West Bank and Gaza

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 The PA repealed a law that relieved a rapist of criminal responsibility if he married his victim.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.

Trafficking in Persons

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.

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