Israel, Golan Heights, West Bank, and Gaza – West Bank and Gaza
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons
PA law provides for freedom of internal movement within the West Bank, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights, with some exceptions.
Hamas authorities restricted some foreign travel into and out of Gaza and required exit permits for Palestinians departing through the Gaza-Israel Erez crossing. Hamas also prevented some Palestinians from exiting Gaza for reasons related to the purpose of their travel or to coerce payment of taxes and fines. There were some reports unmarried women faced restrictions on their travel out of Gaza.
Citing security concerns, Israel imposed significant restrictions on Palestinian movement in the West Bank and between the West Bank and Jerusalem. Israeli authorities frequently prohibited travel between some or all Palestinian West Bank towns and deployed “flying” (temporary) checkpoints. Palestinians who lived in affected villages stated that “internal closures” continued to have negative economic effects. During periods of potential unrest, including on some major Israeli, Jewish, and Muslim holidays, Israeli authorities enacted “comprehensive external closures” that prevented Palestinians from leaving the West Bank and Gaza. For example, Israeli authorities enacted a comprehensive closure for Gaza for eight days during the September 23-30 Sukkot holiday in September, but allowed access to Israel from the West Bank during part of the Sukkot holiday from September 25 to 28. These closures also reportedly resulted in Palestinian economic losses. B’Tselem reported 32 such days during the year.
Also due to security concerns, Israel has declared access restricted areas (ARA) on both the coastal and land borders around Gaza. The lack of clear information regarding the ARA created risks for Palestinians in Gaza who live or work either on the Mediterranean Coast or near the perimeter fence. The most recent Israeli policy, in 2009, asserts a 300 meter (984 feet) ARA along the perimeter fence, but this was not consistently applied. In some areas, the ARA extends to 500 meters (1,640 feet). No official signage to signify the line of demarcation exists and what exists as official policy changes frequently. Likewise, the permitted maritime activity area for Palestinians along the coastal region of Gaza changed between six and nine miles four separate times from mid-2017 to mid-2018. According to human rights NGOs, this confusion led to frequent instances per year of farmers and fishermen being fired upon by Israeli forces.
A key barrier to Palestinian movement was the security barrier that divides the majority of the West Bank from Israel, including Jerusalem, and some parts of the West Bank. Israeli authorities constructed this barrier to prevent attacks by Palestinian terrorists. In some areas it divides Palestinian communities in the West Bank and Jerusalem. At its widest points, the barrier extends 11 miles (18 kilometers) into the West Bank. B’Tselem estimated that 27,000 Palestinians resided in communities west of the barrier whom were required to travel through Israeli security checkpoints to reach the remainder of the West Bank. Other significant barriers to Palestinian movement included internal ISF road closures and Israeli restrictions on the movement of Palestinian persons and goods into and out of the West Bank and Gaza. In July UNOCHA reported there were 705 permanent obstacles throughout the West Bank, a 3 percent increase from its last survey in 2016. Israeli restrictions on movement affected virtually all aspects of Palestinian life, including access to places of worship, employment, agricultural lands, schools, and hospitals, as well as the conduct of journalism and humanitarian and NGO activities.
The PA and Hamas generally cooperated with humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to internally displaced persons and refugees. Israeli officials imposed controls on movement of materials, goods, and persons into and out of Gaza based on security concerns. Amnesty International and HRW reported difficulties by foreign workers in obtaining Israeli visas, which affected the delivery of humanitarian assistance in the West Bank and Gaza. Amnesty International and HRW also reported that the Israeli government denied their employees permits to enter Gaza from Israel.
PA-affiliated prosecutors and judges stated that ISF prohibitions on movement in the West Bank, including Israeli restrictions on the PA’s ability to transport detainees and collect witnesses, hampered their ability to dispense justice.
UNRWA reported its West Bank Headquarters staff lost 1,376 workdays during the year, mostly due to increased Israeli demands to search UNRWA vehicles at checkpoints between Bethlehem and Jerusalem. According to UNRWA, as of the end of 2017, there were more than 828,328 Palestinian refugees registered with UNRWA in the West Bank and nearly 1.4 million in the Gaza Strip. Almost one-quarter (24 percent) of Palestinian refugees in the West Bank lived in camps, as did approximately 40 percent in Gaza. Some Palestinians, registered with UNRWA as refugees, who lived in Syria prior to the Syrian civil war were reportedly living in Gaza. Additionally, Syrians of Palestinian descent (not registered with UNRWA as refugees) were also reportedly living in Gaza after fleeing the Syrian civil war.
Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Israeli security operations in the West Bank led to 14 Palestinian UNRWA beneficiary fatalities as of December 2017 of whom six were killed allegedly while conducting an attack on the ISF or Israeli civilians. Israeli use of live ammunition caused most injuries. There were 223 Palestinians reported injured by Israeli authorities in West Bank refugee camps, according to UNRWA, of whom live ammunition injured 92, including 15 UNRWA beneficiary minors.
UNRWA data from 2014 through October suggests that while total injuries as a result of ISF operations in and around refugee camps have trended down, live ammunition injuries as a percentage of total injuries have increased from 16 percent to 42 percent. The UN Agency expressed particular concern over the use of live ammunition against minors. The most recent fatality in Deheishe refugee camp south of Bethlehem was in July, when the ISF fatally shot with live ammunition 14-year-old Arkan Thaer Mizher. According to the Israeli government, military police were investigating the incident.
There was no process for foreign spouses or foreign-born children of Palestinians to obtain permanent legal status in the West Bank. As a result, many Palestinian children and young adults, especially those born abroad, are without legal status in the region where they have spent most or all of their lives. HaMoked filed an appeal in October in the case of 24-year-old Maen Abu Hafez. Abu Hafez reportedly has lived in the Jenin refugee camp since he was three, when he moved there with his Palestinian father and Uruguayan mother. His family reunification request has been on hold for several years. In February 2017 he was detained at a checkpoint and has been held since then in an Israeli prison for illegal aliens in Ramle. The Israeli government is attempting to deport him to Brazil, where he was born, although he has no ties there and does not speak Portuguese.
In-country Movement: PA authorities did not interfere with Palestinians’ movement within the West Bank.
Hamas authorities did not enforce routine restrictions on internal movement within Gaza, although there were some areas of Gaza to which Hamas prohibited access. Pressure to conform to Hamas’s interpretation of Islamic norms generally restricted movement by women.
As part of security procedures, the ISF routinely detained for several hours Palestinians residing in Gaza who had permits to enter Israel for business and subjected them to interrogations and strip searches at Israeli-controlled checkpoints.
According to human rights NGOs, Israel imposed significant restrictions on Palestinian movement in the West Bank and between the West Bank and Jerusalem as described above. Israeli authorities damaged Palestinian property while conducting raids, sealed off entries and exits, and confiscated vehicles. The Israeli government stated that it imposed collective restrictions only if an armed forces commander believed there was a military necessity for the action and that the imposition on the everyday lives of Palestinian civilians was not disproportionate.
Restrictions on access to Jerusalem had a negative effect on Palestinian patients and medical staff trying to reach the six Palestinian hospitals in Jerusalem that offered specialized care unavailable in the West Bank. According to Palestine Red Crescent Society (PRCS), IDF soldiers at checkpoints at times harassed and delayed ambulances from the West Bank or refused them entry into Jerusalem, even in emergency cases. The PRCS reported hundreds of such actions impeding humanitarian services during the year. Most included blocking access to those in need, preventing their transport to specialized medical centers, or imposing delays at checkpoints lasting up to two hours. According to the Israeli government, security considerations and lack of advanced coordination on the part of Palestinian medical teams often caused delays.
Israeli authorities restricted or prohibited Palestinian travel on 30 roads and sections of roads (totaling approximately 65 miles or 43 kilometers) throughout the West Bank, including many of the main traffic arteries. The ISF also imposed temporary curfews confining Palestinians to their homes during ISF arrest operations. During the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, Israeli authorities eased restrictions on Palestinians entering Israel, including Jerusalem, allowing West Bank Palestinians to use Ben Gurion airport, to visit family, and visit the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount for religious services. Israeli authorities did not issue permits to Palestinians in Gaza to visit Jerusalem.
Israeli authorities extended the security barrier in the Cremisan Valley near Bethlehem and began land clearing to extend the barrier through Walajah village, also near Bethlehem. Israel continued to restrict movement and development near the barrier, including access by some international organizations. In response to a freedom of information act request from HaMoked, the IDF reported in November that during the year it had denied 72 percent of permit requests by Palestinian farmers to access their land blocked by the security barrier, of which 1 percent of the denials were for security reasons. HaMoked said that many of these refusals were due to arbitrary claims by Israeli authorities that the farmer’s land was too small to cultivate.
Private security companies employed by the Israeli government controlled many points of access through the security barrier. International organizations and local human rights groups claimed these security companies did not respond to requests to allow movement of goods or NGO representatives through the barrier.
Palestinian farmers continued to report difficulty accessing their lands in Israeli-controlled Area C of the West Bank. NGOs and community advocates reported numerous Palestinian villages owned land was rendered inaccessible by the barrier. A complicated Israeli permit regime (requiring more than 10 different permits) prevented these Palestinians from fully using their lands.
UNOCHA reported Palestinians in Gaza considered areas up to 984 feet (300 meters) from the perimeter fence to be a “no-go” area, and up to 3,280 feet (1,000 meters) to be “high risk,” which discouraged farmers from cultivating their fields. UNOCHA estimated nearly 35 percent of the Gaza Strip’s cultivable land was located in the restricted area.
Israeli restrictions allowed fishing only within three nautical miles of Gaza land during specific periods. The Israeli government stated these restrictions were necessary for security reasons. Israeli and Egyptian naval forces regularly fired warning shots at Palestinian fishermen entering the restricted sea areas, in some cases directly targeting the fishermen, according to UNOCHA (see section 1.a.). Israeli armed forces confiscated fishing boats intercepted in these areas and detained the fishermen. Palestinian fishermen reported confusion over the exact limits of the new fishing boundaries.
In the West Bank, Israeli military authorities continued to restrict Palestinian vehicular and foot traffic and access to homes and businesses in downtown Hebron, citing a need to protect several hundred Israeli settlers resident in the city center. The ISF continued to occupy rooftops of private Palestinian homes in Hebron as security positions, forcing families to leave their front door open for soldiers to enter. In response to these reports, the Israeli government stated that freedom of movement is not an absolute right, but must be balanced with security and public order.
Non-Muslims have designated times to visit the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount, but the Al Aqsa mosque is not open to the non-Muslim public. The Israeli government, in accordance with the status quo understanding with the Jordanian authorities managing the site, officially prohibits non-Muslim worship and other non-Muslim religious activity at the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount. The Jerusalem Islamic Waqf, Jewish Temple Mount groups, and local media reported police became more permissive of silent Jewish prayer and other religious rituals performed on the site during the year and Jewish individuals and groups who identify as “Temple Mount activists” made a record number of visits. In July Prime Minister Netanyahu rescinded his 2015 prohibition of Israeli Knesset members and ministers visiting the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount, and allowed them to visit once every three months, and in November, he began to allow these officials to visit monthly, according to media reports. The Israeli government, citing security concerns, continued to impose intermittent restrictions on Palestinian access to certain religious sites, including the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount. Waqf officials said Israeli police continued to restrict Waqf operations, and renovation and repair projects at the site. Israeli authorities permitted Waqf staff to carry out some minor repairs in September. Israeli officials cited security concerns when imposing travel restrictions, including limited access to Jerusalem during major Jewish holidays, as well as continued construction of Israel’s security barrier, which impeded the movements of Palestinian Muslims and Christians in the West Bank.
Foreign Travel: PA authorities generally did not limit West Bank residents’ foreign travel. Residents with pending court cases reported that they were not able to depart until the case had been resolved. The PA does not control border crossings into or out of the West Bank.
Hamas authorities in Gaza occasionally enforced movement restrictions on Palestinians attempting to exit Gaza to Israel via the Erez Crossing and to Egypt via the Rafah Crossing. Since April Hamas has imposed a checkpoint in front of the “Arba Arba” checkpoint near the Erez crossing, requiring all passengers to register before entering and exiting Gaza.
Israeli authorities often denied or did not respond to Palestinian applications for travel permits through the Erez Crossing. Israel largely limited entry and exit from Gaza at the Erez Crossing to humanitarian cases. This restriction prevented Palestinians from transiting to Jerusalem for visa interviews in some cases, to Jordan (often for onward travel) via the Allenby Bridge, and to the West Bank for work or education.
During the year, the Israeli Supreme Court continued to uphold with few exceptions the Israeli ban imposed in 2000 on students from Gaza attending West Bank universities. Students in Gaza generally did not apply to West Bank universities because they understood Israeli authorities would deny permits.
Delays in permit approvals by Israeli officials caused some Palestinians to miss the travel dates for exchange programs abroad, and even for matriculation in foreign universities. In some cases authorities asked students to submit to security interviews prior to receiving permits. Israeli authorities detained some students indefinitely without charge following their security interview, which caused other students to refuse to attend these interviews due to fear of detention.
Beginning in May, the Egyptian authorities opened the Rafah Crossing to pedestrians five days per week, and 87,979 Palestinians departed Gaza through the Rafah Crossing between July and December. For Palestinians in Gaza, obtaining permission from the Hamas de facto government in Gaza and the Egyptian government to travel through Rafah was difficult.
Israel imposed new restrictions on access to healthcare for family members associated with Hamas; according to Gisha, an Israeli organization that focuses on Palestinian freedom of movement, in the first quarter of the year, Israel denied 833 exit permit applications by residents of Gaza on the grounds that the applicants were “first-degree relative [of] a Hamas operative.” In comparison, Gisha said Israeli authorities refused 21 applications on the same grounds in 2017. In March, Gisha and other human rights groups petitioned for the practice to change, and following the petition, Israel granted a number of female cancer patients permits for treatment in the East Jerusalem Hospital Network. The Jordanian government issued passports to Palestinians based on individual requests.
INTERNALLY DISPLACED PERSONS (IDPS)
UNOCHA estimated that, at the end of 2016, 47,200 persons in Gaza remained displaced due to destruction caused by the 2014 war. Reconstruction progressed slowly. The Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism enabled the entry of construction materials to rebuild 8,000 of the 11,000 individual homes destroyed in Gaza, but authorities had not yet rebuilt more than 3,000 homes.
UNRWA and other humanitarian organizations provided services to IDPs in Gaza and the West Bank, with some limitations due to Israeli restrictions on movement and border access.
PROTECTION OF REFUGEES
Access to Basic Services: Palestinian refugees in the West Bank and Gaza were eligible to access UNRWA schools and primary health care clinics, although in some cases, movement restrictions limited access to UNRWA services and resources in the West Bank (see “Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons” section above regarding UNRWA’s definition of refugees).
All UNRWA projects in the West Bank and Gaza Strip required Israeli government permits, but UNRWA does not apply for permits in refugee camps.
The deterioration of socioeconomic conditions during the year in Gaza severely affected refugees. UNRWA reported that food security continued to be at risk.
Israeli import restrictions on certain commodities considered as dual use continued to impede humanitarian operations in Gaza, including those directed toward refugees. In 2016 Israeli authorities introduced a requirement whereby approval of UNRWA projects remained valid for only one year. As project implementation timelines often exceeded one year, this requirement necessitated applications for reapproval of projects, which hampered implementation and increased transaction costs for multiple UNRWA projects.
According to NGOs, 40,000 to 50,000 Palestinians in Gaza lacked identification cards recognized by Israel. Some were born in Gaza, but Israel never recognized them as residents; some fled Gaza during the 1967 war; and some left Gaza for various reasons after 1967 but later returned. A small number lacking recognized identification cards were born in the Gaza Strip and never left, but had only Hamas-issued identification cards. Under the Oslo Accords, the PA administers the Palestinian Population Registry, although status changes in the registry require Israeli government approval. The Israeli government has not processed changes to the registry since 2000.