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Report on Human Rights Practices:
Palestinian Territories

(2008)


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Israel occupied the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Golan Heights, and East Jerusalem during the 1967 War. During the year the Palestinian population of Gaza was approximately 1.5 million, of the West Bank 2.35 million, and of East Jerusalem 210,000. Approximately 191,000 Israelis resided in East Jerusalem and 290,000 in the West Bank. During the 1990s various agreements transferred civil responsibility to the Palestinian Authority (PA) for Gaza and parts of the West Bank. However, after Palestinian extremist groups resumed violence in 2000, Israeli forces resumed control over a number of these areas, citing the PA's failure to abide by its security responsibilities. PA civilian authorities' control over its security forces in the West Bank improved during the year.

The PA has a democratically elected president and legislative council, which select a prime minister and cabinet. In 2005 Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Chairman Mahmud 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 name "Reform and Change Movement" and won 74 of 132 seats in elections that generally met democratic standards. In February 2007 Hamas formed a national unity government (NUG) with the Fatah party, but in June 2007 Hamas staged a violent takeover of PA government installations in Gaza and killed hundreds in the Fatah movement and PA security forces. Since June 2007, when President Abbas dismissed the NUG, a cabinet of independents led by Prime Minister Salam Fayyad has governed the West Bank, while elements of the former Hamas government formed the de facto ruling authority in Gaza.

On June 19, Hamas and Israel began a six-month "calm," which generally led to a reduction in the number of rocket and mortar attacks from Gaza into Israel, although rocket and mortar attacks continued. On November 4, citing an imminent threat from crossborder tunneling by Hamas-affiliated terrorists, Israel launched a raid into the Gaza Strip. In response to a sharp increase in the number and frequency of rocket attacks into Israel shortly prior to and following the formal expiration of the "calm" on December 19, the Israeli Air Force (IAF) launched airstrikes on December 27 targeted against Hamas security installations, personnel, and other facilities in the Gaza Strip. The Israeli military operation continued at the end of the calendar year and resulted in the deaths of at least 315 Palestinians, including some civilians, by December 31.

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 established de facto security forces. The Israeli government maintained effective control of its security forces.

There were reports of PA torture, arbitrary and prolonged detention, poor prison conditions, insufficient measures to prevent attacks by terrorist groups, 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, arrest, and harass Fatah members and other Palestinians with impunity. Hamas and other Palestinian factions in Gaza shelled civilian targets in Israel.

Both Israeli and Palestinian nongovernmental organizations (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.

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, but with less frequency than previous years. Killings by Palestinian terrorist groups and Israeli security forces remained a serious problem. Killings of Palestinians by Palestinians also dropped sharply, from 346 in 2007 to 18 through November. Palestinians killed 10 IDF soldiers and 19 Israeli civilians in the territories. Palestinians killed 24 civilians in terrorist attacks in Israel, including eight killed by a gunman at a religious school in West Jerusalem and one killed by a suicide bombing in Dimona. Israeli military operations killed an estimated 782 Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, including at least 315, including some civilians, as a result of airstrikes on Hamas security installations, personnel, and other facilities in the Gaza Strip in late December.

On February 22, Majid al-Barghouti, an imam believed to be affiliated with Hamas, died in the custody of the Palestinian Authority General Intelligence Service (GI) after being detained in the West Bank on February 14. Human Rights Watch (HRW) concluded based on photographs of the body and interviews with fellow prisoners that al-Barghouti's death was a result of torture. PA officials stated that al-Barghouti suffered heart failure, and President Abbas directed the attorney general to investigate. By year's end no information was released.

On June 26, Hamas police arrested 72-year-old Taleb Mohammed Abu Sitta and took him to Dir al-Balah police station, where he subsequently died in custody. On June 27, Abu Sitta's body was taken to Gaza City for forensic examination. His son, who was also incarcerated, told a human rights organization that Hamas repeatedly beat his father during his brief incarceration.

On July 12, Bassam Anani, a Fatah leader from Nusseirat refugee camp, died after two weeks in a hospital from injuries sustained while detained by Hamas.

On August 2, clashes between Hamas security forces and members of the Hilles clan in east Gaza City resulted in the death of 15 persons and injury to at least 103 others. The incidents occurred as a result of attempts by Hamas security forces to arrest members of the Hilles clan suspected in a July 25 bomb explosion on a Gaza City beach that killed five members of the armed wing of Hamas and one child.

Palestinian terrorist groups killed Israeli civilians in Israel with rockets, mortars, and one suicide bombing (see the Israel report). They frequently fired at Israel from civilian areas, increasing the risk that return fire would harm noncombatants. PA President Abbas made repeated public statements calling for an end to violence against Israel and internal violence between Fatah and Hamas, but these statements did not prevent numerous attacks.

The IDF conducted numerous incursions into Palestinian areas to carry out arrest operations and kill suspected terrorists. 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. Multiple incursions in Jenin and Nablus hampered the PA's efforts to deploy its own security forces.

Israeli NGO B'Tselem estimated that 39 percent of the 444 killed during Israeli military and police operations through November were civilians not taking part in the hostilities at the time of their death. According to the Palestine Red Crescent Society (PRCS), 1,807 Palestinians were injured during the year by live ammunition, rubber-coated bullets, tear gas, and blast shrapnel.

On April 16, an IDF tank fired an antipersonnel shell dispensing metal darts into the central Gaza strip, killing Reuters cameraman Fadel Shana'a and three others, including a 14-year-old and 17-year-old. HRW claimed there was evidence the tank crew knowingly targeted the journalist. According to Palestinian NGOs, Shana'a was covering the aftermath of a missile attack near Juhor al-Dik earlier that day, in which two missiles fired from an Israeli aircraft killed three adults and six minors and wounded six adults and 12 minors. In August the IDF announced its investigation cleared the tank crew, but several human rights organizations criticized the IDF's investigations as lacking seriousness.

On July 29, 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. On August 17, an internal affairs unit at the Ministry of Justice informed B'tselem it had opened an investigation into Amira's death. No additional information was available at year's end.

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. According to B'Tselem, during the year Israeli forces targeted and killed 14 Palestinians, many affiliated with terrorist organizations.

According to a September study by the Israeli NGO Yesh Din, the Israeli Military Police Criminal Investigation Division launched 1,246 criminal investigations between September 2000 and December 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. As of September, 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.

During the year reports continued of Palestinians being killed in the perimeter zone, as reported in previous years. Israel declared this area off limits to Palestinians in response to attacks against Israelis originating in those areas.

IDF prosecutors informed B'tselem that the June 2007 case of the killings of 14-year-old Ahmed Sabri Suliman Ali Abu Zubeida and 13-year-old Zaher Jaber Muhammad al-Majdalawi was pending. According to press reports, IDF troops saw the boys crawling towards the fence, shouted a warning over a loudspeaker, fired warning shots, and then shot live fire. According to B'Tselem, they had been flying a kite.

In January 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 September 2007 the Israeli NGO Yesh Din appealed, alleging that according to 14 witnesses and independent Israeli pathologist Dr. Chen Kugel, she was shot with a rubber-coated bullet while running away. On February 12, the State Prosecutor's Office denied Yesh Din's petition to reconsider the decision to close the investigation.

There were no developments in the following 2007 killings of Israelis in the West Bank: Erez Levanon, Ahikham Amihai, David Rubin, or Ido Zoldan.

There were no developments in the 2007 killings outside Beit Hanoun by a shell fired from an IDF tank of eight-year-old Mahmoud Mousa Hassan Abu Ghazala, 11-year-old Yahya Ramadan Atiyyah Abu Ghazala, and eight-year-old Sarah Suliman Abdallah Abu Ghazala.

There were no investigations into the 2007 IDF killings of Jihad Khalil Hussein al-Shaer or Muhammad Ali Mesbah Jabarin, and no charges were brought in the 2007 IDF killing of Anan Muhammad Assad al-Tibi.

There were no developments in the investigation started in March 2007 into the 2006 IDF killing of Palestinian Nafia Abu Musaid.

On February 26, the IDF advocate general announced that no military police investigation would be launched into the 2006 IDF artillery shelling in the Gazan town of Beit Hanoun, which killed 19 Palestinians and injured others. The advocate general attributed the incident to a malfunction in the artillery control system.

There were no developments in the 2006 killings of Abu Yusif, military leader of the terrorist Popular Resistance Committees (PRC); Brigadier General Jad al-Tayeh of the GI and his four bodyguards; and three children of a senior PA intelligence officer and their driver.

On April 28, the Jerusalem District Court sentenced border policeman Yanai Lazla to six and a half years in prison. Lazla was one of four officers prosecuted for the 2002 Hebron killing of 17-year-old Imran Abu Hamdiyah, who was beaten and ejected from a moving police vehicle. On July 1, Lazla failed to appear to begin serving his sentence. In 2005 the first of the four officers was sentenced to four and a half years' imprisonment. At year's end the trial of the remaining two officers continued.

b. Disappearance

There were fewer reports of politically motivated kidnappings and disappearances in connection with internal Palestinian conflict than in previous years.

On April 13, individuals in two vehicles abducted Sami 'Atiya Khattab of Dir al-Balah in the Gaza Strip. On April 15, Hamas-controlled police informed the family that Khattab's body was found southwest of Gaza City. According to a human rights organization, the body showed cuts, bruises, and other signs of violence.

There were no developments in the 2007 abduction and killing of Maher Halim Daoud Juri.

In 2006 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 significant problem. Torture by PA security forces and the Hamas Executive Force reportedly was widespread and not restricted to security detainees. The PA's actions to properly investigate, punish, and discourage torture and other abuses by its forces were minimal, lacked transparency, and were not generally effective. Hamas took no action to investigate reports of torture. Documentation of abuses was limited, due partly to fear of retribution by alleged victims. Palestinian NGOs alleged in previous years that the PA pressured individuals not to communicate allegations of abuse to NGOs. PA security officers have no formal guidelines regarding interrogations; convictions were based largely on confessions. Until issuance of a presidential decree in November 2007, the Preventive Security Organization (PSO) lacked the legal authority to detain suspects or manage detention facilities.

On July 29, HRW released a report documenting abuses by Hamas security forces against Fatah-affiliated officials in Gaza and by Fatah against Hamas members and supporters in the West Bank.

There were reports of significant abuses by PA security forces. The PSO and the GI were more frequently implicated in complaints of abuse than other security organizations. The Military Intelligence (MI) organization frequently exceeded its legal authority to investigate other security services' officers and detained civilians.

There continued to be reports of widespread abuse and violence by Hamas security forces against Fatah-affiliated officials in the Gaza Strip.

In July 2007 Hamas Executive Force members detained Fatah member Muhammad Kamel al-Shekhrit during a demonstration and beat him at the former headquarters of the National Security Forces in Rafah. In August 2007 Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigade members beat Yasser Ouda Joma Abu Shabab, a police officer from Rafah, and interrogated him about his ties to Fatah. In September 2007 MI detained and beat Hamas member Rasem Khattab Hasan Mustafa in Nablus. In September 2007 PA Preventive Security officers beat Fayez al-Tarada during the arrest of his brother, Hamas-supporter Fawwaz Hisham Hussein al-Tarada, and during interrogation in Hebron beat Fawwaz with a stick. No investigations were opened.

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, as well as painful pressure on shackles and restraints applied to the forearms.

Incidents of IDF abuse of Palestinian detainees continued to be a significant problem. Abuses did not appear to be limited solely to certain units, but incidents involving the Kfir Brigade were particularly prominent. The IDF said it made efforts to retrain the brigade through simulations and workshops facilitated by human rights organizations, but there were reports that such training did not eliminate incidents of abuse. The IDF attributed an increase in incidents to growing willingness among commanders to report abuses.

On January 29, the Israeli press reported that soldiers in the Kfir Brigade beat and kicked detainees and documented their actions on cell phone cameras.

On February 11, three soldiers from the Haruv Battalion of the Kfir Brigade were indicted as a result of assaults near the West Bank settlement of Shavei Shomron. On June 3, the soldiers were convicted of beating two handcuffed and blindfolded minors and applying a heating device to the face of a detainee. They were sentenced to five and a half months in jail.

On March 11, two policemen from Ma'ale Adumim police station were arrested for severely abusing a Palestinian from Bethany. The Israeli NGO the Public Committee on Torture in Israel (PCATI) complained that in November 2007 the officers beat and urinated on the man, in addition to inserting objects into his body cavities. At year's end no additional information was available.

On July 7, 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. On August 7, 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. On August 19, the Israeli NGO the Association for Civil Rights in Israel filed a petition with the High Court seeking to compel the judge advocate general to file a more serious charge. On October 6, the High Court asked the IDF to consider charging a more serious crime. On November 4, the military advocate general announced that the original charge would not be changed.

According to an August 12 report in the newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth, four soldiers from the Haruv Battalion received administrative punishments for hitting a bound Palestinian and throwing him on the side of the road. The soldiers were punished for agreeing not to report the incident; three received a reprimand, and a fourth, the most senior, was confined for 21 days and suspended for 14 days. 

Also in Na'alin, on September 1, IDF soldiers searching a house for a demonstrator shot Awad Srour at least three times in the head and chest with rubber-coated bullets. As a result, Srour lost an eye. IDF operations in Na'alin were frequent and linked to protests against the separation barrier, which often involved rock throwing by demonstrators and use of tear gas and rubber-coated bullets on by the IDF.

On July 27, a volunteer for Christian Peacemaker Teams was attacked by a masked settler while escorting children from nearby Al Tuwani village between their homes and summer camp. The volunteer sustained head injuries and was treated at a nearby hospital.

Israeli law prohibits forced confessions, but a detainee may not have legal representation until after interrogation, a process that may last weeks. Most convictions were based on confessions made during this period. Detainees sometimes stated in court that their confessions were coerced, but in previous years Israeli NGOs reported there were no instances of judges excluding such confessions. In May 2007 B'Tselem and HaMoked reported that isolation from the outside world is a common Israel Security Agency (ISA or Shin Bet) practice whereby detainees are prevented from meeting with attorneys, International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) representatives, and their families during the initial period of interrogation or for its duration. They also reported sleep deprivation, protracted handcuffing, insults and humiliation, threats, and naked body searches.

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. In October 2007 PCATI submitted a letter to the attorney general citing three cases in which family members were detained allegedly to put psychological pressure on detainees. In his response the attorney general agreed that such actions were not appropriate and stated that the ISA agreed to refrain from such methods. On April 13, PCATI submitted a report to the Knesset Constitution, Law, and Justice Committee, documenting its allegations.

For example, on February 1, the ISA arrested and began interrogating Jalal Sawafta. After six days of interrogation, Sawafta's 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. On February 28, PCATI filed a complaint with the Ministry of Justice and received a response indicating the complaint would be investigated. No results had been released at year's end.

In May 2007 Israeli NGOs B'Tselem and HaMoked published a report alleging serious abuses of detainees from the occupied territories in Israeli detention facilities. The report stated that from 2001 to 2006, the State Attorney's Office failed to launch criminal investigations into any of over 500 complaints of ill treatment by ISA interrogators. It also found that in two thirds of 73 cases examined, detainees claimed that ISA interrogators used one or more forms of abuse. In December 2007 PCATI reported that from January 2005 to July 2007 the Military Prosecutor's Office received 138 complaints of physical abuse against IDF soldiers, filed six indictments, and initiated three disciplinary actions.

There were no updates in the following 2007 cases: Amin Saud Mahmoud Hasuna and his brother, Yasser, and Jalal al-Batsh.

In January 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 ISA 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.

There was no investigation of the 2006 attack by a group of Israeli settlers seriously injuring a European woman escorting Palestinian schoolchildren in Hebron.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

PA prison conditions were poor. Many prisons were destroyed during the Intifada and were not reconstructed. Prisoners were kept informally incarcerated, and conditions of detention and imprisonment varied widely. During the year the PA generally permitted the ICRC access to detainees and regular inspections of prison conditions; however, the PA denied access to some detainees within 14 days following their arrests as required. The PA permitted independent monitoring of its prisons by the Independent Commission for Human Rights (ICHR, formerly known as PICCR) and other Palestinian NGOs, but human rights groups, humanitarian organizations, and lawyers in past years reported difficulties gaining access to specific detainees. Human rights organizations stated their ability to visit PA prisons and detention centers varied depending on which security organization ran the facility.

Gaza prison conditions were reportedly poor, and little information was available. The ICRC was able to conduct monitoring visits to prisoners held in Gaza by Hamas in most cases but not to captured IDF soldier Gilad Shalit.

IDF detention centers were less likely than Israel Prison Service (IPS) prisons to meet international standards with some, such as the Ofer detention center, providing living space as small as 15 square feet per detainee. A November 2007 petition filed before the High Court asked for improved holding cells, regular toilet access, drinking faucets, three daily meals, and improved ventilation for detainees. At year's end the legal case between PCATI and the Ministry of Justice was pending.

Israel permitted independent monitoring of prison conditions by the ICRC. The Israeli Bar Association and other NGOs sent representatives to meet with prisoners and inspect prison, detention, and IDF facilities. Human rights groups reported delays and difficulties in gaining access to specific detainees, frequent, transfers of detainees without notice, and the significantly 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 during the year.

Palestinian prisoners in Israeli custody 16 years and older were treated and housed as adults. B'Tselem reported that as of November, the IPS held 318 Palestinians under the age of 18, including 25 minors age 15 or younger. The IDF held six Palestinian minors in its two Provisional Detention Centers as of October, according to B'Tselem. An international organization reported that most Palestinian minors were held in Hasharon prison, while the remainder were housed at Damoun and Ofek prisons; all were being held as security prisoners. Minors in the two IDF facilities, where detention is limited to 21 days, were not separated from adults.

According to the PA Ministry of Prisoners' Affairs, there were 161 critical medical cases of Palestinians in Israeli prisons in 2007. Since 2004 Israel authorized several private doctors to visit and increased medical attention; however, prisoners continued to claim inadequate medical attention.

d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention

Palestinian law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention. It allows police to hold detainees without charges 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 many without charge for months.

Israeli law prohibits arbitrary arrest and detention, but the security services did not always observe these prohibitions. Palestinian security internees were under the jurisdiction of military law, which permits 10 days' detention without seeing 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 is required to be notified of arrests within 12 days after they occur and allowed to visit detainees within 14 days after the arrest.

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 Gaza, Hamas enforced laws selectively.

PA security forces included the National Security Forces (NSF), the PSO, the GI, the Presidential Guard (PG), and the police. Quasi-military security organizations, such as the Military Intelligence, exercised the equivalent of law enforcement powers. The PSO, the civil police, and civil defense fall under the legal control of the interior minister, who reports to the prime minister. President Abbas has legal authority over the NSF, PG, and GI, although all PA security branches have been put under the interior minister's operational control. The interior and justice ministries investigate complaints regarding conduct of the PA security forces.

Hamas exercised de facto authority over the Gaza Strip, including policing and security functions.

Israeli authorities maintained effective control over West Bank security forces that consisted of the IDF, the ISA, the Israeli National Police, 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.

Arrest and Detention

PA security forces often ignored laws by detaining persons without warrants and without bringing them before judicial authorities. PA security forces also occasionally disregarded court decisions calling for release of alleged security criminals. Suspects often were held without evidence and denied access to lawyers, families, or doctors. The law provides for a prompt judicial determination of the legality of detention and was observed in practice. Detainees were informed of the charges against them, although sometimes not until interrogation. There was a functioning system of bail.

Both Hamas and the PA detained hundreds of individuals because of their affiliation with the rival faction without recourse to judicial review. On August 1, Fatah leadership including Khan Yunis Governor Usama al-Farra, and Gaza Governor Muhammad al-Qidwa were arrested and released after nearly two months in jail. In the West Bank, more than 100 Hamas affiliated municipal council members and activists were detained because of their political affiliation as of late August, according to a Palestinian organization.

Under applicable occupation orders, Israeli security personnel may arrest without warrant or hold for questioning a person suspected of having committed or being likely to commit a security-related offense. Israeli Military Order 1507 permits detention for 10 days before detainees see a lawyer or appear before court. Administrative security detention orders can be issued for up to six-month periods and renewed indefinitely by judges. The law expressly authorizes an appeal of the circumstances of each security detention order to the High Court. No detainee successfully appealed a detention order.

Israeli Military Order 1369 provides for a seven-year prison term for anyone not responding to a summons in security cases. Suspects are entitled to an attorney, but this right can be deferred 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 it was made available to the court.

On July 23, IDF soldiers arrested Jamal Hussein Amira during a protest against the separation barrier near Na'alin village. Amira's daughter filmed the July 7 shooting of a handcuffed and blindfolded Palestinian by an IDF soldier. Human rights activists expressed concern that the arrest may have been in retribution for the family's role in exposing the previous IDF abuse. A military judge agreed, noting that out of all those protesting at the time, it was the girl's father who was arrested. The charges were dismissed for lack of evidence.

According to Palestinian and Israeli NGOs, there were approximately 8,300 Palestinian prisoners and detainees, including 1,800 common law criminals in IPS prisons and the three IDF detention centers in Israel and the West Bank. This number included approximately 325 minors and 570 administrative detainees.

Israel conducted some mass arrests in the West Bank; however, most arrests targeted specific persons. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the number of IDF search and arrest campaigns increased during the first 10 months of the year. From January 1 to October 31, the IDF arrested an average of 83 persons weekly in the West Bank. There were a total of 4,078 search and arrest campaigns conducted in the first 10 months of the year, compared to 2,613 in the same period in 2007. At year's end 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.

Palestinians transferred to prisons in Israel had difficulty obtaining legal representation because only Israeli citizens or Palestinian lawyers with Jerusalem identification cards were permitted to visit them. Israeli authorities in some instances scheduled appointments but then moved the prisoners to other prisons reportedly to delay lawyer-client meetings.

The Israeli government often failed to notify foreign consular officials in a timely manner after detaining their citizens in the occupied territories.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The PA court system is based on PA legal codes as well as Israeli military orders and Jordanian and Ottoman Law that predate the 1967 occupation. The Basic Law provides for an independent judiciary, but in practice, the PA sometimes avoided prosecuting cases against politically connected individuals and circumvented the authority of the courts when expedient. A High Judicial Council maintained authority over most court operations. Military courts, established in 1995 and guided by the 1979 PLO Penal Code, have jurisdiction over security personnel and crimes by civilians against security forces. They do not provide the same rights as nonmilitary courts and generally apply longer sentences. There is a nine-judge court for election issues.

In September 2007 former Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Hanniyeh named a de facto High Judicial Council for Gaza. Hamas-affiliated members replaced PA prosecutors and judges. The PA declared the council illegal; however, it continued to function in Gaza.

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 travel restrictions, curfews, and closures, resulted in significant backlogs in both criminal and civil cases. PA executive and security services frequently failed to implement court decisions and otherwise inhibited judicial independence.

IDF restrictions on access and movement throughout the West Bank significantly impacted the PA's efforts to improve administration of justice. Palestinian lawyers and judges reported frequent delays of several hours and difficulty obtaining approval to transport prisoners across checkpoints.

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 in military courts. The law defines security offenses to include charges as varied as rock throwing or membership in terrorist organizations. Israeli military courts rarely acquitted Palestinians charged with security offenses; sentences occasionally were reduced on appeal.

Trial Procedures

The Independent Judiciary Law, passed by the PLC in 2004, provides for the right to a fair trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. Juries are not used.

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 for all citizens. Human rights organizations reported delayed hearings due to an extensive backlog and a lack of legal representation.

PA law allows the death penalty for certain offenses, including types of treason and murder. In recent years, most PA death penalty convictions were issued by military courts under the PLO Revolutionary Penal Code of 1979. Trials conducted in PA military courts lacked due process protections, and human rights organizations criticized the PLO code for allowing the death penalty to be applied to a broad range of offenses.

On July 15, a PA military court in Jenin sentenced Wael Said Saed Saed and Mohammad Saed Mahmoud Saed to death by firing squad. Palestinian NGOs reported that the trial was hasty and that journalists were prevented from entering the courtroom until the sentences were given and were prevented from taking photographs.

On April 28, a PA military court in Hebron sentenced Imad Saad to death for collaboration with Israel. Saad was arrested in August 2007 on allegations that he provided Israeli intelligence services with the locations of four Palestinian gunmen who were subsequently killed by the IDF. Saad is the first person sentenced by the PA to death for the charge of collaboration since 2004. At year's end his sentence had not been carried out because it had not been ratified by PA President Abbas.

(For information on the rights granted in Israeli military courts, see the Israel Report.)

The Israeli government sometimes delayed trials for extended periods, occasionally for years, because security force witnesses did not appear, the defendant was not brought to court, files were lost, or travel restrictions delayed attorneys. Palestinian legal advocates claimed that delays were designed to pressure defendants to settle their cases, including crowded facilities, poor arrangements for scheduling and holding attorney-client consultations, and confessions prepared in Hebrew that hindered defense efforts.

Israelis living in settlements in the West Bank and in East Jerusalem were tried under Israeli law in the nearest Israeli district court.

A May report by Yesh Din on police investigations into settler violence against Palestinians determined that 8 percent of the 205 cases being tracked resulted in indictments. The remaining 92 percent were dismissed.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

Palestinian sources estimated the PA imprisoned 22 persons suspected of collaboration with Israel during the year. During the year seven persons were arrested on charges of collaboration and other charges. Many of those held in Gaza as Israeli "collaborators" reportedly were released in 2007 after Hamas took over (see section 1.d.). Hamas executed, kneecapped, or arrested an unknown number of Palestinians in Gaza, including supporters of Fatah, in late December. Hamas claimed those arrested and killed were collaborating with Israel.

Palestinians claimed that security detainees held under IDF military orders were political prisoners.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

Civil suits are handled by the PA civil and magistrate courts. A citizen can file a suit against the government. The execution of court orders was not systematic.

Israeli law permits Palestinians residing in the occupied territories to seek compensation for death, injury, or property damage at the hands of the IDF.

An investigation continued in the 2004 case in which IDF soldiers shot and killed 13-year-old Iman al-Hams as she approached an IDF outpost in Gaza carrying a bag of schoolbooks that troops suspected contained explosives. In November 2007 the parents' petition for compensation, which had been accepted by the High Court, was transferred to the military attorney general. At year's end the case was pending.

Property Restitution

Israeli authorities confiscated Palestinian property for construction of the separation barrier or military installations. In some cases, the IDF offered some compensation; however, Palestinians largely declined due to concern that this would legitimize the confiscations. Due to documentation issues dating from the Ottomans and a land tenure system with communal, family, and individual rights commingled, Palestinians have had difficulty attempting to prove ownership in Israeli courts (see section 1.f.).

On June 16, the IDF confiscated 89 acres of land to expand a military base near the settlement of Roi. Palestinian officials claimed the land was privately owned Palestinian land and expressed concern that the confiscation would cut off access to the village of al-Hadidiya.

On October 31, the IDF razed Bedouin dwellings in communities south of Hebron and east of Ramallah, leaving 142 homeless, according to media reports. The Israeli planning rights NGO, Bimkom, in a June report, said Israeli data showed that between 2000 and September 2007: 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; 1,626 buildings were demolished; and 1,624 applications for building permits in area C were submitted by Palestinians, of which 91 permits (5.6 percent) were approved.

In a 2006 study based on official data, the Israeli NGO Peace Now concluded that 38.7 percent of the 15,271 acres occupied by Israeli settlements, outposts, and industrial zones in the West Bank was privately owned Palestinian property, and that West Bank settlements violated Israeli law and juridical decisions. The Israeli Yesha settlement council condemned the report on technical and substantive grounds.

A July 2007 OCHA report on the humanitarian impact of Israeli settlements concluded that 40 percent of West Bank land includes Israeli infrastructure including 1,032 miles of roads, military bases, nature reserves, settlements, and outposts. According to the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics (ICBS), the population of Israeli settlements grew 5.6 percent in 2006-07, while Israel's population grew 1.6 percent. There were no updated statistics available during the year. ICBS also reported that the number of starts on new construction in settlements was 42 percent higher between January and June than in the same period in 2007.

In March 2007 the Israeli Ministry of Finance transferred to the government of Israel ownership of 7.5 acres of olive orchard known as "Mufti's Grove" in East Jerusalem's Shaykh Jarrah neighborhood. In April 2007 the Israeli 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 2006 the Israeli Committee for the Preservation of Historic Sites made a recommendation to demolish the historic Shepherd Hotel in East Jerusalem, which was 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. At year's end plans to build six eight-story apartment buildings remained in dispute.

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 frequently ignored these requirements.

Under occupation orders, only IDF lieutenant colonels and above could authorize entry into private homes and institutions without a warrant, based upon military necessity. Israeli authorities stated that violating this order entailed punishment, but there were no reported cases of IDF soldiers punished for acting without fulfilling this requirement.

Israeli forces are prohibited from using "human shields" by law, High Court rulings, and an IDF order, but the prohibition was not always observed. There was no additional information available in the disciplinary proceedings against Brigadier General Yair Golan who ordered the 2007 operation in which 24-year-old Samah Amira was held at gun point to serve as a human shield as the IDF searched houses in Nablus. In October 2007 IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi initiated a disciplinary proceeding against Brigadier General Yair Golan for authorizing the operation. In 2006 B'Tselem claimed that during an incursion in northern Gaza, IDF soldiers seized control of two buildings and used six residents as human shields. The IDF previously informed B'Tselem that the investigation continued; however, at year's end there were no developments.

Israeli authorities limited Palestinian home construction, notably in East Jerusalem. The municipality of Jerusalem demolished 88 houses in East Jerusalem during the year because they were defined by the Israeli government as illegal. Additional demolitions of houses by the IDF in Jersualem were not tracked by the municipality. The NGO Israeli Committee Against Home Demolitions recorded a total of 93 demolitions in Jerusalem during the year. Israeli authorities generally restricted Palestinian home building elsewhere in the West Bank and near Israeli settlements. According to OCHA, 110 homes were demolished in the West Bank and Gaza, leaving 489 Palestinians homeless.

During the year the IDF destroyed numerous citrus, olive, and date groves and irrigation systems in Gaza, stating that Qassam rockets were being fired from those areas. For example, on January 6, the IDF carried out land-leveling operations in conjunction with a military operation in al-Bureij camp in Gaza, uprooting 20 acres of olive trees. On January 23, IDF bulldozers operating on agricultural land northeast of Beit Hanoun uprooted approximately 85 acres of olive and citrus trees.

As in previous years, there were numerous incidents of vandalism of Palestinian olive groves by Israeli settlers. On October 2, following the IDF evacuation of the illegal outpost at Shavut 'Ami, settlers burned 2.5 acres of land belonging to farmers from Immatin village near Qalqiliya, destroying an estimated 100 olive trees. On October 11, settlers from Yitzhar injured three Palestinians and cut down 18 olive trees before IDF soldiers intervened.

During the year violent attacks by settlers against Palestinians increased significantly. On June 20 and July 21, settlers from Yitzhar and Har Bracha settlements launched multiple improvised rockets at nearby Palestinian villages. Israeli police arrested Gilad Herman, a student at Od Yosef Hai Yeshiva in Yitzhar following an investigation of the June 20 incident. On July 28, a Molotov cocktail attack on a house on the outskirts of Burin, next to Har Bracha, caused significant damage when it landed in a child's crib. The family was not at home.

Palestinian villages in the south Hebron hills and south of Nablus were particularly affected. The press widely covered a June 8 attack on Tamam al-Nawajah and two other members of her family who were farming near Susiya settlement. Press coverage was in large part due to the availability of footage taken by a member of al-Nawajah's family. On June 17, Israeli police arrested three residents of Susiya in connection with the assaults. They were later released for lack of evidence. At year's end the investigation continued.

On July 5, settlers from Ashael tied Madahat Abu Kirash to a telephone pole and beat him. The incident was also filmed and widely reported in the press. A spokesman for a South Hebron Hills settler organization denied involvement and alleged that Palestinians or leftist activists had staged the attack. Israeli police arrested three people who were released to house arrest with electronic monitoring bracelets pending trial. They were prohibited from entering the West Bank.

Israeli authorities arrested 19-year-old Daniel Avraham, a settler from Yitzhar settlement, and charged him on August 25 with possession of weapons and endangering lives on a road in an August 1 attack in which a large stone thrown onto a vehicle wounded a pregnant woman and two of her daughters. At year's end no additional information was available.

In September Yesh Din reported that Israeli 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.

The IDF cleared and took control of privately owned Palestinian land to construct the separation barrier. According to OCHA, at the end of 2007, 254.2 miles of the 449.4 mile-barrier had been constructed and 8,887 acres of West Bank land confiscated in the process. There were no updated statistics available during the year. Israeli government policy was to build the barrier on public lands where possible, and where private land was used, provide opportunities for compensation. Numerous cases were filed in Israeli courts challenging barrier route (see section 2.d.).

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The Basic Law permits 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. A press law enjoins criticizing the PA or the president, but it was not applied. The climate of violence induced self-censorship, and both the PA security forces in the West Bank and members of the Hamas security apparatus in Gaza restricted freedoms of speech and press. Individuals criticizing the authorities publicly risked reprisal, and during the year PA security forces and Hamas Executive Forces closed media offices, confiscated equipment, prevented the delivery of newspapers, and assaulted journalists during demonstrations.

There were three Palestinian daily and several weekly newspapers, several monthly magazines, and three tabloids. The PA operated one television and one radio station. There were approximately 30 independent television and 25 independent radio stations. Violence between Hamas and Fatah resulted in polarization of the Palestinian press. Working conditions for journalists in the West Bank and Gaza deteriorated noticeably during the year; however, some international news outlets maintained offices in Gaza.

Since June 2007 the PA has maintained its distribution ban on the pro-Hamas Al-Risala twice-weekly and Felesteen daily, both Gaza-based publications.

On July 27, Hamas banned distribution of the three dailies in Gaza. On August 24, the ban was lifted against Al-Quds newspaper but remained in place against Al-Ayyam and Al-Hayat Al-Jadida. According to officials from those newspapers, Hamas demanded that its own newspapers, Al-Risalah and Felesteen, be allowed to circulate in the West Bank in order to lift the ban against the two West Bank-based papers.

On February 10, 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 November 2007.

In June 2007, following its take-over of the Gaza Strip, 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 down. Both stations have since been operating from Ramallah. Two other Fatah-affiliated radio stations in Gaza, Al-Hurriyah and Al-Shabab, also went off the air at the same time.

The NGO Reporters Without Borders (RSF) reported that after the takeover of Gaza in 2007, Hamas leaders announced that they would apply a 1995 press law that was drafted but never passed by the PLC, under which journalists can be imprisoned for up to six months and newspapers closed for reports liable to "jeopardize national unity or incite crime, hatred, division or sectarian dissention or for criticizing the police and security forces."

Pro-Hamas journalists in the West Bank were exposed to threats. 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 during the year between August 2 and August 6. According to RSF, at least nine news media outlets stopped operating in Gaza, three of which were state owned and six privately owned.

On January 1, PA forces arrested four journalists in the West Bank city of Tulkarm, including the head of Hamas-affiliated Al-Aqsa television in the West Bank, Muhammad Shteiwi; a reporter for the same television station, Tariq Shahab; a reporter for the Hamas daily Felesteen, Salim Tayeh; and a fourth journalist, Fareed As Sayed. Both Shahab and Tayeh were released shortly after their arrest. Shteiwi was held for three days before being released and was subject to periodic questioning by PA security forces but was not subsequently held in custody.

On March 12, the independent Ramattan News Agency reported that PA security forces forcibly entered the agency's offices in Ramallah and arrested the editor in charge, Nawwaf Al-Amer. Al-Amer was held for questioning and then released by PA security forces.

On July 26, Hamas forces arrested Fouad Jarrada of the Palestinian Broadcasting Corporation, the official Palestinian television station, and Amro Farra of the official Palestinian WAFA News Agency. The press reported that Hamas forces raided the office of WAFA in Gaza as part of a crackdown on Fatah activists and institutions, following a large explosion in Gaza believed by Hamas to be a Fatah attack against Hamas.

Also on July 26, the PA intelligence services in the West Bank arrested Alaa el Titi, a correspondent of the Hamas television station Al Aqsa, and Mostapha Sabri, the editor of the Hamas daily Felesteen.

Again on July 26, Hamas arrested Sawah Abu Saif, a cameraman working for Germany's ARD television network. He was released on July 30. According to press reports, Abu Saif was arrested by Hamas forces in an effort to gather information on staff and correspondents of ARD, accused by Hamas of producing negative reports about its government and the overall situation in Gaza. On July 31, ARD closed its office in Gaza.

Israeli authorities limited freedom of expression, ordering that in East Jerusalem displays of Palestinian political symbols were punishable by fines or prison, as were public expressions of anti-Israeli sentiment and of support for terrorist groups. Israeli authorities censored coverage of the Intifada and 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. Since November 6, journalists were prohibited from entering the territory by the IDF. The military's ban on travel by journalists continued at year's end.

Closures, curfews, and checkpoints limited the ability of Palestinian and foreign journalists to do their jobs (see section 2.d.).

In July 2007 al-Aqsa television cameraman Imad Ghanem was shot by IDF soldiers while covering an IDF operation in al-Barij Camp in Gaza and subsequently lost both legs. RSF called for an investigation, but there was no known investigation by year's end.

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.

On August 20, the IDF raided three Hebron media outlets reportedly looking for the source of interference with Ben Gurion airport operations, according to staff at the outlets. IDF soldiers damaged and confiscated some equipment and detained two employees.

Internet Freedom

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. According to a 2006 Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics survey, 18 percent of Palestinians knew how to use the Internet, and 16 percent of households had access to the Internet.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

There were no PA restrictions on academic freedom and cultural events. During the year Palestinian authorities did not interfere with education; however, violence and restrictions on movement adversely affected academic institutions (see section 2.b.). In Gaza Hamas continued to remove Fatah-affiliated employees from all sectors, including firing several principals and teachers. Israeli authorities continued to prohibit Palestinians from undergraduate university study in Israel.

Israeli authorities prevented many Palestinian cultural events that they reportedly perceived to be associated with Palestinian political ambitions. Seven times during the year, including most recently on November 21, the Ministry of Interior 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.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

Freedom of Assembly

PA 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 November 2007 Fatah-Hamas clashes in Gaza, Hamas banned rallies, impeded freedom of assembly, and the carrying of arms by Fatah members. Hamas members were permitted to hold demonstrations and display weapons in public in Gaza.

On April 26, Hamas decreed that any public assembly or celebration was required to receive prior permission, in contradiction to the Basic Law.

On May 10, four plainclothes Hamas security forces entered the Commodore Hotel in Gaza and broke up the annual conference of Bada'el Media Research and Studies Center, citing the failure of the conference to obtain permission from the police.

In June Hamas detained Fatah activists mourning the anniversary of the June 2007 killing of Jamal Abu al-Jidyan, a senior al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade member and Fatah Secretary for northern Gaza.

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 village to protest the construction of the separation barrier. On several occasions, soldiers tear gassed, beat, or injured them with rubber bullets.

Freedom of Association

PA law allows for the freedom of association, but it was limited in practice. PA security services frequently raided and closed Hamas-affiliated organizations and charities. On August 6, the PA raided four charitable organizations and two printing houses in Hebron Governorate and confiscated vehicles and computers.

Between July 26 and July 28, in the aftermath of a July 25 explosion on a Gaza beach, Hamas closed at least 45 NGO offices. Most of the NGOs were Fatah-affiliated, but a number were independent of any political affiliation.

Overnight on July 7 and July 8, the IDF conducted a series of raids in Nablus against organizations allegedly affiliated with Hamas, including a major commercial mall.

Prominent Palestinian centers in East Jerusalem, such as the Chamber of Commerce and Orient House, remained closed by Israel on grounds they operated under PA supervision. On July 2, Israel closed the Palestinian Housing Council (PHC) in East Jerusalem on the grounds that it was acting as a representative of the PA. The organization released a statement saying it had been a registered Israeli company since 1991. PHC reopened on December 31 after the closure order expired without further action by the government of Israel.

c. Freedom of Religion

The Basic Law provides for religious freedom, and the PA generally respected this right in practice.

The Basic Law states that Islam is the official religion and that the principles of Islamic law shall be the main source of legislation but also calls for respect and sanctity for other "heavenly" religions. Religion must be declared on identification papers and personal status legal matters must be handled in ecclesiastical courts.

The PA's Ministry of Religious Endowments and Religious Affairs (Awqaf) constructed and maintained mosques and paid salaries of imams. Christian clergymen and charitable organizations received limited financial support. The PA did not provide financial support to any Jewish institutions or holy sites in the occupied territories; these areas were generally under Israeli control. The PA required that religion be taught in PA schools and provided separate instruction for Muslims and Christians.

Due to the Hamas take over of the Gaza Strip, the PA was unable to pursue cases of religious discrimination there. Attacks on the Christian community in Gaza increased in 2007, and the press reported the Hamas regime did not arrest suspects in these attacks. There were numerous attacks in the Gaza Strip by Muslim extremist groups who went by variations of the name "Swords of Right," "Swords of Justice," and "Swords of Islam." Some Gazan Christians stated that they believed they were under scrutiny for being different from their Muslim neighbors, and they raised concerns that no authority was willing or able to rein in extremist groups.

There were multiple attacks on schools and institutions affiliated with the small Christian community in Hamas-controlled Gaza. On February 15, armed men broke into the YMCA compound in Gaza City and attacked the guards. They set off two bombs, including one in the library that damaged thousands of books. On February 21, armed militants forced their way into the Lighthouse Baptist School in Gaza City, assaulted a guard, and vandalized classrooms.

On March 20, a 15-year-old boy from the West Bank settlement of Ariel was seriously wounded by shrapnel after explosion of a bomb that was concealed in a Purim gift basket in front of his home. The boy's father, a Messianic Jew, was previously the victim of a smear campaign by Orthodox Jews, who hung posters of his face with the caption "dangerous missionary." It was widely reported that the family was attacked because of their religious beliefs. 

On May 16, unknown assailants detonated a bomb outside a Christian school in Gaza City, causing no injuries. Hamas officials stated they were looking into the incident, and the case remained open at year's end. On May 31, unidentified militants again attacked the Lighthouse Baptist School in Gaza City, injuring a guard and stealing a bus from the Holy Book Association.

There were no developments in the October 2007 cases of Rami Khader Ayyad, who was abducted and killed on his way home from work at the Baptist-affiliated Holy Bible Association in Gaza, or the arson at a synagogue near the settlement of Dolev in the West Bank.

Israeli authorities generally respected religious freedom and permitted all faiths to operate schools and institutions; however, some increases in societal abuses and discrimination contributed to a slight decline in respect for religious freedom during the year. Israeli permit restrictions on entering Jerusalem prevented many Christian and Muslim worshipers from reaching holy sites in the city.

Religious workers from Christian organizations in Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza found it increasingly difficult to obtain or renew visas from the Israeli government. In October 2007 the Interior Ministry announced it had cancelled all reentry visas for Christian clergy in the occupied territories. Clergy who wished to return to or visit their parishes in the occupied territories were required to apply for new, single-entry visas at Israeli consulates abroad, a process that could take months.

In October 2007 the Interior Ministry told the newspaper Ha'aretz that the unannounced mass visa revocation was conducted at the request of security officials, and that the ministry was "trying to coordinate a means of operation that would make it easier for clergymen and women to travel." According to the President of the Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Association, quoted in an October 2007 Ha'aretz report, some clergy refused to leave the occupied territories, fearing that they would not be allowed to return, while others remained outside the country after being turned back by border officials while trying to return home. As in past years, the shortage of foreign clergy impeded the functioning of Christian congregations and other religious and educational institutions.

The construction of the separation barrier by Israel, particularly in and around East Jerusalem, limited access to mosques, churches, and other holy sites, and seriously impeded the work of religious organizations; however, at times the Israeli government made efforts to lessen the impact on religious communities. For security reasons, the Israeli government frequently prevented nearly all West Bank Palestinians and most male Muslim worshippers with Jerusalem identification cards under a certain age (usually 45 or 50) from attending Friday prayers inside the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount, the third holiest site in Islam. Israeli authorities restricted many West Bank and virtually all Gaza residents from entering Jerusalem during Ramadan.

Israeli police escorted tourists to the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount in Jerusalem, who reportedly wished to assert the right of non-Muslims to visit. However, non-Muslims were not permitted to worship publicly at the shrine. The administration of the shrine accused Israeli police of permitting Jewish groups to worship publicly there.

Societal Abuses and Discrimination

Palestinian media frequently published and broadcast material that included anti-Semitic content. Rhetoric by Palestinian terrorist groups included expressions of anti-Semitism, as did sermons by some Muslim religious leaders carried on the official PA television. Some Palestinian religious leaders rejected the right of Israel to exist. Hamas' al-Aqsa television station carried shows for preschoolers extolling hatred of Jews and suicide bombings.

Israeli settler radio stations often depicted Arabs as subhuman and called for Palestinians to be expelled from the West Bank. Some of this rhetoric contained religious references.

The PA Ministry of Education and Higher Education completed the revision of its primary and secondary textbooks in 2006 and began a process to consider further revisions. International academics concluded the textbooks did not incite violence against Jews, but showed imbalance, bias, and inaccuracy. There are cases where the maps in Palestinian textbooks do not depict the current political reality. Palestinian textbooks are inconsistent in defining the 1967 borders and labeling areas and cities with both Arabic and Hebrew names.

On December 31, 2007, Israeli settlers from Elazar and Newe Daniyyel burned a 700-year-old mosque in Khirbet Humeida village near Bethlehem. There was no known investigation.

For more detailed discussion, see the 2008 International Religious Freedom Report at www.state/g/drl/irf/rpt.

d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons

The Basic Law provides for freedom of movement, and the PA generally did not restrict freedom of movement.

The IDF restricted the movement of Palestinians and frequently heightened these restrictions citing military necessity. These restrictions on movement affected virtually all aspects of life, including access to places of worship, employment, agricultural lands, schools, hospitals, and the conduct of journalism and NGO activities.

The Israeli government continued construction of a separation barrier along parts of the Green Line (the 1949 Armistice line) and in the West Bank. As of September, 57.2 percent of the route of the separation barrier was completed, 8.6 percent was under construction, and 34.2 percent was not yet constructed. The route of the barrier separated approximately 9.5 percent of the West Bank, totaling approximately 135,000 acres, including East Jerusalem, from the rest of the West Bank. Areas near the barrier or its projected route are designated military zones where Palestinians were not able to obtain building permits.

A 2004 International Court of Justice advisory opinion concluded that construction of the barrier was in a number of aspects contrary to international law. In 2005 the High Court reaffirmed its 2004 decision that the barrier is permissible under both international and Israeli law if properly routed; however, it questioned whether a segment near Jerusalem in the West Bank utilized the least intrusive route available and asked the government to consider an alternative. The High Court has ordered the government to reroute three specific sections of the barrier. At year's end the government had not begun to implement the 2005 ruling regarding the barrier near Alfe Menashe settlement or the September 2007 ruling regarding the portion near Bil'in village. In November work implementing the 2006 ruling on the routing near 'Azzun and Nebi Alias villages began.

Palestinians filed a number of cases with the Israeli High Court challenging the route of the barrier, several of which remained active at year's end. In September 2007 the High Court ordered the IDF to redraw, partially dismantle, and rebuild the route of a 1.1 mile section of the barrier around Bil'in that separated Palestinian residents from much of their farmland. The High Court instructed the IDF to present a revised plan within a reasonable period of time and explicitly required a parcel of land belonging to the village allocated for expansion of the settlement of Modiin Ilit to be placed on the Palestinian side of the barrier. During the year two proposed reroutings were offered by the IDF, each of which was rejected for not meeting the requirements of the September 2007 court decision. At year's end following a December 15 ruling against the most recent proposal, the IDF was drafting a third draft revision to the routing of the existing barrier.

During the year Israeli authorities required thousands of Palestinian schoolchildren who resided on the eastern side of the barrier to transit gated checkpoints to attend school in East Jerusalem. 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 Rafat/Masyion and Qalandiya checkpoints to reach school.

Near Jerusalem, Highway 443 crosses the West Bank southwest of Ramallah and since 2006 has been restricted by military order from use by nearly all Palestinians. On March 5, the Israeli High Court deferred a decision on the legality of Highway 443 until an update could be provided on the progress of an alternate road for use by Palestinians, effectively sanctioning the restrictions in place at the time. Human rights organizations said that land for Highway 443 had originally been expropriated for the purpose of improving transportation for Palestinians between Ramallah and outlying villages.

In "seam-zone" communities in the West Bank, located between the separation barrier and the Green Line, Israel requires Palestinians to obtain residency permits to remain in their homes. Services for these communities are generally located on the east side of the separation barrier, so children, patients, and workers must pass through barrier gates to reach schools, health services, and workplaces. Gates are neither open around the clock nor are ambulances allowed free access.

In the aftermath of terrorist attacks or during military exercises, Israeli authorities prohibited travel between some or all West Bank towns. Such "internal closures" were supplemented, during periods of potential unrest and during major Israeli, Jewish, and Muslim holidays, by "comprehensive, external closures," which precluded Palestinians from leaving the West Bank. The IDF imposed temporary curfews confining Palestinians to their homes during arrest operations; the West Bank was under curfew a total of 873 hours in 2007.

Since June 2007 Israel has enforced a strict blockade of Gaza, seriously impeding people and goods from entering or leaving. Virtually no humanitarian goods or fuel entered Gaza between November 5 and December 25 during a flare-up of hostilities between Israel and Hamas. Israel permitted additional humanitarian goods to enter Gaza immediately prior to and during IAF airstrikes that began on December 27. The shortages of fuel caused by the closure resulted in widespread blackouts throughout Gaza and damaged electrical grid infrastructure. Israeli prohibition of access to Gaza beginning in early November for foreign journalists resulted in widespread protests by international news agencies. Israel also denied entry to Gaza to foreign staff of international NGOs working in Gaza from November 4 until the end of the year.

In response to Qassam rocket fire, the IDF announced in 2005 that Palestinians should keep a distance of 460 feet from the Gaza perimeter fence and declared the former northern settlement block a "no-go" zone. Entry into this area for the 250 Palestinian residents requires prior coordination with the IDF. Although the official buffer remained 460 feet, Palestinians were often prevented from approaching areas as far as 3,280 feet from the fence in some areas. According to OCHA, since May 2007, due to continuing IDF military activities, Palestinian farmers have been unable to reach their farms in the area.

Access to Israel and Egypt for medical treatment by Gazans continued to be highly restricted. However, between February and March, several hundred medical patients were allowed to leave Gaza using shuttles. On August 4, Physicians for Human Rights reported that the ISA questioned patients transiting Erez checkpoint from Gaza and could refuse passage to persons refusing to provide intelligence information to ISA. Jerusalem-based ambulances were not permitted to serve Palestinian patients in nine communities located within the Jerusalem municipality but isolated by the separation barrier. PRCS ambulances from the West Bank were subjected to delays or refused entry to Jerusalem by IDF soldiers at checkpoints. PRCS employees reported being objects of verbal or physical abuse on 30 occasions through October.

According to OCHA, as of September, in the West Bank there were 630 obstacles to movement, including 75 fully manned checkpoints, 18 occasionally manned checkpoints, 230 earth mounds, 68 cement roadblocks, 97 road gates, 46 earthen walls, 22 trenches, and 74 road protection fences. There were an additional 69 obstacles in the H2 area of Hebron not otherwise counted as staffed checkpoints which OCHA counted separately from the total number of obstacles. During the year of the 71 gates or checkpoints along the separation barrier, 40 were accessible only to Palestinians in possession of permits. Operating hours of the accessible gates were limited and although schedules were announced, openings and closings were erratic. Closure of major checkpoints was at times arbitrary and hindered Palestinians from reaching workplaces, school, places of worship, and health services.

Between January and October, OCHA recorded 3,078 "temporary" checkpoints in the West Bank, a weekly average of 76.2, due to arrests or other operations. Over the same period Israeli forces made 3,341 arrests.

Israel continued to restrict access to the Jordan Valley by Palestinians residing in other areas of the West Bank. Highway 90, the main north-south highway in the Jordan Valley, was not explicitly restricted from use by Palestinians, but Palestinians not resident in the valley have been prohibited from driving cars across the four main access points since April 2007.

Palestinians in the Israeli-controlled section of Hebron (H2), according to OCHA, faced 78 significant obstacles to movement. According to a November-December 2006 B'Tselem survey, these policies have since 2000 resulted in Palestinians abandoning more than 1,000 homes (40 percent of all Palestinian homes) and at least 1,829 (more than 76 percent) businesses in H2.

West Bank and Gaza residents can enter Jerusalem only with an Israeli-issued travel permit. During the year Israeli authorities prohibited passage between Gaza and the West Bank, except for a very limited number of Palestinians holding Israeli permits. During the month of Ramadan, only Palestinian men over 50 and women over 45 were permitted to enter Jerusalem without a permit. Palestinians under the age limit were required to obtain a permit.

In December 2007 a court-ordered, IDF-operated shuttle service between Gaza and the West Bank ceased operating. The shuttle, started following the June 2007 closure of the Rafah crossing in Gaza, allowed students and holders of long-term visas, residency, or citizenship of a foreign country to leave Gaza. The shuttle system operated four times, and 550 people were allowed to leave, but after Israel declared Gaza a "hostile entity" in September 2007, the shuttle service was discontinued. In response to a petition by the Israeli NGO Gisha (Legal Center for Freedom of Movement), the High Court in October 2007 ordered that it be renewed, and in December the shuttle service transported 484 students and their families.

In January the High Court petition filed by Gisha was withdrawn after all named petitioners either reached universities or had admissions to overseas universities cancelled. Gisha estimated that approximately 70 students were granted exit permission for foreign study on a case-by-case basis during the year on the condition that diplomats from the countries of study escorted students while transiting Israel to and from Gaza.

The IDF banned Gazan students from studying in the West Bank and limited West Bank Palestinians from university study in East Jerusalem and Israel (see section 2.a.).

The PA issued passports for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. Because there were no commercial flights from the territories and permits to use Ben Gurion airport were not available, travelers departed by land into Jordan or Egypt. NGOs claimed that Israeli authorities harassed their representatives who landed at Ben Gurion airport. Foreign citizens of Palestinian ethnicity had difficulty obtaining or renewing visas permitting them to enter the West Bank and Israel both from Ben Gurion airport and land entry points.

Palestinians with Jerusalem identification cards issued by the Israeli government needed special documents to travel abroad. Upon the individual request of Palestinians, the Jordanian government issued passports to Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Residency restrictions affected family reunification. Israeli authorities did not permit Palestinians who were abroad during the 1967 War, or who subsequently lost residence permits, to reside permanently in the occupied territories. It was difficult for foreign-born spouses and children of Palestinians to obtain residency. Palestinian spouses of Jerusalem residents must obtain a residency permit and reported delays of several years. Palestinians in East Jerusalem also reported delays in registering newborn children. In September 2007 the High Court ordered reconsideration of the freeze on family unification in the West Bank. There were no further developments at year's end.

The Basic Law prohibits forced exile, and the PA under President Abbas did not use forced exile in practice. Revocations of Jerusalem identification cards continued in recent years. B'tselem reported that 1,363 were revoked in 2006. In 2007, the most recent year for which data were available, HaMoked stated that the Israeli Ministry of Interior recorded 289 revocations. Reasons for revocation include having acquired residency or citizenship in a third country, living abroad for more than seven years, or, most commonly, being unable to prove a "center of life" in Jerusalem.

The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre of the Norwegian Refugee Council, citing data gathered by Palestinian refugee-rights NGO BADIL in September 2007, estimated there have been more than 110,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) since 1967. The UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) estimated that between January and March, at least 544 individuals, including 159 children, were displaced as a result of 74 residential structure demolitions in the occupied territories, almost exclusively in the West Bank. This internal displacement in the West Bank is primarily the result of actions by the Israeli government, including home demolitions, land expropriation, and revocation of Jerusalem residency rights.

Internal displacement in Gaza was significant, resulting from damage to housing and flight from conflict areas during the IAF air strikes in the last five days of December. At year's end UNRWA estimated that 370 people were living in shelters in Gaza as a result of continuing Israeli military operations.

With limited exceptions, Israel did not provide protection or assistance to IDPs in the occupied territories. Israel made available monetary compensation for land expropriations, which was generally refused by Palestinians. The PA provided some assistance through rental subsidies and financial assistance to reconstruct demolished houses. International response and assistance to internally displaced persons lacked coordination, and there was no single agency responsible for protection of IDPs during the year.

Neither Israel nor the PA forcibly returned IDPs to their original residences under dangerous conditions during the year.

UNRWA was not consistently permitted by the Israeli government to provide humanitarian assistance to refugee communities in Gaza and parts of the West Bank. UNWRA's mandate is to provide direct relief and services to registered Palestinian refugees, 70 percent (nearly one million) of Gaza's population and 30 percent (687,000) of the West Bank's population.

Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government

Elections and Political Participation

In 2006 the 132-member PLC was elected in a process that international observers concluded generally met democratic standards in providing citizens the right peacefully to change their government. The PLC did not meet during the year due to lack of a quorum (see section 1.d.).

The 2005 primary elections to determine Fatah candidates for the 2006 PLC elections were marred by violence and allegations of fraud and were never completed in some areas. Israeli authorities restricted campaigning for the PLC elections in Jerusalem. Hamas-backed candidates participated in the 2006 PLC elections but only under the name "Reform and Change Movement," not "Hamas," and won 74 of 132 seats. Fatah won 45 seats; independents and candidates from third parties won the remaining seats.

In 2005 Palestinians elected Mahmud Abbas as PA president. Seven candidates competed in a vigorous election campaign. In both the 2005 presidential election and the PLC election, the Israeli government and the PA followed the 1996 parameters for Palestinians residing in East Jerusalem to vote, but inadequate arrangements kept turnout in Jerusalem low.

While Palestinians with residency permits were eligible to vote in Jerusalem municipal elections, most did not recognize Israeli jurisdiction in Jerusalem and did not participate. Turnout among Palestinians resident in Jerusalem was extremely low in November elections, and there continued to be no Palestinians on the Jerusalem City Council.

There were 17 women in the 132-member PLC and three women in the 16-member Cabinet formed in June. There were seven Christians in the PLC and two in the cabinet during the year.

Government Corruption and Transparency

The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption; however, the government did not implement the law effectively.

There was a widespread public perception of corruption, notably within the PA security forces and the Hamas Executive Force. Many social and political elements called for reform. PA ministers were subject to financial disclosure laws, and the PA attorney general's office is responsible for combating government corruption.

The law requires official PA institutions to "facilitate" acquisition of requested documents or information to any Palestinian, but it does not require PA agencies to provide such information. Reasons for denial generally referred to privacy rights and security necessity.

Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

Palestinian human rights groups and several international organizations monitored the PA's human rights practices. According to the PA Ministry of Interior, at year's end approximately 4,700 NGOs were registered and 1,700 were active in the West Bank. PA officials usually cooperated with and permitted visits during the year by UN representatives or other organizations such as ICRC; however, since the beginning of the Intifada, several NGOs voluntarily deferred criticism of the PA's human rights performance, and documentation of abuses was very limited. NGOs, however, criticized the PA's inadequate security performance.

The GI and the civil police in the West Bank appointed liaisons with human rights groups.

Israeli, Palestinian, and international NGOs monitored the Israeli government's practices in the occupied territories and published their findings, although the security situation, including closures in the West Bank and fighting and access restrictions in Gaza, increasingly made it difficult to carry out their work. The Israeli government permitted human rights groups to publish and hold press conferences and provided the ICRC and other groups with access to detainees.

The IDF entered UNRWA facilities 14 times during the year, causing some damages, usually in the course of arrest operations in the West Bank. PA security forces in the West Bank entered UNRWA facilities twice. UNRWA recorded multiple incidents during the year of UN staff being harassed or having weapons pointed at them by IDF soldiers at checkpoints.

The quasi-governmental ICHR serves as the PA's ombudsman and human rights commission.

Section 5 Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

The law states that all Palestinians are equal without discrimination because of race, gender, color, religion, political views, or disability. There was societal discrimination against women, persons with disabilities, and homosexuals; child abuse also persisted.

Women

Rape is illegal, but its legal definition does not address spousal rape. PA law does not explicitly prohibit domestic violence, but assault and battery are crimes. According to HRW, few cases were successfully prosecuted. According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, violence against wives, especially psychological, was common in the West Bank and Gaza. A woman must provide two eye witnesses, not relatives, to initiate divorce on the grounds of spousal abuse.

In April the Palestinian NGO Society Voice Foundation released the results of a field study concluding that in the Gaza Strip 75 percent of women witnessed verbal, physical, sexual, or other types of violence, and 42 percent were victims of violence.

According to the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), conditions in Gaza were associated with increased levels of violence against women. In 2007 two in five women in Gaza reported being victims of violence, up from one in five in 2006. There were a handful of NGO-funded women's shelters in the West Bank; there were no shelters in Gaza. Women generally approached village or religious leaders for assistance.

The PA Ministry of Women's Affairs reported there were 51 honor killings from 2004 to 2007.

Prostitution is illegal, and it was not openly practiced.

Palestinian labor law states that work is the right of every capable citizen and regulates the work of women. However, during the year the rate of female participation in the workforce did not exceed 14 percent compared to 67 percent for males. Women endured prejudice and repression. Cultural restrictions associated with marriage occasionally prevented women from completing mandatory schooling or attending college. Families often disowned Muslim and Christian women who married outside their faith. Local officials sometimes advised such women to leave their communities to prevent harassment.

For Muslims, personal status law is derived from Shari'a (Islamic law). Shari'a pertaining to women is part of the governing 1976 Jordanian Status Law, which includes inheritance and marriage laws. Women can inherit but not equally. Men may take more than one wife but rarely do. Women may make marriage contracts to protect their interests in divorce and child custody but rarely did so. Children often stayed with the mother; men paid child support and alimony. Ecclesiastical courts rule on personal status issues for Christians.

Children

Israel registers births of Palestinians in Jerusalem. The PA registers Palestinians born in the West Bank and Gaza, and Israel requires that the PA pass this information to the Israeli Civil Administration.

According to the Jerusalem-based NGO Ir Amim, 48 new classrooms were built in East Jerusalem between 2001-06 after a 2001 Israeli High Court order that the municipality build 245 new classrooms within four years. On September 9, two additional schools containing a total of 46 classrooms were inaugurated in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Umm Lison. Ir Amim, citing a 2006 study by the Knesset Education Committee, stated that by 2010 the projected shortfall of classrooms in East Jerusalem would be 1,900.

Child abuse was reported to be a widespread problem. A 2006 HRW study cited a Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics survey indicating high levels of domestic violence, aggravated during times of political violence. There were no updated statistics during the year. The Basic Law prohibits violence against children; however, PA authorities rarely punished perpetrators of familial violence.

International and domestic NGOs promoted educational, medical, and cultural services for children, and other groups specialized in the needs of children with disabilities.

The IDF used minors as human shields; Palestinian terrorist groups used minors to conduct attacks, smuggle weapons, and act as human shields. OCHA reported that between January 1 and December 23, 71 children were killed in Gaza by the IDF. Palestinian factional violence killed 15 children in Gaza over the same period. In the West Bank, 17 children were killed, including 13 by the IDF, two by Israeli settlers, and one by Palestinians. Excluding the final week of the year in Gaza, a total of 618 children were injured in the West Bank and Gaza. The IDF and Israeli settlers were responsible for 99 percent of the 397 injuries to children OCHA recorded in the West Bank (352 were reported as injured by the IDF and 41 by Israeli settlers).

Trafficking in Persons

Palestinian law does not specifically prohibit trafficking in persons; however, there were no reports that persons were trafficked to, from, or within the occupied territories.

Persons with Disabilities

The Basic Law states all Palestinians are equal without discrimination because of disability. Access to public facilities was not mandated. There was societal discrimination against Palestinians with disabilities. In 2005 the Health, Development, Information, and Policy Institute estimated 2,900 Palestinians injured since 2001 would have permanent disabilities.

Poor quality care for Palestinians with disabilities was a problem. The PA depended on NGOs to care for those with physical disabilities and offered substandard care for mental disabilities.

Other Societal Abuses and Discrimination

There was no legal discrimination against homosexuals. However, cultural and religious traditions reject homosexuality, and Palestinians alleged that PA security officers harassed, abused, and sometimes arrested homosexuals because of their sexual orientation.

The PA Ministry of Health provided treatment and privacy protections for patients with HIV/AIDS; however, societal discrimination against affected individuals was high.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

The law permits workers to form and join independent unions of their choice and was respected in practice. Labor unions in Gaza continued to operate, despite a severely weakened economy during the year.

The two most active unions were the General Union for Palestinian Workers and the Palestine General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU). The PGFTU was a member of the International Trade Union Confederation. Both were registered with the PA Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs.

Workers in Jerusalem may establish unions but may not join West Bank federations; however, this restriction was not enforced. Workers holding Jerusalem identity cards may belong simultaneously to West Bank unions and the Israeli General Federation of Labor (Histadrut).

Palestinians working in Israel or Jerusalem prior to 2000 were partial members of Histadrut and entitled to limited benefits. Histadrut and West Bank union officials negotiated an agreement in 1995 to transfer half of their dues to the PGFTU. At year's end the PA Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs (MOLSA) reported that 20 percent of dues had been transferred.

PA law provides for the right to strike. In practice, however, strikers had little protection from retribution. Prospective strikers must provide written warning two weeks in advance of the basis for the strike (four weeks in the case of public utilities), accept MOLSA arbitration, and are subject to disciplinary action if they reject the result. If MOLSA cannot resolve a dispute, it can be referred to a special committee and eventually to a court. Accordingly, in practice the right to strike remained questionable.

PA employees organized three short-term strikes over salary payment issues against the PA during the year. The strikes pertained to the payment of salary arrears and teacher contracts in East Jerusalem schools. All these issues were resolved within a day or two of the strike.

Individual offices within the PA ministries in Gaza conducted strikes and work stoppages against Hamas-led public offices in Gaza throughout the year. Public sector health care workers and teachers held extended strikes against Hamas for reported discrimination against non-Hamas affiliated PA employees. At year's end these types of strikes continued in Gaza with reduced rates of participation compared to earlier strikes.

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

Collective bargaining is protected by law, and this law has been enforced in certain cases. However, there were reports that PA enforcement of collective bargaining rights for unions serving other than PA employees was limited in recent years. Collective bargaining agreements covered 20 percent of workers. Antiunion discrimination and employer interference in union functions are illegal, and the government enforced these prohibitions. Most unions in the West Bank and Gaza serve Palestinian Authority employees, and negotiations on labor issues occur between union leadership and the prime minister's office. Trade unions of non-PA employees have had good relations with the PA and have received PA permission to operate and negotiate on PA contracts. During the year the PA was more effective at protecting bargaining rights for unions of non-PA employees in the West Bank than in previous years.

There are no export processing zones.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

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

The minimum employment age is 15, and there are special conditions for employment under 18. 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 in family farms and shops, as street vendors, or in small enterprises. The UN estimated that during the year, 17,000 Palestinians worked in West Bank settlements and industrial areas, but it was unclear how many were minors.

The PA had eight child labor inspectors for the West Bank and Gaza. MOLSA stated that Palestinian children working in Israeli settlements faced security problems, exploitation, and harassment since there was no enforceable law to monitor and protect child laborers, and there were no Israeli inspectors in West Bank settlements and industrial zones.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

There was no minimum wage. Prior to 2000, average wages for full-time workers provided a decent living standard; however, living standards dropped significantly over the past eight years due to increases in cost of living which outpaced salary increases.

According to Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, the unemployment rate in the third quarter of the year was 36 percent in Gaza and 17 percent in the West Bank. In September the World Bank reported that two-thirds of Palestinians lived below the official poverty line and were unable to support themselves and their families without international assistance. In October OCHA reported that 88 percent of the Gaza population lived in poverty and depended on international assistance.

MOLSA reported that most employees work at least 50 hours each week; the maximum official work week is 48 hours. There were reports that PA employees were pressured to work additional hours to be promoted. The PA observed religious holidays, but they were not incorporated in labor law. Employers are required to allow Christians to attend church on Sunday if the employee desires. Some employers offered Christians the option of taking Sunday off, rather than Friday.

Responding to a petition filed by the Israeli NGO Kav La Oved, the High Court in October 2007 ruled that Israeli labor laws apply to relations between Palestinian workers and Israeli employers in settlements and in the occupied territories. The ruling granted Palestinian workers the same rights and benefits as workers in Israel. On November 28, a Dutch NGO, United Civilians for Peace, reported that Palestinian workers in settlements continued to receive wages below the Israeli minimum wage and often worked extra hours without compensation.

MOLSA was responsible for safety standards, but its enforcement ability was limited. The ministry stated new factories and workplaces met international health and safety standards, but older ones did not. Employees of small construction and service firms were at greatest risk for work place injuries, according to union officials. Unions complained that smaller worksites were not effectively monitored by the PA and were at times below legal standards for safety. Palestinians who work in Israel must contribute to the National Insurance Institute and are eligible for limited benefits.


Sources: Country Reports on Human Rights Practices - 2008, Released by the State Department Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, (February 25, 2009)

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