International Religious Freedom Report:
The Occupied Territories
(including areas subject to the jurisdiction of the Palestinian
The Palestinian Authority (PA) does not
have a constitution, nor does it have a specific law guaranteeing
religious freedom; however, the PA generally respects this
right in practice. Although there is no official religion
in the occupied territories, Islam is treated de facto as
the official religion.
Israel exercises varying degrees of legal
control in the West Bank. Israel has no constitution; however,
Israeli law provides for freedom of worship, and the Israeli
Government generally respects this right in practice.
There was no change in the status of the
PA's respect for religious freedom during the period covered
by this report. In previous years, there were allegations
that a small number of Muslim converts to Christianity were
harassed by PA officials; however, there were no such reports
during the period covered by this report. The Israeli Government's
closure policies in the occupied territories restricted the
ability of Palestinians to reach places of worship, particularly
during religious holidays.
There generally are amicable relations
between Christians and Muslims. Societal attitudes are a
barrier to conversions from Islam. Relations between Jews
and non-Jews, as well as among the different branches of
Judaism are strained. Following the outbreak of the Intifada
in October 2000, there were a number of attacks on places
of worship and religious shrines.
The U.S. Government discusses religious
freedom issues with the PA in the context of its overall
dialog and policy of promoting human rights.
Section I. Religious Demography
The occupied territories are composed of
the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem. The Gaza
Strip covers an area of 143 square miles, and its population
is 1,138,563 persons. The West Bank (excluding East Jerusalem)
covers an area of 2,238 square miles, and its population
is approximately 2,191,300 persons. East Jerusalem covers
an area of 27 square miles and its population is approximately
The vast majority (98.4 percent) of the
Palestinian residents of the occupied territories are Sunni
Muslims. According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics,
there are 40,055 Palestinian Christians living in the territories.
However, according to the sum of estimates provided by individual
Christian denominations, the total number of Christians is
approximately 200,000. A majority of Christians are Greek
Orthodox (approximately 120,000), and there also are a significant
number of Roman Catholics and Greek Catholics (about 50,000
total), Protestants, Syriacs, Armenians, Copts, Maronites,
and Ethiopian Orthodox. In general Christians are concentrated
in the areas of Jerusalem, Ramallah, and Bethlehem. In early
2001, approximately 1,000 Christians from Bethlehem left
the occupied territories for other countries. According to
Christian leaders, most of the Christians left their homes
for economic and security reasons and not due to religious
discrimination. Jewish Israeli settlers reside in the West
Bank (approximately 171,000), Gaza (about 6,500), and Jerusalem.
There is a community of approximately 550 Samaritans (an
ancient offshoot of Judaism) located on Mount Gerazim near
Several evangelical Christian missionary
groups operate in the West Bank, including the Jehovah's
Foreign missionaries operate in the occupied
territories. These include a handful of evangelical Christian
pastors who seek to convert Muslims to Christianity. While
they maintain a generally low profile, the PA is aware of
their activities and generally does not restrict them.
Section II. Status of Religious Freedom
The Palestinian Authority has no constitution,
and no single law in force protects religious freedom; however,
the PA generally respects religious freedom in practice.
Although there is no official religion in the occupied territories,
Islam is treated de facto as the official religion.
The PA has not adopted legislation regarding
religious freedom; however, both the draft Basic Law and
the draft Constitution address religion. The draft Basic
Law stipulates that "Islam is the official religion
in Palestine," and that "respect and sanctity of
all other heavenly religions (i.e., Judaism and Christianity)
shall be maintained." The draft Basic Law was submitted
for PA President Yasser Arafat's signature in 1997; however,
it has not been signed into law. The March 2001 version of
a draft constitution stipulates that "Islam is the official
religion of the State, while other divine religions and their
sanctity are respected." It is unclear whether the injunction
to "respect" other religions would translate into
an effective legal guarantee of religious freedom. The draft
Basic Law and Constitution both state that the principles
of Shari'a (Islamic law) are the primary bases for legislation.
Churches in Jerusalem, the West Bank, and
Gaza may be subdivided into three general categories: 1)
churches recognized by the status quo agreements reached
under Ottoman rule in the late 19th century; 2) Protestant
and evangelical churches that were established between the
late 19th century and 1967, which are fully tolerated by
the PA, although not officially recognized; and 3) a small
number of churches that became active within the last decade,
whose legal status is more tenuous.
The first group of churches is governed
by the 19th century status quo agreements, which the PA respects
and which specifically established the presence and rights
of the Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Armenian Orthodox,
Assyrian, Greek Catholic, Coptic, and Ethiopian Orthodox
Churches. The Episcopal and Lutheran Churches were added
later to the list. These churches and their rights were accepted
immediately by the PA, just as the British, Jordanians, and
Israelis had done before. Like Shari'a courts under Islam,
these religious groups are permitted to have ecclesiastical
courts whose rulings are considered legally binding on personal
status issues and some land issues. Civil courts do not adjudicate
on such matters.
According to the PA, no other churches
have applied for official recognition. However, the second
group of churches, including the Assembly of God, Nazarene
Church, and some Baptist churches, has unwritten understandings
with the PA based on the principles of the status quo agreements.
They are permitted to operate freely and are able to perform
certain personal status legal functions, such as issuing
The third group of churches consists of
a small number of proselytizing churches, including Jehovah's
Witnesses and some evangelical Christian groups. These groups
have encountered opposition in their efforts to obtain recognition,
both from Muslims, who oppose their proselytizing, and Christians,
who fear that the new arrivals may disrupt the status quo.
These churches generally operate unhindered by the PA. At
least one of these churches reportedly planned to request
official recognition from the PA during the period covered
by this report; however, it deferred its request after the
outbreak of the Intifada in October 2000.
In practice the PA requires individuals
to be at least nominally affiliated with some religion. Religion
must be declared on identification papers, and all personal
status legal matters must be handled in either Shari'a or
Christian ecclesiastical courts. In the absence of legal
protection of religious freedom, there are no statutory or
regulatory remedies for violations of that freedom.
Islam is the de facto official religion
of the Palestinian Authority, and its Islamic institutions
and places of worship receive preferential treatment. The
PA has a Ministry of Waqf and Religious Affairs that pays
for the construction and maintenance of mosques and the salaries
of many Palestinian imams. The Ministry also provides some
Christian clergymen and Christian charitable organizations
with limited financial support. The PA does not provide financial
support to any Jewish institutions or holy sites in the occupied
territories; however, it paid for the refurbishment of Joseph's
Tomb after it was damaged by Palestinian demonstrators (see
The PA requires that religion be taught
in PA schools. Until recently, only courses on Islam were
taught, and Christian students were excused from them. However,
during the period covered by this report, the PA implemented
a compulsory curriculum that requires the study of Christianity
for Christian students in grades one through six.
The Palestinian Authority observes several
religious holidays, including, Eid al-Fitr, Eid al-Adha,
Zikra al-Hijra al-Nabawiya, and the Prophet Muhammed's birthday.
Christians also may observe the holidays of Christmas and
The PA does not officially sponsor interfaith
dialog; however, it does attempt to foster goodwill among
religious leaders. The PA makes a strong effort to maintain
good relations with the Christian community, and there is
no pattern of PA harassment of Christians. Within the Ministry
of Religious Affairs, there is a portfolio covering Christian
affairs, and PA Chairman Arafat has an advisor on Christian
affairs. Six Christians and one Samaritan sit on the 88-member
Palestinian Legislative Council in seats set aside for representatives
of these religions.
Israel has no constitution; however, the
law provides for freedom of worship, and the Government generally
respects this right in practice.
The Israeli Government gives preferential
treatment to Jewish residents of the occupied territories
and East Jerusalem in the areas of permits for home building
and civic services. For example, Muslim Arab residents of
Jerusalem pay the same taxes as Jewish residents; however,
Arab residents receive significantly fewer municipal services
than Jewish residents. There is a general consensus among
Palestinian and Israeli human rights organizations that many
of the national and municipal policies enacted in Jerusalem
are designed to limit or diminish the non-Jewish population
of Jerusalem. According to these activists, the Israeli Government
uses a combination of zoning restrictions on building for
Palestinians, confiscation of Palestinian lands, and demolition
of Palestinian homes to "contain" non-Jewish neighborhoods.
The Israeli Government attempts to maintain
amicable relations with all of the major religious denominations
represented in Jerusalem, and to facilitate their worship
requirements. For example, the Israeli Government provides
police support to facilitate processions in and around the
Old City during the Holy Week of Easter.
Restrictions on Religious Freedom
In previous years, the PA limited speech
on religious subjects in some instances.
Since the outbreak of the Intifada, officials
in the PA's Ministry of Waqf and Islamic Affairs have prohibited
non-Muslims from entering the sanctuary of the Haram al-Sharif.
Waqf officials stated that this is a temporary closure because
they cannot justify allowing non-Muslims to visit the Haram
at a time when Palestinian Muslims from the occupied territories
are prevented from worshiping there.
Personal status law for Palestinians is
based on religious law. For Muslim Palestinians, personal
status law is derived from Shari'a, and the varied ecclesiastical
courts rule on personal status issues for Christians. In
the West Bank and Gaza, Shari'a pertaining to women is part
of the Jordanian Status Law of 1976, which includes inheritances
and marriage laws. Under the law, women inherit less than
male members of the family do. The marriage law allows men
to take more than one wife, although few do so. Women are
permitted to make "stipulations" in the marriage
contract to protect them in the event of divorce and questions
of child custody. However, only an estimated 1 percent of
women take advantage of this section of the law, leaving
most women at a disadvantage when it comes to divorce or
Due to the Intifada, political violence
escalated significantly during the period covered by this
report. At least 654 persons were killed between late September
2000 and late June 2001 in demonstrations, violent clashes,
and military and civilian attacks, including 516 Palestinians,
136 Israelis, and 6 foreign nationals. Additionally, at least
14,959 persons were injured during this period. On September
28, Israeli opposition leader Ariel Sharon visited the Temple
Mount (Haram al-Sharif) in Jerusalem. On September 29, some
Palestinians attending Friday prayer services at the Haram
al-Sharif threw stones at police in the vicinity of the Western
Wall. Police used rubber-coated metal bullets and live ammunition
to disperse the demonstrators, killing 4 persons and injuring
approximately 200. Palestinians throughout the occupied territories
reacted to this incident by participating in violent demonstrations
against IDF soldiers; such demonstrations and ensuing clashes
between Palestinians and IDF soldiers occurred daily during
the period covered by this report. A number of Israelis and
Palestinians also were killed in politically related violence
perpetrated by individuals and groups during the year. Israeli
settlers harassed, attacked, and sometimes killed Palestinians
in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Palestinian civilians also
harassed, attacked, and sometimes killed Israelis civilians
Due to the increased violence and security
concerns, the Israeli Government imposed closure on the occupied
territories in October 2000, and this closure still was in
place at the end of the period covered by this report. Closure
on the West Bank and Gaza and between towns and cities within
the occupied territories ("internal closure") impeded
significantly freedom of worship for Muslims and Christians
during the period covered by this report. Even before the
outbreak of the Intifada in October 2000, Palestinians in
the occupied territories were required to obtain a permit
to enter Jerusalem. The Israeli Government frequently denied
requests for permits and Israeli security personnel sometimes
denied permit holders access to Jerusalem, even to visit
holy sites. During periods of closure, Palestinians from
the occupied territories were prevented from traveling to
pray inside the Haram al-Sharif (Temple Mount) in Jerusalem.
In practice Israeli closure policies prevented tens of thousands
of Palestinians from reaching places of worship in Jerusalem
and the West Bank, including during religious holidays, such
as Ramadan, Christmas, and Easter. On a number of occasions,
the Israeli Government also prevented worshipers under the
age of 45 from attending Friday prayers inside the Haram
al-Sharif; the Israeli Government stated that it did so in
an effort to prevent outbreaks of violence following Friday
prayers (see Section III). The Israeli Government states
that it imposes closure on the occupied territories for security
reasons; however, many Palestinians believe that the real
purpose of closure is ethnically-based harassment and humiliation.
In early April 2001, Israeli authorities
prevented thousands of Muslims from reaching the Nabi Musa
shrine near Jericho, the site of an annual three-week Muslim
celebration. Israeli officials stated that they decided to
cancel the religious festival because the PA intended to
turn the event into a "political rally."
During the period covered by this report,
due to the Israeli Government's closure policy, a number
of Palestinian religious leaders were prevented from reaching
their congregations. For example, on March 9, 2001, Israeli
soldiers prevented the Latin Patriarch, Michel Sabbah, from
entering the town of Ein Areek to perform a Mass. On April
14, 2001, Israeli soldiers prevented the Legal Advisor at
the Latin Patriarchate, Majdi al-Siryani, from attending
the Ritual of the Holy Fire in Jerusalem. A second group
of soldiers then prevented him from reaching a mass in Bethlehem.
The Israeli Government pledged to create a "hotline"
to facilitate the movement of clerics through checkpoints
in March 2001; however, it had not done so by the end of
the period covered by this report. Several clergymen reported
that they were subject to verbal harassment at checkpoints
during the period covered by this report.
Palestinian violence against Israeli settlers
sometimes prevented settlers from reaching Jewish holy sites
in the occupied territories during the period covered by
this report. Other Israelis were unable to reach Jewish sites
in the occupied territories such as Rachel's Tomb and the
Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron due to the ongoing violence,
including on religious holidays.
A 1995 ruling by the Israeli High Court
of Justice theoretically allowed small numbers of Jews under
police escort to pray on the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif.
Israeli police consistently have declined to enforce this
ruling, citing public safety concerns. Since the outbreak
of the Intifada, Israeli police have prevented all non-Muslims
(including Jews seeking to pray) from entering the Temple
Abuses of Religious Freedom
Since the establishment of the PA, there
have been periodic allegations that a small number of Muslim
converts to Christianity sometimes are subject to societal
discrimination and harassment by PA officials, including
detention and questioning by security forces. In recent years,
there were several unconfirmed allegations that converts
to Christianity were subjected to such treatment. In some
cases, conversion may have been only one of several factors
leading to the mistreatment. In previous years, the PA stated
that it investigated such allegations, but it did not make
known to any outside party the results of these investigations.
One Christian religious leader in Jerusalem
was attacked by IDF personnel during the period covered by
this report. On January 9, 2001, Israeli soldiers at a checkpoint
in the West Bank fired at the car of Latin Vice-Patriarch
and Archbishop of Nazareth Paul Marcuzzo; his car bore diplomatic
license plates and was flying the Vatican flag. Archbishop
Marcuzzo was not injured in the shooting. The following day,
the Israeli Minister of Justice visited Marcuzzo and apologized
for the incident.
According to some Palestinian individuals
and human rights organizations, Israeli soldiers sometimes
arbitrarily enforced closure to offend religious sensibilities.
For example, the Palestinian Society for the Protection of
Human Rights and the Environment (LAW) reported instances
in which Israeli soldiers closed the al-Ram checkpoint at
sundown during Ramadan preventing thousands of Muslims from
returning home to break their fasts. There also were several
unconfirmed accounts that IDF personnel at checkpoints coerced
Palestinians to break their fasts during Ramadan as a condition
for being allowed to pass through the checkpoint.
On June 4, 2001, the day that Muslims celebrate
the Prophet Mohammed's birthday, IDF personnel closed the
al-Ibrahimi mosque in Hebron in violation of the Hebron Protocol,
which stipulates that the mosque should be available to Muslims
worshipers on Muslim holidays. Israeli police personnel also
arrested 7 Muslims who were near the mosque.
There is no evidence that the IDF has deliberately
targeted places of worship. However, mosques and churches
were damaged during exchanges of gunfire between IDF personnel
and Palestinian gunmen. For example, on October 20, 2000,
IDF gunfire damaged the mosque in the Aida Refugee Camp.
On December 20, 2000, Israeli forces reportedly fired at
the al-Abrar mosque in Salfit. On several occasions between
November 2000 and March 2001, the al-Nur mosque in Rafah
reportedly was hit by Israeli shells.
There were no reports of religious detainees
or prisoners in the occupied territories.
Forced Religious Conversions
There were no reports of forced religious
conversion, including of minor U.S. citizens who had been
abducted or illegally removed from the United States, or
of the PA or the Israeli Government's refusal to allow such
citizens to be returned to the United States.
Section III. Societal Attitudes
Generally there are amicable relations
between Christians and Muslims. However, tensions do exist
and occasionally surface. Relations between Jews and non-Jews,
as well as among the different branches of Judaism, often
are strained. Tensions between Jews and non-Jews exist primarily
as a result of the Arab-Israeli conflict, as well as Israel's
control of access to sites holy to Christians and Muslims.
Non-Orthodox Jews have complained of discrimination and intolerance.
Societal attitudes are a barrier to conversions,
especially for Muslims converting to Christianity. During
the period covered by this report, one senior Christian cleric
reportedly quietly dissuaded a number of such prospective
converts from being baptized in Jerusalem for fear that they
would be ostracized by their families or subjected to violence.
In previous years, there were reports that some Christian
converts from Islam who publicized their religious beliefs
There are some reports of Christian-Muslim
tension in the occupied territories. In May and June 2001,
Israeli press reports accused Muslim Tanzim militia members
of deliberately opening fire on the Israeli neighborhood
of Gilo from Christian areas in Beit Jala in order to draw
IDF fire onto the Christian homes. In response to inquiries,
several Palestinian Christian leaders in the area denied
that the shooting was motivated by anti-Christian sentiments.
Interfaith romance is a sensitive issue.
Most Christian and Muslim families in the occupied territories
encourage their children--especially their daughters--to
marry within the faith. Couples that have challenged this
societal norm have encountered considerable societal and
familial opposition. Some Christian women who have married
Muslim men received death threats from Christian family members
and community figures.
In general evangelical churches have not
been welcomed by the more established Christian denominations.
The strong correlation between religion,
ethnicity, and politics in the occupied territories at times
imbues the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with a religious
dimension. The rhetoric of some Jewish and Muslim religious
leaders was harsher during the period covered by this report,
especially following the outbreak of the Intifada in October
2000. There also were a number of attacks on Muslim and Jewish
places worship and religious shrines in the occupied territories.
On October 7, following the IDF evacuation from the Jewish
religious site of Joseph's Tomb, about 1,000 Palestinian
protesters entered the religious site, desecrated religious
literature, burned the site, and damaged the roof and an
outer wall in an unsuccessful attempt to demolish the tomb.
Some Israeli Government officials criticized the PA for failing
to prevent the attack. The PA began to repair the tomb the
On October 10, 2000, a crowd of Palestinians
attempted to burn the Shalom al Yisrael synagogue in Jericho.
The PA began to repair the synagogue immediately following
On October 10, 2000, a crowd of Jewish
settlers threw rocks at apartment buildings that are part
of a Franciscan project that provides housing to low-income
parishioners on the property of St. James's Latin Church
(Mar Ya'acoub) in Beit Hanina. The church itself was not
damaged; however, several windows and solar panels on the
apartment buildings were broken.
Palestinian human rights groups reported
on several incidents in which Israeli settlers vandalized
mosques in Hebron in the presence of IDF personnel; the IDF
soldiers reportedly did not attempt to intervene. On October
12, 2000, Israeli settlers set fire to a mosque in Huwara,
causing more than $20,000 in damage. On November 21, 2000,
settlers set fire to the Imam Ali mosque in Huwara. On December
29, 2000, Israeli settlers ransacked the Prophet Yaqeen mosque
in Hebron. On April 8, 2001, settlers vandalized the al-Aqtat
mosque in Hebron and desecrated religious literature.
On a number of occasions, Muslims on the
Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif threw stones at Jews who were
praying at the Western Wall below (also see Section II).
The rhetoric of some Jewish and Muslim
religious leaders was harsh and at times constituted an incitement
to violence during the period covered by this report. For
example, PA-controlled television stations frequently broadcast
anti-Semitic statements by Palestinian political and spiritual
leaders and PA officials. Some prominent Israelis also made
public anti-Arab statements.
Instances of ultra-Orthodox Jewish groups
verbally or physically harassing Jewish citizens for "immodest
dress" or other violations of their interpretation of
religious law occurred in previous years.
Section IV. U.S. Government Policy
The U.S. Consulate General in Jerusalem
maintains an ongoing, high-level dialog with officials in
the Palestinian Authority, including Chairman Arafat, and
(in conjunction with Embassy Tel Aviv) with Israeli officials
on human rights issues, including issues of religious freedom.
The Consulate also maintains contacts with representatives
of the Islamic Waqf--an Islamic trust and charitable organization
that owns and manages large amounts of real estate, including
the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem--as well as with the various
Christian churches and Jewish communities in Jerusalem.
The Consulate investigates allegations
of abuses of religious freedom. During the period covered
by this report, the Consulate investigated a range of charges,
including allegations of Israeli settler violence against
places of worship; allegations regarding Christian emigration
from the Bethlehem area; allegations regarding the harassment
of Christian clergymen in the Jewish Quarter; and allegations
concerning access to holy sites.
Department of State, 2001, Annual Report on International
Religious Freedom, Released by the Bureau for Democracy,
Human Rights, and Labor, Washington, DC, October 26, 2001.