Report on Human Rights Practices for 2009
The Occupied Territories
(Including area subject to the jurisdiction of the Palestinan Authority)
Israel occupied the Gaza Strip, Golan Heights, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem during the 1967 War. During the year, the Palestinian population of the West Bank was approximately 2.4 million, and Gaza's population totaled 1.6 million. There were an estimated 260,000 Arabs living in East Jerusalem with residency permits rather than Israeli citizenship. Approximately 190,000 Israeli citizens, including a small number of Arab citizens of Israel, also lived in East Jerusalem; Israelis in the West Bank numbered approximately 300,000.
The Palestinian Authority (PA) has a democratically elected president and legislative council. The president appoints the prime minister who forms a cabinet in consultation with the president; the PA exercised varying degrees of authority over the Palestinian population in the West Bank because of the Israel Defense Force's (IDF) continuing presence, little authority in Gaza, and none over Israeli residents of the West Bank or Arab residents of East Jerusalem.
In 2005 Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Chairman Mahmoud Abbas won 62 percent of the vote in a presidential election regarded as generally free and fair. In 2006 Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) elections, Hamas, a terrorist organization, backed candidates under the "Reform and Change Movement" ticket and won 74 of 132 seats in elections that generally met democratic standards. In March 2007 Hamas formed a national unity government (NUG) with the Fatah party, but after three months Hamas staged a violent takeover of PA government installations in Gaza and killed hundreds in the Fatah movement and PA security forces. President Abbas then dismissed the NUG and appointed a cabinet of independents led by Prime Minister Salam Fayyad that has governed the West Bank, while elements of the former Hamas government formed the ruling authority in Gaza where it selectively applied the laws and legal structures of the PA.
President Abbas and his subordinates controlled PA security forces in the West Bank. Armed militias and terrorist organizations were still active in some areas. In Gaza, Hamas controlled security forces. Other armed factions and terrorist organizations were active in Gaza. The Israeli government maintained effective control of its security forces.
International and Palestinian nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) reported PA torture, arbitrary and prolonged detention, poor prison conditions, impunity, corruption, and lack of transparency. Domestic abuse of women, societal discrimination against women and persons with disabilities, and child labor remained serious problems. In Gaza there were reports that Hamas security forces continued to kill, torture, kidnap, arbitrarily detain, and harass Fatah members and other Palestinians with impunity. Hamas and other Palestinian factions in Gaza shelled civilian targets in Israel. In Gaza there were reports of corruption, abuse of prisoners, and failure to provide fair trials to those accused. Hamas also strictly restricted the freedom of speech, religion, and movement of Gaza residents, and promoted gender discrimination against women. Residents of Gaza continued to be denied the right to political participation and to choose their government. Hamas and other Palestinian factions in Gaza launched rockets and mortars against civilian targets in Israel.
International, Palestinian, and Israeli NGOs severely criticized Israeli military operations in Gaza for conflict abuses in similar terms. Concerning the West Bank, Israeli and Palestinian NGOs reported that Israeli authorities used excessive force, abused civilians and detainees, tortured Palestinian detainees, failed to take proper disciplinary actions, improperly applied security internment procedures, maintained austere and overcrowded detention facilities, imposed severe restrictions on internal and external freedom of movement, and limited cooperation with NGOs. A partially completed Israeli-built separation barrier isolated portions of the West Bank and restricted Palestinian movement and access to West Bank land west of the barrier.
In response to a sharp increase in the number and frequency of rocket attacks into Israel from Gaza shortly prior to and following the formal expiration of the "calm" on December 19, 2008, the IDF launched Operation Cast Lead, consisting initially of airstrikes December 27, targeted against Hamas security installations, personnel, and other facilities in the Gaza Strip, followed on January 3 by ground operations. The operation concluded in mid-January. Human rights organizations estimated the number of dead at 1,400 Palestinians, including more than 1,000 civilians, and the wounded at more than 5,000. According to Israeli government figures, Palestinian deaths totaled 1,166, including 295 noncombatant deaths.
The president of the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) established the United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict to investigate Israeli violations of international human rights and humanitarian law in the context of military operations in Gaza, whether before, during, or after Operation Cast Lead. On September 29, Justice Richard Goldstone, who headed the mission, presented the report (commonly known as the "Goldstone Report") to the HRC in Geneva. The Goldstone report investigated 36 incidents of alleged violations by the IDF in Gaza, as well as alleged violations by Palestinians. This reflected an effort by Goldstone to broaden the scope of his report beyond the original mandate that was limited only to violations by Israel. Among its many conclusions, the report claimed that members of the IDF were responsible for deliberate targeting of civilians, for the destruction of critical infrastructure in Gaza, and for using weapons like white phosphorous in highly populated areas, all of which it deemed to be violations of international humanitarian law. The Goldstone report was widely criticized for methodological failings, legal and factual errors, falsehoods, and for devoting insufficient attention to the asymmetrical nature of the conflict and the fact that Hamas and other Palestinian militants were deliberately operating in heavily populated urban areas of Gaza. The government of Israel also sharply rejected the charge that it had a policy of deliberately targeting civilians. IDF Military Advocate General Mandelblit was responsible for reviewing all allegations relating to Operation Cast Lead, including those contained in the Goldstone Report. At the end of the year, Mandelblit's investigations were ongoing.
RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom From:
a. Arbitrary or Unlawful Deprivation of Life
Killings by Palestinian security forces occurred infrequently compared to previous years. Palestinian terrorist groups' killings remained a serious problem, particularly in the Gaza Strip, as did killings by Hamas-controlled security forces. Israeli military actions in Gaza in January caused significant civilian casualties.
According to statistics maintained by the Israeli government and by the United Nations Office for the Coordinator of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA), 27 Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem died in clashes with Israeli security forces during the year. B'Tselem reported that 22 Palestinians in the West Bank (excluding East Jerusalem) were killed by Israeli security. Of them, four were killed while participating in hostilities, 13 were killed while not participating; B'Tselem did not know whether the remaining five were killed while participating in hostilities.
According to Israeli government figures, Palestinian deaths resulting from Israeli military operations in the Gaza Strip in December 2008 and January 2009 totaled 1,166, including 295 noncombatant deaths. Human rights organizations estimated the number of dead at 1,400 Palestinians, including more than 1,000 civilians, and the wounded at more than 5,000.
Palestinian factional violence resulted in 12 Palestinian fatalities and 29 Palestinian injuries in the West Bank over the period from January until September 28. Killings by Palestinian security forces occurred infrequently compared to previous years. Palestinian terrorist groups' killings remained a serious problem, particularly in the Gaza Strip, as did killings by Hamas security forces.
Palestinian factional violence resulted in 12 Palestinian fatalities and 29 Palestinian injuries in the West Bank over the period from January until September 28.
According to Israeli government statistics, Palestinian terrorist acts emanating from the West Bank killed five Israeli civilians, including two policemen. No Israeli civilians died in violence emanating from the Gaza Strip, although the Israeli government attributed the death of 10 IDF soldiers killed during and immediately after IDF military operations in Gaza in January to terrorist action.
In the West Bank, four prisoners held in PA correctional facilities died in custody during the year. Mohammad Jamil al-Haj died on February 8 in Preventive Security Organization (PSO) custody, and Fadi Hamadneh died on August 10 in the custody of the General Intelligence (GI) Service. An internal PA investigation ruled both deaths suicides by hanging. In two other cases, that of Majd al-Barghouti, who died on February 24 of heart failure while in the custody of the GI, and Haitham Amre, who died of injuries sustained during detention on June 15 in GI custody, an internal PA investigation found PA security forces culpable. The deaths of these two prisoners resulted in an internal PA investigation that led to the jailing, demotion, or disciplining of 43 PA security officials.
According to local media and to the quasi-governmental Independent Commission on Human Rights (ICHR), masked gunmen affiliated with Hamas unlawfully executed at least 32 persons during the year. In most cases, allegations that the victims had collaborated with Israel accompanied the killings.
There were 20 documented cases of masked gunmen shooting and killing escaped prisoners from December 28, 2008 to the end of January, during the unrest accompanying the Israeli military operations in Gaza; at least 12 of the victims were imprisoned for allegedly "collaborating with the enemy."
On April 16, Hassan al-Sayfi, general inspector in Gaza's Interior Ministry, told Human Rights Watch (HRW) that a committee he heads had completed investigations into two deaths in detention and authorities accepted recommendations, suspending from duty and filing charges against the police officers involved. In two other cases, the committee was continuing its investigations, but no further information was available at year's end.
There were no updates on investigations into the 2008 deaths of Taleb Mohammed Abu Sitta in Hamas police custody or Bassam Anani, who died of injuries after Hamas police detention.
Israeli human rights organizations reported a lack of protection for civilians during the Israeli incursion into Gaza. Among the 1,385 estimated casualties in Israel's military operations in Gaza at the beginning of the year, B'Tselem reported that civilians accounted for 773, or more than half, of those killed. According to the Israeli government, Hamas operated within civilian populations. The government of Israel reported that 295 deaths in the operation were civilians. Four Israeli civilians and 10 soldiers were killed in combat or as a result of rocket and mortar fire.
HRW documented allegations in seven cases that Israeli soldiers shot and killed 11 Palestinian civilians, including five women and four children, who were in groups waving white flags to convey their civilian status.
According to HRW, on January 7, Israeli tanks stopped at the house of Khalid 'Abd Rabbo. According to three family members who witnessed the incident, an Israeli soldier fired on two women and three girls who had come out of the house holding makeshift white flags, killing two and wounding two seriously. At year's end, the Israeli military police were conducting an investigation into the incident.
In a January 13 incident reported by both HRW and B'Tselem, IDF soldiers shot and killed several members of the al-Najar family in Khuza'a village, east of Khan Yunis. Reportedly, while waving a white flag Rawiya al-Najjar attempted to lead a group of family members, several of whom also carried white flags, out of their neighborhood, following orders from soldiers in tanks and militarized bulldozers. She was shot first, then other members of the al-Najar family were shot and killed.
On January 20, two days after hostilities ended, IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi ordered five special command investigations to focus on five types of alleged violations of the Law of Armed Conflict: incidents harming multiple civilians, damage to UN and international facilities, firing on medical facilities, destruction of private property and infrastructure, and use of weaponry containing phosphorus. At least 60 of these investigations are operational debriefings held by the army under the Military Justice Law. The operational debriefing delays a criminal investigation; the information provided cannot be released or used as evidence in a court of law.
On July 29, the government released preliminary findings from some of the IDF investigations into approximately 100 complaints that it received from all sources, including NGOs, international organizations, and the media. The field investigations concluded that many allegations were false; all conclusions remained to be reviewed by the military advocate general who could order additional field investigations and whose decisions would be subject to review by the attorney general and the Supreme Court.
At year's end the government had convicted one soldier, sentencing him to seven months in prison for the theft of a credit card. Field and military police investigations continued and the military advocate general had referred approximately 140 cases for criminal investigations.
According to a September 2008 Yesh Din study, the Israeli Military Police Criminal Investigation Division (CID) launched 1,246 criminal investigations between September 2000 and 2007 into cases in which soldiers were suspected of killing, injuring, and committing criminal offenses against Palestinian civilians. Of the 1,246 investigations opened, 6 percent (78) led to indictments against a total of 135 soldiers. Only 13 of those indictments charged soldiers with killing civilians. As of September 2008, five soldiers had been convicted for the deaths of four civilians, 113 had been convicted of at least one offense, four had been acquitted of all charges, eight had their cases dismissed, and 10 cases were still pending.
Of 1,805 criminal investigations opened by the MPCID into suspected offenses of all kinds by soldiers against Palestinian civilians and their property, approximately 6 percent (105 cases) resulted in indictments against 180 defendants. Thirteen of those indictments charged soldiers with killing civilians. From 2000 through year's end, Israeli military courts convicted one soldier of manslaughter and four soldiers of negligence in the deaths of three Palestinians and one British national, according to Yesh Din. At year's end Yesh Din reported that 143 defendants were convicted of various offenses, eight defendants were acquitted of all charges, and 10 had their indictments dropped by the prosecution. Proceedings regarding five defendants were still underway.
Human rights organizations complained the IDF—through the military judge advocate general—-initiated investigation often many months (at times more than a year) from the time of the incident, making it difficult to find evidence or identify witnesses and victims, and that the unit responsible for investigations had very few Arabic speakers to take testimonies from witnesses.
In July 2008, in one of several incidents connected to protests against construction of the separation barrier near Na'alin village, 11-year-old Ahmed Moussa was shot with live fire by an IDF soldier responding to demonstrations near the village. On August 4, Yousif Ahmed Amira died after being shot by IDF soldiers in the head with two rubber-coated bullets on July 30. In August 2008 an internal affairs unit at the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) informed B'tselem it had opened an investigation into Amira's death.
In 2006 the High Court ruled that targeted killings were not per se illegal, but each case must be meticulously examined through an independent investigation. During the year Israeli forces targeted and killed two Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. A missile fired from a helicopter killed Khaled Harb Khaled Sh'alan, a 23-year-old resident of Gaza City on March 4. In January 2008 Hussein Faiz Hussein Shameyah, a 25-year-old resident of Khan Yunis, was injured while riding a motor scooter and died 12 days later in February 2008.
During the year reports continued of Palestinians being killed in the Gaza perimeter zone, as in previous years. Israel declared this area off-limits to Palestinians in response to attacks against Israelis originating in those areas.
In May 2008 Israeli aircraft dropped leaflets warning Gazans to stay 300 meters from the boundary or risk being shot, doubling the size of the buffer zone. According to OCHA, Israeli soldiers have prevented Gazan farmers from accessing areas as far as 1,000 meters from the border by firing warning shots. Several civilians have been killed when they entered this Gaza Strip perimeter zone. In July 2008 Israeli fire killed a mentally impaired 15-year-old boy, and in August 2008 injured a 60-year-old. No information regarding investigations into either case was available at year's end.
IDF prosecutors informed B'tselem that the 2007 cases of the deaths of 14-year-old Ahmed Sabri Suliman Ali Abu Zubeida and 13-year-old Zaher Jaber Muhammad al-Majdalawi were pending, and there were no developments in investigations into the deaths of 11-year-old Yahya Ramadan Atiyyah Abu Ghazala, eight-year-old Sarah Suliman Abdallah Abu Ghazala, or Nafia Abu Musaid.
In 2007 10-year-old Abir Aramin died from a wound to the back of the head as she was leaving school during clashes between Israeli Border Police and Palestinians. The Jerusalem district prosecutor closed the investigation for lack of evidence. In June 2008 Yesh Din filed a petition with the Israeli High Court of Justice challenging the government's decision to close the case without filing an indictment. In the hearing held in October a panel of judges ordered the government to submit all investigation material collected for the court's review. At year's end there was no decision from the court.
There were no developments in the 2007 killings of the following Israelis in the West Bank: Erez Levanon, Ahikham Amihai, David Rubin, or Ido Zoldan.
There were fewer reports of politically motivated kidnappings and disappearances in connection with internal Palestinian conflict than in previous years, largely due to improved security conditions in the West Bank.
Hamas security operatives in the Gaza Strip carried out extrajudicial detentions based on political affiliation during the year; information about the whereabouts and welfare of those detained was not consistently or reliably available, nor were those detained offered due process or access to family and legal counsel.
There were no developments in the 2007 abduction and killing of Maher Halim Daoud Juri.
In 2006 Popular Resistance Committee (PRC) and Hamas militants tunneled from Gaza to Israel, killed two soldiers, and abducted a third, Gilad Shalit. At year's end Shalit had not been released.
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 human rights groups reported that torture was a problem. During the first part of the year abuse of prisoners by PA security forces was widespread. Following the deaths of four prisoners in PA custody during the year, Prime Minister Fayyad ordered security commanders to stop the practice of torture and abuse in Palestinian jails. The PA also made public statements to the effect that mistreatment of prisoners would no longer be considered acceptable in PA detention facilities.
In October the PA launched an investigation into prisoner abuse in PA facilities, dismissed or disciplined 43 security officers for prisoner abuse, and invited international NGOs and media to investigate PA detention facilities. At year's end international and local media and NGOs reported improved conditions and a significant reduction in physical abuse of prisoners in PA facilities.
Torture by Gaza Hamas Executive Force was not restricted to security detainees but also included persons associated with the Fatah political party and those held on suspicion of "collaboration" with Israel. Hamas took no action to investigate reports of torture. Documentation of abuses was limited, due partly to fear of retribution by victims and the lack of access to Gaza prisoners for PA officials and many NGOs.
Palestinian NGOs alleged in previous years that the PA pressured individuals not to communicate allegations of abuse to NGOs. However, during the year, the PA provided all security forces with written guidelines for interrogation and detention, including a section on prisoner's rights.
The PA Military Intelligence (MI) organization in a number of cases reportedly exceeded its legal authority to investigate other security services' officers and detained civilians suspected of "security offenses" such as terrorist activities. Local human rights NGOs claimed that PA security forces used disproportionate force during arrest and capture operations, causing unnecessary injury.
A July 29 HRW report documented abuses by Hamas security forces against Fatah-affiliated officials in Gaza and by Fatah against Hamas members and supporters in the West Bank. During and after the conflict in Gaza, masked gunmen beat and maimed by shooting dozens of known Fatah members, especially from the PA security services.
The ICHR said masked gunmen deliberately inflicted bullet wounds to the legs of at least 49 people between December 28, 2008 and January 31. In January and February, HRW interviewed three men who had been shot in the legs, reportedly by Hamas security forces. Two were Fatah supporters; one was a former member of the Preventive Security Force of the PA, who had been overheard on the street criticizing Hamas.
Abductions and severe beatings are another major concern. According to ICHR, unidentified perpetrators physically abused 73 Gazan men from December 28, 2008 to January 31, breaking legs and arms. HRW documented one case of what appeared to be a politically motivated house arrest.
Israeli actions in Gaza and in the West Bank resulted in serious nonlethal injury and property and infrastructure destruction, as well as deaths as noted in section 1.a. At least 1,168 Palestinians were injured, the vast majority by the IDF in Gaza, but some by the IDF and Israelis who lived in West Bank settlements.
Between January 1 and September 28, the IDF conducted 1,199 incursions into West Bank Area A, according to UN agencies. During the same period, the IDF conducted 262 incursions into West Bank refugee camps in areas A, B, and C. (See below under "Role of the Police and Security Apparatus" for definitions of Areas A, B, and C.)
Israeli law, as interpreted by a 1999 High Court decision, prohibits torture and several interrogation techniques but allows "moderate physical pressure" against detainees considered to possess information about an imminent terrorist attack. The decision also indicates that interrogators who abuse detainees suspected of possessing such information may be immune from prosecution. Human rights organizations reported that "moderate physical pressure" has been used in practice to include beatings, requiring an individual to hold a stress position for long periods, and painful pressure on shackles and restraints applied to the forearms. Israeli NGOs, including B'Tselem and HaMoked, continued to criticize what they termed abusive Israeli detention practices, including isolation, sleep deprivation, protracted handcuffing, and psychological abuse.
In May the UN Committee Against Torture (CAT) issued its Concluding Observations on Israel. In its report, the CAT raised questions about what it categorized as "numerous, ongoing and consistent allegations" of torture and mistreatment by Israel of Palestinians. Israeli authorities reported that the IDF thoroughly investigated all events in which IDF soldiers allegedly used unjustified force.
At year's end two policemen from the Ma'ale Adumim police station who were arrested in March 2008 for severely abusing a Palestinian from Bethany remained under house arrest, and investigations continued, according to the Israeli NGO the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (PCATI).
The Israeli High Court ruled on July 1 in favor of changing the indictments filed against the soldier and commander who were involved in the 2008 shooting of Ashraf Abu Rahma, so as to reflect the gravity of the offenses. The Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) and partner human rights organizations, who had filed the petition to change the indictments, expressed satisfaction with the decision, saying it conveys a crucial message that protection of human rights must be a primary consideration for law-enforcement agencies. In July 2008 in Na'alin village, an IDF soldier shot Ashraf Abu Rahma in the foot at close range with a rubber-coated bullet, while Abu Rahma was handcuffed and blindfolded. The soldier who fired the shot alleged that the battalion commander, Lt. Col. Omri Borberg, ordered him to shoot. In August 2008 Borberg was charged with conduct unbecoming an officer and reassigned by the IDF chief of staff from his duties as commander of the 71st Armored Battalion. Later in August 2008 ACRI filed a petition with the High Court seeking to compel the judge advocate general to file a more serious charge. In October 2008 the High Court asked the IDF to consider charging a more serious crime, and in November the military advocate general announced that the original charge would not be changed.
Israeli and Palestinian NGO and press reports stated the IDF was insufficiently responsive to violence perpetrated by Israeli settlers in the West Bank against Palestinians. Advocacy group Yesh Din reported that 90 percent of Israeli police investigations into cases in which Israeli citizens were accused of committing offenses against Palestinians were closed without being solved.
Settlers committed violent acts against civilian Palestinians with reportedly little or no intervention by Israeli security forces.
Throughout the year, settlers attacked shepherds living in Um al-Khayr close to Karmel and Ma'on settlements in the southern West Bank. On April 10, two male settlers attacked an eight-month-pregnant woman near Ma'on settlement. The men, whose faces were covered, pushed her to the ground, kicked her, and beat her with sticks. B'Tselem reported that Hebron police in May said three suspects were interrogated, but the complainant could not identify any of them. B'Tselem had not received further updates.
There were no updates in the 2007 attacks on the following Palestinians(: Amin Saud Mahmoud Hasuna, his brother Yasser, and Jalal al-Batsh.
In 2007 the Hebron police opened an investigation into Jewish Quarter resident Yifat Alkobi's verbal and physical assault on the Abu Aysha family, which was documented on video and broadcast on the media. At year's end there was no information available on the status of the investigation.
There were no developments in the 2007 beating of children from the Abu Hatah family in Hebron by settlers from Kiryat Arba or in the 2007 case of 15 Israelis from Ma'on settlement, who attacked two shepherds from Mufaqara.
There were no further developments or investigations had not concluded in the following 2006 claims of beatings and other abuse: of an the Israeli Security Agency (ISA or Shin Bet) detainee from the village of Koud at Kishon Detention Center, or by IDF soldiers at al-Fawar checkpoint, in Ramin Plain, and in Bil'in village.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
PA prison conditions were poor, and the PA prison system remained significantly inadequate for the prison population it served (many prisons were destroyed during the Second Intifada and not rebuilt). Conditions of detention and imprisonment varied widely. PA Civil Police prisons remained severely overcrowded during the year, due to a lack of facility spaceSpace and capacity issues also negatively affected the availability of medical care and vocational and other programs for inmates in civil police prisons.
During the year the PA generally permitted the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) access to detainees and allowed regular inspections of prison conditions; however, the PA denied access to some detainees within 14 days following their arrests as the law provides. The PA also permitted monitoring of its prisons by the ICHR and by Palestinian NGOs. Human rights groups, humanitarian organizations, and lawyers in past years reported difficulties gaining access to specific detainees varied, depending on which security organization managed the facility. The PA Civil Police held as many as 700 prisoners in its eight prisons during the year; juveniles were approximately 4 percent of the prison population, and women less than 2 percent, according to PA statistics. Women and juveniles were housed separately from male prisoners.
At the end of the year, PA intelligence services, including the PSO, GI, and MI, held an estimated 230-240 security detainees separately from the general population. Persons held by the intelligence services were detained according to the same legal framework as those in civil police prisons, and their cases were subject to review by civilian and military courts, depending on the case.
Gaza prison conditions were reportedly poor, and little information was available. Detention facilities were reportedly inferior compared to international legal or humanitarian standards.
The ICRC conducted monitoring visits to some prisoners in Gaza but was denied permission by Hamas authorities to visit captured IDF soldier Gilad Shalit.
IDF detention centers were reportedly less likely than Israeli Prison Service (IPS) prisons to meet international standards, with some, such as the Offer detention center, providing living space as small as 15 square feet per detainee. The Israeli MOJ stated that the IDF is continuously maintaining and improving the living conditions in two detention centers for the temporary holding of detainees in the West Bank. For example, the Ethicon detention facility was recently renovated. A 2007 petition filed by PCATI before the High Court that asked for improved holding cells, regular toilet access, drinking faucets, three daily meals, and improved ventilation for detainees was still pending in November.
HaMoked reported that the IDF held dozens of Palestinians captured during hostilities in Gaza in January in newly-dug pits, exposed to winter weather, without sanitary facilities, and with insufficient food and blankets. Some of these pits were allegedly located in or near combat zones. After removing prisoners from pits, the IDF failed to inform families of the detainees of their whereabouts.
Israel permitted independent monitoring of prison conditions by the ICRC. The Israeli Bar Association and NGOs sent representatives to meet with prisoners and inspect conditions in prison, detention center, and IDF facilities. Human rights groups reported delays and difficulties in gaining access to specific detainees, frequent transfers of detainees without notice, and the limited ability of families of Palestinians imprisoned in Israel to visit.
According to the NGO Palestinian Prisoners Club, Israel held 24 Palestinian prisoners in some form of solitary confinement in 2008.
Palestinian prisoners in Israeli custody 16 years and older were treated and housed as adults. Legislation requires that detained minors under the age of 16 must be separate from adult detainees. The government stated that the IPS held 318 security prisoners under the age of 18, of which 285 were between the ages of 16-18 (168 detained and 117 convicted), and 33 were under the age of 16 (18 detained and 15 convicted). According to B'Tselem, as of December 31, the IPS detained 299 prisoners, 42 of whom were under the age of 16. Of the 299 detainees, 128 had been sentenced, 18 of them under the age of 16. The NGO Defense for Children International – Palestine Section (DCI-Palestine) estimated that 700 Palestinians under the age of 16 were arrested and prosecuted in military courts in 2008 (the most recent year for which data were available). Of the 265 cases that DCI-Palestine represented in 2008, 229 were before the military courts, 26 were appeals before the Israeli Military Court of Appeals, and 10 involved administrative detention orders.
Since 2004 Israel has authorized several private doctors to visit prisons and has increased medical attention; however, prisoners continued to claim inadequate medical care.
According to B'Tselem, approximately 6,800 Palestinians were held in Israeli civilian prisons and military detention facilities at year's end. The overwhelming majority of them were in facilities operated by the Israeli Prison Service. Approximately 5,000 were serving criminal sentences.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
Palestinian law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention. It allows police to hold detainees without charge for 24 hours and with court approval for up to 45 days. A trial must start within six months or the detainee must be released. In practice the PA detained a number of prisoners without charge for more than 24 hours, and prisoners regularly failed to reach trial within the six-month limit. PA officials rejected Hamas' charges that the PA detained individuals during the year solely on the basis of their Hamas affiliation, and presented evidence that many of these individuals had been charged with criminal offenses under civil or military codes.
Reportedly Hamas widely practiced arbitrary detention in Gaza.
Israeli law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention. However, some reports suggested security services did not always observe these prohibitions. Palestinian security internees were under the jurisdiction of military law, which permits 10 days' detention without allowing access to a lawyer or appearing before court. There is no requirement that a detainee have access to a lawyer until after interrogation, a process that may last weeks. The ICRC must be notified of arrests within 12 days after they occur and be allowed to visit detainees within 14 days after an arrest.
In East Jerusalem and in the West Bank, Palestinian protesters or activists alleged arbitrary detention by Israeli security officials at public demonstrations in several instances, including at weekly protests against the separation barrier held in the West Bank village of Bil'in.
Role of the Police and Security Apparatus
In PA-controlled areas of the West Bank, Palestinian police were normally responsible for law enforcement for Palestinians and other non-Israelis. In the Gaza Strip, forces under Hamas's control maintained security. Press and NGO reports suggested Hamas enforced strict control across all sectors of society. Hamas police reportedly facilitated and benefited from illegal activity in some cases, such as the operation of smuggling tunnels.
Six PA security forces operated in the West Bank. The PA Civil Police have primary responsibility for civil and community policing. The National Security Force (NSF) conducts gendarmerie-style security operations in circumstances which exceed the capabilities of the Civil Police. The Military Intelligence agency, which is a sub-unit of the NSF, handles intelligence and criminal matters involving PA security force personnel, including accusations of abuse. The General Intelligence service is responsible for external intelligence gathering and operations; the Preventive Security Organization is responsible for these matters internally. The Presidential Guard protects facilities and provides dignitary protection. The Civil Defense service provides emergency services.
PA security services are under the operational control of the minister of the interior. The National Security Force's Military Intelligence wing is responsible for investigations into allegations of abuse and corruption involving PA security forces, and can refer cases to court. Foreign observers and West Bank residents considered PA security forces more effective than in previous years in both counterterrorist operations and provision of public securityand law and order.
Hamas exercised control in Gaza, including over police and security forces.
Israeli authorities maintained a West Bank presence through Israeli security forces that consisted of the IDF, the Israeli Security Agency (ISA or Shin Bet), the Israeli National Police (INP), and the Border Police. Israeli authorities investigated and punished abuse and corruption, although there were reports of failures to take disciplinary action in cases of abuse.
In West Bank Palestinian population centers (mostly "Area A" by the Oslo-era agreements), the PA has formal responsibility for security and civil control, while Israeli security forces have the right of "hot pursuit.". In practice Israeli military authorities have since 2002 conducted regular security operations in Area A cities. In Area B territory in the West Bank, which is comprised mostly of small villages and farmland, the PA is assigned civil control--including civil policing--but Israel retains responsibility for security control. In Area C, which contains Israeli settlements, military installations, and open countryside, Israel retains full civil and security control.
d. Arrest Procedures and Treatment While in Detention
PA law provides for prompt judicial determination of the legality of detention, and this provision was largely but not uniformly observed in practice. PA law allows police to hold detainees without charge for 24 hours and with court approval for up to 45 days; it requires that a trial must start within six months, or the detainee must be released. In several reported cases, PA security forces detained persons without warrants and without bringing them before judicial authorities within the required timeframe. Due largely to limited judicial capacity, those detained rarely saw their cases go to trial within the six-month limit, and were not generally released when this limit expired. Bail and conditional release were available in cases in which judicial authorities deemed it appropriate. Suspects were in some cases denied access to lawyers, families, or doctors. Authorities informed detainees of the charges against them, although sometimes not until interrogation.
In a number of security-based cases, the PA sought military judicial review and court orders for detention for civilians suspected of terrorist activity. In several of these cases, the PA disregarded civilian court orders requiring the release of these suspects, citing countervailing military court orders.
In Gaza, Hamas reportedly detained a large but unverifiable number of persons during the year, largely without recourse to legal counsel, judicial review, or bail. Many of these detentions were apparently politically based, and targeted former PA officials or Fatah party members, according to various sources. Abusive conditions were widespread, as were allegations of torture.
Israeli Military Order 1507 permits detention for 10 days before detainees are allowed to see a lawyer or appear before court. Israeli Military Order 1369 provides for a seven-year prison term for anyone not responding to a summons in security cases.
Suspects in Israeli military custody are entitled to an attorney, but authorities can defer access to an attorney during interrogation, which can last up to 90 days. Israeli authorities stated that policy is to post notification of arrests within 48 hours, but senior officers may delay notification for up to 12 days. A military commander may request a judge to extend this period indefinitely. Evidence for administrative detentions in security cases was often unavailable to the detainee or his attorneys due to security classification, but available to the court.
A military judge can issue administrative security detention orders for up to six-months, renewable indefinitely.
B'Tselem and HaMoked released a report in October asserting that military judicial authorities were holding 335 Palestinians under "administrative detention" without charging them with a crime. They called this an abuse of the administration detention status for detainees, and called on the military authorities to charge or release them.
As of 2008, 37 of the 132 members of the PLC remained in jail in Israel, including 33 from the terrorist group Hamas, three from Fatah and one from the terrorist group Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). Of those, 20 were awaiting trial, four remained in administrative detention, and 13 were serving sentences. Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association reported that, as of year's end, 18 PLC members were imprisoned, although they did not specify their political affiliations.
Palestinian lawyers representing Palestinians held in Israeli military custody inside Israel were generally provided access to their clients, although impediments to movement and access on West Bank roads and/or at crossings often made consultation difficult and caused trials and hearings to be postponed. The government frequently delays notification to foreign government officials after detaining their citizens in the occupied territories.
During the year HaMoked reported the continuation of an ISA practice that B'Tselem noted two years previously, specifically, isolation from the outside world whereby detainees are prevented from meeting with attorneys, ICRC representatives, and their families during the initial interrogation or for its duration. They also reported sleep deprivation, protracted handcuffing, insults and humiliation, threats, and naked body searches.
According to the MOJ, in some cases the IPS will keep the person interrogated separate for a few days in order to prevent leakage of information that may disrupt the interrogation. In such cases, according to the Justice Ministry, the detainee meets with representatives of the ICRC, IPS personnel and, if required, medical personnel. The MOJ states that ISA interrogations are conducted according to clear directives, which prohibit sleep deprivation and insulting behavior. According to the government, the IPS does not hold detainees in separate detention punitively or to induce confessions, but rather only when a detainee threatens himself or others and only when other options have been exhausted.
Israeli human rights organizations reported that Israeli interrogators used psychological abuse more frequently in recent years, including threats of house demolition or of questioning elderly parents, and kept prisoners in harsh conditions, including solitary confinement for long periods.
Of the more than 600 complaints filed in recent years which the Official in Charge of Interrogees' Complaints investigated, PCATI reported none were forwarded for a Police Investigation Department (PID)criminal investigation. For example, PCATI reported that an investigation had not been completed into the case of Jalal Sawafta, whom the ISA arrested in February 2008 and whose parents were brought to the interrogation room and asked to convince Sawafta to confess to involvement in rigging a car to explode. The ISA interrogator allegedly threatened to demolish the family home if Sawafta's parents did not convince Sawafta to confess.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The Palestinian Basic Law of 2002, amended in 2005, provides for an independent judiciary. Both Hamas authorities in Gaza and the PA in the West Bank apply a Palestinian legal code that is composed of elements of Ottoman, Egyptian (in Gaza), Jordanian (in the West Bank), British Mandate, Israeli military, and modern Palestinian law.
In the West Bank, a High Judicial Council maintained authority over most court operations. Military courts, established in 1995 and guided by the 1979 Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Penal Code, have jurisdiction over security personnel and crimes by civilians against security forces. There is a nine-judge court for election issues. The High Judicial Council maintained authority over most legal proceedings. The PA generally respected judicial independence and the autonomy of the High Judicial Council in practice.
Prior to the Hamas takeover of Gaza in 2007, Palestinian law in the Gaza Strip was administered by judges affiliated with the Palestinian High Judicial Council, whose head is appointed by the PA President. In 2007 Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh replaced PA-appointed prosecutors and judges in Gaza with Hamas appointees. The PA declared the action illegal; however, courts operated by Hamas appointees continued to function in Gaza throughout the year.
In some cases involving investigations by PA intelligence services, civilian defendants were presented to the PA's military court system. Palestinian NGOs have criticized the practice of trying civilian defendants in military courts, while the PA has defended the practice based on the security nature of the crimes involved.
PA courts were inefficient, lacked staff and resources, and often did not ensure fair and expeditious trials. A severe shortage of funds and judges and an absence of lawyers and witnesses, due in part to restrictions or delays on the movement of judges, lawyers, defendants, witnesses, and evidence, resulted in significant backlogs in both criminal and civil cases.
Progress was made in some areas, notably in prosecutorial record-keeping and judicial coordination, but significant shortfalls remained.
Israeli law provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected civil court independence in practice. The IDF tried Palestinians accused of security offenses (ranging from rock throwing to membership in a terrorist organization to incitement) in military courts. Israeli law defines security offenses as including a range of charges. Israeli military courts rarely acquitted Palestinians charged with security offenses; sentences occasionally were reduced on appeal. Israeli civil law, as applied to the Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem, provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected the independence of the civil courts in practice.
The Independent Judiciary Law provides for the right to a fair trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. Trials are public, except when the court determines privacy is required by PA security, foreign relations, a party's or witness's right to privacy, or protection of a victim of a sexual offense or "honor" crime. The law provides for legal representation, the right to question and present witnesses, to review government-held evidence, and to appeal. Authorities generally observed these rights in practice.
PA law allows the death penalty for certain offenses, including types of treason and murder. In recent years, a number of PA death penalty convictions have been issued by military courts applying the PLO Revolutionary Penal Code of 1979.
In April 2008 a PA military court in Hebron sentenced Imad Saad to death for collaboration with Israel. At year's end his sentence had not been carried out because it had not been ratified by PA President Abbas.
Israelis living in settlements in the West Bank and in East Jerusalem were tried under Israeli law in the nearest Israeli district court.
Political Prisoners and Detainees
As of 2008 Palestinian sources estimated the PA imprisoned 22 persons suspected of collaboration with Israel During the year seven persons were arrested on charges of collaboration and other charges.
Hamas detained several hundred individuals allegedly because of their political affiliation and held these individuals for varying periods of time. Numerous allegations of denial of due process were associated with these detentions. Many of those held in Gaza as Israeli collaborators reportedly were released in 2007 after Hamas took over (see section 1.d.).
Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies
The PA civil and magistrate courts handled civil suits. A citizen can file a suit against the government including on matters related to alleged abuses of human rights.
The execution of court orders was not systematic. In Gaza civil suits may be filed, but the judiciary was reportedly not impartial and independent.
Israeli law permits Palestinians residing in the occupied territories to seek compensation for death, injury, or property damage at the hands of the IDF, but a 2002 law denies Palestinians the possibility of obtaining compensation in most cases for injuries resulting from illegal acts by Israeli security forces. Amendments in 2005, which the High Court in 2006 partially overturned, added obstacles to Palestinian plaintiffs seeking compensation.
In the West Bank, Israeli military officials continued to demolish homes and other buildings constructed by Palestinians in areas of the West Bank under Israeli civil control on the basis that these buildings lacked Israeli planning permission. Compensation was generally not offered in these cases. Properties 300 meters from the separation barrier or IDF military installations also remained subject to demolition or confiscation.
When the IDF offered opportunities for compensation, subject to an appraisal, verification, and appeals process, Palestinians generally refused, citing a desire not to legalize the confiscation. Due to documentation uncertainties dating from the Ottoman period, a traditional land tenure system with communal, family, and individual rights commingled, and Israeli-imposed definitions of land ownership, Palestinians have had difficulty verifying ownership in Israeli courts (see section 1.f.).
During the year Jerusalem municipal officials demolished 65 Palestinian homes and other buildings constructed without municipal permits. Inhabitants of the demolished properties were not compensated, and in many cases were required to pay the cost of the demolition.
Israeli NGOs, including Ir Amim and Bimkom, and Palestinian NGOs argued that in both the West Bank and Jerusalem, Israeli authorities placed often insurmountable hurdles on Palestinian applicants for construction permits, including the requirement that they document land ownership in the absence of a uniform post-1967 land registration process, high application fees, and requirements that new housing be connected to often-unavailable municipal sewage, water, and electric lines.
Most demolitions targeted Bedouin and herder communities, and East Jerusalem homes. In these areas, Israeli policies prevent most Palestinians from obtaining building permits, according to OCHA.
In 2008 the Israeli planning rights NGO, Bimkom, reported that official data between 2000 and September 2007 showed 1,626 buildings were demolished and 4,820 buildings received demolition orders in Area C, which is designated under the Oslo accords as West Bank land under full Israeli civil and military authority. In the same time frame in Area C, 5.6 percent of Palestinian applications for building permits in were approved (91 of 1,624).
From January to August, Israeli authorities demolished 180 structures in Area C, including 56 residential structures, which affected 711 persons, including 421 children. Demolished residences in East Jerusalem also included Bedouin and herder communities.
On June 4, the IDF demolished 68 structures, including 20 inhabited residential structures, in the herding community of Ras al-Ahmar in the Jordan Valley, displacing 139 persons, including 72 children. A water tank, tractor, and a trolley were confiscated. Some of the families whose homes and property were destroyed had been living in their village since at least the 1950s. In another incident, on May 31, 19 households in the village of al-Hadidiya received evacuation and stop work orders, affecting 151 Palestinians, including 80 children. Of these, the IDF gave 49 persons 48 hours to implement the orders. On June 1, 14 persons, including eight children, were displaced after carrying out demolition orders for their own structures. On September 29, the IDF delivered seven new demolition orders to al-Hadidiya.
In March 2007 the Israeli Ministry of Finance transferred to the government ownership of 7.5 acres of olive orchard known as "Mufti's Grove" in East Jerusalem's Shaykh Jarrah neighborhood. In April 2007 the government leased the land to the Ateret Cohanim settler group. In December 2007, responding to a petition submitted by Arab Hotels Company Limited contesting ownership of Mufti's Grove, the High Court of Justice set a September 26 hearing date, which was subsequently delayed. At year's end no hearing had taken place.
In August the court ruled against two Palestinian families living in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Shaykh Jarrah and ordered the families to be evicted, affecting a total of 53 persons, including 20 children. The properties were turned over to the Nakhalat Shimon group, which international human rights organizations described as a settler association. Jewish families moved into the properties immediately.
In July the Jerusalem Municipality approved plans to construct two apartment buildings on the East Jerusalem site of the historic Shepherd Hotel, owned by the Husseini family from 1945 to 1967, confiscated as absentee property by the government of Israel in 1967, and privately purchased in the 1980s. The plans require the demolition of portions of the hotel. At year's end construction had not begun, although NGO sources stated that no legal hurdles remained.
f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The PA required the attorney general to issue warrants for entry and searches of private property; however, Palestinian security services often ignored these requirements. Hamas authorities in Gaza often interfered arbitrarily with personal privacy, family, and home, according to reporting from local media and NGO sources.
Palestinian gunmen fired on Israeli forces and booby trapped homes and apartment buildings. In response, the IDF raided and often destroyed buildings allegedly harboring militants. These actions often resulted in civilian casualties.
Under occupation orders, only IDF officers of lieutenant colonel rank and above could authorize entry into Palestinian private homes and institutions in the West Bank without a warrant, based upon military necessity. Authorities stated that violating this order entailed punishment, but there were no reported cases of IDF soldiers punished for acting contrary to this requirement.
The law, High Court rulings, and an IDF order prohibit Israeli forces from using "human shields," but the prohibition reportedly was not always observed. When complaints are registered, according to the MOJ, the Investigative Military Police (IMP) open investigations.
According to Amnesty International, Israeli soldiers used civilians, including children, as human shields, endangering their lives by forcing them to remain in or near houses which they took over and used as military positions. Amnesty International also reported that some were forced to carry out dangerous tasks such as inspecting properties. At year's end the IDF was investigating alleged use of human shields, including in Jabaliya and Beit Lahiya.
According to Israel's Ministry of Foreign Affairs July report, Hamas used human shields by hiding behind civilian facilities and endangering civilians, including women and children by using them to protect military sites from IDF attack.
In 2008 one human shield complaint against the IDF was submitted; an investigation followed. There was no information concerning any disciplinary action taken. After a 2007 complaint about use of a human shield caught on television, there was no information on what punishment the IDF personnel received.
In January the IDF permanently sealed portions of the home of the parents of the person who attacked the Mercaz Harav yeshiva (religious seminary) in Jerusalem in 2008. The parents were not suspected of association with the crime.
As in previous years, settlers vandalized Palestinian olive groves numerous times. In October, in one of a series of similar incidents, local media reported that residents of the West Bank settlement of Yitzar used chainsaws to cut down approximately 150 olive trees in the Palestinian village of Burin. According to the NGO Rabbis for Human Rights, IDF restrictions on Palestinian movement and access aimed at preventing settler violence against Palestinians and their property during the olive harvest in many cases prevented farmers from accessing their fieldsto harvest their crops.
Palestinian villages in the south Hebron hills and south of Nablus were particularly affected by settler violence.
On December 11, settlers are believed to have set fire to a mosque in the West Bank village of Yasuf. Prosettlement graffiti was spraypainted at the site of the arson, which damaged the prayer hall and destroyed a number of religious texts. Israeli authorities made a number of arrests in the arson, but at year's end all suspects had been released from custody.
There was no update on the investigation into the June 2008 attack on Tamam al-Nawaja and the proceeding against Daniel Avraham, who was arrested in 2008 and charged with possession of weapons and endangering lives when a large stone thrown at a vehicle injured three Palestinians.
In September 2008 Yesh Din reported that police regularly failed to bring charges in cases of alleged settler violence against Palestinians. A continuing review of 205 cases determined that 163 files had been closed, with 13 resulting in indictments and 149 closed without charges; the most common reasons cited were lack of evidence and unknown identity of the attacker.
According to asurvey by the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) and the UN Development Program (UNDO) citing the UN OCHA August report, during military operations in Gaza in December 2008 and January, 6,400 homes were destroyed and 52,900 sustained minor damage.
Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
The Basic Law for the PA provides every person the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and expression, orally, in writing, or through any other form. The PA does not have laws providing for freedom of press. In 1995 a press law was approved by then PA president Yasser Arafat. Although never ratified by the Palestinian Legislative Council, PA institutions have applied aspects of it as de facto law. Self-censorship continues to occur as a result of continued imposed social, political, and security pressures.
Both the PA security forces in the West Bank and members of the Hamas security apparatus in Gaza continued to restrict freedom of speech and press. In the West Bank, PA security forces closed media offices, confiscated equipment, and prevented the delivery of newspapers and reportedly assaulted journalists during demonstrations. In Gaza individuals publicly criticizing authorities risked reprisal, and Hamas affiliates assaulted journalists during demonstrations.
Three Palestinian daily and several weekly newspapers, monthly magazines, and three tabloids were published in effectively one media market. Several official and independent news agencies and online news websites functioned. The PA operated one television and one radio station. There were approximately 30 independent television and 25 independent radio stations. Since 2008 several factional satellite stations have been launched, including the pro-Hamas Al-Quds, started in November 2008, and pro-Fatah Al-Filastiniya, which closed at year's end. Violence between Hamas and Fatah resulted in polarization of the Palestinian press. Working conditions for journalists in Gaza deteriorated noticeably during the year; however, some international news outlets maintained offices in Gaza.
Since the Hamas military takeover of the Gaza Strip in June 2007, the PA has maintained a distribution ban in the West Bank on the pro-Hamas Al-Risala twice-weekly and Filistin daily, both Gaza-based publications. Since that time pro-Hamas journalists in the West Bank continued to be exposed to threats by PA security services. Prime Minister Salaam Fayyad also ordered the suspension of Al Jazeera's West Bank bureau on July 15, the day after it aired allegations against President Abbas. On the July 14 edition of Al Jazeera's "Behind the News" (Ma Wara' al-Khabar), high ranking PLO and Fatah official Faruq al-Qaddumi accused Abbas and his adviser Muhammad Dahlan of participating in what he said was an Israeli plot to assassinate former Palestinian leader Yassir Arafat. PA authorities lifted the suspension order several days later.
In July 2008, Hamas banned distribution of the three West Bank dailies in Gaza. In August 2008, the ban was lifted against independent daily Al-Quds but remained in place against independent daily Al-Ayyam and the official PA daily, Al-Hayat Al-Jadida. According to officials from those newspapers, Hamas demanded that its own newspapers, Al-Risalah and Filistin, be allowed to circulate in the West Bank before it would lift the ban against the two West Bank-based papers. In February 2008 a Hamas-run court in Gaza ruled in support of banning the distribution of the independent daily Al-Ayyam, while sentencing the paper's editor and its main political cartoonist (both resident in the West Bank) to suspended jail terms. The decision was the result of a court case alleging defamation filed by several Hamas legislators over a political cartoon published in the paper in 2007. On February 12, Hamas once again permitted Al-Ayyam to distribute its daily while keeping its ban on Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, the official PA daily.
Hamas closed down all Fatah-affiliated broadcast outlets in Gaza. The Fatah-allied Palestinian TV and Voice of Palestine radio buildings in Gaza City were taken over by Hamas gunmen and closed. Both stations have since continued operating from Ramallah. Two other Fatah-affiliated radio stations in Gaza, Al-Hurriyah and Al-Shabab, were forced off the air by Hamas at the same time and did not resume operations during the year.
Only pro-Hamas broadcast media and PFLP-affiliated radio outlet Voice of the People have operated in Gaza since June 2007. In 2007 Hamas closed Voice of the People for two and a half months and again between August 2 and August 6. It has since resumed broadcasting. According to Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF), since 2006 at least nine news media outlets ceased operations in Gaza, three of which were state owned and six privately owned.
Hamas security personnel broke into the Ramattan News Agency office in Gaza on October 10, prompting the agency to close its West Bank and Gaza offices in November. A Ramattan spokesperson stated that such practices violate the law and freedom of the press and speech. Citing continued harassment, Ramattan said they would be unable to operate. A young man told HRW that in January he had criticized a Hamas leader in a conversation on the street. He believed his remark was overheard by someone in the area. That evening, more than a dozen armed men with black masks took him from his home and shot him three times in the lower legs and ankles.
Israeli authorities placed limits on certain forms of expression, ordering that in East Jerusalem displays of Palestinian political symbols were punishable by fines or imprisonment, as were public expressions of anti-Israeli sentiment and of support for terrorist groups. Authorities reviewed Arabic publications for security-related material. As a general rule, Israeli media covered the occupied territories, except for combat zones where the IDF temporarily restricted access, but closures, curfews, and checkpoints limited the ability of Palestinian and foreign journalists to do their jobs (see section 2.d.). The IDF forbade all journalists from entering Gaza during military operation in December and January.
In 2007 IDF soldiers shot al-Aqsa television cameraman Imad Ghanem while he was filming an IDF operation in al-Bureij Camp in Gaza; he subsequently lost both legs. As of December the case was pending. On July 10, the IDF closed the independently owned Afaq TV in the West Bank city of Nablus. According to press reports, the IDF closed the station for one year, accusing it of affiliation with a terrorist entity.
There were no PA restrictions on access to the Internet or reports that the PA monitored e-mail or Internet chat rooms. Individuals and groups could engage in the peaceful expression of views via the Internet, including by e-mail.No information was available on restrictions on access to the Internet in Gaza. The IDF central military censor began to monitor blogs, according to a March 25 IDF announcement. According to 2008 International Telecommunication Union data, there were nine users per 100 Palestinians.
Academic Freedom and Cultural Events
In the West Bank, the PA did not place restrictions on academic freedom and cultural events. During the year Palestinian authorities did not interfere with education; however, restrictions on movement adversely affected academic institutions in the West Bank and Gaza and violence affected them in Gaza (see section 2.b.).
In Gaza, Hamas continued to remove Fatah-affiliated employees from all sectors, including firing several principals and teachers. On October 7, Hamas authorities seized control of al-Aqsa University while the university's president was in the West Bank. Hamas reportedly collected information about faculty and students at other Gaza-based universities. In August Hamas authorities ordered female students to wear conservative Islamic clothing, including a headscarf and long-sleeved dress. School faculty was ordered to maintain gender segregation in the workplace.
Israeli authorities continued to prohibit Palestinians from undergraduate university study in Israel and did not permit students from Gaza to attend West Bank universities. Israel's High Court of Justice on December 9 ruled to prohibit Berlanty Azzam, a 22-year-old Palestinian student at Bethlehem University, from returning to Bethlehem to complete her studies. According to the Israeli NGO Gisha, the High Court upheld the government's and the army's decision to deport Azzam to Gaza, despite failing to provide evidence for their claims regarding Azzam's status in the West Bank.
According to OCHA, Israeli authorities prevented many Palestinian cultural events they perceived to be associated with Palestinian political ambitions. Several times during the year, the Ministry of Public Security closed the Palestinian National Theater, al-Hakawati, for lack of proper licenses. The theater and event organizers claimed the performances did not require a license and that the closures were intended to reduce Palestinian cultural activity in Jerusalem. Also on September 11, Israeli police shut down a traditional Muslim holiday meal at the Seven Arches Hotel in Jerusalem, citing the attendance of PA officials .
Israeli authorities banned events in Jerusalem related to the Arab League's designation of Jerusalem as the 2009 "Capital of Arab Culture." On March 21, Israeli police closed down eight events in Jerusalem and arrested 20 individuals.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
Freedom of Assembly
Palestinian law permits public meetings, processions, and assemblies within legal limits. It requires permits for rallies, demonstrations, and large cultural events, but authorities rarely denied them. The PA prohibited calls for violence, displays of arms, and racist slogans, although it rarely enforced these provisions.
Following 2007 Fatah-Hamas clashes in Gaza, Hamas banned rallies and impeded freedom of assembly for Fatah members. In April 2008 Hamas decreed that any public assembly or celebration in Gaza required prior permission, in contradiction to the PA Basic Law.
Israeli security forces used force against Palestinians and others involved in demonstrations, and military orders banned public gatherings of 10 or more persons without a permit. Since 2005 Palestinian, Israeli, and international activists demonstrated each week in Bil'in and other Palestinian villages to protest the construction of the separation barrier. On several occasions, soldiers tear gassed, beat, or injured demonstrators with rubber bullets. Israeli forces detained activists, holding some of them without charge for periods of up to three weeks. In the last six months of the year, the IDF detained at least 31 residents of Bilin, and in neighboring Nilin, 91 persons were arrested since mid-2008. In addition, five members of the Palestinian NGO Bil'in Popular Committee Against the Wall were arrested late in the year on suspicion of incitement. Among them, Abdullah Abu Rahma was arrested on December 10 and charged with illegal possession of weapons based on his possession of spent tear gas canisters that Israeli forces fired on demonstrators during the weekly demonstrations.
Freedom of Association
In the West Bank, the PA law allowed for freedom of association, but it was sometimes limited in practice.
In July 2008, after an explosion on a Gaza beach, Hamas closed at least 45 NGO offices. Most of the NGOs were Fatah-affiliated, but a number were politically independent.
Prominent Palestinian institutions in East Jerusalem, such as the Chamber of Commerce and Orient House, remained closed by Israel on grounds they operated under PA supervision, in contravention of Oslo Agreements.
c. Freedom of Religion
The PA Basic Law states that Islam is the official religion and that the principles of Islamic law shall be the main source of legislation, and also calls for freedom of belief, worship, and performance of religious rites, unless they violate public order or morality. In PA-administered areas, religion must be declared on identification documents, and personal status legal matters must be handled in ecclesiastical courts.
Security-based access restrictions requiring a permit to enter Jerusalem prevented many Muslim and a small number of Christian worshippers from reaching holy sites in the city, especially during religious holy days. For security reasons, the Israeli government required West Bank Palestinians to obtain permits to enter Jerusalem, a policy which, in practice, prevented virtually all West Bank Palestinians and male Muslim worshippers with Jerusalem identification cards under a certain age (usually 50) from attending Friday prayers at the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount, the third holiest site in Islam. An ongoing dispute between the Muslim administrators of the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount over Israeli restrictions on the Muslim administration's attempts to carry out repairs and physical improvements on the compound and its mosques remained unresolved at year's end. Israeli authorities restricted many West Bank and virtually all Gaza residents from entering Jerusalem during Ramadan. At times, the Israeli government made efforts to lessen the impact of security impediments on the religious communities.
Religious workers from Christian organizations in Jerusalem and the West Bank found it increasingly difficult to obtain or renew visas. Since 2007 clergy who left the occupied territories and wished to return to or visit their parishes were required to apply for new, single-entry visas at Israeli consulates abroad, a process that often took months and caused some clergy to prefer to remain rather than risk leaving their congregations without pastoral guidance. Volunteers at religious institutions in Jerusalem began reporting in July that the Israeli Ministry of Interior refused to renew their visas, instead offering them "receipts" to indicate that their visas were under review. At the end of the year, the Ministry of Interior had not explained the new practice.
A 2004 International Court of Justice advisory opinion concluded that construction of the barrier was in a number of aspects contrary to international law. Israeli government policy was to build the barrier on public lands where possible, and where private land was used, provide opportunities for compensation. On September 9, the Supreme Court ordered the state to dismantle and reroute sections of the separation barrier near the villages of Far'un, Khirbet Jabara, al-Ras, Sur, Jayyus, and Falamiah, effectively returning an estimated 1,500 acres of land to the Palestinian side of the barrier. ACRI, an Israeli NGO that submitted the petition, reported that the court ruled that serious flaws marred Israel's determination of the barrier's route. According to ACRI, instead of the stated goal of defending security concerns, the barrier often followed the interests of expanding settlements and yet-to-be-built neighborhoods near Jerusalem.
By the end of the year, work was ongoing to implement a 2006 high court ruling to change the route of the barrier near al-Nabi Elias village. The government had not begun work to implement court rulings from 2005 and 2007 to reroute the barrier near Alfe Menashe settlement and Bil'in village.
Palestinians filed a number of cases with the High Court challenging the route of the barrier, several of which remained active at year's end. In November the Jaba'a village council filed a petition to the High Court demanding the removal of the security barrier constructed near their land, claiming that it has prevented villagers from working their land for years. According to the petitioners, the fence annexed a significant portion of land into Neve Ya'akov settlement.
During the year thousands of Palestinian schoolchildren who resided on the eastern side of the barrier had to cross gated checkpoints to attend school in Jerusalem. For example, students from Bir Nabala, which is surrounded by the barrier, were prohibited from crossing near their homes; instead, they were forced to take hour-long detours of seven to 10 miles to pass through the Rafat/Masyion and Qalandiya checkpoints to reach school.
In December the High Court ruled that barring Palestinians from using Highway 443, which crosses the West Bank southwest of Ramallah near Jerusalem, was disproportionate to security needs and ordered the IDF to find suitable alternative security arrangements within five months. Since 2006 a military order has prohibited nearly all Palestinians from using Highway 443. Human rights organizations said that land for Highway 443 had originally been expropriated to improve transportation for Palestinians between Ramallah and outlying villages, but that the road was eventually closed to Palestinians based on security justifications. At year's end no decisions had been publicized on how and when Highway 443 would open to Palestinians.
Palestinians residing in the closed area (the "seam zone") between the barrier and the Green Line numbered approximately 50,000 and required IDF permanent resident permits to live in their homes.
In the northern West Bank, a military order closed the seam zone in 2003. Those living in the seam zone faced restricted access to health and education services and were cut off from family and social networks which were located on the West Bank.
UN agencies reported difficulty accessing seam zone communities in the northwestern West Bank, particularly Barta'a al-Sharqiya in the Jenin Governorate. Private security companies employed by the Israeli government controlled points of access through the barrier, and international organizations and local human rights groups claimed these companies did not respond to requests to move goods and officials through the barrier. UN agencies have been unable to directly access this area since late 2007 due to excessive demands for searches of UN officials based on their nationality.
Trafficking in Persons
The law states that work is a right and that the PA will strive to provide it to any capable individual. MOLSA interpreted this statement to prohibit forced and compulsory labor, including by children. PA labor law prohibits forced or compulsory labor.
d. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age of Employment
Children under the age of 15 are not permitted to work in PA-administered areas, and this prohibition is enforced through PA Ministry of Labor factory visits and inspections. Hiring of children aged 15-18 for limited types of employment is permitted under set conditions, including limited hours and a prohibition on operating certain types of machines and equipment. The law states that children shall not be allowed to perform work that might damage their safety, health, or education, and prohibits working at night, hard labor, and travel beyond their domicile. However, many underage children worked on family farms and in shops, as street vendors, or in small enterprises. The UN estimated that hundreds of children were forced to find work, particularly in Gaza, as the declining economy made it difficult for families to find adequate resources.
Source: Country Reports on Human Rights Practices - 2009, Released by the State Department Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, (March 11, 2010)