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Israel, West Bank, and Gaza

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The law generally provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression, including for the press.

The law imposes tort liability on any person who knowingly issues a public call for an economic, cultural, or academic boycott of the State of Israel or of institutions or entities in areas under its control in the West Bank. Plaintiffs must prove direct economic harm to claim damages under the “anti-boycott” legislation. The law also permits the finance minister to impose administrative sanctions on those calling for such a boycott, including restrictions on participating in tenders for contracts with the government and denial of government benefits.

In 2017 the Knesset passed an amendment barring entry to the country of visitors who called for boycotts, and in January 2018 the Ministry of Strategic Affairs published a list of 20 organizations whose members would be refused entry to Israel. The government also used this law to deport Human Rights Watch director of Israel and Palestine Omar Shakir (see section 5).

Freedom of Expression: The law prohibits hate speech and content liable to incite to violence or discrimination on grounds of race, origin, religion, nationality, and gender.

The maximum penalty for desecrating the Israeli flag is three years in prison and a fine of 58,400 shekels ($16,900).

In cases of speech that are defined as incitement to violence or hate speech, the law empowers police to limit freedom of expression.

A 2018 law “prohibit[s] individuals or organizations that are not part of the education system from engaging in activities within an educational institution when the nature of the activity undermines the goals of state education.” Both supporters and opponents of the bill said it targeted the NGO Breaking the Silence, which described its activities as collecting and publishing “the testimonies of soldiers who served in the occupied territories in order to generate public discourse on the reality of the occupation, with the aim of bringing it to an end.” Breaking the Silence criticized the law as a violation of freedom of political expression. As of year’s end, the Ministry of Education had not issued regulations necessary to implement the law.

Security officials prohibited groups affiliated with the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) or Palestinian Authority (PA) from meeting in Jerusalem based on a 1995 law banning the PA from engaging in political, diplomatic, security, or security-related activities in Israel, including Jerusalem.

Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction, with a few exceptions.

In October 2018 police issued a new regulation regarding the work of journalists in areas experiencing clashes, which authorities claimed balanced freedom of the press and security requirements. According to the Seventh Eye media watchdog group, the regulation grants police broad authorities to prevent journalists’ access to public incidents involving violence (i.e., riots, demonstrations, protests) if there exists a concern that the entry of journalists would lead to “special circumstances,” such as injury or the loss of life, further violence, disrupting investigative procedures, serious violation of privacy, or violation of a closure order. According to the regulation, however, police must also consider alternatives to minimize the violation of press freedom, for instance by escorting journalists in and out of dangerous situations.

Violence and Harassment: Palestinian journalists who were able to obtain entry permits, as well as Jerusalem-based Arab 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. According to a January 23 Foreign Press Association statement, “Arab journalists [are] needlessly hassled by Israeli security in what we believe is clear ethnic profiling.” This included reports of alleged harassment by Israeli soldiers and acts of violence against Palestinian and Arab-Israeli journalists that prevented them from covering news stories. According to the Journalists Support Committee, 26 Palestinian journalists were detained in Israeli prisons as of August. In April the Committee to Protect Journalists issued a statement criticizing the government for holding Palestinian journalists in its jails, noting “Israel’s use of administrative detention to hold journalists without charge runs completely contrary to its professed values of democracy and rule of law.”

The Ministry of Interior sought to deport stateless photojournalist Mustafa al-Haruf from East Jerusalem to Jordan, after he was unable to obtain residency status in Jerusalem, and held him in administrative detention between January and October. In March the Committee to Protect Journalists called on authorities to either clarify the reasons for al-Haruf’s detention and deportation order or release him immediately. After Jordan refused to accept al-Haruf, on October 24, a court reviewing border-control decisions released him, due to the Ministry of Interior’s inability to deport him. The court ordered al-Haruf to regularize his status by February 12, 2020. While the government classified the reasons for the denial of al-Haruf’s status for security reasons, in an appeal of his deportation a Supreme Court justice stated al-Haruf “crossed the line between his journalistic work and assisting terrorist organizations” but also mentioned “reports that are not sympathetic to the State of Israel,” according to +972 Magazine.

Prime Minister Netanyahu and his supporters criticized journalists, media channels, and media owners for reporting on investigations into a series of allegations (see section 4) involving the prime minister, for which the attorney general decided to indict him. In January the Likud Party published billboards with photographs of four journalists saying, “they will not decide,” according to media reports. Following attacks in media and social media by the prime minister and his son, Yair Netanyahu, against Channel 12 News legal correspondent Guy Peleg, who covered the Netanyahu investigations, Peleg received a series of threats on WhatsApp and social media, which led the channel to provide him with a private security guard on August 30. On August 31, Netanyahu criticized the heads of Channel 12 News for their coverage of his office, called for a boycott of the channel, and said they were carrying out a “terror attack against democracy,” while treating rival political parties more gently than Likud. Netanyahu argued that he was working to increase competition in the domestic television market.

On October 26, a group of ultra-Orthodox men physically attacked an Israel Hayom reporter near Haifa. The attackers severely assaulted the journalist, breaking his nose and resulting in a concussion. The attackers called him a “traitor” and a “leftist” after confirming he was a journalist. On October 31, police arrested a suspect in the attack, and the investigation of the case was pending as of December.

On September 2, the state attorney issued a directive instructing prosecutors to consider requesting increased sentences of three to five years’ imprisonment for violent offenses committed against journalists.

Censorship or Content Restrictions: All media organizations must submit to military censors any material relating to specific military issues or strategic infrastructure problems, such as oil and water supplies. Organizations may appeal the censor’s decisions to the Supreme Court, and the censor may not appeal a court judgment.

News printed or broadcast abroad is subject to security censorship. The government regularly enacted restrictive orders on sensitive security information and continuing investigations and required foreign correspondents, as well as local media, to abide by these orders. According to data provided by the armed forces through a Freedom of Information Act request by +972 Magazine, in 2018 the censor intervened in 2,721 articles of 10,938 submitted to it and banned 363 articles.

While the 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. Those publications, however, reported they engaged in self-censorship.

National Security: The law criminalizes as “terrorist acts” speech supporting terrorism, including public praise of a terrorist organization, display of symbols, expression of slogans, and “incitement.” In 2018 the Knesset amended the law to authorize restrictions on the release of bodies of terrorists and their funerals to prevent “incitement to terror or identification with a terrorist organization or an act of terror.” The government issued 53 indictments and courts convicted 39 persons under the law during the year. On May 16, the Nazareth District Court partially accepted the appeal of Dareen Tatour, who was convicted by the local magistrate’s court due to poems, pictures, and other media content she posted online in 2015. The court reversed lower court verdicts on charges of “incitement to violence” and “support of a terrorist organization” related to her poetry, but it upheld convictions related to her other publications. The ruling stated that when examining freedom of expression, the fact that Tatour’s words were part of an artistic piece had to be taken into consideration.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The law provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights.

West Bank and Gaza

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press

The PA basic law generally provides for freedom of expression but does not specifically provide for freedom of the press. The PA enforced legislation that NGOs claimed restricted press and media freedom in the West Bank, including through PASF harassment, intimidation, and arrest.

In Gaza, Hamas restricted press freedom through arrests and interrogations of journalists, as well as harassment and limitations on access and movement for some journalists. These restrictions led many journalists to self-censor. During the March Bidna Na’eesh (We Want to Live) protests, Hamas arrested 23 journalists, according to rights groups.

Israeli civil and military law provides limited protections of freedom of expression and press 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–particularly by restricting Palestinian journalists’ movement, as well as through 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 allows journalists maximum freedom to work and investigates 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 and social media activists who criticized or covered events that criticized the PA.

On February 24, the PASF detained photojournalist Mohammad Dweik while he filmed a protest against the National Social Insurance Law, according to media reports; he was later released after deleting the content from his camera.

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. Websites blocked during 2018 continued to be blocked throughout the year.

According to HRW, the PA arrested 1,609 individuals between January 2018 and April 2019 for insulting “higher authorities” and creating “sectarian strife.” HRW stated these charges “criminalize peaceful dissent.” The PA arrested more than 750 persons during this period for social media posts, according to data provided to HRW.

In Gaza, Hamas authorities arrested, interrogated, seized property from, and harassed Palestinians who publicly criticized them. 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. In January, Hamas arrested the Palestinian comedian Ali Nassman after he released a song on YouTube mocking a Hamas policy, according to media. He was released later that day. In April, Hamas arrested Palestinian comedian Hussam Khalaf for mocking the same Hamas policy, and he was released the next day.

Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent Palestinian media operated under restrictions in the West Bank and Gaza. 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, at times Palestinian journalists reportedly pressured Israeli journalists not to attend PA events.

Hamas de facto authorities 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.

On May 26, the Hamas de facto government Ministries of Interior and Information in Gaza prevented PA-owned newspaper Al Hayat Al Jadida from distributing its paper based on the claim that the outlet published provocative material that incited violence and disrupted the civil peace.

In March, Hamas security arrested Rafat al-Qedra, the general manager of Palestine TV in Gaza. According to media outlets, they confiscated his mobile telephone and personal laptop before releasing him.

In areas of the West Bank to which Israel controls access, Palestinian journalists claimed Israeli authorities restricted their freedom of movement and ability to cover stories. The ISF does not recognize Palestinian press credentials or credentials from the International Federation of Journalists. Few Palestinians held Israeli press credentials.

There were reports of Israeli forces detaining journalists in the West Bank, including the August 6 detention in Burqin of Muhammed Ateeq, who was held for 10 days, and the August 29 detention of photojournalist Hasan Dabbous in his village near Ramallah. According to Israeli authorities, Ateeq was arrested on suspicion of endangering the security of the area.

On June 10, an Israeli military court indicted Palestinian journalist Lama Khater, who was arrested alongside five other journalists in July 2018, for incitement to violence through her writing and sentenced her to 13 months in prison, including time already served, according to media reports. She was released on July 26. Khater claimed she was mistreated during interrogation, including being chained to a chair for 10 to 20 hours a day for more than a month, according to media reports. According to Israeli authorities, Khater admitted to membership in Hamas, an illegal organization, and was sentenced as part of a plea bargain.

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 PA occasionally obstructed the West Bank activities of media organizations with Hamas sympathies and limited media coverage critical of the PA.

The PA also had an inconsistent record of protecting Israeli and international journalists in the West Bank from harassment by Palestinian civilians or their own personnel.

In Gaza, Hamas at times arrested, harassed, and pressured, sometimes violently, journalists critical of its policies. Hamas reportedly summoned and detained Palestinian journalists for questioning to intimidate them. Hamas also constrained journalists’ freedom of movement within Gaza during the year, attempting to ban access to some official buildings.

Throughout the year there were reports of Israeli actions that prevented Palestinian or Arab-Israeli journalists from covering news stories in the West Bank and Gaza. These actions included alleged 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, arrest, or administrative detention. On August 2, ISF detained AP photojournalist Eyad Hamad for several hours while he was reporting on house demolitions in the Wadi al-Hummous area of East Jerusalem, according to rights groups and media reports. The government of Israel stated it could find no record of this incident.

On July 24, Reporters without Borders alleged the IDF was intentionally targeting the media after five Palestinian journalists were injured in the span of four days while covering events in the West Bank and Gaza. At least two of the injured journalists were wearing vests marked “press” when the IDF allegedly fired at them with live rounds, according to media reports. One of the journalists, Sami Misran of Al-Aqsa TV, allegedly lost the use of an eye, according to the Times of Israel. The IDF stated it does not target journalists. According to the government of Israel, allegations of misconduct regarding the Gaza protests were being examined by the Fact Finding Assessment Mechanism, which will be reviewed by the MAG to determine whether there are reasonable grounds for criminal investigations.

On May 4, the Israeli air force shelled and destroyed a Gazan building that included the offices of local and regional media agencies and institutes, including the Turkish Anadolu Agency, the Prisoners Media Center, the Hala Media Training Center, and the Abdullah Hourani Studies Center, according to media reports. The IDF stated it targeted the building because it housed other offices related to Hamas and that it did not intend to destroy the media offices.

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.

According to media reports, the PASF confiscated equipment from journalist Thaer Fakhouri in Hebron and arrested him for posting “incitement information” on social media platforms. He was held for four days and obliged to pay a fine before being released.

In Gaza civil society organizations reported Hamas censored television programs and written materials, such as newspapers and books.

The Israeli government raided and closed West Bank Palestinian media sources, primarily on the basis of allegations they incited violence against Israeli civilians or security services. Acts of incitement under military law are punishable by up to 10 years’ imprisonment. NGOs and other observers said 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.

Libel/Slander Laws: There were some accusations of slander or libel against journalists and activists in the West Bank and Gaza.

A case continued in Ramallah Magistrate’s Court in which London-based al-Arabi al-Jadeed disputed a 2016 closure order by the PA following an investigative report about torture in PA prisons.

HRW reported that Gazan authorities charged journalist Hajar Harb with slander for an investigative piece she wrote in 2016 accusing doctors in Gaza’s health ministry of writing false reports to allow healthy people to leave Gaza for treatment in return for payment. She was convicted in absentia in 2017. She returned to Gaza in 2018 and was granted a new trial. In March she was acquitted on appeal.

National Security: Human rights NGOs alleged that the PA restricted the activities of journalists on national security grounds.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

Authorities in the West Bank and Gaza limited and restricted Palestinian residents’ freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

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