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. Freedom in the World reports assess the level of political rights and civil liberties in a given geographical area, regardless of whether they are affected by the state, nonstate actors, or foreign powers. Disputed territories are sometimes assessed separately if they meet certain criteria, including boundaries that are sufficiently stable to allow year-on-year comparisons. 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, periodic military incursions, and rule-of-law violations have 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 subsequent 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.
- Hamas and Fatah launched a new round of talks aimed at reconciling the two factions in February. In September, the two participants announced a deal to hold new legislative and presidential elections, though details on electoral management remained pending and the polls were ultimately not held by year’s end.
- Israel launched a monthlong air campaign against sites in Gaza in early August, in response to a rocket attack launched from the territory. Israeli authorities tightened restrictions on the flow of materials, including fuel and construction materials, into Gaza that month, though the additional restrictions were loosened by early September. Further exchanges of fire were reported in mid-September and late October.
- Gazans faced COVID-19-related restrictions in March, when access to the Erez and Rafah crossings were severely reduced and when Gazan authorities introduced restrictions on gatherings and nonessential businesses that lasted through May. Gazan authorities initiated a lockdown and movement restrictions in the territory in August after community spread was detected; lockdown and curfew measures were reintroduced in November as the pandemic continued. At year’s end, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) counted nearly 40,000 COVID-19 cases and 356 deaths.
|Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections?||0.000 4.004|
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 has continued to govern in the West Bank.
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, Yahya Sinwar, was chosen in a closed election by Hamas members in 2017.
In October 2017, Hamas and Fatah signed a reconciliation agreement brokered by Egypt to work toward a consensus government and new elections, though its implementation subsequently stalled. In late September 2020, Fatah and Hamas agreed to hold presidential and parliamentary elections within six months, though those polls were ultimately not held by year’s end.
|Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections?||0.000 4.004|
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 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. In September 2020, Hamas and Fatah agreed to schedule parliamentary elections, though polls were not held by year’s end.
|Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies?||0.000 4.004|
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. While Fatah and Hamas reached an initial September 2020 agreement to hold elections, a specific electoral-management plan was not finalized by year’s end.
|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?||1.001 4.004|
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?||0.000 4.004|
The 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. Reconciliation efforts have previously foundered due to disputes about control of Gaza’s internal security, border crossings, and payment of salaries. Hamas and Fatah launched a new round of talks in February 2020, which were ongoing at year’s end.
|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?||0.000 4.004|
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, racial, religious, gender, LGBT+, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities?||1.001 4.004|
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. The political interests of LGBT+ people, who face widespread discrimination in Gaza, are not represented by those in power.
|Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government?||0.000 4.004|
The expiration of the presidential and parliamentary terms has left Gaza’s authorities with no electoral mandate. In 2020, 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?||1.001 4.004|
Hamas has been accused of corruption in public service delivery and aid distribution, which is crucial to daily life in Gaza given that over 80 percent of the population depends on international assistance due to the blockade. In its October 2020 report, the Coalition for Accountability and Integrity (AMAN) noted that the continuing Fatah-Hamas schism, issues regarding judicial integrity, and specific issues regarding the procurement process have impeded the prosecution of corruption cases.
|Does the government operate with openness and transparency?||0.000 4.004|
The Hamas-controlled government has no effective or independent mechanisms for ensuring transparency in its funding, procurements, or operations. AMAN’s October 2020 report noted that political decision-making remained out of public view.
|Are there free and independent media?||0.000 4.004|
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. In a 2018 report, Human Rights Watch (HRW) detailed a pattern of arrests, interrogations, and in some cases beatings and torture of journalists in Gaza.
While press-freedom violations declined in 2020, partially due to the suspension of Great March of Return events, Gazan authorities continued to target journalists during the year. In late March, police physically attacked journalist Yasser Abu Athara as he filmed a COVID-19-related protest, seizing his mobile phone. Cartoonist Ismael el-Bozom was arrested twice in late March for producing material that criticized Hamas, but was ultimately released without charge due to a COVID-19-related mitigation policy. El-Bozom reported he was beaten by interrogators after his first arrest. In July, media outlets al-Arabiya and al-Hadath were banned from operating in Gaza after they reported on a Hamas officer’s apparent defection to Israel; Hamas branded the report as “fake news.”
|Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private?||1.001 4.004|
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?||1.001 4.004|
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?||2.002 4.004|
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 HRW 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?||0.000 4.004|
Israeli forces use violent and sometimes lethal methods to disperse demonstrations near the de facto border. The Great March of Return began in 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 were 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 live gunfire. Organizers effectively halted these protests in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Hamas also significantly restricts freedom of assembly, with security forces violently dispersing unapproved public gatherings. In response to 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 in a particularly harsh crackdown. We Want to Live demonstrations were not held in 2020.
|Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work?||1.001 4.004|
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?||1.001 4.004|
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?||0.000 4.004|
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?||0.000 4.004|
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.
Some 254 Palestinian security detainees and prisoners from Gaza were held in Israeli prisons as of the end of September 2020, according to Israeli NGO B’Tselem, which has noted that transporting prisoners outside of occupied territory is a breach of international law. Israeli 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?||0.000 4.004|
The number of Palestinians in Gaza killed by Israeli forces fell in 2020. UNOCHA counted 3 conflict-related fatalities and 56 injuries in the territory that year, while B’Tselem separately counted a total of 105 deaths caused by Israeli forces in 2019. However, fighting between Hamas and Israel did occur during the year. In late January 2020, the Israeli military reported that mortar shells were fired from Gaza, but reported no deaths. Israel attacked Hamas targets in the territory in response. Israeli forces launched a monthlong air campaign in early August, bombing targets in response to a rocket attack launched in Gaza. Exchanges of fire were again reported in mid-September and late October.
Those fishing in the waters off of Gaza or were otherwise close to the de facto border with Israel were also at risk during 2020. UNOCHA counted a monthly average of 74 shooting incidents involving Israeli forces and Palestinians in Gazan waters or near the border during the first nine months of the year.
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. Sixteen death sentences were issued through mid-December 2020, though no executions were carried out.
|Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population?||0.000 4.004|
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’ imprisonment for sexual acts between men.
Gazan residents living with disabilities face significant barriers, with a December 2020 HRW report noting pervasive stigma against this population. The report noted that people with disabilities were especially affected by Israeli restrictions on imports, impeding their ability to access medical equipment. In addition, little regulation is dedicated to the needs of this group.
|Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education?||0.000 4.004|
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. 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. The Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt was mostly closed to passengers in 2020 due to COVID-19-related restrictions, however; Palestinians were only been able to exit through Rafah four times in 2020.
While Israeli policies governing the Erez crossing were loosened in 2019, travel through the crossing was restricted in 2020 when the Israeli government instituted COVID-19 measures. In a December update, UNOCHA reported that the Erez crossing was primarily accessible for medical patients and exceptional cases, and that 250 people entered the territory through the crossing per week.
COVID-19 also impacted Gazans living in the territory, with territorial authorities introducing restrictions between March and May. A lockdown was declared in August after community spread was detected in Gaza, though it expired at the end of the month. Movement restrictions were introduced in several towns in September as viral spread continued. New lockdown and curfew measures were introduced in November, and remained in force within the territory at year’s end.
The Israeli army prevents Palestinians from approaching the Israel-Gaza border fence and a surrounding “buffer zone” extending up to 300 meters into the territory, despite the border not being accepted or recognized by the international community or any key actors. While several hundred Palestinians were shot while approaching the buffer zone during Great March of Return protests in 2018 and 2019, B’Tselem counted one death in 2020, due to the protests’ COVID-19-related suspension.
Israel periodically restricts or closes Gaza’s offshore fishing zone. In February 2020, Israel temporarily reduced the permitted fishing zone from 15 to 10 nautical miles offshore. In August, it temporarily shut the zone altogether as part of its response to attacks originating in Gaza.
Gazan Christians were unable to travel to the West Bank town of Bethlehem for the Christmas holiday due in part to Israeli COVID-19 restrictions.
|Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors?||1.001 4.004|
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 by the middle of that year. Impediments to private enterprise in Gaza include persistent Israeli bans on imports of many raw materials. While there were indications that export restrictions on certain food products and import restrictions on other items loosened at the end of 2019, the importation of many goods was restricted by Israel in August 2020. These additional restrictions were again loosened by September.
|Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance?||1.001 4.004|
Palestinian laws and societal norms, derived in part from Sharia (Islamic law), put women at a disadvantage in matters such as marriage and divorce. Hamas has enforced restrictions on personal attire and behavior it deems immoral, though enforcement has relaxed in recent years.
So-called honor killings reportedly continue to occur, though information on the situation in Gaza is limited. In 2019, the #MeTooGaza hashtag was launched on social media, encouraging Palestinian women to share their own experiences with abuse and harassment.
Domestic violence is common in Gaza, with nearly four in ten Gazan women facing such violence according a 2019 PA survey. Rape and domestic violence go underreported and are historically unpunished, as authorities are allegedly reluctant to pursue such cases. In 2019, the PA began drafting legislation that would establish a minimum age for marriage, institute harsher punishments towards those who engage in domestic violence, and improve protections for domestic-violence survivors. In September 2020, Hamas called on the PA to revoke the law until a new PLC was seated.
|Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation?||0.000 4.004|
The blockade of the Gaza Strip’s land borders and coastline has greatly reduced economic opportunity in the territory. Nearly half of Gaza’s labor force was unemployed in the second quarter of 2020. 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. 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 2018, Israel lifted some fuel-transfer restrictions, and Qatar began financing fuel and other aid to improve electricity generation and overall economic conditions. However, Israel temporarily suspended fuel deliveries in 2019 and again in August 2020, in response to attacks originating from the territory. The August restriction on imports, which also included construction materials and other essential goods, was loosened by September.
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