The PA Basic Law provides every person the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and expression, orally, in writing, or through any other form. PA laws do not specifically provide for freedom of press; however, PA institutions applied aspects of a proposed 1995 press law as actual law. Nonetheless, PA security forces in the West Bank and members of the Hamas security apparatus in the Gaza Strip continued to restrict freedom of speech and press. In contrast with 2013, there were no slander cases reported during the year.
Israeli authorities also placed limits on certain forms of expression in the occupied territories.
Freedom of Speech: Although no PA law prohibits criticism of the government, there were media reports PA authorities arrested some journalists and bloggers who either criticized or covered events that criticized the PA and PA officials. For example, in March members of Palestinian security forces in civilian clothes attacked a Wattan TV crew, including reporter Ahmad Melhem and cameraman Ahmed Zaki, as they covered anti-PA activities in Ramallah. Undercover security agents reportedly attempted to confiscate their cameras by force. Security agents detained the Wattan TV crew and later released them only after they promised to stop their coverage and leave the area. In addition to sometimes restricting reporters who criticized the PA government, there were several complaints during the year that the PA prevented journalists from covering events in the West Bank that were sympathetic to Hamas.
In the Gaza Strip, individuals publicly criticizing authorities risked reprisal by Hamas, including arrest, interrogation, seizure of property, and harassment. Civil society and youth activists, social media advocates, and individuals associated with political factions accused of criticizing Hamas in public fora, such as on the internet, faced punitive measures, including raids on their facilities and residences, arbitrary detention, and denial of permission to travel outside Gaza. The ICHR reported the detention of numerous protesters in the Gaza Strip. In March journalist Oruba Othman received threats of punitive actions after she published a report in the Lebanese newspaper al-Akhbar on March 4 regarding how Hamas security force officers gave Friday’s religious sermons in military uniform. Othman reported to a local NGO that Iyad Albazam, the spokesperson for the Hamas “Ministry of Interior,” claimed “the report is full of lies,” and her Facebook page received threatening messages. There were reports authorities harassed activists working to raise awareness on sensitive social matters, such as the role of women and domestic violence. In March the Hamas General Intelligence services in the Gaza Strip prevented the Press House Foundation from holding a celebration to honor journalists in Gaza City, despite the Press House Foundation having obtained permission for the event from Hamas’s “Ministry of Interior.”
During the hostilities between Israel and Hamas in July and August, local media reported that 17 journalists--16 Palestinian and one Italian--were killed in the Gaza Strip during Israel’s military offensive. Many other journalists were injured. Additionally, there were reports of a number of Israeli attacks against Palestinian media outlets in Gaza. Israeli rockets targeted al-Aqsa TV channel on two separate occasions, July 29 and 31. The offices of al-Jazeera TV in Gaza were targeted on July 22, when bullets were fired at the station’s offices. No injuries were reported in that incident, but the Foreign Press Association (FPA) strongly condemned the attack. On July 19, two Israeli missiles hit and destroyed the offices of the National Media Agency. Also, on July 16, the Sawt al-Wattan radio station, housed in the Dawood tower in Gaza, was shelled and three employees injured.
In Jerusalem displays of Palestinian political symbols were punishable by fines or imprisonment, as were public expressions of anti-Israeli sentiment, but authorities did not always enforce this restriction. Israeli security officials regularly prohibited or interrupted meetings or conferences held in Jerusalem affiliated with the PLO or PA, or with PA officials in attendance. For example, on October 2, Israeli authorities banned an event in Jerusalem sponsored by the PLO entitled “Altering the Character of Jerusalem: The Forced Closure of Palestinian Institutions in Palestine’s Capital.” Many Palestinian journalists in Jerusalem contended that Israeli forces coordinated with right-wing Israelis to prevent Palestinian reports from being broadcast. In May, Israeli security forces detained Momen Shabanah, a cameraman, and Zaina Sandoka, a correspondent from Roya TV, as they covered Israeli extremist attacks on residents of Jerusalem’s Old City. Israeli police told the crew they needed official permission to film, took their camera, deleted their images, and temporarily detained them.
In a series of raids conducted throughout the West Bank during the summer, Israeli security forces raided companies that facilitated media and confiscated equipment. In June security forces raided the offices of Turbo Design and seized several computers. The firm, located in Ramallah, did work for the periodical This Week in Palestine, UNRWA, the British Council, and a foreign diplomatic mission in Jerusalem.
Press Freedoms: Across the occupied territories, independent media operated with restrictions. The PA Ministry of Information requested Israeli reporters covering events in the West Bank register with the ministry. According to the PA deputy minister of information, the ministry will give permission to any Israeli journalists provided they do not live in an illegal settlement. While officially the PA was open to Israeli reporters covering events in the West Bank, Israeli reporters faced pressures from Palestinian journalists not to attend PA press events. In September, Haaretz journalist Amira Hass was evicted from a conference at Beir Zeit University in the West Bank, reportedly because of her Israeli nationality.
In the West Bank, the PA placed some restrictions on independent media as well as official media. In May the PA lifted its distribution ban in the West Bank on the twice-weekly, pro-Hamas al-Risala and the Filistin daily newspapers, but Israeli authorities forced the Ramallah-based printing house to stop printing and distributing them in the West Bank. Al-Aqsa TV reportedly enjoyed some access to work in the West Bank without harassment.
In the Gaza Strip, Hamas restricted independent media, especially non-Hamas-affiliated press and media outlets. In May, Hamas lifted its ban on three West Bank-based newspapers--al-Quds, al-Ayyam, and al-Hayat al-Jadida. Hostilities in the Gaza Strip prevented their distribution from July 10 to August 27. Hamas authorities permitted the broadcast of reporting and interviews featuring officials from the PA locally. Hamas allowed, with some restrictions, the operation of non-Hamas-affiliated broadcast media in the Gaza Strip. The PA-supported Palestine TV reportedly operated in the Gaza Strip.
During the July-August conflict in the Gaza Strip, Hamas allegedly harassed some journalists, including several from Western outlets, to prevent them from reporting on aspects of the hostilities that would reflect unfavorably on Hamas or possibly divulge sensitive information. These include photographs of Hamas fighters and locations from which Hamas fighters fired rockets into Israel. On August 11, the FPA condemned what it called Hamas’ “deliberate official and unofficial incitement against journalists” and attempts to prevent journalists from covering the conflict. The FPA also alleged Hamas attempted to institute a vetting procedure for journalists and charged that Hamas harassed, threatened, or questioned foreign reporters working in Gaza. Some journalists, including the New York Times Jerusalem bureau chief, disputed some of FPA’s claims.
Israeli authorities reportedly censored some security-related information on the Gaza conflict.
In July 2013 Hamas closed Ma’an and al-Arabiya bureaus in Gaza and questioned the Ma’an bureau chief over a report on the Ma’an website. Authorities subsequently allowed Ma’an and al-Arabiya to reopen their bureaus, but only Ma’an chose to do so. While the PA agreed to allow Gaza-based newspapers to be distributed in the West Bank beginning in April, Israeli authorities intervened to stop their publication. In May the IDF raided the office of al-Ayyam, which had agreed to print the three Gaza-based papers, and informed the managers it would not allow the printing of the newspapers. Israeli reports characterized the raid as an attempt to shut down anti-Semitic publications in the West Bank. Following the raid the three Gaza-based papers were not published or circulated in the West Bank.
In areas of the West Bank where Israel controls access, Palestinian journalists complained they were repeatedly prevented from covering stories because the IDF does not recognize any Palestinian press credentials or credentials provided by the International Federation of Journalists. Few Palestinians held Israeli press credentials following Israeli revocation of the vast majority of their credentials during the Second Intifada, which began in 2000. They reportedly also faced discrimination, harassment, and violence in Jerusalem. Palestinian media companies operating in Jerusalem also faced difficulties. In June, Israeli police raided the offices of Palestinian television production company Palmedia as it was broadcasting a live morning program Sabah al-Khair Ya Quds (Good Morning Jerusalem) for the Palestinian television. Police forced the staff to stop the broadcast and arrested program director Nadir Beibers; cameraman Ashraf Al-Shweeki; and one of the guests. Police claimed that authorities had not licensed the program and that it incited against Israel. Authorities later released the journalists and guest.
Violence and Harassment: There were numerous reports PA security forces harassed, detained (occasionally with violence), prosecuted, and fined journalists during the year. Moreover, PA security forces also reportedly demanded at times the deletion of footage showing security personnel. In February, Palestinian police and security reportedly tried to prevent journalists from covering a protest in front of the PA headquarters in Ramallah against the PA president’s decision to meet with an Israeli delegation. In July, Palestinian security forces stopped Filistin al-Yom TV’s staff and other journalists from covering clashes in Jenin between youths and Israeli forces. Authorities reportedly also coerced the journalists to go to the police station, where one journalist claimed police beat and threatened him.
Some Palestinian journalists claimed the PA attempted to prevent reporting from affiliates perceived to be Hamas-friendly or that it actively tried to prevent journalists from reporting on events sympathetic to Hamas. In June, Palestinian security forces reportedly assaulted a group of journalists covering a sit-in organized by pro-Hamas protesters in Ramallah, who were demonstrating against political detentions of Hamas members by PA security forces.
Palestinian protesters also attacked journalists in the West Bank who they perceived to be Israeli. In May, Palestinian protesters reportedly attacked two Israeli journalists. PA security forces intervened to protect the journalists and removed them from the area after they suffered minor injuries.
In June the FPA condemned PA security forces’ behavior when undercover PA security officials attacked a CNN crew in Hebron; the attackers also damaged a video camera and accused the crew of “incitement.”
In the Gaza Strip, journalists faced arrest, harassment, and other pressure from Hamas due to their reporting. There were reports Hamas also summoned journalists for questioning in an effort to intimidate them. Hamas also constrained journalists’ freedom of movement during the year, attempting to ban access to some official buildings as well as several prodemocracy protests. On May 15, Hamas security agents attacked with blackjacks and batons a group of journalists covering commemorations of Nakba Day in the Gaza Strip. In June Hamas-affiliated police officers tried to prevent a Sawt al-Sha’b radio station correspondent from interviewing government employees in the al-Nuseirat area of the Gaza Strip. Also in June, Gaza police officers assaulted an al-Wattan radio correspondent while he interviewed Gaza residents expressing resentment at Hamas’s inability to pay their salaries; the correspondent suffered a concussion.
During the year the FPA reported several Hamas practices aimed at pressuring journalists working in Gaza. These included efforts to establish “vetting procedures” that would effectively blacklist certain reporters, sending a series of intimidating text messages to journalists, and other harassment.
Throughout the year there were dozens of reported allegations that Israeli security forces actively worked to prevent Palestinian journalists from covering news stories in the West Bank. These actions included preventing reporters from traveling through checkpoints within the West Bank, harassment from Israeli soldiers, and acts of violence against journalists. In January, IDF soldiers reportedly fired tear gas canisters directly at a Wafa News Agency photographer as he covered weekly demonstrations in Kafir Kadoum village west of Nablus.
In January, Israeli military forces detained a correspondent from al-Hayat al-Jadida newspaper who covered Israeli home demolitions in the Jordan Valley. Security forces reportedly also injured several Palestinian reporters in the West Bank with the use of rubber bullets. In April security forces reportedly repeatedly shot Ma’ath Mish’al, a photographer from the Turkish Anadoul News Agency, in his legs while he covered a weekly demonstration northwest of Ramallah. Mish’al reported to a local NGO that an Israeli soldier shot him at close range with unspecified munitions; twelve projectiles reportedly hit his legs.
In July reporters accused the IDF of using live ammunition against reporters. Israeli forces reportedly injured Thaer Abu Baker, a photographer and correspondent with Wafa News Agency, by using live ammunition at a march from Jenin to the al-Jalameh checkpoint in the West Bank.
Palestinian journalists also claimed that Israeli security forces detained Palestinian journalists and forced them to delete images and video under threat of violence or threats they would be arrested and placed under administrative detention if they did not comply. In January, Mohamed Suboh, photographer for Palnet News website, was detained while covering an Israeli raid in the town of al-Khader west of Bethlehem. Suboh told a local NGO that Israeli security forces informed him they would arrest him if he did not delete footage of the raid from his equipment. On October 30, Israeli police reportedly assaulted and severely beat a volunteer correspondent for Huna al-Quds network Hazem Sandouqa who was covering clashes in Jerusalem. Police detained him, forced him to delete the photographs in his camera, and threatened to assault him again if he took additional photographs.
Additionally, there were several claims in the West Bank and Jerusalem that Israeli forces failed to intervene when settlers attacked Palestinian journalists. In March a group of armed Israeli settlers reportedly attacked three photojournalists near Beit Eil, north of Ramallah. Israeli soldiers in the area reportedly intervened only after there was major damage to the reporters’ vehicle. In the same incident, two other Palestinian photographers were allegedly attacked by settlers, one of whom brandished a firearm, while attempting to photograph the attack on Momani. The Israeli authorities later asked for footage of the incident to identify the settlers; however, the footage did not lead to any prosecutions during the year.
In March, Israeli soldiers detained Fida Nasser, a correspondent with Palestine Today TV, after Israeli settlers allegedly beat her and sprayed her with red wine. The FPA condemned several military incursions undertaken by Israeli forces in the West Bank to include shooting near the Aida Refugee Camp on March 13 where Israeli border police allegedly fired on a marked Associated Press vehicle as it obeyed instructions to leave.
Israeli authorities prevented Palestinian journalists resident in the West Bank from covering stories that occur in Jerusalem because they required an Israeli travel permit, and such a permit category for journalists does not exist. Palestinian journalists who obtained permits for other reasons, as well as Jerusalem-resident journalists who identified themselves as Palestinian, reported incidents of harassment, racism, and occasional violence when seeking to cover news in Jerusalem, especially in and around the Old City.
In March a rubber bullet struck Reuters photographer Sinan Abu Mezr in his chest while he covered a demonstration that originated at the Damascus Gate in East Jerusalem to protest the killings of Palestinians in the West Bank. Abu Mezr reported to a local press freedom NGO that soldiers fired a rubber bullet at him from an estimated distance of five to six yards while he covered Israeli soldiers arresting a protester.
Also in March, Israeli soldiers reportedly attacked a group of journalists covering an Earth Day commemoration in Jerusalem. Agence France-Presse photographer Ahmed Algarbali reported to a local NGO that Israeli forces threw sound and gas grenades, and fired rubber bullets at the gathering estimated at 25 participants to disperse them. Algarbali stated to the NGO, “I ran away from the grenades and bullets, but I was injured in my head from a rubber bullet that caused a deep wound of almost half an inch, and I was transferred to a hospital for treatment.” The journalists submitted a formal complaint to the Foreign Journalists’ Syndicate claiming the injury resulted from deliberate targeting of journalists. The soldiers reportedly denied the accusation against them; however, Algarbali claimed that the journalists provided video evidence to prove their charges. Three other journalists were reportedly hit by rubber bullets in the same incident.
The FPA strongly condemned what it called “thuggish behavior and deliberate intimidation” demonstrated by Israeli border police against journalists and cameramen covering events at Damascus Gate on May 25 (Jerusalem Day). Israeli police reportedly aggressively forced journalists to move far from the scene despite being in an area designated for the press; police reportedly pushed, kicked, and blocked other journalists from working. Police also reportedly failed to protect journalists from aggression by pro-Israeli demonstrators against them. Police prevented accredited journalists--Israelis, Palestinians, and foreigners alike--from covering the event.
Israeli air strikes injured or killed several journalists and their family members on the Gaza Strip, and there were allegations the Israeli government targeted journalists and media outlets.
There were numerous reports from journalists that Israeli authorities routinely harassed them when the journalists tried to report in Israeli-controlled areas of the West Bank. There were also reports of Israeli authorities detaining, assaulting, or intimidating journalists. On October 26, while covering confrontations between Palestinian youth and Israeli soldiers in Silwad village near Ramallah, Associated Press photographer Majdi Shtayyeh was hit by a bullet fired by an Israeli soldier. Shtayyeh told local press that while he and a number of other journalists covered the clashes, a military vehicle stopped near them, and a soldier started firing rubber bullets in their direction at close range. While at least one bullet hit his bulletproof vest, another one hit his arm. The FPA condemned the attack and published a YouTube clip of the incident. In December, two Israeli journalists, columnist Gideon Levy and photographer Alex Levac, were reportedly briefly detained by the Israeli army and questioned at a West Bank checkpoint as they attempted to re-enter Israel. The Israeli newspaper Haaretz described the detention as an attempt to undermine the essential work of journalists. Soldiers at the scene claimed the two journalists verbally abused and spit on security officers, a claim the two journalists denied.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: The PA prohibits calls for violence, displays of arms, and racist slogans in PA-funded and controlled official media. There were no confirmed reports of any legal action against, or prosecution of, any person publishing items counter to these PA guidelines. Media throughout the occupied territories reported practicing self-censorship.
Civil society organizations reported Hamas censored television programs and written content, such as newspapers and books.
There were no reports the Israeli government monitored the media in the occupied territories. Israeli authorities retain the right to review and approve in advance the printing of all Jerusalem-based Arabic publications for material perceived as a security threat. Anecdotal evidence suggested Israeli authorities did not actively review the Jerusalem-based al-Quds newspaper or other Jerusalem-based Arabic publications. Jerusalem-based publications reported that, based on previous experiences with Israeli censorship, over time they learned what was acceptable and self-censored publications accordingly.
There were complaints Israeli authorities pressured broadcasters to close operations. In February threats from Israeli authorities forced Sheraa TV in Tulkarem to stop broadcasting temporarily. In April, Israeli authorities sent a letter to Wattan TV in Ramallah demanding it stop broadcasting immediately or face additional actions. In June, Israeli forces raided the offices of Trance Media, a media services company, in Ramallah, Hebron, and Nablus and confiscated its equipment.
Hamas-backed news outlets alleged that Israeli forces intentionally disrupted their broadcasts during the July-August conflict. In July Filistin al-Yom TV, Sawt al-Sha’b radio, Sawt al-Quds radio, and al-Aqsa radio broadcasts were disrupted; some reported that messages against Hamas were broadcast over the airwaves.
Palestinians alleged that Israeli authorities circumvented proper procedures as outlined in the Paris Protocols by going directly to the broadcasters, and it put independent stations in a difficult legal position because they received the proper licenses and frequencies from the Palestinian Ministry of Communications and yet Israeli authorities told them they did not have the right to broadcast. In cases where Palestinian broadcasters ignored Israeli demands to close, Israeli authorities sometimes raided them and seized their equipment.
During the year Palestinian local broadcaster Wattan TV faced additional setbacks in its legal efforts to retrieve its foreign-funded equipment confiscated in 2012 by the IDF from its Ramallah Studio (in Area A of the West Bank). In June the Israeli High Court of Justice rejected Wattan’s petition challenging the confiscation of its equipment, following several hearings during which Wattan’s lawyers were not allowed, for security reasons, to view the evidence the IDF presented against Wattan. While attorneys for Wattan TV argued they effectively proved the broadcasts posed no threat to communications in Israel (such as airport communications), they complained about an opaque legal process that allowed the government to keep testimony even from the parties to the case based on security concerns.
As of the end of the year, Wattan was pursuing a new broadcasting frequency through the Palestinian-Israeli Joint Technical Committee. Because the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority do not agree on the process for assigning television frequencies to Palestinian media outlets--with the PA assigning frequencies through the International Telecommunication Union, and Israeli authorities insisting on using the joint technical committee, as specified in the Interim Agreement--the case was not decided by year’s end.
Libel Laws/National Security: While there were some accusations of slander or libel against journalists in the West Bank, there were no reports of legal action taken during the year by the PA.
There were reports, specifically during Operation Protective Edge, that Hamas used security justifications or slander or libel laws to censor public criticism.
There were reports Israeli authorities used security justifications or slander or libel laws to censor public criticism. In April, Israeli authorities accused al-Quds.com correspondent Muhannad al-Adam of fabricating a story when he posted a photograph of a settlement product being served at a conference held by the Consumer Protection Association to announce the al-Quds Heritage and Creativity Festival. The undersecretary of the ministry of Jerusalem affairs, in a Facebook posting, claimed the story could be considered libel.
There were no PA restrictions on access to the internet; however, there were reports that the PA, Hamas, and Israel monitored e-mail and internet chat rooms. There were multiple instances in which the PA arrested or detained Palestinians because of their posts on social media. On September 7, the PA Preventive Security Organization arrested and interrogated blogger Aslan Tawil from Fara’ta village near Qalqilila for his Facebook postings criticizing the Palestinian president. On October 21, the Palestinian Intelligence Services arrested freelance photographer Ghassan Najajra at his home in Nahaleen village near Bethlehem and charged him with inciting violence against the Palestinian security forces. Najajra’s lawyer stated that the accusations were based on Facebook postings written by his client. He remained in custody until November 6.
Based on anecdotal reports from Palestinian civil society organizations and social media practitioners, Hamas authorities monitored the internet activities and postings of Gaza Strip residents. Individuals posting negative reports or commentary about Hamas, its policies, or affiliated organizations faced questioning, and at times authorities required them to remove or modify online postings. No information was available regarding punishment for not complying with such demands.
Israeli authorities did not restrict access to the internet; however, they monitored e-mail and internet chat rooms for security purposes. During the year the Israeli government arrested a number of Palestinians for incitement, including for posts on social media. For example, authorities arrested a Palestinian man from Hebron for creating a Facebook page called “The Intifada of Hebron.”
Academic Freedom and Cultural Events
In the West Bank, the PA did not restrict academic freedom, and there were no known reports of PA censorship of school curricula, plays, films, or exhibits in the West Bank. Palestinian law provides for academic freedom, but individuals or officials from academic institutions reportedly self-censored curricula. There were no reports the PA officially interfered with education during the year. While there was no overt threat to academic freedom, faculty members knew there were security elements’ present on university campuses among the student body and faculty, which may have led to self-censorship.
Public and UNRWA schools in Gaza followed the same curriculum as West Bank schools. Palestinians in Gaza reported that generally there was limited interference by Hamas at the primary, secondary or university levels. Nonetheless, Hamas reportedly interfered in teaching methodologies or curriculum deemed to violate Islamic identity, the religion, or “traditions” as defined by the de facto authority. Hamas also interfered if there were reports of classes or activities that mixed genders.
In the Gaza Strip, Hamas authorities sought to disrupt some educational, cultural, and international exchange programs. Palestinians in Gaza are routinely required to obtain exit permits prior to departing Gaza, and students participating in certain cultural and education programs (including programs sponsored by foreign governments and international organizations) can face questioning from de facto authorities, for example, on the purpose and duration of travel and how the visas were coordinated. The de facto authorities can and did deny exit for travelers, whether through the Rafah crossing or the Erez crossing.
Hamas authorities also interfered in local cultural programs. There were continued reports the de facto government suppressed cultural expression that might offend local religious and cultural values and identity.
The Israeli government at times prevented Palestinians from accessing education. Israeli government forces destroyed at least 90 schools in the Gaza Strip during Operation Protective Edge; because refugees were sheltering in school buildings, the start of the 2014-15 school year was delayed. Israeli restrictions on movement adversely affected academic institutions and access to education in the West Bank, because Israeli checkpoints, although they decreased in number, created difficulties for students and faculty commuting to schools and university campuses. In numerous instances students reported being late or missing days of classes due to significant delays at checkpoints (see section 2.d.).
The Israeli Supreme Court during the year upheld the 2000 Israeli ban on students from the Gaza Strip attending West Bank universities. Generally, students in the Gaza Strip did not apply to West Bank universities because they understood Israel would deny permit requests.
During the year Israeli authorities prevented students at schools on the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif several times from reaching their classrooms.
Israeli travel restrictions also prevented students in the West Bank and Gaza from participating in study programs abroad. Israeli officials denied Palestinians travel permits, thus preventing them to transit to Jerusalem for visa interviews or across the Allenby Bridge to Jordan. In some instances students were asked to submit to security interviews prior to receiving permits and were detained after the security interview. The travel challenges were particularly acute for Palestinians from Gaza, since Israeli authorities often denied travel permits through Erez. In these instances Palestinians from Gaza could elect to travel through the Rafah crossing, but frequent border closures and limitations on travel also kept candidates from participating in programs.