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. In 2018 the Knesset passed the “Nation-State Law,” which recognized the right to national self-determination as “unique to the Jewish people.” Under the Basic Laws, the Knesset has the power to dissolve itself and mandate elections. On March 23, the country held legislative elections after the coalition government failed to pass a budget in December 2020. It was the fourth election in two years. On June 2, Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid) and Naftali Bennett (Yamina) announced the formation of a rotational coalition government, which the Knesset approved June 13. The elections were considered free and fair.
Under the authority of the prime minister, the Israeli Security Agency is charged with combatting terrorism and espionage in Israel and the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The national police, including the border police and the immigration police, are under the authority of the Ministry of Public Security. The Israel 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 Israel Defense Forces for operations and operational debriefing. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security services. There were credible reports that members of the security forces committed abuses.
Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: unlawful or arbitrary killings; arbitrary detention, often extraterritorial detention of Palestinians from the occupied territories in Israel; restrictions on Palestinians residing in Jerusalem including arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy, family, and home; substantial interference with the freedom of association; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; harassment of nongovernmental organizations; significant restrictions on freedom of movement within the country; 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 Israeli military and civilian justice systems have on occasion found members of the security forces to have committed abuses. The government took some steps to identify, investigate, prosecute, and punish officials who committed human rights abuses, engaged in corruption, or both within Israel.
This section of the report covers Israel within the 1949 Armistice Agreement lines 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
a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
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 service. The Military Police Criminal Investigation Division is responsible for investigating alleged unlawful actions involving the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) in conjunction with the Military Advocate General’s Corps.
According to the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, during the Israeli military campaign from May 10 to 21, Palestinian militants in Gaza launched 4,360 rockets and mortars at Israeli cities and towns targeting civilians. During the operation, 12 Israelis, two of them children, were killed by rocket fire, and one IDF soldier was killed by an antitank missile.
According to the government, 15 Israelis were killed in terror attacks during the year, including two soldiers; in addition, three foreign nationals (two Thai citizens and one Indian) were killed from mortar and rockets from Gaza. According to the Shin Bet, 195 Israelis were injured in attacks from Gaza, in the West Bank, and in Jerusalem. There was a total of 4,575 terror attacks, including rockets and mortars, of which 2,805 were registered in May, according to the Shin Bet.
In April the nongovernmental organization (NGO) Yesh Din released a report on the Military Advocate General’s Corps (MAG’s) Fact Finding Assessment (FFA) Mechanism that was implemented to investigate incidents, including injuries and fatalities, during the “March of Return” protests which started in March 2018 and continued through late 2019. Yesh Din found that of 231 incidents forwarded to the FFA, 59 percent, covering 140 fatalities, remained under FFA review. Most of these fatalities were still undergoing the FFA Mechanism’s “quick” assessment three years later, according to Yesh Din. 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.
A November 30 report by the B’Tselem information center for human rights concluded that the Israeli government had not seriously investigated killings of Palestinians or held IDF members accountable, despite announcing in 2018 that it would open investigations of its use of lethal force, in part to deflect international criticism and investigation at the International Criminal Court.
A study published by a group of academic researchers in September concluded citizens with mental disabilities were at greater risk of being subjected to violence when interacting with police. The study examined media publications in the years 2019-20 and found that four of the five cases that ended in civilian deaths due to a confrontation with police officers involved victims with mental disabilities. All four of these individuals belonged to a minority group.
On January 8, DIPO closed the case against the police officer who shot and killed Shirel Habura, a mentally ill man, in the central Israeli city of Rosh Ha’ayin in April 2020. Investigators found the officer had not committed a crime but had acted in self-defense because his life was in concrete danger when Habura attacked him with a knife.
On May 23, DIPO announced it was closing the criminal case against the police officer who on March 29, killed a mentally ill Haifa resident named Munir Anabtawi. DIPO determined that the officer acted in self-defense after finding himself in a life-threatening situation when the victim wielded a knife while chasing him.
On May 19, 17-year-old Muhammad Mahamid Kiwan died after police reportedly shot him on May 12 at the Mei Ami junction on Route 65. His family claimed police used unnecessary force in shooting Kiwan. Media outlets reported a police statement confirming two officers fired at a car that ran into them near the city of Umm al-Fahm on the day Kiwan was fatally wounded. Police did not clarify who fired the shots that killed Kiwan, or whether Kiwan was in the car that struck the police officers. DIPO concluded an investigation, and the case was pending a final ruling by authorities.
In June 2020, 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.” On June 17, DIPO filed an indictment with the Jerusalem District Court against the border police officer who shot and killed Halak. DIPO charged him with reckless homicide, an offense punishable by up to 12 years’ imprisonment. According to media reports, the officer accused of shooting Halak was not charged with first-degree murder because the officer believed he was pursuing a terrorist, following an alert of a potential terrorist in the area.
In 2020 the NGOs the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel (Adalah) and the Public Committee against Torture in Israel (PCATI) submitted a request to the Supreme Court demanding the reversal of a decision by the then state attorney to close the investigation into the 2017 police killing of Yaqoub Abu al-Qian in Umm al-Hiran and the criminal indictment of the officers responsible for the death of Abu al-Qian. On October 21, the court denied the petition stating that the then state attorney’s decision and the preliminary examination conducted by DIPO was sufficient to substantiate the decision not to press charges against the officers involved, and that it seemed unlikely that launching an investigation would lead to indictments.
In 2019 the Supreme Court granted a petition filed by the family of citizen Kheir al-Din Hamdan, ordering the attorney general and DIPO to indict police officer Yizhak Begin, who shot and killed Hamdan in 2014, after DIPO closed its investigation into the killing in 2015. 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.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
Israeli law does not include a specific prohibition on torture, although Israel signed the UN Convention against Torture in 1986 and signed it in 1991. Israeli domestic law prohibits the application of physical force, assault, or pressure by a public official. The state’s attorney has argued that Israeli law exempts from prosecution Israeli Security Agency (ISA) interrogators who use what are termed “exceptional methods” in cases that are determined by the Ministry of Justice after the fact to have involved an imminent threat. 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, 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 nonsecurity-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 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, that if confirmed might constitute torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, but the Ministry of Justice refused to provide information regarding the number of such “necessity” interrogations or which “exceptional measures” were used. According to PCATI, these matters included beatings, forcing an individual to hold a stress position for long periods, incommunicado detention, sexual harassment, threats of rape and physical harm, painful pressure from shackles or restraints applied to the forearms, religion-based humiliation, sleep deprivation, exposure to extreme heat and cold, and threats against families of detainees.
PCATI also argued that torture is not enumerated as a specific offense under the criminal code, despite the government’s commitments to the relevant UN treaty bodies that it would introduce such a law criminalizing torture. PCATI reported a continuous upward trend in the number of cases of ISA using “special means,” with 60 cases of alleged physical torture during interrogations, based on data compiled by PCATI through interviews and examination of Palestinians incarcerated or formerly held in detention for suspected security offenses, some of which were filed during the year and some in previous years. PCATI stated the government’s system for investigating allegations of mistreatment of detainees showed persistent and systemic shortcomings. According to PCATI, the average time it takes authorities to address complaints increased from 44 months in 2020 to 56 months during the year. The Ministry of Justice stated that its internal reviews led to the opening of two investigations since 2018. PCATI claimed that more than 1,300 complaints of ISA torture were submitted to the Ministry of Justice since 2001 but resulted in only one criminal investigation and no indictments.
On January 24, the attorney general announced “no sufficient evidence was found to justify an indictment” of security officials in the case of Samer al-Arbid, a Palestinian suspect in the 2019 killing of Rina Shnerb near the settlement of Dolev in the West Bank. PCATI alleged the ISA used “exceptional measures” in interrogating al-Arbid, who was admitted to a hospital unconscious and with serious injuries following an interrogation.
The government stated that requests from prisoners for independent medical examination at the prisoner’s expense are reviewed by an Israel Prison Service (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.
On June 12, Haaretz released footage taken from Ketziot prison in 2019 showing IPS officers gathering approximately 55 Palestinian prisoners in restraints, throwing them to the floor, beating them with batons, and kicking them while they were bent over with their hands cuffed. According to a report documenting the incident, the prisoners were ordered not to move or speak for hours. The IPS responded that prisoners at Ketziot prison were planning a terror attack and that a prisoner had tried to kill two prison officers and was subsequently indicted for attempted murder.
On April 7, the State Attorney’s Office decided to close the investigation into the alleged severe sexual assault by the Shin Bet and IDF of a young Palestinian woman in 2015 for lack of evidence. The victim alleged officers carried out a nonconsensual and intrusive vaginal and anal search. According to an April 22 Haaretz report, all individuals involved in the incident were promoted except for the female soldier who carried out the search (along with a female military doctor). PCATI claimed the search was carried out in violation of the Criminal Procedure Law, which regulates the exceptional circumstances in which an invasive search may be conducted. The law requires the consent of the suspect, a court order, and an appropriate place to conduct the search. According to PCATI, because the suspect objected to the search, the incident constituted a serious sexual assault. PCATI called on authorities to reconsider the decision not to prosecute the officials involved and urged their immediate dismissal from public service.
On June 7, the Adalah (“Justice” in Arabic) human rights and legal center filed a complaint with the attorney general and DIPO demanding a criminal investigation against Nazareth police station officers for allegedly attacking and beating detainees including minors, bystanders, and lawyers in the city’s police station. Adalah asserted that the testimonies from detainees, attorneys, and paramedics revealed systemic police brutality and physical, verbal, and psychological abuse of Arab/Palestinian citizens of Israel. These testimonies indicated what Adalah described as a “torture room” inside the Nazareth police station after police officers led detainees to a room forcing them to sit on the floor handcuffed, to lower their heads towards the floor, and began to beat them.
In 2020 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 monetary fine. Ben Uliel appealed the conviction to the Supreme Court, which was pending at year’s end.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
The law provides that prisoners and detainees have 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 incidences of administrative detention, restricted family visits, ineligibility for temporary furloughs, and solitary confinement. The IPS held the former leader of the banned Northern Islamic Movement, Sheikh Raed Salah, in solitary confinement during half of his 28-month prison sentence, according to Salah’s statement upon his release on December 13.
The NGO Ma’avarim – Israeli Trans Community, noted that in January a 26-year-old trans woman was held in Abu Kabir detention center in solitary confinement due to her status as transgender.
On November 22, the Association for Civil Rights (ACRI) and PCATI petitioned the High Court, demanding police immediately install cameras in all police entry checkpoint posts at the Damascus Gate following publicly released social media footage of alleged severe police violence against Palestinian detainees.
The Public Defender’s Office publishes a detailed annual report reviewing the conditions of detention and imprisonment in the country, based on official visits made by representatives of the Public Defender’s Office to the various detention centers and facilities under the responsibility of the IPS, Israel Police, and the courts. In its 2021 report, the Public Defender’s Office continued to warn of severe overcrowding in Israeli detention facilities, violating the inmates’ rights, including their right to “respect, privacy, and health.”
The Public Defender’s Office annual report detailed the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on conditions of imprisonment, including limitations on lawyers’ and family visits, conjugal visits and inmate vacations, rehabilitation, work performed both inside and outside of prisons, as well as on the physical presence of detainees and inmates in their legal hearings. The in-person participation of detainees and inmates in their legal hearings was restricted and limited to secure video conference alternatives, which caused “severe damage” to their basic legal rights, according to the Public Defender’s Office.
The Public Defender’s Office found deficiencies in eight detention facilities regarding the holding of adult inmates in isolation or separation, with some of the facilities’ holding wings in poor condition. The Public Defender’s Office assessed that despite efforts to expand rehabilitation programs offered to prisoners in 2019-20, many inmates in detention facilities still did not enjoy access to such programs. The report also detailed shortcomings in providing medical care, appropriate living conditions, hygiene and sanitation, and food quality and quantity. The Public Defender’s Office further found the prison system did not always honor the right for attorney-client meetings, issued excessive punishment for discipline problems, failed to treat prisoners appropriately, and violated prisoners’ privacy.
In 2017 the Supreme Court ruled that the state must provide living space no smaller than 48 square feet (including toilet and shower) per prisoner and mandated a timeline by which the state must comply with the requirements in two phases a year and a half from the day of the ruling. Despite several time extensions provided by the court, the state had yet to comply with the mandate and notified the Supreme Court that for the time being, only approximately 40 percent of detention facilities provide the required minimum living space. In 2018 the Knesset passed a temporary law, which has since been extended, granting early release of prisoners (excluding Palestinian security prisoners) to facilitate the implementation of the verdict. According to the Public Defender’s Office, to comply with the Supreme Court’s mandate, the state must investigate possible alternative approaches to arrests and imprisonments for minor infractions. On February 14, the High Court postponed the implementation date of the section of the ruling requiring 48 square feet per prisoner, extending the original deadline of June 2017 to December 31. On June 29, the court ruled that the deadline applied to Shin Bet security facilities as well.
As of December, the government had not applied a 2015 law authorizing force-feeding 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 did 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.
Data received by PHRI from the IPS following a Freedom of Information request highlighted that between August 2020 and March, of the 2,758 prisoners who were considered in risk groups for Hepatitis C, only 654 were tested. The IPS reported that in 2020, only 54 prisoners who tested positive for Hepatitis C received treatment, compared with 53 in 2019, demonstrating insufficient medical testing and treatment of those needing it, PHRI argued.
On July 8, a prisoner filed a lawsuit against the IPS for denying him access to appropriate medical services for two days after he was subjected to electric shocks in his cell. The prisoner claimed a warden teased him for being overweight while the prison medic only gave him a pain killer.
Administration: Authorities conducted proper investigations of credible allegations of mistreatment, except as noted above. The government granted visitation permits to family members of prisoners from the West Bank only on a limited basis and restricted those entering from Gaza more severely.
Independent Monitoring: Despite COVID-19 pandemic restrictions in the country, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) maintained its visits to detention facilities (including interrogation centers) with adapted visiting procedures to monitor conditions of detention, detainee treatment, and detainee access to family contacts. The ICRC also monitored humanitarian consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic and related measures on Palestinian detainees and their families and continued engaging relevant 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 pandemic movement restrictions on both sides of the Gaza border.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
Israeli civil 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 generally observed these requirements, although NGOs identified cases where the requirements were not followed, and Israeli authorities also did not always apply 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 and Sheikh Jarrah, with higher numbers of temporary checkpoints and raids than in West Jerusalem. For example, on August 10, the IDF detained Sheikh Jarrah resident and activist Murad Ateah and subsequently extended his detention multiple times without charge before charging him with organizing activities that disturbed the peace in the neighborhood. His first hearing was scheduled for September 30 and his detention was subsequently extended 12 times to January 12, 2022.
Israeli press also reported on “serious violent behavior” by Israeli police towards Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem. Among complaints reportedly filed with the Police Internal Investigations Department, the report quoted a 16-year-old boy’s allegations that he was stripped and beaten in a public washroom; alleged that a 60-year-old Palestinian woman was handcuffed and dragged across the floor; cited a female journalist’s complaint she was subjected to sexist comments during an interrogation; reported that a youth was attacked in Jerusalem’s city center; and stated that another child was dragged out of bed in the middle of the night, falsely identified as someone else, and his family members were beaten. Jerusalem police force described the report as “distorted and one-sided” but did not dispute any of the details reported. Palestinians also criticized police for devoting fewer resources per capita to regular crime and community policing in Palestinian neighborhoods of Jerusalem. According to NGOs, police did not maintain a permanent presence in areas of Jerusalem outside the barrier, dividing the majority of the West Bank from Israel and some communities in Jerusalem, and only entered to conduct raids. 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 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.
During the 11-day Israeli military operation against terrorist organizations in Gaza and contemporaneous civil unrest within Israel from May 6 to 21, civil rights groups claimed police blocked main highways and limited the movement of Bedouin residents following demonstrations in Rahat, Laqiya, and Shaqib al-Salam.
On May 24, police launched an operation deploying thousands of police and border police forces to arrest suspected rioters, criminals, and others instigating unrest in several predominantly mixed Jewish-Arab cities, as defined by the government, in Israel during the month of May. According to police, the goal of the operation was to prosecute those involved in the unrest by filing charges of possession and trade in weapons, arson, property offenses, membership in crime organizations, and economic offenses. In addition, police stated the operation would restore deterrence, increase governance, and maintain the personal security of Israeli citizens. The High Follow-up Committee (HFUC), an organization of Arab/Palestinian citizen leaders, asserted the goal of the operation was to intimidate Arab/Palestinian citizens of Israel. The HFUC cautioned that the operation could rekindle strife within Israel’s mixed communities after a relative calm following the mutual cessation of hostilities following the May escalation in violence.
On June 3, police announced the end of the operation after it had resulted in 2,142 arrests and 184 indictments against 285 defendants. According to police, 322 officers were injured during the operation. Haaretz reported that Arab/Palestinian citizens of Israel constituted 91 percent of the arrests for suspicion of involvement in riots across the country from the day before commencement of the country’s May military campaign until June 3.
On May 11, Arab/Palestinian Israeli citizen students from Ben Gurion University in Beer Sheva organized a protest government practices in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of Jerusalem and violence against Arab/Palestinian citizens. Shortly before the protest concluded, far-right counterdemonstrators confronted the Arab/Palestinian Israeli citizen students, leading police to intervene and arrest several of the students. Police did not arrest counterdemonstrators, according to media reports and civil rights groups. After the demonstration concluded, a special police unit joined by the university’s security forces reportedly violently attacked and arrested eight additional Arab/Palestinian citizen students near the dormitories, five of whom were later released and three of whom were charged with assaulting police officers, disruption, and causing disorder and violence.
On February 22, the Human Rights Defenders Fund (HRDF) and the NGO Negev Coexistence Forum for Civil Equality (NCF) reported that police arbitrarily arrested 15 Arab Bedouin citizens who were protesting government efforts to plough approximately 690 acres of land in the villages of al-Garrah, al-Ruays, and Sawah, which resulted in accidental damage to a pipe that provided clean drinking water for residents. The HRDF and NCF alleged police conduct was “unacceptable.”
Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees
Police must have a warrant based on sufficient evidence and issued by an authorized official to arrest a suspect. Excluding those in administrative detention, authorities generally informed defendants 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; the judge then has the authority to extend the detention for a period of up to 15 days at a time to a total of 30 days. There is a functioning bail system, and detainees may appeal decisions denying bail. Authorities allow 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.
According to a May 2020 State Comptroller’s Report, police data on the number of criminal arrests were incomplete. For example, in the years 2016-18, the data did not include records of approximately 123,000 arrests. Police do not document in an orderly manner all the actions they must take to ensure detainees exercise their right to consult a lawyer, including data on the time of submission of a request for the appointment of a defense attorney, according to the state comptroller. The Court Administration and the Public Defender have claimed during the past decade that police underutilized their authority to release detainees on parole and instead detained them unnecessarily until they were brought to court. In addition, according to the comptroller’s report, large sums of money deposited as bail bonds accumulated and nearly half the funds, totaling approximately 148 million Israel new shekels ($47 million), were not returned to those entitled to them as of 2019.
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. Israel does not prosecute Israeli citizens who commit similar crimes in the West Bank under Israeli law. The government has asserted in domestic court proceedings that this practice is consistent with international obligations related to military occupation. Some human rights groups, including Military Court Watch, claimed that the country’s detention of the majority of convicted Palestinians from the West Bank or Gaza in prisons inside Israel was 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 Palestinians 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 and, with limited exceptions, detain a suspect for up to 96 hours prior to bringing them before a judge. 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 detainees for 14 days before review by a district court judge, deny them 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 solitary confinement 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, HaMoked, and B’Tselem, accused authorities of using isolation to punish or silence politically prominent Palestinian detainees.
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.
On January 14, during a protest in Nazareth against the visit of then prime minister Netanyahu, police arrested 19 Arab/Palestinian citizens of Israel. According to Adalah, officers hindered evacuation of two wounded protesters who required urgent medical attention, including a young man who underwent surgery to treat a head wound and another who suffered a severe leg wound. Joint List Knesset members who participated in the demonstration protested police actions to forcefully remove them, which they claim violated their parliamentary immunity. According to the Human Rights Defenders Fund, police forces employed disproportionate crowd dispersal measures, including water cannons.
Pretrial Detention: Administrative detention continued to result in lengthy pretrial detention for security detainees (see above). According to the government, as of December 13, the country held 501 detainees under administrative detention, including two Arab/Palestinian citizens, nine Palestinian residents of Jerusalem, and 490 Palestinians from the West Bank.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
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 survivor of a sex offense, provided the survivor gives written consent for publication.
Defendants enjoy the rights to a presumption of innocence, to be informed in detail of the charges against them within 30 days of arrest, to a fair and public trial without undue delay, and to be present at their trial. Defendants 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 charges are filed 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 state comptroller examined and found in a May 18 report that the appointment of a state attorney during the preliminary stages of an investigation blurs the delineation between the responsibilities of investigative units and the prosecution. The report noted the powers of state attorneys are not anchored in legislation and guidelines and there is no uniformity in the way state attorneys are assigned. According to the state comptroller, a basic rule of criminal procedure is to maintain a separation between the investigating body and the prosecuting body and to maintain the independence of the prosecutor’s legal discretion.
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 may scrutinize the decision to withhold such evidence in civilian courts, while the Court of Appeals has jurisdiction for military courts. 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, although trials and hearings may be held behind closed doors under gag order restrictions.
In August 2020 the Knesset passed a law, extended on August 11 to the end of the year, that permitted virtual hearings with prisoners and detainees during the COVID-19 pandemic 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. Inmates protested the lack of attorney access with hunger strikes, and their families demonstrated in front of the house of the minister of public security. NGOs monitoring prison conditions reported that adult and juvenile Palestinian detainees were denied access to a lawyer during their initial arrests.
The government tried Palestinian residents of the West Bank accused of security offenses in Israeli military courts.
Political Prisoners and Detainees
Some human rights organizations claimed that Palestinian security prisoners held in Israel should be considered political prisoners. The government described security prisoners as those convicted or suspected of nationalistically motivated violence.
Israeli legal scholars argued that Israel holds Palestinian prisoners in Israeli facilities in violation of international law. The practice of holding Palestinian prisoners in Israel has been challenged twice in the Supreme Court, and in both cases the court ruled that the practice was permitted based on the country’s emergency defense regulations.
Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies
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.
Property Seizure and Restitution
In May significant protests broke out against several eviction proceedings in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem. Jewish landowners and their descendants, land trusts representing the families, or Jewish organizations that had purchased their titles have advanced claims under Israeli law to reclaim property they had abandoned in East Jerusalem during fighting prior to 1949, but Palestinian landowners who abandoned property in Israel in the same period have no reciprocal right under Israeli law 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, particularly in the neighborhoods of Silwan and Sheikh Jarrah. The eviction cases brought by a pro-settler organization, Nahalat Shimon, before the Supreme Court against four families in Sheikh Jarrah was one of the reasons Hamas claimed as pretext for the May 10-21 military conflict. According to the government, all land ownership cases are assessed individually by an administrative committee and are subject to judicial review.
According to Ir Amim and B’Tselem, ethnic discrimination was 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 were not 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 Jewish owners reclaimed after Israel occupied East Jerusalem in 1967. Legal disputes continue regarding many of these properties involving Palestinian residents, who have limited protection as tenants under Israeli law. Landlords may request permission to evict tenants, demolish their homes, or both if they receive permission to rezone the property.
The Israeli government and settler organizations in Jerusalem continued to make efforts to increase property ownership in the municipality by Jewish Israelis. Some civil society organizations and representatives of the Palestinian Authority stated these efforts sought to emphasize Jewish history in Palestinian neighborhoods through increased numbers of Jewish residents. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) and NGOs such as Bimkom and Ir Amim alleged that the goal of Jerusalem municipal and Israeli national policies was to decrease the total number of Palestinians residing in Jerusalem and claimed that Israeli authorities aimed to designate 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 home construction by Palestinians. In addition, NGOs asserted that there was a continued 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 reports. The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated 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 remained, according to civil society representatives.
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 authority to demolish unpermitted structures. Construction remained illegal in towns that did not have an authorized plan for development. Arab/Palestinian 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/Palestinian representation on regional planning and zoning approval committees and stated that planning for Arab/Palestinian areas was much slower than for Jewish municipalities, leading Arab/Palestinian 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/Palestinian-owned structures. In cases of demolitions with no agreement from the residents to relocate, the government levied monetary fines against residents to cover the 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 frequent house demolitions. The government stated that a team from the Ministry of Agriculture Authority for the Development and Settlement of Bedouin in the Negev began working on the matter in the second half of 2018 after completing a survey of 180 Bedouin residential clusters.
The government stated it used a “carrot and stick” approach to attempt to compel Bedouin Israeli citizens to move from 35 unrecognized Bedouin villages in the Negev inhabited by approximately 90,000 persons into government-recognized villages. Tactics included 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 either 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 state comptroller. 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 191,965 acres of Arab Bedouin land in the south of the country that was previously under disputed ownership was no longer in dispute as a result of either settlement agreements or following legal proceedings, according to the government. In addition, the government stated that an additional 25,240 acres of disputed land were registered as state lands while the process to determine ownership remained open.
The NCF reported there were 2,568 demolitions of Bedouin citizen structures in 2020, citing information gained through freedom of information requests to the government. The NCF asserted the demolition policy violated Bedouin citizens access to adequate housing, despite the instruction of the attorney general to reduce demolition warrants and police presence after civil society organizations sent a request to halt demolitions during the COVID-19 pandemic. The NCF noted that house demolitions negatively impacted thousands of children from the Arab Bedouin communities, harmed their mental health, and hindered socio-emotional growth, especially considering the COVID-19 global pandemic. 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 government-imposed fines as of year’s end. This represented a decrease of 28 percent and an increase of 92 percent, respectively, with the number of owner-initiated demolitions the highest since B’Tselem began compiling data in 2008. The number of home demolitions in 2020 was nearly 75 percent higher than the annual average prior to the enactment of the Kaminitz Law and almost 40 percent higher than in 2019, which was the first year the law was fully applied, according to NGOs tracking the matter. Legal experts pointed to the Kaminitz Law, which reduced administrative processing times for demolitions, blocked courts from intervening in many cases, 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.
f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The law prohibits such actions, and the government generally respected those prohibitions for Israeli citizens.
The 2003 Law of Citizenship and Entry, which was renewed annually until July because the Knesset did not extend it, prohibited 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 made a special determination, usually on humanitarian grounds. The government extended the law annually due to government reports that Palestinian family reunification allowed entry to a disproportionate number of persons who were later involved in acts of terrorism. HaMoked asserted that statistics from government documents obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests contradicted the terrorism allegations and that the denial of residency to Palestinians from the West Bank or Gaza for the purposes of family reunification led to cases of family separation. In 2020 the Population and Immigration Authority received 1,354 family unification requests. As of year’s end, the Population and Immigration Authority had received 1,680 family unification requests.
HaMoked reported that, of the more than 2,000 requests filed in the previous two years, most were for West Bank Palestinians married to Israelis or East Jerusalemites. On September 14, HaMoked, ACRI, and PHRI filed a petition demanding the Ministry of Interior respect the law and process the requests. On October 6, the head of the Population and Immigration Authority, Tomer Moskowitz, stated that the Ministry of Interior was continuing to implement the prior law as if it had not expired. The government’s response on November 11 supported Shaked’s continued handling of Palestinians’ requests in accordance with the now-expired regulations, claiming that Shaked could continue to implement “interim procedures and regulations” until an amendment was passed. On November 15, the court rejected the request for an injunction by the petitioners prohibiting the handling of requests based on the expired law. As a result, on November 17, the petitioners appealed to the Supreme Court. The petitions were pending at the year’s end. Israeli authorities confirmed at the end of the year that in accordance with the government’s decision from 2008 regarding the extension of the Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law (Temporary Order), the minister of the interior was instructed not to approve any requests for family reunification received from Gaza. This decision was made due to Israeli security authorities’ assessment of the security threats emanating from Gaza which put the security of Israel and its citizens at risk, according to Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials.
According to press reports, as of 2020 there were approximately 13,000 Palestinians from the West Bank or Gaza living in Israel, including Jerusalem, on temporary stay permits because of the Citizenship and Entry law, with no legal provision 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 the law and resume processing family unification applications. The law allows for 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 for a special permit for children ages 14-18, but they may not receive residency and have no path to citizenship. According to the government, as of July the Population and Immigration Authority (PIBA) had received 774 family unification requests for the calendar year, compared with 1,354 requests received in 2020.
The government continued to renew an emergency regulation allowing Shin Bet to track mobile phones to identify individuals in close contact with confirmed COVID-19 patients for quarantining purposes. Beginning on March 14, following a Supreme Court ruling, Shin Bet tracking was limited only to cases where a patient did not cooperate with an epidemiological investigation. On March 30, a Knesset Committee did not vote to approve the extension of the emergency regulations. In July the law allowing Shin Bet’s tracking expired. On November 28, the government approved by emergency regulation the use of Shin Bet tracking for those carrying the Omicron variant. Despite the Supreme Court’s rejection of a petition against the tracking on December 2, the government did not renew the regulation after its expiration on December 2.
On June 7, ACRI sent a letter to the attorney general arguing there are constitutional defects in Shin Bet’s compilation of data from all mobile phone users in Israel, which was exposed in 2020. According to ACRI, the database and its use violated the right to privacy, minimized individual freedoms, including freedom of expression, by creating a chilling effect, and the database risked being abused by Shin Bet, the prime minister, or by other forces in case of leaks. ACRI demanded the creation of legal protections to provide for external supervision to balance the country’s security needs and individual rights.
On July 20, ACRI submitted a petition to the Supreme Court demanding the cancelation of government resolutions which allowed the government to expand the Shin Bet’s role without amending the Shin Bet law. The petition stated that since 2004, the government added four roles to Shin Bet’s functions and authorities, the last of which was the tracking of mobile phones in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. The petition was pending at the year’s end. On March 4, the Movement for Quality Government in Israel filed a freedom of information petition with the Jerusalem District Court for information regarding the police request to internet providers to provide data on police suspects and individuals visiting specific websites or internet protocol addresses to a police-controlled system. The petition was pending at the year’s end.
The law allows police access to telecommunications data, including incoming calls, location data, and online activity, when investigating crimes, based on a court order or without one in urgent cases. According to police information obtained by Privacy Israel through a freedom of information request, police filed 40,677 requests for access to such data, 16,644 of the requests were without a court order. The courts granted police access in 40,502 cases. The number of requests has risen steadily in previous years, increasing 64 percent since 2016. Approximately 20 percent of the offenses investigated were minor offenses, such as bicycle theft or traffic offenses.
g. Conflict-related Abuses
Killings: During the 11-day conflict from May 10 to 21, Palestinian militants in Gaza launched 4,400 rockets and mortar shells toward Israel. According to the IDF, 680 of these rockets misfired and landed in Gaza, causing Palestinian casualties. The IDF launched 1,500 airstrikes against targets in Gaza during the conflict. According to the Israeli government, NGOs, and media outlets, Gaza-based militants fired rockets from civilian locations toward civilian targets in Israel, including large salvos towards dense population centers. Israeli airstrikes destroyed 1,800 homes, including five residential towers. According to UNOCHA, during the May escalation, 261 Palestinians were killed, including 67 children. At least 241 of the fatalities were by Israeli forces, and the rest due to rockets falling short of their intended targets and other circumstances. An estimated 130 Palestinian fatalities were civilians and 77 were members of armed groups, while the status of the remaining 54 has not been determined. More than 2,200 Palestinians were injured, including 685 children and 480 women, some of whom may suffer a long-term disability requiring rehabilitation. In Israel, 13 individuals, including two children, were killed, and 710 others were injured. Palestinian rocket fire killed 20 Palestinians, including seven minors. A member of the Israeli security forces was killed by an antitank missile fired by a Palestinian organization. At the height of the fighting, 113,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) sought shelter and protection at UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) schools or with hosting families. According to the UN’s Shelter Cluster, which is responsible for tracking and assisting with provision of housing and shelter, there remain approximately 8,250 IDPs, primarily those whose houses were destroyed or severely damaged.
Human rights groups condemned Hamas’s and Palestinian Islamic Jihad’s targeting of civilians as well as Israel’s targeting of civilian infrastructure. The Israeli government stated that Hamas and others were using this civilian infrastructure for cover, including offices within the buildings and tunnel infrastructure beneath them. A Hamas tunnel was found, for example, under an UNRWA school in Gaza, and Hamas temporarily turned away bomb disposal experts brought in by the UN Mine Action Service and UNRWA to ensure the school was safe to open, delaying the work being undertaken to remove two deeply buried bombs that had struck the school during the airstrikes. The IDF also destroyed a building that contained the headquarters for several international media organizations, such as the Associated Press (AP) and al-Jazeera. The IDF stated that its intelligence showed that Hamas used the building for its operations. AP and others including journalists and civil society organizations, continued to call for an investigation, and the government has not made public the intelligence that led to the strike. Prior to and following the May conflict, Gaza-based militants routinely launched rockets, released incendiary balloons, and organized protests at the Gaza fence, drawing airstrikes from the IDF. These exchanges resulted in the deaths of three Palestinians and one Israeli border police officer since the end of the May conflict.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties
a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media
The law generally provides for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, and the government generally respected this right. An independent media, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression, including for members of media.
Freedom of Expression: The law prohibits hate speech and content liable to incite to violence or discrimination on grounds of race, origin, religion, nationality, and gender. In cases of speech that are defined as incitement to violence or hate speech, the law empowers police to limit freedom of expression.
The law also restricts freedom of expression by imposing 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.
On March 30, the Israel Prize Judges Committee for Math and Science petitioned to the Supreme Court against then minister of education Yoav Galant’s decision to deny its recommendation to grant the 2021 Israel Prize to Professor Oded Goldreich. Galant denied the recommendation due to statements Goldreich made and the signing of a petition calling for the EU not to cooperate with the Ariel University, which is in an Israeli settlement in the West Bank. On July 22, the attorney general, in his response to the court, stated the decision not to grant the award to Goldreich exceeded “the range of reasonableness and could not stand legally,” as Goldreich stated he is not a boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) supporter, and his actions did not amount to an up-to-date, significant BDS activity. On August 12, the Supreme Court cancelled the minister’s decision and returned the committee’s recommendation to the education minister for adjudication. On November 18, Minister of Education Yifat Shasha-Biton decided not to grant Goldreich the prize for the same reasons. The Judges Committee again submitted a petition to the Supreme Court, which was pending at the year’s end. The law bars entry to the country of visitors who are actively, consistently, and persistently calling for boycotts.
Conviction of desecrating the Israeli flag carries a maximum penalty of three years in prison and a fine. Waving a Palestinian flag is a criminal offense, but according to a 2014 attorney general legal opinion it should only be enforced in cases of a credible suspicion that the flag waving represents support for a terrorist organization or when there is a high likelihood that flag waving will lead to a serious disturbance of the peace. During the year police confiscated Palestinian flags and arrested activists waving flags during demonstrations. In September Haaretz published a report that Minister of Public Security Omer Bar-Lev instructed police to take such measures only under exceptional circumstances. According to the government, no action should be taken to remove Palestinian flags unless there is a high probability that waving the flag could lead to a serious violation of public order and security, and prosecution based on charges of waving a Palestinian flag are examined on a case-by-case basis (see the West Bank and Gaza report). According to the Human Rights Defenders Fund (HRDF), on September 24, police arrested four protesters who waved Palestinian flags in East Jerusalem on the suspicion of participating in a riot and disturbing the peace by undertaking such activity. One of the four protesters was hospitalized due to a head injury sustained during the arrest. All four were released without an indictment. A judge in one of the cases stated the waving of the Palestinian flag did not constitute a criminal offense.
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.
HRDF reported that the ISA summoned and intimidated some individuals, mainly Arab/Palestinian Israelis, for their political activism. According to HRDF, on June 27, an Arab/Palestinian Israeli woman was arrested in her home by the Shin Bet, and taken for interrogation, while denied access to an attorney. She was questioned regarding her activism against forced evictions in Sheikh Jarrah and stated the interrogators intimidated her and threatened her family.
On January 17, following an invitation for the NGO B’Tselem’s director to speak at a Haifa school, then minister of education Yoav Galant sent a letter to the ministry’s director general and district managers ordering the banning from schools of NGOs that “contradict the goals of the education system, including calling Israel false and derogatory names, opposing Israel as a Jewish, Zionist, and democratic state, discouraging meaningful service in the IDF, or acting to harm or degrade IDF soldiers during or after their service.” On January 18, the event took place virtually and on January 20, the school principal was summoned to a hearing at the Ministry of Education. Adalah and ACRI called the attorney general to direct the minister to rescind the order, which they stated was illegal. On July 4, the Ministry of Education’s director general determined there was insufficient evidence that the principal had had “a harmful influence” on students.
On May 13, during the period of civil unrest and Israel’s May military campaign, the Civil Service Commission summoned mainly Arab/Palestinian citizen public servants from the Ministry of Health to pretermination hearings to explain their political posts on social media (see section 7.d.).
Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction, with a few exceptions (see section 4).
Police regulations grant broad authorities to prevent journalists’ access to violent incidents but also require authorities to minimize the violation of press freedom in efforts to cover those incidents.
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 an additional six months the 2019 closure order against Palestine TV’s East Jerusalem office, according to media reports.
During the year, 62 incidents of physical attacks against journalists, including by security forces and civilians, were reported to the Union of Journalists in the country. Israeli police officers detained, used violence against, and confiscated equipment of journalists during demonstrations in Jerusalem. On May 7, during a protest at Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount, police beat Ahmad Gharabli, a Palestinian journalist with Agence France-Presse, with a baton, according to press reports. Several other journalists reported being attacked by police officers while covering events surrounding the May escalation and events in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem. On June 5, al-Jazeera journalist Givari Budeiri said she was beaten and arrested by police and her cameraman’s equipment destroyed while she was in Sheikh Jarrah covering the 54th anniversary of the Naksa (or “setback”), which marks Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza in 1967. Police claimed Budeiri kicked a female Israeli soldier, which Budeiri denied. Budeiri was released after being detained by police for several hours and was banned from going to the East Jerusalem neighborhood for 15 days.
The Associated Press stated police beat photographer Mahmoud Illean on December 17 while he was covering a protest in Sheikh Jarrah. Illean was admitted to a hospital for head injuries. Police did not provide an explanation for the incident, responding that relevant authorities would investigate.
According to the Union of Journalists in Israel, at least 20 incidents occurred during the period of civil unrest in May. For example, on May 6, a police officer physically attacked Channel 12 News reporter Moshe Nussbaum after the reporter raised the problem of police violence towards protesters. On May 12, Jewish individuals in Lod attacked Channel 13 News anchorwoman Ayala Hasson and her crew with stones and tried to break their camera. At the height of the civil unrest, Channel 12 News assigned a security detail to five of its journalists following threats against them, including death threats, due to their coverage of events. On May 18, police arrested a suspect who stated he intended to harm Channel 12 News journalist Dana Weiss and her family due to her commentary on the civil unrest. The suspect later was released after expressing remorse for his comments.
On June 3, unknown suspects shot several rounds at the home and car of Ynet reporter Hassan Shaalan, who covered crime and violence matters in Arab communities in the city of Tayibe. No injuries were reported. On the night of June 18, a device detonated in the home to which Shaalan planned to relocate to in Baqa al-Gharbiyye for his safety. Police opened an investigation into the incidents.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: All media organizations must submit to the Israeli Military Censor, a unit within the IDF’s Directorate of Military Intelligence, any material relating to specific security matters or strategic infrastructure matters 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 what it deemed to constitute sensitive security information and continuing investigations, and it required foreign correspondents and local media to abide by these orders. According to data provided by the IDF in response to a Freedom of Information Act request by +972 Magazine, in 2020 the censor acted on 1,403 articles of 6,421 articles submitted to it and banned 116 articles.
According to the media watchdog Seventh Eye, police continued a policy of automatically requesting gag orders during investigations of certain crimes and complex cases to prevent public discourse of active investigations. Police stated in 2020 that police only request gag orders after serious consideration based on the needs of an investigation.
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: State authorities, some NGOs, and individuals continued to file defamation lawsuits to discourage public criticism of authorities’ actions, according to HRDF. For example, according to independent media outlet HaMakom, 64 police officers filed lawsuits against 210 civilians between March 2020 and February for posting comments on social media critical of police behavior during police enforcement of COVID-19 pandemic regulations. On January 14, ACRI submitted amicus briefs in 16 such lawsuits, arguing the lawsuits were having a chilling effect on speaking out against police violence and stating that civilians’ social media comments are protected speech under freedom of expression laws.
A defamation lawsuit to discourage public criticism of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank filed in 2020 by the settler regional council of “Samaria” against former member of the Knesset and head of the Zulat Institute Zehava Galon for her criticism of two settlers who allegedly shot and killed a Palestinian attacker, was pending as of the year’s end.
National Security: The law criminalizes as “terrorist acts” speech supporting terrorism, including public praise of a terrorist organization, the 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.”
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 number of requests for content removal submitted to the Cyber Unit by law enforcement and security services decreased from 19,606 in 2019 to 4,830 in 2020; 92 percent of the cases resulted in a Cyber Unit request to content providers for voluntary removal or limitation. Most of the requests, according to the Cyber Unit, involved publications of terror organizations, praising terror acts, and incitement to violence and terror. The Cyber Unit reported a significant increase in content removal submissions from security agencies during the period of civil unrest and Israel’s May miliary campaign. Between May 10 and May 19, the unit reported 1,340 such submissions, 1,010 of which contained content that violated the law. On April 12, the Supreme Court rejected a petition by ACRI and Adalah against the voluntary track program, which argued the program violates freedom of expression and the right to due process. The Supreme Court verdict deemed the voluntary track lawful but recommended adoption of a new law to standardize it as well as to establish a review mechanism for its decisions.
Academic Freedom and Cultural Events
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,” referring 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.”
On May 13, the Ministry of Jerusalem and Heritage’s Director General announced he intends to halt government financial support for the Bezalel Academy public college after dozens of professors there expressed support for Arab/Palestinian citizen students’ protesting government policies in Sheikh Jarrah and Damascus Gate. On September 30, in response to an ACRI letter, the attorney general stated the ministry did not intend to withhold funding to Bezalel Academy and on October 12, his office had sent guidelines to the ministry, which included the need to ensure the independence of higher education institutions.
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 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 with 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 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 pointed 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.
On January 19, Israeli police summoned for questioning the Fatah secretary in Jerusalem, Shadi Mtour. Police subsequently released Mtour after renewing an order banning any contact between him and 21 PA and Fatah officials, including Fatah deputy head Mahmoud al-Aloul, Jerusalem governor Adnan Gheith, and the head of the Jerusalem unit at the PA Presidency, Mu’tasem Tayem.
Throughout the year, Israeli authorities issued or extended various orders and charges against Gheith. On March 29, authorities banned Gheith from entering the West Bank or going to his office in al-Ram, a village northeast of Jerusalem. On August 2, Israeli authorities extended an order banning Gheith from holding contacts with President Abbas and other PA officials. Gheith was already denied movement outside his place of residence in Silwan neighborhood in Jerusalem.
On November 22-23, Palestinian press reported that Israeli forces raided Gheith’s home, assaulted him, his sons, and cousins present at the house, threw sound bombs, and damaged household belongings before interrogating him regarding posts on social media his wife had shared. Israeli authorities charged Gheith with violating the ban on communicating with Palestinian officials and threatening the security of Israel. Authorities released Gheith on bail after several hours, after renewing his house arrest for four more months and other movement and communications bans. On December 26, press outlets reported that Israeli forces again raided Gheith’s home during a larger arrest campaign in the Silwan neighborhood.
On March 8, Israeli authorities banned a women’s activity and an exhibit on the occasion of International Women’s Day organized at the Mount of Olives Club in al-Tur neighborhood, saying the event was funded by the PA. Local sources stated Israeli security forces including Shin Bet officers raided the club and seized the identification cards of the participants. They also detained the director of the club, Ikhlas al-Sayyad, and the fashion designer Manal Abu Sbitan for questioning. Israeli security forces also confiscated Palestinian traditional clothing and embroidery and other contents of the exhibition.
On March 29, Israeli authorities issued an order to the PA governor of Jerusalem, Adnan Gheith, banning him from entering the West Bank or going to his office in al-Ram, a village northeast of Jerusalem. This was the fifth time Israeli authorities restricted the movement of Gheith in the West Bank. Gheith has been arrested 28 times since assuming his position in 2018. On April 17, the INP banned an election press conference in East Jerusalem and detained three Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) candidates, two from Fatah (Nasser Qous and Ashraf al A’war), and one Palestinian Democratic Union candidate (Ratibah al-Natsheh). The press conference was scheduled to take place at the St. George hotel in East Jerusalem. Local media outlets stated the conference was intended to affirm the right of Palestinians in Jerusalem to cast their votes in the upcoming elections and to explain how they should do so. The three PLC candidates were released later that day and were warned not to hold any activity related to elections in Jerusalem City. On April 18, Israeli authorities banned the Fatah Jerusalemite district committee member Ahed Risheq from entering Haram al-Sharif /Temple Mount for one week while notifying him that the ban order would be extended for six months, according to press reports.
On June 20, the IDF banned Shadi Mtour, the Fatah secretary in Jerusalem, from entering the West Bank for six months after rejecting an appeal submitted by Mtour’s lawyer. The order, issued by IDF central commander Tamir Yadai, indicated that Mtour participated in PA and Fatah-affiliated activities in Jerusalem and described this as a threat to the security of the region. The ban order was valid until December 17.
According to press reports, on September 1, Israeli forces arrested the principal of a secondary school in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Wadi al-Joz, alleging that the principal had met personnel from the PA’s Ministry of Education and that PA Ministry of Education officials used one of the school’s classrooms as an office. According to Haaretz, the Ministry of Public Security approved dozens of such orders during the year. PA officials publicly point to a 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.
b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The law provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights.
Freedom of Peaceful Assembly
The law provides for this right, and the government generally respected it.
On April 4, the Supreme Court struck down the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic emergency regulation that allowed for a temporary limitation of the right to demonstrate to less than a mile from one’s home. The verdict determined the regulation constituted a disproportionate limit on the freedom of assembly because the location of a demonstration is critical to its message, particularly when it relates to public officials. The verdict also canceled nearly 11,000 monetary fines police issued for related violations. The verdict determined a separate regulation limiting the number of demonstrators to groups of 20 and requiring compliance with social distancing measures was lawful.
There were reports that police used excessive force in response to protests. For example, on February 26, police used riot control measures, including rubber-coated bullets, tear gas canisters, and stun grenades, during an Umm al-Fahm demonstration against crime and violence, leading to the injury of dozens of protesters, including Knesset member Yousef Jabareen and Umm al-Fahem mayor Samir Sobhi. According to Adalah, police ordered the use of force before the demonstration began and used unreasonable and life-threatening measures against demonstrators who were acting in accordance with the law. According to police, the demonstration escalated to a violation of public order when demonstrators attempted to block a road and threw stones, which led to the injury of eight police officers. On November 23, DIPO announced that it decided not to open a criminal investigation into police conduct during the demonstration.
On April 12, ACRI and the Movement for Freedom of Information in Israel demanded that police make public its standard policies, procedures, and methods for dispersing protesters, such as water cannon, soft bullets, and chemical irritants, that police had withheld when replying to a 2020 freedom of information petition.
On January 14, the prosecution filed an indictment against a leading anti-Netanyahu activist for organizing an illegal gathering, punishable by up to one year’s imprisonment, after the activist led two “illegal” marches. A deputy state attorney had previously issued a 2020 directive to limit such indictments on grounds they potentially violate freedom of assembly and expression.
The trial against Israel National Police chief superintendent Niso Guetta, indicted in 2020 for assault during demonstrations against former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, continued at the year’s end.
On May 12, ACRI stated many Arab citizens and Palestinian residents of Jerusalem received text messages to their cellphones in Arabic, signed by Shin Bet, with the message, “You have been identified as a person who participated in violent acts in the al-Aqsa mosque. You will be held accountable.” ACRI and Adalah appealed to authorities to stop sending these text messages and act against the officials who initiated and approved the action, asserting it was illegal and done absent approval from competent authorities.
There were reports that Israeli authorities used excessive force against protesters in East Jerusalem. Between April and June, hundreds of Palestinian and Jewish Israeli protesters from across Israel and East Jerusalem came to Sheikh Jarrah to show their support for families at risk of eviction and to protest the dispossession of Palestinians from their homes, according to HRDF. Police and media characterized the protest as violent. HRDF reported that Israeli police used aggressive and disproportionate force to disperse the demonstrations, injuring hundreds of protesters. Security forces deployed stun grenades and tear gas canisters, sprayed “skunk water,” and fired sponge grenades, according to HRDF. Between April 29 and May 21, HRDF provided legal aid to 42 Palestinian and Israeli peaceful protesters arrested in Sheikh Jarrah, some of whom HRDF claimed were hospitalized after being attacked by police. Most of the protesters were released after one or two court hearings on bail with 30- to 60-day bans from Sheikh Jarrah, and others were released at the police station with 15-day bans from Sheikh Jarrah.
On May 3, HRDF alleged that Israeli police pepper sprayed and attacked Sheikh Jarrah human rights activist Salah Diab, injuring his leg. On May 6, HRDF reported that 21 Israeli Jewish attackers arrived from the newly established “office” of extreme-right member of the Knesset Itamar Ben-Gvir across the street to pepper spray Palestinians congregating in front of Diab’s house. The incident escalated as the two groups threw plastic chairs and stools at each other. Following the attack, four Palestinians, including Salah Diab, were arrested for “racially motivated” attacks, while one of the Jewish attackers was detained and released the same evening, according to HRDF. On July 11, Diab was summoned to a termination-of-employment hearing from his work at an Israeli supermarket for violating company values and policies and harming its reputation due to his activism and participation in the Sheikh Jarrah protest. According to HRDF, the campaign for his dismissal reportedly was led by the right-wing NGO Honenu and politicians such as Ben-Gvir and Jerusalem deputy mayor Arieh King,
On September 24, during the weekly protest in Sheikh Jarrah, four protesters were violently arrested by police for waving Palestinian flags. According to HRDF, Jerusalem police forces regularly confiscated, attacked, and arrested peaceful protesters who waved the Palestinian flag, despite Public Security Minister Omer Bar-Lev’s explicit order to the police commissioner and high-ranking officers that the Palestinian flag may only be confiscated during demonstrations under exceptional circumstances (see section 2.a.).
Freedom of Association
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 fine for NGOs that violate these rules. The government had not taken legal action against any NGO for failing to comply with the law as of year’s end. Local NGOs critical of the government asserted the law sought to intimidate them, delegitimize them in the public eye, and prevent them from receiving foreign government funding (see section 5).
Human rights NGOs alleged that Israeli authorities cited laws against terrorism or protecting national security to arrest or punish critics of the government or deter criticism of government policies or officials. On October 22, Minister of Defense Benny Gantz announced that Israel was designating six Palestinian NGOs (al-Haq, Addameer, Defense for Children International-Palestine, the Bisan Center for Research and Development, the Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees, and the Union of Agricultural Work Committees) as terrorist organizations, alleging connections to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine terrorist organization. Local and international human rights groups strongly criticized the designation, alleging overly broad use of terrorism laws that created a chilling effect on civil society groups conducting legitimate human rights work. The designated groups are based in the West Bank, but the designation applies both within the West Bank under IDF military order and in Israel under the 2016 counterterrorism legislation.
The UN special rapporteur on counterterrorism and human rights criticized the designation as a blatant misuse of counterterrorism legislation designed to ban human rights activities and to silence speech advocating for respect for human rights. On October 25, 22 Israeli NGOs released a joint statement of support and solidarity with the designated NGOs calling on the Israeli government and international community to oppose the decision and alleging the designation was done to criminalize and prevent documentation of human rights abuses and prevent legal advocacy and aid for human rights work.
c. Freedom of Religion
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
d. Freedom of Movement and the Right to Leave the Country
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 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 commerce, journalism, and humanitarian and NGO activities. For example, restrictions on access in Jerusalem had negative effects, including delays at checkpoints lasting up to two hours, on Palestinian patients and medical staff trying to reach the six Palestinian hospitals in East Jerusalem that offered specialized care. According to HaMoked, the IDF denied 73 percent of farmer permits in 2020, compared with 63 percent in 2019. Only 1 percent of these permits were denied for security reasons, according to the IDF. Most permits were denied due to difficulties navigating the military bureaucracy and failure to meet the ever-more restrictive criteria, according to HaMoked. 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.
On May 12, during the period of civil unrest, Minister of Defense Benny Gantz declared a temporary state of emergency in Lod due to the serious harm to public safety caused by interethnic clashes, transferring control over the city to police. On the same day, police announced a night curfew in Lod. Police also prohibited access to the city during evening hours due to calls for Jews and Arabs from outside of the city to participate in the riots. Both the curfew and the ban were not fully enforced. On May 13, ACRI asserted the civil state of emergency and the curfew were unlawful and demanded their cessation. ACRI stated the law allowing such declarations does not include incidents of civil unrest. The civil state of emergency and curfew lasted until May 20.
In July and August, several municipalities blocked access to their beaches or parks for nonresidents who were not vaccinated for COVID-19. For example, on August 4, the Acre City Council decided to permit access to its beaches only to those with a “green pass” indicating an individual is vaccinated or recovered. The Acre mayor stated that day that buses arriving from West Bank Palestinian cities posed a public health problem due to low rates of vaccination in those cities. According to Adalah, the Acre City Council did not have the authority to take such measures and that the measures were intended to prevent Palestinian access to Acre’s beaches under the guise of protecting public health. On September 12, in response to a letter from Adalah, the attorney general sent a letter to the Acre municipality stating there was no legal basis for the municipality’s actions.
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, Syria, and Yemen.
The government enacted a series of limitations and restrictions on foreign travel due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Beginning on January 25, the government did not allow inbound or outbound foreign travel at its airports, and on January 28, it closed its land borders. Beginning in February, Israeli citizens were allowed to return to Israel with the approval of an exceptions committee from a limited number of destinations under an increasing quota of up to 3,000 individuals per day. On February 22, the government opened its land border with Jordan for Israelis having approval from an exception committee. Beginning on March 7, the approval of an exceptions committee was no longer necessary for Israeli citizens to return to the country. On March 16, the government canceled limitations on flight destinations. On March 17, the Supreme Court ruled the quota system violated the Basic Law granting citizens the right to enter the country. The court ordered the regulation not be renewed past its expiration date on March 20 and determined the limitation would only be based on effective capacity. During the reminder of the year, the government allowed the unlimited entry of citizens and a limited category of visitors. Beginning on November 28, citizens could not travel to an expanding list of countries as a part of the government’s effort to curb the spread of the Omicron variant of COVID-19. The list remained in effect at year’s end.
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). The government allowed Arab/Palestinian citizens of Israel access to Area A without permits, however. The government continued selective revocations of residency permits of some Palestinian residents of Jerusalem. This meant those residents could no longer 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 as adjudicated by the Ministry of Interior. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs reported that as of October 22, the government had revoked 22 residency permits in Jerusalem for individuals who had stayed outside of the country for more than seven years or acquired citizenship or permanent residence status in another country. Some Palestinians who were born in Jerusalem but studied abroad reported losing their Jerusalem residency status. The government, however, 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 not PA or Jordanian identity documents, needed special travel documents to leave the country.
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 to the Supreme Court by Adalah and ACRI against the revocation of the 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. On June 29, the interior minister signed the revocation of one citizenship and one permanent residence permit; the revocations were pending approval by the attorney general and the administrative court.
e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons
f. Protection of Refugees
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 and asylum seekers as well as to other persons of concern, except as noted below. The government did not allow UNHCR regular access to monitor the detention facility at Ben Gurion Airport.
Access to Asylum: The law provides for granting asylum or refugee status. The government has established a system for providing protection to refugees, but it has rarely granted a refugee status, and the government often kept asylum applications pending for years. NGOs alleged that the government did this purposely. According to the government, as of November, PIBA rejected a total of 3,260 asylum applications and accepted a total of seven. Most asylum seekers received a “conditional release visa” that requires frequent renewal and is only available in two locations in the country. The government provided these individuals with a limited form of group protection regarding freedom of movement, protection against refoulement, and limited access to the labor market. Advocacy groups asserted 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 restricting their access to social and medical services or by not examining their asylum requests.
As of September 30, there were 31,012 adult irregular migrants and asylum seekers in the country, of whom 28,175 were from Eritrea or Sudan, according to PIBA. According to the Aid Organization for Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Israel, and UNHCR estimates, 8,000 to 10,000 children of asylum seekers resided in the country.
Irregular migrants subject to deportation, including those claiming but unable to prove citizenship in countries included in Israel’s nonrefoulement policy, were subjected to indefinite detention if they refused to depart after receiving a deportation order. According to the most recent HRM estimate, at the end of 2020, there were several dozen migrants with undetermined or disputed citizenship in detention, compared with 165 in 2018 and 5,000 in 2015.
According to HRM and Haaretz, as of June 21, PIBA had examined only 103 asylum requests of Eritrean citizens, of which it had decided 19 requests and approved only one that involved four individuals. This occurred despite a 2019 government announcement that it would reexamine all requests from Eritrean asylum seekers, including 3,000 that were previously denied. Since the 2019 announcement, PIBA examined 706 cases and recognized 15 individuals as refugees. On April 25, the Supreme Court ruled on petitions from 2017 demanding the examination of asylum claims of Sudanese citizens from Darfur, Nuba Mountains, and Blue Nile. The court gave the government until December 30 to either set a policy for deciding on asylum applications, process asylum requests on an individual basis, grant humanitarian status to asylum seekers, or develop a solution that would allow for the departure of the asylum seekers. If the government failed to do so, the court ordered the issuance of temporary residency status to the 2,445 asylum seekers who submitted their requests prior to June 2017, until a decision was taken regarding their application. On December 26, PIBA published a list of 2,426 individuals to which it would grant temporary residency for six months, to be renewed on an individual basis. This would grant asylum seekers the right to social benefits, but the temporary status could be revoked if an asylum request were denied. In November PIBA stated Ethiopians from the Tigray region who applied for asylum due to the civil war, including those whose asylum requests were rejected in the past, would receive a temporary stay permit like that held by Eritreans and Sudanese.
Palestinian residents of the West Bank who claimed to be in a life-threatening situation due to their sexual orientation or for other reasons, such as domestic violence, did not have access to the asylum system due to Israel’s claim that the 1951 Refugee Convention does not apply to Palestinians because they received assistance from UNRWA. Many Palestinians in life-threatening situations therefore 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. According to UNHCR, prior to the issuance of permits, COGAT requested proof of efforts to resettle in a third country.
On July 22, in response to a petition to the Supreme Court demanding the right to work and access to the health-care system for Palestinians with the appropriate permits in Israel, the government stated it viewed a fundamental difference between Palestinians threatened due to cooperation with Israel and Palestinians who fled due to their sexual orientation or domestic violence. The government committed to begin issuing work permits for the first group, but not for members of the second group, who could only apply for a permit in demanded fields such as construction and industry, mirroring requirements for Palestinian workers from the West Bank. On July 26, the Supreme Court ruled on the petition, validating the government’s position but also demanding that the government update the court regarding the possibility of accepting requests for work permits from the second group, separate from an employer. The case was continued at the year’s end.
The government did not accept initial asylum claims at airports. UNHCR did not have access to the detention facility at Ben Gurion Airport. In August the minister of interior refused entry to group of Afghan refugee women rescued by the Israeli aid organization IsraAID, despite the organization’s commitment to relocate the group to Canada within a month. The group was eventually admitted to and provided asylum in Switzerland, with the assistance and advocacy of IsraAID.
Safe Country of Origin/Transit: According to Ministry of Interior data obtained by HRM, no person who entered Israel through Ben Gurion Airport applied for asylum during the year. 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, and whose citizens sought work in Israel until their asylum applications were examined. According to HRM, the fast-track procedure prevented the examination of cases in which there was a legitimate claim for asylum.
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.
The government offered incentives to irregular migrants to depart the country for Uganda, including a paid ticket and a stipend. The government claimed Uganda provided for full rights under 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 at their destination and that this transfer could amount to refoulement.
Abuse of Migrants and Refugees: 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. 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 November 9, Yigal Ben Ami, a PIBA employee responsible for irregular migrants’ visa renewal applications, was arrested under the suspicion that he offered women renewal of their stay permits in exchange for sex, according to Haaretz. At year’s end, his case was with the prosecution, pending an indictment.
Freedom of Movement: In force until December 12, the citizenship law allowed the government to detain asylum seekers from countries to which government policy prohibits deportation upon entry for a period of three months. No such arrivals were recorded during the year, however. With the expiration of the law, the government may only detain asylum seekers for two 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. While a September 30 Supreme Court ruling upheld these prohibitions, the court instructed the government to reconsider the policy as well as the criteria for adjudicating requests to remove such restrictions. The court’s verdict became moot once the restrictions expired.
Employment: While conditional release visas for Eritrean and Sudanese refugees do not include a work permit, making their employment an offense, the government continued its practice of not enforcing this offense against employers following a 2011 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.
According to the Aid Organization for Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Israel, 48 percent of asylum seekers in Israel were unemployed in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic and were ineligible for unemployment insurance or other social services.
Up to December 12, the law barred migrants from sending remittances abroad, limited 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 defined taking additional money outside 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, leaving many of them uninsured during the COVID-19 pandemic, when unemployment peaked among asylum seekers.
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. Despite a Supreme Court injunction from November 2020, the Ministry of Health continued to exclude some children of undocumented migrants from national health-insurance policy coverage. The government sponsored a mobile clinic and mother and infant health-care stations in south Tel Aviv that 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. Mental-health services for the asylum seeker and refugee population remained limited to one clinic treating 250 patients, while the need for such services increased substantially because of COVID-19, leading to lengthy waitlists, according to PHRI. 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.
The law provides for mandatory education for any child from age three regardless of citizenship status. According to civil society organizations, several municipalities illegally segregated children of asylum seekers and other children in schools and kindergartens during the COVID-19 pandemic. On August 3, civil society organizations submitted a petition to the Tel Aviv Administrative Court on behalf of 325 children of asylum seekers and their parents as well as 100 parents of Israeli citizens, demanding a halt to segregation in the city’s education system. According to ACRI, there are four primary schools and some 60 kindergartens educating only children of asylum seekers. On September 5, the parties submitted a negotiated agreement to the court, according to which 200 of the students would be placed in schools outside of their area of residence. The petition was pending at the year’s end.
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.
g. Stateless Persons
Despite being eligible for Israeli citizenship since 1981, an estimated 23,600 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 “laissez passer” travel documents, which listed their nationality as “undefined.”
The government launched an investigation into reports that 2,625 Bedouins had their citizenship revoked when requesting services at the Ministry of Interior, beginning in 2017. The investigation found that in all except 500 cases, the revocations were flawed and the individuals had originally been registered correctly as citizens. The government subsequently reinstated the citizenship of those individuals. According to the government, of the 500 Bedouins who should not have been registered as citizens because they were children of permanent residents, approximately 400 were naturalized, 90 had yet to visit PIBA’s offices to begin the process, and 10 cases were still pending.
There were reports of some stateless third-generation members of the Hebrew Israelites community whom the government judged ineligible for Israeli citizenship.
Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process
The law provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage. Palestinian residents of Jerusalem and Druze of the Golan Heights who have permanent residency status may vote in municipal elections and seek some municipal offices except that of mayor and are denied the right to vote in general elections or serve in the Knesset.
Elections and Political Participation
Recent Elections: Observers considered the March 23 parliamentary elections free and fair. More than 67 percent of eligible voters cast ballots. During the March elections, observers noted minimal irregularities that had no impact on the outcome.
After the Ministry of Interior retroactively canceled the citizenship of 2,624 Bedouin citizens, many of them were unable to participate in national elections until their status was resolved (see section 2.g.).
Political Parties and Political Participation: The Basic Laws prohibit the candidacy of any party or individual that denies the existence of the State of Israel as the state of the Jewish people or the democratic character of the state or that incites racism. A political party may not be registered if its goals include support of an armed struggle, enemy state, or terror organization against Israel. Otherwise, political parties operated without restriction or interference.
On February 17, the Central Elections Committee disqualified Labor Arab candidate Ibtisam Mara’ana by a 16-15 vote on the grounds of her denial of the existence of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state and due to her support for the armed struggle of a terrorist organization against the State of Israel. On February 28, the Supreme Court overruled the disqualification and reinstated Mara’ana’s candidacy. On February 17, the Central Elections Committee (CEC) rejected two motions submitted by the ultranationalist Jewish Power Party and Religious Zionist Party to disqualify the Joint List and the United Arab List, known in Hebrew as Ra’am.
The Northern Islamic Movement, banned in 2015, continued its practice of boycotting national elections.
The law restricts the funding of individuals and groups that engage in “election activity” during the period of a national election, which is typically three months. The law’s sponsors described it as an effort to prevent organizations and wealthy individuals from bypassing election-funding laws, but some civil society organizations expressed concern the law would stifle political participation.
The law allows dismissal of a member of the Knesset if 90 of 120 Knesset members vote for expulsion, following a request of 70 members, including at least 10 from the opposition. The party of an expelled member may replace the member with the next individual on its party list, and the expelled member may run in the next election. Joint List member of the Knesset Yousef Jabareen and several NGOs asserted that the government intended the law to target Arab legislators and that the law harmed democratic principles such as electoral representation and freedom of expression.
In the period preceding the March elections, the NGO Adalah demanded that the CEC and the Ministry of Interior set up polling stations for Arab Bedouin citizens in the unrecognized villages in the Negev or provide the voters with transportation to their assigned polling stations. Authorities denied the request.
On June 22, the Supreme Court rejected a petition filed by former Knesset member Yousef Jabareen and Adalah against a Knesset decision to block members from overseas trips funded by organizations that endorse BDS against Israel.
Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No laws limit participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. The law provides an additional 15 percent in campaign funding to municipal party lists composed of at least one-third women. Women and minorities participated widely in politics, although their representation in the Knesset remained low. Of the 120-member Knesset, there were 35 women members and 14 members from ethnic or religious minorities (nine Muslims, three Druze, one Ethiopian-Israeli, and one Christian). As of December, the government’s 35-member cabinet included nine women, one of whom was Ethiopian-Israeli. There were two Arabs. Four members of the 15-member Supreme Court were women, and one was Arab. Of the 257 mayors and local council heads, 14 were women.
Eligible voters among the approximately 100,000 Arab Bedouin citizens that live in unrecognized villages in southern Israel, registered as tribal residents and are not entitled to vote in municipal elections.
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 the then attorney general indicted then prime minister Netanyahu for allegedly taking a bribe, fraud, and breach of trust in connection with the 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. The trial was continued at year’s end.
Former labor minister Haim Katz was indicted for separate offenses of bribery, fraud, and breach of trust. Former minister of interior Aryeh Deri and former deputy minister of housing and construction Yakov Litzman were separately under investigation for various alleged offenses. On August 9, former minister and member of Knesset David Bitan was indicted for bribery, breach of trust, money laundering, and tax offenses.
On March 17, the prosecution filed an indictment against Nathan Forman, a former Egged bus company official, for receiving bribes in the amount of 5.5 million new Israeli shekels ($1.71 million) from the German company EvoBus GmbH, tax offenses amounting to 26 million shekels ($8.08 million), and money laundering.
The law prohibits police from offering a recommendation on 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.
Section 5. Governmental Posture Towards International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights
A variety of Israeli, Palestinian, and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were somewhat cooperative and responsive to their views, and parliamentarians routinely invited NGOs critical of the government to participate in Knesset hearings on proposed legislation. Human rights NGOs have standing to petition the Supreme Court directly regarding governmental policies and may appeal individual cases to the Supreme Court.
On October 22, the government designated six Palestinian human rights NGOs under the country’s 2016 counterterrorism law, preventing any legal cooperation or support between the designated NGOs outside of Israel and NGOs operating in Israel. Domestic NGOs, particularly those focused on human rights abuses, continued to view the law requiring disclosure of support from foreign entities on formal publications as an attempt to stigmatize, delegitimize, and silence NGOs critical of the country’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.
The law mandates additional scrutiny of requests for National Service volunteers from NGOs that receive more than one-half of their funding from foreign governments.
The staff of domestic NGOs, particularly those calling for an end to the country’s military occupation of the West Bank and NGOs working for the rights of asylum seekers, stated they received death threats from nongovernmental sources.
According to HRDF, Israeli authorities repeatedly subjected B’Tselem’s field researcher in the South Hebron Hills, Nasser Nawaj’ah, to harassment, intimidation, and reprisal. On March 6, Shin Bet interrogators allegedly threatened that Nawaj’ah would end up like Harun Abu Aram, a Palestinian civilian who the IDF shot in the neck and paralyzed, if he continued his work. Nawaj’ah was subsequently detained and questioned by IDF soldiers at least four times in ensuing weeks.
On April 6, the Jerusalem District Court ruled that a travel ban against Amnesty International’s West Bank campaigner Laith Abu Zeyad imposed in 2019 for undisclosed “security reasons,” would remain in place. According to Amnesty International, the travel ban was a punitive measure against Abu Zeyad’s work as a human rights defender.
The United Nations or Other International Bodies: The government generally cooperated with the United Nations and other international bodies aside from several high-profile cases. The country withdrew from UNESCO in 2019. The government continued its policy of nonengagement with the UN Human Rights Council’s “special rapporteur on the situation in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967.” In 2020 the government suspended relations with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), following publication of a UN Human Rights Council database of companies and “business activities related to settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.” Since June 2020 the government had not extended OHCHR staff visas due to the suspension.
Government Human Rights Bodies: The state comptroller served as ombudsman for human rights problems. The ombudsman investigated complaints against statutory bodies subject to audit by the state comptroller, including government ministries, local authorities, government enterprises and institutions, government corporations, and their employees. The ombudsman is entitled to use any relevant means of inquiry and has the authority to order any person or body to assist in the inquiry.
Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses
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 2020 the number of requests for assistance involving rape to the Association for Rape Crisis Centers was 9 percent higher than in 2019. Authorities opened 1,362 investigations of suspected rape in 2020, compared with 1,399 in 2019. In January, five men were indicted for a gang rape and sodomy of a 17-year-old minor in Ashkelon during a two-week period, including allegedly giving the survivor hard drugs daily. One of the five was the survivor’s partner, and he allegedly encouraged the others to commit these acts and documented it.
On January 20, the president of the Supreme Court published a procedure intended to facilitate the process of testifying for survivors of sexual assault. The procedure includes escorting the survivor in the court, reducing waiting time in the court, mandating the presence of both male and female judges, and limiting interaction between the survivor and the perpetrator to a minimum.
During the year, 22 women and girls were killed by their male partners or by other family members. According to Israel Women’s Network, more than 200,000 women lived in situations of domestic violence. The Ministry of Welfare and Social Affairs’ hotline received 7,977 calls regarding domestic violence cases between January and October, an increase of 10 percent from 2020. In June a woman was arrested and held in detention for four days after refusing to testify in court against her former husband, who allegedly abused and threatened her. Following her arrest, the woman testified while her legs were chained together and stated her complaint was false. She was released after her appearance in court. A representative of the Public Defender’s Office stated that more proportionate measures could have been used by authorities to ensure the woman’s testimony before the court.
According to Ministry of Welfare and Social Affairs data, the number of reports of domestic violence tripled in the first two months of the year compared with the average in 2019 and were slightly higher than the 2020 average. A state comptroller’s report from June 30 highlighted insufficient funding, low investment in early identification, long waiting times for treatment, and early administrative release of violent men without rehabilitation as matters of concern in the country’s struggle against domestic violence. The Ministry of Welfare and Social Affairs operated 16 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. The ministry also operated a hotline to report domestic abuse, including a text-message-based hotline. The Ministry of Justice 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 2020 the prosecution filed 47 indictments for sexual harassment, which represented 15 percent of the total number of cases referred to it for potential prosecution during the year, a similar percentage to 2019 statistics. According to a Civil Service Commission report, in 2020 there were 230 sexual harassment complaints submitted to its Department of Discipline, compared with 214 complaints in 2019. During 2020 the commission submitted 20 lawsuits to its disciplinary tribunal, compared with 15 in 2019.
On March 11, the Haifa District Court convicted actor Moshe Ivgy of four counts of indecent acts and sexual harassment. On July 12, the actor was sentenced to 11 months’ imprisonment, subsequent probation, and compensation for two of the victims.
Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities. According to NGOs, Arab/Palestinian women citizens of Israel, particularly from the Bedouin population, women 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 has maintained a pro-birth policy regarding reproductive care, subsidizing fertility treatments until age 45 but for the most part not subsidizing contraceptives, except for women under age 20 and women in the IDF.
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 (see section 7.d.). Women and men are treated differently in Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and Druze religious courts responsible for the adjudication of family law, including marriage and divorce.
The law allows a Jewish woman or man to initiate divorce proceedings, but 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 grant his wife a divorce while also stating the courts lacked the authority under Jewish religious law to grant the divorce without a husband’s 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 the municipality to remove such signs in 2018. On July 1, the Supreme Court ordered the attorney general to develop a national enforcement policy within 90 days that would allow the implementation of the court’s verdict, due to the failure at the local level to remove such “modesty signs.” The court ruled that 30 days after the policy was in place, fines would be imposed on the municipality for lack of enforcement.
Publicly displayed photographs of women were regularly defaced in cities with large ultra-Orthodox populations. According to media reports, due to failed enforcement against vandalism, some companies preferred to self-censor and not show women in their ads. In a December 2020 Knesset hearing, police stated they had opened 21 investigations following the vandalizing of women’s photographs in public spaces between 2018 and 2020; police closed 19 of these investigations without filing charges and transferred one to prosecutors.
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 based on gender in classes originally meant to accommodate the ultra-Orthodox population expanded to entrances, labs, libraries, and hallways of academic spaces, based on the Council of Higher Education inspections revealed through a Freedom of Information Act request. On July 12, the Supreme Court permitted a gender-segregated bachelor’s degree track for the purpose of increasing ultra-Orthodox integration in higher education but prohibited segregation in public spaces on campuses and called for the immediate cancelation of the policy prohibiting women lecturers from teaching men-only classes. Incidents of segregation were also reported in government and local authorities’ events and courses. For example, in April the Jerusalem Municipality published an ad for a gender-segregated event for children up to the age of nine. Following a letter by the Israel Women’s Network asserting this type of separation is illegal, the municipality opened the event to the public without segregation between the sexes.
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 an April 12 report by the NGO Elem, in the first nine months of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, minors experienced significant worsening of various indices of wellbeing compared with 2019, including a 160 percent increase in reported depression and anxiety, a 180 percent increase in drug and alcohol use, a 250 percent increase in physical and verbal violence, and in reports of loneliness, with 426 incidents of self-harm reported in 2020 compared with 237 in 2019.
According to a November 2 Knesset report, 11,855 complaints were processed at the Child Online Protection Bureau hotline in 2020, an increase of 65 percent from 2019. Sexual offenses accounted for 25 percent of all complaints, followed by complaints involving the distribution of embarrassing photographs and videos, boycotts, or bullying (14 percent).
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 the COVID-19 pandemic, NGOs stated that approximately 50,000 Bedouin students were unable to participate in distance learning because they lacked access to computers and tablets and their schools lacked 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 that in the 2020-21 school year, there was a shortage of 2,840 classrooms for Palestinian children who were residents in East Jerusalem. Ir Amim reported that following a freedom of information request, Jerusalem Municipality stated it did not know where an estimated 37,233 Palestinian children in Jerusalem were enrolled in school. According to Ir Amim, this figure constituted 26.9 percent of East Jerusalem children of compulsory school age. The government operated public schools for Jewish children in which classes were conducted in Hebrew that were separate from schools for Arab children, whose classes were 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 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. In August parents of Mizrahi schoolgirls in Elad, together with the Justice Ministry Legal Aid, filed a petition to the Jerusalem District Court arguing that admissions examinations for ultra-Orthodox high school seminaries in the city were meant to exclude Mizrahi girls. The petition had yet to be acted on by year’s end.
Several municipalities segregated children of African asylum seekers and other children in schools (see section 2.f.).
There was no Arabic-language school for a population of approximately 3,000 Arab/Palestinian citizens of Israel students in Nof Hagalil (formerly Nazareth Ilit), a town where 26 percent of residents were Arab. As a result, most Arab students there attended schools in Nazareth and nearby villages.
On April 20, the Supreme Court dismissed an appeal by ACRI on behalf of Arab/Palestinian citizens of Israel parents from Nof Hagalil demanding that the court order the municipality and the Ministry of Education to open an Arabic-language school for the population of approximately 3,000 Arab students. According to Haaretz, ACRI called the decision “saddening” but noted that the ruling had spoken to “the serious failure of the education system in Nof Hagalil, which neglects Arab students, who constitute a third of the city’s students, and sends them to the education system in Nazareth.” Despite rejecting the petition, the court’s ruling noted that the situation was unacceptable and the municipality was obligated to change it.
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 survivors of, engaged in, or coerced into commercial sexual exploitation, 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.
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 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/Palestinian citizens of Israel, according to government and NGO sources. In 2020 the Supreme Court ordered police to reexamine the request of a Bedouin woman, a survivor 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 did not constitute a trafficking offense in and of themselves, there was a possibility that such marriages could constitute trafficking if their purpose was to allow for sexual exploitation or forced labor or if they placed an individual at risk. At year’s end, despite the court’s order to re-examine the evidence, authorities had not granted the woman status as a trafficking victim.
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 the age of 14 and 16 constitutes 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 compensation 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.
For additional information regarding Holocaust-era property restitution and related issues, please see the Department of State’s Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today (JUST) Act Report to Congress, released publicly in July 2020, at https://www.state.gov/reports/just-act-report-to-congress/.
Trafficking in Persons
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
Persons with Disabilities
The law protects the rights of persons with disabilities, including their access to education, employment, health services, information, communications, buildings, and transportation, the judicial system, and other government services. The government generally enforced these laws. On November 4, the Knesset postponed until 2023 the deadline for making all government buildings accessible to persons with disabilities, five years past the original deadline. In August the Government Housing Administration estimated that 17 percent of public buildings would remain inaccessible for individuals with disabilities by the year’s end.
The law requires that at least 5 percent of employees of every government agency with more than 100 workers be persons with disabilities. In 2020, according to a report by the Commission for Equal Rights of Persons with Disabilities, 61 percent of government agencies met this requirement. According to rights groups, Arab/Palestinian persons with disabilities suffer disproportionally from a lack of access to housing, public buildings, transportation, higher education, and information in Arabic from the government regarding their rights. For example, according to a report by the NGO Bizchut, the rate of Arab/Palestinian persons with disabilities receiving housing services from the Ministry of Welfare and Social Affairs was five times lower than that of Jewish persons with disabilities, due to reasons that included lack of appropriate funding, outreach, and sufficient manpower.
On June 17, DIPO indicted a border police officer for reckless homicide after he allegedly shot and killed a Palestinian man with autism in Jerusalem after the man failed to heed the officer’s calls to stop (see section 1.a.).
On February 16, an interministerial committee published its recommendations on improving law enforcement responses in encounters with persons with disabilities. The committee’s recommendations include establishing emergency multidisciplinary intervention teams to respond to calls or complaints involving persons with disabilities, encouraging employment of persons with disabilities in law enforcement, developing programs to promote their interests, and improving interactions with persons with disabilities through tools such as message cards, emergency cards, kits in emergency vehicles, rights advisors, and contact with families.
HIV and AIDS Social Stigma
Discrimination against persons with HIV is illegal and, according to the Israel AIDS Task Force, institutional discrimination was rare.
On September 18, the Ministry of Health announced that the prohibition on blood donations by men who have sex with men would expire on October 1. Instead, the ministry implemented a rule stipulating that those wishing to donate blood would have to wait three months in case they had engaged in “high-risk sex with a new partner or multiple partners.”
Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
The law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation, including in goods, services, and employment. The government generally enforced the law, although some discrimination, including in employment and housing, persisted against LGBTQI+ persons. Intersex, transgender, and other gender diverse persons lack protections from discrimination based on gender identity, expression, and sex characteristics.
On March 23, Avi Maoz, the head of the Noam Party which ran on an anti-LGBTQI+ platform, was elected to the Knesset as a part of the Religious Zionist Party. On August 2, Maoz compared homosexuality to pedophilia. On August 4, Religious Zionist head Bezalel Smotrich stated a pride parade caused the country’s fourth wave of COVID-19. The Ministry of Education rejected his statement, and Minister of Health Nitzan Horowitz referred to the statement as a combination of ignorance, populism, frustration, and hate.
Some violent incidents against LGBTQI+ individuals during the year led to arrests and police investigations. For example, on April 4, a group of 15 youth attacked a man in Rishon LeZion after asking him if he was gay. They punched and kicked him until he was rescued by a taxi driver, who took him to his friend’s car. The group then vandalized and caused damage to the car. Police detained and released two individuals as a part of their investigation. As of the year’s end, there were no indictments in the case.
On August 8, two siblings were charged with attempted murder and conspiracy to commit murder as a part of a plea bargain after stabbing their 16-year-old brother outside an LGBTQI+ youth shelter in 2019 due to his sexual orientation. They were sentenced to 14 years’ and six years’ imprisonment, a fine, and payment of compensation to the survivor. A third individual, a friend of the siblings, was convicted of aiding and abetting the crime and sentenced to five-and-a-half years’ imprisonment, a fine, and payment of compensation to the survivor.
On August 10, the Tel Aviv District Court ordered the release of an ultra-Orthodox minor from a psychiatric ward on the grounds that his family had pushed for his forced hospitalization due to his perceived sexual orientation. The family initially argued that the minor was aggressive and threatening but during the appeal, which was submitted by the minor with the assistance of the Ministry of Justice, retracted this statement. The court ruled a major reason for the hospitalization was the clash due to the parent’s values regarding the minor’s homosexuality and added that sexual orientation does not justify forced hospitalization.
Conversion therapy took place mainly within Jewish and Muslim religious communities. The law allows for conversion therapy, but the Ministry of Health has warned the public against it, and Israeli mental health associations considered it an ethical and professional offense.
On June 29, the head of the Mitzpe Ramon local council published a letter indicating his opposition to holding the city’s first pride parade. He wrote that he did not recognize the pride flag and refused to refer to LGBTQI+ persons as a community, only as individuals who are not ordinary who should not “externalize their sexual orientation.” He speculated that the real goal of the community wasn’t to legitimize same-sex attraction but rather to “break the social solidarity while challenging norms that bring society together – religion, nationality, and family.” In place of a pride parade, the LGBTQI+ community held a demonstration in Mitzpe Ramon that was attended by hundreds.
Section 7. Worker Rights
a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining
The law provides for the right of workers to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. After a union declares a labor dispute, there is a 15-day “cooling period” in which the Histadrut, the country’s largest federation of trade unions, negotiates with the employer to resolve the dispute. On the 16th day, employees are permitted to strike. Workers essential to state security, such as members of the military, police, prison service, Mossad, and the ISA, are not permitted to strike. The law prohibits strikes because of political grievances and allows the government to declare a state of emergency to block a strike that the government determined could threaten the economy or trade with foreign states. According to the Histadrut, this law has never been applied.
The law prohibits antiunion discrimination. A labor court has discretionary authority to order the reinstatement of a worker fired for union activity.
The government enforced applicable laws effectively, and penalties were commensurate with those for other laws involving denials of civil rights, such as discrimination. According to the International Trade Union Confederation, some employers actively discouraged union participation, delayed or refused to engage in collective bargaining, or harassed workers attempting to form a union. Approval by a minimum of one-third of the employees in a workplace is needed to qualify a trade union to represent all workers in that workplace.
According to the worker’s rights NGO Kav LaOved, a growing number of workers in education, social work, security, cleaning, and caregiving were employed as contract workers, which infringed on their right to associate, as it reduced their bargaining power and their right to equality.
b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The law prohibits and criminalizes all forms of forced or compulsory labor. Penalties were commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping, but the government did not effectively enforce the penal code.
Migrant and Palestinian workers in agriculture and construction and women migrant domestic workers were among the most vulnerable to conditions of forced labor, including bonded labor, domestic servitude, and slavery. NGOs reported some vulnerable workers experienced forced labor, including the unlawful withholding of passports, restrictions on freedom of movement, limited ability to change employers, nonpayment of wages, exceedingly long working hours, threats, sexual assault, and physical intimidation, partly because of a lack of adequate government oversight and monitoring.
The country has bilateral work agreements (BWAs) with Bulgaria, Moldova, Romania, Ukraine, and China to employ migrants in the construction sector and with Thailand in the agricultural sector in order to prevent forced labor. On June 1, the government began implementing a BWA with the Philippines and has a BWA with Sri Lanka for the home caregiving sector. The government also has BWAs with Georgia and Nepal for institutional caregiving. BWAs provided foreign workers with information regarding their labor rights as well as a translated copy of their labor contract prior to arrival in the country. The government continued to help fund a hotline for migrant workers to report violations, and the government’s enforcement bodies claimed all complaints were investigated. Migrant workers not covered by BWAs suffered from continuing widespread abuses and exploitative working conditions, including excessive recruitment fees, false employment contracts, and lack of legal protections related to housing, nonpayment of wages, physical and sexual violence, and harassment.
Gray-market manpower agencies engaged in labor trafficking by exploiting visa waiver agreements between Israel and former Soviet Union and Eastern European countries. The traffickers illegally recruited laborers to work in construction and caregiving, and charged them exorbitant recruitment fees, and sometimes sold them extremely expensive documentation.
Chinese and Turkish construction companies in the country compelled Chinese and Turkish workers to work under the threat of debt bondage or coercive promissory notes.
There were reports that some employers in the agriculture sector circumvented the BWAs by recruiting “volunteers” from developing countries to earn money and learn Israeli agriculture methods. Volunteers worked eight to 10 hours per day at a salary equal to half the minimum wage and without social benefits. The individuals received volunteer visas, which did not permit them to work. Other firms employed foreign students registered for work-study programs that consisted of long hours of manual labor and paid less than the minimum wage. For example, Vietnamese participating in a work-study program administered by a private company under the auspices of the country’s Agency for International Development Cooperation, endured 14- to 16-hour workdays, were confined to company-controlled housing when not working, had their passports withheld, and were under $30,000 promissory notes, according to Kav LaOved. During the year 10 participants in the program were recognized as trafficking victims. According to the government, it asked the Vietnamese company to cancel existing contracts, and redraw the contracts to provide for proper conditions.
Some employers recruited low-skilled foreign workers under the guise of being “experts” in their field. To prevent this, in 2020 PIBA adopted guidelines for classifying foreign workers as experts. Under these guidelines the government considers an expert to be highly skilled in a field that does not require higher education or advanced degrees. Additionally, experts may not perform low-skilled jobs, come from a country with a lower GDP than Israel’s, come from a country listed on the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report as Tier 3 or Tier 2 on its watch list, or come from a country without a BWA.
Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
The law prohibits all of the worst forms of child labor, provides for a minimum age of employment, includes limitations on working hours, and specifies occupational safety and health restrictions for children. Children ages 14 and older may be employed during official school holidays in nonhazardous light work that does not harm their health. Children ages 15 and 16 who have completed education through grade nine may be employed as apprentices. Those who completed their mandatory education early or who were unable to attend an educational institution regularly may work with a government permit. Regulations restrict working hours for youths between ages 16 and 18 in all sectors. The law prohibits children younger than 18 from working at construction sites and from working overtime.
The government generally enforced the law and conducted year-round inspections to identify cases of underage employment, with special emphasis on summer and school vacation periods. Penalties for child labor violations were not commensurate with those for analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping. During the year authorities imposed a number of sanctions against employers for child labor infractions, including administrative warnings and fines.
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
The law prohibits discrimination in employment and occupation based on age, race, religion, national origin, ethnicity, sex, sexual orientation, and disability. The law prohibits an employer from discriminating against employees, contractors, or persons seeking employment. The law protects women’s labor rights during pregnancy and maternity leave. Regulations on women’s employment restrict women younger than 45, pregnant women, and women who are nursing from working in jobs which have the possibility of exposure to certain chemicals. The law provides for equal pay for equal work of male and female employees and prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities. The law requires that at least 5 percent of employees of every government agency with more than 100 workers to be persons with disabilities. In 2020, according to a report by the Commission for Equal Rights of Persons with Disabilities, 61 percent of government agencies met this requirement (see section 6, Persons with Disabilities). The law does not explicitly prohibit discrimination on the basis of citizenship or HIV or AIDS status.
The government generally enforced applicable laws, and penalties for abuses were commensurate with other laws on civil rights, such as election interference, but civil society organizations reported that discrimination in the employment or pay of women, Arab/Palestinian citizens, Ethiopian-Israelis, and transgender persons persisted. The law charges the Commission for Equal Employment Opportunities with the implementation and civil enforcement of the Equal Employment Opportunities Law. According to the commission’s annual report, in 2020 it received 1,094 complaints, the highest number since the commission’s establishment and a 40 percent increase from 2019.
According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, in 2018 the average monthly salary for men was significantly higher than women’s earnings. A government report showed a 32 percent pay gap between men and women in the public sector during 2019, according to the most recent available statistics. A part of the pay gap reportedly resulted from a differential between the average number of hours men and women worked each week.
At the beginning of the year, during the country’s third lockdown on account of the COVID-19 pandemic, 68.5 percent of the country’s unemployed were women and 31.5 percent were men. By comparison, at the beginning of 2020 prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the unemployment gender gap was 1 percent.
On May 13, during the period of civil unrest and Israel’s May military campaign, the Civil Service Commission issued a memorandum stating it would not hesitate to take action against civil servants who expressed themselves in a racist manner or encouraged support for acts of violence on social media. Simultaneously, far-right activists made social media posts opposed to Arab/Palestinian citizens of Israel, demanding they be fired by their employers. According to media reports, on May 18, the Ministry of Health summoned six Arab/Palestinian Israeli citizens and one Jewish citizen to a hearing based on claims received by the ministry. NGOs received additional reports of Arab/Palestinian Israeli citizens facing similar circumstances. Additional Arab/Palestinian citizens faced hearings and illegal terminations due to their participation in a one-day protest strike on May 18. On May 16, Kav LaOved and ACRI wrote to the Civil Service Commission demanding that it prevent a “witch hunt” against Arab/Palestinian citizens by canceling the hearings and clarifying guidelines regarding freedom of expression of public servants. According to Kav LaOved, none of the workers summoned to hearings was dismissed. On May 30, the commission published a directive providing criteria for examining the level of violation on workers’ freedom of expression and increased the threshold for disciplinary action.ֿ
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
Wage and Hour Laws: The law provides for a national minimum wage for all sectors of the economy. The minimum wage was above the poverty income level for individuals but below the poverty level for couples and families. Authorities investigated employers, imposed administrative sanctions, and filed indictments for violations of the Minimum Wage Law during the year.
The law allows a maximum 42-hour workweek at regular pay and provides for paid annual holidays. Premium pay for overtime is set at 125 percent for the first two hours and 150 percent for any hour thereafter up to a limit of 15 hours of overtime per week.
The Administration for the Regulation and Enforcement of Labor Laws was responsible for enforcing wage and hour laws, and the number of labor inspectors was insufficient to enforce compliance. Inspectors had the authority to make unannounced inspections and initiate sanctions. Labor inspectors faced a partial moratorium on their on-site work due to COVID-19 pandemic restrictions. The government did not sufficiently enforce minimum wage and overtime laws, and penalties were not commensurate with similar crimes such as fraud. According to the National Insurance, the level of noncompliance with the hourly minimum wage law stood at 11 percent of the labor market in 2018. According to data from the Ministry of Welfare and Social Affairs, enforcement actions were taken against 156 employers during 2019.
According to Kav LaOved, 700,000 individuals were employed on an hourly basis, which reduced their social rights and benefits because most lacked an employment contract containing specific protections.
Occupational Safety and Health: Occupational safety and health (OSH) regulations were insufficient for some industries in the country, particularly construction and agriculture. OSH inspectors actively identified unsafe conditions and responded to workers’ OSH complaints, but the government did not effectively enforce the law in all sectors. Penalties for violations of the law were not commensurate with those for crimes such as negligence and were seldom applied. The law does not specifically provide for the right of workers to remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment. Responsibility for identifying unsafe situations remains with OSH experts and not the workers. The Occupational Safety Directorate, along with union representatives and construction site safety officers, enforced labor, health, and safety standards in the workplace. Labor inspectors have the right to make unannounced visits, but the number of inspectors was insufficient to enforce compliance, particularly in the construction and agriculture industries, and scaffolding regulations were inadequate to protect workers from falls.
Informal Sector: Large populations of African migrants were targets of violence. Additionally, government policies on the legality of work forced many refugees to work in “unofficial” positions, making them more susceptible to abuse, poor treatment, and exploitative employment practices. 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.
Up to December 12, the law barred migrants from sending money abroad, limited the amount they could take with them when they left the country to minimum-wage earnings for the number of months they resided in the country, and defined taking additional money outside the country as a money-laundering crime.
Conditional release visas of Eritrean and Sudanese refugees do not include a work permit, making their employment an offense, but the government continued its practice of not enforcing this offense against employers following a 2011 commitment to the Supreme Court.
Three migrant workers without adequate on-site protection from incoming projectiles were killed during their work during the country’s May military campaign. On May 11, an Indian caregiver died when a rocket hit the home of her employer in Ashkelon, which did not have a shelter. On May 18, two Thai agricultural workers died and eight were injured from a direct rocket hit on the farm where they were working. According to Kav LaOved, workers in agricultural sites in the south did not have sirens or proper shelters in their place of work. On May 19, the Migrant Workers Administration instructed private recruitment agencies to allow any agricultural worker who seeks to be temporarily transferred to a different region due to the security situation to do so.
A police unit was responsible for investigating workplace accidents that resulted in death or severe injuries, mainly at construction sites. According to Kav LaOved, however, the police unit carried out only 39 investigations between its establishment in 2019 and June 30, while during the same period some 900 construction accidents occurred, 331 of them being severe or fatal. Less than 1 percent of accidents, according to Kav LaOved, resulted in cases that reached the prosecutor’s office. During the year, 68 workers died in work accidents, according to the NGO Struggle Against Construction and Industry Accidents.
On February 2, ACRI and Kav LaOved filed a petition to the Supreme Court, demanding that the Social Security Institute cover the full medical costs of Palestinians injured in work accidents in Israel, as is the case with Israeli and migrant workers. According to the NGOs, the Social Security Institute covers medical costs of injured Palestinian workers in Israel only retroactively, after the injury is recognized as a work accident. In the meantime, the employee may not work and must either pay or give up treatment and rehabilitation. The petition was pending as of the year’s end.
In December 2020 the government began implementing a 2016 resolution to issue work permits directly to Palestinian construction workers instead of to their employers to avoid illicit trade in permits and attendant high brokerage fees. On March 21, authorities began issuing similar permits to Palestinian workers in industry and service fields. A March survey by Kav LaOved showed that many construction workers continued to pay brokerage fees, sometimes even higher ones, during the year. The Maan Workers Association stated that, without proper enforcement, brokerage fees would remain a problem. An application helping to connect workers and employers began operating at the end of the year. The government continued to issue work permits to Israeli employers rather than to Palestinian workers in other sectors. The work permits linked the employee to a specific employer, creating a dependence that some employers and employment agencies exploited by charging employees monthly commissions and fees. In many cases the employer of record hired out employees to other workplaces.
During the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns, the Ministry of Defense issued an order allowing Palestinians working in construction and agriculture to continue work only if they remained in Israel for an extended period without returning to the West Bank. On May 18, during the period of civil unrest and the country’s May military campaign, COGAT announced that only workers older than 45, workers in the health sector, and individuals under humanitarian circumstances were permitted to enter Israel, according to media reports.
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 elections in the West Bank and Gaza for those positions since 2006, and 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 2019 and again in September 2020, President Abbas called for the Palestinian Authority to organize elections for the Palestinian Legislative Council within six months. President Abbas indefinitely postponed national elections on April 30, stating the reason was that Israel had not agreed to allow Palestinians in East Jerusalem to participate in voting. 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 operated 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 has 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 and internal criminal investigations and arrests. The Preventive Security Organization is responsible for internal intelligence gathering and investigations related to internal security cases, which was interpreted to include political dissent. The Palestinian Authority used the Preventative Security Organization at times to crack down on dissent it considered threatening to political stability. The Presidential Guard protects facilities and provides dignitary protection. Palestinian Authority civilian authorities maintained effective control of security forces. There were credible reports that members of the Palestinian Authority security forces committed abuses.
In the Gaza Strip, the designated terrorist organization Hamas exercised authority. The security apparatus of Hamas in the Gaza Strip 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, the Izz ad-din al-Qassam Brigades. In some instances Hamas utilized its military wing to crack down on internal dissent. Public sector employees sometimes believed there was pressure to show loyalty to Hamas and its military wing. There were credible reports that Hamas security forces committed numerous abuses.
The government of Israel occupies the West Bank and has maintained a West Bank security presence through the Israel Defense Forces, the Israeli Security Agency (Shin Bet), the Israel National Police, and the Border Guard. Israel maintained effective civilian control of its security forces throughout the West Bank. Palestinian residents and Israeli and Palestinian nongovernmental organizations accused Israeli security forces of abuses during the year. The Israeli military and civilian justice systems on occasion investigated and found members of Israeli security forces to have committed abuses.
The Palestinian Authority exercised varying degrees of authority in restricted areas of the West Bank due to the Israel Defense Forces’ continuing presence, and none over Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem due to Israel’s extension of Israeli law and authority to East Jerusalem in 1967 and an Israeli prohibition on any Palestinian Authority activity anywhere in Jerusalem. Oslo Accords-era agreements divide the West Bank into Areas A, B, and C. West Bank Palestinian population centers mostly fall into Areas A and B, with Palestinian agricultural lands and rural communities in Area C. The Palestinian Authority has formal responsibility for security in Area A, but Israeli security forces frequently conducted security operations there. The Palestinian Authority maintains administrative control, and Israel maintains 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. The Palestinian Authority maintained security coordination with Israel during the year.
Significant human rights issues included:
1) With respect to the Palestinian Authority: credible reports of unlawful or arbitrary killings by Palestinian Authority officials; torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by Palestinian Authority officials; arbitrary arrest or detention; political prisoners and detainees; significant problems with the independence of the judiciary; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; serious restrictions on free expression and media, including violence, threats of violence, unjustified arrests and prosecutions against journalists, and censorship; serious restrictions on internet freedom; substantial interference with the freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, including harassment of nongovernmental organizations; serious and unreasonable restrictions on political participation, since the Palestinian Authority has not held a national election since 2006; serious government corruption; lack of investigation of and accountability for gender-based violence; crimes, violence, and threats of violence motivated by anti-Semitism; crimes involving violence and threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or intersex persons; and reports of the worst forms of child labor.
2) With respect to Hamas: credible reports of unlawful or arbitrary killings by Hamas personnel; torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by Hamas personnel; unjust detention; political prisoners or detainees; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; serious restrictions on free expression and media, including violence, threats of violence, unjustified arrests and prosecutions against journalists, censorship, and the existence of criminal libel and slander laws; serious restrictions on internet freedom; substantial interference with the freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; serious and unreasonable restrictions on political participation because there has been no national election since 2006; serious government corruption; lack of investigation of and accountability for gender-based violence; crimes, violence, and threats of violence motivated by anti-Semitism; unlawful recruitment and use of child soldiers; crimes involving violence and threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or intersex persons; and the worst forms of child labor.
3) With respect to Israeli security forces in the West Bank: credible reports of unlawful or arbitrary killings due to unnecessary or disproportionate use of force by Israeli officials; torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by Israeli officials; arbitrary arrest or detention; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; restrictions on free expression and media, including violence, threats of violence, unjustified arrests and prosecutions against journalists, and censorship; restrictions on internet freedom; 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 restrictions on freedom of movement and residence.
4) With respect to Palestinian civilians threatening Israeli citizens: credible reports of unlawful or arbitrary killings and credible reports of injuries to Israeli citizens.
5) With respect to Israeli civilians threatening Palestinian citizens: credible reports of unlawful or arbitrary killings, and credible reports of injuries to Palestinians.
There were criticisms that senior Palestinian Authority officials made comments glorifying violence in some cases and inappropriately influencing investigations and disciplinary actions related to abuses. Israeli authorities operating in the West Bank took some steps to address impunity or reduce abuses, but human rights groups frequently asserted they did not adequately pursue investigations and disciplinary actions related to abuses against Palestinians, including actions to stop or punish violence by Israeli settlers in the West Bank. There were no legal or independent institutions capable of holding Hamas in Gaza accountable, and impunity was widespread. Several militant groups with access to heavy weaponry, including Palestinian Islamic Jihad, also operated with impunity in and from Gaza. Israeli authorities rarely acted against Israelis who threw stones in the West Bank, and there were no known reports during the year of the Israel Defense Forces shooting Israeli attackers.
This section of the report covers the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem territories that Israel occupied during the June 1967 war. In 2017 the United States recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel 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
a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
There were reports that Israeli and Palestinian governmental forces or their agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. Palestinian security forces were accused of using excessive force against the Palestinian Authority’s (PA’s) political opponents. On June 24, Palestinian Authority Security Forces (PASF) entered the Israeli-controlled H2 area of Hebron, raided the house where Palestinian dissident Nizar Banat was hiding, and severely beat him. According to video and eyewitness testimony, Banat was still alive when PASF carried him out of the house but was declared dead shortly thereafter upon his arrival at the Hebron public hospital. An autopsy found he had been beaten on the head, chest, neck, legs, and hands, with less than an hour elapsing between his arrest and his death. The PA detained 14 PASF officers belonging to the Preventive Security Organization (PSO) that they claim carried out the botched arrest, and an internal PA investigation continued at year’s end. On August 28, Banat’s family requested a foreign government to open an investigation under the principle of universal jurisdiction, claiming they had no confidence in the PA’s capacity to deliver justice.
According to the Ministry of Public Security, 39 terror attacks or terror attack attempts were carried out during the year in the West Bank and 15 in Jerusalem; two persons were killed in these attacks. The PA continued to make payments to persons convicted of terrorism in Israeli courts serving prison sentences, former prisoners, and the families of those who died committing terrorist attacks. Israel considered these payments to incentivize, encourage, and reward terrorism, with higher monthly payments for lengthier prison sentences tied to more severe crimes. The PA considered these payments provided economic support to families who had lost their primary breadwinner.
Israeli security forces killed 73 Palestinians in the West Bank as of December 13, including 11 on May 14, the highest number of Palestinian fatalities recorded in a single day in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, since the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (UNOCHA) began recording fatalities in 2005. With respect to Palestinian civilians threatening Israeli citizens, there were four credible reports of unlawful or arbitrary killings and 150 credible reports of injuries to Israeli citizens as of December 20. With respect to Israeli civilians threatening Palestinian citizens, there were four credible reports of unlawful or arbitrary killings and 174 credible reports of injuries to Palestinians as of December 20.
An outbreak of violence in the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict began on May 10, although disturbances took place earlier, and continued until a ceasefire came into effect on May 21. During the May escalation, 261 Palestinians were killed, including 67 children. Israeli strikes killed at least 241 persons and the rest were due to rockets falling short and other circumstances. An estimated 130 of the fatalities were civilians and 77 were members of armed groups, while the status of the remaining 54 had not been determined, according to UNOCHA. According to the human rights nongovernmental organization (NGO) B’Tselem, 20 Palestinians in Gaza, including seven minors, were killed by Palestinian rocket fire during the May conflict. B’Tselem was unable to ascertain who killed eight other Palestinians, six of them minors. According to UNOCHA, in Israel, 13 persons, including two children, were killed, and 710 others were injured. A member of the Israeli security forces was killed by an antitank missile fired by a Gaza-based Palestinian organization during the May conflict.
Throughout the year, Israeli security forces killed Palestinian protesters who B’Tselem and other rights groups asserted did not pose a mortal threat to ISF personnel. For example on May 14, approximately 200 residents of Ya’bad and the surrounding area participated in demonstrations, with some waving Palestinian flags while others burned tires and used boulders to block the road leading to the settlement of Mevo Dotan. Some of them also threw stones at several dozen Israeli soldiers who were standing on the road and in nearby olive groves. The Israeli soldiers used stun grenades and fired tear gas canisters and rubber-coated metal bullets in response. The soldiers also fired two live rounds at the protesters. One protester was injured in the leg and another, Yusef a-Nawasrah from the village of Fahmah, was hit in the waist and died soon afterwards, according to B’Tselem.
Also on May 14, several dozen young men from the area of Tulkarem came to an agricultural gate in the separation barrier, north of the village of Shuweika. Some of them waved Palestinian flags and threw stones at Israeli soldiers standing on the other side of the nearby barrier. The Israeli soldiers used stun grenades and fired tear gas canisters and rubber-coated metal bullets in response. One of the soldiers fired a live round, hitting Nizar Abu Zeinah, a resident of Tulkarem Refugee Camp, in the chest. Abu Zeinah was pronounced dead a short while later at a Tulkarem hospital, according to B’Tselem.
On May 15, near al-Birah in the West Bank, Israel Defense Force (IDF) soldiers fired tear gas canisters, rubber bullets, and live rounds at protesters from 70 to 100 yards away, severely injuring Fadi Washahah. He died two weeks later of brain injuries, according to B’Tselem.
On May 18 in the village of Tura al-Gharbiyah, soldiers on the roof of Samer Kabaha’s house threw stun grenades and fired tear gas canisters and rubber-coated metal bullets at dozens of men who had spread out around the house and in nearby alleys and were throwing stones at the soldiers. After participating, Muntasser Zidan was walking towards a grocery store with a friend away from the area of the clashes when a soldier opened fire with live rounds from the rooftop of the house and hit Zidan in the head. Zidan died of his wounds two days later, according to B’Tselem.
On July 21, Israeli police detained Abdo Yusuf al-Khatib al-Tamimi for a traffic violation. Police took him to the Moskabiya Detention Center in Jerusalem where he died on July 23. According to press reports, his family, and human rights groups, he was beaten and tortured in custody before he died. Photos published by Palestinian and international press after his death show a stitched gash on his forehead, a wound on his knee, and extensive bruising on other parts of his body. The Israeli Prison Services (IPS) announced that he had been “found dead” in his cell three days after his arrest. Al-Tamimi’s body reportedly was taken to the Abu Kabir Forensic Institute in East Jerusalem for an autopsy performed by Israeli authorities in the presence of a Palestinian doctor. Authorities have not yet made the autopsy results public.
Palestinians in Gaza protested multiple times at the fence between the Gaza Strip and Israel in August to make political and humanitarian demands, including reconstruction and reopening of border crossings. Hundreds participated in protests on August 21 and August 25, including armed militants and unarmed protesters. The Israeli military killed three persons during the protests, according to media reports: one al-Quds Brigade (AQB) militant, a 12-year-old boy, and another man. An Israeli border police officer also was killed.
In April the NGO Yesh Din released a report on the Military Advocate General’s (MAG’s) Fact Finding Assessment (FFA) Mechanism that was implemented to investigate incidents, including injuries and fatalities, during the “March of Return” protests that started in 2018 and continued through late 2019. Yesh Din found that of 231 incidents forwarded to the FFA, 59 percent, covering 140 fatalities, remained 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 the incidents so long after they occurred. Most of these fatalities were still undergoing the FFA Mechanism’s “quick” assessment three years later, according to Yesh Din.
A November 30 B’Tselem report entitled, Unwilling and Unable: Israel’s Whitewashed Investigations of the Great March of Return Protests concluded that the Israeli government had not seriously investigated killings of Palestinians or held IDF members accountable, despite announcing in 2018 that it would open investigations of its use of lethal force, which B’Tselem in part attributed to a desire to deflect international criticism and investigation at the International Criminal Court.
Some human rights groups alleged the ISF used excessive force while detaining and arresting some Palestinians accused of committing crimes. On December 4, Israeli border police shot and killed Muhammad Salima, a Palestinian from the West Bank town of Salfit, as he lay on the ground outside the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem. Salima had stabbed and injured an ultra-Orthodox Israeli man before running toward the officers, who shot him. Israel’s State Prosecutor’s Office briefly opened and then closed an investigation into the officers’ conduct, finding they had done nothing wrong. On May 25, in Um a-Sharayet in the West Bank, an Israeli Special Police Unit vehicle blocked Ahmad Abdu’s car after he got into it. According to video footage published by B’Tselem, officers were seen getting out of the vehicle and immediately firing several shots at the car at the apparently injured Abdu as he opened the righthand door, at which point the officers surrounded the car and dragged Abdu out, then left the scene without providing him first aid. An Israeli Border Police statement stated Abdu had been killed as part of an “arrest operation” but offered no explanation for the lethal shooting. B’Tselem stated that opening live fire at a person sitting in his car, without first trying to arrest him, is not an “attempted arrest” but rather is a targeted killing.
In Gaza, Hamas sentenced 21 individuals to death during the year, although it did not carry out any executions, according to the Democracy and Media Center (SHAMS). Among those sentenced to death, eight allegedly collaborated with Israel and one was sentenced for drug offenses. According to SHAMS, there is no law, decree, or legislation in the West Bank or Gaza Strip that punishes drug offenses with a death sentence. The Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) previously noted a significant increase in the death penalty in Gaza since 2007, with Hamas sentencing 130 persons to death and executing 25 during that period, despite significant concerns that Hamas courts did not meet minimum fair trial standards. By law the PA president must ratify each death penalty sentence. Hamas in previous years 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.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
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 has yet to establish a protocol for preventing torture. The quasi-governmental Independent Commission for Human Rights (ICHR) reported receiving 176 complaints of torture or mistreatment against the PA and 115 complaints against Hamas during the year. Some human rights groups reported that during the year Palestinian police took a more direct role in the mistreatment of Palestinian protesters than in previous years.
Between January and September 2020, 40 West Bank Palestinians and 50 Gaza Palestinians complained of torture and mistreatment by Palestinian security forces, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW). According to a 2019 update to a 2018 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 that included 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 being 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.
Palestinian detainees held by the 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. There was a box in the common area of the prison where prisoners could submit complaints, which a warden then reviewed. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime provided support to this system, including ensuring there were posters in every prison with the prisoners’ rights explained in English and Arabic.
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. During the year 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. On July 3, the PA arrested 14 Palestinian low-level security personnel in connection with the June 24 killing of dissident Nizar Banat (see section 1.a.). On September 5, the PA’s Security Forces Justice Commission completed its investigation into Banat’s killing and announced it would indict 14 PASF officers of beating Banat to death under the penal martial code of 1979. The first hearing took place on September 27, and weekly hearings continued. The Banat family’s lawyer walked out of a November 2 hearing in protest of verbal attacks against the family and himself by the defense counsel but resumed attending hearings in early December. Since Banat’s death, Preventative Security Organization (PSO) officers raided Banat family homes on multiple occasions and detained family members – including key witnesses present at the time of Banat’s death – purportedly as part of investigating retribution incidents related to the killing. Local security chiefs said this was necessary to prevent a spiraling cycle of violence, but Banat family members and activists alleged the PSO actions constituted witness intimidation and harassment. The trial continued at the end of the year, and the 14 defendants remained detained.
An Israeli news article reported on “serious violent behavior” by Israeli police towards Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem on December 27. Among complaints reportedly filed with the Police Internal Investigations Department, the article quoted a 16-year-old boy’s allegations that Israeli police stripped and beat him in a public bathroom; stated that Israeli police handcuffed and dragged a Palestinian woman across the floor; cited a female journalist’s complaint of sexist comments during an interrogation; and reported another child was dragged out of bed in the middle of the night, falsely identified as someone else, and his family members beaten. Jerusalem police described the report as “distorted and one-sided” but did not specifically dispute any of the details reported. Palestinians criticized Israeli police for devoting fewer resources on a per capita basis to regular crime and community policing in Palestinian neighborhoods in Jerusalem. Israeli police did not maintain a permanent presence in areas of Jerusalem outside the barrier and only entered to conduct raids, according to NGOs.
The attorney general announced January 24 that “no sufficient evidence was found to justify an indictment” of security officials in the case of Samer al-Arbid, a Palestinian suspect in the 2019 killing of Rina Shnerb near the settlement of Dolev in the West Bank. The NGO Public Committee against Torture in Israel (PCATI) alleged the ISA used “exceptional measures” in interrogating al-Arbid, who was admitted to a hospital unconscious and with serious injuries following an interrogation.
PCATI reported that “exceptional measures” 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 the ISF. According to PCATI, there were only two investigations into 1,300 complaints made since 2001; both cases were closed with no indictment. The average time it took the Inspector of Interrogee Complaints (IIC) to conclude the preliminary examination of a complaint filed by PCATI increased from 44 months in 2020 to 56 months during the year.
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.
The MCW stated that more than 73 percent of Palestinian minors detained in the West Bank reported being subjected to various forms of physical abuse during arrest, transfer, or interrogation by Israeli authorities. The MCW reported that most 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 that more than 94 percent of minors arrested during the year reported being blindfolded or hooded upon arrest. Israeli military prosecutors most commonly charged Palestinian minors with stone throwing, according to the MCW.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Conditions in PA prisons and detention centers in the West Bank reportedly were poor, largely due to overcrowding and structural problems. Conditions of Hamas prisons in Gaza also were 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 and held political dissidents with violent criminals, although in some cases involving foreign citizens, male juveniles were held in a separate juvenile detention facility in Ramallah. Security services used separate detention facilities. Conditions for women were like those for men. The PA used several refurbished structures and buildings as prisons, some of which lacked necessary security accommodations.
There were periodic deaths in PA and Hamas prisons and limited remedial action to prevent them. In one example, Ayman al-Qadi died in September 2020 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 examination had determined al-Qadi was not a risk to himself or others.
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. Some prisons restricted access to visitors (see Independent Monitoring below). 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, COVID-19 restrictions since March 2020, or having their request denied on “security grounds.”
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, 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 Israeli security forces’ 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 and families were prevented from seeing their incarcerated relatives in Israeli military prisons due to coronavirus prevention measures.
For further information on the treatment of Palestinians in Israeli prisons as well as prison conditions in Israel, see Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for Israel.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
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 and instead applied Jordanian law or used tribal courts, which do not provide the same protections.
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. Israeli authorities also did not always apply the same laws to all residents of Jerusalem, regardless of their Israeli citizenship status. NGOs and Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem alleged Israeli security forces disproportionally devoted enforcement actions to Palestinian neighborhoods, particularly Issawiya and Sheikh Jarrah, with higher numbers of temporary checkpoints and raids than in West Jerusalem. For example, the IDF detained Sheikh Jarrah resident and activist Murad Ateah on August 10 and subsequently extended his detention multiple times before charging him with organizing activities that disturbed the peace in the neighborhood. His first hearing was scheduled for September 30, and his detention was subsequently extended 12 times.
Israel prosecuted Palestinian residents of the West Bank under military law and Israeli settlers in the West Bank under Israeli criminal and civil law. Israeli military law has broad exceptions for security-related offenses that limit the ability of any person to challenge the lawfulness of their arbitrary arrest and detention in military court.
In the West Bank, Israeli security forces routinely detained Palestinians for several hours and subjected them to interrogations, according to human rights groups.
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 Palestinian Authority does not have the power to convict Israelis who commit crimes in Palestinian-controlled areas. Israeli citizens who commit crimes within the West Bank are subject to Israeli law and tried in courts within Israel.
The PA’s Military Intelligence organization (PASF/MI) investigated and arrested PA security force personnel from all PASF branches and civilians suspected of “security offenses,” such as terrorism.
In the Gaza Strip, Hamas detained many 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.
Israel applies Israeli military law to Palestinians in the West Bank, although NGOs criticized this practice as permitted under international humanitarian law only on a temporary basis. Israel has used military courts to prosecute Palestinians from the West Bank since 1967, and 95 percent of cases tried in military courts ended in conviction, according to the MCW. Approximately 800,000 Palestinian men, women, and children have been detained since 1967, according to the MCW. More than 80 percent of Palestinian prisoners arrested by the ISF in the West Bank were detained inside of Israel by Israeli authorities.
According to the MCW, 65 percent of Palestinian child detainees continued to be forcibly transferred or unlawfully detained in prisons located outside the West Bank, which the MCW stated was in violation of international law. Under Israeli law, children as young as 12 can be prosecuted in Israeli military courts. According to IPS figures obtained by the MCW, as of September the average number of Palestinian minors in Israeli detention during the year was down 11 percent from 2020. The monthly average of 147 was the lowest since the MCW began keeping records in 2008.
Israeli authorities generally provided Palestinians held in military custody with access to counsel, but detainees often obtained lawyers only after initial interrogations, according to NGOs. According to the MCW, many Palestinian detainees saw their lawyer for the first time when they appeared before an Israeli military court. The MCW also reported that many children were arrested in night-time military raids on their homes; tied and blindfolded; transferred to an interrogation center on the floor of military vehicles; experienced some physical and verbal abuse as well as threats; and continued to be questioned without prior access to a lawyer or being informed of their right to silence as required under Israeli military law. In 2020 the NGO HaMoked petitioned the Israeli Supreme Court to compel the ISF to end the practice of night-time raids and rely on summons issued to the parents as a first recourse. In response to the petition, the government of Israel initially argued there was no international law prohibiting the practice but subsequently clarified that a new, classified procedure went into force on August 1, eliminating the practice except in certain circumstances. The Supreme Court left the petition pending but ordered the state to submit an updated notice by February 1, 2022. HaMoked reported that since August 1 when the military order apparently went into effect, it has received calls from more than 50 parents asking for help with locating children in Israeli detention. Only two parents reported to HaMoked that they had received a summons prior to the detention. According to testimonies collected by the MCW, only 23 percent of detained Palestinian minors saw a lawyer prior to interrogation, a slight increase from 2020. In many cases, the 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 minors’ 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. The 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, NGOs claimed this occurred only in 47 percent of cases. Israeli military law does not require the presence of a parent or guardian during interrogations, according to 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, the MCW, and Parents against Child Detention.
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 be linked 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 the ages of 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 three days, with a possible three-day extension. The law mandates audiovisual recording of interrogations of minors in the West Bank for non-security-related offenses only.
Under military law, an Israeli Military Judge 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 45 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 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 law allows the Israeli Ministry of Defense to detain persons administratively without charge for up to six months, renewable indefinitely. There has been criticism of misuse of administrative detention, including by the United Nations.
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. After the PA postponed the PLC elections in April, the PASF arrested dozens of persons from areas known to support PA President Abbas’s exiled Fatah rival, Muhammad Dahlan, according to press reports. During protests in early July following Nizar Banat’s death, the PA also arrested dozens of peaceful protesters, along with lawyers who subsequently represented them. In many cases detainees were held without formal charges or proper procedures in poor conditions. 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 281 complaints of arbitrary arrest and detention without trial or charges in the West Bank. Regarding Hamas, the ICHR reported receiving 144 complaints of unjust arrest and detention in Gaza.
As of mid-June, press reports indicated that the PASF had arrested 49 supporters of Mohammad Dahlan, the former Fatah security chief whom many saw as President Abbas’s main rival for the presidency. Another 150 Dahlan supporters were briefly detained or summoned for interrogation for having been associated with the Dahlan-affiliated al-Mustaqbal list for the parliamentary election which Abbas canceled in April. Among those arrested were Mohammad Nazzal and Wesam Ghuneim, both candidates on al-Mustaqbal’s electoral list. A spokesperson for the Democratic Reformist Current party headed by Dahlan said the PASF arrested dozens of its members for political reasons.
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) (see section 2.a., Freedom of Expression).
Hamas practiced widespread unjust detention in Gaza, particularly of civil society activists, Fatah members, journalists, and those accused of criticizing Hamas. Hamas also targeted persons suspected of ties to Israel for unjust detention.
In December 2020 local media reported that Hamas Internal Security forces arrested Majdi al-Maghribi, a Salafist sheikh, for tearing down a poster of former Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps commander Qassem Suleimani. Media reported the arrest took place hours after videos were posted on social media showing al-Maghribi tearing down the poster, which was displayed in the center of Gaza City.
On February 25, the Hamas de facto Ministry of Interior said in a statement the military judiciary and security forces released 45 Fatah affiliates in advance of elections scheduled for May. PA prime minister Mohammed Shtayyeh had stated during a February 21 cabinet meeting that Hamas held 85 political prisoners detained on grounds of freedom of expression and political affiliation.
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 killings of Palestinians. Israeli forces also detained journalists covering protests against settlement activity. According to press reports and an IDF statement, on August 27, the IDF arrested seven journalists covering settler clashes with local Palestinian residents in Masafer Yatta, south of Hebron. The journalists were documenting the arrest of a Palestinian protesting a nearby unauthorized settlement when the IDF arrested them as well. The IDF confiscated the journalists’ cameras and charged them with being in a military zone.
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 detentions 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 Israeli Knesset continued to criticize the Israeli government for using administrative detention excessively, adding that the practice was undemocratic since there was no due process. Israeli authorities reported they were holding 501 individuals in administrative detention at the end of the year. Two were Arab Israeli citizens, nine were residents of East Jerusalem, and 490 were Palestinians from the West Bank; none were Israeli Jews. During a Knesset hearing concerning the arrest of Palestinian children on November 24, Meretz member Gabi Laski said, “Between 150-250 Palestinian children are being held in detention or imprisonment at any time.” For example, Israeli authorities detained 17-year-old Amal Nakhleh in January and extended his administrative detention three times since his arrest. According to press reporting, Nakhleh had a tumor removed from his lung in 2020 and suffered from a nerve disorder that requires regular hospital visits, and his health deteriorated throughout his detention.
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.
Palestinian administrative detainees regularly engaged in hunger strikes as a means of drawing attention to their cases and bargaining for release or improved detention conditions. In October 2020 Israeli security forces arrested Kayed al-Fasfous and held him in administrative detention, prompting him to begin a hunger strike on July 15. He was transferred to a hospital in mid-September and ended his hunger strike on November 22 after reaching a release agreement with Israeli authorities. On November 11, Palestinian prisoner Miqdad al-Qawasmi ended a hunger strike after Israeli prison authorities agreed to release him in February 2022. Three other Palestinian detainees, Hisham Ismail, Abu Hawash, Louay al-Ashkar, and Jawad Bolus, continued an extended hunger strike at the end of the year. As of December 31, Abu Hawash had gone without food for 137 days and reportedly was close to death.
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 (HJC). In January President Abbas appointed Issa Abu Sharar as chief justice of the newly reconstituted HJC. According to the new judicial law, the president has the power to appoint the chief justice from a list of names submitted by the HJC and the president can dismiss judges during a three-year probationary period. The council consisted of seven members, with the president appointing the chief justice and the deputy. The Palestinian Bar Association critiqued this arrangement as undue executive influence over the judiciary. The transitional council also included the attorney general and the undersecretary of the Ministry of Justice. The council oversaw the judicial system and nominated judges for positions throughout the PA judiciary for approval by the president. In December 2020 Abbas removed the Supreme Court’s power to carry out judicial review over the executive branch by entrusting this mission to a separate system of Administrative Courts, which had not been formed by the end of the year.
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 the Gaza Strip, Hamas did not respect fair trial provisions or provide access to family and legal counsel to many detainees. Prosecutors and judges appointed by Hamas operated de facto courts, which the PA considered illegal.
The Israeli government tried Palestinian residents of the West Bank accused of security offenses in Israeli military courts, which had dramatically higher conviction rates and imposed far longer sentences than civilian courts in Israel. Amnesty International asserted that at least some Israeli military courts did not meet international fair trial standards. The MCW stated 95 percent of cases tried in military courts ended in conviction.
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 did not adhere to basic due process rights, including failing to promptly charge suspects or failing to dismiss cases when prosecution witnesses did not appear at hearings. 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, defendants only have the right to observe, although their lawyer can object to specific questions and raise arguments with the prosecutor’s approval. 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. 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 applied different legal regimes to prosecutions in the West Bank, based on the nationality of the defendant. Israeli authorities tried Israelis living in West Bank settlements under Israeli civilian law in the nearest Israeli district court. Israeli authorities tried Palestinians in the West Bank under military law 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. In military courts the defendants or defendants’ lawyers do not have the right to see all evidence against them. IDF actions are not subject to judicial review of administrative actions by Israeli military courts, whereas in criminal courts they are. 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. Human rights organizations claimed the availability and quality of Arabic interpretation was insufficient. The MCW claimed that most detained Palestinian minors were shown or made to sign confession documents written in Hebrew, a language most Palestinian minors could not read, at the conclusion of their interrogation. In some cases, confession documents written in Hebrew differed from the Arabic transcript of the defendant’s interrogation. 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. Defendants may appeal through the Military Court of Appeals and petition Israel’s Supreme Court. 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.
In November 2020, four UN Human Rights Council special rapporteurs expressed concern that Israeli authorities continued to hold World Vision employee Mohammed Halabi on charges of providing material support to Hamas and had still not issued a verdict despite a five-year investigation and a completed trial. According to press reports, on November 17, an Israeli civil court extended Halabi’s detention for 90 more days, following 167 court hearings. According to the Palestinian Prisoners Society, Halabi, who was first detained in 2016, underwent “severe” interrogation for 52 straight days following his arrest and was tortured to coerce him to confess to charges of transferring World Vision funds to Hamas, which Halabi has consistently denied. Halabi’s detention continued at year’s end, with no indication from Israeli authorities of when a verdict might be issued.
Political Prisoners and Detainees
Press and 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. Some of these individuals, labeled “collaborators” for allegedly working with or engaging with Israelis on political initiatives the PA did not support, reported direct and indirect threats of violence from Palestinian political parties, affinity organizations, and militant 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 an unknown number 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 did not sanction. Hamas released 45 detainees in February, but Fatah alleged that Hamas still held 80 Fatah members in custody. Observers reported 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 and a result of Israel’s permissive administrative detention laws. The Israeli government described security prisoners as those convicted or suspected of “nationalistically motivated violence.”
Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies
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. Rights groups reported Hamas internal security agencies regularly tried civil cases in military courts.
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 Israeli law.
Israel has an independent and impartial judiciary that adjudicated lawsuits seeking damages for, or cessation of, human rights abuses. 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.
Property Seizure and Restitution
The Israeli government conducted hundreds of 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 collective punishment of family members for terrorist attacks. Several Israeli and Palestinian human rights groups and the United Nations claimed punitive demolitions were a form of collective punishment that violated the Fourth Geneva Convention and were part of Israel’s efforts to forcibly dislocate communities on pretexts of “military training” and “law enforcement.” Together with other policies and practices, the threat of destruction of homes and sources of livelihood created a coercive environment pressuring people to leave their areas of residence and restricting freedom of movement and access, according to UNOCHA and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Some human rights NGOs claimed 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 most West Bank demolitions, the Civil Administration, a part of Israel’s Ministry of Defense, initially presented a stop-work order, which gives the property owner 30 days to submit an appeal to the Civil Administration and apply for a retroactive construction 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 902 Palestinian structures as of the end of the year, compared to 854 in 2020, according to UNOCHA. The demolitions resulted in the displacement of 1,203 persons, compared to 1,001 displaced in 2020. 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 that the Israeli government rarely approved Palestinian construction permit requests. Between 2016 and 2020, fewer than 1 percent of Palestinian requests for construction permits in Area C were granted, Bimkom reported. During the year the Civil Administration began the process of approving 900 housing units for Palestinians in Area C and 2,200 housing units for Israeli settlements. In 2020 the Civil Administration issued 1,179 stop-work orders and 797 demolition orders for Palestinian structures in Area C, according to Bimkom.
According to B’Tselem, on February 8, Israel demolished the Palestinian community of Khirbet Humsah for the fourth time. B’Tselem reported that Israel’s Civil Administration dismantled and confiscated nine tents that were home to 61 persons, including 33 minors, as well as 12 other structures. They also demolished five livestock enclosures. United Nations monitors confirmed this was the largest such demolition in years. Israel’s military liaison agency with the Palestinians, Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), confirmed that a demolition had been carried out against what it said were illegal structures in an IDF firing zone. COGAT issued a statement following the demolition saying that an “enforcement activity” had been carried out by Israeli forces “against seven tents and eight pens which were illegally constructed, in a firing range located in the Jordan Valley.” Israel often cited a lack of building permits in demolishing Palestinian structures in the West Bank. In addition, their forces confiscated three vehicles that did not belong to the community (a tractor belonging to the local council, a Palestinian Broadcasting Corporation car, and a vehicle belonging to the Palestinian Authority’s Commission against the Wall and the Settlements). On February 1 and 3, Israel confiscated most of the community’s residential structures and livestock enclosures in two operations. On February 1, B’Tselem reported that the Civil Administration dismantled and confiscated 13 tents that were home to 11 families numbering 74 persons, including 41 minors. The Civil Administration also dismantled and confiscated five shacks, one not yet built, and eight tents, all used for livestock. On February 3, the Civil Administration personnel returned and dismantled and confiscated seven tents that were home to nine families numbering 61 persons, including 33 minors (the same families whose tents were demolished again on February 8). The Civil Administration also dismantled and confiscated five tents and two shacks that served as livestock enclosures as well as three livestock pens; confiscated four portable outhouses and demolished two others; confiscated three disassembled tents and demolished two tents used for tabun ovens; confiscated a vehicle belonging to a Palestinian human rights activist and another vehicle belonging to the Palestinian Authority’s Commission against the Wall and the Settlements. On the evening of February 3, IDF arrived at Khirbet Humsah, declared it a closed military zone, and tried to prevent reconstruction of the demolished structures.
According to UNOCHA, on July 14, the Civil Administration demolished 49 structures in Ras at-Tin, displacing 84 persons, including 53 children. On July 7, 30 structures were demolished in the Bedouin community of Humsa al-Bqai’a (Tubas), displacing 42 persons. This community was in an area designated by the Israeli authorities for military training purposes and had recorded seven demolition incidents since the beginning of the year.
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 September 5, the Israeli government filed a request with the Israeli Supreme Court to delay by six months the planned demolition of Khan al-Ahmar. Approximately 180 residents lived 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 HJC 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, because the Israeli government had not approved a master plan for the area.
While all West Bank demolitions were formally authorized under Israeli 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 the orders the Civil Administration is authorized to demolish a newly built structure as soon as 96 hours after issuing a demolition order. During the year Israeli authorities confiscated 318 structures in Area C, nearly one-third of which were inhabited residential structures seized with little or no prior notice, preventing affected persons from objecting in advance, according to the United Nations.
In August 2020 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 interpreted the order as authorizing the demolition of animal pens and other structures and the confiscation of building materials and vehicles.
Several rights groups, including Bimkom and St. Yves, stated the Israeli government was increasingly utilizing these broader military orders as the legal basis for demolitions. According to the Israeli government, all land ownership cases were 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 also rendered nearby structures uninhabitable.
During the year Israeli authorities executed two punitive demolitions on three residences displacing three families comprising 15 persons, including seven children, according to the United Nations. Some punitive demolitions and sealings of rooms occurred before or during the trial of the alleged attacker, not waiting for a verdict to be reached, according to media reports. On December 27, the Israeli press reported that Israeli authorities informed Fadi Abu Shkheidam’s family in the Shuafat Refugee Camp of East Jerusalem that it intended to demolish their house, noting the family could file an appeal against the decision. Abu Shkheidam allegedly carried out a shooting attack in the Old City of Jerusalem on November 21, killing one Israeli and injuring several others before Israeli police shot and killed him.
On July 7, the IDF destroyed the home of Muntasser Shalaby in the village of Turmus’ayya near Ramallah, displacing his wife and three children. Shalaby at the time was accused, and only later convicted, of killing Yehuda Guetta and wounding two others in an attack at a bus stop at the Tapuach settlement junction on May 2. Shalaby was reportedly estranged from his wife and family and had not lived in the home for years. Shalaby’s family appealed the demolition, but on June 23, the Israeli Supreme Court rejected the appeal.
On February 3, the Israeli Supreme Court approved the IDF’s proposal to demolish the top two floors of Muhammad Marwah Kabha’s home, denying a petition by Kabha’s family to halt the order. Kabha’s wife, three minor children, and parents resided in the home. Authorities demolished the home on February 10, six months before Kabha was convicted.
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 demolished 81 units to avoid additional government-imposed 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-initiated demolitions the highest since B’Tselem began recording data in 2008. Legal experts pointed to a law, which reduced administrative processing times for demolitions, blocked courts from intervening in many cases, 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. The number of home demolitions in 2020 was nearly 75 percent higher than the annual average prior to the enactment of the relevant law and almost 40 percent higher than in 2019, which was the first year the law was fully applied, according to NGOs tracking the issue.
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.
NGOs asserted 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. The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated that the Jerusalem Municipality did not have any such policy. Israeli law does not prevent non-Jews from purchasing housing units, although cultural, religious, and economic barriers as well as segregated homeowners’ associations remained obstacles to integrating existing neighborhoods or establishing new integrated neighborhoods, according to civil society representatives.
According to the Israeli government, all land ownership cases were assessed individually by an administrative committee, which is subject to judicial review.
According to Ir Amim and B’Tselem, ethnic discrimination was 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 were not 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.
Between 1948 and 1967, Jordanian authorities housed Palestinians in some property that Jewish owners reclaimed after Israel occupied East Jerusalem in 1967. Legal disputes continued regarding many of these properties involving Palestinian residents, who had limited protection as tenants under Israeli law. Landlords can request permission to evict tenants or demolish their homes if they receive permission to rezone the property.
The Department of State’s Justice for Uncompensated Survivors today (JUST) Act report to Congress, released publicly in July 2020, can be found on the Department’s website at https://www.state.gov/reports/just-act-report-to-congress.
f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
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 restrict the PASF to operations only in Area A of the West Bank, at times they operated in Areas B, C, and H2 without official Israeli permission, including to harass individuals sought for political activity or search their homes.
In the Gaza Strip, 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, the 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 the ISF stated was due to operational necessity. ISF officers of lieutenant colonel rank and above may authorize entry into Palestinian private homes and institutions in the West Bank even without a warrant, based upon military necessity.
Israel’s Settlement Affairs Ministry published criteria in December 2020 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. It was unclear, however, if any settlers received state funding for this purpose during the year. In 2020 Palestinians reported the use of drones by Israeli settlers to observe residents in neighboring villages for security purposes, including to identify the source of noise complaints. NGOs also noted incidents of settlers at agricultural outposts using drones to monitor grazing areas used by Palestinian farmers and shepherds in order to report them to Israeli security forces and further deny them access to pastoral lands.
According to B’Tselem and the United Nations, the Israeli military compelled various communities throughout the Jordan Valley to vacate their homes in areas Israel had declared firing zones during times when the IDF was conducting military exercises.
A 2003 Israeli law that was renewed annually until July when the Knesset did not extend it, prohibited 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 made a special determination, usually on humanitarian grounds. The government had extended the law annually due to government reports that Palestinian family reunification allowed entry to a disproportionate number of persons who were later involved in acts of terrorism. Following the Knesset’s decision in July not to extend the law, Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials stated that the Ministry of Interior instructed the Population and Immigration Authority to continue to examine cases that were not covered by the limiting circumstances under the expired temporary order, such as humanitarian reasons. Applications that were covered by the expired order could be resubmitted for review, but they will not be adjudicated until a new implementing policy is in place, according to the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The NGO HaMoked asserted that statistics from government documents obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests contradicted allegations of terrorism, and that the denial of residency to Palestinians from the West Bank or Gaza for the purposes of family reunification led to cases of family separation. As of July the Population and Immigration Authority had received 774 family unification requests. By year’s end, no request was acted on.
HaMoked reported that, of the more than 2,000 requests filed in the previous two years, most were for West Bank Palestinians married to Israelis or East Jerusalemites. On September 14, HaMoked, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), and Physicians for Human Rights filed a petition demanding the Ministry of Interior respect the law and process the requests. On October 6, the head of the Population and Immigration Authority, Tomer Moskowitz, stated that the Ministry of Interior was continuing to implement the prior law as if it had not expired. Israeli authorities confirmed at the end of the year that in accordance with the Israeli government’s decision from 2008 regarding the extension of the Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law (Temporary Order), the minister of the interior was instructed not to approve any requests for family reunification received from Gaza. This decision was made due to Israeli security authorities’ assessment that Gaza was an area where activities were carried out that may threaten the security of the State of Israel and its citizens, according to Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials.
According to press reports, as of 2020 there were approximately 13,000 Palestinians from the West Bank or Gaza living in Israel, including Jerusalem, on temporary stay permits because of the Citizenship and Entry Law, with no legal provision 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 to 18, but they may not receive residency and have no path to citizenship. This law applies to Palestinians from the West Bank or Gaza, Iranians, Iraqis, Syrians, and Lebanese, including those who are Palestinian spouses of Israeli residents or citizens, unless the Ministry of the Interior makes a special determination, usually on humanitarian grounds.
Israeli authorities froze family unification proceedings for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza in 2000. On August 30, Israeli defense minister Benny Gantz and Palestinian general authority for civil affairs Hussein al-Sheikh announced that Israel had agreed to approve 5,000 family reunification requests filed by Palestinians. Both undocumented foreign nationals married to Palestinians and former residents of Gaza who during the year lived in the West Bank were eligible to apply to adjust their residency status under the agreement. In late December al-Sheikh announced that Israel would approve 9,500 additional requests: 6,000 from the West Bank and 3,500 from Gaza. In 2020 individuals from the occupied territories submitted 1,191 family unification applications, 340 of which were approved and 740 of which were pending, according to the Israeli government.
HaMoked stated in 2020 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 that because these individuals used the Allenby Bridge to enter and depart the West Bank from Jordan, 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 without special Israeli permission. HaMoked claimed the military’s prior refusal to review requests of foreign citizens for family unification was 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, HaMoked stated, the practice did 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.
g. Conflict-related Abuses
Killings: During a conflict from May 10 to 21, Palestinian militants in Gaza launched 4,400 rockets and mortar shells toward Israel. According to the IDF, 680 of these rockets misfired and landed in Gaza, causing Palestinian casualties. The IDF launched 1,500 airstrikes against targets in Gaza during the conflict. According to the Israeli government, NGOs, and media, Gaza-based militants fired rockets from civilian locations toward civilian targets in Israel, including large salvos towards dense population centers. Israeli airstrikes destroyed 1,800 homes, including five residential towers. According to UNOCHA, during the May escalation, 261 Palestinians were killed, including 67 children. At least 241 of the fatalities were by Israeli forces, and the rest due to rockets falling short and other circumstances. An estimated 130 of all fatalities were civilians and 77 were members of armed groups, while the status of the remaining 54 fatalities was not determined. More than 2,200 Palestinians were injured, including 685 children and 480 women, some of whom may suffer a long-term disability requiring rehabilitation. In Israel, 13 persons, including two children, were killed and 710 others were injured. According to B’Tselem, 20 Palestinians, including seven minors, were killed by Palestinian rocket fire. A member of the Israeli security forces was killed by an antitank missile fired by a Palestinian organization. At the height of the fighting, 113,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) sought shelter and protection at the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) schools or with hosting families. According to the UN’s Shelter Cluster, which is responsible for tracking and assisting with provision of housing and shelter, there remained approximately 8,250 IDPs, primarily those whose houses were destroyed or severely damaged.
Human rights groups condemned Hamas’s and Palestinian Islamic Jihad’s targeting of civilians as well as Israel’s targeting of civilian infrastructure. The Israeli government stated that Hamas and others were using this civilian infrastructure for cover, including offices within the buildings and tunnel infrastructure beneath them. A Hamas tunnel was found under an UNRWA school in Gaza, for example, and Hamas temporarily turned away bomb disposal experts brought in by the UN Mine Action Service and UNRWA to ensure the school was safe to open, delaying the work being undertaken to remove two deeply buried bombs that had struck the school during the airstrikes. The IDF also destroyed a building which contained the headquarters for several international media organizations, such as the Associated Press (AP) and al-Jazeera. The IDF stated that intelligence showed Hamas was also using the building and noted that it had warned building occupants to vacate the building, with the result that there were no casualties attributed to the strike. The AP and others continued to call for an investigation, and Israel did not make public the intelligence information that led to the strike. Prior to and following the May conflict, Gaza-based militants routinely launched rockets, released incendiary balloons, and organized protests at the Gaza fence, drawing airstrikes from the IDF. These activities killed three Palestinians and one Israeli border police officer since the May conflict.
Other Conflict-Related Abuse: Israeli, Palestinian, and international human rights groups condemned the closure of Israeli-controlled crossings for pedestrians and goods in and out of Gaza following the May 10-21 conflict, with multiple human rights organizations describing the closures as a collective punishment of civilians living in Gaza. Following the escalation, Israeli closures included: limiting entry of goods into Gaza from Israel to basic humanitarian goods, such as food and medicine, in the months following the conflict; cutting fuel imports from Qatar into Gaza from Israel for five weeks following the conflict; reducing electricity in Gaza to six hours per day; preventing Gazans with permits, including workers and medical patients, from leaving Gaza during and in the seven weeks following the conflict; preventing humanitarian workers from accessing Gaza for five days following the end of the conflict; preventing the reconstruction of destroyed Gazan infrastructure, including electricity, water, and housing, for three months following the conflict by blocking the entry of construction materials including rebar, cement, and fiberglass into Gaza; and reducing the fishing zone for Gazan fishers from 15 to six miles in the month following the conflict. By October Israel lifted most of the newly imposed restrictions.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties
b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association
Authorities in the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem limited and restricted Palestinian residents’ freedoms of peaceful assembly and association. The Israeli military issued an order in 1967 which requires Palestinians in the West Bank to obtain a permit for any protest involving 10 or more persons; during the year there were no known instances in which Israeli authorities granted permission for such a protest. The Palestinian Basic Law requires PA permission for protests of 50 persons or more.
Freedom of Peaceful Assembly
PA law permits public meetings, processions, and assemblies within legal limits. Both the PA and Hamas security forces selectively restricted or dispersed peaceful protests and demonstrations in the West Bank and Gaza during the year.
The PASF arrested dozens of protesters in the summer following Nizar Banat’s killing on June 24 (see section 1.a., Arbitrary or Unlawful Killings, and section 1.d., Arbitrary Arrests or Detention).
Some NGOs claimed the PASF used emergency COVID-19 measures as a pretext to crack down on dissent. Palestinian activists and the family of Nizar Banat asserted that emergency orders put in place to address COVID-19 were abused by the PASF to prevent protests and a memorial service for Banat on September 18. A trial in the July 2020 case of 22 anticorruption activists arrested after gathering for protests despite their permit request being denied under coronavirus emergency regulations continued at year’s end. One activist’s case was thrown out on December 19 due to a witness’ failure to appear in court; the other 21 remained free while the trial proceeded.
On November 30, the Ramallah Court dropped charges against seven activists accused of illegally gathering in July during protests following Banat’s death, citing lack of evidence.
According to a Hamas decree, any public assembly or celebration in Gaza requires prior permission. Hamas used unjust 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 covering the West Bank and Gaza 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).
There were reports that Israeli authorities used excessive force against protesters in East Jerusalem. Between April and June, hundreds of Palestinian and Jewish Israeli protesters from across Israel and East Jerusalem came to Sheikh Jarrah to show their support for families at risk of eviction and to protest the dispossession of Palestinians from their homes, according to the HRDF. Police and media characterized the protest as violent; the HRDF reported that Israeli police used aggressive and disproportionate force to disperse the demonstrations, injuring hundreds of protesters. Israeli security forces reportedly deployed stun grenades and tear gas canisters, sprayed “skunk water,” and fired sponge grenades, according to the HRDF. Between April 29 and May 21, the HRDF provided legal aid to 42 Palestinian and Israeli peaceful protesters arrested in Sheikh Jarrah, some of whom the HRDF alleged were hospitalized after being attacked by police. Most of the protesters were released after one or two court hearings on bail with 30- to 60-day bans from Sheikh Jarrah, while others were released at the police station with 15-day bans from Sheikh Jarrah.
On August 21-22, the PASF arrested approximately 30 protesters during a series of protests memorializing well-known PA critic Nizar Banat, including Ubay al-Aboudi, director of the Bisan Center for Research and Development. The PA charged protesters with participating in an unauthorized protest and more dubious charges of disparaging government institutions, insulting civil servants, and inciting sectarian hatred. Following international and diplomatic pressure, protesters were released within days; their first hearing was scheduled for November.
According to Amnesty International, on the evening of July 5, Palestinian security forces detained at least 15 persons, including protesters, journalists, and a lawyer, after violently dispersing a peaceful gathering in front of the Ballou’ police station in Ramallah. According to Amnesty International, police in riot gear holding shields dispersed the gathering with “wanton force,” beating protesters, dragging them on the ground, spraying them with pepper spray and pulling their hair. Several female protesters also alleged sexual harassment by police, including groping.
During the Sheikh Jarrah protests, the HRDF alleged Israeli settlers repeatedly attacked Salah Diab, a local human rights activist, and police detained him numerous times throughout May. On May 3, the HRDF alleged that Israeli police pepper sprayed and attacked Diab, injuring his leg. On May 6, the HRDF reported that 21 Israeli Jewish attackers pepper-sprayed Palestinians who were breaking their fast during Ramadan in front of Diab’s house. The attackers allegedly came from the newly established “office” across the street from extreme-right Knesset member Itamar Ben-Gvir. The incident escalated as the two groups threw plastic chairs and stools at each other. Following the attack, four Palestinians including Diab, were arrested for “racially motivated” attacks, while one of the Jewish attackers was detained and released the same evening, according to the HRDF. On July 11, Diab was summoned to a termination of employment hearing from his work at Israel’s Mega Supermarket Chain. In the letter sent to Diab, Mega accused him of violating company values and policies and harming its reputation due to his activism and participation in the Sheikh Jarrah protest. Local Israeli officials, including a deputy mayor of Jerusalem, reportedly campaigned for termination of Diab’s employment.
According to the HRDF, Jerusalem police forces regularly confiscated, attacked, and arrested peaceful protesters who waved the Palestinian flag, despite Public Security Minister Omer Bar-Lev’s explicit order to the police commissioner and high-ranking officers that the Palestinian flag may only be confiscated during demonstrations under exceptional circumstances.
Palestinian human rights activist Issa Amro faced 16 charges in a trial in an Israeli military court that began in 2016. On January 6, an Israeli judge at the Ofer Military Court convicted Amro on six counts, including participating in a rally without a permit, obstructing a soldier, and assault. On January 26, the UN special rapporteurs on the situation of human rights defenders and on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967 issued a statement condemning Amro’s conviction. On March 22, the Military Court sentenced Amro to a three-month suspended prison sentence with two years’ probation. According to the HRDF, the activity for which Amro was indicted was entirely peaceful, and he was in turn assaulted by soldiers, police officers and settlers. According to the HRDF, this created a chilling effect on other human rights defenders who might fear facing similar criminal proceedings. Amro appealed the conviction. Haaretz reported the IDF has detained Amro at least 20 times 2018.
Freedom of Association
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 of their projects and activities prior to receiving funds from donors 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.
According to the PCHR, on September 21, de facto authorities’ police entered al-Azhar University campus in Gaza and ordered students to take off their Palestinian kufiyah, claiming there were orders to ban wearing kufiyahs. The center added that police detained and abused all those who refused to obey the orders, subjecting them to degrading treatment.
Human rights NGOs alleged that Israeli authorities cited laws against terrorism or protecting national security to arrest or punish critics of the government or deter criticism of government policies or officials. On October 22, Israeli minister of defense Benny Gantz announced that Israel was designating six Palestinian NGOs (al-Haq, Addameer, Defense for Children International-Palestine, the Bisan Center for Research and Development, the Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees, and the Union of Agricultural Work Committees) as terrorist organizations, alleging connections to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) terrorist organization. Local and international human rights groups strongly criticized the designation, alleging that overly broad use of terrorism laws created a chilling effect on civil society groups conducting legitimate human rights work. The designated groups are based in the West Bank, but the designation applies both within the West Bank under IDF military order, and in Israel under the law.
The UN special rapporteur on counterterrorism and human rights criticized the designation as a blatant misuse of counterterrorism legislation designed to ban human rights activities and silence voices advocating for respect for human rights. On October 25, 22 Israeli NGOs released a joint statement of support and solidarity with the designated NGOs, calling on the Israeli government and international community to oppose the decision and alleging the designation was done to criminalize and prevent documentation of human rights abuses and prevent legal advocacy and aid for human rights work.
c. Freedom of Religion
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
d. Freedom of Movement and the Right to Leave the Country
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 maintained security coordination with Israel throughout the year. IDF checkpoints and settlements constrained Palestinians’ movement throughout the West Bank, including access to their farmlands, according to NGOs and the PA. This was particularly true during the olive harvest, when Palestinian farmers who coordinated access to their olive groves with Israel’s Civil Administration and the PA sometimes had difficulty accessing their land, according to human rights groups.
Citing security concerns and frequent attempted terrorist attacks, Israel imposed significant restrictions on Palestinian movement in the West Bank and between the West Bank and Jerusalem.
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 had to 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.
Israeli authorities often deployed temporary checkpoints that prohibited travel between some or all Palestinian West Bank towns. Palestinians who lived in affected villages stated that “internal closures” continued to have negative economic effects, lowering their employment prospects, wages, days worked per month, and their children’s ability to commute to school. 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 restricted 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 the NGO 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 regarding 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. 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 estimated nearly 35 percent of Gaza’s cultivable land was in these areas. On September 2, Israeli naval forces shot at multiple Palestinian fishing vessels near Abasan al-Khabira, a town close to an Israeli security fence, injuring one fisherman in the leg.
Major checkpoints, such as Container and Za’tara, caused disruptions in the West Bank when closed, according to media reports. When Container (near Bethlehem) was closed, it cut 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 in its 2020 biennial survey 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.
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. IDF veterans working at Israeli NGOs, however, described such operations as often being arbitrary.
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. Israeli security forces also imposed temporary curfews confining Palestinians to their homes during 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 or settlements. A complicated Israeli permit regime (requiring more than 10 different permits) prevented these Palestinians from fully using their lands. The Israeli NGO HaMoked reported that government of Israel data showed a marked reduction in approvals of permits to cross the barrier compared with previous years. According to HaMoked, the IDF denied 73 percent of farmer permits in 2020, compared with 63 percent in 2019. Only 1 percent of these permits were denied for security reasons, according to the IDF. The vast majority of permits were denied due to difficulties navigating the military bureaucracy and failure to meet increasingly restrictive criteria, according to HaMoked. HaMoked also reported that Israeli authorities did not open gates to these areas early enough in the morning, which reduced the time Palestinian farmers had each day to cultivate their land.
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.
Israeli restrictions on the importation of dual-use items, including wires, motors, and fiberglass that 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 the downtown H2 sector of Hebron, where approximately 22,000 Palestinians resided. This included a ban on Palestinians walking, driving, or exiting the front door of their homes on Shuhada Street and most of al-Sahleh Street. Israeli security forces cited a need to protect several hundred Israeli settlers resident in the city center. Israeli security forces continued to occupy rooftops of private Palestinian homes in the H2 sector 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/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.
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.
Hamas 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.
On February 14, Gaza’s Supreme Judicial Council issued a notice allowing male guardians to restrict unmarried women’s travel. Following significant public backlash, the notice was revised to allow a male guardian (i.e., a father, brother, or grandfather) to apply for a court order preventing an unmarried woman from traveling if they assess the travel will cause “absolute harm.” She could also be prevented from traveling if the guardian had a pending lawsuit against her that requires a travel ban. The notice also allows parents and the paternal grandfather to apply for travel bans on their adult children and grandchildren if they can show travel could result in similar harm. According to HRW, on September 21, Palestinian border officials at the Rafah Crossing between Gaza and Egypt blocked Afaf al-Najar from traveling to Turkey, where she had received a scholarship to study media and communications, because her father had applied for a judicial travel ban. At an October 3 court hearing, a judge told al-Najar she could study for her degree in Gaza, suggesting he expected her to remain there. The case continued at year’s end.
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.
During the conflict in May, 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.
Israeli authorities often denied or did not respond to Palestinian applications for travel permits through the Erez Crossing, including for patients seeking medical care unavailable inside Gaza, citing security concerns. On December 23, Israel granted 500 permits for Christians in Gaza to attend Christmas celebrations in the West Bank, although 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. There were reports from Gazans that Israeli authorities had imposed additional restrictions on items that could be brought through Erez into Israel, including not being allowed to carry cell phone chargers or more than one pair of shoes. The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated there were no such new restrictions.
The barrier that divides the majority of the West Bank from Israel, including communities within 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 divided Palestinian communities in the West Bank and Jerusalem and neighborhoods within Jerusalem. At its widest points the barrier extended 11 miles into the West Bank. OCHA estimated that more than 11,000 Palestinians, excluding East Jerusalem residents, resided in communities west of the barrier who were required to travel through Israeli security checkpoints to reach the remainder of the West Bank.
In Jerusalem the barrier affected residents’ access to their extended families, 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, including delays at checkpoints lasting up to two hours, made it difficult for Palestinian patients and medical staff trying to reach the six Palestinian hospitals in East Jerusalem that offer specialized care. 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 (see also section 3, Recent Elections, Gheith case). 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 their employees to enter Gaza from Israel. The United Nations and several international NGOs reported that the Israeli government denied permits to UN and NGO 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.
UNRWA reported staff movement continued to be restricted and unpredictable at several checkpoints, notably those controlling access to East Jerusalem or through the barrier. UNRWA reported that, as of the end of November, movement restrictions in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, had resulted in the loss of at least 241 staff days. With a few exceptions, senior officials and staff of UNRWA and other humanitarian organizations were unable to leave or enter Gaza during the May conflict because of closures of the crossings between Israel and Gaza.
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 reported that as of October, Israeli authorities revoked 22 residency permits in Jerusalem on the grounds of a regulation that allows revocation for individuals who stayed outside of Israel for more than seven years or acquired citizenship or permanent residence status elsewhere. 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 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 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.
Egyptian authorities opened the Rafah Crossing to pedestrians several times during the year, and OCHA reported 88,510 exits and 70,771 entrances through the Rafah Crossing as of November, an increase over 25,069 exits and 26,829 entrances in 2020. OCHA reported the Rafah Crossing had been open 198 days and closed 135 days as of November, compared to 2020 when the crossing was only open 126 days. The UN and several international NGOs reported that obtaining permission from the Hamas government in Gaza and the Egyptian government to travel through Rafah was extremely difficult for Palestinians in Gaza and often required paying bribes to local authorities.
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 its staff members were denied exit permits out of Gaza because UNOCHA coordinated with Hamas as the de facto government in Gaza to facilitate the entry, exit, and transportation of UN personnel. In other cases, UNOCHA reported that its staff received exit permits, but Israeli authorities denied them permission for them to exit after hours of waiting at border crossings.
e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons
According to the United Nations, 1,025 persons were displaced in the West Bank and East Jerusalem due to demolitions as of November 17.
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. Humanitarian actors, including UNRWA, the ICRC, and NGOs, reported they faced difficulties providing assistance during the May conflict in Gaza, due to several factors, including the intensity of the bombing of Gaza by the Israeli military, difficulties establishing a coordination mechanism with the Israeli government, restrictions on movement of goods and persons by Israeli authorities, and, in one notable case of Israelis permitting humanitarian supplies through the Kerem Shalom Crossing, a mortar attack by Hamas.
f. Protection of Refugees
The PA cooperated with UNRWA in the West Bank. In Gaza de facto authorities generally cooperated with UNRWA and allowed it to operate without interference. After the May conflict and a controversial interview given by UNRWA’s Gaza field director, Hamas announced it would no longer guarantee his and his deputy’s safety, effectively forcing out UNRWA’s two most senior officials.
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 due to Israel’s claim that the 1951 Refugee Convention does not apply to Palestinians because they receive assistance from the UNRWA, although UNRWA’s mandate does not extend to Israel. Thus, many Palestinians in life-threatening situations 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 oppression, vulnerable to human trafficking, violence, and exploitation. Some lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) Palestinians were able to obtain a temporary permit from the Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) 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. On July 22, in its response to a petition to the Supreme Court demanding the right to work and access to the health-care system for Palestinians with stay permits in Israel, the government stated it viewed a fundamental difference between Palestinians threatened due to cooperation with Israel and Palestinians who fled due to their sexual orientation or domestic violence. The government committed to begin issuing work permits for the first group but not for the second group. Members of the second group could only apply for a permit in demanded fields such as construction and industry, mirroring requirements for Palestinian workers from the West Bank. The government stated that COGAT examined the issue on a case-by-case basis. On July 26, the Supreme Court upheld the government’s position, but also demanded the government update the court regarding the possibility of accepting requests for work permits from the second group, separate from an employer. The case was ongoing at the year’s end.
Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Israeli security operations in the West Bank led to 27 fatalities of UNRWA-registered Palestinian refugees, five of whom were killed while reportedly conducting an attack on the ISF or Israeli civilians. The ISF conducted an estimated 409 military and policing operations in West Bank refugee camps, injuring 101 Palestinians, according to the United Nations. Of these injuries, 65 persons, including 10 minors, were injured with live ammunition, the United Nations reported. Israeli authorities demolished 141 structures belonging to UNRWA-registered refugees, which resulted in the displacement of 195 refugees, according to the United Nations.
Access to Basic Services: UNRWA provided education, health care, and social services, as well other assistance, in areas of Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza. Palestinian refugees in the occupied territories 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.). UNRWA services in Gaza were also disrupted during the May escalation in violence.
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.
g. Stateless Persons
According to NGOs, 40,000 to 50,000 Palestinians in Gaza lacked identification cards recognized by Israel. Some were born in Gaza but were 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 and has not approved family reunifications since 2009. COGAT confirmed that without accurate and updated records in Israeli databases, Israeli authorities could not 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 prior to August, when Israeli authorities permitted 5,000 family reunification petitions to be submitted via the PA’s Ministry of Civil Affairs. Following a meeting between President Abbas and Israeli minister of defense Gantz on December 28, there were indications that Israel would permit the PA to process additional family reunification petitions, although thousands more would likely remain unprocessed due to Israeli-imposed limits on the number of petitions. Since Israel approves the Palestinian family registry, many Palestinian children and young adults, especially those born abroad, remained without legal status at the end of the year, in the region where they had spent most or all of their lives.
Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process
The PA basic law provides Palestinians the ability to choose their government and vote in periodic free and fair elections held by secret ballot and based on universal, equal suffrage. The PA has not held national elections in the West Bank or Gaza since 2006, however, preventing Palestinians from being able to choose their own government or hold it accountable. Civil society organizations in Gaza, which has been under Hamas control since 2007, stated Hamas and other Islamist groups did not tolerate public dissent, opposition, civic activism, or the promotion of values contrary to Hamas’s political and religious ideology.
Although Israeli law provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage, Palestinian residents of Jerusalem and Druze of the Golan Heights who have permanent residency status may vote in municipal elections and seek some municipal offices, but not that of mayor, and are denied the right to vote in general elections or serve in the Knesset.
Elections and Political Participation
Recent Elections: The first phase of municipal elections, last held in 2017, took place in the West Bank on December 11. There have been no national elections in the occupied territories since 2006. Elections were due to be held in 2010, but President Abbas refused to announce an election. In 2018 President Abbas announced that the PA Constitutional Court had issued a decision dissolving the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) and calling for PLC elections within six months. Those elections never happened. Fatah and Hamas leadership discussed the possibility of elections in late 2019 and returned to the issue in 2020, with President Abbas again promising elections at his address to the UN General Assembly in September. On January 15, President Abbas decreed that elections for the PLC would be held on May 22. On April 2, however, Abbas indefinitely postponed those elections.
Candidates running in the legislative elections prior to their cancellation were targeted. On April 12, unknown assailants shot at the house and office of attorney Hatem Chahine in Hebron. Chahine was a candidate of the Future list, which represents the Democratic Reform Current led by dismissed Fatah leader Mohammed Dahlan. According to press reports, the Criminal Investigation Unit of the Palestinian police inspected Chahine’s house and found bullets in the main entrance and in his wife’s car parked behind the entrance’s gate.
On April 15 in Ramallah, unknown assailants attacked the car of the head of the Unified Palestinian Movement list, Khaled Dweikat, while it was parked in front of his apartment in the Ersal neighborhood. Dweikat said he believed the attack was election-related and filed a complaint with the General Intelligence Service of the Palestinian police, the Central Elections Commission, and the ICHR. The ICHR announced it received numerous complaints prior to President Abbas canceling elections, ranging from threats of violence and property damage to blackmail. On May 1, unknown assailants shot and threw grenades at the house of electoral candidate Nizar Banat. The attack came a few hours after the Freedom and Dignity electoral list, which Banat formed, sent a message to the EU demanding it halt funding for the Palestinian Authority and its security apparatus. Banat died after being beaten by PASF officers several weeks later (see section 1.a.).
On January 19, Israeli police summoned for questioning the Fatah secretary in Jerusalem, Shadi Mtour. They subsequently released Mtour after renewing an order banning any contact between him and 21 PA and Fatah officials, including Fatah deputy head Mahmoud al-Aloul, Jerusalem governor Adnan Gheith, and head of Jerusalem unit at the PA Presidency Mu’tasem Tayem.
Throughout the year, Israeli authorities issued or extended various orders and charges against Gheith. On March 29, Israeli authorities banned Gheith from entering the West Bank or going to his office in al-Ram, a village northeast of Jerusalem. On August 2, Israeli authorities extended an order banning Gheith, from holding contacts with President Abbas and other PA officials. Gheith is already denied movement outside his place of residence in Silwan neighborhood in Jerusalem.
On November 22-23, Palestinian press reported that Israeli forces raided Gheith’s home, assaulted him, his sons, and cousins present at the house, and threw sound bombs and damaged household belongings before interrogating him concerning posts on social media his wife had shared. Israeli authorities charged Gheith with violating the ban on communicating with Palestinian officials and threatening the security of Israel. Israeli authorities released Gheith on bail after several hours, after renewing his house arrest for four more months and other movement and communications bans. On December 26, press outlets reported that Israeli forces again raided Gheith’s home during a larger arrest campaign in the Silwan neighborhood.
On April 17, the Israeli National Police shut down an election press conference at the St. George Hotel in East Jerusalem and detained three PLC candidates, Nasser Qous and Ashraf al-A’war from Fatah and Ratibah al-Natsheh from the Palestinian Democratic Union (FIDA). The press conference was scheduled to take place at the St. George hotel in East Jerusalem. The three candidates were released later that day and warned not to conduct any election activity in Jerusalem City.
According to press reports, Israeli authorities banned Fatah Jerusalemite district committee member Ahed Risheq from entering Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount for a total of six months.
Political Parties and Political Participation: The PA allowed a limited range of political parties to exist in the West Bank and limited the ability of Hamas members to campaign and organize rallies. In Gaza, Hamas allowed other political parties but restricted their activities, primarily in the case of Fatah. According to HRW, the PA and Hamas arbitrarily arrested each other’s supporters solely because of their political affiliation or expression of views.
Participation of Women and Members of Minority Groups: No PA laws limit participation of women or members of minority groups in the political process, and they did participate. Legally women and minorities may vote and participate in political life, although women faced significant social and cultural barriers in both the West Bank and Gaza. There was a 20 percent quota for women on the Palestinian Legislative Council, but the council’s activity has been suspended since 2007 and no legislative elections have been held since 2006. There were three women and four Christians in the 22-member PA cabinet.
Hamas generally excluded women from leadership positions in Gaza, although Hamas members elected one woman during the year to their political bureau, the 15-member council that leads Hamas in Gaza.
Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government
There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year. 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. In a Facebook post in April, anticorruption activist Fadi Elsalameen shared a statement he alleged was from Fatah’s armed faction, the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, in which they threatened to shoot him “without hesitation.” Neither the PA nor Fatah commented on or investigated the alleged threat. Many of Nizar Banat’s social media posts alleged corruption prior to his killing by PASF officers on June 24. President Abbas stated he would resign if 50 or more Palestinians called on him to step down. Amnesty International reported that on July 3, hundreds of Palestinians gathered in Ramallah for a peaceful demonstration against Abbas, which resulted in the arrest of prominent critic Ghassan al-Saadi. President Abbas was 16 years in office, and there was no legislative oversight of the PA or de facto authorities in Gaza, since the PLC has been defunct since 2007. There were reports that PA officials also sought to influence the judicial branch. In the absence of a legislature, President Abbas often set policy through presidential decrees, and most influential positions in the PA were appointed solely by the president. Critics described the PA’s corruption as a systematic problem. A public opinion poll conducted in October by the Coalition for Accountability and Integrity found that Palestinians viewed corruption as the most important issue to be solved. The poll also found that two thirds of Palestinians were not convinced of the effectiveness and independence of the anticorruption agencies in the West Bank.
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. International organizations cited corruption in Hamas hiring practices as well, creating a system of patronage that hampered economic growth. 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.
Section 5. Governmental Posture Towards International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights
Palestinian human rights groups and international organizations reported restrictions on their work in the West Bank. Some of these organizations reported the PASF and PA police harassed their employees and pressured individuals and organizations not to work with them. Several PA security services, including General Intelligence and the Palestinian Civil Police, appointed official liaisons who worked with human rights groups.
Gaza-based NGOs reported that harassment and restrictions on civil society increased during the year. Hamas representatives appeared unannounced at their offices to seek tax payments, demand beneficiary lists and salary information, and summon NGO representatives to police stations for questioning. Humanitarian organizations continued to raise concerns regarding the shrinking operational space for international NGOs in Gaza, including Israeli travel bans affecting their Gaza-based staff.
Human rights NGOs alleged that Israeli authorities cited laws against terrorism or protecting national security to arrest or punish critics of the government or deter criticism of government policies or officials. In October Israeli minister of defense Benny Gantz announced that Israel was designating six Palestinian NGOs as terrorist organizations, alleging connections to the PFLP terrorist organization (see section 2.b.).
Some Israeli and Palestinian human rights NGOs operating in the West Bank, Gaza, or both, including B’Tselem, Rabbis for Human Rights, and Breaking the Silence, reported harassment from Israeli settlers and Israeli authorities (see also section 2.b., Freedom of Association). These groups as well as NGO Yesh Din and HRW reported some of their employees were subjected to questioning by security services, interrogations, intimidation, death threats, or physical assault. Yesh Din and B’Tselem reported some Palestinian field workers were detained for several hours at checkpoints after Yesh Din research materials were found in their possession. The NGOs claimed these behaviors increased during periods in which Israeli government officials spoke out against the NGOs’ activities or criticized them as enemies or traitors for opposing Israeli government policy. On December 25, an IDF soldier shot B’Tselem employee Sarit Michaeli in the face in Beita as she documented weekly protests there from a distance. Michaeli believed the rubber bullet that hit her was likely aimed at Beita residents.
According to the HRDF, Israeli authorities repeatedly subjected B’Tselem’s field researcher in the South Hebron Hills, Nasser Nawaj’ah, to harassment, intimidation, and reprisal. On March 6, Shin Bet interrogators allegedly threatened that Nawaj’ah would end up like Harun Abu Aram, a Palestinian civilian whom the IDF shot in the neck and paralyzed, if he continued his work. Nawaj’ah was subsequently detained and questioned by IDF soldiers at least four times in ensuing weeks.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, many human rights organizations working in the Palestinian territories received administrative fines from Israeli authorities for violating COVID-19 regulations. On January 1, Yigal Bruner, Micha Rachman, and Arik Ascherman, the director of the NGO Torat Tzedek, arrived in the Jordan Valley to help Palestinian farmers plow their lands. During their work, Israeli police officers arrived in the area and fined each of them for violating COVID-19 regulations by going to a public place for no necessary reason. Ta’ayush activists Amiel Vardi, Michal Hai, Daniel Kronberg, and Michal Barkat reported the same experience the next day in the South Hebron Hills, as did several other human rights defenders in the following weeks. On January 20, the HRDF filed a request with the attorney general to cancel 13 administrative fines. While similar fines given within Israel were cancelled after a petition to the Supreme Court, fines given in the West Bank were not. By the end of the year, five human rights activists were indicted for violating COVID-19 regulations in the West Bank, and two trials had begun.
Palestinian, Israeli, and international NGOs monitored the Israeli government’s practices in the occupied territories and published their findings.
The United Nations or Other International Bodies: PA officials generally cooperated with and permitted visits by representatives of the United Nations and other international organizations.
There were numerous reports Hamas harassed members of international organizations operating in Gaza, including UN organizations.
The Israeli government continued its policy of nonengagement with the UN Human Rights Council’s “special rapporteur on the situation in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967.” In February 2020 the government suspended relations with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) following publication of a UN Human Rights Council database of companies and “business activities related to settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.” The government of Israel continued its freeze on relations with the agency at year’s end, according to OHCHR. No OHCHR international staff visas were granted or renewed by Israel during the year to allow access to the West Bank and Gaza Strip. As a result the agency’s 16 resident staff were forced to work remotely from outside Israel.
Government Human Rights Bodies: The ICHR continued serving as the PA’s ombudsman and human rights commission. The ICHR issued monthly and annual reports on human rights abuses within PA-controlled areas; the ICHR also issued formal recommendations to the PA. The ICHR was generally independent but faced resource shortages that limited its ability to work effectively. Local and international human rights NGOs cooperated with the ICHR.
Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses
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 in 2018 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. According to UN Women, in the West Bank and Gaza one in three women who have ever been married were subjected to physical violence by their husbands, and one in seven who have never married are subjected to violence by a household member. 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.
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.
According to human rights groups, the Attorney General’s Office and the security services ignored death threats directed at employees and employees’ family members at a women’s rights organization.
On November 22, Amer Rabee allegedly stabbed his wife, Sabreen Yasser Khweira, to death in their home outside Ramallah. Rabee also allegedly attacked his mother, who suffered injuries and was transferred to a hospital. PA police arrested Rabee later on November 22, and both the Khweira and Rabee families have called for his execution. According to press reports, Rabee had spent a month in prison earlier in the year after Khweira filed a complaint with police after Rabee beat her with cables. The case following Khweira’s killing continued at year’s end.
In October 2020 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 and PASF arrested him. The investigation continued at year’s end.
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), 11 Palestinian women were killed in the West Bank, Gaza, and Jerusalem during the year out of 555 total killings; five in the West Bank, four in Gaza, and two in Jerusalem.
In September 2020 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. On February 17, the Bethlehem Court released the three suspects on bail. 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: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities. UNICEF reported that 100 percent of live births were attended to by a skilled birth attendant. While menstrual hygiene supplies were widely available, access to clean water and reliable sanitation facilities was a chronic problem. UNRWA provided reproductive health services include preconception care, antenatal care, intranatal care, postnatal care, and family planning to UNRWA registered refugees.
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 to avoid the need to approve maternity leave.
Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination
The Palestinian Basic Law included broad protections for Palestinians but was often superseded by informal tribal laws or the Jordanian penal code which offered less protection. There were no Palestinian laws that specifically provided for the protection of members of racial or ethnic minorities.
The government of Israel has assigned the IDF to maintain law and order in the West Bank through a series of military orders, but none specifically provide for the protection of Palestinian civilians or reference Palestinian rights. Rather, the focus of the IDF’s presence in the West Bank is the protection of Israeli citizens residing or transiting there. Minister of Defense Gantz repeatedly stated throughout the year that the IDF did not have the authority to arrest Israelis who attacked Palestinians in the West Bank. His remarks came after numerous videos that showed Israeli settlers attacking Palestinian civilians in the presence of and occasionally with the assistance of IDF. Israel’s nationalistic crimes unit investigated hate crimes against both Israelis and Palestinians, including “price tag” attacks, in the West Bank. On November 18, Gantz held a meeting with top security officials to discuss “the grave phenomenon” of settler violence against Palestinians over the olive harvest period. After that meeting, Gantz announced the establishment of interagency teams to review force postures and strengthen legal authorities. The interagency teams had not announced any steps to address settler violence as of the end of the year.
According to a HRW report released in April, throughout most of the West Bank and Gaza, Israel was the sole governing power; in the remainder, it exercised primary authority alongside limited Palestinian self-rule. Across these areas and in most aspects of life, HRW concluded, Israeli authorities methodically privileged Jewish Israelis and discriminated against Palestinians.
Palestinians also allegedly attacked other Palestinians on behalf of Israeli settlers. For example Daoud Nassar, director of the Tent of Nations farm, faced more than 25 cases in Palestinian courts involving various Palestinian attacks on the farm and against him personally. In May an arson fire destroyed hundreds of trees. His farm also faced property damage inflicted by Israeli forces. In June a COGAT bulldozer plowed through the property “for access” to another site, destroying trees and fences. There were several demolition orders against structures on the property, regarded as unpermitted in Israeli courts – in one case including a natural cave. Tent of Nations stated it had a valid title to the land dating back approximately 100 years under the British Mandate. The farm, located near Bethlehem, was on a hill with a 360-degree view and settlements occupy surrounding hilltops. Tent of Nations continued to wait at year’s end for COGAT’s Registry Committee to confirm the boundaries of their land and their ownership.
According to the HRDF, on October 11, one Palestinian and two Israeli human rights activists were violently arrested by the Israeli army while assisting Palestinian families in their yearly olive harvest near Salfit village in the West Bank, allegedly for entering a closed military zone and assaulting a soldier. The arrest occurred despite a Supreme Court ruling which stated that the Israeli army must let Palestinians access their lands freely to harvest their olives. Based on video footage, the judge released both Israeli human rights activists under the condition of a five-day ban from Salfit and from Nof-Avi Farm, a nearby unauthorized outpost which was erected on Salfit’s lands. The Palestinian human rights activist was released on similar terms. The Israeli activists were tried under the Israeli civil law system, while the Palestinian activist was tried under the Israeli military legal system, although the three were arrested together and charged with the same offenses.
On December 10, Israeli forces shot and killed a Palestinian resident with live ammunition during ongoing antisettlement protests in Beita village against the unauthorized outpost that Israeli settlers established in May. Since regular protests began in early May, OCHA reported that in Beita and Beit Dajan, nine Palestinians have been killed and more than 5,700 injured, including 218 by live ammunition, 1,083 by rubber bullets and 4,341 others who required medical treatment for inhaling teargas. Most of the Beita residents killed by the IDF were killed during weekly Friday protests against the unauthorized settlement, which has temporarily been converted into an IDF base following the evacuation of settlers in June.
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. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs reported that 16 Israelis died during the year because of Palestinian attacks; 14 of the 16 were in Israel, one was in the West Bank, and one was in Jerusalem, according to the Foreign Affairs Ministry. Thirteen died during the May conflict. The Shin Bet reported, without specifying the identity of perpetrators or victims, that during the year there were nine incidents of rock throwing that resulted in moderate or worse injuries, 94 cases of live fire incidents, 46 stabbing attacks, and 1,516 Molotov cocktail attacks. Two Israeli soldiers were wounded, and one Palestinian killed during the “Day of Rage” protests that were called in solidarity with Gaza on May 19 in Jerusalem and the West Bank. There were also dozens of reports of arson, as well as stone throwing.
As of December, Shin Bet had registered 397 settler attacks resulting in Palestinian fatalities, injuries, or properties in the West Bank, compared to 272 violent incidents in 2020, according to Israeli press reports. The NGO Breaking the Silence reported 416 anti-Palestinian incidents in the West Bank during the first half of the year – more than double the figure for the first half of 2020 and more than all of 2019. According to Haaretz reporting, the IDF was aware of these incidents and often allowed settlers to “let off steam” to avoid confrontation with the settlers.
The ISF reportedly accompanied settlers during some attacks as well. According to The Intercept and NGOs, on May 14, six IDF soldiers accompanied a group of settlers who arrived in the town of Urif, near Nablus. The settlers allegedly uprooted 60 fig and olive trees, attacked the town’s school with stones, and broke its solar panels. During the attack the soldiers allegedly protected the settlers with gunfire, gave orders on where to go, what to uproot, and what to destroy and appeared to coordinate the attack while shooting at anybody who tried to get close. The attack left four Palestinian residents dead, and survivors said they did not know whether settlers or the IDF had shot them.
Some Israeli and Palestinian officials, as well as numerous NGOs alleged that some Israeli settlers used violence against Palestinians to intimidate them from using land that settlers sought to acquire. On July 26, a B’Tselem video showed a settler shooting in the direction of Palestinians in the village of al-Tuwanai, near Hebron, with an IDF-issued assault rifle belonging to a soldier who reportedly stood close by. The settler was then seen picking up large rocks to throw at Palestinians before IDF troops ordered him to leave the area. The IDF acknowledged the incident, saying that the soldier was summoned for an immediate investigation and clarification by the brigade commander, and the regulations were clarified. 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 because Israeli police stations in the West Bank were located inside Israeli settlements, often where alleged perpetrators resided, and they feared settler retaliation. Israeli police are not permitted to enter Palestinian villages without IDF accompaniment. Palestinians were also discouraged by a lack of accountability in most cases, according to NGOs. Following a freedom of information act request, Yesh Din received Israeli police figures for 2018 to 2020 which revealed that 369 cases of Israeli violence against Palestinians were opened, and 11 indictments were filed during the period. In comparison, 363 cases of Palestinian politically motivated crime against non-Palestinians (Israeli security forces and Israeli settlers) were opened, and 70 indictments filed.
Israeli settlers also attacked and injured Palestinian civilians in the West Bank, in some cases severely. On September 28, 40 mostly masked Israeli settlers from two nearby unauthorized outposts attacked the Palestinian village of Um Faggarah around lunchtime. The settlers first attacked a Palestinian herder and tried to steal his flock of sheep. Settlers then entered villagers’ homes and threw rocks at residents, including at close range. One Israeli settler dropped rocks on the head of a sleeping three-year-old Palestinian boy, fracturing his skull. According to UNOCHA, settlers injured eight Palestinians including children, killed five animals, and damaged numerous vehicles and 10 homes. UNOCHA reported that the IDF shot tear gas canisters and rubber-coated metal bullets, injuring another 20 Palestinians. On September 28, IDF soldiers detained a Palestinian and an Israeli settler in connection with the attack. The Palestinian was eventually released on bail; it was unclear whether the settler remained in custody. On September 29, Israeli police arrested two adults from Jerusalem and one youth from the settlements in connection with the attack. As of the end of the year, media outlets reported that two Israelis were charged for the assault out of dozens involved in the attack.
According to NGO and media reports, Palestinian civilians killed three Israeli civilians in the West Bank. On December 16, Israeli settler Yehuda Dimentman was shot and killed and two additional Israeli citizens riding in the same car were injured in a shooting attack near the outpost of Homesh. Press reported that Israeli police subsequently detained six Palestinians, two of whom they alleged conducted the attack, while the others aided the attackers. Palestinian Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for the attack, and the investigation continued at year’s end. Following Dimentman’s death, press reported that thousands of Israeli citizens flocked to Homesh in support of retroactively legalizing the Homesh yeshiva and establishing a settlement in memory of Dimentman. Israeli security forces blocked local roads and four nearby Palestinian villages and did not stop the march despite the protesters marching to an area that was illegal for Israelis to enter. According to the ICRC, some protesters entered the nearby Palestinian village of Burqa, vandalizing homes and tombstones and attacking residents, and approximately 100 Palestinians were injured and one hospitalized, mostly from teargas in clashes with the IDF. No arrests were reported despite the heavy Israeli security forces presence.
In December 2020 according to media reports, 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. 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, according to media reports, settlers blocked roads in protest of the police role in the incident, threw rocks at cars with license plates that identified them as Palestinian, and raided some Palestinian homes.
There were dozens of reports of settler violence during the olive harvest. Yesh Din stated that between October 1 and November 15, it recorded 41 incidents, including 12 incidents of violent offenses, 10 instances of burning or uprooting olive trees, 16 instances of crop theft, four incidents of land prevention to olive groves, and one case in which soldiers allegedly denied a farmer access to his land without basis. They noted, however, that they had limited resources to document incidents, suggesting that their statistics understated the problem. Army radio reported on November 8 that the Ministry of Defense recorded 67 incidents of settler violence towards Palestinians during the harvest season (with approximately one more week left in the season at that point). The incidents included uprooting, cutting, and burning trees as well as setting cars on fire, and vandalism. Israeli security forces arrested at least three settlers suspected of stone throwing and were investigating other incidents of violence and property damage, according to media reports.
Settler violence occurred throughout the year. According to the IDF, in the first half of the year there were 416 violent incidents on the part of the settlers, averaging 2.5 incidents per day, compared to 507 violent incidents the IDF reported for all of 2020. According to Peace Now and Yesh Din, 63 percent of acts of settler violence against Palestinians took place in the vicinity of outposts, and most violence went unreported to authorities.
Israeli authorities investigated reported attacks against Palestinians and Arab/Palestinian 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. On August 18, five young Jewish Israelis stabbed Palestinian resident of East Jerusalem Ahmed Salima outside West Jerusalem’s main market, Mahane Yehuda. Salima had finished his shift at a nearby restaurant and was waiting for his ride. The Israeli Jewish youth were reportedly headed to pray at the Western Wall. While Israeli police first accused the five of committing the attack with nationalistic motives, the prosecutor did not view it as a hate crime and instead announced charges on August 29 of aggravated intentional assault and possession of a knife. The case remained pending.
The Israeli government and settler organizations in Jerusalem made efforts to increase property ownership by Jewish Israelis in Jerusalem. 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 according to the Jerusalem Municipality’s Outline Plan 2000. Israeli, Palestinian, and foreign NGOs noted the Israeli government’s goal of “maintaining a solid Jewish majority in the city,” as stated in the Jerusalem municipality’s master plan, and limiting the number of Palestinian residents. The plan originally set a target “ratio of 70 percent Jews and 30 percent Arab,” but planners later acknowledged that “this goal was not attainable” considering “the demographic trend” and adjusted to a 60-40 target.
Jewish landowners and their descendants, or land trusts representing the families, are entitled to reclaim property they had abandoned in East Jerusalem during fighting prior to 1949. Palestinians who abandoned property in Israel in the same period had a right to compensation only but not to reclaim 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 and 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 legal and governmental 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 and not Palestinians, according to NGOs.
Throughout the year there were nationalistic hate crimes and violence by Jewish individuals and groups against Palestinians and Arab/Palestinian citizens of Israel and property, often with the stated purpose of exacting a “price” for actions taken by the government against the attackers’ interests. 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. According to UNOCHA, there was a 21 percent increase in “nationalistic” attacks in the West Bank by settlers or Jewish extremists that involved Palestinian property damage. There were 274 such attacks in 2020, compared to 332 as of December 20.
On May 3, B’Tselem reported that dozens of Israeli settlers attacked the Palestinian village of Jaloud, setting brush fires and throwing stones at villagers. The attack reportedly was revenge for three Israelis wounded in a drive-by shooting at a nearby traffic junction days earlier.
On July 22, three settler youth allegedly set fire to a stone factory west of Hawara Palestinian residents of nearby Jamma’in village described it as a price tag attack, according to media reports. Israeli police stated they had received reports of arson and they had arrested one of the suspects and transferred him to a hospital for medical care.
On November 9, Palestinian residents of al-Bireh found graffiti sprayed on approximately two dozen cars and a building in their neighborhood. The damage included punctured tires, spray-painted Stars of David, and anti-Arab slogans in Hebrew. The slogan “enemies live here” was also painted on a building and “price tag” painted on a van. Israeli police and the IDF were dispatched to the scene, but there were no reported arrests.
In December 2020 Muhammad Marwah Kabha killed Israeli citizen Esther Horgan near the West Bank settlement of Tal Maneshe, according to multiple media reports. Kabha confessed to scouting the area in advance and killing Horgan, and an Israeli military court convicted him of murder on October 27. In May 2020 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 2020, Israel indicted Bakar for intentionally causing death. In November 2020 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.
Birth Registration: The PA registers Palestinians born in the occupied territories, 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 Civic Coalition for Palestinian Rights 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 that 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 the ISF of disrupting university campuses, especially in areas close to Israeli settlements. UNICEF documented 85 instances of “interference in education” by Israeli forces in the West Bank in 2020, 26 percent of which involved firing weapons in or near schools. UNICEF’s preliminary data indicated there were approximately 100 instances of “interference in education” by Israeli forces in the West Bank during the year.
According to 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 the end of the year, 46 Area C schools and eight East Jerusalem schools, serving an estimated 5,400 students, were under pending partial or full demolition or stop-work orders, according to UNICEF. None were demolished during the year. B’Tselem further reported that on August 24, Israeli troops trained with heavy equipment close to homes and a school near the village of Tayasir in the north Jordan Valley, provoking protests that led to injuries. During the year the Civil Administration conducted 583 demolitions in the West Bank and East Jerusalem that displaced 370 Palestinian minors, complicating their ability to attend school, according to the United Nations.
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 that in the 2020-21 school year, there was a shortage of 2,840 classrooms for Palestinian children who were residents in East Jerusalem. Ir Amim also reported that following a freedom of information request, the Jerusalem Municipality said it did not know where 37,233 Palestinian children in Jerusalem were enrolled in school. According to Ir Amim, this figure constituted 27 percent of East Jerusalem children of compulsory school age.
Child Abuse: 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.
There were reports Hamas ran jihadi-themed summer camps, although there were no reports that Hamas recruited or used child soldiers.
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, which 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 Jordanian law. 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. The minimum age of consensual sex in the West Bank is 16. The Gaza Strip has no legal age of consent because marriage is legally required before sexual intercourse is allowed.
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 441,600 residents at the end of 2019 and 451,700 at the end of 2020, 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 and Jews. During a protest in Beita against an unauthorized settlement on August 15, some of the activists burned a Star of David with a swastika inside. 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 PA textbooks, including those used by UNRWA in its schools, to include anti-Semitic content, incitement to violence directed against Israel, and the failure to include Judaism alongside Christianity and Islam when discussing religion. On June 18, the Georg Eckert Institute for International Textbook Research released a study of a sample of 156 books that noted the textbooks’ adherence to UNESCO standards, including a “strong focus on human rights” as well as progress in the excision of inciteful content, e.g., elimination of references to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in math and science textbooks. The study also noted a pronounced narrative of resistance towards Israel and found that some selections questioned the legitimacy of the State of Israel, contained anti-Semitic content, and praised Palestinians who committed violent attacks against Israel. UNRWA declared during the year that it had “zero tolerance for hatred, incitement to violence or discrimination” and that it reviewed the content of educational materials to ensure they were in line with UN values and principles and to address problematic content.
In Gaza and the West Bank, there were instances in which media outlets, particularly outlets controlled by Hamas but also media outlets controlled by the PA’s ruling Fatah party, published and broadcast material that included anti-Semitic content, sometimes amounting to incitement to violence.
Trafficking in Persons
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
Persons with Disabilities
Persons with disabilities could not access education, health services, public buildings, and transportation on an equal basis with others. The government did not provide information or communication in accessible formats. 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 and parking lot 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. The site has experienced frequent protests and clashes with Israeli security forces over the past year, in part due to Israeli construction plans.
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.
In May 2020 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. A manslaughter indictment was summitted on June 17 to the Jerusalem District Court against the officer responsible for the shooting.
HIV and AIDS Social Stigma
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.
Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
PA law in the West Bank does not prohibit consensual same-sex sexual activity. There were reported examples of violence, criminalization or abuse based on sexual orientation and gender identity during the year. NGOs reported PA security officers and neighbors harassed, abused, and sometimes arrested individuals due to their sexual orientation or gender identity. In Gaza 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.
Section 7. Worker Rights
a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining
PA law provides for the rights of workers to form and join independent unions and conduct legal strikes. The law requires conducting collective bargaining without any pressure or influence but does not include protections for employees and unions to engage effectively in collective bargaining. Antiunion discrimination and employer or government interference in union functions are illegal, but the law does not specifically prohibit termination for union activity or provide for job reinstatement for termination due to union activity.
The PA labor code does not apply to civil servants or domestic workers, although the law allows civil servants the right to form unions. The requirements for legal strikes are cumbersome, and strikers had little protection from retribution. Prospective strikers must provide written notice two weeks in advance of a strike (four weeks in the case of public utilities). The PA Ministry of Labor may impose arbitration; workers or their trade unions faced disciplinary action if they rejected the result. If the ministry cannot resolve a dispute, it may refer the dispute to a committee chaired by a delegate from the ministry and composed of an equal number of members designated by the workers and the employer. Disputes may move finally to a specialized labor court, although authorities had not established the court as required by labor legislation.
The government did not effectively enforce the law and procedures were subject to lengthy delays and appeals. Penalties were not commensurate with those for violation of other laws involving denials of civil rights, such as discrimination, and inspection was not sufficient to enforce compliance. The PA enforced the prohibitions on antiunion discrimination and employer interference in union functions, but it inconsistently enforced laws regarding freedom of association. The PA did not seek to enforce collective bargaining rights for unions, except for those representing PA employees. Hamas continued to maintain de facto control of worker rights in Gaza, where the PA was unable to enforce labor law. Hamas continued to suppress labor union activities, including placing restrictions on celebrating Labor Day and suppressing public gatherings of labor unions.
In the West Bank, the PA respected freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining, with some significant exceptions. Labor unions were not independent of authorities and political parties in the West Bank or Gaza. The politicization of labor unions in Gaza by Hamas reduced participation and effectiveness in advocating for labor rights. Two main labor unions in the West Bank (the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions and the Federation of Independent and Democratic Trade Unions and Workers) competed for membership and political recognition.
Israel applies Israeli civil law to Israeli settlements in the West Bank, but authorities did not enforce it uniformly. Despite a 2007 ruling by the Israeli Supreme Court requiring the government to apply Israeli law to Palestinian workers in Israeli settlements, the Israeli government did not fully enforce the ruling. Most Israeli settlements continued to apply Jordanian law to Palestinian workers; that law provides for lower wages and fewer protections than does Israeli law.
b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
PA law does not expressly forbid forced or compulsory labor. It is unknown whether any penalties were assessed for violations commensurate with those for other analogous serious crimes, such as kidnapping. Forced labor occurred in the West Bank and Gaza. Women working as domestic workers were vulnerable to forced labor conditions in both the West Bank and Gaza, since the PA and Hamas authorities do not regulate domestic labor within households or in the large informal sector.
c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
The law does not prohibit or criminalize all the worst forms of child labor. The law provides for the protection of children from exploitation in the workplace, including limitations on working hours, occupational safety, and health restrictions. The government did not effectively enforce the law. Penalties for child labor were not commensurate with those for similar serious crimes, such as kidnapping. PA law provides for a minimum age of employment and prohibits the employment of minors younger than 15. PA law classifies children as persons younger than 18 and permits hiring children between the ages of 15 and 18 for certain types of employment under set conditions. The law allows children younger than 15 to work for immediate family members under close supervision.
PA law prohibits children from working more than 40 hours per week; operating certain types of machines and equipment; performing work that might be unsafe or damage their health or education; and working at night, in hard labor, or in remote locations far from urban centers. A presidential decree includes provisions on child labor and explicit penalties for conviction of violations. PA authorities may penalize repeat offenders by having fines doubled or fully or partially closing the offender’s facility.
Inspectors did not operate in all sectors and did not have the authority to assess penalties. The worst forms of child labor occurred in construction and illicit activities such as smuggling drugs and commercial sexual exploitation. During the year PA Ministry of Labor officials reported there were 14 Palestinian fatalities in the West Bank and Gaza. The Ministry of Labor fined and gave warnings to businesses employing children illegally. The ministry inspected only businesses operating in the formal economy and was unable to conduct investigations in Gaza. It did not have access to the Israeli-controlled Area C of the West Bank. Many cases of child labor in the West Bank reportedly occurred in home environments, for example on family farms, which were not open to labor ministry inspection.
In the first quarter of 2020, 2 percent of children between the ages of 10 and 17 were employed (3 percent in the West Bank and 1 percent in Gaza). Palestinian child laborers deemed by the PA to be most vulnerable to forced labor generally worked in shops, as roadside and checkpoint street vendors, in car washes, in factories, in small manufacturing enterprises, or on family farms.
Hamas did not effectively enforce child labor laws in Gaza; however, Gaza continued to have a lower percentage of child labor than the West Bank. While the United Nations previously reported child labor was increasing in Gaza due to widespread economic hardship, high unemployment across all segments of society has led to high competition for jobs, thus decreasing the demand for child labor. Hamas reportedly encouraged children to work gathering gravel and scrap metal from bomb sites to sell to recycling merchants. Hamas increased recruitment of youth for tunnel-digging activities. Children were also reported to be working informally in the automotive and mechanics sector, often changing tires and working as mechanics’ assistants. There were also reports Hamas trained children as combatants. Due to the rising economic hardship in Gaza, street begging, predominantly by children as young as age three, was common throughout Gaza and Hamas no longer attempted to discourage the practice.
The Israeli government stated it did not issue permits for Palestinian West Bank residents younger than 18 to work in Israeli settlements in the West Bank, except in the Jordan Valley, where the law allows issuing permits to persons ages 16 and older. There were reports during the year that some Palestinian children entered the settlements or crossed into Israel illegally, often smuggled, to seek work. According to a 2015 Human Rights Watch report, Palestinian children younger than 16 worked on Israeli settlement farms. The PA reported that Palestinian children engaged in child labor in Israeli settlements in the West Bank faced security risks, exploitation, and harassment, since they did not have access to legal protection or labor inspection.
Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at https://www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings .
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
PA laws and regulations do not prohibit discrimination regarding race, language, sexual orientation or gender identity, HIV-positive status or other communicable diseases, or social status. While PA laws prohibit discrimination based on gender and disabilities, penalties were not commensurate with laws related to civil rights, such as election interference, and the PA did not effectively enforce those laws and regulations in the West Bank, nor did Hamas in Gaza. PA law states that work is the right of every capable citizen; however, it regulates the work of women, preventing them from employment in dangerous occupations. As a result, most women were not able to work at night or in the mining or energy sectors. Women endured prejudice and, in some cases, repressive conditions at work. According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS), the Palestinian female labor force participation rate was 18.9 percent in Gaza and 17.1 percent in the West Bank as of September. Reports of gender-based employment discrimination in Gaza against women were common, and factories often did not hire pregnant or newly married women to avoid the need to approve maternity leave.
There was discrimination in the West Bank and Gaza based on the above categories with respect to employment and occupation. Persons with disabilities faced discrimination in hiring and access to the workplace.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
Wage and Hour Laws: The PA’s monthly minimum wage was below the poverty line. On August 23, the PA cabinet approved raising the Palestinian national wage by approximately 30 percent in 2022, although some observers questioned the government’s ability to enforce this policy, especially in Gaza. The PCBS estimated 30 percent of residents in the West Bank and 64 percent of residents in Gaza lived below the poverty line. The average monthly wage in Gaza is significantly lower than the PA’s monthly minimum wage, according to the PCBS.
According to PA law, the maximum official Sunday-to-Thursday workweek is 48 hours. The law also allows for paid official and religious holidays, which employers may not deduct from annual leave. Workers must be paid time and a half for each hour worked beyond 45 hours per week and may not perform more than 12 hours of overtime work per week. The government did not effectively enforce the law on wages and hours of work. Penalties were not commensurate with those for similar crimes, such as fraud.
Occupational Safety and Health: Occupational safety and health standards were not appropriate for the main industries in the country, which included construction, mining, quarrying, manufacturing, and agriculture. The PA Ministry of Labor was responsible for setting appropriate occupational health and safety standards. Responsibility for identifying unsafe work conditions lies with inspectors and not the worker. Palestinian workers do not have the legal protection to remove themselves from situations that endangered their health or safety without jeopardy to their employment. Mechanisms for lodging complaints were generally not utilized due to fear of retribution, according to NGOs.
The government did not effectively enforce the law on occupational safety and health standards. Penalties for violations of occupational, safety, and health laws were not commensurate with those for crimes such as negligence. Labor inspectors could conduct unannounced visits and initiate legal action but did not have the authority to levy fines. In 2020 the Ministry of Labor’s Inspection Department did not conduct regular visits due to COVID-19. The PA did not effectively monitor smaller worksites or those in the informal sector, which were at times below legal safety standards. The ministry does not have authority to enforce Palestinian labor law west of Israel’s barrier or in Israeli settlements in the West Bank.
Informal Sector: Israeli authorities did not conduct labor inspections in Israeli settlements, where Palestinian workers constituted a significant part of the workforce. The lack of a competent labor authority in the settlements increased workers’ vulnerability to exploitation. NGOs such as Kav LaOved stated that exploitative practices in Israeli settlements were widespread. The International Labor Organization (ILO) estimated that one-half of all such workers with permits continued to pay exorbitant monthly fees to brokers to obtain and maintain valid work permits. Approximately 146,000 Palestinians worked in Israel and Israeli settlements as of the third quarter of the year, mostly in construction and agriculture. These workers were more vulnerable to exploitation and were not eligible for worker benefits, such as paid annual and sick leave. Kav LaOved brought cases to Israeli labor courts on behalf of Palestinian workers employed by enterprises in Israel and West Bank settlements. Many of the cases related to nonpayment or misreporting of wages, inadequate medical care following workplace injury, and the settlement of subsequent health insurance claims within the Israeli system.
According to the Palestine Central Bureau of Statistics, as of the third-quarter Labor Force Survey, 28 percent of wage employees received less than the minimum wage. In the West Bank approximately seven percent of wage employees in the private sector received less than the minimum monthly wage. In Gaza, 83 percent of wage employees in the private sector received less than the minimum monthly wage. Palestinians working in Israeli settlements reported they continued to receive wages lower than the Israeli minimum wage, despite a 2008 High Court ruling that Israeli labor laws apply to relations between Palestinian workers and Israeli employers in settlements.
Respect for occupational safety and health standards was poor. There continued to be workplace fatalities of Palestinian laborers. According to an ILO report during the year about Palestinian workers, there were 23 fatalities of Palestinian workers in Israel in 2020, 10 of those in construction. Kav LaOved documented dozens of cases where employers instructed employees to return to the West Bank following workplace injury rather than provide for medical attention inside Israel.