of the West Bank from Israel, including communities within Jerusalem, and some parts of the West Bank, significantly impeded Palestinian movement. Israeli authorities stated they constructed the barrier to prevent attacks by Palestinian terrorists. In some areas the barrier divided Palestinian communities in the West Bank and Jerusalem and neighborhoods within Jerusalem. At its widest points the barrier extended 11 miles into the West Bank. OCHA estimated that more than 11,000 Palestinians, excluding East Jerusalem residents, resided in communities west of the barrier who were required to travel through Israeli security checkpoints to reach the remainder of the West Bank.
In Jerusalem the barrier affected residents’ access to their extended families, places of worship, employment, agricultural lands, schools, and hospitals, as well as the conduct of journalism and humanitarian and NGO activities. For example, restrictions on access in Jerusalem, including delays at checkpoints lasting up to two hours, made it difficult for Palestinian patients and medical staff trying to reach the six Palestinian hospitals in East Jerusalem that offer specialized care. Authorities sometimes restricted internal movement in Palestinian neighborhoods of Jerusalem and Jerusalem’s Old City and periodically blocked entrances to the East Jerusalem neighborhoods of Issawiya, Silwan, and Jabal Mukabber. The government stated that the barrier was needed for security reasons and restrictions on movement in Jerusalem were temporary and implemented only when necessary for investigative operations, public safety, public order, and when there was no viable alternative.
Israeli officials imposed restrictions on movement of materials, goods, and persons into and out of Gaza based on security and economic concerns (see also section 3, Recent Elections, Gheith case). Amnesty International and HRW reported difficulties by foreign workers in obtaining Israeli visas, which affected the delivery of humanitarian assistance in the West Bank and Gaza. Amnesty International and HRW also reported that the Israeli government denied permits to their employees to enter Gaza from Israel. The United Nations and several international NGOs reported that the Israeli government denied permits to UN and NGO local Gazan staff to exit Gaza into Israel. The Israeli government stated all Gaza exit requests are reviewed on a case-by-case basis in accordance with security considerations arising from Hamas’s de facto control of Gaza.
UNRWA reported staff movement continued to be restricted and unpredictable at several checkpoints, notably those controlling access to East Jerusalem or through the barrier. UNRWA reported that, as of the end of November, movement restrictions in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, had resulted in the loss of at least 241 staff days. With a few exceptions, senior officials and staff of UNRWA and other humanitarian organizations were unable to leave or enter Gaza during the May conflict because of closures of the crossings between Israel and Gaza.
The Israeli government continued selective revocations of residency permits of some Palestinian residents of Jerusalem. This meant those residents could not return to reside in Jerusalem. Reasons for revocation included holding residency or citizenship of another country; living in another country, 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. The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs reported that as of October, Israeli authorities revoked 22 residency permits in Jerusalem on the grounds of a regulation that allows revocation for individuals who stayed outside of Israel for more than seven years or acquired citizenship or permanent residence status elsewhere. Some Palestinians who were born in Jerusalem but studied abroad reported losing their Jerusalem residency status, but the government denied revoking residency status of anyone who left for the sole purpose of studying abroad. The government added that the residency of individuals who maintained an “affinity to Israel” would not be revoked and that former residents who wished to return to Israel could receive renewed residency status under certain conditions.
Palestinians possessing residency permits issued by the Israeli government but no PA or Jordanian identity document needed special documents to travel abroad.
During the year the Israeli Supreme Court continued to uphold, with few exceptions, the ban imposed in 2000 on students from Gaza attending West Bank universities. Students in Gaza generally did not apply to West Bank universities because they understood Israeli authorities would deny permits or could revoke them during the school year.
Delays in permit approvals by Israeli officials caused some Palestinians to miss the travel dates for exchange programs abroad and matriculation in foreign universities. In some cases authorities asked students to submit to security interviews prior to receiving permits. 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 being detained.
Egyptian authorities opened the Rafah Crossing to pedestrians several times during the year, and OCHA reported 88,510 exits and 70,771 entrances through the Rafah Crossing as of November, an increase over 25,069 exits and 26,829 entrances in 2020. OCHA reported the Rafah Crossing had been open 198 days and closed 135 days as of November, compared to 2020 when the crossing was only open 126 days. The UN and several international NGOs reported that obtaining permission from the Hamas government in Gaza and the Egyptian government to travel through Rafah was extremely difficult for Palestinians in Gaza and often required paying bribes to local authorities.
According to Gisha, Israeli authorities denied some exit permit applications by residents of Gaza on the grounds that the applicants were “first-degree relative[s] [of] a Hamas operative.” UNOCHA reported that some of its staff members were denied exit permits out of Gaza because UNOCHA coordinated with Hamas as the de facto government in Gaza to facilitate the entry, exit, and transportation of UN personnel. In other cases, UNOCHA reported that its staff received exit permits, but Israeli authorities denied them permission for them to exit after hours of waiting at border crossings.
According to the United Nations, 1,025 persons were displaced in the West Bank and East Jerusalem due to demolitions as of November 17.
UNRWA and other humanitarian organizations provided services to IDPs in Gaza and the West Bank, with some limitations due to Israeli restrictions on movement and border access. Humanitarian actors, including UNRWA, the ICRC, and NGOs, reported they faced difficulties providing assistance during the May conflict in Gaza, due to several factors, including the intensity of the bombing of Gaza by the Israeli military, difficulties establishing a coordination mechanism with the Israeli government, restrictions on movement of goods and persons by Israeli authorities, and, in one notable case of Israelis permitting humanitarian supplies through the Kerem Shalom Crossing, a mortar attack by Hamas.
The PA cooperated with UNRWA in the West Bank. In Gaza de facto authorities generally cooperated with UNRWA and allowed it to operate without interference. After the May conflict and a controversial interview given by UNRWA’s Gaza field director, Hamas announced it would no longer guarantee his and his deputy’s safety, effectively forcing out UNRWA’s two most senior officials.
Access to Asylum: Palestinian residents of the West Bank who claimed to be in a life-threatening situation due to their sexual orientation or other reasons, such as domestic violence, did not have access to the asylum system in Israel due to Israel’s claim that the 1951 Refugee Convention does not apply to Palestinians because they receive assistance from the UNRWA, although UNRWA’s mandate does not extend to Israel. Thus, many Palestinians in life-threatening situations resided in Israel without legal status. NGOs stated this situation left these persons, who claimed they could not return to the West Bank due to fear of oppression, vulnerable to human trafficking, violence, and exploitation. Some lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) Palestinians were able to obtain a temporary permit from the Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) allowing them to stay in Israel without authorization to work or to access social services. A Supreme Court petition by NGOs demanding these rights was pending as of the year’s end. According to UNHCR, prior to the issuance of permits, COGAT requested proof of efforts to resettle in a third country. On July 22, in its response to a petition to the Supreme Court demanding the right to work and access to the health-care system for Palestinians with stay permits in Israel, the government stated it viewed a fundamental difference between Palestinians threatened due to cooperation with Israel and Palestinians who fled due to their sexual orientation or domestic violence. The government committed to begin issuing work permits for the first group but not for the second group. Members of the second group could only apply for a permit in demanded fields such as construction and industry, mirroring requirements for Palestinian workers from the West Bank. The government stated that COGAT examined the issue on a case-by-case basis. On July 26, the Supreme Court upheld the government’s position, but also demanded the government update the court regarding the possibility of accepting requests for work permits from the second group, separate from an employer. The case was ongoing at the year’s end.
Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Israeli security operations in the West Bank led to 27 fatalities of UNRWA-registered Palestinian refugees, five of whom were killed while reportedly conducting an attack on the ISF or Israeli civilians. The ISF conducted an estimated 409 military and policing operations in West Bank refugee camps, injuring 101 Palestinians, according to the United Nations. Of these injuries, 65 persons, including 10 minors, were injured with live ammunition, the United Nations reported. Israeli authorities demolished 141 structures belonging to UNRWA-registered refugees, which resulted in the displacement of 195 refugees, according to the United Nations.
Access to Basic Services: UNRWA provided education, health care, and social services, as well other assistance, in areas of Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza. Palestinian refugees in the occupied territories 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 (see section 1.d.). UNRWA services in Gaza were also disrupted during the May escalation in violence.
Socioeconomic conditions in Gaza severely affected refugees. UNRWA reported that food security continued to be at risk. In March UNRWA temporarily suspended food distribution at its official distribution centers to avoid spreading COVID-19 but began door-to-door delivery as an alternative soon afterwards.
Israeli import restrictions on certain commodities considered as dual use continued to impede humanitarian operations in Gaza, including those directed toward refugees. In 2016 Israeli authorities introduced a requirement whereby approval of UNRWA projects remained valid for only one year. As project implementation timelines often exceeded one year, this requirement necessitated applications for reapproval of projects, which hampered implementation and increased transaction costs for multiple UNRWA projects.
g. Stateless Persons
According to NGOs, 40,000 to 50,000 Palestinians in Gaza lacked identification cards recognized by Israel. Some were born in Gaza but were never recognized by Israel 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 Gaza and never left but had only Hamas-issued identification cards. Under the Oslo Accords, the PA administers the Palestinian Population Registry, although status changes in the registry require Israeli government approval. The Israeli government has not processed changes to the registry since 2000 and has not approved family reunifications since 2009. COGAT confirmed that without accurate and updated records in Israeli databases, Israeli authorities could not process Palestinians’ movement in and out of the West Bank and Gaza.
There was no process for foreign spouses or foreign-born children of Palestinians to obtain permanent legal status in the West Bank prior to August, when Israeli authorities permitted 5,000 family reunification petitions to be submitted via the PA’s Ministry of Civil Affairs. Following a meeting between President Abbas and Israeli minister of defense Gantz on December 28, there were indications that Israel would permit the PA to process additional family reunification petitions, although thousands more would likely remain unprocessed due to Israeli-imposed limits on the number of petitions. Since Israel approves the Palestinian family registry, many Palestinian children and young adults, especially those born abroad, remained without legal status at the end of the year, in the region where they had spent most or all of their lives.