Human rights in the Palestinian territories

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Human rights in the Palestinian territories refers to the human rights record in the West Bank and Gaza.

Status of freedom, political rights and civil liberties[edit]

Rights and Liberties Ratings[edit]

Economist Intelligence Unit (Democracy Index) rating of the Palestinian National Authority compared to Syria, Jordan, Egypt, and Israel[1]
Country Number
(in the rating)
Index Category
Full democracy (1-26), Flawed democracy (27-79), Hybrid regime (80-111), Authoritarian regime (113-167)
State of Palestine Palestine 93 5,44 Hybrid regime
Syria Syria 152 2,31 Authoritarian regime
Jordan Jordan 117 3,74 Authoritarian regime
Egypt Egypt 138 3,07 Authoritarian regime
Israel Israel 39 7,46 Flawed democracy
At the rankings, the highest index reports most democracy. 167 countries participated in the ranking, North Korea was worst (index 0,86) and Norway was best (index 9,80).

Freedom House's annual survey of political rights and civil liberties, Freedom in the World 2001-2002, reported that civil liberties declined due to the shooting deaths of Palestinian civilians by Palestinian security personnel; the summary trials and executions of alleged collaborators by the Palestinian Authority (PA); extrajudicial killings of suspected collaborators by militias; and the apparent official encouragement of Palestinian youths to confront Israeli soldiers, thus placing them directly in harm's way.[2] The Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group reports everyday disagreements and clashes between the various political factions, families and cities that a complete picture of Palestinian society is painted. These divisions have during the course of the al Aqsa Intifada also led to an increasingly violent 'Intra'fada'.[3][4]

Individual freedoms and rights[edit]

Freedom of speech[edit]

The PA has guaranteed freedom of assembly to the Palestinian population, and its Legislation states this. Nevertheless, the right to demonstrate for opponents of the PA regime or of PA policy has become increasingly subject to police control and restriction and is a source of concern for human rights groups[5]

Activists say there is a growing crackdown on writers who criticize the Palestinian Government.[6] According to Executive Director of Advancing Human Rights David Keyes, in 2013, Anas Awwad, a 26-year-old Palestinian activist, was sentenced in absentia by a Palestinian court in Nablus, the West Bank, to one year in prison for “extending his tongue” against the Palestinian Authority’s president, Mahmoud Abbas, on Facebook.[7]Keyes also states that in 2012, Palestinian blogger Jamal Abu Rihan was arrested by the Palestinian Authority for starting a Facebook campaign called “The People Want an End to Corruption,” he was indicted under the charges of“extending his tongue” against the Palestinian leadership.[8]

In April 2012, a West Bank university lecturer Ismat Abdul-Khaleq was arrested for criticizing Abbas on Facebook.[9] Subsequently, agents belonging to the PA’s Preventive Security Service in Ramallah arrested Tarek Khamis, who works for Palestinian Zaman Press news agency. He was detained for criticizing the Palestinian Authority’s treatment of Ms. Abdul-Khaleq and for the criticizing the clampdown on journalists in the West Bank.[10] According to David Keyes, George Canawati, the director of a Bethlehem radio station and the journalist Rami Samar were detained for posting criticisms of the Palestinian Authority on Facebook.[11]

Threats of death were made against Minister Nabil Shaath for planning to participate in a conference in Italy attended by Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom by the Jenin Martyrs Brigades, the armed wing of the Popular Resistance Committees. They declared, "He will be sentenced to death if he enters. The decision cannot be rescinded, we call upon his bodyguards to abandon his convoy in order to save their lives."[12]

Nabil Amar, former Minister of Information and a cabinet member and a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, was shot by masked gunmen after criticizing Arafat and calling for reforms in the PA in a television interview.[13]

A Hamas-run council in the West Bank came under international criticism in 2005 for barring an open-air music and dance festival, on the basis of being "against Islam".[14]

Freedom of the press[edit]

As of 2006, sixteen Palestinian journalists have been killed or wounded by PA security forces or armed groups.[15]

Abdullah Issa, Palestinian publisher and editor of the on-line magazine Donia al Watan was detained in July 2006 by the Palestinian Authority for publishing a story about the theft of $400,000 from PA Foreign Minister Mahmoud Zahar while visiting Kuwait. The story cast aspersions on Hamas for having large amounts of cash while the Palestinian people were suffering from poverty. This story had appeared elsewhere in the Arabic media. Issa, accused Zahar and Hamas of interfering with freedom of the press in the Palestinian territories and expressed disappointment with Hamas's failure to reign in corruption as promised in their election platform: "Our people have the right to hold Hamas accountable for the deterioration in their living conditions,...We were hoping that the Hamas government would start chasing and arresting all the murderers and thugs who continue to roam the streets of the Gaza Strip and to open all the cases of financial corruption." Donia al Watan's offices have been attacked by masked gunmen and there have been death threats against Issa and staff.[16]

The Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades has been blamed for a number of attacks on journalists in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and the Arab television station Al-Arabiya's West Bank offices.[citation needed]

In September 2001, Yasser Arafat's Tanzim kidnapped a Palestinian cameraman who shot film showing Palestinian citizens and police in Ramallah celebrating on 9/11/2001 following the attacks on US targets, and threatened to kill the cameraman if the item the film was shown on air.[17]

In September 2006, a journalist was severely beaten and all the computer equipment in the office of the Palestinian Authority's official news agency Wafa. Graffiti was sprayed on the wall accusing the agency of a lack of objectivity. Fatah officials noted that PA Foreign Minister Mahmoud Zahar has accused the agency "of waging a politically-motivated campaign of incitement" against him and blamed Hamas for the attack. Khan Yunis governor Osama al-Farra condemned the attack, saying it, "reflected the continued state of anarchy and lawlessness in PA-controlled areas".[15]

The Fatah–Hamas conflict has further limited the freedom of the press in the PNA territories and the distribution of opposing voices in Hamas-controlled Gaza and the West Bank where Fatah still has more influence. In July 2010, with the easing of the blockade of the Gaza Strip, Israel allowed the distribution of the pro-Fatah newspapers al Quds, al Ayyam and al-Hayat al-Jadida to Gaza, but Hamas prevented Gazan distributors from retrieving the shipment. The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) condemned the Hamas restrictions of distribution of the West Bank newspapers in Gaza, and also condemned the Fatah-led government in the West Bank for restricting publication and distribution of the Gazan newspapers al-Resala and Falastin.[18]

In October 2012, the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate appealed for the release of Palestinian journalists arrested by the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, warning that freedom of the press had "seriously deteriorated," and that the Palestinian Authority had arrested five Palestinian journalists in September 2012. Walid Khaled, a journalist for the Palestinian newspaper Falasteen, began a hunger strike in September as well. A Palestinian judge ordered his release, but the Palestinian Authority has ignored this. The Palestinian Authority has arrested these journalists on suspicisions of having connections to Hamas, a rival which controls the Gaza Strip.[19]

Freedom of association[edit]

In 2000 the Palestinian President ratified the first Palestinian Labor Law. However, according to the Democracy and Workers' Rights Center (DWRC) the final draft lacked teeth;[20][21] late in 2005, working with Palestinian Authority legal experts, DWRC successfully achieved Palestinian Legislative Council acceptance of an alternative Palestinian Labor Law.[22]

The decades-old Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU), which claims to represent all Palestinian workers, was incorporated into the PA upon its inception. Independent unionists assert the PGFTU lacks in internal democracy and transparency, and is dominated by Fateh (all of its general secretaries and most of its unit heads have come from Fateh). In a 2007 press release carried by the Advocacy Project, DWRC noted that internal elections had not been held since 1981.[23] These critiques have been supported by scholars Joost Hiltermann,[24][25] Nina Sovich[26][27] and Sos Nissen,[28] who argue that the PGFTU has long been dominated by political factions and has in turn failed to provide effective representation for workers.

According to the PGFTU, in June 2007 Hamas seized their headquarters and ordered PGFTU staff to discuss how they were to operate under Hamas rule. According to the PGFTU general secretary, the PGFTU's refusal to negotiate led Hamas to attempt to assassinate Rasem Al Bayari, the union's deputy general secretary, three times thereafter. According to Al-Jazeera, "Saed, who has been linked to Fatah, said Hamas executive forces had seized two more offices - in Gaza and Khan Younis - taking much of the property within."[29]

In 2007, when DWRC organized the Federation of Independent and Democratic Trade Unions & Workers' Committees in Palestine representing 50,000 workers outside of the PGFTU,[30] the PGFTU retaliated by informing on the Gaza head of DWRC and the independent trade union coalition to Palestinian internal security, claiming that they were affiliated with Hamas.[31]

Freedom of property ownership[edit]

In the Palestinian National Authority, selling land to Jews is a crime punishable by death.[32] The Authority has stated the reason for this is to prevent the expansion of Israel.

Freedom of religion[edit]

Many Jewish and Christian holy sites remain in areas controlled by the Palestinian National Authority. Under the Oslo Accords, both the Palestinians and Israel agreed to respect and protect religious rights of Jews, Christians, Muslims, and Samaritans by a) protecting the Holy Sites, 2) providing free access to the Holy Sites, and assuring freedom of worship and practice. a. Protection of the Holy Sites; b. Free access to the Holy Sites; and c. Freedom of worship and practice. The PA, however, has in some cases failed to honor these commitments (see sections below).

A Christian leader claimed that there were "rampant reports" of abuses and persecution in PA-run areas. Anti-Christian riots were reported in Ramallah and surrounding villages, as well as in towns in the Gaza Strip.[14]

In April 2006, major Muslim organizations, local mosques, the city's Mufti and municipal leaders in the West Bank town Qalqiliya requested the interior minister of the Palestinian Authority shut down the Young Men's Christian Association, which had operated in the town since 2000, due to missionary activity. The manager of the YMCA denied this: "It's not what we're about. There is no missionary activity here whatsoever. The YMCA is in the city to serve the population with financial help, sporting activities and general educational programs," and pointing to the organization's employment of many Muslims, their establishment of community programs including financing a mostly Muslim soccer club that had competed in national games. The town's Muslim leadership issued a petition demanding that the organization close down the Qalqiliya branch or face violence which read as follows: "We the preachers of the mosques and representatives of major families in Qalqiliya ask you to close the offices of the YMCA because the population of Qalqiliya doesn't need such offices, especially since there are not many Christians in our city..." It warned, "The act of these institutions of the YMCA, including attempting to convert Muslims in our city, will bring violence and tension." Three days before the delivery of this petitions, many imams spoke about the issue during Friday prayers; the following day Molotov cocktails were thrown at Qalqiliya's YMCA. In September 2006, the YMCA was given a "final notification" by local leaders. On 11 September 2006, the organization's building was broken into and torched by assailants identified by members of the local government as members of Hamas and Islamic Jihad well-known to local security forces.[14]

Christian sites[edit]

During 2007 many Western and Christian targets were attacked in the West Bank and Gaza. Members of local gangs and terror cells blew up and destroyed institutions linked to Western culture such as American schools, church libraries and dozens of Internet cafes. These events were largely ignored by the media.[33]

According to the U.S. State Department's Annual Report on Religious Freedom, 2000, "there were periodic reports that some Christian converts from Islam who publicize their religious beliefs have been harassed. Converts complained that they were mistreated and threatened. The draft Palestinian Basic Law specifically forbids discrimination against individuals based on their religion; however, the PA did not take any action against persons accused of harassment".[34]

After a visit to the Palestinian Authority administered areas, Senator Connie Mack related on the floor of the US Senate the case of a Christian convert from Islam who was falsely charged with selling land to Jews, arrested, beaten and tortured, and held for eight months without trial. Despite being released after his family borrowed thousands of dollars for bribes, his father continued to be held, he believed as insurance of his silence on the matter.[35]

Jewish sites[edit]

Joseph's Tomb in Nablus was a site of clashes between Jews and Palestinians. The Israeli army agreed to withdraw from the site and turn over control to the Palestinian police, who had agreed to protect the site. Instead, they stood by while mobs ransacked the site and burned holy books.[36]

Moreover, prominent members of the PA have denied that there is any Jewish historical connection to many Jewish holy sites, and PA Ministries have embedded such ideas in their press releases:

Yasser Arafat:

  • "That is not the Western Wall at all, but a Moslem shrine". – Yasser Arafat.[37]
  • "Abraham was neither Jewish nor a Hebrew, but was simply an Iraqi. The Jews have no right to claim part of the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron, Abraham's resting place, as a synagogue. Rather, the whole building should be a mosque."[38]

Mufti Sheikh 'Ikrima Sabri:

  • "No stone of the Al-Buraq [Western] Wall has any relation to Judaism. The Jews began praying at this wall only in the 19th century, when they began to develop [national] aspirations."[39]

PA Information Ministry Press Release:

  • "The archeology of Jerusalem is diverse – excavations in the Old City and the areas surrounding it revealed Umayyad Islamic palaces, Roman ruins, Armenian ruins and others, but nothing Jewish. Outside of what is mentioned in the Old and New Testaments, there is no tangible evidence of any Jewish traces in the old city of Jerusalem and its immediate vicinity."[40]

Al-Hayat Al-Jadeeda, PA newspaper:

  • "Be alert and treat Joseph's Tomb and Rachel's Tomb as parcels of Palestinian land which must be liberated, and treat Joseph and Rachel as two people who died, like anyone else."[41]

Right to education[edit]

According the ministerial statistic collected in September 2005, there are 2267 schools in general education, 31001 classes, 1078488 students, and 48674 teachers in the Palestinian territories. 24% of schools are UNRWA-operated, 70% are governmental, and 6% are private. Another survey conducted in May 2005 shows that there are 138139 students enrolled in Higher Education Institutions. Between these students, 9002 (6.5%) are in community colleges, 6034 (4.4%) in university colleges, 46453 (33.6%) in Al-Quds Open University, and 76650 (55.5%) in traditional universities.

Moves by the Hamas-run Education Ministry to impose Islamist ideals onto the educational system concern many Palestinians and outside observers. In March 2007, the Ministry pulled an anthology of folktales narrated by Palestinian women from the curriculum, removed the book from libraries, and reportedly destroyed 1,500 copies. The anthology was edited by Sharif Kanaana, a novelist and anthropology professor at Ramallah's Birzeit University, and Ibrahim Muhawi, a teacher of Arabic literature and the theory of translation. Education Minister Nasser Shaer said that the book is "full of clear sexual expressions." A story entitled, "The Little Bird," mentions private parts, and in the notes the authors say that, "the bird in the story is a symbol of femininity and that sexual subjects are a principal source of humor in Palestinian folklore".[42]

Law enforcement[edit]

According to annual report of the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group in 2005, 385 Palestinian fatalities were recorded. Of these, 222 Palestinians were killed by Israelis, 113 Palestinians were killed by Palestinians and 50 Palestinians were killed in unclear circumstances. 9 Palestinians were killed by Israeli settlers. The same year, 51 Israelis were killed by Palestinians; 42 were civilians, 9 were members of the military. Palestinians killed 10 Palestinians suspected to be Israeli collaborators in 2005.[43]

Arab Organization for Human Rights Report[edit]

In December 2012, Arab Organization for Human Rights (AOHR) released a report that accused the Palestinian Authority (PA) of "inhumane practices and human rights violations" against Palestinian civilians. The AOHR alleges that from 2007-2011, the PA detained 13,271 Palestinians, and tortured 96% of them, resulting in six deaths.[44] The report claims that PA law enforcement raided universities, hospitals and houses in order to arrest people wanted for protesting against the Israeli occupation. The report also relates that PA officers confiscated equipment and personal cash after arresting the suspects.[44]

Capital punishment[edit]

Capital punishment is legal in the PA. The PA enacted 5 capital executions in 2005.[43]

Conditions for detainees[edit]

Amnesty International has published a number of reports documenting the Palestine Authority's arrest and detention of civilians without charge. In one year at least 400 such detentions were reported, primarily of political dissidents to the Palestine Authority .[45] In that single year Amnesty International found: "Torture [by the Palestine Authority] of detainees remained widespread. Seven detainees died in custody. Unlawful killings, including possible extrajudicial executions, continued to be reported."

Exposure of civilian targets to military action[edit]

IDF soldiers patrol in Hebron

In November 2006, 50 veiled Palestinian women responded to a Hamas radio appeal to act as human shields between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian gunmen hiding in a Gaza mosque. Women acted as a cover against Israeli troops allowing armed men occupying the Mosque to escape. 2 of these women were killed by Israeli forces.[46] In two further instances in November, 2006, civilians were called to protect sites known to be targeted for attack by the IDF, in one instance by the owner of the targeted home, Mohammedweil Baroud, a commander in the Popular Resistance Committee and by calls broadcast from local Mosques. The Human Rights Watch has condemned this behavior saying, "There is no excuse for calling civilians to the scene of a planned attack...Whether or not the home is a legitimate military target, knowingly asking civilians to stand in harm's way is unlawful.".[47] The Palestinian Authority has also been accused of using civilians as human shields and civilian property such as houses as sites for smuggling arms,[48] launching sites for rockets, and factories to produce munitions, thereby exposing them to harm from Israeli Defense Forces military operations. Civilian deaths caused by these strikes are widely publicized in the media and create favorable public opinion for the PA and negative public opinion against Israel. Hakam Balawi has stated, "... It is prohibited to launch rockets and to fire weapons from houses, and that is a supreme Palestinian interest that should not be violated because the result is barbaric retaliation by the occupying army and the citizenry cannot accept such shooting. Those who do it are a certain group that does not represent the people and nation, doing it without thinking about the general interest and public opinion in the world and in Israel. There is no vision or purpose to the missiles; the Palestinian interest is more important"[49] On the other hand, on 29 February 2008 Hamas parliamentarian Fathi Hammad spoke of a "death-seeking" culture where women, children and the elderly volunteer as human shields against Israeli military attacks. "[The enemies of Allah] do not know that the Palestinian people have developed its [methods] of death and death-seeking," Hammad is quoted by Memri in a speech televised on Hamas' Al-Aqsa television station. "For the Palestinian people, death has become an industry, at which women excel, and so do all the people living on this land. The elderly excel at this, and so do the mujahideen and the children," Hammad is quoted as saying. "This is why they have formed human shields of the women, the children, the elderly, and the mujahideen, in order to challenge the Zionist bombing machine. It is as if they were saying to the Zionist enemy: 'We desire death like you desire life,'" he said.[50] The firing of Qassam rockets into Israel has been opposed by those living closest to the firing location due to Israeli military responses. On July 23, 2004 a family attempted to physically prevent the Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades from setting up a Qassam rocket launcher outside their house. Members of the brigade shot one member of the family, an Arab boy, and wounded 5 others.[51][52][53][54]

Personal status issues[edit]

Status of women[edit]

Women have full suffrage in the PA. In the 2006 elections, women made up 47 per cent of registered voters. Prior to the elections, the election law was amended to introduce a quota for women on the national party lists, resulting in 22 per cent of candidates on the national lists being women. The quota's effectiveness was illustrated in comparison with the district elections, where there was no quota, and only 15 of the 414 candidates were women.[55]

Hamas has begun enforcing some Islamic standards of dress for women in the PA; women must don headscarves in order to enter government ministry buildings.[42] In July 2010, Hamas banned the smoking of hookah by women in public. They claimed that it was to reduce the increasing amount of divorces.[56]

Honor killings are a problem in the PA; the Hamas government has not moved to stop these killings and may have set up infrastructures which participate in them. According to the 2005 Annual report of The Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group, 11 Palestinian women died as a result of honor killings in 2005.[57] A November 2006 Human Rights Watch report, A Question of Security Violence against Palestinian Women and Girls,[58] notes that, "a significant number of women and girls in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) are victims of violence perpetrated by family members and intimate partners. While there is increasing recognition of the problem and some Palestinian Authority (PA) officials have indicated their support for a more forceful response, little action has been taken to seriously address these abuses. Indeed, there is some evidence the level of violence is getting worse while the remedies available to victims are being further eroded." The report discusses spousal and child abuse, rape, incest, and "honor" crimes. The report suggests that reasons for the PA's failure to respond to the violence include, "discriminatory laws that condone and perpetuate such violence and the virtual absence of institutionalized policies to prevent violence, assist victims, and hold perpetrators accountable". The report outlines Jordanian laws in force in the West Bank and Egyptian laws in Gaza, "include provisions that provide a reduction in penalty to men who kill or attack female relatives committing adultery; relieve rapists who agree to marry their victims from any criminal prosecution; and allow only male relatives to file incest charges on behalf of minors". In addition, HRW interviewed Palestinian police officers, including chiefs of police who, "downplayed the severity of violence against women in the OPT and questioned the need for their involvement in the dissemination of potentially life-saving information to victims." The report also noted that, "police officers and clan leaders regularly "mediate" and "resolve" these cases, typically by returning the abused women to the "care and protection" of her attacker, without ever referring the case to the courts or the woman to social or other services she might need". While Human Rights Watch acknowledged, "the severe constraints that the Israeli occupation imposes upon the PA," they concluded that, "notwithstanding these limitations, the PA holds ultimate responsibility for protecting victims and holding perpetrators accountable...and that PA is failing to act diligently to prevent, investigate, and punish violence against women, putting women's health and lives in jeopardy. Ultimately, the PA is denying victims their rights under international human rights law to non-discrimination and an effective judicial remedy for abuse".

Crimes against women accelerated during 2007. Cases of women being beaten are common in the Gaza strip. Women murdered for "family honor" are seldom reported. Most women who are murdered are buried by members of their family in secret, and their deaths are not reported to any official body. The Palestinian media also refrain from reporting on this, for the sake of "family honor."[33]

Israeli officials say Hamas in the Gaza Strip has established hard-line Islamic courts and created the Hamas Anti-Corruption Group, which is described as a kind of "morality police" operating within Hamas' organization. Hamas has denied the existence of the anti-corruption group, but it was recently report to have carried out a high-profile "honor killing" widely covered by the Palestinian media.[14]

In 2013, UNRWA canceled its annual marathon in Gaza after Hamas rulers prohibited women from participating in the race.[59]

Status of homosexuality[edit]

Homosexuality is illegal within the Authority & many gays have been harassed for being homosexual. The Hamas-controlled Gaza strip has declared homosexuality punishable by death. Hamas cofounder Mahmoud Zahar has said, “You in the West do not live like human beings. You do not even live like animals. You accept homosexuality. And now you criticize us?”[60]

According to Shaul Ganon of the Israeli based gay rights group, Aguda, "The P.A.'s usual excuse for persecuting gays is to label them collaborators--though I know of two cases in the last three years where people were tried explicitly for being homosexuals,they were both beheaded." Hamas justifies beheadings, beatings, torture and killings of homosexuals with Islamic law or unjustly claim the Homosexuals are collaborators of the enemy. "It's now impossible to be an open gay in the P.A." Ganon says that Islamic law is the main justification for such treatment of homosexuals under the Palestinian Authority.[61]

References[edit]

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