West Bank and Gaza
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
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.
Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees
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.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
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.