Israel, West Bank and Gaza
Read A Section: Israel
West Bank and Gaza
Israel is a multiparty parliamentary democracy. Although it has no constitution, its parliament, the unicameral 120-member Knesset, has enacted a series of “Basic Laws” that enumerate fundamental rights. Certain fundamental laws, orders, and regulations legally depend on the existence of a “state of emergency,” which has been in effect since 1948. Under the Basic Laws, the Knesset has the power to dissolve itself and mandate elections. On March 2, Israel held its third general election within a year, which resulted in a coalition government. On December 23, following the government’s failure to pass a budget, the Knesset dissolved itself, which paved the way for new elections scheduled for March 23, 2021.
Under the authority of the prime minister, the Israeli Security Agency combats terrorism and espionage in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza. The national police, including the border police and the immigration police, are under the authority of the Ministry of Public Security. The Israeli Defense Forces are responsible for external security but also have some domestic security responsibilities and report to the Ministry of Defense. Israeli Security Agency forces operating in the West Bank fall under the Israeli Defense Forces for operations and operational debriefing. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security services. The Israeli military and civilian justice systems have on occasion found members of the security forces to have committed abuses.
Significant human rights issues included: reports of unlawful or arbitrary killings, including targeted killings of Israeli civilians and soldiers; arbitrary detention, often extraterritorial in Israel, of Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza; restrictions on Palestinians residing in Jerusalem including arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy, family, and home; interference with freedom of association, including stigmatizing human rights nongovernmental organizations; significant restrictions on freedom of movement; violence against asylum seekers and irregular migrants; violence or threats of violence against national, racial, or ethnic minority groups; and labor rights abuses against foreign workers and Palestinians from the West Bank.
The government took steps to prosecute and punish officials who committed abuses within Israel regardless of rank or seniority.
This section of the report covers Israel within the 1949 Armistice Agreement line as well as Golan Heights and East Jerusalem territories that Israel occupied during the June 1967 war and where it later extended its domestic law, jurisdiction, and administration. The United States recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in 2017 and Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights in 2019. Language in this report is not meant to convey a position on any final status issues to be negotiated between the parties to the conflict, including the specific boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem, or the borders between Israel and any future Palestinian state.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
There were several reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. The Ministry of Justice’s Department for Investigations of Police Officers (DIPO) is responsible for investigating alleged unlawful actions involving police, while the Ministry of Justice’s State Attorney’s Office is responsible for investigating alleged unlawful actions involving the prosecution.
According to the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), there were 190 instances of rocket fire from Gaza at Israeli territory, 90 of which fell in uninhabited areas. The IDF intercepted 93 percent of the rockets fired at populated areas. In addition the IDF reported it foiled 38 infiltration attempts from Gaza and destroyed one terror tunnel into Israel.
The Israeli Security Agency (ISA, or Shin Bet) foiled 423 significant terror attacks in the West Bank and Jerusalem, according to the government. By comparison 563 attacks were thwarted in 2019, 581 in 2018, and 418 in 2017. Of the attacks the ISA prevented, 281 were classified as shootings, 78 as stabbings, 10 as ramming attacks, 58 as bomb attacks, and five as planned kidnapping attacks. Israeli forces engaged in conflict throughout the year with Palestinians militants in Gaza in response to rocket attacks, incendiary balloons and attempted infiltrations. Israeli forces killed 20 Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, including one person at the Gaza perimeter fence, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (UNOCHA) (see West Bank and Gaza section).
According to the government and media reports, terrorist attacks targeting Israelis killed one person in Israel, in Petah Tikva. The attacker was a Palestinian from the West Bank. In addition the Israeli government reported foiling numerous terrorist attacks during the year.
On June 30, Israeli police in Jerusalem’s Old City fatally shot Iyad Halak, a Palestinian resident with autism, after he allegedly failed to follow police orders to stop. Police stated they believed Halak was carrying a “suspicious object.” Defense Minister Benny Gantz expressed regret for the incident and called for a quick investigation. On October 21, DIPO issued a statement that the prosecution intended to indict, pending a hearing, a police officer suspected of the shooting on charges of reckless homicide. According to the Ministry of Justice, investigators carefully examined the circumstances of the incident and determined that Halak had not posed any danger to police and civilians who were at the scene, that the police officer discharged his weapon not in accordance with police procedures, and that the police officer had not taken proportionate alternative measures which were at his disposal.
On September 13, the NGO Adalah and PCATI submitted a request to the Supreme Court demanding the reversal of a decision of the then state attorney to close the investigation into the 2017 police killing of Yaqoub Abu al-Qian in Umm al-Hiran and criminally to indict officers responsible for the death of Abu al-Qian.
In October 2019 the Supreme Court granted a petition filed by the family of Israeli citizen Kheir al-Din Hamdan ordering Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit and the DIPO to indict police officer Yizhak Begin, who shot and killed Hamdan in 2014, to determine the exact charges. In 2015 the DIPO closed its investigation into Hamdan’s killing. On April 27, the Supreme Court President ordered an expanded panel of justices to review whether an indictment could be ordered against police officers who were questioned without a warning during the DIPO investigation. The review continued at year’s end.
There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.
The law prohibits torture, the application of physical or psychological pain, and assault or pressure by a public official. Israeli law exempts from prosecution ISA interrogators who use what are termed “exceptional methods” in cases that are determined by the ISA to involve an imminent threat, but the government determined in 2018 that the rules, procedures, and methods of interrogation were confidential for security reasons.
Authorities continued to state the ISA held detainees in isolation only in extreme cases and when there was no alternative option, and that the ISA did not use isolation as a means of augmenting interrogation, forcing a confession, or punishment. An independent Office of the Inspector for Complaints against ISA Interrogators in the Ministry of Justice handled complaints of misconduct and abuse in interrogations. The decision to open an investigation against an ISA employee is at the discretion of the attorney general.
In criminal cases investigated by police involving crimes with a maximum imprisonment for conviction of 10 years or more, regulations require recording the interrogations; however, an extended temporary law exempts the ISA from the audio and video recording requirement for interrogations of suspects related to “security offenses.” In non-security-related cases, ISA interrogation rooms are equipped with closed-circuit cameras, and only supervisors appointed by the Ministry of Justice have access to real-time audiovisual feeds. Supervisors are required to report to the comptroller any irregularities they observe during interrogations. The nongovernmental organization (NGO) Public Committee against Torture in Israel (PCATI) criticized this mechanism as insufficient to prevent and identify abuses, arguing that the absence of a recording of an interrogation impedes later accountability and judicial review.
According to PCATI, the government acknowledged that it used “exceptional measures” during interrogation in some cases, but the Ministry of Justice refused to provide information regarding the number of such “necessity interrogations.” These measures, according to PCATI, included beatings, forcing an individual to hold a stress position for long periods, threats of rape and physical harm, painful pressure from shackles or restraints applied to the forearms, sleep deprivation, and threats against families of detainees.
PCATI also argued that torture is not enumerated as a specific offense under the criminal code in Israel, despite the government’s statements to the relevant UN treaty bodies it would introduce such a law. According to PCATI, there was an uptick in the use of “special measures” on security detainees in 2019, with at least 15 persons subjected to what it considered physical torture during interrogations between August and November 2019. PCATI stated the government’s system for investigating allegations of mistreatment of detainees shows persistent and systematic shortcomings. According to PCATI, the average time it takes authorities to address complaints is more than 44 months. The Ministry of Justice stated that its internal reviews led to the opening of two investigations since 2018. PCATI claims that approximately 1,300 complaints of ISA torture were submitted to the Ministry of Justice since 2001, resulting in one criminal investigation and no indictments.
Israeli security forces arrested Samer al-Arbid, a Palestinian suspect in the August 2019 killing of Rina Shnerb, who was killed near the settlement of Dolev in the West Bank. Security forces placed al-Arbid in solitary confinement, and transferred him to an interrogation center in Jerusalem. Two days later he was admitted to a hospital unconscious and with serious injuries, including the inability to breathe, kidney failure, and broken ribs. According to PCATI, the ISA used “exceptional measures” in interrogating al-Arbid, who was subsequently released from the hospital into an Israeli Prison Service (IPS) medical facility, where his interrogation continued. The Ministry of Justice’s Inspector of Interrogee Complaints opened an investigation into the incident. The investigation was underway at year’s end.
The government stated that requests from prisoners for independent medical examination at the prisoner’s expense are reviewed by an IPS medical team. According to PCATI and Physicians for Human Rights Israel (PHRI), IPS medics and doctors ignored bruises and injuries resulting from violent arrests and interrogations. In its 2016 review of the country’s compliance with the UN Convention against Torture, the UN Committee against Torture recommended (among 50 other recommendations) that the government provide for independent medical examinations for all detainees.
The law provides prisoners and detainees the right to conditions that do not harm their health or dignity.
Physical Conditions: Local human rights organizations reported Palestinian security prisoners (those convicted or suspected of nationalistically motivated violence) often faced more restrictive conditions than prisoners characterized as criminals. Restrictive conditions included increased incidence of administrative detention, restricted family visits, ineligibility for temporary furloughs, and solitary confinement.
A 2019 report by the Public Defender’s Office on 42 prisons and detention centers warned that despite efforts by the IPS to improve prison conditions and correct deficiencies noted in previous reports, grave violations of the rights of detainees continued to occur. The report described thousands of prisoners held in unsuitable living conditions in outdated facilities, some of which were unfit for human habitation. According to the report, many of the prisoners, especially minors, were punished by solitary confinement and disproportionate use of shackling. The Public Defender’s Office found this particularly concerning in cases where prisoners suffered from mental disabilities.
As of December the government had not applied a 2015 law authorizing force-feeding of under specific conditions of prisoners on hunger strikes. The Israel Medical Association declared the law unethical and urged doctors to refuse to implement it. Regulations stipulate that medical treatment must be provided in reasonable quality and time, based on medical considerations, and within the resources and funding available for the IPS. Regulations also allow the IPS to deny medical treatment if there are budgetary concerns, according to the PHRI.
A report published by the PHRI in 2019 pointed to significant failures in the IPS medical system. The report assessed that the separate health care system for prisoners was unable to provide services equivalent to those provided to the general population through enrollment in government-sponsored health maintenance organizations (HMOs). According to the PHRI’s findings, the services do not meet the accepted HMO standards, and in half of the incidents examined, there was a risk posed to the health of the inmates due to substandard treatment or denial of treatment. PHRI recommendations included applying national HMO standards to medical care provided in IPS facilities, establishing a professional and efficient supervision mechanism to govern medical services provided by IPS, and increasing the opportunities for outside medical practitioners to provide care in prisons.
Administration: Authorities conducted proper investigations of credible allegations of mistreatment, except as noted above. On August 25, the Knesset passed a law permitting virtual hearings with prisoners and detainees during the COVID-19 crisis. While authorities usually allowed visits from lawyers and stated that every inmate who requested to meet with an attorney was able to do so, this was not always the case. NGOs monitoring prison conditions reported that adult and juvenile Palestinian detainees were denied access to a lawyer during their initial arrest. The government granted visitation permits to family members of prisoners from the West Bank on a limited basis and restricted those entering from Gaza more severely.
Independent Monitoring: Despite COVID-19 pandemic restrictions in Israel, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) maintained its visits to detention facilities (including interrogation centers) with adapted visiting modalities to monitor conditions of detention, treatment, and access to family contacts. The ICRC also monitored humanitarian consequences of COVID-19 and related measures on Palestinian detainees and their families, and continued engaging concerned authorities in this regard. The ICRC’s family visit program–through which families of Palestinian detainees may visit their relatives in Israeli custody–remained suspended for families from Gaza due to COVID-19 movement restrictions.
Improvements: In 2018 the Knesset passed a temporary law for three years granting early release of prisoners (excluding security prisoners) in order to facilitate implementation of a Supreme Court verdict requiring prisons to allocate a living space of 48 square feet to each prisoner. According to the NGO Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), each prisoner is allocated 33 square feet, and approximately 40 percent of prisoners were imprisoned in cells that amounted to less than 32 square feet per person. The court ruled that the implementation of the verdict on the ISA detention center must be implemented no later than May 2021. The government notified the court that as of May no more than 40 percent of all prisoners were imprisoned in cells smaller than the minimal space determined to be adequate by the court.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court, and the government generally observed these requirements. Authorities applied the same laws to all residents of Jerusalem, regardless of their citizenship status. NGOs and Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem alleged that security forces disproportionally devoted enforcement actions to Palestinian neighborhoods, particularly Issawiya, with temporary checkpoints and raids at higher levels than in West Jerusalem. Palestinians also criticized police for devoting fewer resources on a per capita basis to regular crime and community policing in Palestinian neighborhoods. Police did not maintain a permanent presence in areas of Jerusalem outside the barrier and only entered to conduct raids, according to NGOs. Palestinian residents of the West Bank and Gaza detained on security grounds fell under military jurisdiction, even if detained inside Israel (see West Bank and Gaza section).
The law allows the government to detain irregular migrants and asylum seekers who arrived after 2014 from countries to which government policy prohibits deportation, mainly Eritrea and Sudan, for three months “for the purpose of identification and to explore options for relocation of the individual.” The law also states authorities must provide for irregular migrants taken into detention to have a hearing within five days. After three months in detention, authorities must release the migrant on bail, except when the migrant poses a risk to the state or the public, or when there is difficulty in identity verification.
The government may detain without trial and for an indefinite period irregular migrants who were “implicated in criminal proceedings.” According to the NGO Hotline for Refugees and Migrants (HRM), this policy enabled indefinite detention either without a trial or following the completion of time served. According to HRM, during the year the government released 20 irregular migrants, detained under the criminal procedure, due to COVID-19 regulations seeking to reduce overcrowding in prisons. In 2017 the Supreme Court ruled that the legality of this policy required additional review, but it had not issued any guidance by year’s end.
Police must have a warrant based on sufficient evidence and issued by an authorized official to arrest a suspect. The following applies to detainees, excluding those in administrative detention. Authorities generally informed such persons promptly of charges against them; the law allows authorities to detain suspects without charge for 24 hours prior to appearing before a judge, with limited exceptions allowing for up to 48 hours; authorities generally respected these rights for persons arrested in the country; there was a functioning bail system, and detainees could appeal decisions denying bail; and authorities allowed detainees to consult with an attorney in a timely manner, including one provided by the government for the indigent, and to contact family members promptly.
Authorities detained most Palestinian prisoners within Israel. Authorities prosecuted under Israeli military law Palestinians held in Israel who were not citizens, a practice the government has applied since 1967. The government has asserted in domestic court proceedings that this practice is consistent with international obligations related to occupation. Some human rights groups, including Military Court Watch, claim that Israel’s detention of the majority of convicted Palestinians from the West Bank or Gaza in prisons inside Israel is a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention. According to the circumstances of each case, such as the severity of the alleged offense, status as a minor, risk of escape, or other factors, authorities either granted or denied bail to noncitizens of Palestinian origin detained for security violations.
Authorities may prosecute persons detained on security grounds criminally or hold them as administrative detainees or illegal combatants, according to one of three legal regimes.
First, under a temporary law on criminal procedures, repeatedly renewed since 2006, the IPS may hold persons suspected of a security offense for 48 hours prior to bringing them before a judge, with limited exceptions allowing the IPS to detain a suspect for up to 96 hours prior to bringing the suspect before the senior judge of a district court. In security-related cases, authorities may hold a person for up to 35 days without an indictment (versus 30 days for nonsecurity cases). The law allows the court to extend detentions on security grounds for an initial period of up to 20 days for interrogation without an indictment (versus 15 days for nonsecurity cases). Authorities may deny security detainees access to an attorney for up to 21 days under civilian procedures.
Second, the Emergency Powers Law allows the Ministry of Defense to detain persons administratively without charge for up to six months, renewable indefinitely.
Third, the Illegal Combatant Law permits authorities to hold a detainee for 14 days before review by a district court judge, deny access to counsel for up to 21 days with the attorney general’s approval, and allow indefinite detention, subject to semiannual district court reviews and appeals to the Supreme Court.
The government stated it used separate detention only when a detainee threatened himself or others and authorities had exhausted other options–or in some cases during interrogation, to prevent disclosure of information. In such cases authorities maintained the detainee had the right to meet with International Committee of the Red Cross representatives, IPS personnel, and medical personnel, if necessary. According to the government, the IPS did not hold Palestinian detainees in separate detention punitively or to induce confessions. NGOs including Military Court Watch, the NGO HaMoked, and B’Tselem accused authorities of using isolation to punish or silence politically prominent Palestinian detainees.
The Public Defender’s Office reported in 2019 that prisoners with mental disabilities were often held in conditions that may worsen their mental health. Palestinian sources reported the IPS placed in isolation, without a full medical evaluation, Palestinian detainees with mental disabilities or who were a threat to themselves or others. According to the PHRI, isolation of Palestinian prisoners with mental disabilities was common.
Arbitrary Arrest: There were allegations that authorities arbitrarily arrested Israeli citizens and Palestinians who participated in protests. For example, on October 3, police arrested 35 protesters in demonstrations in Tel Aviv against the government. Many of the arrests, according to protest groups, were carried out in an arbitrary manner. Police stated grounds for the arrests included violation of COVID-19 emergency regulations regarding protests, which required social distancing, remaining within a one-half mile radius of one’s home, and wearing personal protective equipment (see section 2.b.).
In 2018 President Rivlin and then justice minister Ayelet Shaked invited Ethiopian-Israelis whom authorities had previously charged with minor offenses, such as insulting or obstructing a public servant, or participating in prohibited assemblies, to apply for their criminal records to be deleted if they were not imprisoned due to their offenses. According to the Ministry of Justice, since 2018, 115 requests were submitted to remove criminal records, 35 met the minimum requirements, 23 were granted, and eight were being processed at the end of the year.
Pretrial Detention: Administrative detention continued to result in lengthy pretrial detention for security detainees (see above).
The law provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality.
The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. Exceptions to the right for a public trial include national security concerns, protection of the interest of a minor or an individual requiring special protection, and protection of the identity of an accuser or defendant in a sex-offense case. The law permits publishing the identity of a victim of a sex offense, provided the victim gives written consent for publication.
Defendants enjoy the rights to a presumption of innocence, to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them, to a fair and public trial without undue delay, and to be present at their trial. They may consult with an attorney or, if indigent, have one provided at public expense. They have the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare their defense. Defendants who cannot understand or speak the language used in court have the right to free interpretation as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals. Defendants have the right to confront witnesses against them and to present witnesses and evidence on their own behalf. They may not be compelled to testify or confess guilt and may appeal to the Supreme Court.
The prosecution is under a general obligation following an indictment to provide all evidence to the defense. The government may on security grounds withhold from defense lawyers evidence it has gathered that is not for use in its case against the accused. The Supreme Court (with regard to civilian courts) and the Court of Appeals (with regard to military courts) may scrutinize the decision to withhold such evidence. The rules of evidence in espionage cases tried in criminal court do not differ from the normal rules of evidence, and no use of secret evidence is permissible.
Children as young as age 12 may be imprisoned if convicted of serious crimes such as murder, attempted murder, or manslaughter. The government reported no child was imprisoned under this law as of the end of the year.
The government tried Palestinian residents of the West Bank accused of security offenses in Israeli military courts.
The government described security prisoners as those convicted or suspected of nationalistically motivated violence. Some human rights organizations claimed that Palestinian security prisoners held in Israel should be considered political prisoners.
An independent and impartial judiciary adjudicates lawsuits seeking damages for, or cessation of, human rights violations. Administrative remedies exist, and court orders usually were enforced. Palestinian residents of Jerusalem may file suit against the government of Israel under the same rules that govern access to judicial and administrative remedies by Israeli citizens. By law nonresident Palestinians may file suit in civil courts to obtain compensation in some cases, even when a criminal suit is unsuccessful and the actions against them are considered legal.
In 2016 the state comptroller recommended the government quickly act to settle land claims, plan resettlement of Bedouin citizens in cooperation with the Bedouin community, develop infrastructure in recognized Bedouin communities, and formulate an enforcement policy regarding illegal construction. A 2017 law increased the government’s power to demolish unpermitted structures. New construction remained illegal in towns that did not have an authorized plan for development. Arab members of the Knesset and human rights organizations condemned the law for increasing enforcement and demolitions without addressing the systemic housing shortages in Arab communities that led to unpermitted construction. According to human rights organizations, approximately 50,000 Arab families lived in unpermitted houses.
Some NGOs criticized the lack of Arab representation on regional planning and zoning approval committees, and stated that planning for Arab areas was much slower than for Jewish municipalities, leading Arab citizens to build or expand their homes without legal authorization, thus risking a government-issued demolition order. Authorities issued approximately 1,770 administrative and judicial demolition orders during the year, overwhelmingly against Arab-owned structures. In cases of demolitions with no agreement from the residents to relocate, the government levied fines against residents to cover costs of demolitions.
A development plan for the Bedouin village of al-Fura’a was not completed as of the end of the year, despite government recognition of the village in 2006. As a result the village lacked basic electricity and water infrastructure, and NGOs reported house demolitions occurred regularly. The government stated that a team from the Ministry of Agriculture’s Authority for the Development and Settlement of Bedouin in the Negev began working on this issue in the second half of 2018, after completing a survey of 180 Bedouin residential clusters.
Regarding 35 unrecognized Bedouin villages in the Negev inhabited by approximately 90,000 persons, the government stated it used a “carrot and stick” approach to attempt to compel Bedouin Israelis to move, including demolishing unpermitted structures and offering incentives to move to Bedouin towns. According to a State Comptroller report and information from NGOs, Bedouins often refused to participate because they asserted they owned the land or that the government had given them prior permission to settle in their existing locations. Bedouins also feared losing their traditional livelihoods and way of life, as well as moving onto land claimed by a rival Bedouin clan. The seven Bedouin townships in the Negev were all crowded, especially in comparison with the Jewish towns and cities in the area, and had low-quality infrastructure and inadequate access to services for health, education, welfare, public transportation, mail, and garbage disposal. According to the NGO Negev Coexistence Forum for Civil Equality (NCF), Bedouins accounted for 34 percent of the population of the Negev, but only 12.5 percent of the residential-zoned land was designated for the Bedouin population.
As of 2019, approximately 31 percent of the 202,620 acres of Arab Bedouin land in the south of the country that was previously under ownership dispute was no longer in dispute as a result of either settlement agreements or following legal proceedings, according to the government.
In 2018 Bedouin residents of the unrecognized village Umm al-Hiran signed an agreement with the Ministry of Agriculture’s Authority for the Development and Settlement of Bedouin in the Negev to demolish their structures and relocate to vacant plots in the Bedouin town of Hura, following extended legal action and negotiations. Umm al-Hiran was to be replaced with a Jewish community called Hiran. As of September 14, Bedouin residents still resided in the unrecognized village and the government announced it would formulate a solution for Umm al Hiran residents within three months.
The NCF recorded 2,241 demolitions of Bedouin Israelis’ structures in 2019 and stated the demolition policy violated Bedouin Israelis’ right to adequate housing. The NGO Regavim praised the demolitions as combatting illegal construction by squatters. Other civil society contacts stated the demolitions ignored traditional Bedouin seminomadic lifestyles predating the modern state of Israel.
In addition to the Negev, authorities ordered demolition of private property elsewhere, including in Arab towns and villages and in East Jerusalem, stating some structures were built without permits. B’Tselem reported that authorities demolished 121 housing units in East Jerusalem, and owners had demolished 81 units to avoid additional fines by the end of the year. This represented a decrease of 28 percent and an increase of 92 percent, respectively, with the number of owner demolitions the highest since B’Tselem began recording data in 2008. Legal experts pointed to the Kaminitz Law, which reduced administrative processing times for demolitions and increased administrative fines for those failing to demolish their own buildings, as a key factor in the increased number of demolitions in East Jerusalem. There were credible claims that municipal authorities in Jerusalem placed insurmountable obstacles to prevent Palestinian residents from obtaining construction permits, including failure to incorporate community needs into zoning decisions, the requirement that Palestinian residents document land ownership despite the absence of a uniform post-1967 land registration process, the imposition of high application fees, and requirements that new housing be connected to often nonexistent municipal utilities and other physical infrastructure.
In addition, NGOs asserted that there was a continuing policy intended to limit construction to prevent the creation or maintenance of contiguous neighborhoods between the West Bank and Jerusalem. Israeli official policy remained aimed at maintaining an ethnic balance between Jews and non-Jews in Jerusalem, according to civil society and official reports. The Israeli MFA said that the Jerusalem Municipality did not have any such policy. Israeli law no longer prevents non-Jews from purchasing housing units, although cultural, religious, and economic barriers to integrated neighborhoods remain, according to civil society representatives.
According to the government, all land ownership cases are assessed individually by an administrative committee, which is subject to judicial review.
According to Ir Amim and B’Tselem, discrimination is a factor in resolving disputes over land titles acquired before 1948. The law facilitates the resolution of claims by Jewish owners to land owned in East Jerusalem prior to 1948 but does not provide an equal opportunity for Palestinian claimants to land they owned in West Jerusalem or elsewhere in the British Mandate. Additionally, some Jewish and Palestinian landowners in Jerusalem were offered compensation by Israel for property lost prior to 1948. Civil society reports noted that many Palestinian landowners were deemed ineligible for compensation because they had to be residents of Jerusalem as of 1973. Other Palestinian landowners refused to accept compensation because they deemed it to be inadequate or in principle due to their rejection of Israeli administration. Jordanian authorities between 1948 and 1967 housed Palestinians in some property which Jewish owners reclaimed after Israel occupied East Jerusalem in 1967. Legal disputes continue regarding many of these properties involving Palestinian residents, who have some protection as tenants under Israeli law.
The Department of State’s Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today (JUST) Act Report to Congress, released publicly on July 29 may be found on the Department’s website: https://www.state.gov/reports/just-act-report-to-congress/.
The law prohibits such actions, and the government generally respected those prohibitions.
The 2003 Law of Citizenship and Entry, which is renewed annually, prohibits Palestinians from the West Bank or Gaza, Iranians, Iraqis, Syrians, and Lebanese, including those who are Palestinian spouses of Israeli residents or citizens, from obtaining resident status unless the Ministry of the Interior makes a special determination, usually on humanitarian grounds. The government has extended the law annually due to government reports that Palestinian family reunification allows entry to a disproportionate number of persons who are later involved in acts of terrorism. HaMoked asserted that statistics from government documents obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests contradicted these terrorism allegations, and that denial of residency to Palestinians from the West Bank or Gaza for the purposes of family reunification led to cases of family separation.
According to HaMoked 2018 reports, there were approximately 10,000 Palestinians from the West Bank or Gaza living in Israel, including Jerusalem, on temporary stay permits because of the law, with no legal provision that would allow them to continue living with their families. There were also cases of Palestinian spouses living in East Jerusalem without legal status. Authorities did not permit Palestinians who were abroad during the 1967 war or whose residency permits the government subsequently withdrew to reside permanently in Jerusalem. Amnesty International and other human rights organizations called on the government to repeal this law and resume processing family unification applications. The law allows the entry of spouses of Israelis on a “staying permit” if the male spouse is age 35 or older and the female spouse is age 25 or older, for children up to age 14, and a special permit for children ages 14-18, but they may not receive residency and have no path to citizenship. According to the Israeli MFA, the Population & Immigration Authority received 886 family unification requests from East Jerusalem in 2020, and 616 in 2019. Of these 256 were in approved and 540 are pending from 2020, while 373 were approved and 41 pending from 2019.
On March 16, the government issued an emergency regulation based on the country’s state of emergency, allowing the Shin Bet and police to track mobile phones to identify individuals in close contact with confirmed COVID-19 patients and to enforce quarantine orders. The government stated the program was the most effective way to maintain public health and economic stability. Some NGOs argued the regulations violated individual rights, including the right to privacy and dignity, and expressed concern regarding the role of the Shin Bet in monitoring the civilian population. They also questioned the effectiveness of the scheme, citing a low percentage of confirmed COVID-19 cases identified solely through the program and a reportedly high margin of error. On March 19, the Supreme Court issued an interim injunction that halted police tracking and subjected Shin Bet tracking to Knesset oversight. On April 26, the court ruled that the use of Shin Bet surveillance techniques must be authorized through legislation. On July 21, the Knesset passed a law allowing the government to utilize a limited version of the Shin Bet tracking program for 21 days at a time when there were more than 200 confirmed cases per day. On November 17, following an additional petition submitted by ACRI and Adalah on this issue, the Supreme Court ordered the government to explain further why Shin Bet tracking should be used in cases where COVID-19 patients are not cooperating with the epidemiological investigations, and why the government is not promoting an alternative method to Shin Bet tracking, as the law states. The petition was pending as of year’s end.
On March 27, media outlet Yedioth Ahronoth reported that under the auspices of the Shin Bet Law, the Shin Bet had been collecting data from mobile phones of all users of telecom services in Israel for 18 years, including calls, messages, and locations.
On December 13, Haaretz reported that police demanded internet providers to integrate a system that diverts data on police suspects, or on individuals visiting a specific website or IP address, to a police-controlled system. On December 14, Adalah sent an urgent letter to the attorney general and to the minister of public security, demanding they freeze police use of this system and clarify its legality, purpose, and mode of operation.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
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 Israel or areas under its control in the West Bank. Plaintiffs must prove direct economic harm to claim damages under the law. 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.
The law bars entry to the country of visitors who called for boycotts, and in 2018 the Ministry of Strategic Affairs published a list of 20 organizations whose members would be refused entry. According to September 30 media reports, the Ministry of Interior permitted former Israeli citizen Dror Feiler, who participated in the 2010 Gaza flotilla and was banned from the country since 2010, entry to the country only upon deposit of a 100,000 shekel ($30,600) bond.
Freedom of Speech: The law prohibits hate speech and content liable to incite to violence or discrimination on grounds of race, origin, religion, nationality, and gender. In cases of speech that are defined as incitement to violence or hate speech, the law empowers police to limit freedom of expression.
Conviction of desecrating the Israeli flag carries a maximum penalty of three years in prison and a monetary fine.
The law prohibits individuals or organizations that initiate political or legal action abroad against IDF soldiers or the state of Israel from holding activities in schools, but the Ministry of Education had not issued regulations necessary to implement the law as of year’s end. Both supporters and opponents of the law stated it was intended to target the NGO Breaking the Silence (BTS), a group of military veterans whose goal is to end the Israeli occupation of the West Bank. BTS criticized the law as a violation of freedom of political expression.
Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction, with a few exceptions.
Police regulations grant broad authorities to prevent journalists’ access to violent incidents (i.e., riots, demonstrations, protests) if there exists a concern that the entry of journalists would lead to “special circumstances,” such as risking the journalist’s life, furthering violence, disrupting investigative procedures, violating privacy, or violating a closure order. Police must also consider alternatives to minimize the violation of press freedom, for instance by escorting journalists in and out of dangerous situations.
In April the Government Press Office requested journalists to refrain from reporting from ultra-Orthodox areas due to the Jewish holiday of Passover.
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. In June the Journalists’ Support Committee, a nonprofit journalist advocacy organization, stated security forces committed more than 50 human rights violations against Palestinian journalists working in Jerusalem in the first half of the year, including arrests and expulsions from the city. In May the then public security minister Gilad Erdan extended for six months the closure order against Palestine TV’s East Jerusalem office, according to media reports. In November 2019, Erdan first ordered the closure when police raided the office.
On June 10, Likud officials published a video using the party’s official Twitter account calling for the imprisonment of Channel 13 News journalist Raviv Drucker for his coverage of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s trial. Likud officials accused Drucker of extorting witnesses, broadcasting criminal leaks, and obstructing justice. On July 25, the prime minister took to Facebook to characterize Channel 12 as a propaganda tool against him and his government.
Following a March 15 COVID-19 emergency regulation allowing the Shin Bet to track civilian cell phones for contact tracing purposes, the Union of Journalists in Israel petitioned the Supreme Court to have its members excluded in order to preserve press freedom and protect journalist sources. On April 26, the Supreme Court ruled that a journalist identified as a COVID-19 patient could refuse being tracked by the Shin Bet and instead undergo a manual epidemiological investigation, whereby the journalist would not reveal their sources but commit to notifying health officials regarding their infection.
Police detained, used violence against, and confiscated equipment of journalists during demonstrations throughout the country. On June 8, police officers hit, shoved to the floor, and then detained Haaretz photojournalist Tomer Appelbaum at the end of a demonstration against the extension of Israeli sovereignty to the West Bank. Witnesses indicated that Appelbaum was clearly identified as a journalist; however, police stated they did not notice his press credentials until after the incident. On September 5, police detained two photojournalists, according to the Israeli NGO Human Rights Defenders Fund (HRDF), after the journalists recorded protesters moving police barriers during a demonstration outside of the prime minister’s residence. Police stated they confiscated the equipment because the cameras contained evidence of an alleged crime committed by the protesters. The photographers and the association of journalists argued the material was privileged. On November 11, a magistrate court rejected the police request to use the footage as evidence, stating that in this case, the public interest of a free, effective, and objective press surpasses the public interest in the criminal investigation.
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 and 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 2019 the censor acted on 1,973 articles out of 8,127 articles submitted to it, and banned 202 articles.
According to the Seventh Eye media watchdog group, police automatically requested gag orders during investigations of certain crimes and complex cases, and only on rare occasions did police request rescinding of such orders before the completion of its work in a case. This policy, according to the Seventh Eye, began in 2015, when a former deputy head of Shin Bet began serving as police commissioner. The policy was continued by his successors.
While the government retained the authority to censor 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: According to HRDF, individuals and right-wing NGOs used defamation lawsuits to discourage public criticism of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank. For example, on July 13, the Samaria Regional Council sued head of the Zulat Institute Zehava Galon and former member of the Knesset for libel after she criticized on Twitter its granting of a certificate of honor to two settlers who in 2019 allegedly shot and killed a Palestinian attacker. According to B’Tselem, the settlers continued to shoot the Palestinian after he no longer posed a threat. In June an additional libel lawsuit against the Galon and B’Tselem NGOs 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: The law criminalizes as “terrorist acts” speech supporting terrorism, including public praise of a terrorist organization, display of symbols, expression of slogans, and “incitement.” The law authorizes 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.”
In 2017 the Supreme Court imposed restrictions on an ISA practice of summoning Israeli political activists suspected of “subversive” activity unrelated to terror or espionage for questioning under caution, indicating they might be charged with a crime. Such summoning may be carried out only after consultation with the legal advisor of the ISA. Police and the ISA must clarify that questioning is voluntary and the person summoned is not required to appear; and the ISA must clarify during questioning that the suspect’s statements may not be used in court for other proceedings.
The government monitored electronic communications for security purposes, and censored online content suspected as illegal according to domestic law. The law authorizes district court judges to restrict access to internet sites to prevent the commission of crimes. The Cyber Unit of the State Attorney’s Office further requested that content intermediary companies remove or restrict access to, on a voluntary basis, content and accounts suspected of violating domestic law. The Cyber Unit’s data showed the number of requests for content removal in 2019 increased by 37 percent from 2018. In approximately 90 percent of the 19,606 requests submitted, content intermediaries voluntarily removed content from their platforms. According to the Cyber Unit’s data, 76 percent of the requests were due to offenses related to a terror organization, and 22 percent were due to incitement offenses. A petition by ACRI and Adalah to the Supreme Court against the voluntary track program, arguing that the program violates freedom of expression and the right to due process, was pending as of the year’s end.
There were few government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.
The law prohibits institutions that receive government funding from engaging in commemoration of the “Nakba,” or “catastrophe,” the term used by Palestinians to refer to the displacement of Palestinians during Israel’s 1948 War of Independence. Activities forbidden by the law include rejection of the existence of Israel as a “Jewish and democratic state” or commemorating “Israel’s Independence Day or the day on which the State was established as a day of mourning.”
In January the Rishon LeTzion municipality removed a civics teacher from his position, following complaints he had expressed “radical left-wing positions” in the classroom and on social media, although the latter was not addressed in his termination hearing. ACRI stated that such incidents could lead to self-censorship by teachers, which stands in contradiction to the mission of educators.
On August 19, Minister of Education Yoav Galant intervened in the bible studies curriculum by cutting out Jewish history satirical sketches from the television show HaYehudim Baim (The Jews are Coming), following a protest from nationalist Orthodox rabbis. On August 21, ACRI demanded that the attorney general instruct the minister that he has no authority to intervene in the school curriculum.
Authorities continued to provide an edited version of the Palestinian Authority (PA) curriculum that deleted certain information on Palestinian history and culture for schools in neighborhoods in East Jerusalem. Authorities sought to tie funding for those schools to the use of the Israeli curriculum (see the West Bank and Gaza report for concerns regarding incitement and anti-Semitism in PA textbooks). Some Palestinians expressed concern at what they perceived as Israeli efforts to impose Israeli views on these students. Others welcomed the Israeli curriculum, and the additional resources associated with it, as better preparing students in Jerusalem to work in the Israeli workforce, compared to lower-paying employment in PA-controlled areas in the West Bank or in manual labor and low-wage sectors in Israel.
The government maintained prohibitions on some prominent Jerusalem-based Palestinian institutions, such as the Jerusalem Chamber of Commerce and the Orient House, which had been the de facto Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) office. The government renewed a closure order for these and other institutions under a 1994 law which requires the PA to obtain Israeli permission to open a representative office or hold a meeting in areas Israel recognizes as under its sovereignty. The government likewise continued to shut down Palestinian institutions and cultural events in Jerusalem that the government stated had PA participation or support, incited violence against Israel, or had anti-Israel or other objectionable content. Israeli authorities stated they would also detain and ban PA-affiliated officials in Jerusalem from conducting PA-related activities. According to Haaretz, the Ministry of Public Security approved dozens of such orders during the year. PA officials publicly point to the 1993 letter sent by then Israeli foreign minister Shimon Peres to his Norwegian counterpart Johan Holst as proof of an agreement to allow Palestinian institutions and activities in East Jerusalem.
The law provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights.
The law provides for this right, and the government generally respected it.
A law passed in April and the subsequent COVID-19 emergency regulations permitted the continuation of demonstrations during the COVID-19 crisis with the stipulation that participants maintain social distancing, but in several instances police placed additional limitations on the ability of individuals to assemble for peaceful protest. On September 29, the Knesset passed an amendment to the law, which led to the limiting of the right to demonstrate to within one-half mile of one’s home, in groups of 20 persons or fewer, for a period of 14 days. On October 12, following a petition against the law filed on September 30 at the Supreme Court, the government announced it would not extend the regulation limiting the ability to protest further than one-half mile from one’s home beyond October 13. The government did not cancel the amendment, allowing it to reinstate the measure. The petition was pending at year’s end.
Police issued fines for alleged violations of COVID-19 regulations during demonstrations against the prime minister. On April 14, police fined two demonstrators in Kfar Saba for illegally gathering. Protesters argued they remained seven feet apart during the protest and viewed the fines as police efforts to deter protected political activity. On July 26, media published a recording in which Jerusalem District Police Commander Doron Yadid told Minister of Public Security Amir Ohana, in response to Ohana’s request for police intervention to quell political protests, that police fined 160 individuals for not wearing a mask during a demonstration near the prime minister’s residence.
On November 24, the prosecution filed two indictments against antigovernment protesters. Authorities filed an indictment against Gonen Ben Yitzhak, one of the leaders of the Crime Minister protest group, on charges of illegal assembly and disrupting the activities of a police officer by lying under a water cannon to prevent it from being used against protesters during a July demonstration.
There were reports that police used excessive force in response to protests. For example, on August 22, during a demonstration near the prime minister’s residence, Chief Superintendent Niso Guetta physically attacked protesters, including hitting a protester and dragging him on the ground, and hitting a photographer. Police arrested two protesters for allegedly attacking Guetta, but video footage showed Guetta’s attack was unprovoked; the detained protesters were subsequently released. On November 29, the prosecution indicted Guetta for assault. Prosecutors dismissed additional complaints against Guetta due to lack of evidence.
Police used water cannons and “skunk water” to disperse demonstrations. Video footage from a July 24 demonstration outside of the prime minister’s residence showed a water cannon spraying a protester in the face, despite police regulations that forbid this action. The Knesset’s Internal Affairs and Environment Committee subsequently held hearings on police tactics during demonstrations and demanded the publication of a reformed police procedure regarding the use of water cannons. A protest group petition against the use of water cannons at demonstrations was deleted on September 9, given the Knesset committee’s discussions. The police procedure published in September relaxed previous restrictions on the use of water cannons, according to Haaretz. Authorities used skunk water to disperse groups of ultra-Orthodox Jews demonstrating against military draft requirements. A 2018 petition against the use of skunk water in dense urban areas was deleted by the Supreme Court on August 19, following a change in police procedures limiting the use of the method. On December 23, an ultra-Orthodox activist petitioned for selective police use of skunk water.
In October, ACRI sent letters to the attorney general demanding the government halt police practices during demonstrations which limit the freedom of peaceful assembly, including crowd control during protest marches by restricting demonstrators to small areas, requesting protesters to show their identification cards and registering them, using private cell phones to video record demonstrations, and using undercover police officers to arrest demonstrators.
The law provides for this right, and the government generally respected it.
The law prohibits registration of an association or a party if its goals include denial of the existence of the State of Israel or of the democratic character of the state.
The law requires NGOs receiving more than one-half of their funding from foreign governments to state this fact in their official publications, applications to attend Knesset meetings, websites, public campaigns, and any communication with the public. The law allows a monetary fine for NGOs that violate these rules. The government had not taken legal action against any NGO for failing to comply with the law by the year’s end.
Local NGOs, particularly those focused on human rights problems and critical of the government, asserted the government sought to intimidate them and prevent them from receiving foreign government funding (see section 5).
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
d. Freedom of Movement
The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights for citizens.
The government imposed restrictions on freedom of movement in order to curb the spread of COVID-19 through emergency regulations.
In-country Movement: The barrier that divided the majority of the West Bank from Israel also divided some communities in Jerusalem, affecting residents’ access to 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 had a negative effect on Palestinian patients and medical staff trying to reach the six Palestinian hospitals in East Jerusalem that offered specialized care, including delays at checkpoints lasting up to two hours. 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 that restrictions on movement in Jerusalem were temporary and implemented only when necessary for investigative operations, public safety, or public order, and when there was no viable alternative.
According to the NGO Kav LaOved, Ministry of Health COVID-19 guidelines prohibited migrant caregivers from leaving their place of work, which resulted in some caregivers working without any breaks. Following a request by the NGO, since May 8, a government regulation has permitted migrant caregivers to have their weekly day of rest outside of their employers’ residence if they lived in an apartment without roommates, a requirement that these workers could not meet.
Foreign Travel: Citizens generally were free to travel abroad, provided they had no outstanding military obligations and no administrative restrictions. The government may bar citizens from leaving the country based on security considerations, unpaid debts, or unresolved divorce proceedings. Authorities do not permit any citizen to travel to any state officially at war with Israel without government permission. This restriction includes travel to Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Yemen. The government limited foreign travel due to COVID-19, but it continued to allow the entry of citizens and Jewish visitors intending to study in religious schools known as yeshivas. The government kept the border with Egypt closed despite Egypt opening its crossings to foreign citizens on July 1. On September 23, a petition to the Supreme Court demanding the opening of this border was rejected.
The government requires all citizens to have a special permit to enter “Area A” in the West Bank (the area, according to the Interim Agreement, in which the PA exercises civil and security responsibility), but the government allowed Arab citizens of Israel access to Area A without permits. The 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 report that as of October 28 the Israeli government had revoked 17 residency permits in Jerusalem on the grounds of regulation 11A of Israel’s Entry Regulations, regarding individuals who stayed outside of Israel for more than 7 years or have acquired Citizenship/ Permanent Residence Status outside of Israel. Some Palestinians who were born in Jerusalem but studied abroad reported losing their Jerusalem residency status; however, 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 documents, needed special documents to travel abroad.
Citizenship: The law allows administrative courts to approve the minister of interior’s request for revocation of citizenship of a person on grounds of “breach of trust to the State of Israel” or following a conviction for an act of terror. The law grants the minister the authority to revoke permanent residency based on similar grounds. Legal appeals by Adalah and ACRI against the revocation of citizenships of two individuals convicted for an act of terror, which also questioned the constitutionality of the law itself, were pending as of the year’s end.
The government cooperated with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons of concern, except as noted below. The government did not allow UNHCR access to monitor regularly the detention facility at Ben Gurion Airport.
Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Communities with large concentrations of African migrants were occasionally targets of violence. Additionally, government policies on the legality of work forced many refugees to work in “unofficial” positions, making them more susceptible to poor treatment and questionable work practices by their employers. The Population and Immigration Authority (PIBA), unlike police or the IPS, did not have an external body to which migrants could file complaints if subjected to violence, according to HRM.
On July 20, a district court acquitted IPS officer Ronen Cohen and IDF soldier Yaakov Shamba of charges of aggravated battery against Eritrean asylum seeker Haptom Zerhom in 2015. A security guard at the Beer Sheva central bus station shot Zerhom, mistaking him for a terrorist attacker following a terrorist attack moments earlier. Following the shooting, a group of onlookers beat Zerhom, who later died at the hospital. The security guard was not charged, and two additional individuals received reduced sentences following plea deals in 2018.
Refoulement: The government provided some protection against expulsion or return of refugees to countries where their lives or freedom could be threatened, and stated its commitment to the principle of nonrefoulement.
As of September 30, there were 31,012 irregular migrants and asylum seekers in the country, of whom 28,175 were from Eritrea or Sudan, according to PIBA.
The government offered incentives to irregular migrants to leave the country and go to Uganda, including a paid ticket and a stipend. The government claimed the third-country government provided for full rights under secret agreements with Israel, but NGOs and UNHCR confirmed that migrants who arrived at the destination did not receive residency or employment rights. From January 1 to September 30, a total of 663 irregular migrants departed the country under pressure, compared with 2,024 in 2019. NGOs claimed many of those who departed to other countries faced abuses in those countries and that this transfer could amount to refoulement.
Access to Asylum: The law provides for granting of asylum or refugee status. The government has established a system for providing protection to refugees, but it has rarely granted a refugee status. According to the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS), out of 64,542 asylum requests submitted to PIBA in 2011-19, 39 requests (0.06 percent) were approved, and 121 (0.2 percent) were rejected following a full examination. Another 16,777 (26 percent) were rejected either outright or were in various expedited processes. A total of 34,624 requests (54 percent) are still pending. There were 12,941 requests (20 percent) closed due to departure or lack of cooperation.
The majority of asylum seekers received a “conditional release visa” that requires frequent renewal in only two locations throughout the country. The government provided these individuals with a limited form of group protection regarding freedom of movement, protection against refoulement, and some access to the labor market. Advocacy groups argued that most government policies were geared toward deterring the arrival of future asylum seekers by pressuring those already in the country to depart, either by leaving them with limited or no access to social and medical services or by not examining their asylum requests.
Irregular migrants subject to deportation, including those claiming but unable to prove citizenship of countries included in Israel’s nonrefoulement policy, were subjected to indefinite detention if they refused to depart after receiving a deportation order. At the end of 2018, there were 165 migrants with undetermined or disputed citizenship in detention.
According to HIAS, as of June 6, PIBA examined only 21 asylum requests of Eritrean citizens despite a 2019 government announcement that it would reexamine all requests from Eritrean asylum seekers, including 3,000 that were previously turned down. PIBA recognized seven Eritreans as refugees in the first half of the year, according to UNHCR. The government continued not to examine asylum claims of Sudanese citizens from Darfur, Nuba Mountains, and Blue Nile, despite a 2018 PIBA response to the Supreme Court regarding the need to reexamine and request additional information for 1,500 such claims. On August 31, the government informed the Supreme Court that the lack of political clarity regarding Sudan did not allow for the formation of criteria to examine requests and did not allow for a ruling on individual requests of Darfuris.
On October 13, the Supreme Court ruled that 600 Sudanese who were granted special protection status in 2007 would be considered refugees.
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; however, many of them resided in Israel without legal status. NGOs stated this situation left persons who claimed they could not return to the West Bank due to fear of persecution vulnerable to human trafficking, violence, and exploitation. Some lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) Palestinians were able to obtain from the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) a temporary permit 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. The government stated that COGAT examined the issue on a case-by-case basis. Following a HIAS administrative petition, on March 1, PIBA launched a program that allowed Palestinians recognized as trafficking victims to work in Israel.
On February 9, the Supreme Court ordered the government to recognize an Ivoirian family as refugees due to its minor daughters’ fear of being subjected to female genital mutilation in Cote d’Ivoire, and placing the burden of proof regarding a residential alternative on the government.
The government did not accept initial asylum claims at airports.
Safe Country of Origin/Transit: PIBA applied a fast-track procedure to reject asylum applications from applicants from Georgia, Ukraine, and Russia, which the Ministry of the Interior determined were “safe” countries.
Freedom of Movement: The law allows the government to detain asylum seekers from countries to which government policy prohibits deportation for a period of three months. The government may detain, without trial and for an indefinite period, irregular migrants who were “implicated in criminal proceedings” (See section 1.d.).
Authorities prohibited asylum seekers released from detention after arrival in the country from residing in Eilat, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Petah Tikva, Netanya, Ashdod, and Bnei Brak–cities that already had a high concentration of asylum seekers.
Employment: Following a 2019 Supreme Court ruling, the government removed text stipulating “this is not a work visa” from the visas of Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers. According to HRM, employing asylum seekers remained a felony that is not enforced due to a government commitment to the Supreme Court. According to UNHCR, asylum seekers from countries not listed under Israel’s nonrefoulement policy were restricted from working for three to six months after submitting their requests if they did not have a visa before applying. Asylum seekers are prohibited from working on government contracts, including local government contracts for cleaning and maintenance, which often employed irregular migrants.
On April 23, the Supreme Court struck down a law that required employers to deduct 20 percent of an asylum seeker’s salary as an incentive to encourage their departure from the country. The court deemed the 20 percent deduction as unconstitutional, referring to it as a violation of the right to individual property of a population with little means and low salaries. The court kept in place an additional 16 percent deposit (equal to social benefits) paid solely by employers as an incentive for departure. In addition to halting the practice of salary deductions, the court ordered PIBA to return to asylum seekers the full amount deducted from their salaries within 30 days. The Supreme Court verdict came in response to a 2017 petition by NGOs. As of December, 14,473 asylum seekers received refunds totaling 210.5 million NIS ($63.1 million). 3,445 asylum seekers had not yet applied for their refund by year’s end.
As of February, according to PIBA, a gap of 710 million shekels ($217.6 million) existed between the funds deducted from asylum seekers’ salaries and the funds deposited for them by employers. According to Ministry of Labor information published by Haaretz on August 9, the ministry opened 60 investigation files against employers who deducted but did not deposit funds. Thirty employers received fines, and five criminal proceedings were launched, leading to one indictment.
According to advocacy groups, at least 70 percent of asylum seekers in Israel were left without a job due to COVID-19 and were ineligible for unemployment insurance or other social services.
The law bars migrants from sending money abroad, limits the amount they may take with them when they leave to minimum-wage earnings for the number of months they resided in the country, and defines taking additional money out of the country as a money-laundering crime.
Access to Basic Services: Legally recognized refugees received social services, including access to the national health-care system, but the government for the most part did not provide asylum seekers with public social benefits. Asylum seekers were able to enroll in a health-insurance program only through their employers. Without insurance through employers, or when employers did not arrange a private insurance policy for them as required by law, asylum seekers had access only to emergency care. The Ministry of Health offered medical insurance for minor children of asylum seekers for 120 shekels ($37) per month, but children of undocumented migrants were excluded from this program. On November 30, the Supreme Court ordered the Ministry of Health to allow children of undocumented migrants to be covered by a national health-insurance policy, requested in a petition by the PHRI; however, according to the PHRI, the Ministry of Health continued to exclude these children. The government sponsored a mobile clinic and mother and infant health-care stations in south Tel Aviv, which were accessible to migrants and asylum seekers. Hospitals provided emergency care to migrants and treated them for COVID-19 but often denied follow-up treatment to those who failed to pay, according to the PHRI. Due to COVID-19, the sole government-funded provider of mental health services had to limit its services, which resulted in only 250 patients being served. Asylum seekers who were recognized as victims of trafficking were eligible for rehabilitation and care. The same eligibilities did not apply for victims of torture.
According to A.S.S.A.F, several municipalities illegally segregated children of asylum seekers and other children in schools and kindergartens. For example, the Petah Tikva municipality delayed registration of Eritrean children for specific kindergartens in order for its schools to fill up with other students, and thus for the municipality to place all Eritrean children together, separate from Israeli children. A July 7 administrative petition against the municipality by the organization, Haifa University, and ACRI resulted in placing 140 Eritrean children in integrated kindergartens. On November 19, the petitioners reached an agreement with the municipality and the Education Ministry according to which future registration of children would be done in an integrated manner, and registration conditions would be equal for all children.
Durable Solutions: There is no procedure for recognized refugees to naturalize. According to the Tel Aviv University Refugee Rights Clinic, only under exceptional humanitarian circumstances may a recognized refugee receive permanent residency.
Temporary Protection: The government provided temporary protection to individuals whom it did not recognize as refugees, or who may not qualify as refugees, primarily Eritrean and Sudanese irregular migrants as described above.
Despite being eligible for Israeli citizenship since 1981, an estimated 23,000 Druze living in territory captured from Syria in 1967 largely refused to accept it, and their status as Syrian citizens was unclear. They held Israeli identification cards, which listed their nationality as “undefined.”
Following cases of Bedouins having their citizenship revoked when arriving to receive services at the Ministry of Interior, on August 11, a PIBA official stated in a Knesset Internal Affairs Committee meeting that many of the 2,624 Bedouins whose citizenship had been erroneously revoked by the Ministry of Interior were unable to participate in national elections. According to the PIBA official, out of 500 Bedouins erroneously registered as Israelis since they were children of permanent residents, 362 were naturalized, 134 did not complete the process, and six were not naturalized for other reasons, including security.
Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government
The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented the law effectively. There were reports of government corruption, although impunity was not a problem.
Corruption: The government continued to investigate and prosecute top political figures. In 2019 Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit decided to indict Prime Minister Netanyahu for allegedly taking a bribe, fraud, and breach of trust, related to regulation of a telecommunications company. The indictment also covered an alleged attempt to direct authorities to suppress media coverage in exchange for favorable press, and the alleged receipt of inappropriate gifts. On May 24, the prime minister’s trial in the Jerusalem District Court began. On January 26, the attorney general decided to indict member of the Knesset David Bitan for taking a bribe, fraud, and breach of trust in nine cases between 2011 and 2017.
Former minister Haim Katz was indicted for separate offenses of bribery, fraud, and breach of trust. Minister of Interior Aryeh Deri and Deputy Minister of Housing and Construction Yakov Litzman are both, separately, under investigation for various alleged offenses.
The law prohibits police from offering a recommendation whether to indict a public official when transferring an investigation to prosecutors. The attorney general or state prosecutor may ask police for a recommendation, however. Detectives or prosecutors convicted of leaking a police recommendation or an investigation summary may be sentenced to up to three years’ imprisonment. The law does not apply to investigations in process at the time of the law’s passage.
The NGO Lawyers for Good Governance, which combats corruption in Israel’s 85 Arab municipalities, reported that it received 934 corruption-related complaints in 2019 through its hotline, up 20 percent from 2018. The NGO stated that during 2019 it prevented 48 senior staff appointments on the basis of nepotism or hiring without a public announcement.
Financial Disclosure: Senior officials are subject to comprehensive financial disclosure laws, and the Civil Service Commission verifies their disclosures. According to the NGO Shakuf, 12 ministers and deputy ministers, including the prime minister, did not submit their financial disclosure reports. Authorities do not make information in these disclosures public without the consent of the person who submitted the disclosure. There is no specific criminal sanction for noncompliance.
Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape, including spousal rape, is a felony for which conviction is punishable by 16 years’ imprisonment. Conviction of rape under aggravated circumstances or rape committed against a relative is punishable by 20 years’ imprisonment. Killing a spouse following abuse is chargeable as murder under aggravated circumstances, with a sentence if convicted of life imprisonment. Authorities generally enforced the law.
In 2019 the number of requests for assistance related to rape to the Association for Rape Crisis Centers was 13 percent higher than in 2018. Authorities opened 1,386 investigations of suspected rape in 2019, compared with 1,480 in 2018. Authorities closed 92 percent of rape cases in 2019 without filing an indictment, mainly due to lack of evidence.
On September 2, police filed indictments against 11 men, including eight minors, for their involvement in the gang rape of a 16-year-old girl in Eilat. The indictments included rape under aggravated circumstances, aiding and abetting a rape, indecent assault, and failure to prevent a felony. The trial continued at year’s end.
During the year 16 women and girls were killed by their male partners or by other family members. According to police data provided to the Movement for Freedom of Information, 77 percent of domestic assault cases from 2016-19 did not lead to an indictment, and 30,756 cases out of 39,867 cases closed without an indictment.
According to Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs and Social Services data, the number of reports of domestic violence almost tripled from March-October, compared with the same period in 2019. During the country’s first lockdown due to COVID-19, calls to police regarding violence against women increased by 19 percent from March-May compared with the same period in 2019, according to police data obtained by the Movement for Freedom of Information.
The Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs, and Social Services operated 14 shelters for survivors of domestic abuse, including two for the Arab community, two mixed Jewish-Arab shelters, two for the ultra-Orthodox community, and eight for non-ultra-Orthodox-Jewish communities. On May 3, the ministry opened an additional shelter to accommodate women under mandatory quarantine. The ministry also operated a hotline for reporting abuse, and on April 30, it opened a text-message-based hotline to help women access assistance while quarantined with an abusive partner. During the COVID-19 crisis, the Ministry of Justice’s Legal Aid Department represented women seeking restraining and safety orders, and defended them in domestic violence cases.
Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment is illegal. Penalties for sexual harassment depend on the severity of the act and whether the harassment involved blackmail. The law provides that victims may follow the progress on their cases through a computerized system and information call center. In 2019 prosecutors filed 104 indictments for sexual harassment, down from 168 in 2018. According to a Civil Service Commission report, in 2019 there were 214 sexual harassment complaints submitted to its Department of Discipline, compared with 194 complaints in 2018 and 168 in 2017. During 2019 the commission submitted 15 lawsuits to its disciplinary tribunal, compared with 12 in 2018.
On February 10, a magistrate court sentenced former Jerusalem district police chief Niso Shaham to 10 months’ imprisonment, eight months’ probation, a fine, and a compensation payment for sexually harassing female officers under his command. On July 14, a district court rejected Shaham’s appeal to overturn the magistrate court’s decision. Shaham appealed to the Supreme Court, and the appeal continued at year’s end.
Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of the birth of their children. Generally all individuals have the right to manage their reproductive health and had access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. According to NGOs, Arab Israeli women, particularly from the Bedouin population; female asylum seekers; and Palestinian women from East Jerusalem had limited access to health-care services. Traditional practices in Orthodox Jewish communities often led women to seek approval from a rabbi to use contraception.
The country maintained a pronatalist policy regarding reproductive care, subsidizing fertility treatments until the age of 45 but for the most part not subsidizing contraceptives, with the exception of women younger than age of 20 and women in the IDF.
The government provided sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence. On February 9, the Supreme Court ordered the government to recognize an Ivoirian family as refugees due to its minor daughters’ fear of being subjected to female genital mutilation in Cote d’Ivoire.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.
Discrimination: The law provides generally for the same legal status and rights for women as for men, including under family, religious, personal status, and national laws, as well as laws related to labor, property, inheritance, employment, access to credit, and owning or managing business property. The government generally enforced the law effectively, but a wage gap between women and men persisted. Women and men are treated differently in Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and Druze religious courts responsible for adjudication of family law, including marriage and divorce. For example, although women served as judges in nonreligious courts, they are barred from serving as judges in rabbinical courts.
The law allows a Jewish woman or man to initiate divorce proceedings, and both the husband and wife must give consent to make the divorce final. Sometimes a husband makes divorce contingent on his wife conceding to demands, such as those relating to property ownership or child custody. Jewish women in this situation could not remarry and any children born to them from another man would be deemed illegitimate by the Rabbinate without a writ of divorce. Rabbinical courts sometimes punished a husband who refused to give his wife a divorce, while also stating they lacked the authority under Jewish religious law to grant the divorce without his consent.
A Muslim man may divorce his wife without her consent and without petitioning the court. A Muslim woman may petition for and receive a divorce through the sharia courts without her husband’s consent under certain conditions. A marriage contract may provide for other circumstances in which she may obtain a divorce without his consent. Through ecclesiastical courts, Christians may seek official separations or divorces, depending on their denomination. Druze divorces are performed by an oral declaration of the husband or the wife and then registered through the Druze religious courts.
In some ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods, private organizations posted “modesty signs” demanding women obscure themselves from public view to avoid distracting devout men. The Beit Shemesh municipality received several extensions from the Supreme Court, which ordered it to remove such signs in 2018.
Women’s rights organizations reported a continuing trend of gender segregation and women’s exclusion, including in public spaces and events, in the IDF and in academia. In academia segregation in classes originally meant to accommodate the ultra-Orthodox population expanded to entrances, labs, libraries, and hallways, based on the Council of Higher Education inspections, revealed through a Freedom of Information Act request. Petitions to the Supreme Court regarding segregation in the academia were under review at year’s end. Incidents of segregation were also reported in government and local authorities’ events and courses. For example, the Ministry of Transportation prevented women from registering for some men-only defensive driving courses. In June the Ministry of Transportation committed to halt this practice, following a 2018 lawsuit by the Israel Women’s Network.
Birth Registration: Regardless of whether they are born inside or outside of the country, children derive citizenship at birth if at least one parent is a citizen, provided the child resides with the parent who is a citizen or permanent resident. Births should be registered within 10 days of delivery. Births are registered in the country only if the parents are citizens or permanent residents. Any child born in an Israeli hospital receives an official document from the hospital that affirms the birth.
On July 26, the Supreme Court rejected a petition of a same-sex couple who demanded to make the process of registering parenthood for lesbian couples equal to that of heterosexual couples. The Israel LGBTI Task Force criticized the ruling and stated that the government chose to continue wrongful discrimination, which led to what the Task Force called “bureaucratic torture.” A petition by 34 lesbian mothers against the Ministry of Interior’s refusal to list nonbiological mothers on birth certificates, despite court-issued parenting orders, was pending at year’s end. For children of nonresident parents, including those who lack legal status in the country, the Ministry of the Interior issues a confirmation of birth document, which is not a birth certificate. The Supreme Court confirmed in a 2018 ruling that the ministry does not have the authority to issue birth certificates for nonresidents under existing law.
The government registers the births of Palestinians born in Jerusalem, although some Palestinians who have experienced the process reported that administrative delays may last for years. The St. Yves Society estimated that more than 10,000 children in East Jerusalem remained undocumented.
According to the NGO Elem, the number of homeless youth increased by 50 percent in the first three months of the COVID-19 outbreak compared with the same period in 2019.
Education: Primary and secondary education is free and universal through age 17 and compulsory through grade 12.
The government did not enforce compulsory education in unrecognized Bedouin villages in the Negev. Bedouin children, particularly girls, continued to have the highest illiteracy rate in the country, and more than 5,000 kindergarten-age children were not enrolled in school, according to the NCF. The government did not grant construction permits in unrecognized villages, including for schools.
Following the nationwide closure of schools in March due to COVID-19, NGOs stated that approximately 50,000 Bedouin students were left without access to distance learning for lack of access to computers and tablets, as well as their schools lacking access to funding and infrastructure to implement Ministry of Health hygiene and social distancing regulations.
There were reportedly insufficient classrooms to accommodate schoolchildren in Jerusalem. Based on population data from the Central Bureau of Statistics, the NGO Ir Amim estimated in previous years a shortage of 2,500 classrooms for Palestinian children who are residents in East Jerusalem, and 18,600 Palestinian children in Jerusalem were not enrolled in any school.
The government operated separate public schools for Jewish children, in which classes were conducted in Hebrew, and for Arab children, with classes conducted in Arabic. For Jewish children separate public schools were available for religious and secular families. Individual families could choose a public school system for their children to attend regardless of ethnicity or religious observance.
The government funded approximately 34 percent of the Christian school system budget and restricted the schools’ ability to charge parents tuition, according to church officials. The government offered to fund Christian schools fully if they become part of the public (state) school system, but the churches continued to reject this option, citing concerns that they would lose control over admissions, hiring, and use of church property.
Jewish schoolgirls continued to be denied admission to ultra-Orthodox schools based on their Mizrahi ethnicity (those with ancestry from North Africa or the Middle East) despite a 2009 court ruling prohibiting ethnic segregation of Mizrahi and Ashkenazi schoolgirls, according to the NGO Noar Kahalacha.
There is no Arabic-language school for a population of approximately 3,000 Arab students in Nof Hagalil (formerly Nazareth Ilit), a town where 26 percent of residents are Arab. As a result most Arab students there attended schools in Nazareth and nearby villages. An NGO petition seeking the establishment of an Arabic-language school remained pending at year’s end.
Child Abuse: The law requires mandatory reporting of any suspicion of child abuse. It also requires social service employees, medical and education professionals, and other officials to report indications that minors were victims of, engaged in, or coerced into prostitution, sexual offenses, abandonment, neglect, assault, abuse, or human trafficking. The Ministry of Education operated a special unit for sexuality and for prevention of abuse of children and youth that assisted the education system in prevention and appropriate intervention in cases of suspected abuse of minors. In 2019 the Knesset approved a law extending the statute of limitations on serious crimes against children from 10 to 15 years.
In its annual report, the National Council for the Child (NCC) recorded a 40 percent increase in the number of children at risk of suicide who have been treated by educational psychologists. The report also showed double the number of reports of suspected violence against children (from 609 in 2019 to 1,225). There was a drop from 302 reports in 2019 to 240 reports to school psychologists of children in isolation on suspicion of neglect. The NCC highlighted difficulties with studies, anxiety, and emotional distress among schoolchildren; nearly one-third of Israeli school children did not participate regularly in online learning, or did not have access to online learning. The reported noted that more than one-half of Arab students and approximately 35 percent of students in Jewish schools did not have access to a computer for distance learning.
According to local government officials and human rights organizations, Gaza fence protests, air-raid sirens, and rocket attacks led to psychological distress among children living near Gaza, including nightmares and posttraumatic stress disorder.
Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The law sets the minimum age of marriage at 18, with some exceptions for minors due to pregnancy and for couples older than age 16 if the court permitted it due to unique circumstances. Some Palestinian girls were coerced by their families into marrying older men who were Arab citizens of Israel, according to government and NGO sources. On September 17, the Supreme Court ordered police to reexamine a request of a Bedouin woman–a victim of two early and forced marriages who killed her second husband–to be recognized as a trafficking victim. The court ruled that while forced marriages do not constitute a trafficking offense in and of themselves, there is a possibility that such marriages would constitute trafficking if their purpose was to allow for sexual exploitation or forced labor, or if they placed an individual at risk of becoming a victim of these offenses.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits sexual exploitation of a minor and sets a penalty for conviction of seven to 20 years in prison. The law prohibits the possession of child pornography (by downloading) and accessing such material (by streaming). Authorities enforced the law. The Ministry of Public Security operated a hotline to receive complaints of activities that seek to harm children online, such as bullying, dissemination of hurtful materials, extortion, sexual abuse, and pressure to commit suicide.
The minimum age for consensual sex is 16. Consensual sexual relations with a minor between ages 14 and 16 constitute statutory rape for which conviction is punishable by five years’ imprisonment.
International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s report Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.
Jews constituted close to 75 percent of the population, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics. The government often treated crimes targeting Jews as nationalistic crimes relating to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict rather than as resulting from anti-Semitism.
The government has laws and mechanisms in place regarding claims for the return of or restitution for Holocaust-era assets. Relevant laws refer to assets imported during World War II whose owners did not survive the war. Unclaimed assets were held in trust and not transferred to legal inheritors, who in most cases were not aware that their late relatives had property in Israel.
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
The law protects the rights of persons with disabilities, including their access to education, employment, health services, information, communications, buildings, transportation, the judicial system, and other government services. The government generally enforced these laws. The law states that by the end of 2019, all public services must be provided from buildings or spaces accessible to persons with disabilities, excluding local authority buildings built before 2019, which should be made accessible by November 2021. The law allows for a one-year extension to the deadline. The Government Housing Administration predicted in November that by the end of the year 62 percent of public buildings would be accessible for individuals with disabilities. The Ministry of Justice published a memo in November, however, that proposed postponing the deadline to the end of 2021, with provision for another one-year extension. The law requires that at least 5 percent of employees of every government agency with more than 100 workers be persons with disabilities. In 2019, according to a report by the Commission for Equal Rights of Persons with Disabilities, 60 percent of government agencies met this requirement. Government ministries had not developed regulations regarding the accessibility of health services, roads, sidewalks, and intercity buses by the end of the year.
According to the Civil Society Forum for the Advancement of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in Israel, Arab persons with disabilities suffer from a higher percentage of inaccessible public buildings and spaces, due to lack of funding. They also lack access to information in Arabic from the government regarding their rights.
On May 30, a border police officer in Jerusalem chased and then shot and killed Iyad Halak, a Palestinian man with autism, after he had failed to heed calls to stop (see section 1.a.).
Arab Muslims, Christians, Druze, and Ethiopian citizens faced persistent institutional and societal discrimination.
There were multiple instances of security services or other citizens racially profiling Arab citizens. Some Arab civil society leaders described the government’s attitude toward the Arab minority as ambivalent; others cited examples in which Israeli political leaders incited racism against the Arab community or portrayed it as an enemy.
In 2018 the Knesset passed a basic law referred to as the Nation State Law. The law changes Arabic from an official language, which it had been since Israel adopted prevailing British Mandate law in 1948, to a language with a “special status.” The law also recognizes only the Jewish people as having a national right of self-determination and calls for promotion of “Jewish settlement” within Israel, which Arab organizations and leaders feared would lead to increased discrimination in housing and legal decisions pertaining to land. Druze leaders criticized the law for relegating a minority in the country to second-class-citizen status. Opponents also criticized the law for not mentioning the principle of equality to prevent harm to the rights of non-Jewish minorities.
Supporters of the law stated it was necessary to anchor the country’s Jewish character in a basic law to balance the 1992 Basic Law on Human Dignity and Liberty, which protected individual rights. Supporters noted the Supreme Court had already interpreted the 1992 law as mandating equality. Supporters argued that the Human Dignity and Liberty law continues to safeguard individual civil rights. Political leaders conceded that the criticisms of the Druze community must be addressed. Multiple lawsuits challenging the Nation State Law remained pending with the Supreme Court at year’s end.
On October 1, the PHRI published a report based on Central Bureau of Statistics data and surveys indicating significant health gaps between Jewish and Arab populations. The Arab population was found to be lagging behind in life expectancy, infant mortality, morbidity, self-assessed health, diabetes, obesity, smoking rates and more. The report’s findings point to gaps, sometimes significant, in the quality of health-care services provided to the country’s Arab residents compared to Jewish residents. These gaps emerged particularly with respect to primary care in the community and to a much lesser degree in terms of specialist care. In March further gaps emerged with respect to the government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.
On June 4, several Jewish Israelis attacked Muhammad Nasasrah, allegedly after they heard him speak Arabic. Joint List Member of Knesset Ahmad Tibi criticized police for failing to investigate the incident. On October 22, police arrested three suspects, and on November 5, the prosecution filed an indictment against the three suspects for “assault under aggravated circumstances.”
Throughout the year there were “price tag” attacks, which refer to violence by Jewish individuals and groups against Palestinians and Arab citizens of Israel and property with the stated purpose of exacting a “price” for actions taken by the government against the attackers’ interests. The government classifies any association using the phrase “price tag” as an illegal association and a price tag attack as a security (as opposed to criminal) offense. The most common offenses, according to police, were attacks on vehicles, defacement of real estate, harm to Muslim and Christian holy sites, assault, and damage to agricultural lands. On February 11, for example, 170 cars were vandalized and graffiti was sprayed on a mosque and on walls in Gush Halav saying “Jews wake up” and “stop intermarrying.” On January 24, unknown perpetrators set fire to a mosque in the Sharafat neighborhood of Jerusalem in a suspected hate crime, according to media reports. Graffiti sprayed on the side of the mosque indicated the suspected arson was related to an unpermitted West Bank outpost, portions of which the Israeli Border Police demolished on January 15.
On May 18, a district court convicted Amiram Ben Uliel on three murder charges, two attempted murder charges, arson, and conspiracy to commit a crime motivated by racism, for his role in an arson attack in Duma in 2015 that killed a Palestinian couple and their infant. On September 14, the court sentenced Ben Uliel to three life sentences plus 20 years and ordered him to pay a fine. Ben Uliel appealed the conviction to the Supreme Court, which was pending at year’s end. On September 16, as part of a plea bargain, the Supreme Court convicted and sentenced a minor who involved in arson and additional hate crimes to three and a half years in prison.
The government employed an “appropriate representation” policy for non-Jewish minorities in the civil service. The percentage of Arab employees in the public sector was 12.2 percent (61.5 percent of whom were entry-level employees), according to the Civil Service Commission. The percentage of Arab employees in the 62 government-owned companies was approximately 2.5 percent; however, during the year Arab citizens held 12 percent of director positions in government-owned companies, up from 1 percent in 2000, and Arab workers held 11 percent of government positions, up from 5 percent in 2000, according to the nonpartisan NGO Association for the Advancement of Civic Equality (Sikkuy).
Separate school systems within the public and semipublic domains produced a large variance in education quality. Arab, Druze, and ultra-Orthodox students passed the matriculation exam at lower rates than their non-ultra-Orthodox-Jewish counterparts. The government continued operating educational and scholarship programs to benefit Arab students. Between the academic year of 2009-10 and 2020, the percentage of Arab students enrolled increased significantly: in the undergraduate programs from 13 percent to 19 percent, in master’s degree programs from 7 percent to 15 percent, and in doctoral programs from 5 percent to 7 percent, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics.
Approximately 93 percent of land is in the public domain. This includes approximately 12.5 percent owned by the Jewish National Fund (JNF), whose statutes prohibit sale or lease of land to non-Jews. Arab citizens are allowed to participate in bids for JNF land, but the Israel Lands Administration (ILA) grants the JNF another parcel of land whenever an Arab citizen of Israel wins a bid. In 2018 the Supreme Court ruled that the Lands Administration Executive Council must have representation of an Arab, Druze, or Circassian member to prevent discrimination against non-Jews; however, there were no members from these groups on the executive council at year’s end.
The Bedouin segment of the Arab population continued to be the most socioeconomically disadvantaged. More than one-half of the estimated 260,000 Bedouin citizens in the Negev lived in seven government-planned towns. In nine of 11 recognized villages, all residences remained unconnected to the electricity grid or to the water infrastructure system, according to the NCF. Nearly all public buildings in the recognized Bedouin villages were connected to the electricity grid and water infrastructure, as were residences that had received a building permit, but most residences did not have a building permit, according to the government. Each recognized village had at least one elementary school, and eight recognized villages had high schools.
Approximately 90,000 Bedouins lived in 35 unrecognized tent or shack villages without access to any government services (see section 1.e. for issues of demolition and restitution for Bedouin property).
The government generally prohibited Druze citizens and residents from visiting Syria. The government has prevented family visitations to Syria for noncitizen Druze since 1982.
An estimated population of 155,300 Ethiopian Jews experienced persistent societal discrimination, although officials and citizens quickly and publicly criticized discriminatory acts against them.
On February 4, the DIPO submitted an indictment charging an off-duty police officer who shot and killed 18-year-old Selomon Teka in June 2019 with negligence. His trial continued at year’s end.
On February 12, the Supreme Court ordered police to explain why the court should not cancel a procedure allowing police to demand identification without reasonable suspicion, which leads to racial profiling and the targeting of Ethiopian-Israelis and other minority populations. The case continued at year’s end.
The IDF Ombudsman’s annual report for 2019 highlighted cases of racism towards Ethiopian soldiers from their commanders.
The Anti-Racism Coordinating Government Unit worked to combat institutional racism by receiving complaints and referring them to the relevant government authorities, and by raising public awareness. For example, following a complaint, the Legal Aid Department in the Ministry of Justice submitted a lawsuit to a magistrate court against an owner of a bed-and-breakfast who refused to host Ethiopians because of their race. The lawsuit demanded 131,800 shekels ($40,300) in compensation. The magistrate court had yet to issue a ruling by the year’s end.
The law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation, including in goods, services, and employment. The government generally enforced the law, although some discrimination in employment and housing persisted against LGBTQI+ persons in general and against transgender persons in particular. On April 20, a magistrate court ordered a company that refused to print materials with LGBTQI+ content for the Israel LGBTI Task Force to compensate the organization.
The trial against two individuals on charges of attempted murder of their 16-year-old brother, whom they stabbed outside an LGBTQI+ youth shelter in 2019, allegedly on the basis of his sexual orientation, was pending at year’s end. Some violent incidents against LGBTQI+ individuals during the year led to arrests and police investigations. For example, on August 12, police indicted two minors for assault and causing injury under aggravated circumstances to LGBTQI+ minors in Jaffa on August 1.
On February 4, then minister of education Rafi Peretz announced he would grant an Israel Prize for Torah literature to Rabbi Yaacov Ariel, the former rabbi of Ramat Gan, who made public statements against LGBTQI+ persons, including a 2014 call not to rent apartments to lesbian couples. On April 26, the Supreme Court rejected a petition filed by the Israel LGBTI Taskforce against the granting of the prize to Ariel, stating the case did not justify the court’s intervention. Ariel refused to retract his statements.
LGBTQI+ activists were able to hold public events and demonstrations but were restricted by COVID-19 emergency regulations limiting such participation (see section 2.b.).
IPS regulations prohibit holding transgender prisoners in solitary confinement. According to ACRI, one transgender woman was held in a separation wing used as a punitive measure for women removed from regular wings, for more than one year. In September she was transferred to a regular wing, following legal work by ACRI.
Discrimination against persons with HIV is illegal and, according to the Israel AIDS Task Force, institutional discrimination was rare. The AIDS task force received some complaints during the year regarding discrimination in the provision of alternative health care and cosmetic services. According to a poll conducted by the task force in November, social stigma remained a problem.
Following a two-year pilot program to accept blood donations from gay and bisexual men, the Ministry of Health stores blood donations from a gay or bisexual man until the man donates blood again four months later. If both donations pass routine screening tests, including for absence of HIV, both are be accepted.
Individuals and militant or terrorist groups attacked civilians in Israel, including two stabbing attacks characterized by authorities as terror attacks (see section 1.a.), in addition to rockets shot into Israel by Gaza-based terrorist groups. (For issues relating to violence or discrimination against asylum seekers, see section 2.d.)
Arab communities in Israel continued to experience high levels of crime and violence, especially due to organized crime and high numbers of illegal weapons, according to government data and NGOs. Causes included a low level of policing; limited access to capital; easy access to illegal weapons; and socioeconomic factors, such as poverty, unemployment, and the breakdown of traditional family and authority structures, according to the Abraham Fund Initiatives and other NGOs. The impact of the coronavirus pandemic on crime and violence exacerbated the situation, and surveys have shown Arab citizens trust police less than do Jewish citizens. Government actions to address the issues included: opening nine police stations in Arab towns since 2016, increasing enforcement to prevent violence, improving communication with Arab citizens through Arabic-language media and social media, enhancing trust with the community, enhancing community policing, and examining legal issues such as weapons control and raising the threshold for punishments.
Israeli authorities investigated reported attacks against Palestinians and Arab citizens of Israel, primarily in Jerusalem, by members of organizations that made anti-Christian and anti-Muslim statements and objected to social relationships between Jews and non-Jews.
The Israeli government and settler organizations in Jerusalem made efforts to increase property ownership by Jewish Israelis. Civil society organizations and representatives of the PA stated the efforts sought to emphasize Jewish history in Palestinian neighborhoods. UNOCHA and NGOs, such as Bimkom and Ir Amim, alleged that the goal of Jerusalem municipal and Israeli national policies was to decrease the number of Palestinian residents of Jerusalem. Official Israeli government policy aimed to maintain a 60 percent majority of Jews in Jerusalem. Jewish landowners and their descendants, or land trusts representing the families, were entitled to reclaim property they had abandoned in East Jerusalem during fighting prior to 1949, but Palestinians who abandoned property in Israel in the same period had no reciprocal right to stake their legal claim to the property (see section 1.e.). In some cases private Jewish organizations acquired legal ownership of reclaimed Jewish property in East Jerusalem, including in the Old City, and through protracted judicial action sought to evict Palestinian families living there. Authorities designated approximately 30 percent of East Jerusalem for Israeli neighborhoods/settlements. Palestinians were able in some cases to rent or purchase Israeli-owned property–including private property on government-owned land–but faced significant barriers to both. NGOs stated that after accounting for Israeli neighborhoods/settlements, government property, and declared national parks, only 13 percent of all land in East Jerusalem was available for construction by Palestinians or others.
Although the law provides that all residents of Jerusalem are fully and equally eligible for public services provided by the municipality and other authorities, the Jerusalem municipality and other authorities failed to provide sufficient social services, education, infrastructure, and emergency planning for Palestinian neighborhoods, especially in the areas between the barrier and the municipal boundary. Approximately 117,000 Palestinians lived in that area, of whom approximately 61,000 were registered as Jerusalem residents, according to government data. According to the Jerusalem Institute for Policy Research, 78 percent of East Jerusalem’s Arab residents and 86 percent of Arab children in East Jerusalem lived in poverty in 2017.
The Swiss Confederation is a constitutional republic with a federal structure. Legislative authority resides in a bicameral parliament (Federal Assembly) consisting of the 46-member Council of States and the 200-member National Council. Federal Assembly elections were last held in October 2019 and were considered free and fair. Parliament elects the executive leadership (the seven-member Federal Council) every four years and did so in December 2019. A four-party coalition made up the Federal Council.
The federal police maintain internal security. The army is responsible for external security but also has some domestic security responsibilities. Police report to the Federal Department of Justice and Police, while the army reports to the Federal Department of Defense, Civil Protection, and Sport. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. There were no reports that the Federal Department of Justice and Police, the Federal Department of Defense, Civil Protection, and Sport, or civilian authorities committed abuses.
There were no reports of significant human rights abuses.
The government had mechanisms in place to identify and punish officials who may commit abuses.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
There were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. The Office of the Attorney General investigates whether security force killings were justifiable and pursues prosecutions.
There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.
The constitution and law prohibit such practices. There were isolated reports that individual police officers used excessive force while making arrests and that prison staff engaged in degrading treatment of detainees. Impunity was not a significant problem in the security forces. According to the Federal Statistical Office, the country’s courts convicted 11 persons for abuse of authority in 2019.
In June the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled that the state had violated the right to life of a 40-year-old man who hanged himself in 2014 after being left alone in solitary confinement for 40 minutes despite having made suicidal statements.
In May the Federal Supreme Court ruled the detention conditions in the Champ-Dollon prison in Geneva violated the prohibition of torture according to the constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights. The court found that a prisoner was held in a small cell for 234 days between 2014 and 2016. The prisoner was only allowed to walk for one hour a day and to exercise for three-to-four hours a week.
Notwithstanding some inadequate and overcrowded facilities, prison and detention center conditions generally met international standards. There were no significant reports regarding prison or detention center conditions that raised human rights concerns.
Physical Conditions: Prison overcrowding in the western part of the country remained a problem. As of June 2019, Geneva’s Champ-Dollon Prison was the most crowded facility, with a population exceeding 160 percent of its design capacity. In March the prison’s population was reported to be 650 inmates, although the Champ-Dollon institution only offers space for 400 inmates.
In April prisons canceled visits, special leave, sporting activities, work, and school lessons due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In its Activity Report 2019, the National Commission for the Prevention of Torture (NCPT) found in several district prisons that “the critical air and light conditions in cells” were “particularly problematic.” The report also criticized the “very long cell confinement times” for all inmates. The commission considered “that the material concern of conditions, especially with regard to the size of the cells and other in view of the lack of light and fresh air, for a storage of more than 48 hours are unsustainable.” The NGO Humanrights.ch reported that “often prisoners sit in their small cells 23 hours a day, and there is not always enough daylight. The cells are often dark, narrow and spartan.”
In June the Swiss Competence Center for Human Rights (SCHR) released a study on applying the United Nations Nelson Mandela Rules to improve prison conditions in the country. The study found that solitary confinement was widely used in pretrial detention and in prison and that external contacts of detainees were too restricted.
Humanrights.ch noted the biggest concerns in detention centers are the high suicide rate, lengthy pretrial detention, and the increasing use of preventive detention. According to Humanrights.ch, three quarters of convicted persons are sent to detention facilities rather than psychiatric clinics due to a lack of treatment options.
In May the Federal Court ruled that detention conditions must be assessed as a whole, regardless of any change in the status of pretrial or posttrial detention and that personal space of less than 43 square feet for more than three months violates the European Convention on Human Rights.
In May the SCHR released a study on administrative detention under immigration law which found that specialized facilities in the country lacked capacity.
Administration: There was no ombudsman or comparable authority available at the national level to respond to complaints, but a number of cantons maintained cantonal ombudsmen and mediation boards that acted on behalf of prisoners and detainees to address complaints related to their detention. Such resources were more readily available in the larger, more populous cantons than in smaller, less populated ones.
Independent Monitoring: The government permitted independent monitoring of conditions in prisons and asylum reception centers by local and international human rights groups, media, and the International Committee of the Red Cross. In 2019 the NCPT visited 23 detention centers. The Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) carried out its latest periodic visit to the country in 2015.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The constitution prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court. The government generally observed these requirements.
By law police must apprehend criminal suspects based on warrants issued by a duly authorized official unless responding to a specific and immediate danger. In most instances, authorities may not hold a suspect more than 24 hours before bringing the suspect before a prosecutor or investigating magistrate, who must either formally charge a detainee or order his or her release. Authorities respected these rights. Immigration authorities may detain asylum seekers and other foreigners without valid documents up to 96 hours without an arrest warrant.
There is a functioning bail system, and courts granted release on personal recognizance or bail unless the magistrate believed the person charged to be dangerous or a flight risk. Alternatives to bail include having suspects report to probation officers and imposing restraining orders on suspects. Authorities may deny a suspect legal counsel at the time of detention or initial questioning, but the suspect has the right to choose and contact an attorney before being charged. The state provides free legal assistance for indigents charged with crimes carrying a possible prison sentence.
The law allows police to detain minors between ages 10 and 18 for a “minimal period” but does not explicitly state the length. Without an arraignment or arrest warrant, police may detain young offenders for a maximum of 24 hours (48 hours during weekends).
Pretrial Detention: Humanrights.ch claimed that lengthy pretrial detention was a problem. Approximately 27.5 percent of all prisoners were in pretrial detention. The average length of time was 2.1 months. The country’s highest court ruled pretrial detention must not exceed the length of the expected sentence for the crime for which a suspect is charged.
The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality.
The constitution provides for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right.
Defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence. They have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges, with free interpretation as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals. Trials are public and held without undue delay. Defendants are entitled to be present at their trial. They have the right to consult with an attorney of their choice in a timely manner, and the courts may provide an attorney at public expense if a defendant faces serious criminal charges. Defendants have adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. They have the right to confront and question witnesses, and to present witnesses and evidence. Defendants may not be compelled to testify or confess guilt. They have the right to appeal, ultimately to the Federal Tribunal, the country’s highest court. Prison sentences for youths up to age 15 cannot exceed one year. For offenders between the ages of 16 and 18, sentences may be up to four years. Authorities generally respected these rights and extended them to all citizens.
Military courts may try civilians charged with revealing military secrets, such as divulging classified military documents or classified military locations and installations. There were no reports that military courts tried any civilians during the year.
There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.
There is an independent and impartial judiciary in civil matters. Citizens have access to a court to bring lawsuits seeking damages for or cessation of a human rights violation. Individuals and organizations may appeal adverse domestic decisions to the European Court of Human Rights.
The government reported that Holocaust-era restitution is no longer a significant issue and that no litigation or restitution claims regarding real or immovable property covered by the Terezin Declaration, to which the government is signatory, were pending before authorities; Jewish communities in the country confirmed that no such claims regarding real or immovable property covered by the Terezin Declaration were pending. There remained much art in the country with unresearched provenance as many museums and art collections were under the purview of cantons rather than the federal government, or were maintained by private organizations and private individuals.
The Department of State’s Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today (JUST) Act report to Congress, released publicly on July 29, 2020, can be found on the Department’s website: https://www.state.gov/reports/just-act-report-to-congress/.
The constitution prohibits such actions, and there were no reports that the government failed to respect these prohibitions.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected these rights. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression, including for the press.
Freedom of Speech: While the law does not specifically mention libel and hate speech, it prohibits willful defamation as well as denigration and discrimination against another or a group of persons on the grounds of their race, ethnic origin, religion, or sexual orientation in a manner that violates human dignity, whether verbally, in writing or pictorially, by using gestures. It provides for punishment of violators by fines and imprisonment of up to three years. There were four convictions under this law in 2019.
In October the ECHR ruled that the country’s Federal Court violated the right to freedom of expression as outlined in the European Convention on Human Rights when it required a journalist to disclose her source. In 2012 the journalist published an article in Basler Zeitung in which she wrote about a cannabis dealer whose apartment she had visited. After the article was published, Basel’s public prosecutor asked the journalist to identify the dealer, but she refused claiming a right not to testify. The public prosecutor maintained that she was unable to assert such a right. Basel’s Cantonal Court ruled in favor of the journalist, but the Federal Court overturned the ruling, finding that the journalist must testify.
Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction. The law’s restriction on hate speech and denial of crimes against humanity also applies to print, broadcast, and online newspapers and journals. According to federal law, it is a crime to publish information based on leaked “secret official discussions.”
Libel/Slander Laws: The law prohibits willful defamation and denigration with punishments ranging from fines to prison sentences of up to three years. In 2019, the latest year with statistics, 427 individuals were sentenced under the penal code on defamation. There were also 132 persons sentenced under the penal code on slander. No information was available on whether any persons were imprisoned under these provisions.
The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. The law provides for punishment of hate speech, including public incitement to racial hatred or discrimination, spreading racist ideology, and denying crimes against humanity, with monetary fines and imprisonment of up to three years.
There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.
The constitution provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights.
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
d. Freedom of Movement
The constitution provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights.
In September parliament approved a new provision in the criminal law that criminalizes recruiting, training, and travel for terrorism. Under this provision individuals who authorities deem may pose a threat but are not subject to criminal proceedings may be obliged to report to a police station at certain times, banned from traveling abroad, and confined to specific areas in the country. These measures could be applied to residents as young as 12 years old. The Federal Office of Police could place persons they deem dangerous under house arrest for up to six months, renewable once.
The government cooperated with the UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons of concern.
Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Authorities may detain asylum seekers who inhibit authorities’ processing of their asylum requests, subject to judicial review, for up to six months while adjudicating their applications. The government may detain rejected applicants for up to three months to ensure they do not go into hiding prior to forced deportation, or up to 18 months if repatriation posed special obstacles. The government may detain minors between the ages of 15 and 18 for up to 12 months pending repatriation. Authorities generally instructed asylum seekers whose applications were denied to leave voluntarily but could forcibly repatriate those who refused.
In June the Federal Supreme Court upheld two complaints filed by AsylLex, ordering the immediate release of persons in administrative detention and calling their ongoing detentions illegal. In its ruling, the court found that deportations were not possible during the COVID-19 pandemic and were a mandatory prerequisite for the continuation of administrative detention.
In February media outlets reported allegations that in January, three security employees at a federal asylum center in Embach were violent towards a Kurdish asylum seeker, allegedly breaking his jaw. The State Secretariat for Migration disputed the allegations. Several asylum seekers told media the environment at the center was hostile, privacy was nonexistent, and treatment by the security forces was often arbitrary and degrading. The Zurich Solinetz, an association which campaigns for the rights of refugees in the country, alleged it was denied access after making critical statements. In May media outlets reported allegations of violent clashes between employees of Securitas, a Swedish private security services and investigation company, and asylum seekers at the Federal Asylum Center in Basel.
Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. The government required asylum applicants to provide documentation verifying their identity within 48 hours of completing their applications; authorities, under the law, are to refuse to process applications of asylum seekers unable to provide a credible justification for their lack of acceptable documents or to show evidence of persecution. Under asylum law federal asylum centers are required to process applications within a maximum of 140 days and asylum seekers are granted immediate free legal representation facilitated by NGOs and financed by the federal government.
Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The State Secretariat for Migration relied on a list of “safe countries.” Asylum seekers who originated from or transited these countries generally were ineligible for asylum and returned to the safe country from which they originated or through which they transited. The country adheres to the EU’s Dublin III Regulation.
Employment: The law grants refugees the right to work pending the mandatory submission to cantonal authorities of key employment information, including personal employee and employer data and a description of the job and working conditions. According to the law, salary and employment conditions must fulfill the labor standards of the respective employment location, profession, and sector before refugees may take up work.
Durable Solutions: As of August authorities reported accepting 3,480 refugees during the year for resettlement. They were reported to have offered naturalization to 15,056 individuals from January through June. Through August they assisted in voluntary returns of 2,083 persons.
The law dictates that the State Secretariat for Migration is responsible for conducting procedures to recognize statelessness. Foreign nationals who believe that they are stateless under the UN Convention of 28 September 1954 relating to the Status of Stateless Persons can apply to the State Secretariat for Migration to have their status as stateless recognized. When a person is recognized as being stateless, he or she has the right to remain resident in Switzerland with a residency permit. If a recognized stateless person has committed a criminal offense, residence rights may be limited to temporary admission. Recognized stateless persons are regarded as equivalent to refugees recognized under the Refugee Convention of 1951 who have been granted asylum. Recognized stateless persons are issued Swiss travel documents on request.
Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government
The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government generally implemented the law effectively. There were isolated reports of government corruption during the year.
In January, Transparency International announced that, despite showing strong results in combatting corruption, it found the country lacked full transparency in political funding, whistleblower protections, and the fight against money laundering.
Corruption: Investigating and prosecuting government corruption is a federal responsibility. According to the Federal Audit Office, authorities received 187 alerts regarding potential corruption and mismanagement of public contracts in 2018, 23 more than in the previous year. Approximately 80 alerts concerned federal government employees. The Federal Audit Office attributed the increase to the establishment of an online platform in 2017 that allows for the anonymous reporting of potential corruption.
In November the Federal Council adopted its first anticorruption strategy. The strategy’s objectives for 2021-24 include preventing and prosecuting corruption cases and promoting cooperation on this issue between the federal government and cantons as well as on the international level.
In August parliament lifted immunity for Federal Prosecutor Michael Lauber in the country’s first official investigation of a federal prosecutor. Lauber was investigated and resigned over allegations of abuse of office, breach of official secrecy, and favoritism following undisclosed meetings with Gianni Infantino, president of the Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA).
In February the Office of the Attorney General filed an indictment against former FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke for bribery and falsifying documents. The office also indicted the chairman of the BeIN Media Group, Nasser al-Khelaifi, for inciting Valcke to commit aggravated criminal management. Valcke accepted a refund of approximately 500,000 euros ($600,000) for the down payment on a villa in Sardinia after al-Khelaifi purchased it instead of Valcke. In addition Valcke received from al-Khelaifi the exclusive right to use the villa for 18 months without having to pay rent estimated at between 900,000 and 1.8 million euros (between $1.1 million and $2.2 million).
Financial Disclosure: Each year members of the Federal Assembly must disclose their financial interests, professional activities, supervisory board or executive body memberships, and activities as consultants or paid experts. A majority of cantons also required members of cantonal parliaments to disclose their financial interests. While parliamentary salaries were publicly disclosed, the salaries for parliamentarians’ separate professional activities may not be disclosed, as outlined in the federal act.
Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape of women, including spousal rape, and domestic violence, are statutory offenses for which penalties range from one to 10 years in prison. The government effectively enforced the law and prosecuted individuals accused of such crimes. The rape of a man is considered “sexual assault.” As with the rape of women, the courts may hand down maximum prison sentences of up to 10 years against those convicted of sexual abuse of men, but a minimum sentence of 12 months is only applicable in cases of rape against women. According to the Federal Statistics Office, police registered 287 reports of rape in 2019, a 16 percent increase over 2018.
In March the Violetta women’s shelter in Zurich temporarily closed and underwent a 14-day quarantine after a resident tested positive to COVID-19. The shelter’s closure added to growing concerns that the coronavirus crisis could lead to increased cases of domestic violence as a result of government advisories to stay home. In April the Federal Council announced a task force to work with the cantons on this issue.
A 2019 survey by gfs.berne on behalf of Amnesty International revealed that 22 percent of women in the country experienced unwanted sexual acts during their lives, 12 percent had suffered rape, and only 8 percent of those affected by sexual violence reported it to police afterwards. In 2019 police recorded 679 rape offenses and 626 cases of sexual assault.
In 2019 the Federal Statistics Office showed that police registered 19,669 domestic violence offenses in 2019, which included 79 attempted homicides, a six percent increase over 2018. Some 29 percent of the domestic violence cases involved a fatality.
The law penalizes domestic violence and stalking. A court may order an abusive spouse to leave the family home temporarily.
In March the Federal Office for Gender Equality established a task force to examine suitable measures in the event of an increase in domestic violence during the COVID-19 pandemic. In April the task force began a poster campaign against domestic violence in 13 languages. In June the task force found that in some cantons, the victim support centers noticed an increase in consultations about domestic violence since mid-May. The task force reported, however, that cases of domestic violence during the pandemic remained stable compared to the previous year.
There were media reports almost every two weeks that someone died due to domestic violence, and women are almost always the victims. In June the Bern Higher Court convicted a 36-year-old Tunisian man who stabbed his wife to death in 2016 in their home, and sentenced him to 15 years in prison.
In July amendments to civil and criminal laws came into effect to bring more accountability for domestic violence. Criminal authorities can only suspend legal proceedings if the victim’s situation has stabilized or improved. If suspicion exists that violence will reoccur, authorities may no longer discontinue an investigation.
Specialized government agencies, numerous NGOs, including 17 women’s shelters, and nearly a dozen private or government-sponsored hotlines provided help, counseling, and legal assistance to survivors of domestic violence. The canton of Zurich prioritized addressing domestic violence in the legislature and committed additional financial support to women’s shelters and counseling centers. Most cantonal police forces included specially trained domestic violence units.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): FGM/C is illegal and punishable by up to 10 years’ imprisonment. While FGM/C was not a practice in the country, approximately 14,700 women and girls, primarily from Somalia, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Sudan, and Egypt, had undergone FGM/C. According to the Federal Statistics Office, police registered no reports of FGM/C in 2019. A 2019 study by Caritas Switzerland estimated that 22,000 girls and women in the country were likely to be affected by FGM/C.
In November the Federal Council adopted a report entitled “Measures against the circumcision of girls,” which provides for better protection of girls and women. The report outlines a comprehensive approach to combatting FGM/C, including law enforcement and prevention, interdisciplinary networking, strengthening national and international cooperation, and improving healthcare for affected girls and women.
In June the Network against Female Circumcision announced a federally funded project that opened three new regional centers in the cantons of Lucerne, St. Gallen, and Graubünden to advise and support women and girls affected by FGM.
Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment of men and women and facilitates legal remedies for those claiming discrimination or harassment in the workplace. Special legal protection against the dismissal of a claimant expires after six months. Employers failing to take reasonable measures to prevent sexual harassment are liable for damages up to the equivalent of six months’ salary.
According to the Federal Statistics Office, police registered 61 reports of sexual harassment in 2019, down from 70 reports in 2018. According to an NGO, almost one in three women and one in 10 men had experienced sexual harassment in the workplace. Zurich city police maintained a counseling center on offenses against sexual integrity. Lausanne city officials maintained an online platform for victims to record instances of sexual harassment and provided extra training to police officers and teachers on the matter. In August the Unia Trade Union Group launched an online site to combat sexual harassment of apprentices after its 2019 study found that 80 percent of female and nearly 50 percent of male apprentices surveyed said they had experienced sexual harassment.
Reproductive Rights: The government recognized the right of couples and individuals to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children. Individuals have the right to manage their reproductive health and had access to the information and the means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence.
No legal, social, or cultural barriers would adversely affect access to contraception.
The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.
Discrimination: The constitution and law provide for the same legal status and rights for women as for men under family, religious, personal status, labor, property, nationality, and inheritance laws. Authorities generally enforced the law effectively but did not sufficiently address employment discrimination and pay disparities affecting women.
In March the girls’ rights organization Plan International Switzerland released a report stating that 42 percent of women between the ages of 24 and 40 had experienced discrimination in the workplace. The report also found that six out of 10 girls and women between the ages of 14 and 24 and seven out of 10 women between the ages of 24 and 40 had experienced gender-based discrimination at some point in their lives.
The World Economic Forum’s 2020 Global Gender Gap Report noted that women faced unequal career opportunities, with only 34.5 percent of leadership positions in the labor market occupied by women.
In July a new provision to the Equal Opportunities Act came into force requiring companies with at least 100 employees to complete an analysis of pay equity between genders within one year and to show every four years whether men and women earn the same amount in comparable positions and inform their employees of the results. Private companies have to communicate the results to their employees and investors. Public administrations must disclose this to all interested parties.
On July 1, the federal government launched Logib, a free web-based tool to provide confirmed third-party information on equal pay analyses. The UN awarded Logib the Public Service Award and the Equal Pay International Coalition labeled it a best practice. In July the Federal Commission for Women’s Issues published an animated film explaining the UN Women’s Rights Convention to the public.
Birth Registration: Citizenship derives from one’s parents; either parent may convey citizenship. Authorities registered births immediately.
Child Abuse: The law prohibits parents from using corporal punishment to discipline their children, and the constitution states that all children have the right to special protection of their integrity. The law provides penalties for child abuse of up to three years in prison.
In May the Swiss Society of Pediatrics released 2019 statistics from surveying 21 of the 31 children’s clinics in the country. The clinics reported 1,568 cases of child abuse, of which 486 involved physical abuse, 321 involved psychological abuse, 470 were cases of neglect, and 279 were cases of sexual abuse.
Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age of marriage is 18. The law prohibits forced marriage and provides penalties of up to five years in prison for violations. The federal government supports the NGO Center for Competence against Forced Marriage’s prevention activities, including a website where at-risk individuals could declare their unwillingness to be married while on foreign travel. The website enabled authorities either to stop vulnerable individuals from leaving the country or to pronounce the marriages as invalid upon their return.
In June the Center for Competence against Forced Marriage published an article on its website about a woman, originally from Turkey, who the organization helped to leave Switzerland for Germany to avoid a forced marriage to her cousin shortly after her 18th birthday. The agency reported it advised 123 young persons in 2019 who were married as children.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits commercial sexual exploitation, including child sex trafficking and practices related to child pornography. The production, possession, distribution, or downloading of pornography that involves children is illegal and punishable by fines or a maximum sentence of one year in prison. The law prohibits prostitution of persons under the age of 18 and punishes pimps of children subjected to child sex trafficking with prison sentences of up to 10 years. It provides for sentences of up to three years in prison for persons engaging in sex trafficking with a child victim. Authorities enforced the law.
With few exceptions, the law designates 16 as the minimum age for consensual sex. The maximum penalty for statutory rape is imprisonment for 10 years.
The mandate of the federal police Cybercrime Coordination Unit included preventing and prosecuting crimes involving the sexual exploitation of children online. According to the Federal Statistics Office, the police registered 383 reports of sexual acts involving children, 10 fewer cases than the previous year.
In September the Bernese Oberland regional court sentenced a 53-year-old man to a 10-month conditional prison sentence and fines for child abuse, exploitation of an emergency situation, and pornography. The court also awarded the victim 5,000 Swiss francs ($5,450). The president of the court ruled on the conditional sentence based on the convicted person’s willingness to continue therapy.
On September 11, the Federal Council adopted a report by the Lucerne University of Applied Sciences on prevention of sexual exploitation of children. The council agreed to expand financial assistance to the Say No counseling service in French-speaking Switzerland and to subsidize additional counseling services in other regions in Switzerland.
International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.
According to the Swiss Federation of Jewish Communities (SIG/FSCI), approximately 18,000 Jewish individuals resided in the country.
The 2019 Anti-Semitism Report, produced jointly by the SIG/FSCI and the Foundation against Racism and Anti-Semitism (GRE), cited 523 anti-Semitic incidents, including 485 cases of anti-Semitic online hate speech, in the German-speaking part of the country in 2019. Of the 485 online incidents, 90 percent were found on Facebook and Twitter. The SIG/FSCI and GRE assessed that the number of anti-Semitic incidents in the country was stable and that violent anti-Semitic incidents remained rare. The SIG/FSCI and GRE attributed the slight decrease in recorded anti-Semitic statements and acts to fewer events throughout the year that triggered online anti-Semitic hate speech and anti-Semitic incidents, such as news reports and the release of anti-Semitism reports as well as efforts by media outlets to moderate their comments columns. The report documented one incident in July, in which a landlord told a Jewish family who wanted to rent a vacation home that she no longer rented to Jews. The report detailed how a Jewish soldier reported anti-Semitic comments among soldiers in recruit school to the SIG; the army took the incidents seriously and conducted an investigation immediately.
In 2019 the Geneva-based Intercommunity Center for Coordination against Anti-Semitism and Defamation (CICAD) reported 114 anti-Semitic incidents, including approximately 100 cases of online anti-Semitic hate speech, including insults and Holocaust denials on social media sites such as YouTube, in the French-speaking region. The report noted a drastic reduction in postings by far-right and far-left extremist groups on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media networks, resulting in a decrease in comments from their supporters on these same platforms. The report also found that media outlets in the French-speaking region had made a significant effort to moderate anti-Semitic content. The SIG report found no reports of assaults against Jews or damage to Jewish property in the German-speaking part of Switzerland; however, the CICAD found physical and verbal assaults against Jews in French-speaking areas increased and several synagogues were vandalized in 2019.
A federal report on racial discrimination released in April found that extreme right-wing incidents increased in 2019, particularly among young persons, including the Hitler salute. The report also highlighted a campaign calling for a boycott of an Israeli music competition to protest against Israel’s policies that included Nazi symbolism, which were removed following media protests.
In July a study published by the Zurich University of Applied Sciences of 500 Jews in the country found that one in two respondents had experienced anti-Semitic harassment in recent years. The most common form of harassment was offensive or threatening comments.
In January the president invited all surviving Holocaust survivors in the country to a lunch in their honor. Approximately 40-50 survivors attended.
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
The constitution and law prohibit discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities, including access to education, employment, health services, information, communications, buildings, transportation, the judicial system, or other state services, and the government generally enforced the prohibition. The umbrella organization for disability NGOs, Inclusion Handicap, stated however that the Federal Court maintained a “very narrow interpretation” of discrimination, which required plaintiffs to prove malicious intent in discrimination complaints, resulting in insufficient legal protection for disabled persons.
The Federal Equal Opportunity Office for Persons with Disabilities promoted awareness of the law and respect for the rights of individuals with disabilities through counseling and financial support for projects to facilitate their integration in society and the labor market.
A 2019 SCHR study on the implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in Switzerland found that implementation was inconsistent across the cantons. In March the SCHR launched a website that highlighted projects in six cantons aimed to assist with implementing the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in the areas of housing, work and training, access to services and facilities, and codetermination.
Effective July 1, a new regulation came into force by which automatic door entrances to apartment buildings and stair lifts at home can be financed by the government.
In September parliament’s lower house, the National Council, took several measures to assist persons with disabilities, including a motion to extend identification cards, which entitle users to discounts and serve as proof of a disability, to persons who receive an allowance from the government.
Extremists, including skinheads, who expressed hostility toward foreigners, ethnic and religious minorities, and immigrants, continued to be active based on media and police reports.
In February the St. Gallen Cantonal Council approved a ban on extremist events, described as events “not compatible with the basic democratic and constitutional order and which significantly impair the population’s sense of security.”
In April the Consulting Network for Racism Victims, a partnership between Humanrights.ch and the Federal Commission against Racism, released its report for 2019, recording 352 cases of discrimination and documenting an increase in racism against dark-skinned individuals and persons of Arab background. Anti-Muslim incidents were the third-most recorded cases of racism, after general xenophobia and racism against persons with dark skins. The report found increased incidents involving right-wing extremism. The report attributed this sharp increase in reported cases to those affected being more aware of counseling centers and more willing to report incidents. The report also found that incidents with an extreme right-wing background increased noticeably in 2019 for the first time. The report also found that while reported incidents of discrimination in public space increased, reported cases of workplace discrimination decreased.
In April the Federal Council released an evaluation report on racial discrimination, which included 575 reported incidents, of which 352 cases were evaluated by 22 counseling centers from across the country. The report found a sharp increase in the number of reported and considered racist cases of discrimination in 2019. The most frequent forms were discrimination and verbal abuse; the most common motive was xenophobia. The report mentions a survey by the Federal Statistical Office finding that 60 percent of the respondents surveyed said racism is a serious social problem in the country. The report also found that incidents with an extreme right-wing background increased noticeably for the first time in 2019.
In June the SCHR released a study on the prevention of atrocities in Switzerland, which noted the numerous institutions that victims of discrimination can use in the country. The report found, however, that no systematic data collection on discrimination exists.
In July the Federal Office of Police announced 500,000 Swiss francs ($545,000) in federal funding to 11 organizations that service minorities as defined by their way of life, culture, religion, tradition, language, or sexual orientation to assist in their protection.
According to Romani interest groups, including the Romano Dialogue and the Roma Foundation, discrimination against Roma in the housing and labor markets persisted, with many Roma routinely concealing their identity to prevent professional and private backlash. According to the Society for Threatened Peoples, itinerant Roma, Sinti, and Yenish regularly faced arbitrary stops by police.
In February, Bern residents voted to create a transit place along the A1 highway in Seeland for foreign travelers, including Roma, who come to Switzerland for seasonal work between spring and fall each year.
In March the NGO Human Rights Platform Switzerland presented a report to the UN Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination which found that the country must do more to ensure prevention and eradication of racism, xenophobia, and intolerance from its society and institutions. The report cited a severe lack of appropriate camping sites and that two-thirds of existing sites are inadequate as nearly half of the sites are parking lots.
In April the Federal Supreme Court ruled against provisions in Bern law which stipulated that persons who use property without the permission of the owner may be evicted without a right to be heard within 24 hours. As a result, traveling minorities may not be quickly turned away without a corresponding order and legal hearing.
The Society for Threatened Peoples called on the government in April to provide economic support and adequate infrastructure for Sinti, Roma, and Yenish people, stating the lack of camp sites made it challenging for these groups to comply with government health recommendations.
In May the Frauenfeld Higher Court convicted Roland Schoeni, parliamentary group president of the Arbon city parliament, for racist speech based on anti-Roma comments he made in 2018.
In a February 9 referendum, 63.1 percent of voters approved antidiscrimination legislation, which will make discrimination based on sexual orientation illegal. In the same month, parliament approved the new law, although the NGO Transgender Network noted it did not include transgender individuals.
There were multiple reports of violence or discrimination based on the victim’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) status. In February for example, police arrested a 15-year-old from Syria for allegedly attacking three men with a knife in Zurich. Several eyewitnesses claimed it was a targeted attack on gays, as the perpetrator bullied and insulted the men not far from a gay club before stabbing one of the victims. Police increased their presence outside the club and other locations. An investigation continued.
The International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA) Europe’s 2020 annual report for the country alleged an increased number of violent incidents against gay men in 2019, including a May 17 attack against an information stand at the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia, and an attack against a gay couple on their way home from a Pride event in June. The Pink Cross received on average two reports per week regarding attacks against LGBTI persons, including harassment, hate speech on the Internet, tangible threats, and physical violence.
Pink Cross and the NGO Transgender Network reported that bullying in the workplace remained a problem for LGBTI persons. Both organizations noted isolated cases of discrimination against LGBTI individuals over the past year, including in the housing market. The organizations stated that in the past year, the cities of Bern, Biel, and Zurich have implemented LGBTI action plans for ensuring tolerance and measures to prevent discrimination. In Biel these measures include widening an existing hotline to report violence for LGBTI concerns and training opportunities for city employees on gender diversity, gender identity, and sexual orientation.
The Transgender Network stated a cantonal court granted a minor the right to gender self-determination this year, the first such ruling in the country.
There were occasional reports of discrimination against persons with HIV or AIDS. To combat harassment and unfair behavior, the Swiss AIDS Federation conducted multiple campaigns to sensitize the public to the problem. Most discrimination cases recorded by the federation involved private data violations, insurance discrimination, and discrimination in the provision of health services.
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (the UK) is a constitutional monarchy with a multiparty, parliamentary form of government. Citizens elect members of Parliament to the House of Commons, the lower chamber of the bicameral Parliament. They last did so in free and fair elections in December 2019. Members of the upper chamber, the House of Lords, occupy appointed or hereditary seats. Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales, and Bermuda all have elected legislative bodies and devolved administrations, with varying degrees of legislative and executive powers. The Northern Ireland devolved government, which had not been operational for three years, was restored in January. The UK has 14 overseas territories, including Bermuda. Each of the overseas territories has its own constitution, while the UK government is responsible for external affairs and defense.
Except in Scotland and Northern Ireland, the national police maintained internal security and reported to the Home Office. The army, under the authority of the Ministry of Defence, is responsible for external security and supports police in extreme cases. The National Crime Agency investigates serious crime in England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, and it has a mandate to deal with organized, economic, and cybercrimes as well as border policing and child protection. The National Crime Agency director-general has independent operational direction and control over the agency’s activities and is accountable to the home secretary.
Scotland’s judicial, legal, and law enforcement system is fully separate from that of the rest of the UK. Police Scotland reports to the Scottish justice minister and the state prosecutor, and coordinates cross-border crime and threat information to the national UK police and responds to UK police needs in Scotland upon request.
Northern Ireland also maintains a separate police force, the Police Service of Northern Ireland, which reports to the Northern Ireland Policing Board, a public body composed of members of the Northern Ireland Assembly and independent members of the community.
The Bermuda Police Service is responsible for internal security on the island and reports to the governor appointed by the UK, but it is funded by the elected government of the island.
Civilian authorities throughout the UK and its territories maintained effective control over the security forces. Members of security forces committed no abuses.
There were no reports of significant human rights abuses.
The government had mechanisms in place to identify and punish officials who may commit human rights abuses.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
The Independent Office for Police Conduct investigates whether security force killings were justifiable, and if appropriate, passes cases to the Crown Prosecution Service to pursue prosecution.
There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.
The law prohibits such practices, but there were a few reports that government officials employed them.
A female convict with a diagnosed borderline personality disorder alleged to the visiting delegation from the Council of Europe’s Committee on the Prevention of Torture (CPT) visiting Scotland in October 2019 that she was twice roughly handled during transfers between prisons resulting in bruises on her left upper thigh, on her left elbow, and a black eye in the first instance and injuring her elbow in the second. The CPT investigated uses of force at the Cornton Vale Prison in Scotland, where the woman was incarcerated. Authorities provided more than 200 incident reports covering the period from October 2018 to the day of the visit (i.e., one year). Half of all the incidents involved control and restraint measures and, notably, the use of wrist and thumb-locks. In approximately 25 percent of the incidents when force was used, the female prisoners involved had shown aggression and had first attacked prison staff. In approximately 75 cases, the female prisoners had failed to comply with orders to move cells or get into their cells. In 27 of these control and restraint cases, the refusal to comply with orders had happened after acts of self-harm or suicide attempts.
On February 20, the Subcommittee on Torture of the UN Human Rights Council reported on a visit to the country in September 2019. The report has not been published.
Impunity was not a problem in the security forces. The Independent Office for Police Conduct, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services, and Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons carried out investigations into complaints of abuses by security forces. The United Kingdom’s (UK’s) College of Policing incorporates human rights-oriented guidance on policing into its Authorized Professional Practice, the official source of policing practice.
Prison and detention center conditions met international standards but had shortcomings. The government has documented and was investigating these problems.
Physical Conditions: The 2019-20 annual report by Her Majesty’s chief inspector of prisons found that 12 of 14 men’s prisons in the UK had “poor or less than suitable” levels of safety. It also found that only 40 percent of prisons followed the recommendations laid out by the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman following a death in custody, and that several men’s prisons, such as Hewell, and youth institutions, such as Feltham A, were missing documentation recording the use of force, making it difficult to evaluate whether force was used proportionally.
The Ministry of Justice recorded 64,552 incidents of self-harm in UK prisons from March 2019 to March 2020, up 11 percent from the previous 12 months. The chief inspector of prisons found that self-harm had risen in all immigration detention centers.
The CPT delegation that visited England found severe overcrowding (147 percent of capacity) at Doncaster Prison. The CPT also noted that the population of women prisoners was 85 percent higher than what facilities were designed to support, resulting in many women prisoners being held in primarily men’s facilities. According to the International Center for Prison Studies, as of August 28, the overall occupancy level in prisons in England and Wales was 104.6 percent. The CPT also recommended a “deep-cleaning and refurbishment” of the Liverpool and Wormwood Scrubs Prisons.
The House of Commons Justice Select Committee conducted an inquiry in July to evaluate the effectiveness of measures put in place in March to guard the prison population from COVID-19. The final report showed that some prisoners detained during the pandemic were kept in conditions akin to “internationally accepted definitions of solitary confinement.” Citing the wide variation in the interpretation of COVID-19 prevention measures in prisons across the UK, the committee recommended that the Ministry of Justice set a standard minimum time out of cell and provide additional mental health support to prison populations. During the strictest pandemic lockdown measures from March to July, 23 prisoners and nine prison staff members eventually died after testing positive for the virus.
The CPT’s report on its visit to Scotland expressed concern about the use of “long-term segregation” and recommended that “alternatives…should urgently be considered.”
The Urgent Notification Protocol allows the chief inspector of prisons to alert the lord chancellor and secretary of state for justice directly if he or she has an urgent and significant concern about the performance of a prison. There were no urgent notifications during the year.
According to the Ministry of Justice, from June 2019 to June 2020, there were 294 deaths in prison custody, a decrease of 5 percent from 309 deaths the previous 12 months. Of these, 76 deaths were self-inflicted, a 13 percent decrease from the 87 self-inflicted deaths in the previous 12 months. Serious prisoner-on-prisoner assaults decreased by 8 percent to 2,782 in the 12 months to March. During the same period, serious assaults on staff decreased by 5 percent to 953.
Offenders younger than age 20 were held in young offender institutions. Security training centers (STCs) are institutions for young persons up to the age of 17. There were three STCs in England and Wales. The Inspectorate of Prisons warned the House of Commons Justice Select Committee it was “unacceptable” that children in young offender institutions were being locked up in excess of 22 hours a day during the COVID-19 pandemic. The CPT report on England stated that between 2016 and 2019, assaults both on staff members and on other young persons at the Feltham A and Cookham Wood Young Offenders Institutions and the Rainsbrook Secure Training Centre had risen by 10 percent at Cookham Wood and by more than 100 percent at Feltham A and at Rainsbrook. It noted “widespread” use of force by guards in all three institutions.
Separate from prisons, there were seven immigration removal centers in England and Wales used solely for the detention of failed asylum seekers and migrants. In May a report by Her Majesty’s Chief Inspectorate of Prisons found that four of the eight immigration removal centers had “dramatically reduced their populations” since March because migrants can only be held if there is a reasonable expectation of removal. Given the widespread use of travel bans to stop the spread of COVID-19, this expectation did not exist, allowing detainees to be released until removal proceedings could be resumed. There was no update to this trend at year’s end.
The CPT delegation that visited Scotland in October 2019 considered the separation and reintegration unit of the Scottish Cornton Vale Prison was “a totally inappropriate environment for holding vulnerable women prisoners, especially mentally ill and young women, for long periods of time.” In Scotland the CPT found that two women in the segregation unit at Cornton Vale Prison (known as “the Dumyat”) were locked alone in their cells for 23.5 to 24 hours each day, allowed at most one hour of outside exercise alone and 15 minutes on the telephone every day. They were offered no purposeful activities to structure their days and no mixing with other prisoners.
There were 13 publicly managed and two privately managed prisons in Scotland.
In 2019 there were 37 deaths in custody in Scotland, of which 28 resulted from natural causes and nine resulted from suicide.
According to the annual Northern Ireland prisoner ombudsman report for 2018/19, the latest data available, investigations into eight deaths were carried out. Five of those deaths were suicides, and the other three were due to natural causes.
Administration: Authorities conducted investigations of credible allegations of mistreatment.
Independent Monitoring: In England and Wales, the government permitted monitoring by independent nongovernmental observers. Every prison, immigration removal center, and some short-term holding facilities at airports have an independent monitoring board. Each board’s members are independent, and their role is to monitor day-to-day activity in the facility and to ensure proper standards of care and decency. Members have unrestricted access to the facility at any time and can talk to any prisoner or detainee they wish, out of sight and hearing of staff, if necessary.
Scotland operates the Independent Prison Monitoring system. The 2018-19 annual report by the chief inspector of prisons for Scotland, the latest information available, found that “prisoners and staff reported they felt largely safe” and that there were “positive and respectful relationships between staff and prisoners.”
On April 30, the CPT published the report of its visit to England in May 2019. On October 8, it published the report of its visit to women’s prisons in Scotland in October 2019.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court. The government routinely observed these requirements.
Police officers in England and Wales have powers to stop and search anyone if they have “reasonable grounds” to suspect the individual may be in possession of drugs, weapons, stolen property, or any item that could be used to commit a crime.
In Scotland guidelines allow police to stop and search persons only when police have “reasonable grounds,” a refinement after criticism that stop-and-search was being used to target specific racial groups. Data published in April revealed 32,107 stop and searches conducted between April and December 2019.
Nationally there is a functioning bail system, but defendants may be denied bail if they are judged to be flight risks, likely to commit another offense, are suspected terrorists, or for other limited circumstances.
If questioned at a police station, all suspects in the UK have the right to legal representation, including counsel provided by the government if they are indigent. Police may not question suspects who request legal advice until a lawyer is present. In Gibraltar the Duty Legal Representative Scheme provides free legal representation to anyone in Gibraltar police custody earning less than 14,000 pounds ($18,480) per year, the minimum wage. All law firms in Gibraltar with five or more lawyers are required to register as part of the scheme.
In Scotland police may detain a suspect for no more than 24 hours. After an initial detention period of 12 hours, a police custody officer may authorize further detention for an additional 12 hours without authorization from the court, if the officer believes it necessary. Only a judge can issue a warrant for arrest if he or she believes there is enough evidence against a suspect. A suspect must be informed immediately of allegations against him or her and be advised promptly of the charges if there is sufficient evidence to proceed. Police may not detain a person more than once for the same offense. Authorities respected this right. Depending on the nature of the crime, a suspect should be released from custody if he or she is deemed not to present a risk. There is a functioning bail system.
In Bermuda a court must issue a warrant for an arrest to proceed. The law permits arrests without warrant only in certain conditions. When a police officer has reasonable grounds for suspecting that any offense that is not an arrestable offense has been or is being committed or attempted, they may arrest the relevant person if it appears that service of a summons is impracticable. No arrests or detentions may be made arbitrarily or secretly, and the detainee must be told the reason for his or her arrest immediately. Individuals may be detained initially for six hours, and for two further periods of up to nine hours each subject to review and justification. Authorities respected this right.
There is a functioning system of bail in Bermuda. House arrest and wearing an electronic monitoring device may be a condition of bail. A detainee has an immediate right of access to a lawyer, either through a personal meeting or by telephone. Free legal advice is provided for detainees. Police must inform the arrestee of his or her rights to communication with a friend, family member, or other person identified by the detainee. The police superintendent may authorize incommunicado detention for serious crimes such as terrorism.
Pretrial Detention: On September 26, temporary legislation came into effect extending the maximum length of pretrial detention from 182 to 238 days to address delays in jury trials due to COVID-19.
The law provides for an independent judiciary, and the government respected judicial independence and impartiality.
The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary routinely enforced this right. Defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence, and the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges. Criminal proceedings must be held without undue delay and be open to the public except for cases in juvenile court or those involving public decency or security. Under the Official Secrets Act, the judge may order the court closed, but sentencing must be public. Defendants have the right to be present at their trial.
Defendants have the right to communicate with an attorney of their choice or to have one provided at public expense if unable to pay. Defendants and their lawyers have adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense and free assistance of an interpreter if necessary, from the moment charged through all appeals. Defendants have the right to confront witnesses against them, to present their own witnesses and evidence, and not to be compelled to testify or to confess guilt. Defendants have the right to appeal adverse verdicts.
There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.
Nationally, individuals, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and groups of individuals may seek civil remedies for human rights violations and have the right to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights decisions involving alleged violations by the government of the European Convention on Human Rights.
In Bermuda the Human Rights Tribunal adjudicates complaints.
The UK complies with the goals of the 2009 Terezin Declaration and 2010 Guidelines and Best Practices. The government has laws and mechanisms in place, and NGOs and advocacy groups reported that the government made significant progress on resolution of Holocaust-era claims, including for foreign citizens.
The Department of State’s Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today (JUST) Act report to Congress, which covers Holocaust-era restitution and related issues, was released publicly on July 29, 2020. The report is available on the Department’s website: https://www.state.gov/reports/just-act-report-to-congress/.
The law prohibits such actions, and there were no reports that the government failed to respect these prohibitions.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
The law provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government routinely respected these rights. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression, including for the press.
Freedom of Speech: The law prohibits expressions of hatred toward persons because of their color, race, nationality (including citizenship), ethnic or national origin, religion, or sexual orientation as well as any communication that is deemed threatening or abusive and is intended to harass, alarm, or distress a person. The penalties for such expressions include fines, imprisonment, or both.
Freedom of Press and Media, Including Online Media: The law’s restrictions on expressions of hatred apply to the print and broadcast media. In Bermuda the law prohibits publishing written words that are threatening, abusive, or insulting, but only on racial grounds; on other grounds, including sexual orientation, the law prohibits only discriminatory “notices, signs, symbols, emblems, or other representations.”
In September the Council of Europe issued a “Level 2 Media Freedom Alert” to the UK after Ministry of Defence press officers refused to engage with Declassified UK, an investigative media outlet. The secretary of state for defence issued an apology to lawyers for Declassified UK and said he would open an investigation into the incident.
Violence and Harassment: During Black Lives Matter protests in London in June, two Australian and one British journalist, were violently attacked. The National Union of Journalists called for the arrest of the perpetrators, which had not taken place at year’s end.
In July charges were brought against a suspect for the killing of freelance reporter Lyra McKee in April 2019 in Londonderry, Northern Ireland.
Libel/Slander Laws: On February 12, the governor of the British Virgin Islands signed into law a bill that criminalizes with imprisonment for up to 14 years and a fine “sending offensive messages through a computer.” The law applies to a message that is “grossly offensive or has menacing character” or that is sent “for the purpose of causing annoyance or inconvenience.” The provision carries penalties up to 14 years in prison and a fine. Media freedom NGOs strongly criticized the law.
The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. The country has no blanket laws covering internet blocking, but the courts have issued blocking injunctions against various categories of content such as depictions of child sexual abuse, promotion of violent extremism and terrorism, and materials infringing on copyrights.
By law the electronic surveillance powers of the country’s intelligence community and police allow them, among other things, to check internet communications records as part of an investigation without a warrant.
There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events. Under emergency COVID-19 legislation, participation in cultural events was severely restricted.
In March the UK’s cultural scene, including restaurants, museums, galleries, cinemas, and sporting events, was closed down because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Outdoor music events were allowed from July, but indoor musical events remained restricted at year’s end. The government provided a support package of 1.57 billion pounds ($2.07 billion) for arts groups and venues. From March through the end of the year, the government imposed restrictions on the number of persons from separate households who could gather socially indoors and outdoors, including with regard to protest.
The law provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government routinely respected these rights. Under emergency COVID-19 legislation, the government banned mass gatherings.
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
d. Freedom of Movement
Except for areas affected by COVID-19 laws and guidelines, the law generally provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government routinely respected these rights.
In March, Prime Minister Boris Johnson introduced extraordinary measures, including curbs on the freedom of movement, to slow the spread of COVID-19 in England. These measures continued in force in some form at year’s end. From March 24 through May 13, the government instructed individuals they were only allowed out of their homes to purchase essential items.
COVID-19 legislation empowers police to enforce the evolving government guidelines. Police officers could issue fixed penalty notices (FPNs) to those they suspected of acting contrary to government guidelines on social interaction. FPNs allowed the accused to pay a fine rather than face prosecution for the offense.
On May 13, the prime minister announced changes that allowed those in England to leave their homes for outdoor recreation. The governments of Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland also began easing their lockdown restrictions in May. From May through year’s end, COVID-19 guidelines in all four nations of the UK were frequently relaxed or tightened to account for shifting trends in the spread of COVID-19 as well as public pressure to reopen schools and businesses. The prime minister announced that from July 4, lockdown laws in England would no longer provide legal restrictions associated with the government’s social distancing guidance. The other three nations made similar changes to their laws in July. Laws across the UK mandate some restrictive rules on social gatherings. As the spread of COVID-19 began to slow, the government took steps in July and August to loosen restrictions, allowing individuals to have small gatherings, return to the office and schools, and reopen retail businesses, restaurants, and pubs. The UK government passed laws in September that imposed additional restrictions called “local lockdowns” in areas where the virus was most prevalent. From November 5 until December 2, the prime minister imposed a lockdown across England to slow the spread of the virus.
In-country Movement: The home secretary may impose terrorism prevention and investigation measures (TPIMs) based on a “balance of probabilities.” TPIMs are a form of house arrest applied for up to two years to those thought to pose a terrorist threat but who cannot be prosecuted or deported. The 14 measures include electronic tagging, reporting regularly to the police, and facing “tightly defined exclusion from particular places and the prevention of travel overseas.” A suspect must live at home and stay there overnight, possibly for up to 10 hours daily. Authorities may send suspects to live up to 200 miles from their normal residence. The suspect may apply to the courts to stay elsewhere. The suspect may use a mobile phone and the internet to work and study, subject to conditions.
Exile: The law permits the home secretary to impose “temporary exclusion orders” (TEOs) on returning UK citizens or legal residents if the home secretary reasonably suspects the individual in question is or was involved in terrorism-related activity and considers the exclusion necessary to protect people in the UK from a risk of terrorism. TEOs impose certain obligations on the repatriates, such as periodic reporting to police. The measure requires a court order and is subject to judicial oversight and appeal.
In May a UK high court issued a preliminary ruling that the restrictions imposed on individuals under TEOs must be in accordance with the provision of the European Convention on Human Rights providing for a fair trial. The ruling allows those under TEOs to know the evidence against them and to contest the terms of their obligations.
Citizenship: The law allows the home secretary to deprive an individual of citizenship if officials are satisfied this is “conducive to the public good,” but not if this renders a citizen stateless.
In 2019 the home secretary started the process of revoking the citizenship of Shamima Begum, a 20-year-old British citizen by birth of Bangladeshi extraction who left the UK to join ISIS. Because Begum was British by birth, the home secretary could only cancel her British citizenship if she were a dual national. The home secretary asserted that Begum held dual citizenship with Bangladesh. Begum’s lawyers disputed that she had Bangladeshi citizenship. In August the Court of Appeal of England and Wales ruled that Begum should be allowed to return to the UK to have a fair and effective appeal against being stripped of her British citizenship. In November the Supreme Court held hearings on the home office’s appeal.
The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, or other persons of concern.
During the year the UK government consolidated its various refugee resettlement programs into a single “global scheme” aimed at providing more consistency in the way that refugees are resettled and to broaden the geographical focus beyond the Middle East and North Africa. UNHCR welcomed the shift.
Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Home Office officials have the power to detain asylum seekers and unauthorized migrants who do not enter the asylum system. There was no maximum time limit for the use of detention. Immigration detention was used to establish a person’s identity or basis of claim, to remove a person from the country, or to avoid a person’s noncompliance with any conditions attached to a grant of temporary admission or release.
On September 20, Glasgow’s six members of Parliament (MPs) signed a joint letter calling for a fatal accident inquiry into the deaths of three asylum seekers housed in the city during the year. Adnan Walid Elbi, Mercy Baguma, and Badreddin Abedlla Adam died in separate incidents. The causes of Elbi’s and Baguma’s deaths were not determined, although the NGO Positive Action in Housing stated they were living in “extreme poverty.” In June police officers shot and killed Adam after he stabbed six persons at a hotel temporarily housing asylum seekers. Scotland’s Police Investigations and Review Commissioner launched an investigation into the police shooting, but had not published the results at year’s end. Media reports and NGOs suggested the government contractor providing services to Adam and other asylum seekers at the location of the attack may have been negligent in the provision of health services.
Access to Asylum: In England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, the law provides for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. Asylum is a matter reserved for the UK government and is handled centrally by the Home Office. Bermuda’s constitution and laws do not provide for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government does not have an established system for providing protection to refugees.
NGOs criticized the government’s handling of asylum seekers crossing the English Channel from France. By October an estimated 7,000 persons had crossed the channel in more than 500 boats. Media reported that many of these asylum seekers were being held in detention centers.
Safe Country of Origin/Transit: Until the end of the year, the country was subject to the EU’s Dublin III regulation and considered all other EU member states to be countries of safe origin or transit. The regulation permits authorities to remove an asylum applicant to another country responsible for adjudicating an applicant’s claim. The government placed the burden of proof on asylum seekers who arrived from safe countries of origin, who passed through a country where they were not considered to be at risk, or who remained in the country for at least five consecutive months before seeking asylum.
For the duration of their asylum application, asylum seekers are eligible for government support at 30 percent below the normal rate for their family size, an amount that NGOs continued to deem inadequate. NGOs continued to criticize the government for cutting off benefits 28 days after a person is granted refugee status, which they say left some destitute.
Employment: Refugees are eligible to work or to receive state benefits if unable to work. In Scotland the devolved government funded the Refugee Doctors’ Program to help refugees to work for the National Health Service Scotland. The program offers doctors advanced English lessons, medical classes, and placements with general practitioners or hospitals, providing them with the skills needed to get their UK medical registration approved.
Temporary Protection: The government may provide temporary protection to individuals who may not qualify as refugees. In the year ending in March, the government granted humanitarian protection to 1,482 individuals (up 24 percent from 2019), 1,026 grants of alternative forms of leave (down 18 percent), and 4,968 grants of protection through resettlement schemes.
The government provides a route to legal residence for up to five years for stateless persons resident in the country. After the initial five-year period, stateless persons are able to apply for “settled status” or further extension of their residency. The government did not publish data on the number of habitual residents who are legally stateless.
Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government
The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, and the government implemented the law effectively. There were no reports of government corruption during the year.
Corruption: In March the findings of an official inquiry into allegations of large-scale corruption that led to the collapse of the Northern Ireland government in 2017 did not identify any individuals as being at fault for the costly program. It did, however, determine the initiative was poorly conceived, fiscally irresponsible, and the consequence of political negligence and administrative incompetence rather than corrupt practices.
Financial Disclosure: All MPs are required to disclose their financial interests. The Register of Members’ Interests was available online and updated regularly. These public disclosures include paid employment, property ownership, shareholdings in public or private companies, and other interests that “might reasonably be thought to influence” the member in any way. The Scottish Parliament, the National Assembly for Wales, the Northern Ireland Assembly, and the Bermudian Parliament have similar codes of conduct for members. The ministerial code issued by the Prime Minister’s Office sets standards of conduct, including on the disclosure of gifts and travel. The national government publishes the names, grades, job titles, and annual pay rates of most civil servants with salaries greater than 150,000 pounds ($198,000). Government departments publish the business expenses of their most senior officials and hospitality received by them.
Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape of both men and women, including spousal rape. The maximum legal penalty for rape is life imprisonment. The law also provides for injunctive relief, personal protection orders, and protective exclusion orders (similar to restraining orders) for victims of violence. The government enforced the law effectively in reported cases. Courts in some cases imposed the maximum punishment for rape. The government provided shelters, counseling, and other assistance for survivors of rape or violence. NGOs warned that police and Crown Prosecutorial Services have raised the bar for evidence needed, causing victims to drop out of the justice process. In July the Crown Prosecution Service launched a five-year plan for the prosecution of rape and serious sexual offenses (RASSO) to help reduce the gap between reported cases and prosecutions. The plan committed to improving cooperation between police and prosecutors, fully resourcing RASSO units, and training to improve communication with victims.
The law criminalizes domestic violence. Those who abuse spouses, partners, or family members face tougher punishment than those who commit similar offenses in a nondomestic context.
The NGO Women’s Aid reported that as of April 6, a total of 38 of 45 service providers had reduced or suspended at least one service due to COVID-19. NGOs expressed concern that the digitization of medical services due to COVID-19 disproportionately affected women and children of color who were less likely to have access to computers or smart phones.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) reported in November that while police-recorded cases of domestic violence in England and Wales rose by 7 percent from March to June, compared with the same period in 2019, the rise could not be attributed entirely to the COVID-19 pandemic because police made an effort to record these crimes better in recent years. The same report stated demand for domestic violence services increased since the start of COVID-19 restrictions on movement outside the home in March, and it acknowledged that victims trapped at home with their abuser due to restrictions may not able to report the crime to police.
The #YouAreNotAlone campaign introduced by the home secretary during the COVID-19 response aimed to raise public awareness about domestic violence and encourage those experiencing abuse to seek help. NGOs criticized the fact that the campaign was carried out entirely in English. Additionally, in April the Home Office provided an additional two million pounds ($2.64 million) to NGOs and the Domestic Abuse Commissioner to bolster domestic abuse helplines and online support. Throughout the year professional organizations responsible for safeguarding women and children issued COVID-19 specific guidance to help practitioners, such as nurses, police, and social workers, to identify and report signs of abuse.
Domestic violence and abuse was at a 15-year high in Northern Ireland, having increased by 9.1 percent with more than 32,000 incidents (18,885 crimes) recorded by the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) from June 2019 to July 2020. Year on year, more incidents were reported during the height of the COVID-19 lockdown in April (291 more) and May (258) than in the same months in 2019. Restrictions to reduce the spread of COVID-19 forcing people to spend much more time at home created what some women’s aid NGOs described as the “perfect storm” for abusers. Domestic abuse accounted for 19.1 percent of all crime recorded by the PSNI during the year, and Northern Ireland remained the only region in the UK without specific legislation on coercive control.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law prohibits FGM/C. The law also requires health and social care professionals and teachers to report to police cases of FGM/C on girls younger than age 18. It is also illegal to take a British national or permanent resident abroad for FGM/C or to help someone trying to do so. The penalty is up to 14 years in prison. An FGM protection order, a civil measure that can be applied for through a family court, offers the means of protecting actual or potential victims from FGM/C under the civil law. Breach of an FGM protection order is a criminal offense carrying a sentence of up to five years in prison.
FGM/C is illegally practiced in the country, particularly within some diaspora communities where FGM/C is prevalent. The government issued 298 FGM protection orders to protect children perceived as at-risk of FGM/C.
The government took nonjudicial steps to address FGM/C, including awareness-raising efforts, a hotline, and requiring medical professionals to report FGM/C observed on patients. The National Health Service reported 6,590 newly recorded cases between April 2019 and March 2020.
Sexual Harassment: The law criminalizes sexual harassment at places of work. Authorities used different laws to prosecute cases of harassment outside the workplace.
Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children; and to manage their reproductive health. They had access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. The government provided access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence. Health policy was devolved to constituent parts of the United Kingdom. The Northern Ireland Department of Health has not funded some reproductive health services, and certain aspects of reproductive rights remain under political debate.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.
Discrimination: The law provides the same legal status and rights for women and men. Women were subject to some discrimination in employment.
Birth Registration: A child born in the UK receives the country’s citizenship at birth if one of the parents is a UK citizen or a legally settled resident. Children born in Northern Ireland may opt for UK, Irish, or dual citizenship. A child born in an overseas territory is a UK overseas territories citizen if at least one of the child’s parents has citizenship. All births must be registered within 42 days in the district where the baby was born; unregistered births were uncommon.
In May the UK government confirmed that family members of British or dual Irish-British citizens in Northern Ireland would be eligible to apply for status through the EU settlement scheme. Prior to this, the government faced legal action for a claimed breach of rights in relation to citizenship and the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement. The citizen, whose application for a residence card for her U.S.-born husband was rejected, identified only as Irish and not as British but was told that under the law she is also a British citizen and legally registered as such despite her objection.
Child Abuse: Laws make the abuse of children punishable by up to a maximum sentence of 14 years’ imprisonment. Social service departments in each local authority in the country maintained confidential child protection registers containing details of children at risk of physical, emotional, or sexual abuse or neglect. The registers also included child protection plans for each child.
Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The minimum legal age for marriage is 16. In England, Northern Ireland, and Wales, persons younger than 18 require the written consent of parents or guardians, and the underage person must present a birth certificate. The legal minimum age to enter into a marriage in Scotland is 16 and does not require parental consent.
Forcing someone to marry against his or her will is a criminal offense throughout the UK with a maximum prison sentence of seven years. Forcing a UK citizen into marriage anywhere in the world is a criminal offense in England and Wales. In 2019 the joint Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Office and the Home Office Forced Marriage Unit provided support in more than 1,355 cases of potential or confirmed forced marriage involving UK citizens, which represented a 10 percent decrease from 2018. According to the Forced Marriage Unit, this figure was “in line with the average number of cases per year since 2011.” Assistance included safety advice as well as “reluctant spouse cases” in which the UK government assisted forced marriage victims in preventing their unwanted spouse from moving to the UK. The government offers lifelong anonymity for victims of forced marriage to encourage more to come forward.
In Scotland 22 cases of forced marriage were reported in 2019, down from 30 in 2018.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The penalties for sexual offenses against children and the commercial sexual exploitation of children range up to life imprisonment. Authorities enforced the law. The law prohibits child pornography in all parts of the UK. The minimum age of consensual sex in the UK is 16.
International Child Abductions: The UK, including Bermuda, is party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.
The 2011 census recorded the Jewish population at 263,346. Some considered this an underestimate, and both the Institute for Jewish Policy Research and the British Board of Deputies suggested that the actual figure was approximately 300,000.
The semiannual report of the NGO Community Security Trust (CST) recorded 789 anti-Semitic incidents during the first six months of the year. This was a 13 percent decrease from the same period in 2019, but still the third-highest number of incidents the CST has recorded during the first semester of a year. The CST noted the COVID-19 pandemic influenced how anti-Semitism manifested in the early part of the year. March and April saw the lowest monthly totals, with April being the first month since December 2017 in which the CST recorded fewer than 100 anti-Semitic incidents. These months correlated with the period when COVID-19 prevention measures regarding movements outside the home were at their strictest. The CST recorded 344 online anti-Semitic incidents, a 4 percent increase from 332 in 2019. This was the highest number of reported online anti-Semitic incidents recorded by the CST for the first half of a year. Of the 244 online incidents, 10 were reports of educational or religious online events being “hijacked” with anti-Semitic content or behavior. The CST also recorded 26 incidents of anti-Semitic rhetoric alongside references to COVID-19, such as conspiracy theories accusing Jews of inventing the COVID-19 “hoax,” of creating and spreading COVID-19 itself for malevolent and financial purposes, or of simply wishing that Jews would catch the virus and die.
The CST recorded 47 violent anti-Semitic assaults during the first half of the year, a 45 percent decrease from of the same period in 2019. One of the violent incidents was classified by the CST as “extreme violence,” meaning the incident involved potential grievous bodily harm or a threat to life. There were 28 incidents of damage and desecration of Jewish property; 673 incidents of abusive behavior, including verbal abuse, graffiti, social media, and hate mail; 36 direct anti-Semitic threats; and five cases of mass-mailed anti-Semitic leaflets or emails. All of the listed totals were lower than the incident totals in the same categories in the first half of 2019.
More than two-thirds of the 789 anti-Semitic incidents were recorded in Greater London and Greater Manchester, the two largest Jewish communities in the UK. The CST recorded 477 anti-Semitic incidents in Greater London in the first half of the year, an increase of 2 percent from 2019. The 69 incidents the CST recorded in Greater Manchester were down from 123 in 2019 and represented a reduction of 44 percent. Anti-Semitic incidents in Manchester tended to be more street based than in Greater London, where online incidents targeted national Jewish leadership bodies and public figures. Elsewhere in the UK, the CST recorded an anti-Semitic incident in all but two of the country’s 43 police regions, compared with nine regions in the first half of 2019.
In April the newly elected Labour Party leader, Sir Keir Starmer, and the deputy leader, MP Angela Rayner, met virtually with representatives of the Jewish community to apologize to the Jewish community for allowing a culture of anti-Semitism within the party. The meeting attendees, including the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the Jewish Leadership Council, the CST, and the Jewish Labour Movement, praised Starmer for his proactive plan to root out anti-Semitism within the party, including the establishment of an independent complaints process, cooperating fully with the EHRC’s inquiry into anti-Semitism allegations, dealing promptly with all outstanding anti-Semitism cases, and training all Labour Party staff to recognize anti-Semitism.
On October 29, the EHRC published the findings of its investigation into whether the Labour Party “unlawfully discriminated against harassed or victimized people because they are Jewish.” The report found that the Labour leadership under former party leader Jeremy Corbyn breached the Equality Act by committing “unlawful harassment” in several cases in which Labour MPs were found to have used “anti-Semitic tropes and suggesting that the complaints of anti-Semitism were fakes or smears.” The report’s targeted recommendations for the party were to commission an independent process to handle anti-Semitism complaints; implement clear rules and guidance that prohibit and sanction political interference in the complaints process; publish a comprehensive policy and procedure, setting out how anti-Semitism complaints will be handled; commission and provide education and training for all individuals involved in the anti-Semitism complaints process; and monitor and evaluate improvements to ensure lasting change. In addition to the targeted recommendations that the EHRC has a legal mandate to enforce, the commission urged changes to both the party culture and its processes. In a press briefing immediately following the report’s release, Starmer said Labour would implement all of the report’s recommendations. Corbyn issued a statement suggesting the report’s findings were overblown. Starmer suspended Corbyn from the Labour Party, but a panel of the Labour National Executive Committee subsequently readmitted him as a party member. Starmer also removed Corbyn from Labour’s parliamentary group and did not reinstate him. Corbyn remained an independent member of parliament.
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
The law prohibits discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities. The government effectively enforced the law.
On September 18, the ONS reported that from March 2 to July 14 persons with disabilities accounted for 59 percent of the deaths in the country from the COVID-19 virus.
Children with disabilities attended school through secondary education at similar rates to children without disabilities. The law requires all publicly funded preschools, nurseries, state schools, and local authorities to try to identify, help assess, and provide reasonable accommodation to children with “special educational needs or disabilities.”
In a report to Parliament in September, the Equality and Human Rights Commission stated that the Coronavirus Law 2020 gave localities overly broad powers to cease the provision of reasonable accommodation for students with disabilities. The report also stated that, as a result of COVID-19 related delays in service provision, the drop in support for education, health, and care plans for children with disabilities could result in gaps in educational attainment between students with disabilities and those without disabilities.
Bermudian law protects the rights of persons with disabilities in the workplace. The law does not include any protection from discrimination on mental health grounds.
The Department for Works and Pension recorded 44,751 official complaints about its disability benefit assessment process from April 2019 to March 2020, a 12 percent decrease from the same period in 2019. In July the Supreme Court found that the Department for Work and Pensions had not awarded the right amount of points to benefits applications involving those with mental disabilities or to those who struggle to engage with others. In September the Department for Work and Pensions started a review of claimants affected by the Supreme Court decision, which could pay eligible claimants as much as 13,000 pounds ($17,160).
The Crown and Procurator Fiscal’s Office, Scotland’s prosecutor, reported in June that the number of recorded hate crimes against persons with disabilities had risen by 29 percent to 387 in 2019/20.
The EHRC provided legal advice and support to individuals and a hotline. It could also conduct formal investigations, arrange conciliation, require persons or organizations to adopt action plans to ensure compliance with the law, and apply for injunctions to prevent acts of unlawful discrimination.
The law prohibits racial and ethnic discrimination, but Travellers, Roma, and persons of African, Afro-Caribbean, South Asian, and Middle Eastern origin at times reported mistreatment on racial or ethnic grounds.
Racially motivated crime remained the most commonly reported hate crime. In October the Home Office reported 76,070 racial hate crimes in England and Wales from April 2019 to March 2020, a 6 percent increase from the same period in 2018/19. The UK government responded to nationwide antiracist demonstrations by announcing a cross-governmental commission. Prime Minister Johnson said the commission would look at “all aspects of inequality” in employment, in health outcomes, in academia and all other walks of life.
In Scotland racial or other discriminatory motivation may be an “aggravating factor” in crimes. Race-based hate crime was the most commonly reported hate crime in Scotland, accounting for 3,038 charges in 2019/20, an increase of 4 percent on the previous year.
In Northern Ireland there were 624 racially motived hate crimes between April 2019 and March 2020, a decrease of 78 from the previous year. “Right to Rent” rules require all landlords in England to check the immigration documents of prospective tenants to verify they were not irregular or undocumented migrants. Landlords may be fined up to 3,000 pounds ($3,960) for noncompliance. Although in May 2019 the UK High Court ruled that the rules discriminate against anyone without a British passport, the rules remained in force at year’s end.
“Right to Rent” rules require all landlords in England to check the immigration documents of prospective tenants to verify they were not irregular or undocumented migrants. Landlords may be fined up to 3,000 pounds ($3,960) for noncompliance. Although in May 2019 the UK High Court ruled that the rules discriminate against anyone without a British passport, the rules remained in force at year’s end.
Bermuda had its largest ever recorded antiracist protests in June. While 54 percent of residents described themselves as black, arrests of black persons constituted 84 percent of all arrest cases in 2017.
The law in England and Wales prohibits discrimination and harassment based on sexual orientation. It encourages judges to impose a greater sentence in assault cases where the victim’s sexual orientation was a motive for the hostility, and many local police forces demonstrated an increasing awareness of the problem and trained officers to identify and moderate these attacks. In November the Home Office reported a 15 percent increase in hate crimes based on sexual orientation compared with 2018/19.
Sexual motivation may be an “aggravating factor” in crimes. Crime aggravated by sexual orientation was the second most common type of hate crime in Scotland. Hate crime against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex persons accounted for 1,486 charges in 2019/20, an increase of 24 percent year on year. In April the Scottish government announced that work on the Gender Recognition Act would be delayed indefinitely because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The act, which would have made it easier for persons legally to change their gender, faced criticism, including from within the governing Scottish National Party, over how it would affect women-only services.
PSNI statistics showed there were 218 homophobic crimes and 41 transphobic crimes.
Hate speech, notably against Muslims, in some traditional media, particularly tabloid newspapers, continued to be a problem, with dissemination of biased or ill-founded information. Online hate speech also was a problem.
In a report released in March, the NGO Tell Mama found that anti-Muslim hate crimes in the UK increased by 692 percent in the weeks following the New Zealand Christchurch mosque attack in March 2019.
Several anti-Muslim COVID-19 conspiracy theories spread online in the UK, including theories that Muslims were not adhering to strict rules against convening at places of worship and were therefore spreading the disease. The Muslim Council of Britain’s Centre for Media Monitoring submitted a report to Parliament in August suggesting that mainstream media outlets were also perpetuating images and stories that unfairly linked Islam and Muslim persons to COVID-19.
Scottish law criminalizes behavior that is threatening, hateful, or otherwise offensive at a regulated soccer match, and penalizes any threat of serious violence and threats to incite religious hatred through the mail or the internet.
In Northern Ireland crimes related to faith or religion totaled 15 for the same period, marking a reduction of eight from the previous year. Sectarian crimes decreased by 19 to 628.
In March the government introduced measures to protect renters affected by COVID-19. As long as the protections remain in force, no renter in either social or private accommodation may be evicted for failing to make rent payments. From August 29, landlords are required to give renters six months’ notice if they intend to begin eviction proceedings. Simultaneously, all housing possessions going through court were suspended from March through September 20. When the suspension was lifted, courts were ordered to prioritize only the most egregious cases involving criminal behavior. Longer notice periods and new court rules will continue to apply while COVID-19 restrictions are in place, whether at the national or local level. Evictions were suspended during the second national lockdown from November 5 to December 2, after which the suspension was extended through January 2021.
West Bank and Gaza
Read A Section: West Bank And Gaza
The Palestinian Authority basic law provides for an elected president and legislative council. There have been no national elections in the West Bank and Gaza since 2006. President Mahmoud Abbas has remained in office despite the expiration of his four-year term in 2009. The Palestinian Legislative Council has not functioned since 2007, and in 2018 the Palestinian Authority dissolved the Constitutional Court. In September 2019 and again in September, President Abbas called for the Palestinian Authority to organize elections for the Palestinian Legislative Council within six months, but elections had not taken place as of the end of the year. The Palestinian Authority head of government is Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh. President Abbas is also chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization and general commander of the Fatah movement.
Six Palestinian Authority security forces agencies operate in parts of the West Bank. Several are under Palestinian Authority Ministry of Interior operational control and follow the prime minister’s guidance. The Palestinian Civil Police have primary responsibility for civil and community policing. The National Security Force conducts gendarmerie-style security operations in circumstances that exceed the capabilities of the civil police. The Military Intelligence Agency handles intelligence and criminal matters involving Palestinian Authority security forces personnel, including accusations of abuse and corruption. The General Intelligence Service is responsible for external intelligence gathering and operations. The Preventive Security Organization is responsible for internal intelligence gathering and investigations related to internal security cases, including political dissent. The Presidential Guard protects facilities and provides dignitary protection. Palestinian Authority civilian authorities maintained effective control of security forces. Members of the Palestinian Authority security forces reportedly committed abuses.
In Gaza the designated terrorist organization Hamas exercised authority. The security apparatus of Hamas in Gaza largely mirrored that in the West Bank. Internal security included civil police, guards and protection security, an internal intelligence-gathering and investigative entity (similar to the Preventive Security Organization in the West Bank), and civil defense. National security included the national security forces, military justice, military police, medical services, and the prison authority. Hamas maintained a large military wing in Gaza, named the Izz ad-din al-Qassam Brigades. In some instances Hamas utilized the Hamas movement’s military wing to crack down on internal dissent. Hamas security forces reportedly committed numerous abuses.
The government of Israel maintained a West Bank security presence through the Israel Defense Force, the Israeli Security Agency, the Israel National Police, and the Border Guard. Israel maintained effective civilian control of its security forces throughout the West Bank and Gaza. The Israeli military and civilian justice systems have on occasion found members of Israeli security forces to have committed abuses.
Oslo Accords-era agreements divide the West Bank into Areas A, B, and C. West Bank Palestinian population centers mostly fall into Area A. The Palestinian Authority has formal responsibility for security in Area A, but Israeli security forces frequently conducted security operations there. The Palestinian Authority and Israel maintain joint security control of Area B in the West Bank. Israel retains full security control of Area C and has designated most Area C land as either closed military zones or settlement zoning areas. In May the Palestinian Authority suspended security coordination with Israel to protest Israel’s potential extension of sovereignty into areas of the West Bank. As of November the Palestinian Authority had resumed most security coordination with Israel.
Significant human rights issues included:
1) With respect to the Palestinian Authority: reports of unlawful or arbitrary killings, torture, and arbitrary detention by authorities; holding political prisoners and detainees; significant problems with the independence of the judiciary; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; serious restrictions on free expression, the press, and the internet, including violence, threats of violence, unjustified arrests and prosecutions against journalists, censorship, and site blocking; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, including harassment of nongovernmental organizations; restrictions on political participation, as the Palestinian Authority has not held a national election since 2006; acts of corruption; lack of investigation of and accountability for violence against women; violence and threats of violence motivated by anti-Semitism; anti-Semitism in school textbooks; violence and threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or intersex persons; and reports of forced child labor.
2) With respect to Hamas: reports of unlawful or arbitrary killings, systematic torture, and arbitrary detention by Hamas officials; political prisoners; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; serious restrictions on free expression, the press, and the internet, including violence, threats of violence, unjustified arrests and prosecutions against journalists, censorship, site blocking, and the existence of criminal libel and slander laws; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; restrictions on political participation, as there has been no national election since 2006; acts of corruption; reports of a lack of investigation of and accountability for violence against women; violence and threats of violence motivated by anti-Semitism; anti-Semitism in school textbooks; unlawful recruitment and use of child soldiers; violence and threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or intersex persons; and forced or compulsory child labor.
3) With respect to Israeli authorities in the West Bank: reports of unlawful or arbitrary killings due to unnecessary or disproportionate use of force; reports of torture; reports of arbitrary detention; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; restrictions on free expression, the press, and the internet, including violence, threats of violence, unjustified arrests and prosecutions against journalists, censorship, and site blocking; restrictions on Palestinians residing in Jerusalem including arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy, family, and home; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, including harassment of nongovernmental organizations; and significant restrictions on freedom of movement, including the requirement of exit permits.
4) With respect to Palestinian civilians: two reports of unlawful or arbitrary killings, and violence and threats of violence against Israeli citizens.
5) With respect to Israeli civilians: reports of violence and threats of violence motivated by extremist nationalist sentiment.
In May the Palestinian Authority suspended coordination with Israel and resumed it in November, which dampened impetus for the Palestinian Authority to take steps to address impunity or reduce abuses. There were criticisms that senior officials made comments glorifying violence in some cases and inappropriately influenced investigations and disciplinary actions related to abuses. Israeli authorities operating in the West Bank took steps to address impunity or reduce abuses, but there were criticisms they did not adequately pursue investigations and disciplinary actions related to abuses. There were no legal or independent institutions capable of holding Hamas in Gaza accountable, and impunity was widespread. Also in Gaza there are several militant groups, including Palestinian Islamic Jihad, with access to heavy weaponry that do not always adhere to Hamas authority.
This section of the report covers the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem territories that Israel occupied during the June 1967 war. In 2017 the United States recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Language in this report is not meant to convey a position on any final status issues to be negotiated between the parties to the conflict, including the specific boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem, or the borders between Israel and any future Palestinian state.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
Palestinian civilians killed one Israeli civilian and one Israel Defense Force (IDF) soldier in attacks in the West Bank, according to nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and media reports. On December 20, Muhammad Marwah Kabha killed Israeli citizen Esther Horgan near Tal Maneshe, according to multiple media reports. Kabha confessed to scouting the area in advance and killing Horgan, according to media reports. Kabha was in Israeli custody pending trial at the end of the year. On May 12, Palestinian Nizmi Abu Bakar threw a brick off his roof striking IDF soldier Amit Ben Yigal in the head and killing him while the IDF was conducting operations in Area A, according to media reports. In June, Israel indicted Bakar for intentionally causing death. In November, Bakar pleaded not guilty and the defense stated they would work to annul the confession he gave during his interrogation, according to the Israeli government. The case continued at year’s end. In 2019 an improvised explosive device planted outside the West Bank settlement of Dolev detonated and killed 17-year-old Rina Shnerb and injured her father and brother, according to media reports and NGOs. In September 2019 Israeli security forces (ISF) arrested three men in connection with the attack allegedly affiliated with the terrorist group Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. The case continued at year’s end. In 2018, 17-year-old Palestinian Khalil Jabarin fatally stabbed Ari Fuld at a West Bank shopping mall. In July an Israeli military court in the West Bank sentenced Jabarin to life in prison. The Israeli Security Agency (ISA, or Shin Bet) foiled 423 significant terror attacks in the West Bank and Jerusalem, according to the government. The Palestinian Authority (PA) continued to make payments to Palestinians connected to terrorism, including persons convicted of terrorism in Israeli courts serving prison sentences, former prisoners, and the families of those who died committing terrorist attacks. Israel considers these payments to incentivize, encourage, and reward terrorism, with higher monthly payments for lengthier prison sentences tied to more severe crimes.
Israeli forces killed 19 Palestinians in the West Bank and one Palestinian in Gaza, some of whom were attempting or allegedly attempting to attack Israelis, according to Israeli NGO B’Tselem. B’Tselem claimed that in at least 11 of those cases the individuals killed did not pose a lethal threat to ISF or civilians at the time they were killed. For example, on February 6, an IDF soldier shot and killed PA police officer Tareq Badwan while Badwan stood outside a police station in Jenin. The PA released security camera video from the police station that showed several uniformed officers standing near the door of the station when one officer suddenly drops to the floor. The Israeli military acknowledged one of its members shot Badwan, according to media reports, and stated it was investigating the incident. The investigation continued at year’s end.
On June 30, Israeli police in Jerusalem’s Old City fatally shot Iyad Halak, a Palestinian resident with autism, after he allegedly failed to follow police orders to stop. Police stated Halak was carrying a “suspicious object.” Defense Minister Benny Gantz expressed regret for the incident and called for a quick investigation. On October 21, the Department for Investigation of Police Officers stated that the prosecution intended to indict the police officer suspected of the shooting on charges of reckless homicide. According to the Ministry of Justice, investigators carefully examined the circumstances of the incident and determined that Halak did not pose any danger to police and civilians who were at the scene, that the police officer discharged his weapon not in accordance with police procedures, and that the police officer did not take proportionate alternatives that were at his disposal.
On July 9, an IDF soldier shot and killed Ibrahim Abu Ya’qub as he walked with a friend in the village of Kifl Hares, according to a B’Tselem field investigation. The soldiers were in pursuit of two minors who had allegedly thrown a Molotov cocktail at an outpost. They fired several shots at the minors, injuring one, and hit Abu Ya’qub in the back. He died shortly after in a hospital in Salfit. The IDF stated it was investigating the incident and the investigation continued at year’s end.
In March 2019 an IDF soldier shot 17-year-old volunteer medic Sajed Mizher when Israeli forces were involved in clashes with Palestinians in the Deheisha refugee camp near Bethlehem, according to media reports. Mizher later died from his wounds. At the time of his death, Mizher was wearing a reflective vest and paramedic’s service uniform while assisting a Palestinian who had been shot in the leg, according to media reports. A criminal investigation into the incident was completed and was under review by the Military Advocate General (MAG), according to Israeli authorities. In 2018 IDF soldiers shot and killed Muhammad Hossam Habali in the West Bank city of Tulkarm. The IDF claimed it was reacting to a group of rock-throwing Palestinians, but security camera videos compiled by B’Tselem showed Habali walking away from the soldiers when he was killed. At the end of the year, an Israeli military investigation into Habali’s death continued.
Human rights groups alleged the government of Israel used excessive force resulting in the deaths of several Palestinians, including minors, in the West Bank. For example, on December 4, an Israeli soldier shot and killed 15-year-old Palestinian Ali Abu Aliya near Kafr Malik in the central West Bank, according to several human rights groups and media reports. Aliya was reportedly standing approximately 160 yards from a protest in which other residents were throwing rocks at Israeli soldiers. According to B’Tselem, Aliya did not take part in the protest and did not present a threat when he was shot. The Israeli Military Police stated it was investigating the incident.
On May 13, an IDF sniper shot and killed 17-year-old Zeid Qaysiyah as he stood with some relatives on the roof of the building where he lived in the al-Fawar refugee camp south of Hebron, according to media reports and B’Tselem. The IDF investigated the incident and submitted its findings to the MAG for examination.
In 2019 Israeli border police shot and killed 15-year-old Abdullah Ghaith as he was approaching a known crossable section of the barrier. The Israeli police stated they were investigating the incident. The investigation continued at year’s end. In 2019 Israeli forces shot and killed Omar Haitham al-Badawi in Hebron, according to the PA Ministry of Health and the IDF. The military police began an investigation after an initial IDF probe found al-Badawi did not present a threat and live ammunition should not have been used.
In 2019 Palestinians in Gaza suspended the “March of Return,” a series of weekly protests along the fence between Gaza and Israel that began in 2018. The protests, which drew thousands of individuals each week, included armed terrorists, militants who launched incendiary devices into Israel, and unarmed protesters. The Israeli government stated that an investigation into the 2018 killing of volunteer medic Razan al-Najjar north of Khuza’ah in Gaza during a Friday protest near the security fence with Israel had been completed and that the findings were under review by the MAG at year’s end.
The Israeli military killed 234 persons during the protests in 2018 and 2019, according to media reports and rights groups, and has launched investigations into 17 of those deaths, most of which continued at year’s end. In June an Israeli soldier who killed a man at the Gaza border fence in 2018 pled guilty to negligence and reckless endangerment and received a suspended sentence and demoted, according to media reports. Several Israeli and Palestinian human rights groups criticized the verdict and lenient sentencing as indicative of the Israeli military’s lack of accountability regarding Palestinian deaths. In January the United Nations noted a “lack of progress and transparency” regarding MAG investigations.
In November, the NGO Yesh Din released a report on the MAG’s Fact Finding Assessment (FFA) Mechanism that was implemented to investigate incidents that occurred during the “March of Return” protests. Yesh Din found that of 231 incidents forwarded to the FFA, roughly 80 percent were still under FFA review. The FFA examines the details of a case and provides all relevant information to the MAG, who determines whether a criminal investigation is warranted. Yesh Din stated it was skeptical of the Israeli military’s ability to conduct thorough and effective investigations of these incidents so long after they occurred.
In 2018 the Israeli military opened an investigation into the IDF’s fatal shooting of a Palestinian minor in Gaza. According to an Israeli military statement, an initial probe suggested the soldier who shot and killed 18-year-old Abed Nabi in March during Gaza security fence protests did not adhere to open-fire regulations. According to the Israeli government, the investigation into the death of Nabi has been concluded and the findings were being reviewed by the MAG.
Palestinian militants in Gaza launched 190 rockets and mortar shells toward Israel with some injuries reported, according to the Israeli government. According to an IDF annual report, 90 rockets fell into empty fields and 70 were intercepted. According to NGOs, media, and the Israeli government, Gaza-based militants fired rockets from civilian locations toward civilian targets in Israel. The IDF reported it hit 300 targets in Gaza during the year and exposed one Hamas-dug tunnel from Gaza into Israel. In November 2019 an Israeli air strike in Gaza killed nine members of the same family, including five minors younger than 13. According to media reports, the family was mistakenly targeted. An IDF review of the incident found that the IDF had identified the site as a PIJ military compound from which military activity was being carried out and at the time the IDF estimated that civilians would not be harmed in an attack on the site, according to the Israeli government. The findings of the review were referred to the MAG to determine if a criminal investigation was warranted, according to the Israeli government.
government. The findings of the review were referred to the MAG to determine if a criminal investigation was warranted, according to the Israeli government.
In Gaza, Hamas sentenced 14 individuals convicted of murder to death, according to the Democracy and Media Center (SHAMS). In 2019 Hamas issued three death sentences. The Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) previously noted a significant increase in the death penalty in Gaza since 2007, and Hamas courts did not meet minimum fair trial standards. By law the PA president must ratify each death penalty sentence. Hamas has proceeded with executions without the PA president’s approval.
In the West Bank, there were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities during the year. There was no new information on the disappearances in 2014 and 2015 of two Israeli citizens, Avraham Abera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed, who crossed into Gaza and whom Hamas reportedly apprehended and held incommunicado. Additionally, there was no new information on the status of two IDF soldiers that Hamas captured during the 2014 war, Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul.
The PA basic law prohibits torture or use of force against detainees; however, international and local human rights groups reported that torture and abuse remained a problem. The PA’s quasi-governmental Independent Commission for Human Rights (ICHR) reported receiving 60 complaints of torture or mistreatment against the PA and 53 complaints of torture against Hamas during the year. Some human rights groups reported that during the year Palestinian police took a more direct role in the mistreatment and torture of Palestinians.
According to a 2019 update to a 2018 Human Rights Watch (HRW) report, torture regularly occurred in detention centers in both Gaza and the West Bank by Hamas and PA security services, respectively. HRW reported systematic and routine abuse in PA prisons, particularly in the PA’s Intelligence, Preventive Security, and Joint Security Committee detention facilities in Jericho. HRW reported practices including forcing detainees to hold painful stress positions for long periods, beating, punching, and flogging. Victims also reported being cut, forced to stand on broken glass, and sexually assaulted while in custody. A Palestinian accused of collaborating with Israel due to his political beliefs alleged to foreign diplomatic officials that he was tortured in a prison in Jericho. In the 18-month period ending in April 2019, 242 West Bank Palestinians complained of torture and mistreatment by Palestinian security forces, according to HRW.
Palestinian detainees held by Palestinian Authority security forces (PASF) registered complaints of abuse and torture with the ICHR. The PA Corrections and Rehabilitation Centers Department, under the authority of the Ministry of Interior, continued to maintain a mechanism for reviewing complaints of prisoner abuse in civil prisons. In 2019 HRW stated, “there have been no serious efforts to hold wrongdoers to account or any apparent change in policy or practice” by the PA or Hamas. As of 2019 the courts in Gaza had not convicted any prison employees for mistreatment of prisoners, and courts in the West Bank had convicted only one employee of mistreatment of prisoners and sentenced him to 10 days in prison, according to HRW.
In February the ICHR called for an investigation into the February 23 death in Gaza of Issam Ahmed al-Sa’afeen at al-Shifa Hospital after he was transferred from Hamas’s Internal Security Agency. According to family members, Hamas detained al-Sa’afeen on charges of communicating with the PA in Ramallah. The ICHR stated al-Sa’afeen’s family filed a complaint with the ICHR and that Hamas refused to allow the ICHR’s representative to visit the inmate. The ICHR stated there were indications al-Sa’afeen may have been tortured.
ISF arrested Samer al-Arbid, a Palestinian suspect in the August 2019 killing of Rina Shnerb near the settlement of Dolev in the West Bank, and placed him in solitary confinement and transferred him to an interrogation center in Jerusalem. Two days later he was admitted to a hospital unconscious and with serious injuries, including inability to breathe, kidney failure, and broken ribs. According to the NGO Public Committee against Torture in Israel (PCATI), the ISA used “exceptional measures” in interrogating al-Arbid, who was subsequently released from the hospital into an Israel Prison Service (IPS) medical facility, where his interrogation continued. The Ministry of Justice’s Inspector of Interrogee Complaints opened an investigation into the incident. After an investigation, the Advocate General closed the case claiming there was no basis to prove a crime was committed, according to the Israeli government.
PCATI reported that “special interrogation methods” used by Israeli security personnel against Palestinian security detainees in the West Bank included beatings, forcing an individual to hold a stress position for long periods, threats of rape and physical harm, painful pressure from shackles or restraints applied to the forearms, sleep deprivation, and threats against families of detainees. Female prisoners and detainees reported harassment and abuse in detention by ISF. According to PCATI there was no investigation into these complaints.
The NGO HaMoked alleged that Israeli detention practices in the West Bank included prolonged solitary confinement, lack of food, exposure to the elements, and threats to demolish family homes. Military Court Watch (MCW) and HaMoked claimed Israeli security services used these techniques to coerce confessions from minors arrested on suspicion of stone throwing or other acts of violence. According to the government of Israel, detainees receive the rights to which they are entitled in accordance with Israeli law and international treaties to which Israel is a party, and all allegations of abuse and mistreatment are taken seriously and investigated.
Some human rights groups alleged ISF used excessive force while detaining and arresting some Palestinians accused of committing crimes. On August 5, a Border Police officer shot Palestinian shepherd Abd al-Rahman Jabarah in the head at close range near the village of Salim outside the city of Nablus without prior warning after mistaking him for his brother who was suspected of stealing vehicles, according to media reports. Jabarah was in a coma for several weeks after the incident and is blind as a result of the shooting. The Department for Investigation of Police Officers was investigating the incident, according to the Israeli government.
Conditions in PA prisons and detention centers in the West Bank were reportedly poor, largely due to overcrowding and structural problems. Conditions of Hamas prisons in Gaza were reportedly poor, with overcrowding cited as a major problem. NGOs reported all prisons in the West Bank and Gaza lacked adequate facilities and specialized medical care for detainees and prisoners with disabilities.
Physical Conditions: PA prisons were crowded and lacked ventilation, heating, cooling, and lighting systems conforming to international standards. Authorities at times held male juveniles with adult male prisoners. Security services used separate detention facilities. Conditions for women were similar to those for men. The PA used several refurbished structures and buildings as prisons, some of which lacked necessary security accommodations.
Ayman al-Qadi died September 23 after an apparent suicide in a PA police station in Bethlehem while in pretrial detention for issuing bad checks. According to media reports, his family had requested he be released due to mental disabilities, but a state-ordered psychiatric exam had determined al-Qadi was not a risk to himself or others.
The ICHR called for an investigation into the August 31 death of Hassan Barakat at the al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza after his arrest in July. Barakat was transferred from a Hamas detention facility after suffering a stroke and brain hemorrhage, which required immediate surgery, prison authorities told his family.
In June the ICHR called on Hamas to take measures to prevent suicides in detention facilities after 19-year-old Moaz Ahmed Shukri Abu Amra committed suicide by hanging on May 29. The ICHR cited a lack of accountability after previous suicides as one of the main causes of their reoccurrence.
Administration: According to HRW, procedures designed to hold employees and administrators accountable in both PA and Hamas detention facilities rarely, if ever, led to consequences for serious abuses.
Independent Monitoring: In the West Bank, the PA permitted the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) access to detainees to assess treatment and conditions. The ICRC continued its regular visits to detention facilities, including interrogation centers, in accordance with its standard modalities, as in previous years. Human rights groups, humanitarian organizations, and lawyers indicated that, as in previous years, there were some difficulties in gaining access to specific detainees held by the PA, depending on which PA security organization managed the facility.
In Gaza, Hamas granted the ICRC access to detainees to assess treatment and conditions. The ICRC continued its regular visits to detention facilities, including interrogation centers, in accordance with its standard practices, as in previous years. Human rights organizations conducted monitoring visits with some prisoners in Gaza, but Hamas denied permission for representatives of these organizations to visit high-profile detainees and prisoners.
The Israeli government permitted visits by independent human rights observers to detention facilities it operated in the West Bank. NGOs sent representatives to meet with Palestinian prisoners–including those on hunger strikes–and inspect conditions in Israeli prisons, detention centers, and some ISF facilities. Palestinian families and human rights groups reported delays and difficulties in gaining access to specific detainees from Israeli authorities. They also reported transfers of detainees without notice and claimed Israeli authorities at times used transfer practices punitively against prisoners engaging in hunger strikes. During the COVID-19 pandemic, human rights groups reported that lawyers were at times barred from seeing their clients in Israeli military prisons due to coronavirus prevention measures.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
For further information on the treatment of Palestinians in Israeli prisons as well as prison conditions in Israel, see the Israel Country Report on Human Rights Practices.
The Palestinian Basic Law, operable in the West Bank and Gaza, prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court. There were reports the PA in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza did not observe these requirements.
Israeli law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court, and the government generally observed these requirements. Israeli authorities applied the same laws to all residents of Jerusalem, regardless of their Israeli citizenship status. NGOs and Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem alleged that Israeli security forces disproportionally devoted enforcement actions to Palestinian neighborhoods, particularly Issawiya, with higher numbers of temporary checkpoints and raids than in West Jerusalem. Palestinians also criticized Israeli police for devoting fewer resources on a per capita basis to regular crime and community policing in Palestinian neighborhoods. Israeli police did not maintain a permanent presence in areas of Jerusalem outside the barrier and only entered to conduct raids, according to NGOs.
Israel prosecutes Palestinian residents of the West Bank under military law and Israeli settlers in the West Bank under criminal and civil law. Israeli military law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention and provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in military court, with broad exceptions for security-related offenses. There were reports the IDF did not observe these requirements and employed administrative detention excessively.
PA law generally requires a warrant for arrest and provides for prompt judicial determination of the legality of detention. There are exceptions that allow for arrests by the PA without a warrant. PA law allows police to hold detainees for 24 hours if there is sufficient evidence to charge a suspect and for up to 45 days with court approval. PA law requires that a trial start within six months of the arrest or authorities must release the detainee. PA authorities generally informed detainees of the charges against them, albeit sometimes not until interrogation. Bail and conditional release were available at the discretion of judicial authorities. PA authorities granted detainees access to a lawyer. PA courts consistently afforded the right to counsel to indigents charged with felony offenses. Indigent defendants charged with misdemeanors often did not receive counsel, although NGO efforts to represent indigent juveniles and adults in misdemeanor cases were at times successful. Amnesty International and other NGOs reported that the PASF isolated some detainees from outside monitors, legal counsel, and family throughout the duration of interrogation, effectively holding them incommunicado. There were reports that prison administrators denied some detainees visits from family members.
The PA Military Intelligence Organization (PMI) operated without a service-specific mandate to investigate and arrest PA security force personnel and civilians suspected of “security offenses,” such as terrorism. The PMI conducted these activities in a manner consistent with the other PA security services.
In Gaza Hamas detained a large number of persons during the year without giving them recourse to legal counsel, judicial review, or bail. Hamas regularly referred cases to the Hamas-run military judiciary in violation of the Palestinian Basic Law. There were also instances in which Hamas retroactively issued arrest warrants for Gaza residents already in custody.
Israeli military law applies to Palestinians in the West Bank. Israeli authorities detained inside Israel more than 80 percent of Palestinian prisoners arrested by ISF in the West Bank. According to Israel Prison Service (IPS) figures obtained by MCW, as of September the monthly average number of Palestinian minors in Israeli detention during the year was down from 2019 and at the lowest since MCW began keeping records in 2008. Israeli authorities generally provided Palestinians held in Israeli military custody access to counsel, but detainees often obtained lawyers only after initial interrogations, according to NGOs. According to MCW, many Palestinian detainees saw their lawyer for the first time when they appeared before an Israeli military court. According to testimonies collected by MCW, only 20 percent of detained Palestinian minors saw a lawyer prior to interrogation, a slight decrease from 2019. In many cases, MCW reported, minors spoke with a lawyer very briefly by telephone; in some cases the telephone speaker was on with the interrogator in the room, preventing confidential attorney-client communications.
Israeli authorities stated their policy was to post notification of arrests within 48 hours, but senior officers could delay notification for up to 12 days. An Israeli military commander may request that a judge extend this period. MCW reported that Israeli authorities did not always inform Palestinian detainees of the reasons for arrest at the time of arrest.
Israeli authorities stated their policy was to provide written notification concerning the arrest to parents when they arrested a child at home; however, the NGOs claimed this occurred only in 19 percent of cases. Israeli military law does not require the presence of a parent or guardian during interrogations, according to the NGO Parents against Child Detention, while Israeli juvenile law does. According to HaMoked and media outlets, the IPS prohibited Palestinian minors from calling their parents for months upon their initial detention. In 2019 the IPS began a program to increase telephone access, but the lack of regular access persisted, according to HaMoked and Parents against Child Detention.
Under Israeli military law, minors ages 16 and 17 may be held for 72 hours before seeing a judge. The law mandates audiovisual recording of all interrogations of minors in the West Bank but limits this requirement to non-security-related offenses. Some NGOs expressed concern that ISF entered Palestinian homes at night to arrest or photograph minors. HaMoked petitioned the Israeli High Court of Justice to demand the Israeli military issue summonses to minors wanted for questioning rather than employ night raids, which HaMoked stated had become the default method for arresting Palestinian minors.
MCW stated data from more than 450 MCW detainee testimonials collected between 2016 and 2020 showed widespread physical mistreatment by Israeli authorities of Palestinian minors detained in the West Bank. MCW reported that the majority of minors were arrested in night raids and reported ISF used physical abuse, strip searches, threats of violence, hand ties, and blindfolds. In 2019, in response to a petition to the Supreme Court regarding the blindfolding of detainees, the state prosecution clarified that “military orders and regulations forbid the blindfolding of detainees, and action to clarify the rules to the troops acting in the region has been taken and will continue to be taken on a continuous basis.” The government of Israel stated this policy applies to all detainees and blindfolds are only to be used as a rare exception. As of October, the MCW reported, more than 90 percent of minors arrested during the year reported the use of blindfolds upon arrest. Israeli military prosecutors most commonly charge Palestinian minors with stone throwing, according to MCW.
Israeli military law defines security offenses to include any offense committed under circumstances that might raise a suspicion of harm to Israel’s security and that ISF believes may link to terrorist activity. Under military law, the IPS may hold adults suspected of a security offense for four days prior to bringing them before a judge, with exceptions that allow the IPS to detain a suspect for up to eight days prior to bringing the suspect before the senior judge of a district court. Suspects between ages 12 and 14 may be held up to one day, with a possible one-day extension. Those between ages 14 and 16 may be held up to two days, with a possible two-day extension. Those between ages 16 and 18 may be held up to four days, with a possible four-day extension.
Under military law, Israeli authorities may hold adults suspected of a security offense for 20 days prior to an indictment, with the possibility of additional 15-day extensions up to 75 days. An Israeli military appeals court may then extend the detention up to 90 days at a time. Prior to an indictment on a security offense, authorities may hold minors for 15 days, with the possibility of 10-day extensions up to 40 days. An Israeli military appeals court may then extend the detention up to 90 days at a time. Israeli authorities granted or denied bail to Palestinians detained for security offenses based on the circumstances of each case, such as the severity of the alleged offense, status as a minor, risk of escape, or other factors, but in most cases bail was denied.
The Illegal Combatant Law permits Israeli authorities to hold a detainee for 14 days before review by a district court judge, deny access to counsel for up to 21 days with the attorney general’s approval, and allow indefinite detention subject to twice-yearly district court reviews and appeals to Israel’s Supreme Court.
The Emergency Powers Law allows the Israeli Ministry of Defense to detain persons administratively without charge for up to six months, renewable indefinitely.
Human rights groups such as the PCHR reported families of imprisoned Palestinians, particularly Gazans, had limited ability to visit prisoners detained inside Israel due to the difficulty of obtaining permits to enter Israel.
Arbitrary Arrest: According to the ICHR and HRW, the PA in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza made arbitrary arrests based on political affiliation. The PA arrested individuals from areas known to support PA President Abbas’s exiled Fatah rival Muhammad Dahlan, according to HRW. In many cases detainees were held without formal charges or proper procedures. Hamas claimed that the PA detained individuals during the year solely due to their Hamas affiliation. The PA stated it charged many of these individuals with criminal offenses under PA civil or military codes. Regarding the PA, the ICHR reported receiving 174 complaints of arbitrary arrest and 72 complaints of detention without trial or charges. Regarding Hamas, the ICHR reported receiving 137 complaints of arbitrary arrest.
On September 21, the PASF arrested several supporters of Mohammad Dahlan, the former Fatah security chief whom many see as President Abbas’s main rival for the presidency, according to media reports. Among those arrested in a reported crackdown on the so-called Dahlanist faction included senior Fatah official General Salim Safiyya and Fatah Revolutionary Council member Haytham al-Halabi. A spokesperson for the Democratic Reformist Current party headed by Dahlan said the PASF arrested dozens of its members for political reasons.
From June 12-14, Hamas arrested at least nine Fatah party members who on June 11 gathered for a memorial service for a Fatah party member who died in 2007, according to al-Mezan and the PCHR.
Also in Gaza, Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) militants kidnapped a number of Gazans critical of PIJ, according to media. Hamas stated it was investigating the kidnappings. On October 15, approximately 15 PIJ members raided al-Ansar Mosque in Khan Younis in Gaza, beat and abducted three other PIJ members, and took them to a PIJ site where they were beaten further before being released, according to media reports. PIJ later released a statement denouncing the incident and apologizing to the worshippers at the mosque.
There were numerous reports that the PA and Hamas improperly detained Palestinian journalists and arrested Palestinians who posted online criticism of the PA (in the West Bank) or Hamas (in Gaza).
Hamas practiced widespread arbitrary detention in Gaza, particularly of civil society activists, Fatah members, journalists, and those accused of publicly criticizing Hamas. Hamas also targeted persons suspected of ties to Israel for arbitrary detention.
On April 9, Hamas security forces detained Rami Aman and a number of his associates, members of a group called the Gaza Youth Committee, for taking part in an April 6 videoconference call with Israelis, according to NGOs and media reports. On September 23, a Gaza military court charged three of those arrested, including Rami Aman, under Article 153 of the Revolutionary Penal Code of 1979, which prohibits “recruiting oneself and others to serve the enemy.” A Hamas spokesperson stated conviction of “holding any activity or any contact with the Israeli occupation under any cover is a crime punishable by law and is treason to our people and their sacrifices.” On October 26, a Hamas military court convicted Rami Aman and two of his associates of “weakening revolutionary spirit” and ordered the release of the two remaining detainees, including Aman, on time already served.
In July, Hamas arrested three men at the Shohada’ graveyard in Beit Lahia after their participation in the funeral of Suleiman al-Ajjouri, who had committed suicide, according to the al-Mezan. Separately, Hamas briefly arrested two journalists at the same graveyard while they were preparing a report regarding al-Ajjouri; Hamas investigated them before releasing them the same day. Additionally, Hamas arrested four others after they attended al-Ajjouri’s wake and issued them summonses to appear, according to al-Mezan. Some of those arrested and later released said police physically assaulted them, interrogated them concerning their social media activities and involvement in peaceful protests, and confiscated their cellphones.
According to human rights NGOs, including B’Tselem, and HaMoked, throughout the year there were reports that Israeli security forces in the West Bank arbitrarily arrested and detained Palestinian protesters and activists, particularly those participating in demonstrations against demolitions or against killings of Palestinians.
Pretrial Detention: It was unclear how many Palestinians were held in pretrial detention in West Bank and Gaza prisons, but there were widespread reports of PA and Hamas detention without charge or trial. PA authorities held some prisoners detained by order of Palestinian governors in lengthy pretrial detention, according to complaints received by the ICHR. Some PA security forces reportedly detained Palestinians outside appropriate legal procedures, including without warrants and without bringing them before judicial authorities within the required time.
Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Palestinian detainees faced barriers to their ability to challenge in court the legal basis or nature of their detention and to obtain prompt release and compensation if found to have been unlawfully detained. Detainees held in PA custody faced delays in the enforcement of court rulings regarding their detention, especially regarding the PA’s obligation to release suspects who have met bail.
Palestinians held by Israeli military authorities in administrative detention have no right to trial and may only challenge their detention before a military court judge. In cases in which the evidence substantiating the charges against a detainee is classified, the detainee has no means of examining the evidence (nor, in some cases, to examine the charges) to challenge the detention.
Civil society organizations and some members of the Knesset continued to criticize the Israeli government for using administrative detention excessively, adding that the practice was undemocratic since there was no due process. As of October, Israel was holding more than 300 Palestinians in administrative detention, according to the NGO Physicians for Human Rights Israel. In its 2017 submission regarding compliance with the UN Convention against Torture, Israel asserted it issued administrative detention orders “as a preventive measure where there is a reasonable basis to believe that the detention is absolutely necessary for clear security purposes. Administrative detention is not employed where the security risk may be addressed by other legal alternatives, especially criminal prosecution.” The government further emphasized the role of military judges in reviewing administrative detention orders.
On July 27, ISF arrested Maher al-Akhras and held him in administrative detention, according to multiple media reports. Al-Akhras began a hunger strike the same day to protest his detention without charges. ISF alleged he was a member of Islamic Jihad. According to media reports, al-Akhras ended his strike after 103 days and on November 26, was released.
The PA basic law provides for an independent judiciary. According to the ICHR, the PA judicial system was subject to pressure from the security agencies and the executive, undermining judicial performance and independence. PA authorities did not always execute court orders.
In 2019 President Abbas issued a decree dissolving the existing High Judicial Council and establishing a transitional council, which was extended through the end of the year. The council consists of seven members, with the president appointing the chief judge and the deputy. The Palestinian Bar Association has critiqued this arrangement as undue executive influence over the judiciary. The transitional council also includes the attorney general and the undersecretary of the Ministry of Justice. The council oversees the judicial system and nominates judges for positions throughout the PA judiciary for approval by the president.
Palestinians have the right to file suits against the PA but rarely did so. Seldom-used administrative remedies are available in addition to judicial remedies.
In Gaza Hamas did not respect fair trial provisions or provide access to family and legal counsel to many detainees. Hamas-appointed prosecutors and judges operated de facto courts, which the PA considered illegal. Gaza residents may file civil suits. Rights groups reported Hamas internal security agencies regularly tried civil cases in military courts.
Israeli civil law provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected Israeli civil courts’ independence and impartiality. The Israeli government tried Palestinian residents of the West Bank accused of security offenses in Israeli military courts.
On January 12, an Israeli military court acquitted human rights activist Mohammed Khatib of all charges stemming from his arrest at a demonstration in 2015 at which he was alleged to have assaulted a soldier, disrupted a soldier, and participated in an unlicensed march, according to human rights groups and media reports. In October 2019, his defense presented a video taken at the demonstration, which directly contradicted the allegations against him, according to media reports. The court only agreed to acquit on the condition Khatib not take legal action against the court for his wrongful arrest; a stipulation considered illegal under the Israeli legal system, according to rights groups.
In November the United Nations expressed concern that Israeli authorities continued to hold World Vision employee Mohammed Halabi on charges of providing material support to Hamas, after four years of investigation and trial. The case continued at year’s end.
PA law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, and the judiciary generally enforced this right in the West Bank. Trials are public, except when the court determines PA security, foreign relations, a party’s or witness’s right to privacy, protection of a victim of a sexual offense, or an alleged “honor crime” requires privacy. If a court orders a session closed, the decision may be appealed to a higher PA court. Defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence and the right to prompt and detailed information regarding the charges, with free interpretation as necessary, from the moment charged through all appeals. Amnesty International reported that PA political and judicial authorities sometimes failed to adhere to basic due process rights, including promptly charging suspects. PA law provides for legal representation, at public expense if necessary, in felony cases during the trial phase. Defendants have the right to be present and to consult with an attorney in a timely manner during the trial, although during the investigation phase, the defendant only has the right to observe. Defendants have the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. Suspects and defendants in the PA justice system have a right to remain silent when interrogated by the prosecutor, according to the law. Defendants also have a legal right to counsel during interrogation and trial. They have the right to appeal. PA authorities generally observed these rights.
Hamas in Gaza followed the same criminal procedure law as the PA in the West Bank but implemented the procedures inconsistently.
Israeli authorities tried Israelis living in West Bank settlements under Israeli civil law in the nearest Israeli district court. Israeli authorities tried Palestinians in the West Bank in Israeli military courts. The same evidentiary rules used in Israeli criminal cases apply in both Israeli military and civilian proceedings; for example, Israeli authorities may not base convictions solely on confessions. Indigent detainees do not automatically receive free legal counsel for military trials, but almost all detainees had counsel, in part because NGOs funded their representation.
Israeli military courts are conducted in Hebrew, but Palestinian defendants have the right to simultaneous interpretation at every hearing. Some human rights organizations claimed the availability and quality of Arabic interpretation was insufficient. Israeli authorities stated interrogations of Palestinians took place only in Arabic and that authorities submitted no indictments based solely on a confession written in Hebrew. MCW claimed that the majority of detained Palestinian minors were shown or made to sign documentation written in Hebrew, a language most Palestinian minors could not read, at the conclusion of their interrogation. Defendants may appeal through the Military Court of Appeals and petition Israel’s High Court of Justice (HCJ). According to NGO reports, Israeli military courts rarely acquitted Palestinians charged with security offenses although they occasionally reduced sentences on appeal.
Some lawyers who defended Palestinians in Israeli courts argued that the structure of military trials–which take place in Israeli military facilities with Israeli military officers as judges, prosecutors, and court officials, and with tight security restrictions–limited Palestinian defendants’ rights to public trial and access to counsel.
NGOs reported the PASF arrested Palestinians for political reasons in the West Bank. There was no reliable estimate of the number of political prisoners the PA held in the West Bank. In 2019 there were reports Palestinian security forces arrested, intimidated, and tortured Palestinians following their participation in an international conference in Bahrain. Other sources reported that the PA was targeting the individuals for criminal behavior. Some of these individuals, labeled “collaborators” for working with or engaging with Israelis on political initiatives the PA did not support, reported direct and indirect threats of violence from Fatah, members of Fatah’s Tanzim, Hamas, and other groups, some with possible ties to the PA. They reported damage to personal property and businesses. There were reports that the families of those targeted were pressured to disown them, which would decrease risks for attackers to injure or kill them, and that they and their family members were denied medical treatment in PA health facilities, which allegedly contributed to greater health complications including death.
In Gaza Hamas detained thousands of Palestinians due to political affiliation, public criticism of Hamas, or suspected collaboration with Israel, and held them for varying periods, according to rights groups. Hamas alleged that it arrested Fatah members on criminal, rather than political charges, although many of the arrests occurred after Fatah anniversary celebrations in Gaza that Hamas would not sanction. Hamas detained some Fatah members after their participation in protests or social media activity pertaining to the 14th anniversary of the Fatah-Hamas split, according to the PCHR. Observers associated numerous allegations of denial of due process with these detentions. NGOs had limited access to these prisoners.
Some human rights organizations claimed Palestinian security prisoners held in Israel were political prisoners. The Israeli government described security prisoners as those convicted or suspected of “nationalistically motivated violence.”
A Palestinian resident of the West Bank may file suit against the PA, including on alleged abuses of human rights, but this was uncommon.
A Palestinian resident of Gaza may file suit against Hamas, including on alleged abuses of human rights, but this was also uncommon.
Palestinian residents of the West Bank may file suit against the government of Israel. Residents of Gaza are not able to seek redress or compensation from the Israeli government for damage to property or bodily harm due to Gaza’s classification as an “enemy territory” under the Civil Wrongs (State Liability) Law.
Israel has an independent and impartial judiciary that adjudicates lawsuits seeking damages for, or cessation of, human rights violations. Administrative remedies exist, and court orders usually were enforced. Palestinian residents of Jerusalem may file suit against the government of Israel under the same rules that govern access to judicial and administrative remedies by Israel citizens. By law nonresident Palestinians may file suit in civil courts to obtain compensation in some cases, even when a criminal suit is unsuccessful and the actions against them are considered legal.
The Israeli government conducted multiple demolitions of Palestinian property in the West Bank, including in Areas A and B, for lack of Israeli-issued permits, construction in areas designated for Israeli military use, location of structures within the barrier’s buffer zone, and as punishment for terrorist attacks. Several Israeli and Palestinian human rights groups and the United Nations claim punitive demolitions are a form of collective punishment that violates the Fourth Geneva Convention. Some human rights NGOs claimed that Israeli authorities often placed insurmountable obstacles against Palestinian applicants for construction permits in Israeli-controlled Area C. Obstacles include the requirement that Palestinian applicants document land ownership despite the absence of a uniform post-1967 land registration process, high application fees, and requirements to connect housing to often unavailable municipal infrastructure. Israeli authorities charged demolition fees for demolishing a home, according to the United Nations, which at times prompted Palestinians to destroy their own homes to avoid the higher costs associated with Israeli demolition.
In the majority of West Bank demolitions, the Civil Administration, a part of Israel’s Ministry of Defense, initially presents a stop-work order, which gives the property owner 30 days to submit an appeal to the Civil Administration and also apply for a retroactive permit. If neither is successful, the Civil Administration will issue a demolition order to be executed within two to four weeks, during which time the property owner may petition an Israeli court for an injunction to stop the demolition.
In the West Bank, Israeli authorities, including the Civil Administration and the Ministry of the Interior, demolished 673 Palestinian structures, a 61 percent increase from 2019, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (UNOCHA). The demolitions included 116 inhabited residences, displacing 605 persons, including 315 minors, according to the United Nations. The demolished structures included homes, water cisterns, farm buildings, storehouses, and other structures, more than 98 percent of which were demolished on the basis that they lacked construction permits. Several rights groups, including B’Tselem and HRW, and the United Nations stated the Israeli government rarely approved Palestinian construction permit requests. From 2016 to 2018, the Civil Administration approved only 56 Palestinian construction permits in Area C out of 1,485 filed (3.7 percent), according to the Israeli government’s response to a freedom of information request from the NGO Bimkom. During the same period, the Civil Administration issued 2,147 demolition orders for Palestinian structures in Area C, according to Bimkom.
On November 3, the Civil Administration demolished structures, including residences, belonging to 11 families totaling 74 persons, most of whom were minors, in Khirbet Humsah, according to media reports. It was the largest single-day demolition in more than 10 years, according to media reports and the UN. According to the Israeli government, these families and others in the Jordan Valley live in a declared military firing zone and are sometimes evacuated for their safety following relevant regulations.
The Palestinian Bedouin community Khan al-Ahmar, slated for Israeli demolition since 2009 due to a lack of building permits and proof of land ownership, remained standing at year’s end. On November 2, in response to a petition from the NGO Regavim, the Israeli government stated demolitions should be delayed during the coronavirus outbreak and that Khan al-Ahmar would not be demolished in the following four months. Approximately 170 residents live in the community, in an area adjacent to a highway, with unpermitted, makeshift electrical and water connections. In 2018, after nearly 10 years of litigation, the HCJ ruled that the Civil Administration’s demolition orders against the structures in Khan al-Ahmar were valid, which provided the Civil Administration legal justification to demolish the village. Residents were not able to receive permits, as the Israeli government has not approved a master plan for the area.
While all West Bank demolitions are authorized under military orders, the Civil Administration used two particular military orders to impede Palestinians’ ability to challenge demolitions, according to the United Nations, several Israeli and Palestinian rights groups, and Israeli and Palestinian lawyers familiar with cases in which the orders were used. Under one of these military orders, the Civil Administration is authorized to demolish a newly built structure as soon as 96 hours after issuing a demolition order. During the 12-month period ending May 31, the Civil Administration used this order to demolish 47 structures, according to the United Nations.
In August the Israeli government amended a second military order, which allows for the immediate demolition or confiscation of any mobile structures to include any structures built within 90 days. The order originally allowed for the immediate removal of mobile structures within 30 days of construction. Rights groups stated the Civil Administration broadly translated the order to demolish animal pens and other structures and to confiscate building materials and vehicles. On November 3, the Civil Administration confiscated nine tractors, five utility trailers, and two cars from a village in the Jordan Valley, according to B’Tselem. Several rights groups, including Bimkom and St. Yves, stated the Israeli government is increasingly utilizing these military orders. According to the Israeli government, all land ownership cases are assessed individually by an administrative committee, which is subject to judicial review, and decisions are made according to the evidence provided.
Israel’s Civil Administration conducted punitive demolitions on structures belonging to Palestinians who carried out or allegedly carried out attacks on Israelis, according to human rights groups and media reports. The Israeli government stated such demolitions had a deterrent effect on potential assailants. NGOs, such as Amnesty International, HRW, and several Palestinian and Israeli NGOs, widely criticized punitive demolitions and stated the actions sometimes rendered nearby structures uninhabitable.
Israeli authorities executed punitive demolitions on five residences and two water cisterns and sealed one residence, displacing 33 Palestinians, including 14 minors, according to the United Nations. Some punitive demolitions and sealings of rooms occurred before or during the trial of the alleged attacker, rather than after a verdict had been reached, according to media reports. On October 21, the IDF filled with concrete the room of Nizmi Abu Bakar, the alleged killer of IDF soldier Amit Ben Yigal, after the High Court of Justice blocked the IDF’s plan to demolish the entire third floor apartment, according to media reports. The High Court stated the entire apartment could not be destroyed because Abu Bakar’s family members were unaware of and uninvolved in his alleged crime.
Israeli civil authorities ordered demolition of some private property in East Jerusalem, stating the structures were built without permits. B’Tselem reported that authorities demolished 121 housing units in East Jerusalem, and owners had self-demolished 81 units to avoid additional fines by the end of the year. This represented a decrease of 28 percent and an increase of 92 percent, respectively, with the number of self-demolitions the highest since B’Tselem began recording data in 2008. Legal experts pointed to the Kaminitz Law, which reduced administrative processing times for demolitions and increased administrative fines for those failing to demolish their own buildings, as a key factor in the increased number of demolitions in East Jerusalem. There were credible claims that municipal authorities in Jerusalem often placed insurmountable obstacles against Palestinian residents who applied for construction permits, including failure to incorporate community needs into zoning decisions, the requirement that they document land ownership despite the absence of a uniform post-1967 land registration process, the imposition of high application fees, and requirements to connect housing to municipal infrastructure that was often unavailable.
In addition NGOs asserted that there was a continuing policy intended to limit construction to prevent the creation or maintenance of contiguous neighborhoods between the West Bank and Jerusalem. Israeli official policy was to maintain an ethnic balance between Jews and non-Jews in Jerusalem, according to civil society and official reports. The Israeli MFA said that the Jerusalem Municipality did not have any such policy. Israeli law no longer prevents non-Jews from purchasing housing units, although cultural, religious, and economic barriers remain to integrated neighborhoods, according to civil society representatives.
According to the Israeli government, all land ownership cases are assessed individually by an administrative committee, which is subject to judicial review.
According to Ir Amim and B’Tselem, discrimination is a factor in resolving disputes regarding land titles acquired before 1948. The law facilitates the resolution of claims by Jewish owners to land owned in East Jerusalem prior to 1948 but does not provide an equal opportunity for Palestinian claimants to land they owned in West Jerusalem or elsewhere in the British Mandate. Additionally, some Jewish and Palestinian landowners in Jerusalem were offered compensation by Israel for property lost prior to 1948. Civil society reports noted that many Palestinian landowners were deemed ineligible for compensation because they had to be residents of Jerusalem as of 1973. Other Palestinian landowners refused to accept compensation because they deemed it to be inadequate or in principle due to their rejection of Israeli administration. Jordanian authorities between 1948 and 1967 housed Palestinians in some property that was reclaimed by Jewish owners after Israel occupied East Jerusalem in 1967. Legal disputes continued regarding many of these properties involving Palestinian residents, who have some protection as tenants under Israeli law.
The 2020 Department of State’s Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today (JUST) Act Report to Congress is available on the Department’s website: https://www.state.gov/reports/just-act-report-to-congress.
The PA law generally requires the PA attorney general to issue warrants for entry into and searches of private property; however, PA judicial officers may enter Palestinian houses without a warrant in case of emergency. NGOs reported it was common for the PA to harass family members for alleged offenses committed by an individual. Although the Oslo Accords authorize the PASF to operate only in Area A of the West Bank, at times they operated in Area B without Israeli authorization, including to harass or search the homes of individuals sought for political activity.
In Gaza Hamas frequently interfered arbitrarily with personal privacy, family, and home, according to reporting from local media and NGO sources. There were reports Hamas searched homes and seized property without warrants, and took control of hotels to use as quarantine facilities unlawfully and without compensation to the owners. They targeted critics of their policies, journalists, Fatah loyalists, civil society members, youth activists, and those whom Hamas security forces accused of criminal activity. Hamas forces monitored private communications systems, including telephones, email, and social media sites. They demanded passwords and access to personal information, and seized personal electronic equipment of detainees. While Hamas membership was not a prerequisite for obtaining housing, education, or Hamas-provided services in Gaza, authorities commonly reserved employment in some government positions, such as those in the security services, for Hamas members. In several instances Hamas detained individuals for interrogation and harassment, particularly prodemocracy youth activists, based on the purported actions of their family members.
In response to reported security threats, ISF frequently raided Palestinian homes, including in areas designated as under PA security control by Oslo Accords-era agreements, according to media and PA officials. These raids often took place at night, which ISF stated was due to operational necessity. Only ISF officers of lieutenant colonel rank and above may authorize entry into Palestinian private homes and institutions in the West Bank without a warrant, based upon military necessity. Israel’s Settlement Affairs Ministry published criteria for regional councils of Israeli settlers in the West Bank to apply for Israeli government funding for private drones and patrol units to monitor Palestinian building efforts, according to media reports. In recent years some Israeli settlements reportedly used drones for security purposes.
According to B’Tselem, the Israeli military compelled various communities throughout the Jordan Valley to vacate their homes in areas Israel has declared firing zones during times when the IDF was conducting military exercises.
The 2003 Israeli Law of Citizenship and Entry, which is renewed annually, prohibits Palestinians from the West Bank or Gaza, Iranians, Iraqis, Syrians, and Lebanese, including those who are Palestinian spouses of Israeli residents or citizens, from obtaining resident status unless the Ministry of the Interior makes a special determination, usually on humanitarian grounds. The government has extended the law annually due to government reports that Palestinian family reunification allows entry to a disproportionate number of persons who are later involved in acts of terrorism. HaMoked asserted that statistics from government documents obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests contradicted these terrorism allegations, and the denial of residency to Palestinians from the West Bank or Gaza for the purposes of family reunification led to cases of family separation.
According to 2018 HaMoked reports, there were approximately 10,000 Palestinians from the West Bank or Gaza living in Israel, including Jerusalem, on temporary stay permits because of the law, with no legal stipulation that they would be able to continue living with their families. There were also cases of Palestinian spouses living in East Jerusalem without legal status. Authorities did not permit Palestinians who were abroad during the 1967 war or whose residency permits the government subsequently withdrew to reside permanently in Jerusalem. Amnesty International and other human rights organizations called on the government to repeal this law and resume processing family unification applications. The law allows the entry of spouses of Israelis on a “staying permit” if the male spouse is age 35 or older and the female spouse is age 25 or older, for children up to age 14, and a special permit to children ages 14-18, but they may not receive residency and have no path to citizenship. According to the Israeli MFA, the Population & Immigration Authority received 886 family unification requests from East Jerusalem in 2020, and 616 in 2019. Of these 256 were in approved and 540 are pending from 2020, while 373 were approved and 41 pending from 2019.
Israeli authorities froze family unification proceedings for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza in 2000. In 2019 the Israeli High Court of Justice rejected all 18 of HaMoked’s family unification petitions, stating that the petitions had been filed too late because they referred to old family unification cases. According to HaMoked, many of the petitioners were foreign nationals who had been living in the West Bank for 10-15 years with only visitor permits, who applied for family unification when they first arrived, and who never received an answer. HaMoked stated the Palestinian Liaison Offices typically refuse to accept family unification requests because Israel refuses to review family unification requests submitted in the West Bank. In 2019, individuals from the West Bank and Gaza submitted 1,048 family unification applications, 584 of which were approved and 201 of which are pending, according to the Israeli government. In 2020, individuals from the West Bank and Gaza submitted 1,191 family unification applications, 340 of which were approved and 740 of which are pending, according to the Israeli government.
HaMoked stated there were likely thousands of foreign spouses living in the West Bank with their Palestinian partners, and often children, with only temporary tourist visas, a living situation that became more complicated under COVID-19 with the frequent closures of Allenby Bridge. HaMoked stated because these individuals used the Allenby Bridge to enter and depart the West Bank, the bridge’s closure left them with the choice of either potentially overstaying their visa or attempting to travel through Ben Gurion airport, which they are not permitted to do. HaMoked claimed the military’s refusal to review requests of foreign citizens for family unification is contrary to Israeli law and to Israeli-Palestinian interim Oslo Accords-era agreements. HaMoked stated the IDF rejected family unification requests based on a broad policy and not on the facts of the individual cases brought before it. As such, HaMoken stated, the practice does not appropriately balance relevant security needs and the right of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza–whom HaMoked stated were protected persons under international humanitarian law–to family life.
Israeli authorities reportedly permitted children in Gaza access to a parent in the West Bank only if no other close relative was resident in Gaza. Israeli authorities did not permit Palestinians abroad during the 1967 War or whose residency permits the Israeli government subsequently withdrew to reside permanently in the West Bank or Gaza.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
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. Notably, Palestinian activists complained of narrowing space for political discussion, with arrests of Fatah party opponents in the West Bank. Other Palestinian activists, especially anticorruption campaigners, complained that the emergency orders put in place to address COVID-19 were abused by the PASF to arrest preemptively 19 activists before they could begin protesting at an intended rally in July.
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.
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. 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 investigated any allegations of mistreatment of journalists.
Freedom of Speech: 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 August 19, the Preventive Security Organization arrested journalist, film director, and television producer Abdel Rahman Thaher for allegedly criticizing the PA on his Facebook page, according to his lawyer and media reports. He was released on bail on September 21. On October 27, ISF arrested Thaher at his home in Nablus, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. On November 24, ISF released him and Thaher claimed he was arrested because of his international media activities, according to media reports.
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.
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 arrested, interrogated, seized property from, and harassed Palestinians who publicly criticized Hamas. 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. On May 11, Hamas arrested independent journalist Yousef Hassan after he released an investigative report on alleged corruption and extortion related to aid distribution, according to the ICHR. He was released after four days. On May 27, the PIJ abducted him for the same report and the following day handed him to Hamas Internal Security authorities, who released him. The ICHR stated the abduction violates Article 11 of the Palestinian Basic Law, which prohibits detaining, detaining, or restricting the freedom of anyone except by judicial order.
Freedom of 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 allowed Israeli reporters to cover events in the West Bank, at times Palestinian journalists reportedly pressured Israeli journalists not to attend PA events.
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.
Hamas arrested, detained, and interrogated several journalists throughout the year for reporting on suicides in Gaza, according to media reports. For example, on July 11, Hamas arrested journalist Osama al-Kahlout on charges of encouraging a man to commit suicide after al-Kahlout posted on social media a photo of a young man asking for help and threatening to take his own life. Other journalists said the charge was an attempt to distract attention from a spate of suicides that they alleged was a source of embarrassment for Hamas, according to NGOs and media reports.
In April, Hamas arrested Palestine TV (which is PA-owned) reporter Mohammed Abu Hatab and photographer Mohammed Nassar at the Jabalia camp in northern Gaza for lacking an official permit to film there. Hamas also confiscated their equipment, according to the ICHR. Authorities released them two hours later, returned their confiscated equipment, and made them sign a pledge always to obtain an official permit before filming.
On July 15, Hamas banned Saudi-owned media outlets al-Arabiya and al-Hadath, accusing them of “deceit,” publishing “fabricated information,” and “spreading rumors and lies.” In a July 12 report, al-Arabiya alleged Hamas arrested several Hamas members for collaborating with Israel and a Hamas military commander had fled to Israel. The Palestinian journalists union and Reporters without Borders called for the ban’s reversal.
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. ISF did 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. For example, on October 1, ISF arrested journalist Tareq Abu Zeid at his home in Nablus, according to media reports and the Committee to Protect Journalists. Abu Zeid’s wife said Israeli soldiers blew up their front door at 3 a.m. and took her husband, his cell phone, and computers without explaining why he was being arrested.
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. For example, on May 15, PA police at a checkpoint stopped, assaulted, and arrested Anas Hawari, a journalist for 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. On May 21, police 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.
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.
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.
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 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 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 June the Journalists’ Support Committee, a nonprofit journalist advocacy organization, stated Israeli security forces committed more than 50 human rights violations against Palestinian journalists working in Jerusalem in the first half of the year, including arrests and expulsions from the city. In May, then Israeli public security minister Gilad Erdan extended for six months the closure order against Palestine TV’s East Jerusalem office, according to media reports. In November 2019 Erdan first ordered the closure when Israeli police raided the office.
Israeli police officers detained, used violence against, and confiscated equipment of journalists during demonstrations in Jerusalem. On June 8, police officers hit, shoved to the floor, and then detained Haaretz photojournalist Tomer Appelbaum at the end of a demonstration against the extension of Israeli sovereignty to the West Bank. Witnesses indicated that Appelbaum was clearly identified as a journalist; however, police stated they did not notice his press credentials until after the incident.
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 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 the media sources 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. 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.
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: There were some accusations of slander or libel against journalists and activists in the West Bank and Gaza.
According to Human Rights Defenders Fund, Israeli individuals and right-wing NGOs used defamation lawsuits to discourage public criticism of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank. For example, on July 13, the Samaria Regional Council sued former Member of the Knesset and the 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 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.
Internet was generally accessible throughout the West Bank and Gaza. Frequent power outages in Gaza interrupted accessibility. According to HRW, between January 2018 and March 2019, both the PA and Hamas arrested dozens of persons for their social media posts and brought charges of “harming revolutionary unity” and “misuse of technology.”
The PA actively monitored social media to pressure and harass activists and journalists. There were instances when the PA arrested or detained Palestinians because of their posts on social media. In 2018 the PA arrested and brought to trial Palestinian human rights activist Issa Amro for a social media post critical of the PA’s arrest of a Palestinian journalist, according to media reports. Amro’s trial continued at year’s end. Amro was also subject to legal action by Israeli authorities (see Freedom of Peaceful Assembly).
Gaza-based Palestinian civil society organizations and social media practitioners stated Hamas authorities monitored the internet activities of Gaza residents and took action to intimidate or harass them. On September 1, local media reported that the Hamas authorities arrested a Gazan youth after he posted allegations on Facebook claiming Hamas distributed COVID-19-related food donations and financial aid to its affiliates and excluded others. The youth was released the next day.
The PA did not restrict academic freedom in the West Bank, and there were no known reports of PA censorship of school curricula, plays, films, or exhibits. Palestinian law provides for academic freedom, but individuals or officials from academic institutions reportedly self-censored curricula. Faculty members reported PA security agents were present on university campuses among the student body and faculty members, which may have contributed to self-censorship. NGOs claimed that authorities closely monitored criticism of the PA by university students and professors.
Public schools as well as UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) schools in Gaza followed the same curriculum as West Bank schools. Palestinians in Gaza reported substantially decreased interference by Hamas in public schools at the primary, secondary, and university levels due to COVID-19 related school closures and a focus on online schooling.
Students and faculty from Gaza participating in certain cultural and education programs (including programs sponsored by foreign governments and international organizations) faced questioning from Hamas, according to the ICHR.
Israeli restrictions on movement (see section 2.d.) adversely affected academic institutions and access to education and cultural activities for Palestinians. As of October 9, a total of 52 Palestinian schools in Area C were under pending demolition or stop-work orders, according to the PA Ministry of Education.
Israeli civil law prohibits institutions that receive government funding from engaging in commemoration of the “Nakba,” or “catastrophe,” the term used by Palestinians to refer to the displacement of Palestinians during Israel’s 1948 War of Independence. Activities forbidden by the law include rejecting the existence of Israel as a “Jewish and democratic state” or commemorating “Israel’s Independence Day or the day on which the State was established as a day of mourning.”
Israeli authorities provided an edited version of the Palestinian Authority curriculum that deleted certain information on Palestinian history and culture to schools in neighborhoods in East Jerusalem. Israeli authorities sought to tie funding for those schools to the use of Israeli curriculum. Some Palestinians expressed concern at what they perceived as Israeli efforts to impose Israeli views on these students. Others welcomed the Israeli curriculum, and the additional resources associated with it, as better preparing students in Jerusalem to work in the Israeli workforce, compared to lower paying employment in PA-controlled areas in the West Bank or in manual labor and low-wage sectors in Israel.
The Israeli government maintained prohibitions on some prominent Jerusalem-based Palestinian institutions, such as the Jerusalem Chamber of Commerce and the Orient House, which had been the de facto Palestine Liberation Organization office. The government renewed a closure order for these and other institutions under a 1994 law passed after the Oslo Accords that requires the PA to obtain Israeli permission to open a representative office or hold a meeting in areas Israel recognizes as under its sovereignty. The government likewise continued to shut down Palestinian institutions and cultural events in Jerusalem that the government stated had PA participation or support, incited violence against Israel, or had anti-Israel or other objectionable content. Israeli authorities said they would also detain and ban PA-affiliated officials in Jerusalem from conducting PA-related activities. According to Haaretz, the Ministry of Public Security approved dozens of such orders during the year. PA officials publicly point to the 1993 letter sent by then Israeli foreign minister Shimon Peres to his Norwegian counterpart Johan Holst as proof of an agreement to allow Palestinian institutions and activities in East Jerusalem.
Authorities in the West Bank and Gaza limited and restricted Palestinian residents’ freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.
PA law permits public meetings, processions, and assemblies within legal limits. The law requires permits for rallies, demonstrations, and large cultural events. Both the PA and Hamas security forces selectively restricted or dispersed peaceful protests and demonstrations in the West Bank and Gaza during the year.
In July the PASF arrested 22 anticorruption activists gathering for protests after their permit request was denied under coronavirus emergency regulations, according to media reports. The PASF arrested several of the activists as they were heading to the protest location, according to the ICHR. The ICHR claimed the activists were also arrested for social media posts critical of the PA. The PASF released 10 activists shortly after their arrest; the remaining 12 were released on bail after criticism from human rights groups of the arrests. The trials continued at year’s end. Some NGOs claimed the PASF used the emergency COVID-19 measures as a pretext to crack down on dissent.
According to a Hamas decree, any public assembly or celebration in Gaza requires prior permission. Hamas used arbitrary arrest to prevent some events from taking place, including political events affiliated with Fatah. Hamas also attempted to impede criticism of its policies by imposing arbitrary demands for the approval of meetings on political or social topics.
A 1967 Israeli military order stipulates that a “political” gathering of 10 or more persons requires a permit from the regional commander of military forces, which Israeli commanders rarely granted. The penalty for conviction of a breach of the order is up to 10 years’ imprisonment or a fine. The IDF Central Command declared areas of the West Bank to be “closed military zones” in which the IDF prohibited public assembly by Palestinians. Israeli military law prohibits Palestinians from insulting a soldier, participating in an unpermitted demonstration or march consisting of more than 10 persons, and “incitement” (encouraging others to engage in civil disobedience).
Palestinian human rights activist Issa Amro faced 16 charges in a trial in an Israeli military court that began in 2016 and continued through the year. The charges include participation in a march without a permit, assaulting a soldier, and incitement, according to human rights groups. Human rights organizations such as Amnesty International stated Amro’s actions during these incidents were consistent with nonviolent civil disobedience. The latest hearing in his case took place in September. Haaretz reported the IDF detained Amro at least 20 times at various checkpoints since 2018. In August, IDF soldiers detained Amro at a checkpoint in Hebron and released him two hours later with no explanation, according to rights groups.
PA law allows freedom of association. PA authorities sometimes imposed limitations on the freedom of association in the West Bank, including on labor organizations (see section 7.a.). NGOs stated a regulation subjecting “nonprofit companies” to PA approval prior to receiving grants impeded their independence and threatened the ability of both local and international nonprofits to operate freely in the West Bank.
In Gaza Hamas attempted to prevent various organizations from operating. This included some organizations Hamas accused of being Fatah-affiliated, as well as private businesses and NGOs that Hamas deemed to be in violation of its interpretation of Islamic social norms. Hamas claimed supervisory authority over all NGOs, and Hamas representatives regularly harassed NGO employees and requested information on staff, salaries, and activities.
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
d. Freedom of Movement
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’s May 20 decision to end security coordination with Israel exacerbated many of the issues that constrain Palestinian movement. For example, during the olive harvest some Palestinian farmers were left to coordinate access to their olive groves with Israel’s Civil Administration without the assistance of a PA intermediary, according to human rights groups.
Hamas restricted some foreign travel into and out of Gaza, and 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. 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.
Citing security concerns and frequent attempted terrorist attacks, Israel occasionally imposed significant restrictions on Palestinian movement in the West Bank and between the West Bank and Jerusalem. Israeli authorities often prohibited travel between some or all Palestinian West Bank towns and deployed temporary checkpoints for that purpose. Palestinians who lived in affected villages stated that “internal closures” continued to have negative economic effects, lowering their employment prospects, wages, and days worked per month. 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 restricts 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 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 over 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.
On September 25, Egyptian naval forces shot and killed two brothers and wounded another fishing off the Gaza coast near Rafah, according to media reports. It was unclear whether the brothers’ boat had crossed into Egyptian waters.
In February 2019 Israeli naval forces allegedly shot Gaza fisherman Khader al-Saaidy with rubber-coated bullets in the face and chest at close range, and he lost sight in both eyes as a result. After examining the case, the Military Prosecutor did not find that the actions of IDF forces raised grounds for any suspicion of criminal misconduct and decided not to launch a criminal investigation, according to the Israeli government.
The barrier that divides the majority of the West Bank from Israel, including 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 divides Palestinian communities in the West Bank and Jerusalem. At its widest points, the barrier extends 11 miles into the West Bank. B’Tselem estimated that 27,000 Palestinians resided in communities west of the barrier who were required to travel through Israeli security checkpoints to reach 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. Major checkpoints, such as Container and Za’tara, caused major disruptions in the West Bank when closed, according to media reports. When Container (near Bethlehem) is closed, it cuts 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 during the year 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.
The barrier that divided the majority of the West Bank from Israel also divided some communities in Jerusalem, affecting residents’ access to 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 had a negative effect on Palestinian patients and medical staff trying to reach the six Palestinian hospitals in East Jerusalem that offered specialized care, including delays at checkpoints lasting up to two hours. 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. 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 Amnesty International and HRW employees to enter Gaza from Israel. The United Nations and several international NGOs reported that the Israeli government denied permits to the UN’s and NGO’s 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.
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.
UNRWA reported staff movement continued to be restricted and unpredictable at several checkpoints, notably those controlling access to East Jerusalem or through the barrier. Movement restrictions in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, resulted in the loss of at least 27 staff days. According to UNRWA, on two occasions at checkpoints in the West Bank, including for entry into East Jerusalem, Israeli authorities demanded to search UNRWA vehicles and on at least three occasions personnel assigned to UNRWA’s West Bank Field Office were denied access through a checkpoint and prevented from attending work.
From March to June, Israeli authorities required that each individual UNRWA staff movement between Israel and the West Bank, in both directions, be coordinated through the UN Access Coordination Unit and approved by Israeli authorities, amounting to hundreds of individual approvals, according to UNRWA. This requirement was later removed for West Bank staff entering Israel and East Jerusalem. As of the end of the year, however, UNRWA staff who hold Israeli-issued residency in East Jerusalem or who are Israeli nationals needing to travel from East Jerusalem to the West Bank (Areas A and B where the majority of UNRWA operations are located) were still required to submit a coordination request through the UN Access Coordination Unit, according to UNRWA.
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 must 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.
In the West Bank, ISF routinely detained Palestinians for several hours and subjected them to interrogations, according to human rights groups.
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.
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. ISF also imposed temporary curfews confining Palestinians to their homes during ISF 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. A complicated Israeli permit regime (requiring more than 10 different permits) prevented these Palestinians from fully using their lands. Israeli NGO HaMoked reported that government of Israel data showed a marked reduction in permit approvals, compared to previous years, to cross the barrier. Data showed 84 percent of permit applications were denied, although only 1 percent were reportedly denied for security reasons. HaMoked also reported that Israeli authorities opened gates to these areas late, which the NGO stated reduced access for Palestinian farmers to cultivate their land.
Israeli restrictions on the importation of dual-use items, including wires, motors, and fiberglass which 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 downtown Hebron. They cited a need to protect several hundred Israeli settlers resident in the city center. 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. 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 or 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.
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 estimates nearly 35 percent of Gaza’s cultivable land is in these areas.
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.
After the PA’s May 20 decision to end security coordination with Israel, 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.
Citing security concerns, Israeli authorities often denied or did not respond to Palestinian applications for travel permits through the Erez Crossing, including patients seeking medical care unavailable inside Gaza. 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. The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated there were no new restrictions on items that could be brought through Erez into Israel, but Gazans reported additional restrictions, including not being allowed to carry cell phone chargers or more than one pair of shoes.
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 report that as of October 28 the Israeli government had revoked 17 residency permits in Jerusalem on the grounds of regulation 11A of Israel’s Entry Regulations, regarding individuals who stayed outside of Israel for more than 7 years or have acquired Citizenship/ Permanent Residence Status outside of Israel. 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 maintain 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.
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 their staff members were denied exit permits out of Gaza because UNOCHA coordinates with Hamas as the de facto government in Gaza to facilitate the entry, exit, and transportation of UN personnel.
According to the United Nations, 1,001 persons were displaced in the West Bank and East Jerusalem due to demolitions.
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.
Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Israeli security operations in the West Bank led to three fatalities of Palestinian UNRWA beneficiaries, one of whom was killed while reportedly conducting an attack on ISF or Israeli civilians. ISF conducted an estimated 560 operations in West Bank refugee camps, injuring 180 Palestinians, according to the UN. Of these injuries, 43 persons, including eight minors, were injured with live ammunition, the United Nations reported. Israeli authorities demolished 220 structures belonging to UNRWA beneficiaries, which resulted in the displacement of 287 refugees, according to the UN.
In July 2019 the most recent fatality in the Deheisha refugee camp south of Bethlehem occurred when ISF shot and killed 14-year-old Arkan Thaer Mizher. According to the Israeli government, the investigation has concluded and the MAG was reviewing the findings.
UNRWA provided education, health care, and social services in areas of Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza; however, the agency continued to experience funding shortfalls throughout the year that caused temporary delays in salary payments to staff. A 2019 UN Office of Internal Oversight Services investigation into allegations of corruption and mismanagement by UNRWA’s senior management team found no evidence of fraud or misuse of donor funds, although it did highlight mismanagement and significant shortcomings in human resources and accountability mechanisms. UNRWA stated it would continue to prioritize a series of management initiatives to address concerns regarding transparency, accountability, and inclusive decision making at the agency.
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; however, many of them 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 persecution, vulnerable to human traffickers, violence, and exploitation. Some lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or intersex (LGBTQI+) Palestinians were able to obtain a temporary permit allowing them to stay in Israel without authorization to work or access to social services from the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), but. 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. The government stated that COGAT examined the issue on a case-by-case basis. Following a HIAS administrative petition, on March 1, PIBA launched a program that allowed Palestinians recognized as trafficking victims to work in Israel.
Access to Basic Services: 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 (see section 1.d.).
All UNRWA projects in the West Bank and Gaza required Israeli government permits, but UNRWA does not apply for permits in refugee camps.
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.
According to NGOs, 40,000 to 50,000 Palestinians in Gaza lacked identification cards recognized by Israel. Some were born in Gaza but 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.
The PA’s decision to suspend civil and security coordination with Israel caused travel and work disruptions for many Palestinians and left multiple gaps in processes for obtaining work and medical travel permits and other documents. Between May and November, the Palestinian Civil Affairs Ministry did not transfer population registry updates to Israel’s Civil Administration reflecting births, deaths, or passport and ID card numbers. Without this information, Israel did not recognize PA identity cards issued during the suspension. COGAT confirmed that without accurate and updated records in Israeli databases, Israeli authorities cannot 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. As a result many Palestinian children and young adults, especially those born abroad, are without legal status in the region where they have spent most or all of their lives. In 2019 a court granted Maen Abu Hafez a one-year visitor’s permit to stay in the West Bank, which expired during the year, and his renewal request was rejected. HaMoked requested a renewal on his behalf, but he remained without legal status in the interim. Abu Hafez reportedly lived in the Jenin refugee camp since he was three, when he moved there with his Palestinian father and Uruguayan mother. His family reunification request has been on hold for several years. In 2017 he was detained at a checkpoint and was held for more than two and a half years in an Israeli prison in Ramle. The Israeli government sought to deport him to Brazil, where he was born, although he has no ties there and does not speak Portuguese.
Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government
PA law provides criminal penalties for conviction of official corruption, but little was done to prosecute corrupt officials.
Corruption: Allegations of corrupt practices among Fatah officials continued, particularly related to favoritism and nepotism in public-sector appointments, which were rarely advertised publicly. In July public resentment, as shown by a variety of public opinion polls, peaked after several relatives of high-profile politicians received preferential appointments despite serious fiscal constraints caused by the PA refusal to accept tax clearance revenues from Israel after cutting security coordination with Israel in May.
In Gaza local observers and NGOs alleged instances of Hamas complicity in corrupt practices, including preferential purchasing terms for real estate and financial gains from tax and fee collections from Gazan importers. Hamas severely inhibited reporting and access to information.
Local business representatives in Gaza alleged the PA Ministry of Civil Affairs, which submits applications to Israeli authorities for the entry of restricted materials into Gaza, engaged in nepotism and gave preferential treatment to Gaza-based importers close to the ministry.
Financial Disclosure: PA ministers are subject to financial disclosure laws, but there was little accountability for nondisclosure. The PA publicized financial disclosure documents from public-sector employees, including ministers, via the PA Anticorruption Commission. Hamas in Gaza did not require financial disclosure.
Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
In January, Mahmoud al-Habbash, chief justice of the Sharia Court, said that, although the PA has signed onto the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), the PA was only committed to what is consistent with Islamic law, according to media reports. In another statement Habbash said the long-awaited draft Family Protection Bill (FPB) was in conflict with Sharia law, according to media reports.
As of the end of the year, the PA had not published the CEDAW in the Official Gazette, which would give the Convention a binding legal status, nor passed the FPB, according to the Women’s Center for Legal Aid and Counseling. Several Israeli and Palestinian rights groups, and the UN, called on the PA to support civil society organizations in responding to social movements opposed to both the CEDAW and the FPB in the face of threats and intimidation. According to human rights groups, the Attorney General’s Office and the security services disregarded death threats directed at employees and employees’ family members at a women’s rights organization.
Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape is illegal under PA law, but the legal definition does not address spousal rape. Punishment for conviction of rape is five to 15 years in prison. The PA repealed a law that relieved a rapist of criminal responsibility if he married his victim. Neither the PA nor Hamas effectively enforced laws pertaining to rape in the West Bank and Gaza.
According to the PA’s Central Bureau of Statistics, one in five Palestinian women in the West Bank and Gaza reported at least one incident of physical abuse from their husbands. Women in Gaza were twice as likely to be a victim of spousal abuse as women in the West Bank. PA law does not explicitly prohibit domestic violence, but assault and battery are crimes.
PA and Hamas did not enforce the law effectively in domestic violence cases in the West Bank and Gaza. NGOs reported Palestinian women were frequently unwilling to report cases of violence or abuse to the PA or Hamas due to fear of retribution or little expectation of assistance. Women’s rights and child advocacy groups reported sharp increases in incidents of domestic violence and abuse related to coronavirus mitigation measures including lockdowns and business closures.
Other Harmful Traditional Practices: The law precludes “family honor” as protection for perpetrators in “honor killing” crimes. In 2018 the PA amended the law to prohibit the practice of judges giving lighter sentences for crimes against women and children versus crimes against men. NGOs claimed the amended law was not sufficiently enforced. According to the Democracy and Media Center (SHAMS), 32 women were killed in the West Bank and Gaza from January through October. On October 21, Palestinian police began an investigation into the death of a pregnant woman at her home in the West Bank town of Nabi Elias, according to media reports. Shortly after the investigation began, the PA Ministry of Social Affairs stated the woman’s husband had killed her. The investigation continued, but no charges had been brought as of the year’s end.
On September 21, the PA attorney general charged three male family members with murder in the 2019 death of Israa Ghrayeb in an alleged honor killing, according to media reports. Hearings in the case were postponed several times due to coronavirus emergency measures. The case continued at year’s end.
Sexual Harassment: No PA law specifically relates to sexual harassment, which was a significant and widespread problem in the West Bank and Gaza. Some women claimed that when they reported harassment, authorities held them responsible for provoking men’s harassing behavior.
Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of the birth of their children.
Human rights NGOs reported that, due to conservative social, cultural, and religious norms, it may be difficult for unmarried couples to get access to family planning services, and married women may have limited ability to make their own reproductive health choices. NGOs expressed concern that these pressures could deter women from using contraceptives, potentially leading to unwanted pregnancies. According to the Palestinian NGO Juzoor for Health and Social Development, the Palestinian Authority (PA) Ministry of Health (MOH) has implemented a reproductive health plan covering 2017-2022 with a rights-based approach.
The PA MOH provided support services to survivors of sexual abuse, including health care and shelter. According to human rights NGOs, while the PA repealed the so-called “marry your rapist” law–which allowed an alleged rapist to avoid prosecution or a convicted rapist to avoid imprisonment by marrying the survivor–in 2018, the requirement for women to present a marriage certificate to register a child’s birth put women in situations in which they were under pressure to marry their attackers. Further pressure to marry an attacker came from the PA Ministry of Social Development, which makes an assessment whether an unmarried woman is able to keep and raise her child.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.
Discrimination: Inheritance for Muslims in the West Bank and Gaza falls under the Palestinian Basic Law, which is based on sharia. Under the Palestinian Basic Law, women have a right to inheritance but generally received less than men. According to human rights groups, in some cases women have been attacked by male family members for asserting their right to an inheritance. While recognized Christian communities have separate civil court systems, there is no separate civil law for Christians, so those communities also utilize the Palestinian Basic Law. Men may marry more than one wife. Women may add conditions to marriage contracts to protect their interests in the event of divorce and child custody disputes but rarely did so. Local officials sometimes advised such women to leave their communities to avoid harassment. Hamas enforced a conservative interpretation of Islam in Gaza that discriminated against women. According to press and NGO reports, in some instances teachers in Hamas-run schools in Gaza sent girls home for not wearing conservative attire, although enforcement was not systematic. Reports of gender-based employment discrimination in Gaza against women were common, and factories often did not hire pregnant or newly married women in order to avoid the need to approve maternity leave.
Birth Registration: The PA registers Palestinians born in the West Bank and Gaza, and Israel requires the PA to transmit this information to Israel’s Civil Administration. The PA may not determine citizenship. Children of Palestinian parents may receive a Palestinian identity card issued by the Civil Administration if they are born in the West Bank or Gaza to a parent who holds a Palestinian identity card. The PA Ministry of Interior and Israel’s Civil Administration both play a role in determining a person’s eligibility for that card.
The Israeli government registers the births of Palestinians born in Jerusalem, although some Palestinians who have experienced the process reported that administrative delays can last for years. The St. Yves Society estimated that more than 10,000 children in East Jerusalem remained undocumented.
Education: In Gaza primary education is not universal. UNRWA, Hamas, religious institutions, and private foundations all provided instruction. In addition to the PA curriculum, UNRWA provided specialized classes on human rights, conflict resolution, and tolerance. There were reports Hamas offered courses on military training in its schools during youth summer camps, to which school-age children could apply for admission.
In the West Bank, Palestinian government officials and Palestinian university officials accused ISF of disrupting university campuses, especially in areas close to Israeli settlements. The United Nations documented 113 instances of “interference of education” by Israeli forces in the West Bank, 18 percent of which involved the firing of tear gas canisters, stun grenades, or other weapons in or near schools.
According to some NGOs, the difficulty of obtaining permits to build schools and the Israeli destruction of schools built without permits prevented many West Bank Palestinian children from getting an education. Israeli restrictions on construction in Area C of the West Bank and East Jerusalem also negatively affected Palestinian students’ access to education. As of October, 44 Area C schools and eight East Jerusalem schools, serving an estimated 5,200 students, were under pending partial or full demolition or stop-work orders, according to the UN. B’Tselem further reported that on September 10 Israel’s Civil Administration confiscated tin roofing panels, 30 chairs, and 12 classroom tables from an elementary school in Ras al-Tin, east of Ramallah. The Civil Administration conducted demolitions in the West Bank and East Jerusalem that displaced 510 Palestinian minors, complicating their ability to attend school, according to the UN.
There were reportedly insufficient classrooms to accommodate schoolchildren in Jerusalem. Based on population data from the Central Bureau of Statistics, the NGO Ir Amim estimated in previous years a shortage of 2,500 classrooms for Palestinian children who are residents in East Jerusalem. Ir Amim also estimated that 18,600 Palestinian children in Jerusalem were not enrolled in any school.
Child Abuse: Child abuse was reportedly widespread. PA law prohibits violence against children; however, PA authorities and Hamas in Gaza rarely punished perpetrators convicted of family violence. Reports of domestic abuse increased under coronavirus emergency orders.
On July 9, Ahmad Medhat al-Jamali beat his 11-year-old daughter Amaal al-Jamali to death with a stick in Gaza City, according to child advocacy groups. An autopsy found wounds on her entire body including a fractured skull. Her father had accused her of stealing the equivalent of $30 from her stepmother, according to reports. The case continued at year’s end.
There were reports Hamas trained children as combatants.
Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: Child marriage did not appear to be widespread in the West Bank and Gaza, according to NGOs including the Women’s Center for Legal Aid and Counseling. President Abbas issued a presidential decree declaring a marriage legal only if both parties enter into the marriage willingly and both are 18 years old. The decree provides an exemption for minors if a judge agrees the marriage is in “the best interest of both parties.” As of the end of October, the chief justice of the Sharia Court, Mahmoud al-Habash, granted 400 exemptions out of 2,000 requests, according to Palestinian media outlets. Some of the justifications for granting exemptions were not sufficient reason to provide an exception, according to the Women’s Center for Legal Aid and Counseling, who claimed some of the accepted justifications included “the girl agreed to marriage without coercion,” and “the husband agrees to let his wife complete her studies.”
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The PA considers statutory rape a felony, based on the Jordanian penal code. Punishment for conviction of rape of a victim younger than 15 includes a minimum sentence of seven years’ imprisonment. In Gaza, under the rule of Hamas, suspects convicted of rape of a victim younger than 14 are eligible for the death penalty. There were reports that societal norms in Gaza led to underreporting to Hamas of sexual exploitation of children.
Displaced Children: Conflict and demolition orders (see section 2.d.) displaced significant numbers of Palestinian children in the West Bank and Gaza.
Israeli settlements in the West Bank had approximately 427,800 Jewish residents as of early 2019 and 441,600 by the end of 2019, according to the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics.
Some Palestinians and Muslim religious leaders used anti-Semitic rhetoric, including Holocaust denial. Anti-Semitism also regularly featured in public discourse, including expressions of longing for a world without Israel and glorification of terror attacks on Israelis. PA officials made comments linking Israel and the spread of COVID-19 in the West Bank. Media reported PA government spokesman Ibrahim Melhem said at an April 13 press conference that Israelis “are not only exporting [the virus]. They are agents of this virus. These are not accusations. These are facts.” Fatah announced September 26 on its official Facebook site that Facebook had restricted Fatah’s ability to boost stories on its site. The Israeli NGO Palestinian Media Watch (PMW) claimed this was due to concerns it had raised regarding Fatah’s promotion of terror and incitement to violence. During times of heightened tensions between Israeli authorities and Palestinians, Palestinian press and social media sometimes circulated cartoons encouraging terrorist attacks against Israelis, and official PA media outlets published and broadcast material that included anti-Semitic content.
Civil society organizations cited problematic content in Palestinian textbooks, including inappropriately militaristic examples directed against Israel as well as the absence of Judaism alongside Christianity and Islam when discussing religion. The PA Ministry of Education has named at least 31 schools after terrorists and an additional three schools after Nazi collaborators, while at least 41 school names honor “martyrs,” according to PMW. In August 2019 the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination released a report that expressed concern regarding “hate speech in certain media outlets, especially those controlled by Hamas, social media, public officials’ statements, and school curricula and textbooks, which fuels hatred and may incite violence, particularly hate speech against Israelis, which at times also fuels anti-Semitism.”
In August 2019 the Jerusalem-based Center for Near East Policy Research reported that PA teacher guides published in 2016-18 delegitimize Jews’ presence, and demonize Jews as “aggressive, barbarous, full of hate, and bent on extermination,” and “enemies of Islam since its early days.” Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh and Palestinian Education Minister of Education Marwan Awartani both stated that positive improvements would be made to the textbooks. On May 18, a Palestinian cabinet announcement approved a plan to make changes to the PA curriculum for the 2020-21 school year. According to NGO IMPACT-SE the Palestinian curriculum moved further away from meeting UNESCO standards and the newly published textbooks were found to be more radical than those previously published.
In Gaza and the West Bank, there were instances in which media outlets, particularly outlets controlled by Hamas, published and broadcast material that included anti-Semitic content, sometimes amounting to incitement to violence.
No PA law specifically prohibits trafficking in persons, and small numbers of Palestinian children and adults reportedly experienced forced labor in both the West Bank and Gaza (see section 7.b.).
PA law prohibits discrimination due to a permanent or partial disability in physical, psychological, or mental capabilities. It does not mandate access to buildings, information, or communications. The ICHR reported a lack of accessible transportation in Palestinian areas across the West Bank. UNRWA’s policy is to provide accessibility in all new structures in refugee camps.
Israeli authorities advanced plans to build an elevator at the Ibrahimi Mosque/ Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron to provide access for persons in wheelchairs. Under the Oslo Accords, the Hebron PA municipality would need to issue a permit for the construction, and it has refused to do so, according to media reports. PA officials have called the construction criminal and tantamount to annexation of Palestinian land.
Persons with disabilities received inconsistent and poor quality services and care in the West Bank and Gaza. The PA in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza partially depended on UN agencies and NGOs to care for persons with physical disabilities, and both the PA and Hamas offered substandard care for persons with mental disabilities, according to advocacy groups. HRW stated neglect from Hamas and the Israeli closure of Gaza significantly affected the lives of persons with disabilities in Gaza, contributing to a lack of access to assistive devices and widespread stigma. Palestinians in Gaza reported little to no infrastructure accommodations for persons with mobility disabilities, as well as difficulty in importing wheelchairs and other mobility aids. Hamas was more likely to provide prostheses and mobility aids to individuals injured in Israeli airstrikes or in the protests at the Gaza fence than to those born with disabilities, according to NGOs.
On May 30, a border police officer in Jerusalem chased and then shot and killed Iyad Halak, a Palestinian man with autism, after he had failed to heed calls to stop (see section 1.a.).
According to Bimkom, an estimated 35,000 Palestinian Bedouins lived in Area C of the West Bank. Many were UNRWA-registered refugees. Bedouins were often resident in areas designated by Israel as closed military zones or planned for settlement expansion. Demolition and forced displacement by the Israeli government of Bedouin and herding communities continued in Area C. Many of these communities lacked access to water, health care, education, and other basic services.
Throughout the year there were “price tag” attacks, which refer to violence by Jewish individuals and groups against Palestinians and Arab citizens of Israel and property with the stated purpose of exacting a “price” for actions taken by the government against the attackers’ interests. The Israeli government classifies any association using the phrase “price tag” as an illegal association and classifies a price tag attack as a security (as opposed to criminal) offense. The most common offenses, according to police, were attacks on vehicles, defacement of real estate, harm to Muslim and Christian holy sites, assault, and damage to agricultural lands. For example, on January 24, unknown perpetrators set fire to a mosque in the Sharafat neighborhood of Jerusalem in a suspected hate crime, according to media reports. Graffiti sprayed on the side of the mosque indicated the suspected arson was related to an unpermitted West Bank outpost, portions of which the Israeli Border Police demolished on January 15.
In the West Bank, PA law, based on the 1960 Jordanian penal code, does not prohibit consensual same-sex sexual activity. NGOs reported PA security officers and neighbors harassed, abused, and sometimes arrested individuals due to their sexual orientation or gender identity. In Gaza, under the British Mandate Penal Code of 1936, sexual acts “against the order of nature” are criminalized. NGOs reported Hamas security forces harassed and detained persons due to their sexual orientation or gender identity.
While the PA Ministry of Health provided treatment and privacy protections for patients with HIV or AIDS, societal discrimination against affected individuals in the West Bank was common. Anecdotal evidence suggested societal discrimination against HIV and AIDS patients was also very common in Gaza.
On April 22, Israeli Border Police shot and killed Ibrahim Halsa after Halsa rammed his car into a Border Police officer, then exited his vehicle and stabbed the officer, according to B’Tselem and media reports.
The IDF reported the following Palestinian attacks on Israelis in the West Bank: approximately 1,500 incidents of rock throwing, 31 cases of live fire incidents, and nine stabbing attacks. West Bank-based Israeli volunteer organization Rescuers without Borders reported 2,273 Palestinian attacks on Israeli civilians in the West Bank, including 1,884 incidents of rock throwing, 495 firebombs thrown at vehicles, and the setting of 39 improvised explosive devices.
UNOCHA reported 327 incidents of settler attacks that resulted in Palestinian fatalities, injuries, or property damage, which represented a 2.4 percent decrease from 2019. Some NGOs alleged that some Israeli settlers used violence against Palestinians to intimidate them from using land that settlers sought to acquire. In 2019 B’Tselem released video footage of an off-duty Israeli soldier igniting a bush fire on Palestinian-owned farmland near Burin village. The IDF suspended the soldier from his combat unit, and according to media reports, the incident remained under Israeli police investigation. Various human rights groups, including Yesh Din, Rabbis for Human Rights, and B’Tselem, continued to claim Israeli authorities insufficiently investigated and rarely prosecuted settler violence. Palestinian residents were reportedly reluctant to report incidents due to fears of settler retaliation and because they were discouraged by a lack of accountability in most cases, according to NGOs.
On December 21, Israeli police were chasing a car in the West Bank when the car flipped over and one of its occupants, 16-year-old settler Ahuvia Sandak, died, according to media reports. Sandak and the other four occupants, who were also settlers, were reportedly throwing stones at Palestinians before the incident occurred. Sandak’s death sparked violent protests outside police stations in Jerusalem as some questioned the actions of police involved in the incident. In the West Bank, settlers reportedly blocked roads in protest of the police’s role in the incident, threw rocks at cars with license plates that identified them as Palestinian, and raided some Palestinian homes, according to media reports. Israeli police were reportedly considering charges of negligent homicide against the other four occupants of the vehicle. The case continued at year’s end.
There were several reports of settler violence during the olive harvest. In the first 23 days of the season, Yesh Din stated it recorded 33 incidents, including 10 attacks on farmers, 10 instances of burning or cutting olive trees, 12 instances of crop theft, and one case in which soldiers allegedly denied a farmer access to his land without basis. In response to some of these events, Israeli security forces provided medical assistance to injured farmers, arrested at least three settlers suspected of stone throwing, and were investigating other incidents of violence and property damage, according to media reports.
Israeli authorities investigated reported attacks against Palestinians and Arab citizens of Israel, primarily in Jerusalem, by members of organizations that made anti-Christian and anti-Muslim statements and objected to social relationships between Jews and non-Jews.
The Israeli government and settler organizations in Jerusalem made efforts to increase property ownership by Jewish Israelis. Civil society organizations and representatives of the Palestinian Authority stated the efforts sought to emphasize Jewish history in Palestinian neighborhoods. UNOCHA and NGOs such as Bimkom and Ir Amim alleged that the goal of Jerusalem municipal and Israeli national policies was to decrease the number of Palestinian residents of Jerusalem. Official Israeli government policy was to maintain a 60 percent majority of Jews in Jerusalem. Jewish landowners and their descendants, or land trusts representing the families, were entitled to reclaim property they had abandoned in East Jerusalem during fighting prior to 1949, but Palestinians who abandoned property in Israel in the same period had no reciprocal right to stake their legal claim to the property. In some cases private Jewish organizations acquired legal ownership of reclaimed Jewish property in East Jerusalem, including in the Old City and through protracted judicial action sought to evict Palestinian families living there. Authorities designated approximately 30 percent of East Jerusalem for Israeli neighborhoods/settlements. Palestinians were able in some cases to rent or purchase Israeli-owned property, including private property on Israeli government-owned land, but faced significant barriers to both. Israeli NGOs stated that after accounting for Israeli neighborhoods/settlements, Israeli government property, and declared national parks, only 13 percent of all land in East Jerusalem was available for construction by Palestinians or others.
Although the law provides that all residents of Jerusalem are fully and equally eligible for public services provided by the municipality and other Israeli authorities, the Jerusalem municipality and other authorities failed to provide sufficient social services, education, infrastructure, and emergency planning for Palestinian neighborhoods, especially in the areas between the barrier and the municipal boundary. Approximately 117,000 Palestinians lived in that area, of whom approximately 61,000 were registered as Jerusalem residents, according to government data. According to the Jerusalem Institute for Policy Research, 78 percent of East Jerusalem’s Arab residents and 86 percent of Arab children in East Jerusalem lived in poverty in 2017.
Social services in Israeli settlements in the West Bank, including housing, education, and health care, were available only to Israelis, according to NGOs.