Freedom in the World
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Palestinian Authority-Administered Territories *
Palestinian Authority-Administered Territories *
Freedom Rating (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Civil Liberties (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Political Rights (1 = best, 7 = worst)
The Palestinian Authority-administered territories received a downward trend arrow due to a further deterioration in the rule of law and an increase in the intimidation of journalists, including physical harassment, kidnappings, and official threats against media outlets in an attempt to control coverage
The year 2004 was marked by escalating disenchantment with Palestinian Authority (PA) leader Yasser Arafat's rule, Palestinian demands for political reform, and increasing internal and external pressure to end the armed uprising against Israel. Arafat died in November, ushering in a period of uncertainty. While an interim transition process took place immediately after Arafat's death, the lack of a chosen successor raised the specter of a destabilizing power struggle and presidential elections were called for January 2005. Much of 2004 was marked by the further erosion of law and order and growing vigilantism in Palestinian areas, and some Arafat critics were singled out for intimidation, including physical attack. Militias and PA officials also stepped up their threats against the media. Palestinians continued their intifada (uprising) in 2004, leading to Israeli incursions into areas previously ceded to Palestinian control. Israel intermittently reoccupied some West Bank towns and cities, carried out armed raids, and imposed strict curfews and roadblocks in and around Palestinian areas. The Israeli measures, sometimes resulting in Palestinian civilian deaths, generally followed terrorist attacks against Israelis by Palestinian Islamist groups and more secular groups such as Tanzim and the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade affiliated with Arafat's Fatah movement. No meaningful peace negotiations took place between the Palestinians and Israel during the year.
In the 1967 Six-Day War, Israel came to occupy Sinai, the West Bank, Gaza, East Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights. Israel annexed Jerusalem's Old City and East Jerusalem in 1967 and the Golan Heights in 1981.
In what became known as the intifada, Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza began attacking mainly targets of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) in 1987 to protest Israeli rule. A series of secret negotiations between Israel and Arafat's Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) conducted in Oslo, Norway, produced an agreement in September 1993. Premised on the land-for-peace formula articulated in UN Security Council Resolution 242 of November 1967, the Declaration of Principles provided for Israeli troop withdrawals and gradual Palestinian autonomy in the West Bank and Gaza in exchange for an end to Palestinian terrorism and for recognition of Israel.
Most of Gaza and the West Bank town of Jericho were turned over to the PA in May 1994, and over the next two years, Israel redeployed its forces in the West Bank and Gaza. Under the provisions of Oslo implemented so far, the PA has had full or partial control of up to 40 percent of the territory of the West Bank and 98 percent of the Palestinian population. However, the IDF has temporarily reentered some PA-controlled territory since the onset of the second intifada in September 2000.
At the U.S. presidential retreat, Camp David, in July 2000, and at Taba, Egypt, in the fall and in early 2001, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and U.S. president Bill Clinton engaged the Palestinian leadership in the most far-reaching negotiations ever. For the first time, Israel discussed compromise solutions on Jerusalem, agreeing to some form of Palestinian sovereignty over East Jerusalem and Islamic holy sites in Jerusalem's Old City. Israel also offered all of the Gaza Strip and more than 95 percent of the West Bank to the Palestinians. Arafat, however, rejected the offers. Some analysts have suggested that Arafat balked over Jewish claims to Jerusalem and Israel's refusal to recognize a "right of return," which would in principle allow Palestinian refugees to live in Israel. Following a controversial visit by then-Likud leader Ariel Sharon to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem in September 2000, the Palestinians launched an armed uprising. Sharon became prime minister in elections in February 2001.
Violence continued throughout Palestinian areas in 2004. In response to terrorist attacks inside Israel and to attacks against Jewish settlers and IDF personnel in the West Bank and Gaza, Israeli forces carried out several incursions into Palestinian-ruled territory, killing and arresting many suspected militants. Israel killed several top Hamas and Islamic Jihad figures and radical Islamists suspected of committing or preparing attacks against Israel. Hamas and Islamic Jihad reject Israel's right to exist and are committed to its destruction. Both groups routinely recruit Palestinians - including children and women - to carry out suicide attacks. Fatah's Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade has also carried out several suicide attacks since 2000. 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. Civilians were also killed during Israeli operations. Israel denied the deliberate targeting of civilians, insisting that Palestinian gunmen and other militants position themselves among civilian populations, thus putting them in harm's way.
Israel carried out several antiterror operations in the West Bank and Gaza, reimposing roadblocks and sending troops back into Palestinian areas from which it had previously withdrawn. Large-scale operations in Gaza, designed to stop rocket fire from there, resulted in many deaths of militants and some civilians.
Israel also continued construction of a controversial security fence inside the West Bank. While the barrier helped reduce the number of terrorist attacks inside Israel, it did significantly disrupt the lives of many Palestinians living on or near the fence's route.
A "road map" toward peace with Israel, put forward by the United States, Russia, the United Nations, and the European Union (EU) in 2003, remained essentially dormant in 2004. The multistage, performance-based plan is premised on demonstrative Palestinian action at ending violence, to be followed by Israeli troop pullbacks and easing of curfews and travel restrictions on Palestinians. It also calls for a freeze of Israeli settlement activity once Palestinian terrorism ends.
Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza represent a major sticking point in negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. While Israel dismantled only some illegal outposts in the West Bank - composed mostly of small, makeshift trailers - it continued construction activity in existing settlements.
Much of 2004 was dominated by a deepening political crisis within the Palestinian community. Criticism mounted over perceived widespread corruption in the PA and over Arafat's refusal to transfer meaningful authority to Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei, including relinquishing control over the various Palestinian security services, a key international demand. Though he threatened to resign, Qurei ultimately acquiesced to Arafat's continued exclusive authority. In 2003, Arafat had consolidated all security authority in a new national security council answerable solely to him.
In February 2004, in a direct challenge to Arafat, 400 members of his Fatah party resigned in protest over corruption at the top levels of the PA. The World Bank threatened to cut off aid to the PA if it didn't end its corrupt financial practices, including its refusal to cease paying civil servants and security chiefs in cash and not via a more accountable direct-deposit system. Estimates of the amount of money Arafat had deposited into private funds and offshore holdings ran into the billions of dollars. The Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research reported that 87 percent of Palestinians regarded PA institutions as corrupt.
By the summer, challenges to Arafat's rule peaked. In July, Arafat appointed his cousin, Moussa Arafat, as Gaza security chief. The move prompted mass and at times violent protests by various armed factions, including by the traditionally loyal Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade and security forces loyal to former Gaza security chief Mahmoud Dahlan, who is widely considered a pragmatist. The protests seemed emblematic of deep disaffection felt by the younger, activist guard towards the older leadership establishment.
Growing lawlessness and acts of unpunished vigilantism in Palestinian-administered areas - including summary, public executions of Palestinians accused of collaborating with Israel - compounded the sense of disillusionment with the PA. In August, an inquiry by the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) blamed the PA and Arafat for the break down of law and order. The PLC announced that the Palestinian leadership had made no explicit political decision to end the escalating, random violence.
Arafat fell ill in November and was permitted to fly to Paris for medical treatment. He had been confined by Israel to his Ramallah compound since September 2003. After Arafat died on November 11, interim power effectively transferred to Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei and Arafat's PLO deputy and former PA prime minister Mahmoud Abbas. While the transition was relatively smooth, tensions among various Palestinian factions and militant groups became heightened. Gunmen loyal to Arafat threatened Abbas while he attended a memorial service for Arafat in Gaza. According to the PA's basic law, the Speaker of the PLC assumed the PA presidency for 60 days. Presidential elections were called for January 9, 2005.
Palestinian residents of the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem chose their first popularly elected government in 1996. Independents won 35 of the 88 PLC (Legislative Council) seats, while members of Arafat's Fatah party won the remainder. The PLC has complained of being marginalized by the executive authority; though it has debated hundreds of draft laws, few have been signed into law. The PA government indefinitely postponed local elections in May 1998, citing the threat of Israeli interference. As per agreements with Israel, the council has no real authority over borders or defense policy. Laws governing Palestinians in the occupied territories derive from Ottoman, British Mandate, Jordanian, Egyptian, and Palestinian Authority law, and Israeli military orders.
Arafat, who did not face meaningful opposition in the 1996 election, became PA chairman, or president, with 88 percent of the vote. Despite some irregularities, particularly in East Jerusalem, international observers regarded the vote as reasonably reflective of the will of the voters. Subsequent presidential elections were repeatedly postponed by Arafat. In November 2004, following Arafat's death, Palestinians registered to vote for the presidential elections scheduled to take place in the new year. According to Miftah, a Palestinian nongovernmental organization, the number of registered voters increased 72 percent from registration efforts held over the summer.
Palestinian residents of the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem do not have the right to vote in national elections in Israel. Arabs in East Jerusalem who hold Israeli identity cards can vote in the city's municipal elections and can also vote in PA elections.
Rampant corruption within the PA, combined with the deterioration of civic order and the PA's ability to deliver basic services, have benefited Hamas, which operates an extensive private charitable social services network. Transparency and the consolidation of PA finances became priority issues in the wake of Arafat's death.
The media are not free in the West Bank and Gaza, and press freedom deteriorated further in 2004. Under a 1995 PA 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. Nevertheless, several small media outlets are pressured by authorities to provide favorable coverage of 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.
Journalists covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Palestinian political affairs face harassment by the PA. PA officials reportedly threaten journalists who file stories deemed unfavorable. PA-affiliated militias have also warned Israeli journalists to stay out of Palestinian areas. International press freedom groups have called on the PA to cease harassment of journalists.
In January, the PA ordered all journalists in the West Bank and Gaza working for Arab satellite TV networks to refer to Palestinians killed by Israeli forces as "martyrs." Fatah activists also attacked Seif al-Din Shahin, a correspondent for the Al-Arabiya network, after he reported that several people were injured during a public rally where Fatah members fired their weapons in the air. Fatah went on to issue statements threatening journalists who had voiced criticism of the attack on Shahin. In February, masked gunmen stormed the Ramallah office of Al-Quds Educational TV, demanding videotapes and beating employees. The same month, gunmen opened fire on the office of the Gaza weekly Al-Daar, a paper that had been outspoken on corruption in the PA. In May, gunmen in Gaza failed in their attempt to abduct New York Times bureau chief James Bennett.
In July, the PA-affiliated Palestinian Journalists' Syndicate issued an edict threatening Palestinian journalists with severe punishment if they reported on clashes between rival Palestinian groups and other forms of internal strife. Some journalists reported receiving death threats, and others admitted that they stopped covering the internecine Palestinian struggle.
Arafat never ratified a 1996 law passed by the PLC that guarantees freedom of expression. In December 2003, Muhammad Muqbel, director-general of the PA Ministry of Sports and Youth, was arrested and held for several hours after allegedly making critical remarks about Arafat at a conference in Ramallah focusing on democracy and reform.
The PA generally respects freedom of religion, though no law exists protecting religious expression. The basic law declares Islam the official religion of Palestine and also states that "respect and sanctity of all other heavenly religions [i.e., Judaism and Christianity] shall be maintained." The PA requires all Palestinians to be affiliated with a religion, which must be displayed on identification cards. Personal status law, which governs marriage and divorce, is based on religious law; for Muslims, it is derived from Sharia (Islamic law), and for Christians, from ecclesiastical courts. Some Palestinian Christians have experienced intimidation and harassment by radical Islamic groups and PA officials, leading many to emigrate from traditionally Christian towns like Bethlehem. In December 2003, the IDF reported that Palestinians fired on Jews visiting Joseph's tomb, a Jewish shrine in Nablus.
The PA has authority over all levels of education. Some Palestinian schools teach hatred of Israel, and some textbooks and curriculums promote Israel's destruction. IDF closures, curfews, and the West Bank security barrier restrict access to Palestinian academic institutions. Israeli authorities have at times shut universities and schools have been damaged during military operations. Throughout the intifada, schoolchildren have periodically been injured or killed during fighting.
The PA requires permits for rallies and demonstrations and prohibits violence and racist sloganeering. Nonetheless, anti-Israel and anti-Semitic preaching and incitement to violence were regular features of mosque prayer services and official radio and television broadcasts in 2004. The PA has also operated military training summer camps for children, often named for suicide bombers. Violence against Jews is regularly praised and glorified at the camps. There are a broad range of Palestinian non-governmental organizations and civic groups. Many, though, do not actively criticize the PA.
Labor affairs in the West Bank and Gaza are governed by a combination of Jordanian law and PA decisions. 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 Palestinian judicial system is not independent. While the PA revealed a draft constitution in April 2003, Arafat never endorsed it. A constitution would strengthen the judiciary, one of the weakest Palestinian institutions. In August 2004, the Palestinian justice minister resigned after Arafat created a rival agency to the Justice Ministry.
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. 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. 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. These practices are not prohibited under Palestinian law.
The limits of Palestinian justice and the further breakdown of the rule of law were underscored throughout the year. Offshoots of Arafat's Fatah party controlled the seemingly anarchic West Bank cities of Jenin and Nablus with impunity. Gaza also became increasingly lawless. Many Palestinians accused of collaborating with Israel were summarily executed in public. These murders generally go unpunished. In July, gunmen in the West Bank shot and seriously wounded Palestinian legislator Nabil Amr. Gun battles between rival security forces were also a common feature during the year. A study released in April by the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group showed that over 11 percent of Palestinians killed since 2000 died at the hands of fellow Palestinians. In October, gunmen attempted to assassinate Gaza security chief Moussa Arafat. In November, the Jerusalem Post reported that Arafat directed millions of dollars to the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade while police forces went unpaid, thereby increasing the militia group's strength over that of the police.
Palestinian security forces routinely failed to prevent terrorist attacks against Israelis, including stopping rocket or mortar attacks. There were increasing signs of cooperation between the security services and militant groups.
Violence between Palestinians and settlers is not uncommon. Several Jewish settlers in the West Bank and Gaza Strip were ambushed and killed by Palestinian gunmen. These attacks generally go unpunished by the PA. Settlers sometimes attack Palestinians, often without serious legal penalties.
The intifada and Israeli closures of the Palestinian territories have exacted a serious toll on the Palestinian economy. According to the World Bank, nearly half of the Palestinian population lives below the poverty line of two dollars' income per day. Economic output plunged as tens of thousands of Palestinians who normally work in Israel were denied entry into the country at various times during the year in response to terrorist attacks. The EU also cut its aid to Palestinians in half in February because of corruption and mismanagement in the PA.
While Palestinian women are underrepresented in most professions and encounter discrimination in employment, they do have full access to universities and to many professions. Personal status law, derived in part from Sharia (Islamic law), puts women at a disadvantage in matters of marriage, divorce, and inheritance. Rape, domestic abuse, and "honor killings," in which unmarried women who are raped or who engage in premarital sex are murdered by a relative, are not uncommon. Since societal pressures prevent reporting of such incidents, the exact frequency of attacks is unknown. According to media reports, an average of one honor killing a week takes place in the West Bank and Gaza. These murders often go unpunished, or perpetrators serve extremely short prison sentences.