Israel, Golan Heights, West Bank, and Gaza – West Bank and Gaza
READ A SECTION: ISRAEL AND THE GOLAN HEIGHTS | WEST BANK AND GAZA (BELOW)
The Palestinian Authority (PA) basic law provides for an elected president and legislative council. There have been no national elections in the West Bank and Gaza since 2006. The president has remained in office notwithstanding the expiration of his four-year term in 2009. The Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) has not functioned since 2007. On December 22, President Abbas announced that the PA Constitutional Court had issued a decision dissolving the PLC and calling for PLC elections within six months. The PA head of government is Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah. PA President Mahmoud Abbas is also Chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and General Commander of the Fatah movement.
The PA exercised varying degrees of authority in the West Bank and no authority over Gaza. The PA maintains civil and security control in Area A of the West Bank and civil control and joint security control with Israel in Area B. The PA has no authority over either Israeli or Palestinian residents in Area C of the West Bank where Israel retains both security and civil control. Both PA and Israeli civilian authorities maintained effective control over their security forces. Although PA laws apply in Gaza, the PA did not have authority to enforce laws there. In 2007 Hamas staged a violent takeover of PA government installations in Gaza and has since been the de facto authority in the territory, which it governs with a combination of PA laws and Hamas decrees. Hamas maintained control of security forces in Gaza.
On March 30, Palestinians in Gaza launched the “March of Return,” a series of weekly protests along the fence between Gaza and Israel. The protests, some of which drew tens of thousands of people, and included armed terrorists, militants who launched incendiary devices into Israel, and unarmed protesters, continued throughout the year. Hamas took control of the weekly protests, and many of the protests were violent as encouraged by Hamas.
Human rights issues included:
- With respect to the PA: reports of unlawful or arbitrary killings; reports of systematic torture; reports of arbitrary detention; political prisoners; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy, family and home; undue restrictions on free expression and the press, including detention of journalists and the criminalization of libel, and restrictions on the internet, including censorship and site blocking; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, including harassment of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs); restrictions on political participation, as the PA has not held a national election since 2006; corruption; reports of crimes involving violence or threats motivated by anti-Semitism, payments to Palestinians in Israeli prisons, including those convicted of acts of terrorism against Israelis; reports that the government did not effectively prosecute allegations of rape and domestic violence; and use of forced or compulsory child labor.
- With respect to Israel authorities: reports of unlawful or arbitrary killings, including reports that deaths of Palestinians in the course of Israeli military operations were due to unnecessary or disproportionate use of force; reports of torture; reports of arbitrary detention; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy, family and home, including demolitions of unpermitted homes and schools; restrictions on free expression and the press, including detention of journalists; interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; and restrictions on freedom of movement, including the requirement of exit permits.
- With respect to Hamas: reports of unlawful or arbitrary killings; reports of systematic torture; reports of arbitrary detention; political prisoners; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy, family and home; undue restrictions on free expression, the press, and the internet, including detention of journalists, censorship, and site blocking; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; significant restrictions on freedom of movement, including the requirement of exit permits; restrictions on political participation, as there has been no national election since 2006; corruption; unlawful recruitment or use of child soldiers; threats of violence motivated by anti-Semitism; violence or threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons; and use of forced or compulsory child labor.
- With respect to Palestinian civilians: numerous reports of unlawful or arbitrary killings, including killings of seven Israeli soldiers and seven Israeli civilians; and reports of crimes involving violence or threats motivated by anti-Semitism.
- With respect to Israeli civilians: one report of unlawful or arbitrary killing of a Palestinian resident of the West Bank; and property defacement and destruction of agriculture.
The PA and Israeli authorities took steps to address impunity or reduce abuses, but there were criticisms both did not adequately pursue investigations and disciplinary actions related to violations. There were no legal or independent institutions capable of holding accountable the Hamas de facto authority in Gaza.
This section includes the West Bank and Gaza. In December 2017 the United States recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. It is the position of the United States that the specific boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem are subject to final status negotiations between the parties. Many NGOs and international organizations reporting on the region combine statistics from the West Bank and East Jerusalem, so references to their reports in this section sometimes include data from East Jerusalem.
As stated in Appendix A, this report contains data drawn from foreign government officials; victims of alleged human rights violations and abuses; academic and congressional studies; and reports from the press, international organizations, and NGOs concerned with human rights. In the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, some of those sources have been accused of harboring political motivations. The Department of State assesses external reporting carefully but does not conduct independent investigations in all cases. We have sought and received input from the government of Israel and we have noted responses where applicable.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
Palestinian terrorist groups and unaffiliated individuals killed seven Israeli civilians and five Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) soldiers in terrorist attacks in the West Bank, and more were injured, according to the Israeli NGO B’Tselem. In addition, the Israeli government reported that security forces foiled approximately 500 terrorist attacks during the year.
For example, on September 17, 17-year-old Palestinian Khalil Jabarin fatally stabbed Ari Fuld at a shopping mall in the West Bank, before being shot by Fuld and another civilian and arrested by police. An Israeli military court indicted Jabarin on October 22 for “intentionally causing death,” and he remained in custody pending trial at year’s end.
During the year Israeli forces killed Palestinians in the West Bank who were attempting or allegedly attempting to attack Israelis, according to B’Tselem and media reports. According to media reports and B’Tselem, some of those killed did not pose a lethal threat to the Israeli Security Forces (ISF) or civilians at the time they were killed.
For example, on December 4, IDF soldiers shot and killed Mohammad Khosam Khabali in the West Bank city of Tulkarm. After the incident, the IDF claimed they were reacting to a group of rock throwing Palestinians. B’Tselem compiled security camera videos showing Khabali walking away from the soldiers when he was killed.
On March 30, Palestinians in Gaza launched the “March of Return,” a series of weekly protests along the fence between Gaza and Israel. The protests, some of which drew tens of thousands of people, and included armed terrorists, militants who launched incendiary devices into Israel, and unarmed protesters, continued throughout the year. Hamas took control of the weekly protests, and many of the protests were violent. IDF shot and killed 190 Palestinians at the Gaza border as of the end of the year, including 41 minors, according to B’Tselem. According to the World Health organization, 6,239 Palestinians in Gaza were injured by IDF live fire in the protests. B’Tselem stated that 149 of the Palestinian protesters who were killed did not take part in hostilities. The government stated that many of the victims were operatives of Hamas or encouraged by Hamas to protest near the border. For example, following media reports that the IDF shot and killed 62 Palestinians at the Gaza fence on May 14, Hamas and Islamic Jihad claimed at least 53 were affiliated with their organizations, including some who were active members. The IDF stated they opened an internal inquiry into each Palestinian death at the border. The Israeli Military Advocate General opened five criminal investigations into IDF actions at the Gaza border, as of the end of the year.
On June 1, IDF shot and killed Razan al-Najjar north of Khuza’ah in Gaza during a Friday protest near the security fence with Israel. Al-Najjar was identified as a medical provider, according to B’Tselem. On October 29, media reported that Israel’s Military Advocate General (MAG) rejected the findings of an IDF inquiry that concluded a soldier did not deliberately shoot her. According to a New York Timesreport, an IDF sniper fired one round of live ammunition into a crowd including 14 white-coated medics, including al-Najjar, when no protesters in the immediate vicinity were conducting violent acts. According to the government, the circumstances of al-Najjar’s death were under investigation by the Military Police.
Gaza-based militant groups periodically conducted small arms attacks into Israel during the protests. In addition, from March 30 to December 5, Palestinian militant groups launched more than 1,150 rockets and mortars from the Gaza Strip indiscriminately toward civilian areas in Israel, as well as incendiary devices tied to kites and balloons that sparked nearly 2,000 fires and burned more than 5,600 acres of land in Israel, according to the government. More than 200 Israelis required treatment from these attacks, mostly for shock. Gaza-based militants shot and killed one Israeli soldier and a rocket launched by Gaza-based militant killed one Palestinian laborer in Ashkelon. On July 20, a Palestinian sniper shot and killed IDF Staff Sergeant Aviv Levi, an Israeli infantry soldier.
In August the Israeli military opened an investigation into the IDF shootings of two Palestinian minors in Gaza. According to an Israeli military statement, an initial probe suggested the soldiers who shot and killed 18-year-old Abed Nabi in March and 15-year-old Othman Hellis in July during Gaza border protests did not adhere to open-fire regulations.
Following multiple terrorist attacks by Palestinians in the West Bank in November and December, the IDF killed two Palestinian drivers and one minor passenger in three incidents in which IDF soldiers perceived attempts to ram vehicles into soldiers at checkpoints. According to B’Tselem, none of the three events were ramming attacks, and one of the adults and the minor passenger were shot in the back as their cars were driving away from checkpoints.
According to media reports, on October 28, an IDF drone strike killed three minors near the eastern Gaza perimeter fence. According to the IDF, the minors were planting an explosive device. The government stated it opened investigations into all deaths at the fence.
According to the government, Gaza-based militants, including Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, al-Mujahideen Movement, and other militant factions launched more than 1150 rockets and mortars toward Israel. These attacks killed a Palestinian laborer in Ashkelon and injured an IDF soldier. According to NGOs, media, and the Israeli government, Gaza-based militants fired rockets from civilian locations toward civilian targets.
In response to the rocket, mortar and incendiary attacks, and attempts to infiltrate Israel through the fence, the IDF launched 865 strikes against targets in Gaza during the year, according to the IDF. Air strikes and tank shellings killed 27 Palestinians at least seven of whom were civilians not participating in hostilities, according to B’Tselem. Seventeen of those killed in air strikes were militants, according to the Israeli government. According to B’Tselem, the IDF killed two minors in Gaza on July 14 in a “roof knocking,” a tactic in which a low-explosive projectile is dropped on the roof of a building to warn residents to vacate ahead of a full air strike. B’Tselem released a report on December 19 alleging the IDF withheld aerial footage of the event showing the teenage boys sitting on the edge of the roof. On August 9, the IDF struck more than 150 targets in the Gaza Strip in response to more than 180 rockets and mortars fired by Gaza-based militants into Israel. One of the IDF airstrikes killed one-year-old Bayan Abu Khamash and his pregnant mother, 22-year-old Inas Abu Kahmas, while they were asleep at home in Deir al-Balah, Gaza.
There were reports of Gazan fishermen killed by Israeli and Egyptian authorities. According to the NGO Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR), Israeli soldiers on a naval vessel shot and killed an 18-year-old Gazan fisherman, Isma’il Saleh Abu Riyalah in February. On November 8, Egyptian naval forces allegedly shot and killed Gazan Mostafa Abu Audeh while he was fishing just off the coast of the Palestinian city of Rafah. According to press, the Egyptian military denied the reports.
In Gaza, according to PCHR, Hamas extrajudicially executed seven persons during the year and has issued 125 death sentences since 2007. At year’s end, there were 10 persons in Hamas prisons awaiting capital punishment. PCHR noted a significant increase in application of the death penalty in Gaza since 2007 and particularly in the last three years. By law the PA president must ratify each death penalty sentence, but Hamas proceeded with these executions without the PA president’s approval.
On May 8, Israeli authorities released IDF soldier Elor Azaria from a military prison after nine months’ incarceration for killing incapacitated Palestinian attacker, Abed al-Fatah al-Sharif, in Hebron in 2016. A military court found Azaria guilty of manslaughter in January 2017. IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot shortened Azaria’s sentence from 18 months to 14 months in September 2017. Israeli President Reuven Rivlin denied Azaria’s request for clemency in November 2017. The parole board approved releasing Azaria after completing two-thirds of his sentence, as is customary in Israel. According to media reports, Azaria’s punishment included demotion to the rank of private prior to his discharge from the IDF.
The sixth update of the MAG investigation into the 2014 Gaza war closed 88 more cases, bringing the total of alleged incidents closed without charges to 186 of 360. MAG previously brought charges against three soldiers for looting. The remaining investigations were ongoing or not mentioned. This update addressed the IDF application of the “Hannibal Directive,” which calls for overwhelming firepower when an enemy captures an IDF soldier to prevent use of the soldier as a hostage. A March State Comptroller report on the war criticized the Hannibal Directive–which the IDF replaced in 2017–for failing to mention distinction and proportionality, as well as for ambiguous wording that led to confusion about whether the IDF should risk killing its own soldier when attacking kidnappers to prevent a hostage situation. Human rights organizations criticized MAG for failing to find fault in hundreds of incidents that caused more than 1,000 Palestinian civilian deaths, and for focusing on actions by individual soldiers, who may have violated IDF rules or the law, rather than the conformity of IDF rules and policies with international law, including high-level orders regarding the use of force.
In the West Bank, there were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities in 2018. There was no new information on the disappearances in 2014 and 2015 of three Israeli citizens, Avraham Abera Mengistu, Hisham al-Sayed, and Juma Ibrahim Abu Ghanima, who crossed into Gaza and whom Hamas reportedly apprehended and held incommunicado.
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. According to an October Human Rights Watch (HRW) report based on 86 cases and dozens of interviews of former detainees, lawyers, and family members, torture occurred in detention centers in both Gaza and the West Bank by Hamas and PA security services. Based on 147 interviews with prisoners, HRW assessed abuse was systematic and routinely practiced in PA prisons, particularly in the PA’s Intelligence, Preventive Security, and Joint Security Committee detention facilities in Jericho. HRW reported tactics including forcing detainees to hold painful stress positions for long periods, beating, punching, and flogging. The spokesperson for PA’s security services, Adnan al-Dumairi, claimed the report was politically motivated and faulted HRW for not fact-checking it with the PA Ministry of Interior.
In September the Middle East Monitor reported that 28-year-old Ahmed Abu Hamada died in a PA jail. The PA reported that he died of natural causes. According to the Middle East Monitor, human rights groups alleged that he died due to torture in detention. Abu Hamada was reportedly a member of the Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades and had been charged with “causing security chaos.”
Palestinian detainees held by Palestinian Authority Security Forces (PASF) registered complaints of abuse and torture with the Palestinian Authority’s Independent Commission for Human Rights (ICHR). The PA Corrections and Rehabilitation Centers Department (CRCD), under the authority of the Ministry of Interior, continued to maintain a mechanism for reviewing complaints of prisoner abuse in civil prisons but reported no cases of inmate abuse by its staff. HRW reported that despite hundreds of complaints having been filed, no disciplinary action was taken in the majority of the cases. The PA denied the use of torture. CRCD conducted yearly assessments of all seven civil prisons in the West Bank to review prison operations, including mechanisms of reporting allegations of abuse and subsequent investigation and disciplinary action.
The ICHR and HRW reported that Hamas internal security tortured detainees. For example, one detainee reported being whipped on his feet and chest with a cable. In letters to HRW, Hamas denied the allegations.
Human rights organizations such as the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (PCATI) reported that “special interrogation methods” used by Israeli security personnel against Palestinian security detainees in the West Bank included beatings, forcing an individual to hold a stress position for long periods, threats of rape and physical harm, and 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 was no investigation into these complaints.
NGO HaMoked alleged that Israeli detention practices 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 others acts of violence. Israeli officials stated they did not use these techniques.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Physical conditions in prisons and detention centers in the West Bank were reportedly poor. The PA does not publish data on detainee numbers. In responses to HRW in April, Preventive Security claimed it held 126 detainees and Intelligence Services claimed it held 61 detainees.
The basic conditions of Hamas-run prisons in Gaza were reportedly poor, prison cells were overcrowded, and there were many reports of abuses. There were an estimated 4,000 detainees in Gaza prisons with about 50 percent held in correctional facilities and 50 percent in temporary police detention, according to the United Nations. Approximately 100 detainees were held by Hamas’ Internal Security Agency. There were approximately 60 women and 60 minor detainees, each held in separate facilities.
Israeli authorities detained inside Israel 82 percent of Palestinian prisoners arrested by the ISF in the West Bank. According to the MCW, as of year’s end, these comprised 5,370 Palestinian detainees. According to Israel Prison Service figures obtained by MCW, the monthly average of minors in detention during the year was 283. As of year’s end, there were eight members of the PLC being held in Israeli prisons.
NGOs reported all prisons lacked adequate facilities and specialized medical care for detainees and prisoners with disabilities.
Physical Conditions: PA prisons continued to be crowded and lacked ventilation, heating, cooling, and lighting systems conforming to international standards. Authorities at times held male juveniles with adult male prisoners. Security services used separate detention facilities. Conditions for women were virtually identical to those for men. The PA used several refurbished structures and buildings as prisons, some of which lacked necessary security accommodations.
NGOs, including PCATI and MCW, stated that Israeli authorities appeared to use poor conditions or exposure to weather as an intimidation method.
Administration: According to HRW, mechanisms designed to hold employees and administrators accountable in both PA and Hamas detention facilities rarely, if ever, led to consequences for serious abuses. There were reports that prison administrators denied some detainees visits from family members.
Human rights groups such as the PCHR reported families of imprisoned Palestinians, particularly Gazans, had only limited ability to visit prisoners due to their detention inside Israel and the lack of entry permits to Israel for most Palestinians.
Independent Monitoring: In the West Bank, the PA permitted the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) access to detainees to assess treatment and conditions. The ICRC continued its regular visits to detention facilities, including interrogation centers, in accordance with its standard modalities, as in previous years. Human rights groups, humanitarian organizations, and lawyers indicated that, as in previous years, there were some difficulties in gaining access to specific detainees held by the PA–depending on which PA security organization managed the facility.
In Gaza, Hamas granted 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 organizations conducted monitoring visits to some prisoners in Gaza, but Hamas authorities denied representatives permission to visit high-profile detainees and prisoners.
The Israeli government permitted visits by independent human rights observers. NGOs sent representatives to meet with Palestinian prisoners–including those on hunger strikes–and inspect conditions in Israeli prisons, detention centers, and some ISF facilities. Palestinian families and human rights groups reported delays and difficulties in gaining access to specific detainees from Israeli authorities. They also reported transfers of detainees without notice and claimed Israeli authorities at times used transfer practices punitively against prisoners engaging in hunger strikes.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
For information on treatment of Palestinians in Israeli prisons as well as prison conditions in Israel, see the Israel report. PA law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention. Nonetheless, the PA criminal justice system often did not provide a prompt and speedy trial. There were widespread instances of PA detention without charge or trial for selected security detainees in PASF custody. The PA also arrested without charge Palestinians who posted critical social media postings, journalists critical of the PA, and individuals from areas known to support PA President Abbas’ exiled Fatah rival Muhammad Dahlan, according to HRW.
In October the PA arrested in the West Bank a Palestinian resident of East Jerusalem allegedly involved in the sale of an apartment in the Old City’s Muslim Quarter to a Jew, for allegedly violating a law that prohibits “transferring positions to the enemy.” On December 31, a criminal court sentenced him to life in prison with hard labor.
Hamas practiced widespread arbitrary detention in Gaza, particularly of Fatah members, civil society activists, journalists, and those accused of publicly criticizing Hamas. For example, Hamas arrested dozens of Fatah members for their planned participation in a gathering to watch President Abbas’ UN General Assembly speech in September. Some detainees registered complaints with the PA’s ICHR that their arrests were arbitrary. Information concerning the whereabouts and welfare of those detained was not consistently or reliably available. Hamas did not respect fair trial guarantees or provide access to family and legal counsel to many of those detained.
Since taking control of the West Bank in 1967, Israel has prosecuted Palestinian residents of the West Bank under military law. Since 1967 the Israeli Knesset has extended Israeli criminal and civil law protections to the 412,000 Israeli settlers in the West Bank.
Under Israeli military law, the IPS may hold adults suspected of a security offense for four days prior to bringing them before a judge, with limited 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. Israeli law defines security offenses to include any offense committed under circumstances that might raise a suspicion of harm to Israel’s security and which the ISF believes may link to terrorist activity. Suspects between the ages of 12 and 14 can be held up to one day, with a possible one-day extension. Those between the ages of 14 and 16 can be held up to two days, with a possible two-day extension. Those between the ages of 16 and 18 can be held up to four days, with a possible four-day extension.
Under military law, in security-related cases, Israeli authorities may hold adults for 20 days prior to an indictment, with the possibility of additional 15-day extensions up to 75 days. An Israeli military appeals court can then extend the detention up to 90 days at a time. Prior to an indictment in security-related cases, authorities may hold minors for 15 days, with the possibility of 10-day extensions up to 40 days. An Israeli military appeals court can then extend the detention up to 90 days at a time.
The Emergency Powers Law allows the Israeli Ministry of Defense to detain persons administratively without charge for up to six months, renewable indefinitely.
The Illegal Combatant Law permits Israeli authorities to hold a detainee for 14 days before review by a district court judge, deny access to counsel for up to 21 days with the attorney general’s approval, and allow indefinite detention subject to twice-yearly district court reviews and appeals to Israel’s Supreme Court.
ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS
West Bank Palestinian population centers mostly fall into Area A, as defined by the Oslo-era agreements. In Area A, which contains 55 percent of the Palestinian population on approximately 18 percent of West Bank land, the PA has formal responsibility for security and civil control. Nevertheless, according to media reports, since 2002 Israeli security forces regularly conducted security operations in Area A, at times without coordinating with the PASF. During the year the IDF conducted incursions throughout Area A in the West Bank, citing security concerns. The PA has civil control, and the PA and Israel maintain joint security control of Area B territory in the West Bank, which contains 41 percent of the population on approximately 21 percent of the land. Israel retains full civil and security control of Area C, which comprises approximately 4 percent of the Palestinian population and 61 percent of the land of the West Bank, although the majority of land in Area C is vacant, and according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA), Israel has designated 30 percent of Area C as closed military zones. According to Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics, approximately 413,000 Israelis live in Area C Israeli settlements.
Six PA security forces operate in the West Bank. Several are under the PA Ministry of Interior’s operational control and follow the prime minister’s guidance. The Palestinian Civil Police have primary responsibility for civil and community policing. The National Security Force conducts gendarmerie-style security operations in circumstances that exceed the capabilities of the civil police. The Military Intelligence Agency handles intelligence and criminal matters involving PASF personnel, including accusations of abuse and corruption; it can refer cases to court. The General Intelligence Service is responsible for external intelligence gathering and operations. The Preventive Security Organization is responsible for internal intelligence gathering and investigations related to internal security cases (for example, antiterrorism, weapons violations, and money laundering). The Presidential Guard protects facilities and provides dignitary protection.
The PA maintained effective control over its security forces and has mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption. Some Israeli officials claimed that PA authorities failed to prevent and, in fact, incited violence, including terrorist attacks, against Israelis.
The PA and the PLO continued to provide “martyr payments” to the families of Palestinian individuals killed during the commission of a terrorist act. The PA and the PLO also continued to provide payments to Palestinians in Israeli prisons, including those convicted of acts of terrorism against Israelis. These payments and separate stipends for prisoners were first initiated by the PLO in 1965 and continued under the PA since the Oslo Accords with Israel. President Abbas said he will use his last penny “on the families of the prisoners and martyrs.”
In Gaza, Hamas forces exercised de facto authority. Impunity remained a problem. Hamas at times instigated violence at the fence with Israel and failed to prevent or deter violence in numerous other instances.
Israeli authorities maintained a West Bank security presence through the ISF, the ISA, the Israel National Police (INP), and Border Guard. According to organizations such as Yesh Din, PCATI, and B’Tselem, Israeli authorities took some steps to investigate and punish abuse and corruption, but there were reports of failure to take disciplinary action in cases of abuse (see section 1.a.). The ISF stated it continued to open investigations automatically into claims of abuse of Palestinians in Israeli military police custody. Yesh Din claimed the automatic opening of investigations applied only to some Israeli military activity in the West Bank, but not to Palestinians reporting abuse in custody. Reports of abuse go to the Israeli Attorney General’s Office; PCATI reported Israeli authorities systematically disregarded abuse allegations.
NGOs such as Yesh Din and Rabbis for Human Rights also criticized Israeli efforts and accountability in investigating reports of Israeli security forces killing Palestinians. In 2016 the State Attorney’s Office filed an indictment on charges of reckless and negligent use of a firearm against two soldiers who shot and killed a 16-year-old in the village of Budrus who was reportedly trying to flee a restricted area. The State Attorney’s Office proposed (among other actions) that the soldiers pay damages to the families, but the soldiers’ attorney rejected the offer. In June MAG withdrew a pending indictment against the soldiers.
According to NGOs Yesh Din and Bimkom, and media reports, the ISF did not respond sufficiently to violence perpetrated against Palestinians by Israelis in the West Bank (see section 6.).
In January the Israel Central District Attorney’s Office indicted two Israeli suspects on charges connected with a 2015 “price tag” arson attack on a Palestinian home in the West Bank village of Douma, which killed a toddler and his parents, and severely injured his four-year-old brother. A perpetrator also spray-painted “Revenge!” and a Star of David on the wall of the home. Authorities charged one Israeli with murder and another with conspiring to commit a crime. In May relatives of the Palestinian family killed in the attack filed a lawsuit against the Israeli government seeking admission of responsibility and damages. In July a defendant who was a minor at the time of the attack was released to house arrest for the remainder of the hearings. The case was ongoing at year’s end.
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 PA arrest 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, or authorities must release the detainee. 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. There were no known PA detentions extending beyond the six-month time limit without trial. 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. The Palestinian Bar Association (PBA) adopted a policy in May that restricted lawyers’ ability to represent indigents free of charge. An NGO challenged this policy in court, and in October the PBA rescinded it. Amnesty International reported that the PASF failed to provide prompt access to legal counsel to some detainees, effectively holding them incommunicado during interrogation.
The PA Military Intelligence Organization (PMI) operated without a service-specific mandate to investigate and arrest PA security force personnel and civilians suspected of “security offenses,” such as terrorism. The PMI conducted these activities in a manner consistent with the other PA security services. Hamas continued to charge 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.
In Gaza, Hamas detained a large number of persons during the year without recourse to legal counsel, judicial review, or bail. There also were instances in which de facto Hamas authorities retroactively issued arrest warrants and used military warrants to arrest Gaza residents.
Israeli military law applied to Palestinians in the West Bank. Israeli civil law applied to Israelis living in the West Bank. Under Israeli military law, authorities can hold detainees for up to 60 days without access to a lawyer. Israeli authorities informed Palestinian detainees of the charges against them during detention, but did not always inform them of the reasons for arrest at the time of arrest, according to the MCW. Israeli authorities stated their policy was to post notification of arrests within 48 hours, but senior officers could delay notification for up to 12 days, effectively holding detainees incommunicado during the interrogation process. An Israeli military commander may request that a judge extend this period.
In accordance with law, Israeli authorities generally provided Palestinians held in Israeli military custody inside Israel access to a lawyer of their choice (and provided lawyers for the indigent). Nonetheless, Palestinian detainees often obtained lawyers only after initial interrogations, and according to interviews with 29 minors, HaMoked reported that 22 of them did not see a lawyer prior to their interrogations. Impediments to movement on West Bank roads or at Israeli-operated crossings often made legal consultation difficult and delayed trials and hearings. According to the MCW, many Palestinian detainees saw their lawyer for the first time when they appeared before an Israeli military court. 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, authorities either granted or denied bail to Palestinians detained for security violations, but denied bail in most cases. Israeli authorities delayed or deprived some Palestinian detainees of visits by their families or lawyers.
NGOs such as MCW and HaMoked claimed Israeli authorities in the West Bank frequently failed to inform Palestinian parents why authorities detained their children or where they had been taken. Israeli authorities stated their policy was to provide written notification about the arrest to parents when they arrested a child at home; however, the NGOs argued this occurred only in 19 percent of cases. Legally, minors who are 16 and 17 years old can be held for 96 hours before seeing a judge, the same period applied to adults. The law mandates audiovisual recording of all interrogations of minors in the West Bank but limits this requirement to nonsecurity-related offenses. NGOs expressed concern that the ISF entered Palestinian homes at night to arrest or photograph minors. Israeli military authorities began providing translations into Arabic of some recent changes to military laws affecting Palestinian minors.
During the year there was a decrease in the detention rate of minors, compared with the high in 2015, which coincided with a spike in knife attacks, but the rate remained higher than earlier levels.
In December 2017 the ISF arrested 16-year-old Palestinian Ahed Tamimi, who had a series of previous altercations with the IDF, and charged her with assault after she was filmed slapping an Israeli soldier in the West Bank town of Nabi Saleh. NGOs criticized the nighttime arrest and charges, arguing that Tamimi did not pose a true threat. Tamimi remained in custody for nine months as a result of a plea agreement and sentencing. Her attorney alleged that Tamimi was interrogated by male interrogators without a female present and without an interrogator specialized in questioning minors. It was also alleged that one of the interrogators sexually harassed Tamimi and that threats were made to arrest her relatives if she remained silent during questioning. A formal complaint was filed in April and an IDF spokesperson stated that an investigation had been opened.
In June MCW reported that the majority of minor detainees reported ISF use of blindfolds, hand ties, physical abuse, and threats of violence. The MCW said data from more than 400 MCW detainee testimonials collected between 2013 and 2017 confirmed widespread physical mistreatment by Israeli authorities of Palestinian minor detainees in the West Bank. HaMoked interviewed minors and their families, who reported very similar circumstances of detention, including lack of notification to families of where authorities detained their children, lack of family visits, and coercive interrogation techniques.
According to NGOs, the ISA engaged in the practice of incommunicado detention of Palestinians, including isolation from outside monitors, legal counsel, and family throughout the duration of interrogation.
Arbitrary Arrest: The PA in the West Bank and Hamas de facto authorities in Gaza made arbitrary arrests based on political affiliation, according to ICHR and HRW. In many cases detainees were held without formal charges or proper procedures. There were numerous reports that the PA and Hamas improperly detained Palestinian journalists and arrested Palestinians who posted criticism of the PA (in the West Bank) or Hamas (in Gaza) online. Hamas also targeted those suspected of ties to Israel.
According to human rights NGOs, including the MCW, B’Tselem, and HaMoked, throughout the year there were reports Israeli security forces in the West Bank arbitrarily arrested and detained Palestinian protesters and activists, particularly those participating in demonstrations against the security barrier or against killings of Palestinians.
Pretrial Detention: It was unclear how many Palestinians were held in pretrial detention in West Bank prisons.
Hamas’ de facto Ministry of Interior told HRW that as of April there were more than 4,000 persons in custody, which includes both charged and pretrial detention. It was unclear how long detainees in Hamas custody stayed in pretrial detention.
As of the end of the year, according to the IPS, 467 persons were in administrative detention, including 432 Palestinian residents of the West Bank and four Palestinian residents of Jerusalem. Three people in administrative detention were minors. An Israeli military court must approve an administrative detention order. Palestinian detainees may appeal the ruling to the Israeli Military Appeals Court and the Israeli High Court of Justice (HCJ). The HCJ did not free any Palestinians under administrative detention during the year.
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 arbitrary 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.
Hamas told HRW that between January 2016 and December 2017, Palestinians in Gaza lodged 314 complaints against the security services for “overstepping the law and mistreatment,” and 90 of them were proven true, according to Hamas’ internal investigations.
Palestinians held by Israeli military authorities in administrative detention have no right to trial and can 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 Israeli members of Knesset continued to criticize the Israeli government for using administrative detention excessively, adding that the practice was undemocratic since there was no due process. In its September 2017 submission regarding compliance with the UN Convention Against Torture, Israel claimed 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 can be addressed by other legal alternatives, especially criminal prosecution.” The government further emphasized the role of military judges in reviewing administration detention orders.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The PA basic law provides for an independent judiciary. According to 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.
Palestinians have the right to file suits against the PA but rarely did so. Seldom-used administrative remedies are available in addition to judicial remedies.
In Gaza Hamas-appointed prosecutors and judges operated de facto courts, which the PA considered illegal. Gaza residents can file civil suits. HRW reported Hamas internal security regularly tried civil cases in military courts.
Israeli law provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected Israeli civil courts’ independence and impartiality. The ISF tried Palestinian residents of the West Bank accused of security offenses in Israeli military courts.
PA law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent 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’ right to privacy, protection of a victim of a sexual offense, or an “honor crime” requires privacy. If a court orders a session closed, the decision may be appealed to a higher PA court. Defendants enjoy a presumption of innocence and the right to prompt and detailed information regarding the charges, with free interpretation as necessary, from the moment charged through all appeals. Amnesty International reported that PA political and judicial authorities sometimes failed to adhere to basic due process rights, including promptly charging suspects. PA law provides for legal representation, at public expense if necessary, in felony cases during the trial phase. Defendants have the right to be present and to consult with an attorney in a timely manner during the trial, although during the investigation phase, the defendant only has the right to observe. Defendants have the right to adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. Suspects and defendants in the PA justice system have a right to remain silent when interrogated by the prosecutor according to the law. Defendants also have a legal right to counsel during interrogation and trial. They have the right to appeal. PA authorities generally observed these rights.
Hamas authorities in Gaza followed the same criminal procedure law as the PA in the West Bank but implemented the procedures inconsistently.
Israeli authorities tried Israelis living in West Bank settlements under Israeli civil law in the nearest Israeli district court. Israeli military trials were provided for Palestinians in the West Bank. The same evidentiary rules used in Israeli criminal cases apply in both Israeli military and civilian proceedings; for example, Israeli authorities cannot base convictions solely on confessions. Indigent detainees do not automatically receive free legal counsel for military trials, but almost all detainees had counsel, in part because NGOs funded their representation. Israeli military courts use Hebrew, but Palestinian defendants have the right to simultaneous interpretation at every hearing. Various human rights organizations claimed the availability and quality of Arabic interpretation was insufficient; most interpreters were bilingual Israelis performing mandatory military service. Defendants can appeal through the Military Court of Appeals and petition Israel’s HCJ. According to NGO reports, Israeli military courts rarely acquitted Palestinians charged with security offenses, although they occasionally reduced sentences on appeal.
Human rights lawyers also 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. MCW reported that 65 percent of Palestinian minors were shown or made to sign documentation written in Hebrew, a language most Palestinian minors could not read, at the conclusion of their interrogation. Israeli authorities disputed these findings, asserting that interrogations of Palestinians took place only in Arabic and that authorities submitted no indictments based solely on a confession written in Hebrew.
POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES
NGOs reported arrests of Palestinians on political grounds occurred in both the West Bank and Gaza. There was no reliable estimate of the number of political prisoners the PA held in the West Bank during the year. In an April letter to HRW, the PA denied it had made any arrests based solely on political or party affiliation.
In Gaza, Hamas detained dozens of Palestinians due to political affiliation, public criticism of Hamas, or suspected collaboration with Israel and held them for varying periods. Hamas alleged that they arrested Fatah members on criminal, rather than political charges. Observers associated numerous allegations of denial of due process with these detentions. The ICRC and NGOs had limited access to these prisoners.
Some human rights organizations claimed Palestinian security prisoners held in Israel were political prisoners. The Israeli government described security prisoners as those convicted or suspected of nationalistically motivated violence.
CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES
A Palestinian resident of the West Bank can file suit against the PA, including on matters related to alleged abuses of human rights, but this was uncommon.
A Palestinian resident of Gaza can file suit against de facto Hamas authorities, including on matters related to alleged abuses of human rights, but this was also uncommon.
Palestinian residents of the West Bank can file suit against the government of Israel. In November an Israeli court ruled that residents of Gaza are not able to seek redress or compensation from the Israeli government for damage to property or bodily harm due to Gaza’s classification as an “enemy territory” under the Civil Wrongs (State Liability) Law.
The Israeli government conducted multiple demolitions of Palestinian property in the West Bank based on lack of permits, use of the property by the ISF, or as punishment. Human rights NGOs claimed that in the West Bank, Israeli authorities often placed insurmountable obstacles against Palestinian applicants for construction permits, including 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 new housing to often-unavailable municipal works.
Israeli authorities, including the Israeli Civil Administration (ICA) in the West Bank; part of Israel’s Ministry of Defense; and the Ministry of the Interior continued to demolish Palestinian homes, cisterns, and other buildings and property on the basis that these buildings lacked Israeli planning licenses. According to B’Tselem, from 2000 to 2016, Palestinians filed 5,475 applications for building permits in Area C of the West Bank. Of these requests, the ICA approved 226 applications, approximately 4 percent.
During the year Israeli authorities demolished 272 Palestinian structures in the West Bank, 98 percent of which lacked an Israeli building permit and displaced 220 Palestinians, according to data from UNOCHA. The Israeli authorities demolished 15 unpermitted Israeli homes in the Netiv Ha’avot neighborhood of the Elazar settlement in July that the owners had partially built on private Palestinian land. In February the government authorized a financial compensation plan for the affected Netiv Ha’avot residents to provide temporary lodging nearby in the Alon Shvut settlement and money to rebuild their homes elsewhere.
As of year’s end, the Palestinian Bedouin community Khan al-Ahmar in the West Bank had not been demolished, although the Israeli government took administrative steps to do so during the year. Approximately 170 residents live in the community, in an area adjacent to a highway, with unpermitted, makeshift electrical and water connections. On May 24, after nearly 10 years of litigation, the HCJ ruled that the ICA’s demolition orders against the structures in Khan al-Ahmar were valid, which provided the ICA legal justification to demolish every structure in the village since all were built without ICA permits. Residents were not able to receive permits, as the Israeli government has not approved a master plan for the area. Following the ruling the HCJ issued a temporary injunction to delay the demolition pending a series of petitions from the PA and Khan al-Ahmar residents. On September 5, the HCJ convened a panel to judges to review these petitions. The panel ultimately rejected the petitions and upheld the HCJ’s May 24 decision, which terminated the temporary injunction beginning on September 12. In an effort to resolve the Khan al-Ahmar dispute, the government constructed an alternative site for the residents that included electric and water connections and a school building for the community’s children. Khan al-Ahmar residents rejected the transfer proposal, arguing that the site was unsuitable.
Israeli authorities sometimes charged demolition fees for demolishing a home; this at times prompted Palestinians to destroy their own homes to avoid the higher costs associated with Israeli demolition. Palestinians had difficulty verifying land ownership in Israeli courts, according to Israeli requirements for proof of land ownership. According to the government, all land ownership cases are assessed individually by an administrative committee, which is subject to judicial review, and decisions made according to the evidence provided.
f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The PA penal procedure code generally requires the PA Attorney General to issue warrants for entry 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. According to Amnesty International, during the interrogation of a 31-year-old woman in Jericho the police threatened to hurt her family and take away her children.
Hamas de facto authorities in Gaza frequently interfered arbitrarily with personal privacy, family, and home, according to reporting from local media and NGO sources. Hamas authorities searched homes and seized property without warrants. They targeted Palestinian 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 areas under PA security control by Oslo-era accords, according to media and PA officials. These raids often took place at night, which the ISF stated was due to operational necessity. Only ISF officers of lieutenant colonel rank and above can authorize entry into Palestinian private homes and institutions in the West Bank without a warrant, based upon military necessity.
According to B’Tselem, the Israeli military forced Palestinian families in the Jordan Valley to temporarily vacate their homes 17 times to accommodate Israeli military training in the vicinity. In December the IDF forced 13 families, including 38 minors, to temporarily vacate their homes three separate times. A B’Tselem video from December 26 shows a convoy of Israeli military vehicles driving over crops as the IDF leads families away from their homes.
Israeli authorities froze family unification proceedings for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza in 2000. HaMoked filed petitions to the High Court of Justice on November 1 on behalf of Palestinian residents of the West Bank and their foreign spouses, requesting that the Israeli government permit foreign spouses to legalize their status through a family unification procedure. HaMoked claimed the military’s refusal to review requests of foreign citizens for family unification is contrary to Israeli law, and to the Israeli-Palestinian Interim Oslo-era agreements. HaMoked further claimed that the IDF rejects family unification requests based on a broad policy, and not on the facts of the individual cases brought before it, and as such does not appropriately balance relevant security needs and the right of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza–protected persons under international humanitarian law–to family life.
Israeli authorities reportedly permitted children in Gaza access to a parent in the West Bank only if no other close relative was resident in Gaza. Israeli authorities did not permit Palestinians who were abroad during the 1967 War or whose residency permits the Israeli government subsequently withdrew to reside permanently in the West Bank or Gaza.
The ISF continued punitive demolitions of the homes of the families of Palestinians implicated in attacks against Israelis. As of December 21, Israeli authorities partially or fully demolished six family homes of Palestinians who had carried out attacks on Israelis. These actions often also rendered other dwellings near the demolished homes uninhabitable. Punitive demolitions displaced 45 Palestinians, including 13 children, according to the United Nations. NGOs such as Amnesty International, HRW, and several Palestinian and Israeli NGOs widely criticized punitive demolitions as collective punishment.
Demolition of the family home of Islam Abu Hmeid, located in the al-Ama’ari refugee camp in Ramallah occurred on December 15. Israeli authorities arrested Abu Hmeid in June for killing a soldier during a May raid into the camp. The Israeli government asserted such demolitions had a deterrent effect on would-be assailants.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
Authorities in the West Bank and Gaza limited and restricted Palestinian residents’ freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.
FREEDOM OF PEACEFUL ASSEMBLY
PA law permits public meetings, processions, and assemblies within legal limits. It requires permits for rallies, demonstrations, and large cultural events. Both the PA and Hamas security forces selectively restricted or dispersed peaceful protests and demonstrations in the West Bank and Gaza during the year.
According to a Hamas decree, any public assembly or celebration in Gaza requires prior permission. Hamas used arbitrary arrest to prevent some events from taking place, particularly political events affiliated with Fatah. Hamas also attempted to impede criticism of Hamas policies by imposing arbitrary demands for the approval of meetings on political or social topics.
A 1967 Israeli military order stipulates that a “political” gathering of 10 or more persons requires a permit from the regional commander of military forces–which Israeli commanders rarely granted. The penalty for a breach of the order is up to 10 years’ imprisonment or a heavy fine. Israeli military law prohibits insulting a soldier, participating in an unpermitted rally, and “incitement” (encouraging others to engage in civil disobedience). In 2016 an Israeli military court indicted Palestinian human rights activist Issa Amro on 18 charges dating to 2010. Human rights organizations such as Amnesty International stated Amro’s actions during these incidents were consistent with nonviolent civil disobedience. Amro’s trial, which began in 2016, continued through the end of the year. In November the seventh hearing on the case was held in Israeli Military Court. Ha’aretz reported the IDF detained him at least 20 times at various checkpoints from May-July.
The IDF Central Command declared areas of the West Bank to be “closed military zones,” in which it prohibited Palestinian public assembly. It maintained the same designation on Fridays for areas adjacent to the security barrier in the Palestinian villages of Bil’in and Ni’lin during hours when Palestinian, Israeli, and international activists regularly demonstrated there. There were frequent skirmishes between protesters and ISF personnel. The ISF stationed on the West Bank side of the barrier during weekly protests in those villages responded to rock throwing with nonlethal force.
FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION
PA law allows freedom of association. PA authorities sometimes imposed limitations in the West Bank, including on labor organizations (see section 7.a.). NGOs said a regulation subjecting “nonprofit companies” to PA approval prior to receiving grants impeded their independence and threatened the ability of both local and international nonprofits to operate freely in the West Bank.
In Gaza, Hamas attempted to prevent various organizations from operating. These included some it 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. The Hamas de facto Ministry of Interior claimed supervisory authority over all NGOs, and its representatives regularly harassed NGO employees and requested information on staff, salaries, and activities.
c. Freedom of Religion
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons
PA law provides for freedom of internal movement within the West Bank, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights, with some exceptions.
Hamas authorities restricted some foreign travel into and out of Gaza and required exit permits for Palestinians departing through the Gaza-Israel Erez crossing. Hamas also prevented some Palestinians from exiting Gaza for reasons related to the purpose of their travel or to coerce payment of taxes and fines. There were some reports unmarried women faced restrictions on their travel out of Gaza.
Citing security concerns, Israel imposed significant restrictions on Palestinian movement in the West Bank and between the West Bank and Jerusalem. Israeli authorities frequently prohibited travel between some or all Palestinian West Bank towns and deployed “flying” (temporary) checkpoints. Palestinians who lived in affected villages stated that “internal closures” continued to have negative economic effects. 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. For example, Israeli authorities enacted a comprehensive closure for Gaza for eight days during the September 23-30 Sukkot holiday in September, but allowed access to Israel from the West Bank during part of the Sukkot holiday from September 25 to 28. These closures also reportedly resulted in Palestinian economic losses. B’Tselem reported 32 such days during the year.
Also due to security concerns, Israel has declared access restricted areas (ARA) on both the coastal and land borders around Gaza. The lack of clear information regarding the ARA created risks for Palestinians in Gaza who live or work either on the Mediterranean Coast or near the perimeter fence. The most recent Israeli policy, in 2009, asserts a 300 meter (984 feet) ARA along the perimeter fence, but this was not consistently applied. In some areas, the ARA extends to 500 meters (1,640 feet). No official signage to signify the line of demarcation exists and what exists as official policy changes frequently. Likewise, the permitted maritime activity area for Palestinians along the coastal region of Gaza changed between six and nine miles four separate times from mid-2017 to mid-2018. According to human rights NGOs, this confusion led to frequent instances per year of farmers and fishermen being fired upon by Israeli forces.
A key barrier to Palestinian movement was the security barrier that divides the majority of the West Bank from Israel, including Jerusalem, and some parts of the West Bank. Israeli authorities constructed this barrier to prevent attacks by Palestinian terrorists. In some areas it divides Palestinian communities in the West Bank and Jerusalem. At its widest points, the barrier extends 11 miles (18 kilometers) into the West Bank. B’Tselem estimated that 27,000 Palestinians resided in communities west of the barrier whom were required to travel through Israeli security checkpoints to reach the remainder of the West Bank. Other significant barriers to Palestinian movement included internal ISF road closures and Israeli restrictions on the movement of Palestinian persons and goods into and out of the West Bank and Gaza. In July UNOCHA reported there were 705 permanent obstacles throughout the West Bank, a 3 percent increase from its last survey in 2016. Israeli restrictions on movement affected virtually all aspects of Palestinian life, including access to places of worship, employment, agricultural lands, schools, and hospitals, as well as the conduct of journalism and humanitarian and NGO activities.
The PA and Hamas generally cooperated with humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons and refugees. Israeli officials imposed controls on movement of materials, goods, and persons into and out of Gaza based on security concerns. Amnesty International and HRW reported difficulties by foreign workers in obtaining Israeli visas, which affected the delivery of humanitarian assistance in the West Bank and Gaza. Amnesty International and HRW also reported that the Israeli government denied their employees permits to enter Gaza from Israel.
PA-affiliated prosecutors and judges stated that ISF prohibitions on movement in the West Bank, including Israeli restrictions on the PA’s ability to transport detainees and collect witnesses, hampered their ability to dispense justice.
UNRWA reported its West Bank Headquarters staff lost 1,376 workdays during the year, mostly due to increased Israeli demands to search UNRWA vehicles at checkpoints between Bethlehem and Jerusalem. According to UNRWA, as of the end of 2017, there were more than 828,328 Palestinian refugees registered with UNRWA in the West Bank and nearly 1.4 million in the Gaza Strip. Almost one-quarter (24 percent) of Palestinian refugees in the West Bank lived in camps, as did approximately 40 percent in Gaza. Some Palestinians, registered with UNRWA as refugees, who lived in Syria prior to the Syrian civil war were reportedly living in Gaza. Additionally, Syrians of Palestinian descent (not registered with UNRWA as refugees) were also reportedly living in Gaza after fleeing the Syrian civil war.
Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Israeli security operations in the West Bank led to 14 Palestinian UNRWA beneficiary fatalities as of December 2017 of whom six were killed allegedly while conducting an attack on the ISF or Israeli civilians. Israeli use of live ammunition caused most injuries. There were 223 Palestinians reported injured by Israeli authorities in West Bank refugee camps, according to UNRWA, of whom live ammunition injured 92, including 15 UNRWA beneficiary minors.
UNRWA data from 2014 through October suggests that while total injuries as a result of ISF operations in and around refugee camps have trended down, live ammunition injuries as a percentage of total injuries have increased from 16 percent to 42 percent. The UN Agency expressed particular concern over the use of live ammunition against minors. The most recent fatality in Deheishe refugee camp south of Bethlehem was in July, when the ISF fatally shot with live ammunition 14-year-old Arkan Thaer Mizher. According to the Israeli government, military police were investigating the incident.
There was no process for foreign spouses or foreign-born children of Palestinians to obtain permanent legal status in the West Bank. As a result, many Palestinian children and young adults, especially those born abroad, are without legal status in the region where they have spent most or all of their lives. HaMoked filed an appeal in October in the case of 24-year-old Maen Abu Hafez. Abu Hafez reportedly has lived in the Jenin refugee camp since he was three, when he moved there with his Palestinian father and Uruguayan mother. His family reunification request has been on hold for several years. In February 2017 he was detained at a checkpoint and has been held since then in an Israeli prison for illegal aliens in Ramle. The Israeli government is attempting to deport him to Brazil, where he was born, although he has no ties there and does not speak Portuguese.
In-country Movement: PA authorities did not interfere with Palestinians’ movement within the West Bank.
Hamas authorities did not enforce routine restrictions on internal movement within Gaza, although there were some areas of Gaza to which Hamas prohibited access. Pressure to conform to Hamas’s interpretation of Islamic norms generally restricted movement by women.
As part of security procedures, the ISF routinely detained for several hours Palestinians residing in Gaza who had permits to enter Israel for business and subjected them to interrogations and strip searches at Israeli-controlled checkpoints.
According to human rights NGOs, Israel imposed significant restrictions on Palestinian movement in the West Bank and between the West Bank and Jerusalem as described above. Israeli authorities damaged Palestinian property while conducting raids, sealed off entries and exits, and confiscated vehicles. 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.
Restrictions on access to Jerusalem had a negative effect on Palestinian patients and medical staff trying to reach the six Palestinian hospitals in Jerusalem that offered specialized care unavailable in the West Bank. According to Palestine Red Crescent Society (PRCS), IDF soldiers at checkpoints at times harassed and delayed ambulances from the West Bank or refused them entry into Jerusalem, even in emergency cases. The PRCS reported hundreds of such actions impeding humanitarian services during the year. Most included blocking access to those in need, preventing their transport to specialized medical centers, or imposing delays at checkpoints lasting up to two hours. According to the Israeli government, security considerations and lack of advanced coordination on the part of Palestinian medical teams often caused delays.
Israeli authorities restricted or prohibited Palestinian travel on 30 roads and sections of roads (totaling approximately 65 miles or 43 kilometers) throughout the West Bank, including many of the main traffic arteries. The ISF also imposed temporary curfews confining Palestinians to their homes during ISF arrest operations. During the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, Israeli authorities eased restrictions on Palestinians entering Israel, including Jerusalem, allowing West Bank Palestinians to use Ben Gurion airport, to visit family, and visit the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount for religious services. Israeli authorities did not issue permits to Palestinians in Gaza to visit Jerusalem.
Israeli authorities extended the security barrier in the Cremisan Valley near Bethlehem and began land clearing to extend the barrier through Walajah village, also near Bethlehem. Israel continued to restrict movement and development near the barrier, including access by some international organizations. In response to a freedom of information act request from HaMoked, the IDF reported in November that during the year it had denied 72 percent of permit requests by Palestinian farmers to access their land blocked by the security barrier, of which 1 percent of the denials were for security reasons. HaMoked said that many of these refusals were due to arbitrary claims by Israeli authorities that the farmer’s land was too small to cultivate.
Private security companies employed by the Israeli government controlled many points of access through the security barrier. International organizations and local human rights groups claimed these security companies did not respond to requests to allow movement of goods or NGO representatives through the barrier.
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 was rendered inaccessible by the barrier. A complicated Israeli permit regime (requiring more than 10 different permits) prevented these Palestinians from fully using their lands.
UNOCHA reported Palestinians in Gaza considered areas up to 984 feet (300 meters) from the perimeter fence to be a “no-go” area, and up to 3,280 feet (1,000 meters) to be “high risk,” which discouraged farmers from cultivating their fields. UNOCHA estimated nearly 35 percent of the Gaza Strip’s cultivable land was located in the restricted area.
Israeli restrictions allowed fishing only within three nautical miles of Gaza land during specific periods. The Israeli government stated these restrictions were necessary for security reasons. Israeli and Egyptian naval forces regularly fired warning shots at Palestinian fishermen entering the restricted sea areas, in some cases directly targeting the fishermen, according to UNOCHA (see section 1.a.). Israeli armed forces confiscated fishing boats intercepted in these areas and detained the fishermen. Palestinian fishermen reported confusion over the exact limits of the new fishing boundaries.
In the West Bank, Israeli military authorities continued to restrict Palestinian vehicular and foot traffic and access to homes and businesses in downtown Hebron, citing a need to protect several hundred Israeli settlers resident in the city center. The ISF continued to occupy rooftops of private Palestinian homes in Hebron as security positions, forcing families to leave their front door open for soldiers to enter. In response to these reports, the Israeli government stated that freedom of movement is not an absolute right, but must be balanced with security and public order.
Non-Muslims have designated times to visit the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount, but the Al Aqsa mosque is not open to the non-Muslim public. The Israeli government, in accordance with the status quo understanding with the Jordanian authorities managing the site, officially prohibits non-Muslim worship and other non-Muslim religious activity at the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount. The Jerusalem Islamic Waqf, Jewish Temple Mount groups, and local media reported police became more permissive of silent Jewish prayer and other religious rituals performed on the site during the year and Jewish individuals and groups who identify as “Temple Mount activists” made a record number of visits. In July Prime Minister Netanyahu rescinded his 2015 prohibition of Israeli Knesset members and ministers visiting the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount, and allowed them to visit once every three months, and in November, he began to allow these officials to visit monthly, according to media reports. 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. Waqf officials said Israeli police continued to restrict Waqf operations, and renovation and repair projects at the site. Israeli authorities permitted Waqf staff to carry out some minor repairs in September. Israeli officials cited security concerns when imposing travel restrictions, including limited access to Jerusalem during major Jewish holidays, as well as continued construction of Israel’s security barrier, which impeded the movements of Palestinian Muslims and Christians in the West Bank.
Foreign Travel: PA authorities generally did not limit West Bank residents’ foreign travel. Residents with pending court cases reported that they were not able to depart until the case had been resolved. The PA does not control border crossings into or out of the West Bank.
Hamas authorities 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. Since April Hamas has imposed a checkpoint in front of the “Arba Arba” checkpoint near the Erez crossing, requiring all passengers to register before entering and exiting Gaza.
Israeli authorities often denied or did not respond to Palestinian applications for travel permits through the Erez Crossing. Israel largely limited entry and exit from Gaza at the Erez Crossing to humanitarian cases. This restriction prevented Palestinians from transiting to Jerusalem for visa interviews in some cases, to Jordan (often for onward travel) via the Allenby Bridge, and to the West Bank for work or education.
During the year, the Israeli Supreme Court continued to uphold with few exceptions the Israeli 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.
Delays in permit approvals by Israeli officials caused some Palestinians to miss the travel dates for exchange programs abroad, and even for 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 detention.
Beginning in May, the Egyptian authorities opened the Rafah Crossing to pedestrians five days per week, and 87,979 Palestinians departed Gaza through the Rafah Crossing between July and December. For Palestinians in Gaza, obtaining permission from the Hamas de facto government in Gaza and the Egyptian government to travel through Rafah was difficult.
Israel imposed new restrictions on access to healthcare for family members associated with Hamas; according to Gisha, an Israeli organization that focuses on Palestinian freedom of movement, in the first quarter of the year, Israel denied 833 exit permit applications by residents of Gaza on the grounds that the applicants were “first-degree relative [of] a Hamas operative.” In comparison, Gisha said Israeli authorities refused 21 applications on the same grounds in 2017. In March, Gisha and other human rights groups petitioned for the practice to change, and following the petition, Israel granted a number of female cancer patients permits for treatment in the East Jerusalem Hospital Network. The Jordanian government issued passports to Palestinians based on individual requests.
INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)
UNOCHA estimated that, at the end of 2016, 47,200 persons in Gaza remained displaced due to destruction caused by the 2014 war. Reconstruction progressed slowly. The Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism enabled the entry of construction materials to rebuild 8,000 of the 11,000 individual homes destroyed in Gaza, but authorities had not yet rebuilt more than 3,000 homes.
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.
PROTECTION OF REFUGEES
Access to Basic Services: Palestinian refugees in the West Bank and Gaza were eligible to access UNRWA schools and primary health care clinics, although in some cases, movement restrictions limited access to UNRWA services and resources in the West Bank (see “Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons” section above regarding UNRWA’s definition of refugees).
All UNRWA projects in the West Bank and Gaza Strip required Israeli government permits, but UNRWA does not apply for permits in refugee camps.
The deterioration of socioeconomic conditions during the year in Gaza severely affected refugees. UNRWA reported that food security continued to be at risk.
Israeli import restrictions on certain commodities considered as dual use continued to impede humanitarian operations in Gaza, including those directed toward refugees. In 2016 Israeli authorities introduced a requirement whereby approval of UNRWA projects remained valid for only one year. As project implementation timelines often exceeded one year, this requirement necessitated applications for reapproval of projects, which hampered implementation and increased transaction costs for multiple UNRWA projects.
According to NGOs, 40,000 to 50,000 Palestinians in Gaza lacked identification cards recognized by Israel. Some were born in Gaza, but Israel never recognized them 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 the Gaza Strip 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.
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. Residents of Gaza, which has been under Hamas control since 2007, were unable to choose their own government or hold it accountable. Civil society organizations in Gaza stated Hamas and other Islamist groups did not tolerate public dissent, opposition, civic activism, or the promotion of values contrary to their political and religious ideology.
Elections and Political Participation
Recent Elections: There have been no national elections in the West Bank and Gaza since 2006. On December 22, President Abbas announced that the PA Constitutional Court had issued a decision dissolving the PLC and calling for PLC elections within six months. Authorities scheduled municipal elections in both the West Bank and Gaza in May 2017; however, the PA postponed municipal elections in Gaza. Hamas and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine boycotted the elections in the West Bank. According to election observers, voting generally proceeded without incidents of violence or voter intimidation. As required by Palestinian law, 20 percent of candidates on the lists were women. As of year’s end, no date was set for new national or municipal elections in the West Bank or Gaza.
Political Parties and Political Participation: The PA allowed a diversity of political parties to exist in the West Bank but limited the ability of Hamas members to campaign and organize rallies. In Gaza Hamas allowed other political parties but restricted their activities. 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 Minorities: No PA laws limit participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. Legally women and minorities can vote and participate in political life on the same basis as men and nonminority citizens, although women faced significant social and cultural barriers in both the West Bank and Gaza. There were three women and three Christians in the 23-member PA cabinet.
Hamas generally excluded women from leadership positions in the de facto ministries in Gaza.
Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government
PA law provides criminal penalties for official corruption, but little was done in practice to prosecute corrupt officials.
Corruption: Allegations of corrupt practices among Fatah officials continued, particularly related to favoritism and nepotism in public-sector appointments, which were rarely advertised publicly.
In Gaza local observers and NGOs alleged instances of Hamas complicity in corrupt practices, including preferential purchasing terms for real estate and financial gains from tax and fee collections from Gazan importers. Hamas de facto authorities severely inhibited reporting and access to information.
Local business representatives in Gaza alleged the PA Ministry of Civil Affairs, which submits applications for the entry of restricted materials into Gaza to Israeli authorities, engaged in nepotism and gave preferential treatment to Gaza-based importers close to the ministry.
Financial Disclosure: PA ministers are subject to financial disclosure laws, but there was little accountability for nondisclosure. The PA publicized financial disclosure documents from public-sector employees, including ministers, via the PA Anticorruption Commission. There was no information on legal requirements for financial disclosure for de facto Hamas authorities in Gaza.
Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
Palestinian human rights groups and international organizations generally operated without PA restriction in the West Bank and PA officials cooperated with their efforts to monitor the PA’s human rights practices, although according to HRW some civil society groups accused the PA of phone tapping. Several PA security services, including General Intelligence and the Palestinian Civil Police, appointed official liaisons who worked with human rights groups.
Israeli and Palestinian human rights NGOs operating in the West Bank and/or Gaza, including B’Tselem, Rabbis for Human Rights, and Breaking the Silence, reported harassment from Israeli settlers and anonymous sources. NGOs reported continued telephonic harassment following widespread publication of a video naming and vilifying activists or supporters of four NGOs that reported on Palestinian human rights issues. B’Tselem, Rabbis for Human Rights, Yesh Din, Human Rights Watch, and Breaking the Silence reported some of their employees were subjected to intimidation, death threats, or physical assault. NGOs claimed these behaviors increased during periods in which government officials spoke out against their activities or criticized them as enemies or traitors for opposing government policy.
Both Palestinian and Israeli human rights NGOs operating in the West Bank and Gaza reported they faced sophisticated cyberattacks on their websites, servers, and internal databases.
Gaza-based NGOs reported that Hamas representatives appeared 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 about the shrinking operational space for international NGOs in Gaza following Israeli media reports that Israeli authorities arrested a French Consulate employee who admitted to smuggling weapons from Gaza to the West Bank in official diplomatic vehicles, which led to further scrutiny on both nongovernmental and diplomatic visitors to Gaza.
Palestinian, Israeli, and international NGOs monitored the Israeli government’s practices in the West Bank and Gaza, and published their findings. Israeli authorities permitted some human rights groups to hold and publish press conferences and provided the ICRC with access to most detainees.
The United Nations or Other International Bodies: PA and Israeli 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.
Government Human Rights Bodies: The ICHR continued serving as the PA’s ombudsperson and human rights commission. The ICHR issued monthly and annual reports on human rights violations 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, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
In March the PA granted women some limited rights regarding their minor children. Palestinian women now pass on citizenship to their children. Women are permitted to choose an “appropriate” school for their minor children and open a bank account in a minor child’s name. Mothers may apply for a passport for their minor child, although the child is not allowed to travel without the permission of their male legal guardian.
Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape is illegal under PA law, but the legal definition does not address spousal rape. Punishment for rape is five to 15 years in prison. While the PA repealed article 308 of the 1960 penal code, which relieved a rapist of criminal responsibility if he married his victim, neither the PA nor de facto Hamas authorities enforced laws pertaining to rape effectively in the West Bank or Gaza. In previous years there were reports police treated rape as a social and not a criminal matter, and authorities released some accused rapists after they apologized to their victims.
According to the PA’s Central Bureau of Statistics, domestic violence and psychological abuse were common in the West Bank and Gaza. PA law does not explicitly prohibit domestic violence, but assault and battery are crimes. PA and de facto Hamas authorities 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 PA or de facto Hamas authorities due to fear of retribution or little expectation of assistance. HRW in previous years reported that PA authorities prosecuted few domestic violence cases successfully.
The mandate of the PA Ministry of Women’s Affairs is to promote women’s rights. The ministry worked in the West Bank to highlight the challenges Palestinian women faced in coordination with public institutions, NGOs, and the private sector, as well as international and regional organizations.
Other Harmful Traditional Practices: The law precludes “family honor” as protection for perpetrators in “honor killing” crimes. In March the PA amended article 99 of the 1960 penal code to prohibit the practice of judges giving lighter sentences for crimes against women and children versus crimes against men. NGOs argued the law was not sufficiently enforced. There were no documented reports of honor killings during the year in the West Bank and Gaza but NGOs expressed concerns about underreporting, based on how PA police documented allegations in the West Bank, and due to lack of information on the situation in Gaza.
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.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.
Discrimination: While PA law provides for equality of the sexes, it discriminates against women. Women can inherit, but not as much as men. 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. Authorities generally prohibited public mixing of the sexes. In Gaza premarital sex was considered a crime punishable by imprisonment.
PA labor 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 (see section 7.d.).
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.
Birth Registration: The PA registers Palestinians born in the West Bank and Gaza, and Israel requires the PA to transmit this information to the ICA. The PA cannot determine citizenship. Children of Palestinian parents can receive a Palestinian identity card issued by the ICA, 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 the ICA both play a role in determining a person’s eligibility for that card.
Education: Education in PA-controlled areas of the West Bank is compulsory from age six through the ninth grade (approximately 16 years old). Education is available to all West Bank Palestinians without cost through high school.
In Gaza, primary education is not universal. UNRWA, de facto Hamas authorities, religious institutions, and private foundations all provided instruction. In addition to the PA curriculum, UNRWA provided specialized classes on human rights, conflict resolution, and tolerance. There were reports Hamas offered courses on military training in its schools during youth summer camps, to which school-age children could apply for admission.
According to the United Nations, there were 111 documented instances of “interference of education” by Israeli forces in the West Bank during the year, more than half of which included the firing of live ammunition, tear gas, or stun grenades in or near schools. A video from November 18 showed an IDF soldier firing a tear gas canister into a Hebron school during school hours. 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. Officials from the al-Quds University’s Abu Dis campus in the West Bank continued to accuse Israeli soldiers of harassing Palestinian university students on campus and attempting to provoke students. There were occasional low-level skirmishes near the entrance to al-Quds University between the IDF and youths unaffiliated with the university.
Israeli restrictions on construction in Area C of the West Bank affected Palestinian students’ access to education. On December 5, Israeli forces demolished a school in the West Bank village of al-Samou, south of Hebron, due to lack of permits. At least 50 Palestinian schools were under pending demolition orders, including 42 in Area C of the West Bank.
Child Abuse: Child abuse was reportedly widespread. PA law prohibits violence against children; however, PA authorities and de facto authorities in Gaza rarely punished perpetrators of family violence.
Early and Forced Marriage: PA law defines the minimum age for marriage as 18; however, Islamic law allows persons as young as 15 years old to marry. 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. For additional information, see Appendix C.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The PA considers statutory rape a felony, based on the Jordanian penal code. Punishment for rape of a victim younger than age 15 includes a minimum sentence of seven years. In Gaza, under the rule of de facto Hamas authorities, suspects convicted of rape of a victim younger than age 14 are eligible for the death penalty. There were reports that societal norms led to underreporting to the de facto authorities in Gaza of sexual exploitation of children.
Child Soldiers: There were reports Hamas trained children as combatants.
Displaced Children: Conflict and demolition orders (see section 2.d.) displaced Palestinian children in the West Bank and Gaza.
Israeli settlements in the West Bank had approximately 420,000 Jewish residents. The Jewish population in Gaza, aside from foreign nationals, was nonexistent.
Some Palestinians and Muslim religious leaders used anti-Semitic rhetoric and engaged in Holocaust denial. Anti-Israel sentiment was widespread in public discourse and sometimes crossed the line into anti-Semitism, including expressions of longing for a world without Israel and glorification of terror attacks on Israelis. During times of heightened tensions between Israeli authorities and Palestinians, Palestinian press and social media sometimes circulated cartoons encouraging such attacks.
On April 30, President Abbas delivered a speech at a meeting of the Palestinian National Council, where he said Jews experienced the Holocaust “not because of their religion but because of their social roles related to taxes and banks.” He subsequently issued a statement apologizing to those offended by the remarks.
The PA failed to condemn incidents of anti-Semitic expression in official PA media outlets.
Civil society organizations alleged problematic content in Palestinian textbooks, including inappropriately militaristic and adversarial examples directed against Israel as well as the absence of Judaism alongside Christianity and Islam when discussing religion. NGOs PMW and IMPACT-se reported that PA schoolbooks for the 2017-2018 school year contained material that glorified terrorism and promoted violence.
In Gaza and the West Bank, there were instances in which media outlets, particularly outlets controlled by Hamas, published and broadcast material that included anti-Semitic content, sometimes amounting to incitement to violence.
Trafficking in Persons
No PA law specifically prohibits trafficking in persons, and small numbers of Palestinian children and adults reportedly experienced forced labor in both the West Bank and Gaza (also see section 7.b.).
Persons with Disabilities
The 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.
Palestinians with disabilities continued to receive inconsistent and poor-quality services and care. The PA in the West Bank and de facto Hamas authorities in Gaza partially depended on UN agencies and NGOs to care for persons with physical disabilities, and both offered substandard care for persons with mental disabilities. 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.
According to UNOCHA an estimated 27,500 Palestinian Bedouin 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.
Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
PA law, based on the 1960 Jordanian penal code, prohibits consensual same-sex sexual activity. The PA did not prosecute individuals suspected of such activity. Some Palestinians claimed PA security officers and neighbors harassed, abused, and sometimes arrested LGBTI individuals because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. NGOs reported Hamas also harassed and detained persons due to their sexual orientation or gender identity.
HIV and AIDS Social Stigma
While the PA Ministry of Health provided treatment and privacy protections for patients with HIV/AIDS, societal discrimination against affected individuals in the West Bank was common. Anecdotal evidence suggested societal discrimination against HIV/AIDS patients was also very common in Gaza.
Other Societal Violence or Discrimination
UNOCHA reported 181 incidents of Palestinians committing violent acts against Israeli civilians in the West Bank, primarily stone throwing, which represented a 28 percent decrease from 2017. Although the number of incidents decreased, the number of Israeli civilians killed by Palestinians in the West Bank rose from four in 2017 to seven in 2018, including an incident in which Palestinian assailants wounded six Israeli civilians in a drive-by shooting, injuring a pregnant woman whose child was delivered prematurely and later died.
UNOCHA identified 280 incidents of settler attacks that resulted in Palestinian fatalities, injuries, or property damage, which represented a 77 percent increase from 2017. On October 12, Aysha al-Rabi, a Palestinian resident of Bidya village, died in a stone throwing incident near Nablus after a large stone, allegedly thrown by settlers, crashed through her car window and fatally struck her head. Following an ISA investigation of the case, Israeli state prosecutors announced intentions to indict a minor from the West Bank settlement of Rehelim on charges of manslaughter. NGOs alleged that some Israeli settlers used violence against Palestinians to intimidate them from using land that settlers sought to acquire.
Various human rights groups, including Yesh Din, Rabbis for Human Rights, and B’Tselem, continued to claim Israeli authorities insufficiently investigated and rarely prosecuted settler violence. Palestinian residents were reportedly reluctant to report incidents due to fears of settler retaliation and because they were discouraged by a lack of accountability in most cases, according to NGOs.
Access to social and commercial services in Israeli settlements in the West Bank, including housing, education, and health care, was available only to Israelis. Israeli officials reportedly discriminated against Palestinians in the West Bank regarding access to employment and legal housing by denying Palestinians access to registration paperwork.
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 or provide for reinstatement 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 warning two weeks in advance of a strike (four weeks in the case of public utilities). The PA Ministry of Labor can impose arbitration; workers or their trade unions faced disciplinary action if they rejected the result. If the ministry cannot resolve a dispute, it can 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, and finally to a specialized labor court, although authorities had not established the court as required by labor legislation.
The government did not effectively enforce labor laws and subjected procedures to lengthy delays and appeals. Penalties and enforcement were insufficient to deter violations. 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, with the exception of 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.
The PA respected freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining in the West Bank, with some significant exceptions. Labor unions were not independent of authorities and political parties in the West Bank or Gaza. 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 HCJ 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 the Jordanian labor law applicable prior to 1967 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 or human trafficking. 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 de facto 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
PA law prohibits the employment of any person younger than age 15. PA law classifies children as persons younger than age 18 and restricts employment for those between 15 and 18. The law permits hiring children between ages 15 and 18 for certain types of employment under set conditions. The law allows children younger than age 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 accompanied by explicit penalties for violations. PA authorities can penalize repeat offenders by having fines doubled and/or full or partial closure of their facility. Fines and enforcement were not sufficient to deter violations.
In 2017, the latest year for which data were available, PA officials found 70 cases involving child labor (younger than age of 15) and referred 10 cases to the courts. In recent years PA officials reported fining “numerous” persons after successful investigations conducted by the PA Ministry of Labor. The ministry inspected only businesses operating in the formal economy and was unable to conduct investigations in the Gaza Strip. It did not have access to 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 second quarter of the year, the PA estimated that 3 percent of children between the ages of 10 and 17 worked in the West Bank and 1.4 percent of children in this same age group worked in Gaza. Palestinian child laborers deemed by the PA to be most vulnerable to forced labor or extreme weather conditions generally worked in shops, as roadside and checkpoint street vendors, in car washes, in factories, in small manufacturing enterprises, or on family farms.
Hamas reportedly did not enforce child labor laws in Gaza. Hamas reportedly encouraged children to work gathering gravel and scrap metal from bombsites to sell to recycling merchants and increased recruitment of youth for tunnel-digging activities. There were also reports Hamas trained children as combatants.
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 age 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. 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.
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 insufficient to deter violations and the PA did not effectively enforce those laws and regulations in the West Bank, nor did Hamas in Gaza. PA labor 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.
There was discrimination in the West Bank and Gaza based on the above categories with respect to employment and occupation. Women endured prejudice and, in some cases, repressive conditions at work. At just 20 percent in Gaza and 17 percent in the West Bank, Palestinian female labor force participation is one of the lowest in the region, despite high education and literacy rates.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
The PA’s minimum wage of 1,450 shekels ($400) fell well below the poverty line of 2,470 shekels ($678) per month. The PA estimated 14 percent of residents in the West Bank and 39 percent of residents in Gaza lived below the poverty line of 16.4 shekels ($4.50) per day.
According to PA law, the maximum official Sunday to Thursday workweek was 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 PA Ministry of Labor was responsible for setting occupational health and safety standards. Palestinian workers do not have the legal protection to remove themselves from situations that endangered their health or safety without jeopardy to their employment.
The ministry’s enforcement ability on wage, hours of work, and occupational safety and health standards was limited, even in the West Bank, in part due to lack of staff. Penalties ranged from NIS 200-500 ($53-$135) and were also insufficient to deter violations. During the year, the Ministry of Labor conducted periodic visits to the work places as mandated by the labor law. In 2017 the Ministry of Labor’s Inspection Department made almost 9,500 visits to more than 7,300 business establishments. The inspectorate staff was inadequate to enforce compliance. The PA did not effectively monitor smaller worksites, which were at times below legal safety standards.
The ministry cannot enforce Palestinian labor law west of Israel’s security barrier, or in Israeli settlements in the West Bank.
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. During the second quarter of the year, 125,600 Palestinians worked in Israel or Israeli settlements in the West Bank. The International Labor Organization estimated approximately half of all such workers with permits continued to pay exorbitant monthly fees to brokers (averaging $600 USD) to obtain and maintain valid work permits. Roughly 40,000 Palestinians work in Israel and Israeli settlements most in construction and seasonal agriculture. These workers were more vulnerable to exploitation and are not eligible for worker benefits such as paid annual and sick leave. Israeli NGO Kav LaOved brought cases to Israeli labor courts on behalf of Palestinian workers employed by enterprises in Israel and West Bank settlements. Many of these cases related to nonpayment or misreporting of wages, as well as inadequate medical care following workplace injury, as well as subsequent health insurance claims within the Israeli system.
According to the Palestine Central Bureau of Statistics Labor Force Survey, 33 percent of wage employees received less than the minimum wage in the second quarter of the year. In the West Bank, approximately 13 percent of wage employees in the private sector received less than the minimum monthly wage. In Gaza 78 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 in practice was poor. There were more than 20 workplace fatalities of Palestinian laborers in Israel or Israeli settlements during the year. Israeli NGO Kav LaOved documented dozens of cases where employers instructed employees to return to the West Bank following workplace injury rather than seeking medical attention inside Israel.
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