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.
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.
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.