Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape is illegal under PA law, but the legal definition does not address spousal rape. Laws that apply in both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip relieve of any criminal responsibility rapists who marry their victim. Authorities generally did not enforce the law effectively in the West Bank or the Gaza Strip. Punishment for rape is five to 15 years in prison. Societal norms led to significant underreporting. In previous years there were reports police treated rape as a social and not a criminal matter and that authorities released some accused rapists after they apologized to their victims.
PA law does not explicitly prohibit domestic violence, but assault and battery are crimes. Authorities did not enforce the law effectively in domestic violence cases. NGOs reported women were frequently unwilling to report cases of violence or abuse to police due to fear of retribution. HRW in previous years reported that authorities prosecuted few domestic violence cases successfully. Many women and girls stated they believed the legal system discriminated against women. According to the PA’s Central Bureau of Statistics, violence against wives, especially psychological violence, was common in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. NGOs reported increased incidents of domestic violence and violence against women in Gaza due to displacement and heightened socioeconomic stress in the wake of the 2014 conflict.
The mandate of the PA Ministry of Women’s Affairs is to promote women’s rights, and it worked strategically to highlight multiple challenges Palestinian women face that required the attention, cooperation, and coordination of public institutions, NGOs, and the private sector, as well as international and regional organizations supporting women in addressing these challenges. It served as a reference for developing appropriate and gender-responsive policies to influence positively the socioeconomic and political conditions of women and men and enable women to enjoy fully their rights in equity within Palestinian society. In June 2015 the ministry developed a national strategy focused on preventing and protecting women from domestic, workplace, and community-based violence. Based on the strategy, the ministry was working with the Ministries of Social Affairs and Health to establish a National Observatory on Violence Against Women that would track, collect, and document cases of violence against women to help tailor prevention policies. Ministry of Justice prosecutors completed UN-provided training on investigating violence against women.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): There were reports FGM/C occurred in the past, but none during the year. The law prohibits FGM/C.
Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Provisions of Palestinian law discriminate against women. In 2011 President Abbas signed an amendment to the “honor killing” law that removed protection and leniency for perpetrators of crimes in defense of “family honor,” although some NGOs argued the amendment did not apply to the most relevant articles of the law and thus did not have a noticeable effect. On December 19, a PA Appeals Court increased a lower court’s sentence of a Palestinian man, who admitted to killing his two sisters in 2006 in what he claimed was defense of “family honor,” from eight years to life in prison with hard labor, after the PA Attorney General appealed the original sentence as too lenient. NGOs reported 28 documented reports of honor killings in 2015 but noted a concern of underreporting because there was often a discrepancy between how police document honor killings versus the method used by women’s organizations and due to lack of information on the situation in Gaza.
Sexual Harassment: No law specifically relates to sexual harassment, and it was a significant and widespread problem. NGOs reported that for some women, cultural taboos and fear of stigma compelled them to remain silent about sexual harassment. Some women claimed that when they reported harassment, authorities held them responsible for provoking men’s harassing behavior. Authorities in Gaza harassed women for “un-Islamic” behavior, including being in public after dark and walking with an unrelated man.
Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, and Jerusalem have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of their children; and to manage their reproductive health. Women reported barriers to information or services related family planning due to societal pressures–especially in Gaza–or the opposition of their spouse, and in some cases they lacked physical access to contraceptives. According to 2015 estimates by the UN Population Fund, 43 percent of Palestinian women between 15 and 49 used a modern method of contraception. While the contraceptive prevalence rate slightly increased in recent years, unmet need for family planning remained at 15 percent, due to a lack of availability and quality of family planning services. According to the Population Reference Bureau, total fertility rates averaged 4.2 children per woman, with one in three women reporting that their last pregnancy was unintended. Observers estimated the adolescent birth rate at 67 per 1,000 women between the ages of 15 and 49 in 2015, according to the UN Population Fund.
Discrimination: While the law provides for equality of the sexes, it also discriminates against women, as do traditional practices. Women can inherit, but not as much as men can. Men may take more than one wife; although they rarely did so in urban areas, the practice was more common in small villages. Women may add conditions to marriage contracts to protect their interests in the event of divorce and child custody disputes, but they rarely did so. Societal pressure generally discouraged women from including divorce arrangements in a marriage contract. Cultural restrictions associated with marriage occasionally prevented women from completing mandatory schooling or attending college. Families sometimes disowned Muslim and Christian women who married outside their religious group. Local officials sometimes advised such women to leave their communities to prevent harassment.
Hamas enforced a conservative interpretation of Islam on the Gaza Strip’s Muslim population that particularly discriminated against women. Authorities generally prohibited public mixing of the sexes. Plainclothes officers routinely stopped, separated, and questioned couples to determine if they were married; premarital sex is a crime punishable by imprisonment. Hamas’s “morality police” also punished women for riding motorcycles, smoking cigarettes or water pipes, leaving their hair uncovered, and dressing “inappropriately” (that is, in Western-style or close-fitting clothing, such as jeans or T-shirts). Women living in refugee camps in the Gaza Strip stated they felt unsafe using public bathing or latrine facilities.
Palestinian labor law states work is the right of every capable citizen; however, it regulates the work of women, preventing them from taking employment in dangerous occupations. The 2004 Ministry of Labor decree prohibits women from working in mining and quarrying, fireworks production, asphalt production, alcohol production, pesticides production, welding activities, and in forests and natural reserves, including lumber-related work.
Female education rates were high, particularly in the West Bank, and women’s attendance at universities exceeded that of men. Female university students, however, reported discrimination by university administrators, professors, and their male peers, according to the Geneva Center for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces. In 201, Hamas implemented a “modest” dress code at al-Aqsa University in Gaza, drawing criticism from the PA minister of higher education.
According to press and NGO reports, in some instances teachers in Gaza sent girls home for not wearing conservative attire in Hamas-run schools, although enforcement was not systematic.
Birth Registration: The PA registers Palestinians born in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and Israel requires the PA to transmit this information to the ICA. Since the PA does not constitute a state, it does not determine “citizenship” alone. Children of Palestinian parents can receive a Palestinian identity card (issued by the Israeli Ministry of Defense’s Civil Administration), if they are born in the occupied territories to a parent who holds a Palestinian identity card. The PA Ministry of Interior and the Israeli Civil Administration both play a role in determining a person’s eligibility.
Israel registers the births of Palestinians in Jerusalem, although Palestinian residents of Jerusalem sometimes reported years-long delays in the process.
Education: Education in PA-controlled areas is compulsory from age six through the ninth grade (approximately 16 years old). Education is available to all Palestinians without cost through high school.
In the Gaza Strip, primary education is not universal. UNRWA and authorities in Gaza provided instruction. In addition to the PA-provided 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 parents of school-age children could apply.
In Jerusalem Palestinian children did not have access to the same educational resources as Israeli children, and NGOs reported that East Jerusalem needed additional classrooms in official municipal schools to provide adequate space for Palestinian children to attend official schools (see section 6, National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities). NGOs reported the municipality fell substantially short of a high court decision ordering the city to construct more than 1,000 classrooms in East Jerusalem by February to correct the chronic shortage. The Jerusalem municipality built 237 new classrooms and rented approximately 700 others in East Jerusalem in 2011-16.
Child Abuse: Child abuse was reportedly a widespread problem. The law prohibits violence against children; however, PA authorities and de facto authorities in Gaza rarely punished perpetrators of family violence.
Israeli security forces also were responsible for violence against children in custody and during arrest (see section 1.c.) in the West Bank and near the Gaza Strip buffer zone, according to NGO and UN reports.
Doctors Without Borders reported the number of children with posttraumatic stress disorder and other anxiety disorders, including depression, increased in recent years. The organization attributed a majority of the cases to trauma experienced during Israeli military incursions or to settler violence.
Early and Forced Marriage: Palestinian law defines the minimum age for marriage as 18; however, religious law allows persons as young as 15 years old to marry. Child marriage did not appear to be widespread, according to NGOs, including the Women’s Center for Legal Aid and Counseling. According to UNICEF data for 2015, 2 percent of girls were married by the age of 15. UN assessments found that economic conditions in Gaza following the 2014 conflict motivated some families to arrange for their daughters to marry at an early age to improve the economic situation of the family.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The PA considers statutory rape a felony based on the Jordanian penal code, which also outlaws all forms of pornography. Punishment for rape of a victim less than age 15 includes a minimum sentence of seven years. In Gaza suspects convicted of rape of a victim less than age 14 are eligible for the death penalty. There were reports that societal norms led to underreporting to the de facto authorities and police 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 children in the occupied territories. UN data indicated that as of September 8, home demolitions displaced more children (697) in the West Bank and East Jerusalem during the year than totals for the same period of any previous year since 2009.
Approximately 386,000 Jewish settlers lived in the West Bank. The Jewish population in Gaza, aside from foreign nationals, was nonexistent. There were an estimated 201,000 Jewish Israelis living in settlements in East Jerusalem.
Rhetoric by some Palestinians and Muslim religious leaders included expressions of anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial. Anti-Israel sentiment was widespread and sometimes crossed the line into anti-Semitism in public discourse, including media commentary longing for a world without Israel and glorifying recent and historic terror attacks on Israelis. Following a string of attacks by Palestinians on Israelis in Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Israel beginning in October 2015, but decreasing beginning in April, Palestinian press and social media continued to circulate cartoons encouraging such attacks.
At times the PA failed to condemn incidents of anti-Semitic expression in official PA traditional and social media outlets.
In the Gaza Strip and 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 children and adults reportedly experienced forced labor in both the West Bank and Gaza Strip, as well as in East Jerusalem, where Israeli law applies. In September the Jerusalem District Court upheld on appeal a 2012 court decision convicting an East Jerusalem Palestinian couple of subjecting a domestic worker from the Philippines to forced labor, including withholding her minimum wages, confiscating her passport, and denying her days off.
There were reports some children worked in forced labor in the West Bank, including in settlements. NGOs reported employers subjected Palestinian men to forced labor in Israeli settlements in industry, agriculture, construction, and other sectors. The PA was unable to monitor and investigate abuses in these areas and elsewhere because it did not control its borders and the Israeli government limited its authority to work in Areas B and C.
Persons with Disabilities
The PA ratified Palestinian Disability Law in 1999, but NGOs complained of very slow implementation. The law does not mandate access to buildings, information, or communications, although UNRWA’s policy is to provide accessibility in all new structures. The disability rights NGO Bizchut reported a lack of accessible transportation services in East Jerusalem, while the ICHR reported a lack of accessible transportation in Palestinian areas across the West Bank. The Disability Law prohibits discrimination due to a permanent or partial disability in physical, psychological, or mental capabilities.
Palestinians with disabilities continued to receive inconsistent and poor-quality services and care. The PA and de facto authorities in Gaza partially depended on UN agencies and NGOs to care for persons with physical disabilities and offered substandard care for persons with mental disabilities. Palestinians in Gaza reported little to no infrastructure accommodations for persons with mobility disabilities, and difficulty in importing wheelchairs and other mobility aids because of Israeli authorities’ control of goods transiting border crossings into Gaza. Fighting in the 2014 conflict destroyed a Gaza City Hamas-run center for the disabled.
There were reports Israeli authorities placed in isolation without a full medical evaluation detainees deemed mentally disabled or a threat to themselves or others. According to Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, isolation of prisoners with mental disabilities was common.
Familial and societal discrimination against persons with disabilities existed in both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
According to OCHA an estimated 27,500 Bedouin lived in Area C in the West Bank. Many of them were UNRWA-registered refugees, and Bedouins frequently inhabited areas designated by Israel as closed military zones or as areas planned for settlement expansion. Demolition and forced displacement by the Israeli government of Bedouin and herding communities continued in Area C, and many of these communities suffered from limited access to water, health care, education, and other basic services.
Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
Palestinian law, based on the 1960 Jordanian penal code, prohibits consensual same-sex sexual activity, although the PA did not prosecute individuals suspected of such activity. Societal discrimination based on cultural and religious traditions was commonplace, making the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza challenging environments for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons. 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 was common. Anecdotal evidence suggested societal discrimination against HIV/AIDS patients was also very common in Gaza.
Other Societal Violence or Discrimination
OCHA, Yesh Din, and other NGOs reported attacks by Israeli settlers on Palestinians and their property in the West Bank, undermining livelihoods and the physical security of Palestinians. The attacks included direct violence against Palestinian residents. Some Israeli settlers reportedly used violence against Palestinians to harass them and to keep them away from land settlers sought to acquire. On November 5, for example, a group of settlers threw rocks at Palestinians harvesting olives near Ramallah, injuring three Palestinians including one critically. Overall, OCHA reported incidents of settler violence against Palestinians decreased from 221 in 2015 to 101 as of November.
Palestinians claimed settlers perpetrated hit-and-run attacks against Palestinian pedestrians, although in most cases the circumstances were unclear. On September 8, an Israeli settler vehicle injured a Palestinian farmer on Israel highway Route 60 near Bethlehem and then fled; the Palestinian suffered broken bones. On September 10, an Israeli settler vehicle driving near Al-Khader village in Area C south of Bethlehem hit and killed a four-year-old Palestinian girl before fleeing. The drivers in the September 8 and 10 incidents later surrendered to Israeli police, who classified the events as traffic accidents and released the drivers without charge.
Many incidents of violence involved settlers trespassing onto Palestinian-owned land and damaging land and crops. In April settlers from the settlement of Beitar Illit pumped sewage onto Palestinian agricultural land in Husan, Bethlehem, damaging approximately 17 acres. In March settlers released their cattle to graze on Palestinian land in the village of Aqraba in Nablus, damaging more than 70 trees. During the annual olive harvest in the West Bank in October-November, NGO Rabbis for Human Rights documented 11 cases of settler intimidation and violence.
Attacks on olive trees, on which many rural Palestinians rely for their livelihoods, remained common. In July settlers from the settlement of Shilo and other neighboring outposts set fire to approximately 280 Palestinian-owned trees and several acres of cultivated land in As-Sawiya, Nablus, Kafr Malike, and Al-Mughayyir near Ramallah. OCHA reported that in August, Israeli authorities, accompanied by the right-wing Israeli NGO Regavim, uprooted 300 Palestinian-owned olive trees near Qalqiliya, arguing that authorities had designated these areas as “state land.”
In addition to damage to land and crops, OCHA also reported settler attacks on property such as livestock and vehicles. There were minor incidents of stone throwing and theft every month. In early August a group of armed Israeli settlers killed 11 sheep belonging to the East Tayba Bedouin community near Ramallah. In October a group of Israeli settlers forced a Palestinian family off agricultural land in Qaryout village, south of Nablus, during the annual olive harvest and vandalized their car with hatchets and other weapons.
Various human rights groups continued to claim authorities insufficiently investigated and rarely prosecuted settler violence. Some groups attributed this circumstance in part to the ICA’s neglect of Palestinian complaints, as well as to Palestinian residents’ reluctance to report incidents due to fears of settler retaliation or because the lack of accountability in most cases discouraged them. The Israeli NGO Yesh Din stated that authorities closed more than 85 percent of Israeli investigations of offenses against Palestinians in the West Bank without indictments. According to Yesh Din’s data, a police complaint filed by a Palestinian in the West Bank had a 1.9 percent chance of effective investigation resulting in the identification, arrest, and conviction of suspects.
In 2014 settlers from the settlement of Yitzhar assaulted two Palestinian men on Palestinian farmland. The settlers beat one of the men with a metal rod, breaking his arm and leg. The settlers hit the other Palestinian man on the neck, decapitating him. The incident occurred in the presence of an Israeli soldier, who ordered the assailants to leave the farmland and return to the settlement. The Palestinians filed a police report, but police closed the case citing insufficient information on the perpetrators’ identity. Police never asked the Israeli soldier for his testimony or attempted to locate witnesses. Yesh Din appealed the closure, but police again closed the case in November 2015 without launching an investigation. Yesh Din submitted a second appeal, but Israeli police in April closed the case citing a lack of evidence.
In 2012 four settlers from the outpost of Har Bracha Bet stole sacks of olives from Palestinian groves near Burin. The IDF and District Coordination Office personnel, who were at the site inspecting the cutting of 51 olive trees the previous day, caught the settlers in the act. The IDF failed to arrest the suspects. The IDF transferred the investigation of the damage to the olive trees, along with trespassing and theft of property, to the Samaria and Judea district police. Although there were witnesses to the incident who could identify the offenders, and the address of one of the suspects was known to police, the district police closed the case due to lack of evidence. Following the first appeal of the closure, records showed an attempt to contact one of the security personnel present at the site of the incident, but there was no evidence of subsequent investigations. Yesh Din further appealed, but the police again closed the case during the year due to lack of evidence.
“Price tag” attacks (property crimes and violent acts by extremist Jewish individuals and groups against Palestinians or in retaliation for activity they deemed antisettlement) continued.
On March 10, settlers set fire to a Palestinian home in a village south of Bethlehem and spray-painted “Death to Arabs” and “Leave” on the walls. Suspected Israeli settlers conducted two arson attacks, respectively in March and July, against Palestinian homes in the West Bank village of Douma, causing no injuries but damaging homes of the relatives of the Dawabsheh family (the victims of the 2015 price tag attack that left a toddler and his parents dead and four-year-old brother severely injured).
Harassment and attacks against Palestinians in Jerusalem by Jewish groups reportedly increased. The Jewish Israeli organization Lehava continued to protest social relationships between Jews and Palestinians, made anti-Christian and anti-Muslim statements, and reportedly assaulted Palestinians in West Jerusalem. Israeli media reported that Palestinians or their Israeli employers filed at least 20 complaints of harassment and assault–including with rocks and pepper spray–by Lehava activists in central Jerusalem during the year. Israeli police claimed they increased patrols in central Jerusalem following the reported attacks and harassment, but Israeli authorities rarely prosecuted these attacks successfully, failing to open investigations or closing cases for lack of evidence, according to local human rights groups and media.
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 discriminated against Palestinians in the West Bank and Jerusalem regarding access to employment and legal housing by denying Palestinians access to registration paperwork. In both the West Bank and Jerusalem, Israeli authorities often placed insurmountable obstacles against Palestinian applicants for construction permits, including the requirement that they document land ownership in the absence of a uniform post-1967 land registration process, high application fees, and requirements that new housing be connected to often unavailable municipal works.
According to B’Tselem, in 2000 Israel began curtailing the Palestinian population registry by denying paperwork to Palestinians and effectively declaring Palestinians illegal residents. Some Palestinians defined as illegal residents faced harassment, arrest, or deportation to the Gaza Strip.
The World Bank reported that Palestinians suffered water shortages and purchased approximately half of their domestic water supply from Israel. Oslo-era agreements limited the amount of water Palestinians can draw from West Bank aquifers. According to AI Palestinians received an average of eight gallons less than the World Health Organization’s prescribed minimum daily water supply to maintain basic hygiene standards and food security. Political and fiscal constraints limited the PA’s ability to improve water network management and efficiency, including the requirement for Israeli approval to implement water-related projects and the PA’s lack of authority in Area C to prevent theft from the network, as well as the PA’s own management problems.
The Israeli military continued to destroy water cisterns, some of which donor countries had funded for humanitarian purposes. The Israeli military also destroyed unlicensed Palestinian agricultural wells, particularly in the Jordan Valley area of the West Bank, claiming they depleted aquifer resources.
Palestinians living within the borders of the Jerusalem Municipality, but cut off from it by the separation barrier, reported that the municipality failed to provide basic services, including water, police, and infrastructure.
NGOs alleged that Jerusalem municipal and Israeli national policies were aimed at decreasing the number of Palestinian residents of Jerusalem. Government-sponsored construction of new Israeli housing units–including in East Jerusalem settlements–continued, while building permits were difficult to obtain for Palestinian residents of Jerusalem. Authorities demolished homes built by Palestinian residents without legal permits. The Israeli NGOs Bimkom and Ir Amim stated that Palestinians in East Jerusalem continued to face barriers to purchasing property or obtaining building permits. Authorities generally zoned land owned or populated by Palestinians (including Israeli-Palestinians) for low residential growth. Authorities designated approximately 30 percent of East Jerusalem for Israeli settlements. Palestinians were able in some cases to rent Israeli-owned property, but they were generally unable to purchase property in an Israeli neighborhood. Israeli NGOs stated that after accounting for Israeli settlements, Israeli government property, and declared national parks, only 13 percent of all land in East Jerusalem was available for Palestinian construction.
The Israeli government and Jewish organizations in Jerusalem made efforts to increase Israeli property ownership or emphasize Jewish history in predominantly Palestinian neighborhoods of Jerusalem. Jewish landowners and their descendants, or land trusts representing the families, were entitled to reclaim property they had abandoned in East Jerusalem during fighting prior to 1949, but Palestinians who abandoned property in West Jerusalem during fighting in the same period had no legal claim to the property. Private Jewish organizations in Jerusalem acquired legal ownership of reclaimed Jewish property in East Jerusalem, including in the Old City, and sought to evict Palestinian families living there through protracted juridical action.
Although Israeli law entitles Palestinian residents of Jerusalem to full and equal services provided by the municipality and other Israeli authorities, the Jerusalem Municipality failed to provide sufficient social services, education, infrastructure, and emergency planning for Palestinian neighborhoods in Jerusalem. According to the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies, 82 percent of Jerusalem Palestinians lived in poverty, and 87 percent of East Jerusalem children lived below the Israeli poverty line–an increase from 2015. There was a chronic shortage of classrooms in East Jerusalem’s official school system, despite commitments made by Israeli authorities and a high court ruling that the municipality must close the gap of missing classrooms in East Jerusalem by year’s end. Authorities largely segregated bus services in Jerusalem between Israelis and Palestinians. Light-rail service completed in 2010 served both Palestinian and Israeli populations and crossed into East Jerusalem; NGOs reported, however, that of the 24 stops on the light rail, only five were in or near Palestinian neighborhoods. The Jerusalem municipality continued not to operate the light rail stop in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Shu’fat. Palestinian youth periodically threw rocks at the train in Shu’fat and caused minor damage.