The numerical scores and status listed here do not reflect conditions in Israel or the West Bank, which are examined in separate reports. Prior to its 2011 edition, Freedom in the World featured one report for Israeli-occupied portions of the West Bank and Gaza Strip and another for Palestinian-administered portions. For more information, see the report methodology and FAQ.
The political rights and civil liberties of Gaza Strip residents are severely constrained. Israel’s de facto blockade of the territory, along with its periodic military incursions and rule of law violations, has imposed serious hardship on the civilian population, as has Egypt’s tight control over the southern border. The Islamist political and militant group Hamas gained control of Gaza in 2007, following its victory in the preceding year’s legislative elections and a subsequent conflict with Fatah, the ruling party in the West Bank. The unresolved schism between Hamas and the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority (PA) has contributed to legal confusion and repeated postponement of elections, which have not been held in Gaza since 2006.
- Palestinians in Gaza continued to take part in weekly “Great March of Return” protests near the de facto border with Israel, and Israeli forces regularly used live fire, rubber-coated bullets, and tear-gas canisters against the protesters, resulting in tens of thousands of injuries and more than 200 fatalities since the demonstrations began in March 2018. At year’s end, organizers announced that the marches would be held with reduced frequency in 2020.
- In March, the Hamas-led government cracked down on peaceful demonstrations against economic hardship, arresting more than 1,000 and beating a number of participants in what amounted to an escalation in repressive tactics.
- In May, a flare-up in fighting between Israel and armed groups in Gaza included Israeli air strikes that killed 25 Palestinians and injured more than 150 others.
- Israeli forces’ assassination of a top commander of Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip in November triggered a new round of fighting between Israel and the militant group, in which more than 30 Palestinians were killed.
- Gaza reached record-high unemployment rates in the first half of 2019, with about 64 percent of the territory’s labor force out of work. There were some indications that Israel was easing economic pressure on the territory in the final months of the year, selectively granting travel permits to more Palestinian businesspeople and loosening some restrictions on food exports.
|Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections?
The PA has not held a presidential election since 2005, when the Fatah faction’s Mahmoud Abbas won with 62 percent of the vote. Following its win in 2006 legislative elections and a violent rift with Fatah and the West Bank–based PA in 2007, Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip. Abbas’s four-year electoral mandate expired in 2009, though he continued to govern in the West Bank as of 2019.
Under PA laws, the prime minister is nominated by the president and requires the support of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC). Hamas leader Ismail Haniya was nominated and sworn in as prime minister following the 2006 elections, and again in 2007 as part of a short-lived unity government, but he was dismissed by President Abbas after the Fatah-Hamas conflict that year. Hamas did not recognize the dismissal. Because repeated attempts to form new PA unity governments have failed, Hamas has exercised de facto executive authority in the Gaza Strip since 2007. The de facto head of government as of 2019, Yahya Sinwar, was chosen in a closed election by Hamas members in February 2017.
In October 2017, Hamas and Fatah signed a reconciliation agreement brokered by Egypt to work toward a consensus government and new elections, but implementation remains stalled. The West Bank–based government resigned in January 2019, and in April President Abbas swore in a new cabinet led by Mohammad Shtayyeh, his longtime ally. Hamas rejected the legitimacy of the new government, which exercised no control in the Gaza Strip. In October, Abbas instructed the Central Elections Commission to start preparing for presidential and legislative elections. All parties have agreed with the planning of elections, but both Fatah and Hamas have insisted on the condition that Israel allow Palestinians in East Jerusalem to freely participate, which appeared unlikely.
|Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections?
The PA has not held elections for the 132-seat PLC since 2006, when Hamas won 74 seats and Fatah took 45. The subsequent Fatah-Hamas schism and Israel’s detention of many lawmakers left the full PLC unable to function, and the body’s electoral mandate expired in 2010. Nonetheless, a Hamas-led rump legislature continued to operate in the Gaza Strip. In December 2018, President Abbas ordered the formal dissolution of the PLC, backed by a Supreme Constitutional Court ruling that also called for legislative elections within six months. Hamas rejected the decision. Despite Abbas’s October 2019 order to prepare for elections, it remained unclear at year’s end when legislative balloting would actually be held.
|Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies?
No open elections for any office have been held in Gaza since 2006. Decisions about the conduct of elections are highly politicized. For example, Hamas refused to participate in the 2017 PA municipal elections, which had been postponed from the previous year amid disputes between Hamas and Fatah over candidate lists. Following a 2016 PA court ruling to exclude the Gaza Strip from the elections, ostensibly due to concerns about judicial oversight, no agreement could be reached on how to arrange balloting in Gaza.
|Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system free of undue obstacles to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings?
Since 2007, Gaza has functioned as a de facto one-party state under Hamas rule, although smaller parties—including Islamic Jihad, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP), and a faction of Fatah that opposes President Abbas—are tolerated to varying degrees. Some of these groups have their own media outlets and hold rallies and gatherings. However, those affiliated with President Abbas and his supporters in Fatah are subject to persecution.
|Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections?
The indefinite postponement of elections has prevented any opportunities for a change in the political status quo. The formation of an interim consensus government between Hamas and Fatah, or at least a reconciliation on issues of administration, is widely seen as a necessary precursor to the holding of new elections. However, reconciliation efforts have foundered due to disputes about control of Gaza’s internal security, border crossings, and payment of salaries. In September 2019, a group of smaller parties announced an initiative aimed at ending the division between Fatah and Hamas and calling for new elections.
|Are the people’s political choices free from domination by forces that are external to the political sphere, or by political forces that employ extrapolitical means?
Israel’s ongoing blockade of Gaza, which comprises strict limits on the movement of goods and people in and out of the territory, and the ongoing Hamas-Fatah rift hamper the development of normal civilian political competition. Armed groups, including the Israeli military and militias such as those affiliated with Hamas and Islamic Jihad, exercise disproportionate control over the day-to-day lives of Palestinians in Gaza and leave them with virtually no ability to shape policies that affect them.
|Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, religious, gender, LGBT, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities?
Hamas makes little effort to address the rights of marginalized groups within Gazan society. Women enjoy formal political equality under PA laws, and some women won seats in the PLC in 2006. However, women are mostly excluded from leadership positions in Hamas and absent from public political events in practice. Gazan women do actively participate in civil society gatherings that touch on political issues. There were no meaningful openings in the repressive environment for the LGBT+ community in Gaza during 2019.
|Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government?
The expiration of the presidential and parliamentary terms has left Gaza’s authorities with no electoral mandate. In 2019, Hamas continued to govern Gaza unilaterally, assigning responsibilities to its own officials as the reconciliation deal with Fatah remained unfulfilled.
The ability of Palestinian officials to make and implement policy in Gaza is severely circumscribed by Israeli and Egyptian border controls, Israeli military actions, and the ongoing schism with the PA in the West Bank. Israel maintains a heavy security presence around Gaza’s land and sea perimeters, using live fire to keep anyone from entering buffer zones near these boundaries, which further reduces local control over the territory.
|Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective?
Hamas has been accused of corruption in public service delivery and aid distribution, which is crucial to daily life in Gaza given that about 80 percent of the population depends on international assistance due to the blockade. In its 2018 annual report, the Coalition for Accountability and Integrity (AMAN) reported persistent obstacles to the prosecution of corruption cases in the context of continued political division between the PA and Hamas administrations and certain deficiencies in technical expertise in Gaza.
Although Hamas rarely makes public moves to punish its own members for malfeasance, in September 2019 it announced that it had investigated and fined the son of one of its leaders for illegitimately obtaining a free pilgrimage to Mecca.
|Does the government operate with openness and transparency?
The Hamas-controlled government has no effective or independent mechanisms for ensuring transparency in its funding, procurements, or operations. In its 2018 report, AMAN found that transparency among government ministries in Gaza was rare. Political decision-making and the operations of Hamas’s armed wing remain largely out of public view.
|Are there free and independent media?
The media are not free in Gaza. West Bank–based newspapers have been permitted in the territory since 2014, and a number of political factions have their own media outlets. However, Gazan journalists and bloggers continue to face repression from the Hamas government’s internal security apparatus and from Israeli forces. A reporter for a pro-Fatah radio station, Hani al-Agha, was detained by Hamas authorities in September 2019 and released more than a month later as part of a larger amnesty. In a 2018 report, Human Rights Watch detailed a pattern of arrests, interrogations, and in some cases beatings and torture of journalists in Gaza.
The Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms (MADA) documented 80 press freedom violations committed by Israeli authorities in the Gaza Strip during 2019, including injuries to journalists covering the Great March of Return protests near the border area and the destruction of media offices in Israeli air strikes. MADA reported 113 violations by Palestinian authorities in the Gaza Strip in 2019, including cases of arrest or detention of journalists, physical attacks, and torture or other abuse in custody.
|Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private?
Freedom of religion is restricted. The PA Basic Law declares Islam to be the official religion of Palestine and states that “respect and sanctity of all other heavenly religions (Judaism and Christianity) shall be maintained.” Blasphemy is a criminal offense. Hamas authorities have enforced conservative Sunni Islamic practices and attempted to exert political control over mosques. However, they have not enforced prayers in schools or compelled women to wear hijab in Gaza’s main urban areas to the extent that they did in the early years of Hamas control.
|Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination?
Primary and secondary schools in the Gaza Strip are run by Hamas, the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), or private entities. In the Hamas-run Islamic University, people are separated by gender, and women are obliged to cover their hair. Hamas intervenes in the schools under its control to uphold its views on Islamic identity and morality. It does not intervene extensively in private universities, but Hamas-led police have violently suppressed student demonstrations. Some Gazan academics are believed to practice self-censorship. Israeli and Egyptian restrictions on trade and travel limit access to educational materials and academic exchanges.
|Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution?
Intimidation by Hamas militants and other armed groups has some effect on personal expression and private discussion in Gaza, and the authorities monitor social media for critical content. A 2018 Human Rights Watch report documented a number of incidents in which Hamas intimidated, detained, or abused individuals in response to their social media activity or attendance at political events, most notably those perceived to be supportive of Fatah or opposed to the Hamas government. For example, individuals have been detained and questioned about social media posts that were critical of the Hamas leadership and its handling of electricity shortages.
|Is there freedom of assembly?
Israeli forces use violent and sometimes lethal methods to disperse demonstrations near the de facto border. The Great March of Return began in March 2018 as a weekly demonstration to demand the return of Palestinian refugees to what is now Israel. Israeli forces positioned along the border regularly fired on demonstrators with live ammunition, resulting in scores of fatalities. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA), more than 210 people had been killed and some 36,000 injured by the end of 2019, with many wounded by shrapnel, rubber-coated bullets, or direct hits from tear-gas canisters in addition to the live gunfire. In December, march organizers announced that the weekly demonstrations would be replaced by monthly events and assemblies on national holidays.
Hamas also significantly restricts freedom of assembly, with security forces violently dispersing unapproved public gatherings. In response to March 2019 protests against the economic situation under the slogan We Want to Live, Hamas security forces arrested more than 1,000 demonstrators and allegedly beat some participants. The crackdown was seen as particularly harsh compared with other such actions by the Hamas-led government in recent years.
|Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work?
There is a broad range of Palestinian nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and civic groups, and Hamas operates a large social-services network. However, Hamas has restricted the activities of organizations that do not submit to its regulations, and many civic associations have been shut down for political reasons since the 2007 PA split. Aid and reconstruction efforts by NGOs after the 2014 conflict with Israel have been held up in part by disagreements over international and PA access to the territory and control over border crossings. The Israeli government also imposes restrictions on access to Gaza for human rights researchers and NGO staff.
|Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations?
The Fatah-aligned Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions, the largest union body in the territories, has seen its operations curtailed in Gaza. Workers have little leverage in labor disputes due to the dire economic situation, extremely high unemployment, and the dysfunctional court system, which impedes enforcement of labor protections.
Hamas sometimes intervenes in labor union elections or in the activities of professional associations that are linked to Fatah. Hamas has established its own, parallel professional associations to compete with existing organizations that are more strongly affiliated with Fatah and rival groups. The civil servants’ union for the Hamas-controlled public sector occasionally holds rallies and strikes.
|Is there an independent judiciary?
Hamas maintains an ad hoc judicial system that is separate from the PA structures headquartered in the West Bank, which do not operate in Gaza. The system is subject to political control, and Palestinian judges lack proper training and experience. There are also reportedly long delays in hearing cases related to a range of issues, including land disputes and personal status matters.
|Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters?
Hamas security forces and militants regularly carry out arbitrary arrests and detentions. The court system overseen by Hamas generally fails to ensure due process, and in some cases civilians are subject to trial by special military courts.
There were 296 Palestinian security detainees and prisoners from Gaza in Israeli prisons as of the end of 2019, according to the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem, which has noted that transporting prisoners outside of occupied territory is a breach of international law. Israel’s military courts, which handle the cases of such detainees, lack the full due process guarantees of civilian courts.
|Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies?
B’Tselem reported that Israeli forces killed a total of 105 Palestinians in Gaza during 2019, a sharp decline from the 255 killed in 2018. While many of the casualties were civilian protesters whom Israel accused of trying to breach the border fence, others were killed during outbreaks of fighting between the Israeli military and armed militant groups. One such outbreak occurred in May, after two Israeli soldiers were wounded near the Gaza border demonstrations. Israeli air strikes killed 25 Palestinians, 13 of whom were identified as civilians, and injured more than 150 others; hundreds of residential housing units were also damaged or destroyed. Rockets fired by Palestinian militants killed four Israelis and injured 123. Fighting erupted again in November, following Israel’s targeted assassination of an Islamic Jihad commander in Gaza. This round of clashes featured an air strike that killed nine members of a family, including five children age 13 or younger.
Hamas-led authorities have applied the death penalty without due process or adequate opportunity for appeals, and without the legally required approval from the PA president. Two death sentences were issued during 2019, a steep decline from previous years, and no executions were carried out.
|Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population?
The legal system operating in Gaza offers few protections against harassment and discrimination for women and other vulnerable groups, including LGBT+ people. Laws dating to the British Mandate era authorize up to 10 years in prison for sexual acts between men.
|Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education?
Freedom of movement for Gaza residents is severely limited. Israel and Egypt exercise tight control over border areas, and Hamas imposes its own restrictions on travel. Israel often denies Gaza residents permits to travel outside of the territory on security grounds, permitting only certain medical patients and other individuals to leave. University students have difficulty acquiring the necessary permits to leave the territory to study abroad. Hamas allowed PA officials to deploy to Gaza’s border crossings in 2017, but this did not lead to any practical changes in freedom of movement for Gazans. Corruption and the use of bribes at crossing points is common.
Beginning in mid-2018, Egypt partially reduced its restrictions on the Rafah crossing, which has since been operating five days a week on a regular basis. However, it is still difficult for many Palestinians to receive appropriate permits from Hamas and the Egyptian government, with wealthier individuals paying brokers to arrange “expedited” processing.
In September 2019, the NGO Gisha reported minor changes to Israeli policies governing the Erez crossing, which in some cases loosened permit and travel criteria for Palestinians who want to leave Gaza, though it was unclear at the time whether the altered rules had led to meaningful changes in practice. In the final months of 2019, UNOCHA reported an increase in the number of Israeli permits issued to Palestinian businesspeople.
|Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors?
While Gaza residents are able to own property and engage in business activity, their rights have been seriously undermined by the effects of periodic conflicts between Hamas and Israel, among other factors. Only a fraction of the homes damaged or destroyed during the 2014 conflict had been reconstructed by the end of 2019, and approximately 16,500 people remained in temporary housing at midyear. Impediments to private enterprise in Gaza include persistent Israeli bans on imports of many raw materials, although there were some indications that export restrictions on certain food products and import restrictions on items such as car tires were looser at the end of 2019, perhaps in connection with Israeli efforts to reach a long-term cease-fire deal with Hamas.
|Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance?
Palestinian laws and societal norms, derived in part from Sharia (Islamic law), put women at a disadvantage in matters such as marriage and divorce. The Hamas authorities have enforced restrictions on personal attire and behavior that they deem immoral, though enforcement has relaxed in recent years. Rape and domestic violence remain underreported and frequently go unpunished, as authorities are allegedly reluctant to pursue such cases.
So-called honor killings reportedly continue to occur, though information on the situation in Gaza is limited. Some women in Gaza took park in small protests against such violence in tandem with larger demonstrations elsewhere that were prompted by the August 2019 murder of Israa Ghrayeb, a West Bank Palestinian woman who was allegedly killed by male relatives after she posted an image of herself with her fiancé online. Earlier in the year, the #MeTooGaza hashtag was launched on social media, encouraging Palestinian women to share their own experiences with abuse and harassment.
|Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation?
The blockade of the Gaza Strip’s land borders and coastline has greatly reduced economic opportunity in the territory. Approximately 64 percent of Gaza’s labor force was unemployed as of mid-2019, an increase from 54 percent a year earlier, which was already one of the highest rates in the world. Israel’s intermittent restrictions on the entry of construction materials have hampered the economy. Israeli forces also prevent farming near the border fence and limit Gazan fishermen’s access to coastal waters. Fishermen were notified that Israel had altered the demarcation of the fishing zone 19 times in 2019, according to Gisha, although the limit was left at 15 nautical miles from shore at year’s end. Hamas has imposed price controls that may further dampen economic activity.
Inconsistent access to fuel imports and electricity due to Israeli, PA, and Egyptian policies hinders all forms of development in the territory, including domestic desalination that could improve access to clean water. In October 2018, Israel lifted some restrictions on fuel transfers, and Qatar began financing fuel and other aid to improve electricity generation and overall economic conditions. In June 2019, Israel temporarily suspended fuel deliveries to Gaza after a number of incendiary balloons were launched from Gaza and landed in Israel.
PA officials have little ability to enforce legal protections against exploitative labor conditions in Gaza, and most private-sector wage earners receive less than the legal minimum, which is itself lower than the poverty threshold.
On Gaza Strip
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Global Freedom Score11 100 not free