READ A SECTION: ISRAEL AND THE GOLAN HEIGHTS | WEST BANK AND GAZA (BELOW)
The Palestinian Authority (PA), according to PA basic law, has an elected president and legislative council. The PA exercised varying degrees of authority in the West Bank and no authority over Jerusalem. The PA maintains civil and security control in Area A of the West Bank. In Area B, it has civil control and joint security control with Israel. The PA has no authority over either Israeli or Palestinian residents in Area C of the West Bank (in which Israel retains both security and civil control).
Although PA laws apply in the Gaza Strip, the PA did not have authority there. While the PA deployed personnel at Gaza’s border crossings in November, Hamas continued to exercise de facto control of security and other matters.
The PA head of government is Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah. President Mahmoud Abbas, in office since he was elected to a four-year term in 2005, is also chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and general commander of Fatah. The Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) has not functioned since 2007. In 2007 Hamas staged a violent takeover of PA government installations in the Gaza Strip and has since maintained a de facto government in the territory.
Both PA and Israeli civilian authorities maintained effective control over their security forces. Hamas maintained control of security forces in Gaza.
The most significant human rights issues included Palestinian terror attacks against Israeli civilians and security forces in the West Bank and Jerusalem, which killed 13 Israelis. Israeli forces killed 68 Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, four of whom nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and media reported did not pose a lethal threat to Israeli Security Forces (ISF) or civilians at the time they were killed. Other significant human rights issues included allegations that interrogation techniques used by Israeli security forces constituted torture; allegations that security detention procedures constituted arbitrary arrest; demolition and confiscation of Palestinian property; limitations on freedom of expression, assembly, and association; severe restrictions on Palestinians’ internal and external freedom of movement pursuant to military law; and concerns that Palestinian children were vulnerable to Israeli violations of the law regarding arrest, physical restraint, night interrogations, treatment during interrogations, and holding conditions. The government of Israel asserted these events took place in a context of Palestinian incitement to violence against Israel.
The most significant human rights issues in the parts of the West Bank under PA control included allegations of torture; political prisoners; increased restrictions on freedom of speech and press, including detention of journalists and blocking access to critical websites; and limitations on freedom of association, including government preapproval of NGO programs and limits on independent labor unions. The Palestinian Authority has not held national elections since 2006, significantly limiting political participation. The government did not effectively prosecute allegations of rape and domestic violence; same-sex sexual activity was criminalized, although the law was not enforced; there were reports of forced labor and child labor.
Terrorist organizations and militant factions in Gaza launched rocket and mortar attacks against civilian targets in Israel, and they did so at or near civilian locations in Gaza. The most significant human rights abuses under Hamas de facto rule included unlawful and arbitrary killings, disappearances, torture, arbitrary arrest and detention; political prisoners; severe infringements on privacy rights; severe restrictions on freedoms of speech and press, including violence against journalists; interference with academic freedom and cultural events; violent interference in the freedom of assembly; severe restrictions on freedom of association, including arbitrary interference with NGO operations and opposition political parties; negation of the right to participate in the political process; widespread and arbitrary enforcement of “morality codes” against women by authorities; official harassment and arbitrary detention of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons; restrictions on independent labor unions, and reports of forced labor and child labor.
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. Impunity was a major problem under Hamas.
This section includes areas subject to the jurisdiction of the Palestinian Authority and issues primarily related to Palestinian residents of Jerusalem. Issues primarily related to Israeli residents of Jerusalem are covered in the “Israel and the Golan Heights” section. On December 6, 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.
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, where relevant, the Palestinian Authority) with regard to allegations of human rights abuses, and we have noted any responses where applicable. Because of timing constraints, the Israeli government was not able to provide a detailed response to every alleged incident, but it did maintain generally that all incidents were thoroughly investigated and parties held accountable, as appropriate, according to due process of law.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
In the West Bank, there were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities. Some detainees registered complaints with the PA’s Independent Commission for Human Rights (ICHR) that their arrests were arbitrary. In Gaza, Hamas security operatives carried out extrajudicial detentions based on political affiliation. Information concerning the whereabouts and welfare of those detained was not consistently or reliably available. Hamas denied due process or access to family and legal counsel to many of those detained. There was no new information on the disappearances in 2014 and 2015 of two Israeli citizens who crossed into Gaza and whom Hamas reportedly apprehended and held incommunicado.
In the West Bank, there were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities. Some detainees registered complaints with the PA’s Independent Commission for Human Rights (ICHR) that their arrests were arbitrary. In Gaza, Hamas security operatives carried out extrajudicial detentions based on political affiliation. Information concerning the whereabouts and welfare of those detained was not consistently or reliably available. Hamas denied due process or access to family and legal counsel to many of those detained. There was no new information on the disappearances in 2014 and 2015 of two Israeli citizens 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.
Palestinian detainees held by PASF registered complaints of abuse and torture with the ICHR. Reported abuses by PA authorities in the West Bank included forcing prisoners, including those accused of affiliation with Hamas, to sit in a painful position for long periods, beating, punching, flogging, intimidation, and psychological pressure. Independent observers assessed abuse was not systematic or routinely practiced in PA prisons, although some prisoners experienced abuse during arrest or interrogation. The PA Corrections and Rehabilitation Centers Department, under the authority of the Ministry of Interior, continued to maintain a mechanism for reviewing complaints of prisoner abuse in civil prisons but reported no cases of inmate abuse by its staff.
Detainees held by Hamas filed claims of torture and abuse with the ICHR. Other human rights organizations reported that Hamas internal security tortured detainees. According to a media report, Hamas security officials tortured Mohammad Sufian al-Qassas, a 30-year-old Palestinian living in Gaza, after his arrest on September 18. Al-Qassas was arrested following complaints that some of his internet cafe clients were “insulting God.” On September 19, 19-year-old Khalil Abu Harb from Gaza died after falling from a window in an interrogation room in the district prosecutor’s office, after authorities arrested him on charges of theft. Hamas claimed Abu Harb committed suicide. The incident prompted local human rights groups to call for an end to torture in Gazan prisons.
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 and East Jerusalem could amount to torture. The methods reportedly 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. According to a Haaretz media report based on a freedom of information request to the Ministry of Justice, as of January the Ministry of Justice unit that handles complaints about interrogations against Shin Bet officers had in no case opened a criminal investigation against or indicted any of its personnel implicated by such allegations, despite the fact that more than 1,100 complaints had been submitted since 2001. The Ministry of Justice did not accept any appeal against the closure of such an investigation since the appeals process was established in 2013. PCATI further noted that preliminary examinations into complaints continue to take an average of 28 months. As of November 21, all except one complaint filed since 2014 awaited initial responses from the Ministry of Justice.
Israeli officials stated they did not use techniques that could amount to torture. Israeli and Palestinian NGOs continued to criticize Israeli detention practices they termed abusive, including isolation and prolonged solitary confinement, sleep deprivation, lack of food, exposure to the elements, and psychological abuse, including threats to interrogate spouses, siblings, or elderly parents, or to demolish family homes.
Israeli authorities reportedly used similar tactics on Palestinian minors. Military Court Watch (MCW), Hamoked, and other human rights NGOs claimed Israeli security services continued to employ abuse, and in some cases torture, to coerce confessions from minors arrested on suspicion of stone throwing or others acts of violence. In May the MCW released a briefing note that reported 93 percent of Palestinian children arrested by the ISF during the year were hand-tied, 80 percent blindfolded, 58 percent subjected to physical abuse, and 90 percent denied access to a lawyer prior to questioning. According to the latest Israeli Prison Service data, the ISF as of May held in detention 331 Palestinian children between ages 12 and 17, an 82-percent increase from the monthly average for 2015.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Physical conditions in prisons and detention centers in the West Bank were reportedly poor. The PA Corrections and Rehabilitation Centers Department, under the authority of the Ministry of Interior, continued to maintain a mechanism for reviewing complaints of prisoner abuse in civil prisons but reported no cases of inmate abuse by its staff.
The basic conditions of prisons in Gaza were reportedly poor and prison cells were overcrowded.
ISF detention centers for security detainees were less likely than Israeli civilian prisons to meet international standards, according to PCATI and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI). Authorities detained extraterritorially in Israel most Palestinian prisoners who had been arrested by the ISF in the West Bank and Gaza. According to the MCW, as of November 21, Israeli government authorities transferred and held 5,986 Palestinians detainees, or an average of 82 percent of all prisoners from the West Bank, in prisons inside (the 1949 Armistice line) Israel.
According to PCATI and Physicians for Human Rights in Israel, Israeli medics and doctors routinely ignored bruises and injuries resulting from violent arrests and interrogations. On one occasion prison health professionals were called to an interrogation room after a Palestinian detainee fainted during the interrogation, but they allowed the interrogation to continue unchecked. Although the Israeli Prison Service (IPS) directives provided for private doctor visitations for external medical second opinions, the IPS regularly denied access of external doctors to evaluate Palestinian prisoners.
NGOs reported PA, Israeli, and Gazan prisons lacked adequate facilities and specialized medical care for detainees and prisoners with disabilities.
Physical Conditions: Some 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.
Most Israeli government facilities provided insufficient cell space. NGOs, including PCATI and the MCW, stated that authorities appeared to use poor conditions or exposure to weather as an interrogation or intimidation method. Prisoners also continued to claim inadequate medical care. PCATI, Hamoked, B’Tselem, and the MCW noted that most reports of abuse or poor conditions occurred during arrest and interrogation, generally within the first 48 hours following arrest.
Female prisoners and detainees reported harassment and abuse during arrest and in detention by the ISF. According to PCATI there was no investigation into these complaints.
Administration: By PA law any person sentenced to imprisonment for a term of not more than three months may petition the PA public prosecutor to be put to work outside the prison instead of imprisonment, unless the judgment deprives him of that option. Although the law allows for this option, the legal system did not have the capacity to implement such a process. The PA investigated allegations of mistreatment.
Little information was available about Hamas prison administration in the Gaza Strip.
NGOs, including the MCW and Hamoked, alleged Israeli authorities did not allow Palestinian detainees, including minors, access to a lawyer during their initial arrest. 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.
PCATI claimed there was a systematic failure to investigate abuse claims made by Palestinians held in various Israeli interrogation and detention facilities. PCATI reported no torture complaint resulted in a criminal investigation, prosecution, or conviction. PCATI claimed the government regularly dismissed complaints of abuse following a preliminary examination by an Israeli Security Agency (ISA) employee. Authorities exempted ISA facilities from regular independent inspections. NGOs reported investigations of abuse at ISF and Israeli police facilities were slow and ineffective and rarely led to prosecutions. Of more than 200 complaints filed by PCATI between 2007 and 2017 regarding ISF violence against detainees in the West Bank, three complaints resulted in an indictment against an Israeli soldier on assault charges.
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 in accordance with the ICRC’s standard modalities. 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 the ICRC was given access to detainees to assess treatment and conditions in accordance with the ICRC’s standard modalities. 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. The government permitted the ICRC to monitor treatment and prison conditions, including at detention centers, in accordance with the ICRC’s standard modalities. 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. Security prisoners held by the ISA remained inaccessible to independent monitors. 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
PA law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, and PA prosecutors generally charged suspects prior to detaining them. Nonetheless, the PA criminal justice system often did not provide a prompt and speedy trial. There were instances of PA detention without charge or trial for selected security detainees in PASF custody.
Hamas reportedly practiced widespread arbitrary detention in Gaza, particularly of Fatah members, civil society activists, journalists, and those accused of publicly criticizing Hamas. Fatah officials claimed Hamas arrested several Fatah members for their participation in January demonstrations against electricity shortages in Gaza.
Since the 1967 occupation, Israel has prosecuted Palestinian residents of the West Bank under military law, based on orders from the Israeli military commander. Since 1967 the Israeli Knesset has since extended criminal and civil law protections to Israeli settlers in the West Bank. Israel applies Israeli civil law to all residents of Jerusalem, both Israeli and Palestinian.
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. For minors, Israeli military law differentiates by age among those suspected of a security offense. Suspects between ages 12-14 can be held up to one day, with a possible one-day extension. Those age 14-16 can be held up to two days, with a possible two-day extension. Those age 16-18 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. According to IPS statistics, as of November 30 there were 425 Palestinians in administrative detention, including two Palestinian minors over the age of 14.
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, since the Second Intifada in 2002, Israeli security forces have regularly conducted security operations in Area A, often without coordinating with the PASF. These incursions, which increased at the outbreak of violence beginning in 2015, continued throughout the year. PA officials claimed Israeli incursions in Area A increased to approximately 50 per week in September. 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. Approximately 400,000 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 ICHR continued to report accusations of abuse and torture at the hands of the PASF.
The PA maintained effective control over its security forces and has mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse and corruption.
In the Gaza Strip, Hamas forces exercised de facto control. Press and NGO reports suggested Hamas enforced strict control across all sectors of society. Impunity remained a problem. There were numerous instances when Hamas forces failed to prevent or deter violence, such as rocket attacks into Israel by rival Salafist groups.
Israeli authorities maintained a West Bank security presence through the ISF, the ISA, the 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. NGOs such as Yesh Din, PCATI, and B’Tselem reported that impunity among Israeli security forces remained a problem, in part because mechanisms for investigating allegations were not effective. Reports of abuse go to the Israeli Attorney General’s Office; PCATI reported Israeli authorities systematically disregarded abuse allegations. In May 2016 B’Tselem announced it would no longer refer Palestinian complaints of abuse or injury by the ISF to Israeli military investigators and the MAG, citing a desire to avoid contributing to what the NGO called the pretense of an Israeli military law enforcement system in the West Bank.
NGOs such as Yesh Din and Rabbis for Human Rights also criticized Israeli efforts and accountability in investigating reports of Israeli security forces killing Palestinian civilians, noting that only one case since 2011 has resulted in an indictment. Israeli law restricts the ability of Palestinians to seek compensation in Israeli courts for harm by Israeli security forces. In January 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 (inter alia) that the soldiers pay damages to the families, but the soldiers’ attorney rejected the offer. As of October the case remained pending.
According to Israeli and Palestinian NGO and press reports, the ISF did not respond sufficiently to violence perpetrated against Palestinians by Israeli settlers in the West Bank. The number of Israeli settler attacks perpetrated against Palestinians increased for the first time in three years, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA). As of August, UNOCHA had identified 89 incidents of Israeli settler violence that resulted in Palestinian fatalities, injuries, or property damage, an 88-percent increase in the monthly average compared with 2016. The Israeli NGO Yesh Din, citing Israeli security forces and MAG figures, reported that Israeli authorities closed 75 percent of investigative files into alleged Israeli settler violence due to police investigators’ failure to locate suspects or find sufficient evidence to enable an indictment. Yesh Din claimed that failures in Israeli law enforcement procedure and management led to the limited results in terms of indictment and conviction of offenders.
In January the Israel Central District Attorney’s Office indicted two Israeli suspects on charges connected with a July 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. One Israeli was charged with murder and another was charged with conspiring to commit a crime. The trial continued throughout the year without reaching a verdict. In May relatives of the Palestinian family killed in the attack filed a lawsuit against the Israeli government seeking admission of responsibility and damages.
ACRI and other NGOs stated Israeli security and justice officials operating in predominantly Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem–such as Issawiya, Silwan, Ras Alamud, At-Tur, Sheikh Jarrah, and the Old City–used excessive force or displayed bias against Palestinian residents in investigating incidents involving Palestinian and Israeli actors.
According to ACRI, during various security raids in Palestinian-majority neighborhoods in Jerusalem, the ISF fired sponge bullets at the head and upper torso of Palestinians (including minors) at close range, in violation of Israeli police rules of engagement. There were multiple reports of blinding and serious injury from synthetic black sponge bullets. On July 12, Israeli border guards shot and injured 13-year-old Nour al-Din Mustafa while he was sitting outside his home in East Jerusalem’s Issawiya neighborhood. Israeli security forces had reportedly entered the area due to a conflict between two Palestinian families and used crowd control weapons after local Palestinian residents threw stones. Israeli police said they were investigating this and other incidents. Palestinians claimed Israeli authorities closed most investigations of injury from sponge bullets for lack of evidence. Relaxed rules of engagement adopted in June 2016 also enabled the INP and Border Guard forces, which constitute the primary security forces operating in Palestinian-majority neighborhoods of Jerusalem, to use live fire as a first resort against suspects engaged in throwing Molotov cocktails, shooting fireworks, or using slingshots.
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. These provisions were largely–but not uniformly–observed in areas of the West Bank under PA control. 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 authorities held some prisoners detained by order of Palestinian governors in lengthy pretrial detention, according to complaints received by the ICHR. PA law requires that a trial start within six months, or authorities must release the detainee. While 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 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) regulates the professional conduct of lawyers in the West Bank. In May the PBA adopted a policy that restricted lawyers’ ability to represent indigents free of charge. An NGO challenged this ruling in court, and in October the PBA rescinded this policy. AI 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 de facto, 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 reportedly 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, while Israeli civil law was applied to Israelis living in the West Bank. Under Israeli military law as applied to Palestinians in the West Bank, Israeli authorities can hold detainees for up to 60 days without access to a lawyer. According to the most recent official data, Israeli military courts had a conviction rate of more than 95 percent for Palestinians. Israeli authorities informed Palestinian detainees of the charges against them during detention, but did not always inform minors and their families 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 76 percent of minors did not see a lawyer prior to interrogation. 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, most Palestinian detainees saw their lawyer for the first time when they appeared before an Israeli military court. Israeli military courts denied bail to Palestinians in most cases, including for minors. Israeli authorities delayed or deprived some Palestinian detainees of visits by their families or lawyers.
NGOs such as the MCW and Hamoked claimed Israeli authorities in the West Bank frequently failed to inform Palestinian parents why their children had been detained 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, 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. In 2013 an Israeli military order reduced the time that authorities can detain Palestinian children between the ages of 12 and 15 before appearing before a military court judge, although there was no change for minors ages 16 and 17. In 2014 Israeli authorities amended the law to mandate audiovisual recording of all interrogations of minors in the West Bank but limited this requirement to nonsecurity-related offenses. That excluded approximately 95 percent of cases involving Palestinian minors in Israeli military courts. The ISF entered Palestinian homes at night to arrest or to take pictures of minors. Human rights organizations alleged this treatment could amount to torture in some cases. Israeli officials denied these allegations. Israeli military authorities began providing translations into Arabic of some recent changes to military laws affecting Palestinian minors.
As of November 30, there was a drop in Israeli detention rates of Palestinian minors, compared with an all-time high in 2016, but the rate remained significantly higher than 2011-2015 levels. From October 2015 through March 2016, there was a marked increase in Palestinian attacks and attempted attacks against the ISF and Israeli civilians. As of November 30, Israel detained 310 Palestinian minors. NGOs anecdotally reported a high number of arrests of Palestinian minors in December, but official statistics were not yet available. On December 15, the ISF arrested 16-year-old Palestinian Ahed Tamimi 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 at the end of the year.
Israeli legislation approved in August 2016 effectively lowered the minimum age in Israel for criminal responsibility for serious crimes, such as attempted murder, from 14 to 12. In Jerusalem, where Palestinian residents are subject to Israeli civil law, NGOs reported that increased sentences and mandatory minimum sentences introduced in late 2015 for rock throwing led to increased use of pretrial detention and longer sentences for Palestinian minors. NGOs submitted a petition in 2016 challenging an Israeli civil law that revokes social welfare benefits for the parents of Palestinian minors convicted of security offenses. On January 28, Israel’s High Court of Justice (HCJ) issued a temporary injunction on the new law and required the government to prove the law was not discriminatory. As of November 21, there was no formal response from the Israeli government, but Jerusalem-based families of Palestinian children currently in prison continued to receive social welfare benefits.
Nighttime arrest raids by Israeli authorities in Palestinian-majority neighborhoods such as Issawiya and Silwan, including those resulting in detention of Palestinian minors, were routine in the West Bank and Palestinian-majority neighborhoods in Jerusalem. The MCW reported little substantive improvement since the publication of a 2013 report by the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) that stated, “Mistreatment of Palestinian children in the Israeli military detention system appears to be widespread, systematic, and institutionalized.” The MCW said data from more than 400 MCW detainee testimonials collected between 2013-17 confirmed UNICEF’s conclusion that mistreatment by Israeli authorities of Palestinian child detainees in the West Bank was widespread.
The ISA continued its practice of incommunicado detention of Palestinians, including isolation from outside monitors, legal counsel, and family throughout the duration of interrogation. NGOs including the MCW, Hamoked, and B’Tselem reported Israeli authorities used isolation to punish or silence politically prominent Palestinian detainees. According to the Israeli government, the IPS did not hold Palestinian detainees in separate detention punitively or to induce confessions. The Israeli government stated it uses separate detention only when a detainee threatens himself or others, and authorities have exhausted other options–or in some cases during interrogation, to prevent disclosure of information. In such cases, Israeli authorities maintained the detainee had the right to meet with ICRC representatives, IPS personnel, and medical personnel, if necessary.
Arbitrary Arrest: In the West Bank, the ICHR reported that the PA continued to perform arbitrary detentions, in which Palestinian detainees were held without formal charges or proper procedures, particularly in arrests based on political affiliation with Hamas. There were numerous reports the PASF improperly detained Palestinian journalists, as well as reports PA security officials arrested and physically abused Palestinians who posted criticism of the PA online.
The ICHR received complaints of arbitrary arrests by Hamas in Gaza. Many of these arrests and detentions by de facto Hamas authorities appeared to be politically motivated, targeting political opponents and 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 both Jerusalem and 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: 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. It requires a trial to start within six months, or authorities must release the detainee.
It was unclear how long detainees in Hamas custody stayed in pretrial detention or what legal means, if any, Hamas used to detain individuals.
Israeli authorities continued to detain Palestinians administratively (hold indefinitely without presenting charges or going to trial). As of November, Israeli authorities held 425 Palestinians on security grounds (including two minors) for renewable six-month sentences. Security offenses included alleged incitement to violence on social media. Many NGOs, including HRW, AI, and various Palestinian and Israeli NGOs called for an immediate end to Israeli administrative detention. 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 HCJ. The HCJ did not free any Palestinians under administrative detention during this period.
Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: Palestinian detainees held by Israel and the PA 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. Palestinians held by Israeli authorities in administrative detention have no right to trial and can only challenge their detention before a military court judge in a closed setting. In cases in which the evidence substantiating the charges against a detainee is classified, the detainee has no means of examining the evidence (and, in some cases, to examine the charges) in order to challenge his or her detention. 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.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The PA basic law provides for an independent judiciary. The PA generally respected the judicial independence and impartiality of the High Judicial Council and maintained authority over most court operations in the West Bank. 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.
Since 2011 the PA has mandated that Palestinian civilians appear before civilian courts. PA security services continued to pressure PA military justice court personnel to detain West Bank civilians charged with state security violations.
The PA civil, magistrate, and religious courts handle civil suits in the West Bank and provide an independent and impartial judiciary in most matters. There were unconfirmed reports of various Palestinian political factions’ attempting to influence PA judicial decisions. 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. PA authorities did not always execute court orders.
In the Gaza Strip, Hamas-appointed prosecutors and judges operated de facto courts which the PA considered illegal.
Gaza residents can file civil suits. Unofficial, anecdotal reports claimed some Gaza courts operated independently of the Hamas government and were at times impartial. 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 (ranging from rock throwing to membership in a terrorist organization to incitement) in Israeli military courts, which some NGOs claimed were inadequate and unfair. 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.
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. AI 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.
To address case backlogs, the PA piloted new processing techniques in public prosecutors’ offices (PPOs) in six of 11 governorates in the West Bank. From January 2016, when the PA began collecting statistics, until August, PA case backlogs (that is, misdemeanor case processing over three months, or felony processing over six months) declined by an average of 49.5 percent in the PPOs in the Ramallah, Jericho, Salfit, Bethlehem, Tulkarem, and Nablus Governorates.
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. In Jerusalem both Israeli and Palestinian residents were subject to civil law proceedings. 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, such the Human Rights Defenders Fund 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. Israeli military courts rarely acquitted Palestinians charged with security offenses, although they occasionally reduced sentences on appeal.
Several NGOs, including ACRI and the MCW, claimed Israeli military courts were not equipped to adjudicate cases properly. NGOs and lawyers reported many Palestinian defendants elected to plead guilty and receive a reduced sentence rather than maintain innocence and go through a military trial that could last months, if not more than a year. Human rights lawyers also reported 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.
The MCW reported that Israeli authorities continued to use confessions signed by Palestinian minors and written in Hebrew, a language most Palestinian minors could not read, as evidence against them in military courts. The MCW reported that 76 percent of Palestinian minors were shown or made to sign documentation written in Hebrew at the conclusion of their interrogation. PCATI reported that authorities coerced confessions during interrogations. 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 Gaza, Hamas allegedly detained several hundred persons because of political affiliation, public criticism of Hamas, or suspected collaboration with Israel and held them for varying periods. Observers associated numerous allegations of denial of due process with these detentions. The ICRC and NGOs had limited access to these prisoners.
The Palestinian NGO Addameer reported that Israel continued to hold PLC members in administrative detention without charges, most of whom had some affiliation with Hamas.
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.
The Israeli government conducted multiple demolitions of Palestinian property in East Jerusalem and the West Bank on the basis of lack of permits, use of the property by the ISF, or as punishment. Israeli authorities pursued efforts through Israeli courts to demolish homes built by Palestinian Bedouin tribes in the West Bank villages of Khan al-Ahmar and Susiya, among several others (see section 1.f.).
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.
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. There were no specific reports the PA harassed family members for alleged offenses committed by an individual, although NGOs reported this tactic was common.
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 reportedly 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 did not appear to be a prerequisite for obtaining housing, education, or government 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.
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. Under Israeli occupation orders, 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.
In the West Bank and Palestinian-majority neighborhoods in Jerusalem like Beit Hanina, Silwan, Shuafat, Wadi al-Joz, Sheikh Jarrah, Issawiya, Jabal al-Mukabber, and Sur Bahir, the Israeli Civil Administration (ICA), part of Israel’s Ministry of Defense; the Jerusalem municipality; and the Ministry of Interior continued to demolish homes, cisterns, and other buildings and property constructed by Palestinians in areas under Israeli civil control on the basis that these buildings lacked Israeli planning licenses. Properties close to the security barrier, ISF military installations, or firing ranges also remained subject to a heightened threat of demolition or confiscation. Demolition operations by the Israeli authorities focused on three major regions: the South Hebron Hills, the Ma’ale Adumim area, and the Jordan Valley. According to UNOCHA, as of October, the number of demolitions and seizures in Area C had declined compared with the record highs in 2016, but demolitions in Palestinian-majority neighborhoods in Jerusalem continued at nearly the same rates recorded in 2016, which were the highest since 2000.
Organizations such as UNOCHA, Ir Amim, and Peace Now expressed concern at the high rate of demolitions of Palestinian structures in Jerusalem. As of September 30, the ICA destroyed 39 structures in Palestinian-majority neighborhoods of Jerusalem, displacing 126 Palestinians and affecting many more. In both Jerusalem and the West Bank, the ICA targeted commercial structures and infrastructure in addition to residences. In August the ICA seized six caravans used as classrooms in the Palestinian community of Jubbet ad Dhib, in the Bethlehem governorate. The ICA also seized two solar panel systems in the Palestinian communities of Jabal al-Baba and Abu Nuwar, in the Jerusalem governorate. In a majority of demolitions in Area C, the ICA claimed that structures lacked Israeli building permits or were illegally located in a closed military zone (large parts of Area C were declared closed military zones after 1967).
The ISF continued punitive demolitions of the homes of the families of Palestinians implicated in attacks against Israelis. As of October 8, Israeli authorities partially or fully demolished five family homes of Palestinians who had carried out attacks on Israelis since 2014. These actions often also rendered other dwellings near the demolished homes uninhabitable. Punitive demolitions displaced 36 Palestinians, including 19 children, according to the United Nations. NGOs such as AI, HRW, and several Palestinian and Israeli NGOs widely criticized punitive demolitions as collective punishment. The Israeli government asserted such demolitions have a deterrent effect on would-be assailants.
On August 10, Israeli authorities demolished three homes in the Palestinian community of Deir Abu Mashaal, near Ramallah. The homes belonged to the families of the Palestinians who killed an Israeli border police officer in an attack near the Old City’s Damascus Gate in Jerusalem on June 16.
The Israeli government advanced efforts to demolish Palestinian homes in the West Bank Area C villages of Khan al-Ahmar and Susiya, both located near Israeli settlements. Khan al-Ahmar is a 145-person Bedouin community in E-1, an area that territorially connects Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. On March 5, the ICA changed 42 stop-work orders issued against 42 Khan al-Ahmar structures to demolition orders. These 42 structures comprised the entire village. All were built without ICA building permits (residents are not able to receive permits, as the Israeli government has not approved a master plan for the area). On September 13, ICA representatives entered Khan al-Ahmar and proposed the community evacuate and relocate to an ICA-built Jabal West transfer site about five miles away. In documents provided to the Israeli High Court, the ICA said it planned to move the Khan al-Ahmar residents and demolish the village in April 2018. The case continued at year’s end. Separately, the ICA proposed in 2016 that Palestinian residents of the Area C village of Susiya move to an area bordering PA-controlled Area A. Israeli residents of a nearby settlement continued to advocate that the ICA carry out demolition orders in Susiya. In August 2016 the Israeli High Court ordered the Israeli government to submit its position on the evacuation of the village and the government’s proposed demolition of 30 Palestinian houses. On November 22, the Israeli government submitted its position to the HCJ, stating its intent to demolish 20 structures–approximately 20 percent of the community. The case continued at year’s end.
Palestinians and human rights NGOs such as Yesh Din reported the ISF were largely unresponsive to Israeli settlers’ actions against Palestinians in the West Bank, including destruction of Palestinian property and agriculture (see section 6, National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities).
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
The PA basic law generally provides for freedom of expression, but it does not specifically provide for freedom of the press. The PA enforced legislation that NGOs claimed restricted press and media freedom in the West Bank. The PASF continued to restrict freedom of expression in the West Bank, including for the Palestinian press–most notably through harassment, intimidation, and arrest.
In Gaza, Hamas restricted press freedom through frequent arrests and extended interrogations of journalists, as well as harassment and limitations on access and movement for some journalists. These restrictions led journalists to self-censor.
Israeli civil and military law provides limited protections of freedom of expression and press for Palestinian residents of Jerusalem and the West Bank. Israeli authorities continued to restrict press coverage and placed limits on certain forms of expression–particularly by restricting Palestinian journalists’ movement, as well as through violence, arrests, closure of media outlets, and intimidation, according to media reports and the Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms.
Freedom of Expression: Although no PA law prohibits criticism of the government, media reports indicated PA authorities arrested West Bank Palestinian journalists and social media activists who criticized, or covered events that criticized, the PA. Additionally, there were several complaints during the year that the PA prevented journalists from covering events favorable to Hamas in the West Bank.
Palestinian President Abbas approved a law known as the “Cybercrime Law” or the “Electronic Crimes Law” on June 24. The law imposes imprisonment and fines for the publication of material that would endanger “the integrity of the Palestinian state” or “public order,” or for the publication of material that attacks “family principles or values.” Based on this law, the PA arrested West Bank journalists and blocked websites associated with political rivals. On June 12, the Palestinian attorney general ordered the West Bank-based internet service providers to block access to more than two dozen websites. Eleven of these sites were affiliated with political parties, including Hamas or other opposition groups critical of the Fatah-controlled PA.
In Gaza, Palestinians publicly criticizing Hamas authorities risked reprisal by Hamas, including arrest, interrogation, seizure of property, and harassment. Media practitioners accused of publicly criticizing Hamas, including civil society and youth activists, social media advocates, and journalists, faced punitive measures, including raids on their facilities and residences, arbitrary detention, and denial of permission to travel outside Gaza. In July, Hamas security forces summoned 12 Gaza-based journalists and social media activists for questioning based on anti-Hamas social media posts. Human rights NGOs reported that Hamas interrogators subjected several of those detained to harassment and violence.
De facto Hamas authorities also imposed restrictions on the work of foreign journalists in the Gaza Strip, including lengthy interrogations of foreign journalists at entry points to the Gaza Strip and refusal or long delays in providing permits to enter the Gaza Strip. Some of this harassment appeared to be punitive reaction to what Hamas perceived as critical reporting.
In Jerusalem, Israeli authorities prohibited displays of Palestinian political symbols, such as the Palestinian flag, as well as public expressions of anti-Israeli sentiment, which were punishable by fines or imprisonment. Israeli authorities did not always enforce these restrictions. Israeli security officials prohibited PLO- or PA-affiliated groups from meeting in Jerusalem. They also restricted media coverage of incidents that might provoke criticism of Israeli policies.
Press and Media Freedom: Independent Palestinian media operated under restrictions in Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza. The PA Ministry of Information requested that Israeli reporters covering events in the West Bank register with the ministry. According to the PA deputy minister of information, the ministry provides permits to Israeli journalists only if they do not live in a settlement. While officially the PA was open to Israeli reporters covering events in the West Bank, at times Palestinian journalists reportedly pressured Israeli journalists not to attend PA events.
Previously Hamas had modestly loosened some restrictions on PA-affiliated or pro-PA publications in Gaza, although significant restrictions remained. In 2014 Hamas lifted its ban on three West Bank-based newspapers–al-Quds, al-Ayyam, and al-Hayat al-Jadida. Hamas authorities permitted broadcasts within Gaza of reporting and interviews featuring PA officials. Hamas allowed, with some restrictions, the operation of non-Hamas-affiliated broadcast media in Gaza. For instance, the PA-supported Palestine TV reportedly operated in Gaza.
Hamas sought to restrict the movement of journalists both at crossing points into Gaza and within Gaza. In a few cases, authorities refused reporters permits, provided permits of untenably brief duration, or told reporters their permits were conditional on not working with specific Palestinian journalists. In some cases Hamas rejected permit applications for or arrested international reporters in retaliation for unfavorable news coverage.
On June 18, Hamas security forces arrested Hasan Jaber of the al-Ayyam daily and questioned him regarding his report on an anti-Hamas group in Gaza. He was released later that night.
In areas of the West Bank to which Israel controls access, Palestinian journalists claimed Israeli authorities restricted their freedom of movement and ability to cover stories. The ISF does not recognize Palestinian press credentials or credentials from the International Federation of Journalists. Few Palestinians held Israeli press credentials, following Israel’s revocation of the vast majority of these credentials during the Second Intifada, which began in 2000.
Israel does not issue Palestinian journalists special press permits to travel into Jerusalem or west of the security barrier. Palestinian journalists who were able to obtain entry permits on other grounds, as well as Jerusalem-based Palestinian journalists, reported incidents of harassment, racism, and occasional violence when they sought to cover news in Jerusalem, especially in the Old City and its vicinity.
In April 2016 Israeli authorities arrested Palestinian journalist and deputy head of the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate Omar Nazzal at an Israeli-Jordanian border crossing as he traveled to Sarajevo to attend a meeting of the European Federation of Journalists. The Israeli government alleged that Nazzal was involved in unlawful activity and association with the terrorist group Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. He was released on February 20 after serving 10 months in Israeli prison under administrative detention.
Violence and Harassment: There were numerous reports that the PASF harassed, detained (occasionally with violence), prosecuted, and fined journalists in the West Bank during the year. Since January the number of violations against freedom of press by the PA in the West Bank and the Hamas de facto government in Gaza significantly increased. The PA arbitrarily arrested, harassed, or intimidated a number of Palestinian journalists and activists. In Gaza, Hamas authorities arrested several journalists, including those who criticized Hamas for its handling of the continuing electricity crisis.
On July 6, PA Preventive Security agents arrested journalist Jihad Barakat of Palestine Today TV, for taking a picture of the PA prime minister’s motorcade as it stopped at an Israeli checkpoint near Tulkarm, in the West Bank. Authorities charged Barakat with “being at a public place, at such time and in such circumstances for an unlawful or improper purpose.” On July 9, authorities released Barakat, but his case was still pending.
PA security forces also at times reportedly demanded deletion of footage showing PA security personnel. For example, according to the Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms, on August 27, PA security forces detained photographer Hazem Nasser of Transmedia and reporter Mujahed Saadi of Media Port for two hours after they covered a sit-in in front of the Palestinian Preventive Security facilities in Jenin. PA security forces deleted all photos of the sit-in saved on their camera hard drives.
The PA also occasionally obstructed the West Bank activities of media organizations with Hamas sympathies and limited media coverage critical of the PA.
The PA also had an inconsistent record of protecting Israeli and international journalists in the West Bank from harassment by Palestinian civilians or their own personnel.
In Gaza, Hamas at times arrested, harassed, and pressured journalists, sometimes violently. Reportedly Hamas summoned and detained Palestinian and foreign journalists for questioning to intimidate them. Hamas also constrained journalists’ freedom of movement within Gaza during the year, attempting to ban access to some official buildings as well as to several prodemocracy protests.
On June 4, the Hamas Magistrate’s Court in Gaza sentenced journalist Hajar Abu Samra in absentia to six months in jail. The charges came a few months after Abu Samra published an investigative report about corruption in the Medical Referrals Department of the Ministry of Health in Gaza. On June 11, Hamas convicted Mohammad al-Talouli, an activist against Hamas policies, of misusing technology and distributing misleading information to the public in comments he posted on Facebook. He was released on bail and was awaiting trial.
Throughout the year there were dozens of reports of Israeli actions that prevented Palestinian or Arab-Israeli journalists from covering news stories in the West Bank, Gaza, and Jerusalem. These actions included harassment by Israeli soldiers and acts of violence against journalists. Palestinian journalists also claimed that Israeli security forces detained Palestinian journalists and forced them to delete images and videos under threat of violence or arrest/administrative detention.
On May 18, an Israeli settler shot and seriously wounded Associated Press photographer Majdi Mohammad Eshtayeh while he covered a disturbance in Hawara, in the West Bank. According to the Associated Press, citing video footage, the settler fired his gun after Israeli soldiers arrived and dispersed the protesters. The Israeli-based Foreign Press Association stated the photographer was clearly identified as a journalist, with a protective helmet and vest with the word “Press” in large letters. Israeli police said they were still investigating the incident as of November 21.
On April 28, Israeli police prevented international photographers from covering a demonstration near the Damascus Gate of Jerusalem’s Old City. According to the Foreign Press Association, police kicked and shoved journalists; a Reuters reporter required hospital treatment after the incident. The border police also used horses to charge photographers and cameramen without warning, leading to injuries of an Agence France-Presse (AFP) photographer.
There were many reports of Palestinian journalists injured by rubber-coated steel bullets and live fire or tear gas while covering demonstrations and clashes in the West Bank between Palestinian protesters and Israeli security forces.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: The PA prohibits calls for violence, displays of arms, and racist slogans in PA-funded and controlled official media. There were no confirmed reports of any legal action against, or prosecution of, any person publishing items counter to these PA rules. Media throughout the West Bank, Gaza, and Jerusalem reported practicing self-censorship. There were reports of PA authorities seeking to erase images or footage from journalists’ cameras or cell phones.
In Gaza civil society organizations reported Hamas censored television programs and written materials, such as newspapers and books.
On January 12, plainclothes Hamas security officers detained an Associated Press reporter covering a demonstration in Gaza and forced him at gunpoint to surrender his mobile phones to them. In a separate instance, Hamas uniformed police officers beat an AFP photographer after he refused to surrender his camera. Police confiscated the camera’s memory card and arrested him.
While Israeli authorities retain the right to censor the printing of all Jerusalem-based Arabic publications for material perceived as a security concern (as Israeli authorities also do with Israeli media), anecdotal evidence suggested Israeli authorities did not actively review the Jerusalem-based al-Quds newspaper or other Jerusalem-based Arabic publications. Jerusalem-based publications reported they engaged in self-censorship as a result.
The Israeli government continued to raid and close West Bank Palestinian media sources, primarily on the basis of allegations they incited violence against Israeli civilians or security services. On October 18, the ISF launched a coordinated nighttime raid of seven branch offices of three Palestinian media service support companies located in Area A of the West Bank due to allegations of “broadcasting calls and incitement to terrorist acts.” The companies rented out space to numerous customers, including media funded by Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Additionally, the ISF have raided and shut seven other Palestinian media outlets since 2015.
Israeli military law governs Palestinian incitement in the West Bank. Acts of incitement under military law are punishable by up to 10 years imprisonment. NGOs and other observers said Israeli military regulations were vaguely worded and open to interpretation. The ISF generally cited two laws in its military orders when closing Palestinian radio stations–the 1945 Defense Emergency Regulations and the 2009 Order Concerning Security Provisions. These laws generally define incitement as an attempt to influence public opinion in a manner that could harm public safety or public order.
West Bank Palestinian broadcaster Wattan TV continued to attempt to retrieve from the Israeli government foreign-funded equipment confiscated in 2012 by the ISF from its Ramallah Studio, under allegations that Wattan TV had “disturbed various communication systems.” Wattan TV’s lawyers were not permitted to view evidence nor testimony presented against the media broadcaster and complained of an opaque legal process that left West Bank Palestinian broadcasters with no realistic legal recourse. An Israeli court was scheduled to rule on Wattan’s request for compensation in January 2018.
Libel/Slander Laws: There were some accusations of slander or libel against journalists and activists in the West Bank.
On September 4, Palestinian security forces in the West Bank arrested human rights activist Issa Amro after he criticized the PA in a Facebook post for its arrest of another Palestinian journalist, Ayman Qawasmeh. PA security services had detained Qawasmeh on September 4 for calling in a social media video for PA President Abbas and Prime Minister Hamdallah to resign. Amro was released on bail from PA custody on September 10.
On June 6, PA security forces arrested Palestinian journalist Taher Shamali in the West Bank. Authorities charged him with “insulting higher authorities and causing strife” in an article he wrote criticizing Palestinian President Abbas. He was subsequently released.
National Security: There were some accusations of suppression of journalists on national security grounds.
On August 8, undercover PA security agents arrested five journalists from Hamas-affiliated media outlets in the West Bank for “leaking sensitive information to hostile security services.” PA authorities released the five journalists on August 14, after posting bail; they were awaiting trial as of November 9.
Internet was generally accessible throughout the West Bank, Gaza, and Jerusalem. Frequent power outages in Gaza interrupted accessibility. A 2015 agreement between the Israeli government, the PA, and telecommunications companies that would allow import of 3G and newer telecommunications technologies into the West Bank was implemented, leading to fewer limitations on mobile internet access.
While there were no PA restrictions on access to the internet, there were reports the PA actively monitored social media, pressuring and harassing activists and journalists. There were instances the PA arrested or detained Palestinians because of their posts on social media.
Gaza-based Palestinian civil society organizations and social media practitioners stated Hamas de facto authorities monitored the internet activities of Gaza residents and took action to intimidate or harass them. On January 1, the Hamas public prosecutor’s office arrested and interrogated Ramzi Hirzallah, a former Hamas member, on the basis of allegations he had insulted Hamas officials on Facebook. Hamas security officials confiscated his cell phone and computers and prevented human rights representatives from meeting with him. Hamas authorities released Hirzallah a few days later with a warning not to insult Hamas officials.
Israeli authorities monitored Palestinians’ online activities and arrested a number of Palestinians in the West Bank and Jerusalem for social media statements they categorized as incitement. In November, Israeli authorities arrested Jerusalem resident Amin Syam because he posted on social media lyrics from a song using the term “martyr.” Israeli authorities said they believed the post was a call to violence. Syam was detained for four days and released.
ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS
The PA did not restrict academic freedom in the West Bank, and there were no known reports of PA censorship of school curricula, plays, films, or exhibits. Palestinian law provides for academic freedom, but individuals or officials from academic institutions reportedly self-censored curricula. Faculty members reported PA security elements present on university campuses among the student body and faculty, which may have contributed to self-censorship.
Public schools as well as UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) schools in Gaza followed the same curriculum as West Bank schools. Palestinians in Gaza reported limited interference by Hamas in public schools at the primary, secondary, or university levels. Hamas did reportedly interfere in teaching methodologies or curriculum deemed to violate Islamic identity, the religion of Islam, or “traditions,” as defined by Hamas. Hamas also interfered if there were reports of classes or activities that mixed genders. UNRWA reported no Hamas interference in the running of its Gaza schools.
Hamas authorities sought to disrupt some educational, cultural, and international exchange programs. They routinely required Palestinians to obtain exit permits prior to departing Gaza. Students participating in certain cultural and education programs (including programs sponsored by foreign governments and international organizations) faced questioning from de facto Hamas authorities. Hamas authorities denied exit permits for some Palestinians through the Rafah and Erez crossings.
Hamas authorities also interfered in local cultural programs. There were continued reports the de facto government suppressed cultural expression that might offend Hamas’ interpretation of religious and cultural values and identity.
Israeli restrictions on movement adversely affected academic institutions and access to education and cultural activities for Palestinians (see section 2.d. and section 6).
There were reports the Israeli government prevented copies of the PA curriculum from entering Jerusalem for use in schools in Palestinian-majority neighborhoods and that the Jerusalem Municipality instead provided an edited/censored version of the PA curriculum that deleted information on Palestinian history and culture. In August, Israeli police blocked the delivery of textbooks bearing the PA logo to schools located on the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount compound in the Old City of Jerusalem. Local officials complained to Western diplomats about reported efforts by the Israeli Ministry of Education to tie funding of Palestinian schools to the use of Israeli curriculum and to “Israelize” the curriculum. In September, three schools in the East Jerusalem neighborhoods of Silwan, al-Issawiya, and Shuafat went on strike to protest the condition of the schools’ infrastructure and the Israeli government’s attempts to impose the Israeli curriculum as a condition for repairing the infrastructure.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
Authorities in Jerusalem, 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, which the PA rarely denied. 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, in contradiction of the PA basic law. Following large-scale January protests against electricity cuts in Gaza, Hamas used violent tactics to disperse crowds, including live ammunition and batons. Hamas at times allowed Fatah members to hold rallies when it was politically advantageous for them to do so, such as during high-profile meetings on Palestinian reconciliation. Activists reported Hamas harassed women in public and impeded their ability to assemble peacefully. Hamas also attempted to impede criticism of Hamas policies by imposing arbitrary demands for the approval of meetings on political or social topics.
The ISF continued to use a 1967 Israeli military order that effectively prohibits Palestinian demonstrations and limits freedom of speech in the West Bank. The 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 as applied to Palestinians in the West Bank prohibits obstructing or insulting a soldier, participating in an unpermitted rally, and “incitement” (encouraging others to engage in civil disobedience). In February 2016 an Israeli military court indicted Palestinian human rights activist Issa Amro on 18 charges dating back to 2010. Human rights organizations such as the Human Rights Defenders Fund and AI stated Amro’s actions during these incidents were consistent with nonviolent civil disobedience. Amro’s trial, which began in November 2016, continued through the end of the year.
ACRI claimed that the ISF did not respect freedom of assembly and often responded aggressively to Palestinian demonstrators. Israeli security forces sometimes used force, including live fire, against Palestinians and others involved in demonstrations in the West Bank and Jerusalem, resulting in the deaths of Palestinian civilians (see section 1.a.). The ISF used force against weekly Palestinians protests in or near Israeli West Bank settlements. The ISF responded to protests with military crowd-control techniques, including tear gas and stun grenades, that led to Palestinian casualties. On July 10, a Palestinian child died after suffering from tear-gas inhalation during May 19 clashes between Palestinian protesters and the ISF in Ramallah. A group had gathered to express support for hunger-striking Palestinian prisoners; when the protest turned violent, the ISF responded by firing tear-gas canisters close to the child’s home.
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 in which 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 2015 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 “Ministry of Interior” claimed supervisory authority over all NGOs, and its representatives regularly harassed NGO employees and requested information on staff, salaries, and activities. There were instances when Hamas temporarily closed NGOs that did not comply. Activists reported women’s rights groups faced significant pressure from Hamas.
Israel maintained prohibitions on some prominent Jerusalem-based Palestinian institutions, such as the Jerusalem Chamber of Commerce and Orient House, which had been the de facto PLO office. Israeli authorities renewed a military closure order initiated in 2001 for these and other institutions on the grounds they violated the Oslo Accords by operating on behalf of the PA in Jerusalem.
c. Freedom of Religion
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
d. Freedom of Movement
The PA basic law provides for freedom of movement, but the PA at times effectively restricted freedom of movement into Israel for Gazans by declining to make referrals to Israeli authorities on their behalf. Between April and June, the PA Ministry of Health decreased the number of referrals it issued to Gazan residents in need of medical care in Israel. Following the death of three infants unable to leave Gaza for medical care, the PA reversed its permit cuts. The PA basic law does not specify regulations regarding foreign travel, emigration, or repatriation.
Until the PA deployed personnel to Gaza’s border crossings on November 1 and Hamas authorities departed the crossings, 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 closed the Erez crossing for a week in March/April, stranding international aid workers inside Gaza. 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.
The ISF regularly imposed significant restrictions on Palestinians’ movement within the West Bank, into and out of Gaza, and foreign travel. At times the ISF increased restrictions on the movement of Palestinians citing security justifications.
A key barrier to Palestinian movement was the security barrier that divides the majority of the West Bank from Israel, most parts of East Jerusalem, and some parts of the West Bank. The barrier runs up to 11 miles (18 kilometers) east of the Green Line in some places, isolating an estimated 25,000 West Bank Palestinians living in communities west of the barrier from 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 Strip. 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.
Additional restrictions on Palestinian activities and development in Area C zones of the West Bank included Israeli confiscation of postdemolition assistance. Such restrictions affected both nonrefugees and refugees.
The PA, Hamas, and Israel generally cooperated with humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons and refugees. Nonetheless, Israeli officials imposed controls on movement of materials, goods, and persons into and out of Gaza and, as a result, constrained UNRWA’s ability to operate in Gaza. AI and HRW reported difficulties by foreign workers in obtaining Israeli visas, which affected the delivery of humanitarian assistance in the West Bank and Gaza. AI and HRW also reported that the Israeli government denied their employees permits to enter Gaza. On October 30, the Israeli government denied entry to the West Bank to an AI employee who planned to visit relatives in the West Bank and Israel. AI claimed the employee was questioned about his work with AI prior being denied entry on public security grounds.
During the year Israeli authorities imposed movement restrictions on UNRWA staff, resulting in the loss of 1,261 UNRWA workdays in the West Bank and Jerusalem. The majority were due to increased Israeli demands to search UNRWA vehicles at checkpoints between Bethlehem and Jerusalem, especially UNRWA buses transporting 100 UN personnel to UNRWA West Bank Field Office in Jerusalem.
Humanitarian organizations continued to raise concerns about the “shrinking operational space” for international NGOs in Gaza following Israel’s publication of allegations that staff of international NGOs had diverted goods and funds to Hamas. In one case in 2016, Israeli authorities arrested an employee of an international NGO returning to Gaza from Israel through the Erez crossing and held him for 21 days before he had access to a lawyer of his choosing. He claimed he was physically and psychologically tortured and gave a false confession under duress, according to representatives of the NGO. Israeli authorities held the employee in detention for a total of 50 days before filing charges against him. Israeli authorities held several hearings, but there was no resolution at the end of the year.
Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Israeli security operations in the West Bank and Jerusalem led to 13 refugee fatalities as of September, of whom six were allegedly killed while conducting an attack on the ISF or Israeli civilians. Most injuries were caused by Israeli use of live ammunition. There were 134 Palestinians reported injured by Israeli authorities in West Bank refugee camps, according to UNRWA, of whom 70 were injured by live ammunition.
According to UNRWA, between November 2016 and April 30, at least 25 tear-gas canisters used by ISF personnel landed in UNRWA installations during confrontations between ISF and Palestinians. UNRWA reported a significant increase in the use of tear gas by the ISF in and around densely populated refugee camps, in particular in the Aida, Jalazone, and Dheisheh camps. UNRWA also reported instances in which ISF personnel entered UNRWA facilities. On April 3, Israeli police entered the UNRWA Shu’fat Boys’ School in Shu’fat refugee camp in East Jerusalem and threw two stun grenades and two tear-gas canisters. The incident affected 23 UNRWA staff members and more than 300 students, including a third-grade student whose leg was injured.
On January 10, the ISF fatally shot 33-year-old Mohammad Subhi Ahmad Khamis Salhi during an ISF search and arrest operation in El Fara’ Camp. A Palestinian eyewitness claimed Salhi was shot without cause by a group of soldiers who entered the family home. Israeli media, citing ISF sources, claimed Salhi was shot because he tried to stab soldiers with a kitchen knife.
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. Increased pressure to conform to Hamas’s interpretation of Islamic norms generally restricted movement by women.
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.
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 precluded Palestinians from leaving the West Bank and Gaza. These closures also resulted in Palestinian economic losses. For example, the 11-day extended closure enacted by the Israeli government during the Sukkot holiday in October resulted in estimated economic losses of up to $86 million, according to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics. The bulk of these losses comprised lost wages for Palestinian laborers working inside Israel. Israeli authorities also imposed movement restrictions on Palestinian towns and villages.
From September 26-27, Israeli authorities blocked the main and bypass road entrances to the Palestinian town of Beit Surik, on the outskirts of Jerusalem, while conducting arrest operations. Israeli authorities damaged Palestinian property while conducting raids, sealed off entries and exits, and confiscated vehicles. The Israeli government stated collective restrictions were imposed only if a military commander was convinced there was a military necessity for the action and that the imposition on the everyday lives of Palestinian civilians was not disproportionate.
Israeli authorities restricted or prohibited Palestinian travel on 41 roads and sections of roads throughout the West Bank, including many of the main traffic arteries. These restrictions on Palestinian travel affected a total of more than 400 miles of roads on which Israelis may travel freely. 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 Jerusalem and Israel, allowing Muslim men over the age of 30 who applied for and obtained special prayer permits, as well as Muslim men over 40 without permits, to visit the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount for religious services.
The Israeli government continued construction of the security barrier, which ran largely inside the West Bank and along parts of the 1967 Green Line. Israeli authorities extended the barrier in the Cremisan Valley near Bethlehem and began land clearing to extend the barrier through Walajah village, also near Bethlehem. By use of special permits, Israel continued to restrict movement and development near the barrier, including access by some international organizations. Palestinian lawyers reported that Israeli authorities allowed many Palestinians who had been separated by the barrier from their land access to their property for only a few days each year.
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. Many Palestinians and NGOs reported higher levels of mistreatment at checkpoints run by security contractors than at those staffed by IDF soldiers.
The barrier affected the commute of Palestinian children to school in Jerusalem and some farmers’ access to land and water resources. Palestinian farmers continued to report difficulty accessing their lands in Israeli-controlled Area C of the West Bank and in the seam zone, which is a closed area between the security barrier and the Green Line. NGOs and community advocates reported numerous Palestinian villages owned land in the seam zone rendered inaccessible by the barrier. A complicated Israeli permit regime (requiring more than 10 different permits) prevented these Palestinians from fully using their lands.
Israel eased restrictions limiting access to farmland in Gaza to 328 feet (100 meters) from the boundary with Israel. Despite this easing, reports indicated Israel continued to enforce “buffer zone” restrictions on nonfarmers attempting to enter within 328 feet (100 meters) of the land boundary between Gaza and Israel and that Israeli authorities sprayed pesticides into Gaza across the border fence, onto lands cleared by the ICRC for farmers to return. The extent to which authorities permitted access along the border remained unclear. 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. The Palestinian human rights NGO al-Mezan reported that as of October 20 Israeli authorities arrested 119 farmers, and shot and injured another 13 for cultivating land in or near the buffer zone.
Gaza’s fishing waters were largely inaccessible to Palestinians due to Israeli restrictions that allowed fishing only within six nautical miles of land. The Israeli government stated these restrictions were necessary for security reasons. Israeli authorities eased the naval blockade in May, extending fishing limits from six to nine nautical miles. The extension was temporary and returned to six nautical miles in June. The United Nations reported the nautical restriction was “of particular concern.” Israeli naval patrol boats strictly enforced the new limit, which represented a reduction from the 20-nautical-mile limit established in the 1994 Agreement on the Gaza Strip and Jericho Area. Israeli naval forces regularly fired warning shots at Palestinian fishermen entering the restricted sea areas, in some cases directly targeting the fishermen, according to UNOCHA. Israeli armed forces often confiscated fishing boats intercepted in these areas and detained the fishermen. Palestinian fishermen reported confusion over the exact limits of the new fishing boundaries.
During the year Israeli security forces restricted movement in Palestinian-majority neighborhoods of Jerusalem and Jerusalem’s Old City. Israeli security forces periodically blocked entrances to the East Jerusalem neighborhoods of Issawiya, Silwan, and Jabal Mukabber. 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.
Following the July 14 attack by three Arab Israelis that killed two Israeli police at the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount, Israeli police closed the compound and cancelled Friday prayers at the al-Aqsa Mosque for the first time since 1969. Following the compound’s reopening two days later, Israeli police erected new security screening equipment, including metal detectors, at entrances to the site used by Muslim worshippers. The Waqf (the government of Jordan Islamic trust and charitable entity that administers the site) rejected these changes, characterizing them a violation of the status quo at the holy site. Muslim worshippers refused to enter the site pending full revocation of all newly imposed security measures, triggering a wave of popular protests in Jerusalem and the West Bank that continued until the INP removed the equipment on July 27.
Visits by Jewish activists to the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount, some facilitated by Israeli authorities, increased to record levels during the year. A single-day record 1,079 Jewish activists visited on Tisha b’Av (August 1), which commemorates the destruction of the Jewish Temples. Over the week-long Jewish holiday of Sukkot, activists conducted 2,266 visits, a 40-percent increase over the number of visits conducted during Sukkot in 2016. The Israeli government, in accordance with the status quo understanding with the Jordanian authorities managing the site, prohibits non-Muslim worship at the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount. But police have become more permissive of silent Jewish prayer and other religious rituals performed on the site in violation of this understanding, according to the Jerusalem Islamic Waqf, Jewish Temple Mount groups, and local media. Israeli authorities, citing security concerns, mostly prevented Knesset members (MKs) and government ministers from visiting the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount; however, for the first time since October 2015, Israeli PM Netanyahu ordered Israeli police to permit MK visits for one day on August 29. Police subsequently permitted Israeli MK Yehuda Glick to visit the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount on October 25, according to the Waqf. The Israeli government, citing security concerns, also continued to impose intermittent restrictions on Palestinian access to certain religious sites, including the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount. Waqf officials said Israeli police increased restrictions on Waqf operations, and renovation and repair projects at the site. Travel restrictions, including limited access to Jerusalem during major Jewish holidays, as well as continued construction of Israel’s security barrier, impeded the movements of Palestinian Muslims and Christians in the West Bank.
Foreign Travel: PA authorities did not limit West Bank residents’ foreign travel. The PA does not control border crossings into or out of the West Bank.
Hamas authorities in Gaza enforced movement restrictions on Palestinians attempting to exit Gaza to Israel via the Erez Crossing and to Egypt via the Rafah Crossing. Israeli authorities often denied Palestinian applications for travel permits through the Erez Crossing. Entry and exit from the Gaza Strip at the Erez Crossing was largely limited by Israel to humanitarian cases. According to the NGO Gisha, there were 5,819 average monthly exits from Gaza between January and October, a significant drop compared with the monthly average in 2016 (12,150). This prevented Palestinians from transiting to Jerusalem for visa interviews, to Jordan (often for onward travel) via the Allenby Bridge, and to the West Bank for work or education.
During the year the Israeli Supreme Court continued to uphold with few exceptions the Israeli ban imposed in 2000 on students from the Gaza Strip attending West Bank universities. Students in the Gaza Strip generally did not apply to West Bank universities because they understood Israeli authorities would deny permits.
Increased Israeli travel restrictions also allowed fewer students than the previous year in the West Bank and Gaza to participate in cultural programming within the Palestinian Territories, as well as study programs abroad. Delays in permit approvals by Israeli officials caused Palestinians to miss the travel dates for their exchange programs abroad or for cultural programming in Jerusalem or the West Bank. In some cases authorities asked students to submit to security interviews prior to receiving permits. In the past two years, 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.
Permit denials increased for staff of international organizations and for some categories of medical care inside Israel, according to Israeli NGOs. There were several reports that Gazans in need of urgent medical care could not get permits from the Israeli government in sufficient time. Aya Khalil Abu Metlaq, a five-year-old girl, died from a metabolic disorder on April 17 while waiting for a permit to exit Gaza for medical treatment in Jerusalem. The NGO Gisha claimed many of the security holds placed by Israeli authorities on Palestinians seeking to exit Gaza for work, education, or family events were arbitrary. Israeli border officials increased rates of detention and interrogation of Palestinians from Gaza seeking business permits.
Because Egyptian authorities also maintained the closure of the Rafah Crossing for all but 28 days of the year (as of December 5) except for special categories of travelers, Palestinians in Gaza remained virtually confined. Egyptian authorities enforced movement restrictions on Palestinians attempting to exit Gaza via the Rafah Crossing. The Egyptian government periodically allowed border crossings for a few days at a time–and mostly only in one direction–for passenger travel and humanitarian aid.
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. When ambulances lacked access, medics moved patients across checkpoints from an ambulance on one side to a second ambulance (usually one of five East Jerusalem-based ambulances) or a private vehicle on the other side. 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.
Palestinians possessing Jerusalem identity cards issued by the Israeli government needed special documents to travel abroad. The Jordanian government issued passports to Palestinians on the basis of individual requests.
According to NGOs such as Ir Amim and B’Tselem, residency restrictions prevented family reunification, particularly between East Jerusalem Palestinian residents of Jerusalem and West Bank-based spouses or children. Israeli authorities permitted children in the Gaza Strip access to a parent in the West Bank only if no other close relative was resident in the Gaza Strip. Israeli authorities did not permit Palestinians who were abroad during the 1967 War or whose residence permits the Israeli government subsequently withdrew to reside permanently in the occupied territories. It was difficult for foreign-born spouses and children of Palestinians to obtain residency. Authorities required Palestinian spouses of Jerusalem residents to obtain a residency permit with reported delays of several years to obtain them.
Exile: Continued Israeli revocation of Jerusalem identity cards amounted to forced exile of Palestinian residents of Jerusalem to the West Bank, Gaza, or abroad, according to HRW. According to HRW the Israeli Ministry of Interior renewed “temporary” orders authorizing the revocation of Jerusalem residency rights from legal residents. Between 1967 and 2016, Israel revoked the residency status of 14,595 Palestinian residents of Jerusalem. Revocations continued in recent years, averaging approximately 100 per year, but not approaching the high point of 2008, when Israel revoked the Jerusalem identity cards of 4,577 individuals. In 2015 Israel revoked the status of 84 Palestinian residents of Jerusalem. Reasons for revocation included acquiring residency or citizenship in another country by Palestinian residents of Jerusalem; living “abroad” (including in the West Bank or Gaza) for more than seven years; or, most commonly, being unable to prove a “center of life” (interpreted as full-time residency) in Jerusalem. Some Palestinians who were born in Jerusalem but studied abroad reported losing their Jerusalem residency status. On September 13, the Israeli HCJ ruled that the Israeli government could not revoke Palestinian residence for “breach of loyalty.” The ruling followed then interior minister Roni Bar’s 2006 revocation of the residency of four Jerusalem residents elected to the PLC.
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 more than 3,000 homes were not yet rebuilt.
According to UNOCHA, Israeli settlement activity was a driver of displacement in the West Bank and Jerusalem. In the West Bank and Jerusalem, authorities demolished hundreds of Palestinian homes and other Palestinian structures due to residents’ lack of difficult-to-obtain Israeli building permits. According to UNOCHA, ACRI, and other NGOs, Israeli restrictions made it almost impossible for Palestinians to obtain permits in Area C and Jerusalem, while providing preferential treatment for Israeli settlers in these areas. UNOCHA noted that in many cases Palestinian displacement resulted from a combination of factors including settler violence, movement restrictions, and restricted access to permits, services, and resources. Israeli authorities displaced Palestinians in Jerusalem by revoking residency status and through forced evictions. In some cases Israeli authorities facilitated takeover of Palestinian property by Israeli organizations via court actions asserting a claim to Palestinian properties owned by Jews before 1948.
UNRWA and other humanitarian organizations provided services to IDPs in the Gaza Strip and West Bank, with some limitations due to Israeli restrictions on movement and border access.
PROTECTION OF REFUGEES
Access to Asylum: According to UNRWA, as of the end of 2016, there were 818,535 registered Palestinian refugees in the West Bank and more than 1.3 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. In addition, Syrians of Palestinian descent (without UNRWA refugee status) were also reportedly living in Gaza after fleeing the Syrian civil war.
Access to Basic Services: All UNRWA projects in the West Bank and Gaza Strip required Israeli government permits, but UNRWA does not apply for permits in refugee camps.
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.
Beginning in 2014 Israeli authorities required that UNRWA trucks use only commercial crossings into Jerusalem, at which they faced significant delays, long detours, and increased search demands. UNRWA continued to seek to use standard checkpoint crossings instead of commercial crossings, with mixed results. UNRWA reported that service delivery was problematic in the area between the security barrier and the Green Line, particularly near Bartaa, in three refugee communities near Qalqilya, and in four communities northwest of Jerusalem.
The deterioration of socioeconomic conditions during the year in Gaza severely affected refugees. UNRWA reported that food security continued to be at risk. A continuing shortage of UNRWA school buildings in Gaza during the year resulted in a double-shift system and shorter school hours.
Essential infrastructure in Gaza, including water and sanitation services, continued in a state of severe disrepair. Israeli restrictions limited the import of spare parts and components. Israeli import restrictions on certain commodities considered to be dual use continued to impede humanitarian operations in Gaza, including those directed toward refugees. In December 2016 Israeli authorities introduced a requirement whereby approval of UNRWA projects remains valid for only one year. As project implementation timelines often exceeded one year, this new requirement necessitated applications for re-approval 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. The Israeli government controlled the Palestinian Population Registry, which allows stateless persons to obtain status.
Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
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. PA law (which applies both in the West Bank and in Gaza) relieves rapists who marry their victim of criminal responsibility. PA and de facto Hamas authorities generally did not enforce 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 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. 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 Hamas de facto authorities due to fear of retribution. HRW in previous years reported that PA authorities prosecuted few domestic violence cases successfully. According to the PA’s Central Bureau of Statistics, domestic violence, especially psychological violence, was common in the West Bank and Gaza.
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, although some NGOs argued the law was not sufficiently enforced. NGOs reported 28 documented reports of honor killings in 2015 in the West Bank and Gaza but expressed concern 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. Authorities in Gaza harassed women for “un-Islamic” behavior, including being in public after dark and walking with an unrelated man.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion, involuntary sterilization, or other coercive population control methods. Estimates on maternal mortality and contraceptive prevalence are available at: www.who.int/reproductivehealth/publications/monitoring/maternal-mortality-2015/en/ .
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. Plainclothes officers routinely stopped, separated, and questioned couples to determine if they were married. In Gaza premarital sex was considered a crime punishable by imprisonment. Hamas’s “morality police” punished women for behavior they deemed inappropriate such as riding motorcycles, smoking cigarettes or water pipes, leaving their hair uncovered, and dressing “inappropriately” in Western-style or close-fitting clothing such as jeans or T-shirts. Women in refugee camps in Gaza stated they felt unsafe using public bathing and latrine facilities.
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.
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 the Gaza Strip, 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.
Israel registers the births of Palestinians born in Jerusalem, although Palestinian residents of Jerusalem sometimes reported years-long delays in that process.
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.
Some Jerusalem school administrators said ISF activities on campuses adversely affected students and faculty. On October 23, the Parents’ Committee of schools in the East Jerusalem Palestinian neighborhood of Issawiyeh suspended school attendance in response to the presence of Israeli Border Police adjacent to school grounds. 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. In August and September, three primary schools or kindergartens were demolished or had their equipment confiscated, affecting 132 Palestinian children, according to UN reports. At least 56 Palestinian schools in Area C of the West Bank were subject to pending demolition or stop-work orders.
The Israeli High Court ordered the Jerusalem Municipality in 2011 to correct the deficit of school classrooms in Palestinian-majority neighborhoods of Jerusalem by the 2016-17 school year. According to the Norwegian Refugee Council, the Palestinian classroom deficit in Jerusalem has grown since 2011: The annual construction rate in schools serving Jerusalem’s Palestinian children was 37 classrooms per year, while the growth rate of the Palestinian student population required an additional 70 classrooms per year. The Jerusalem Municipality announced a plan for the 2017-18 school year that included an increase of 105 first grade classrooms within five years and 20 classrooms per year in secondary schools.
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.
Israeli security forces reportedly committed violence against Palestinian children in military custody and during arrest (see section 1.c.) in the West Bank and near the Gaza Strip buffer zone, according to MCW, Hamoked, and UN reports.
Doctors Without Borders reported the number of Palestinian 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: 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 less 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 less 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, Gaza, and Jerusalem.
Israeli settlements in the West Bank had approximately 400,000 Jewish residents. The Jewish population in Gaza, aside from foreign nationals, was nonexistent. Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem had an estimated 207,000 Jewish residents.
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.
At times the PA failed to condemn incidents of anti-Semitic expression in official PA media outlets.
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, as well as in Jerusalem, where Israeli law applies.
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. The disability rights NGO Bizchut reported a lack of accessible transportation services in Palestinian-majority neighborhoods of East Jerusalem.
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 due to Israeli authorities’ control of goods transiting border crossings into Gaza.
There were reports that Palestinian detainees deemed mentally disabled or a threat to themselves or others were placed in isolation without a full medical evaluation by Israeli authorities. According to Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, Israeli isolation of Palestinian prisoners with mental disabilities was common.
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. Societal discrimination based on cultural and religious traditions was commonplace, making the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem challenging environments for Palestinian lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons. In February the Palestinian attorney general confiscated a book that allegedly contained references of a homosexual nature. 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, Yesh Din, and other NGOs reported numerous attacks by Israeli settlers on Palestinians and their property in the West Bank, undermining the livelihoods and physical security of Palestinians. The attacks included Israeli settler violence against Palestinian residents and NGO workers. Some Israeli settlers reportedly used violence against Palestinians to keep them away from land settlers sought to acquire. The number of settler attacks perpetrated against Palestinians increased for the first time in three years, according to UNOCHA. As of August, UNOCHA identified 89 incidents of settler violence since January that resulted in Palestinian fatalities, injuries, or property damage, representing an 88-percent increase in the monthly average compared with 2016.
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. Some groups attributed this circumstance in part to the ICA’s neglect of Palestinian complaints. Palestinian residents were reportedly reluctant to report incidents due to fears of settler retaliation and were discouraged by a lack of accountability in most cases. Yesh Din stated that of 1,200 investigations into settler violence since 2005, only 3 percent resulted in convictions.
According to Israeli media reports, Israeli middle school students hiking near the West Bank Area C Palestinian village of Qusra on November 30 were approached by a group of Palestinians who harassed the child hikers and their adult chaperones, threw rocks at them, and assaulted them. The timing and route of the hike had been previously cleared with the IDF. The adults split up, one going for help and the other guiding the children to a cave for protection. According to multiple media reports, one Israeli chaperone fired a weapon in self-defense, killing a Palestinian resident of Qusra who was farming his land nearby, 48-year-old Mahmoud Za’al Odeh. The IDF arrived and escorted the children and chaperones to safety.
Palestinian residents of the West Bank claimed settlers perpetrated hit-and-run attacks against Palestinian pedestrians, although in most cases the circumstances were unclear. On August 26, an Israeli settler vehicle struck and killed an eight-year-old Palestinian girl. PA medical sources said the vehicle struck the girl near the Furush Beit Dajan village in Nablus, but Israeli police contended the vehicle hit her on Route 90 in the Jordan Valley. On April 20, an Israeli settler vehicle injured a Palestinian teenager on a road in Teqoua east of Bethlehem and then fled; the teenager suffered moderate injuries.
Many incidents involved Israeli settlers trespassing onto Palestinian-owned land and damaging land and crops. In January, six settler youths from the Geulat Tzion outpost near Shilo entered Palestinian-owned olive groves in Turmus Ayya, threw stones at the farmers who were plowing their fields, and sprayed graffiti with the word “revenge.” Israeli settler attacks on olive trees, on which many rural Palestinians rely for their livelihoods, remained common. During the annual olive harvest in the West Bank in October-November, NGO Rabbis for Human Rights documented 19 cases of settler intimidation and violence or damage to harvests. On October 22, settlers from Adei Ad stole olives from 200 trees of the grove of Jamil Nassan in the Palestinian village of al-Mughayyer, northeast of Ramallah. His harvest has been stolen annually for several years.
“Price tag” attacks (property crimes and violent acts by extremist Jewish individuals and groups against Palestinians) continued.
In May the Israeli Central District Attorney’s Office indicted three Israeli suspects for vandalizing several Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem and cars in the Arab village of Naura, located near the Israeli city of Nazareth. The trial continued throughout the year without reaching a verdict.
Harassment and attacks against Palestinians in Jerusalem by extremist Jewish groups reportedly increased. The Jewish 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. On October 22, authorities remanded Lehava leader Bentzi Gopstein to house arrest following allegations he made threats against Arabs romantically involved with Jewish women. The Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court sentenced Gopstein to five days’ house arrest. Media reported that of the 14 other members of the antiassimilation group arrested at the same time, two had their remand extended by two days, and authorities allowed the others to return home.
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 despite the absence of a uniform post-1967 land registration process, the imposition of 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 some Palestinians illegal residents. Some Palestinians defined as illegal residents faced harassment, arrest, or deportation to Gaza.
The World Bank reported that Palestinians in the West Bank suffered water shortages and purchased approximately one-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 to prevent theft from the network in Area C, as well as the PA’s own management problems.
The Israeli military continued to destroy Palestinian 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 boundaries of the Jerusalem Municipality, but cut off from the rest of the city by the security barrier, reported that the municipality failed to provide basic services, including water, policing, and infrastructure.
Organizations such as UNOCHA, Bimkom, and Ir Amim alleged that Jerusalem municipal and Israeli national policies aimed at decreasing the number of Palestinian residents of Jerusalem. Israeli government-sponsored construction of new housing units in East Jerusalem’s Israeli settlements continued, while building permits were difficult to obtain for Palestinian residents of Jerusalem. Authorities demolished homes built by Palestinian residents without the legal permits they were unable to obtain, or for which they did not apply due to the high costs, extensive wait period, and minimal chance of obtaining the permit in the end. The Israeli NGOs Bimkom and Ir Amim stated that Palestinians in East Jerusalem continued to face barriers to purchasing property or obtaining building permits. Israeli authorities generally zoned land owned or populated by 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 reciprocal right to stake their 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 judicial action. According to UNOCHA, as of August, at least 260 Palestinians living in 24 residential buildings in East Jerusalem were under threat of eviction.
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-majority neighborhoods in Jerusalem. According to ACRI, 76 percent of East Jerusalem’s Palestinian residents and 83 percent of Palestinian children in East Jerusalem lived in poverty–an increase from 2016. There was a chronic shortage of classrooms in the official school system serving Palestinian children, despite commitments made by Israeli authorities and a high court ruling that the Jerusalem municipality must close the gap of missing classrooms for Palestinian students 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 of the 24 stops on the light rail, 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 trains in Shu’fat and caused minor damage.
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. During the year the Ministry of Labor continued conducting periodic medical examinations of workers as mandated by the labor law. Judges received training in labor regulations. 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 Israeli 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. Palestinian workers in Jerusalem often joined West Bank labor unions or the Israeli General Federation of Labor (Histadrut); however, they could not vote in Histadrut elections.
b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
Forced labor occurred in the West Bank and Gaza. PA law does not expressly forbid forced or compulsory labor or human trafficking. 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. Forced child labor also occurred (see section 7.c.).
c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
The 2000 PA Unified Labor Law and the 2004 PA Palestinian Child Law prohibit the employment of any person under age 15. PA law classifies children as persons under 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 2012 presidential decree included 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.
Many cases of child labor violations in the West Bank reportedly occurred in home environments, for example, on family farms, which were not open to labor ministry inspection. Child protection officers with the PA Ministries of Social Affairs and Labor reported they referred only employers who hired children under age 15 to work in dangerous conditions or hazardous jobs to the attorney general for prosecution; the PA Ministry of Labor referred only a few cases during the year. As of October the PA had detected 16 cases involving child labor (below the age of 15), compared with 10 in 2015. 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 (nearly 60 percent of the West Bank), where child economic exploitation and labor were most likely to occur, according to PA officials.
In the second quarter of the year, the PA estimated that 3.1 percent of children between the ages of 10 and 17 worked in the West Bank and Gaza, 4.2 percent in the West Bank, and 1.5 percent in Gaza. Palestinian child laborers deemed by the PA to be most vulnerable to forced labor and extreme weather conditions generally worked on family farms, in shops, as roadside and checkpoint street vendors, in car washes, in factories, or in small manufacturing enterprises.
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 under the age of 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.
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 because the Oslo Accords limited the PA’s authorities in Areas B and C.
Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at www.dol.gov/ilab/reports/child-labor/findings .
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
PA laws and regulations do not prohibit discrimination regarding race, language, sexual orientation and/or gender identity, HIV-positive status or other communicable diseases, or social status. While PA laws prohibit discrimination based on gender and disabilities, the PA did not effectively enforce those laws and regulations in the West Bank, nor did Hamas in Gaza.
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. Women’s participation in the workforce was extremely low, particularly in Gaza, although gradually growing, according to PA statistics (see section 6, Women).
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
The PA cabinet approved a minimum wage at the beginning of 2013, but 36.8 percent of wage employees received less than the minimum wage in the second quarter of the year. The minimum wage is lower than the poverty threshold. In the West Bank, approximately 17.1 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. The PA’s minimum wage of 1,450 Israeli new shekels (NIS) ($406) fell well below the poverty line of NIS 1,950 ($546) per month. 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 in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. In 2011, the date of the most recent official estimate, the PA estimated 25.8 percent of residents in the West Bank and Gaza lived below the poverty line of NIS 7.49 ($2.10) 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, but its enforcement ability even in the West Bank was limited, in part due to lack of staff. The inspectorate staff was inadequate to enforce compliance. The PA did not effectively monitor smaller worksites, which were at times below legal 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 PA was unable to monitor labor conditions in the Gaza Strip and had no authority to monitor labor safety in the 60 percent of the West Bank designated as Area C under the terms of Oslo-era agreements with Israel. The ministry cannot enforce Palestinian labor law in seam zones east of the Green Line and west of Israel’s security barrier, in Israel (where Palestinians were employed on permits or illegally), 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. Israeli NGOs brought some cases in Israeli labor courts on behalf of Palestinian workers employed by enterprises in Israeli West Bank settlements.
Occupational safety and health were poor.