Freedom in the World

Palestinian Authority-Administered Territories *

Palestinian Authority-Administered Territories *

Freedom in the World 2002
Trend Arrow: 


The Palestinian-Authority Administered territories received a downward trend arrow 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. The failure, and at times, refusal, by the PA to clamp down on terror resulted in Israeli reprisals, thereby affecting Palestinian lives. Numerous reports of press intimidation by the PA and its allied militias were also documented.

Overview: 


The Palestinian intifada continued through 2001 with no genuine signs of abatement, despite attempts by the United States to directly broker ceasefire agreements. The continuing violence led to further deterioration of Palestinian living conditions and personal safety. For the first time since the implementation of the Oslo peace accords, Israel conducted raids into Palestinian territory, resulting in the deaths of several Palestinians and the destruction of many Palestinian civil and military institutions and homes. Israel also continued its policy of targeted killings of suspected Palestinian militants, prompting widescale international condemnation. Israel imposed tight restrictions on the movement of Palestinians both within and outside Palestinian-administered areas and those still under Israeli control. By the end of the year, with the intifada over one year old, more than 600 Palestinians and over 200 Israelis had been killed.

Yasir Arafat's Palestinian Authority (PA) continued to be undermined as factions of his Fatah organization and other militant groups took the lead--at times against his orders, without his consultation, or perhaps even with his tacit approval--in perpetuating the intifada. Palestinian suicide bombers carried out numerous attacks inside Israel, killing scores. Gunmen carried out ambushes and drive-by shootings, killing several Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Mortars were also fired at Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem and at settlements in the Gaza Strip.

After several ceasefire declarations by Israel, and in the wake of the terrorist attacks in the United States in September, Arafat called upon Palestinians to refrain from attacking Israelis, an order that held only temporarily. Within days, violence resumed. Palestinian security forces opened fire on Palestinian protestors, killing three. Palestinian militiamen assassinated an Israeli cabinet member in October, bringing both sides to the brink of all-out war. After a wave of Palestinian suicide bombers killed scores in Israel in November and December, Arafat enforced a ceasefire, which significantly damped down the violence for the rest of the year.

The PA continued to face accusations of autocratic leadership, mismanagement, and political corruption. Several Palestinians suspected of collaborating with Israel were sentenced to death after summary trials. Some were executed.

The West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem came under the British Mandate in 1920. After Palestinian rejection of a United Nations partition plan in 1947, Israel declared its independence on the portion of land allotted for Jewish settlement. The fledgling state was jointly attacked by neighboring Arab states in the 1948 War of Independence. While Israel maintained its sovereignty, Jordan seized East Jerusalem and the West Bank, while Egypt took control of Gaza. In the 1967 Six-Day War, Israel came to occupy the West Bank, Gaza, East Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights, which had been used by Syria to shell towns in northern Israel. Israel annexed East Jerusalem in 1967 and the Golan Heights in 1981.

Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza began attacking mainly military targets in 1987 to protest Israeli rule in what became known as the intifada. A series of secret negotiations between Israel and Arafat's Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) conducted in Oslo, Norway, produced an agreement in August 1993. The Declaration of Principles provided for three Israeli troop withdrawals and gradual Palestinian autonomy in the West Bank and Gaza.

Elections for the first Palestinian legislative council and head of the council's executive authority were held in January 1996 and were considered to be generally free and fair. Independents won 35 of the 88 council seats, while Arafat's Fatah movement won the remainder. Arafat won the chairmanship of the executive authority with 88 percent of the vote.

Most of Gaza and the West Bank town of Jericho were turned over to the PA in May 1994. In late 1995, Israel began redeploying its forces in the West Bank. The election of Labor Party leader Ehud Barak as Israeli prime minister in May 1999 reinvigorated the Oslo peace process. Under the provisions of the Oslo Accords implemented so far, the Palestinians have full or partial control of 40 percent of the West Bank, or 98 percent of the territory's Palestinian population.

In July 2000, Israeli and Palestinian negotiators, led by Prime Minister Barak and Chairman Arafat, respectively, held two weeks of talks at Camp David under U.S. auspices. The talks culminated in the most far-reaching negotiations ever between the two sides. For the first time, Israel offered compromise proposals on Jerusalem, agreeing to some form of Palestinian control and quasi-sovereignty over East Jerusalem, which contains Islamic holy sites. Israel also offered more than 95 percent of the West Bank to the Palestinians and expressed some willingness to recompense and resettle a limited number of Palestinian refugees. The Palestinians rejected the Israeli offers, insisting on full sovereignty over East Jerusalem, 100 percent of the West Bank, and an Israeli commitment to a "right of return" of Palestinian refugees. No agreement was reached. At the end of September 2000 a widespread Palestinian uprising erupted.

In January 2001, the two sides negotiated intensively in Taba, an Egyptian Red Sea resort town. The talks, however, yielded no concrete results. Days later, in nationwide voting, Ariel Sharon became prime minister. Barak's defeat effectively ended shortterm prospects for renewed negotiations. The intifada continued, showing few signs of abatement throughout the year.

In May, a fact-finding commission headed by former U.S. Senator George Mitchell issued a report on the crisis. Apportioning blame for the violence to both sides, the Mitchell Report called for a cessation of violence as an unconditional first step, to be followed by a series of confidence-building measures. These included a total freeze of Israeli settlement activity, 100 percent effort by the PA in clamping down on terror, the use of nonlethal force by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) against Palestinian demonstrators, the prevention by the PA of attacks against Israelis from Palestinian areas, the lifting of border closures by Israel, and the resumption of PA cooperation with Israeli security agencies.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon demanded one week of calm before a "cooling off" period could take place, after which the Mitchell plan could take effect. A Palestinian suicide bombing in the Israeli city of Netanya in mid-May put off implementation of the plan. Israel responded to the murder of five of its civilians with F-16 air strikes on Palestinian police and militia posts in the West Bank and Gaza, killing nine.

Palestinian militias, along with the radical groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad, carried out several ambush attacks and bombings against Jewish soldiers and settlers in Gaza and the West Bank. Previously marginalized groups such as the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) resurfaced during the intifada, seizing upon the legitimization of violence by more mainstream Palestinian groups. The PFLP carried out a series of car bombings in Israel in June. In August, Israel killed the PFLP leader, Abu Ali Mustafa, in a helicopter gunship strike on his office in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

In response to armed Palestinian attacks, including sustained small arms and mortar fire at homes in Gilo, a Jewish suburb of Jerusalem considered by Palestinians to be a settlement on occupied land, Israel responded with heavy weapons, including helicopter gunship and tank attacks on select Palestinian targets. Persistent mortar fire was also directed at Jewish settlement areas in Gaza. For the first time since the implementation of the Oslo accords in 1994, Israeli forces reentered Palestinian territory. They withdrew after attacking police posts and tearing down embankments and other strategic positions used by Palestinian gunmen. Yasir Arafat's compounds in Gaza and Ramallah were also hit by Israeli fire.

Israel killed several top Palestinian militia figures and radical Islamists suspected of carrying out or preparing attacks against Israel. Palestinians condemned Israel for the killings--often carried out by helicopter gunships or undercover units--and labeled them "assassinations." Israel also faced international criticism for what it termed "targeted killings." Israel justified the policy on the grounds that its repeated requests that the PA detain Palestinians suspected of planning or carrying out attacks had gone unheeded.

Violence against Israel was carried out against a backdrop of incitement by Palestinian religious and political leaders. Islamic clerics, preaching from mosques in the West Bank and Gaza, frequently called for the deaths of Jews and praised Palestinian suicide bombers. Sermons are often broadcast live on Palestinian TV, a PA-controlled media outlet. Some secular Palestinian leaders had also called for liberating all of Israel's land, not just the West Bank and Gaza.

Attempts in June by Central Intelligence Agency Director George Tenet to broker a ceasefire and implement the Mitchell plan largely failed. The PA continued to refuse Israeli entreaties to arrest suspected Palestinian terrorists, afraid of the potential political backlash. However, in early June, Yasir Arafat declared a ceasefire after a member of the radical Islamic Jihad group blew himself up outside a Tel Aviv disco, killing 21 Israelis. While Israel refrained from retaliating immediately, the ceasefire ultimately proved short lived.

In August, a Hamas suicide bomber blew himself up inside a packed pizza parlor in downtown Jerusalem, killing 15. Israeli F-16 jets fired on Palestinian police stations in the West Bank and invaded the town of Jenin, considered a primary center from where many suicide attacks emanate. Israeli forces destroyed a police building there before withdrawing. Israeli troops also took over Orient House, the unofficial PA headquarters in East Jerusalem. Israel revealed that it had earlier submitted the name of the coordinator of the Jerusalem bombing to the PA, stating it had credible intelligence of an imminent attack.

Arafat's refusal to arrest terror suspects underscored his apparent loss of street credibility. Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti apparently defied the Palestinian leader by declaring the continuation of the intifada whenever Arafat called for a ceasefire. With the skyrocketing popularity of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, Arafat's room for maneuverability appeared hampered throughout the year. A poll conducted at the end of September by the Jerusalem Media and Communications Centre, a Palestinian polling institute, found only 23.5 percent of West Bank and Gaza residents trust Arafat. Approximately 75 percent support suicide bombings against Israelis.

In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, prospects for a sustained halt in violence appeared to improve toward the end of September. Motivated to disassociate himself from acts of terror while the United States formed an international antiterror coalition, Arafat ordered a ceasefire. Despite periodic attacks on Jewish settlers, a discernable drop in Palestinian violence was registered. Hamas also signaled its intention to suspend suicide operations for the foreseeable future, but did not rule out continuing attacks against Israeli troops and settlers in the West Bank and Gaza. Islamic Jihad announced it would not abide by the ceasefire. Israel issued an extradition request for Barghouti, accusing him of masterminding the shooting deaths of Israeli civilians. At the end of the month, Arafat and Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres met in Gaza to discuss terms for a lasting ceasefire. Israel eased some border closures along the West Bank and Gaza.

The period of relative calm, however, proved short lived. Palestinian gunmen continued to ambush West Bank Jewish settlers amidst the ceasefire talks; Israel continued to target top-ranking Hamas and Islamic Jihad members and staged incursions into Palestinian territory in an attempt to tamp down the violence. In the middle of October, the PFLP claimed responsibility for the assassination of Rehavam Ze'evi, an Israeli cabinet member. Israel demanded that the PA arrest and extradite the suspected killers to Israel, a move Yasir Arafat refused after outlawing the PFLP. Israel cut off contacts with the PA and within days of the killing invaded several Palestinian-ruled cities in the West Bank. The invasions--resulting in the deaths of a number of Palestinians --were partly in response to shooting attacks on Jewish neighborhoods and individual settlers, but were also carried out as a pressure tactic on Arafat to force him to hand over Ze'evi's assassins. In late October, under intense American pressure, Israel withdrew from three of the cities.

In late November, the United States sent retired General Anthony Zinni to the region to try to broker a ceasefire. His meetings with Israeli and Palestinian leaders came to naught, however, as a wave of Palestinian suicide bombings in Israeli cities undermined his efforts. He returned to the United States in December.

Late in the year, Palestinian demonstrators clashed violently with Palestinian security forces over the PA's detention of militants suspected of masterminding attacks against Israelis. Some demonstrators died in the clashes. With his credibility among his people already strained, Arafat declared a state of emergency in Gaza and West Bank in December. Israel accused Arafat directly of sponsoring terrorism and attacked PA buildings and installations on several occasions.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 


Palestinian residents of the West Bank, Gaza, and Jerusalem chose their first popularly elected government in 1996. Despite some irregularities, international observers regarded the vote as reasonably reflective of the will of the voters. The legislative council has complained of being marginalized by executive authority; though it has debated hundreds of draft laws, few have been signed into law. The Palestinian government indefinitely postponed local elections in May 1998, citing the threat of Israeli interference. However, most believe that democratic municipal elections would reflect widespread Palestinian disillusionment both with the Oslo accords and with Yasir Arafat's leadership.

Although the council passed a basic law in 1997, Arafat has yet to approve it. Such a law would outline the separation between legislative and executive authority and presumably curtail Arafat's own authority.

Allegations of corruption and abuse of power have been increasingly problematic for Arafat's government. His autocratic tendencies have put him at odds with the legislative council. He frequently scuttles the legislative process or refuses to sign council rules into law.

Government corruption and popular disaffection with the peace process have benefited Hamas, an Islamic group whose military wing is largely responsible for terrorist attacks against Israel. Vocal opposition to Israel and to the Oslo Accords has turned Hamas into a growing political alternative to Arafat's Fatah party.

Palestinian judges lack proper training and experience. Israeli demands for a Palestinian crackdown on terrorism have given rise to state security courts, which lack almost all due process rights. Suspected Islamic militants are rounded up en masse and often held without charge or trial. There are reportedly hundreds of administrative detainees currently in Palestinian jails and detention centers. The same courts are also used to try those suspected of collaborating with Israel or for drug trafficking. Defendants are not granted the right to appeal sentences and are often summarily tried and sentenced to death. Executions often take place immediately after sentencing and are carried out by firing squad.

In January, the Palestinian Authority authorized the execution of two Palestinians accused of acting as informants for Israel. The European Union, Human Rights Watch, and Palestinian human rights groups protested the executions, claiming those convicted were not afforded a fair trial.

In August, four Palestinians were sentenced to death for allegedly helping Israeli agents kill Palestinian militia members. The verdicts were passed after a ten-minute hearing. In the same month, a suspected collaborator, Suleiman Abu Amra, died during interrogation in a Gaza jail. His body reportedly revealed evidence of torture. According to the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group, alleged collaborators are routinely tortured in Palestinian jails and are denied the right to defend themselves in court. This practice is not prohibited under Palestinian law.

Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the UN criticized Palestinian security forces for not reining in militias whose armed attacks against Israelis further endangered Palestinian civilians. The PA was also criticized for, at best, not preventing Palestinian youth from challenging Israeli soldiers and, at worst, for actively encouraging them to demonstrate.

In early October, during demonstrations in Gaza in support of Osama bin Laden, the Saudi-born leader of Al Qaeda, Palestinian police opened fire, killing three protestors.

Palestinians accused by Israel of security offenses in Israeli-controlled areas are tried in Israeli military courts. Security offenses are broadly defined. Some due process protections exist in these courts, though there are limits on the right to counsel, the right to bail, and the right to appeal. Administrative detention is widely used. Most convictions in Israeli military courts are based on confessions, which are often obtained through torture. Confessions are usually spoken in Arabic and translated into Hebrew for official records. Palestinian detainees seldom read Hebrew and thus sign confessions that they cannot read.

Some Palestinian structures built without permits were destroyed during the year. Building permits are difficult for West Bank Palestinians to obtain. Throughout the Palestinian uprising, Israeli forces destroyed several homes and farming areas providing cover for Palestinian gunmen.

Israel faced intense international criticism for its handling of the Palestinian uprising. Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the UN condemned Israel for employing excessive lethal force against Palestinian demonstrators. In August, six Israeli soldiers were arrested on suspicion of beating Palestinian civilians.

Journalists covering the intifada faced increased harassment by the PA. The Authority reportedly threatened Palestinian journalists who filed stories deemed unfavorable. PA-affiliated militias also warned Israeli journalists to stay out of Palestinian areas. In January, a Gaza-based cameraman was arrested for filming the execution of accused collaborators.

On September 11, immediately following the terrorist attacks in the United States, Palestinian security forces threatened journalists covering public celebrations by Palestinians in the West Bank. In one case, a cameraman for the Associated Press (AP) was threatened with death should he broadcast his videotape. The AP decided against airing the tape, despite protests by other Jerusalem-based journalists.

Under a 1995 Palestinian press law, journalists may be fined and jailed and newspapers closed for publishing "secret information" on Palestinian security forces or news that might harm national unity or incite violence. However, another press law, also signed in 1995, stipulates that Palestinian intelligence services do not reserve the right to interrogate, detain, or arrest journalists on the basis of their work. Still, several small media outlets are pressured by authorities to provide favorable coverage of Arafat and the PA. Arbitrary arrests, threats, and the physical abuse of journalists critical of the PA are routine. Official Palestinian radio and television are government mouthpieces. In September 2001, the PA shut down Al-Roa TV, a private television station. The closure was thought to be in response to the airing of a statement in which a group affiliated with Arafat's Fatah organization claimed responsibility for the murders of Jewish settlers in a drive-by shooting in the West Bank.

Chairman Arafat has yet to ratify a 1996 law passed by the Palestinian legislative council that guarantees freedom of expression.

The PA requires permits for rallies and demonstrations and prohibits violence and racist sloganeering. Private Palestinian organizations must register with Israeli authorities. In the PA, Palestinian and pro-Islamic organizations that oppose Arafat's government have been harassed and detained.

In June 2001, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) issued a report on the shootings of journalists covering the intifada. It claimed 15 had been shot and wounded by Israeli forces since the beginning of the uprising in September 2000. In some cases, CPJ claimed journalists were deliberately targeted, a charge the Israeli government denied. In July, Israeli military authorities ordered field commanders to protect journalists covering street clashes in the West Bank and Gaza.

Newspapers are subject to Israeli censorship on security matters, though such control has eased since 1993. Israeli authorities prohibit expressions of support for Hamas and other groups that call for the destruction of Israel.

All West Bank and Gaza residents must have identification cards in order to obtain entry permits into Israel and Jerusalem. Israel often denies permits to applicants with no explanation. Even senior Palestinian officials are subject to long delays and searches at Israeli West Bank checkpoints. Israel frequently seals off the West Bank and Gaza in response to terrorist attacks, preventing tens of thousands of Palestinians from traveling to their jobs in Israel. The Israeli army continued to erect roadblocks throughout the West Bank in order to prevent terrorists from entering Israel. The measure denied Palestinians easy passage from one town to another, making access to jobs, hospitals and schools extremely difficult. Restrictions of movement between and among Palestinian towns and cities were denounced as collective punishment.

The border closings imposed throughout most of the uprising exacted a serious toll on the Palestinian economy. According to the UN, the intifada has cost the Palestinian economy more than $1.15 billion. Unemployment is close to 40 percent and gross domestic product has fallen by half. One million Palestinians are estimated to be living below the poverty line as established by the World Bank ($15 per week). In Gaza, fourfifths of the population is below the poverty line, with two-thirds of the workforce unemployed and more than half the population living on emergency rations supplied by the UN.

B'tzelem, an Israeli human rights organization, reported in August that 200,000 Palestinians lack sufficient access to water. The group blamed Israel for not updating the Palestinian water infrastructure and for diverting water to Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza. Israeli roadblocks were also blamed for preventing water trucks from reaching parched Palestinian villages.

Palestinian women are underrepresented in most professions and encounter discrimination in employment. Under Sharia (Islamic law), women are disadvantaged in marriage, divorce, and inheritance matters. Rape, domestic abuse, and "honor killings," in which unmarried women thought not to be virgins are murdered by male relatives, continue. Since societal pressures prevent reporting of such incidents, the exact frequency of attacks is unknown.

Labor affairs in the West Bank and Gaza are governed by a combination of Jordanian law and PA decisions pending the enactment of new Palestinian labor codes. Workers may establish and join unions without government authorization. Palestinian workers seeking to strike must submit to arbitration by the PA ministry of labor. There are no laws in the PA-ruled areas to protect the rights of striking workers. Palestinian workers in Jerusalem are subject to Israeli labor law.

The PA generally respects freedom of religion, though no law exists protecting religious expression. Some Palestinian Christians have experienced intimidation and harassment by radical Islamic groups and PA officials. On several occasions during the renewed intifada, Israel restricted the right of Muslim men under the age of 40 from praying on the Temple Mount compound in Jerusalem's Old City, for fear of violent confrontations.

2002 Scores

Status

Not Free

Freedom Rating
(1 = best, 7 = worst)

5.5

Civil Liberties
(1 = best, 7 = worst)

6

Political Rights
(1 = best, 7 = worst)

5