Freedom in the World 2006 - Israeli-Occupied Territories

Political Rights: 6
Civil Liberties: 5
Status: Not Free
Population: 3,889,000
GNI/Capita: N/A
Life Expectancy: N/A
Religious Groups: Muslim, Jewish, Christian
Ethnic Groups: Palestinian, Jewish, Bedouin
Capital: n/a

Ratings Change
The Israeli-Occupied Territories' civil liberties rating improved from 6 to 5 due to Israel's withdrawal of settlers and troops from the entire Gaza Strip and from four settlements in the West Bank.


The areas and total number of persons under Israeli jurisdiction changed periodically during the year as a result the fluid nature of Israel's military presence in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Palestinians gained a measure of freedom in 2005 with the complete withdrawal of Israeli settlers and army personnel from the Gaza Strip and with the dismantling of four settlements in the West Bank. Armed Israeli incursions into Palestinian areas decreased markedly after Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) announced mutual ceasefires early in the year. Israel's unilateral disengagement moves led to widespread speculation over its long-term intentions regarding the West Bank; shortly after the Gaza withdrawal, Israel announced it will increase the size of some West Bank settlements. Israel continued construction of a security barrier in the West Bank.

After Palestinians rejected a UN partition plan in November 1947, Israel declared its independence on the portion of land allotted for Jewish settlement. In 1948, the fledgling state was jointly attacked by neighboring Arab countries in Israel's War of Independence. While Israel maintained its sovereignty, Jordan seized East Jerusalem and the West Bank, and Egypt took control of the Gaza Strip. In the 1967 Six-Day War, Israel seized the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem; the Sinai Peninsula from Egypt; and the Golan Heights from Syria. The Golan Heights had been used by Syria to shell northern Israeli communities.

After 1967, Israel began establishing Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, an action regarded as illegal by most of the international community. Israel has maintained that the settlements are legal since under international law the West Bank and Gaza are in dispute, with their final legal status to be determined through direct bilateral negotiations based on UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338. The settlements have become a major sticking point in negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians and in relations between Israel and the international community. The PA- and U.S.-backed road map put forward in 2003 demands a freeze on settlements, a condition that Israel did not fully honor in 2005.

In what became known as the intifada (uprising), Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza began attacking mainly settlers and Israel Defense Forces (IDF) troops in 1987 to protest Israeli rule. A series of secret negotiations between Israel and Yasser Arafat's Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) conducted mainly in Oslo, Norway, produced an agreement in September 1993. The Declaration of Principles provided for a PLO renunciation of terrorism, PLO recognition of Israel, Israeli troop withdrawals, and gradual Palestinian autonomy in the West Bank and Gaza.

Most of Gaza and the West Bank town of Jericho were turned over to the PA in May 1994. Following the assassination of Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin in November 1995 by a right-wing Jewish extremist opposed to the peace process, Israel, under the stewardship of Prime Minister Shimon Peres, began redeploying its forces from six major Palestinian cities in the West Bank and Gaza.

Under the Oslo provisions implemented so far, the Palestinians have 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, Palestinian jurisdiction eroded considerably after the eruption of the second intifada in September 2000. The IDF subsequently reentered areas under PA control.

At the U.S. presidential retreat, Camp David, in July 2000 and at Taba, Egypt, in the fall and in early 2001, Israeli and Palestinian leaders engaged in negotiations under U.S. sponsorship. 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. The Palestinian leadership rejected the Israeli proposals. Some analysts suggested that Arafat was not confident that the Israeli offers guaranteed contiguity of Palestinian territory in the West Bank or that Israel would recognize a "right of return," allowing Palestinian refugees to live in Israel.

After the collapse of the talks, the Palestinians launched an armed uprising, and violence flared throughout the occupied territories. Insisting that the PA was not preventing terrorism, Israel responded to successive waves of Palestinian suicide bombings by staging incursions into Palestinian-ruled territory, destroying weapons factories and killing top leaders and others members of radical Islamist groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad, as well as members of the secular Tanzim and al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, both offshoots of the mainstream Fatah movement. Many Palestinian civilians were also killed in the Israeli raids.

In April 2003, Israel and the Palestinians agreed to abide by a roadmap to peace put forward by the United States, Russia, the United Nations, and the European Union. The multistage, performance-based plan demands concrete Palestinian moves against terrorist groups, to be followed by Israeli troop pullbacks and relaxation of curfews and travel restrictions. The plan also calls for a freeze on Israeli settlement activity and the creation of an independent Palestinian state.

After the death of Yasser Arafat in November 2004 and the election of Mahmoud Abbas as the new PA president in January, violence between the two sides declined markedly. In February 2005, Sharon and Abbas met in Sharm al-Sheikh, Egypt, and agreed on a formal truce. While some violence flared sporadically during the year, the four-year pattern of terrorist attacks and strong Israeli incursions into Palestinian territory largely came to an end.

Israel continued construction of a controversial security fence roughly along the West Bank side of the 1967 armistice line (Green Line). Composed of high-wire fencing, ditches, security sensors, watchtowers, and in some parts concrete slabs, the fence is designed to prevent terrorists from infiltrating Israel. In some areas, the fence juts farther east into the West Bank and restricts Palestinian access to farming fields, schools, and jobs. The barrier is largely viewed by Palestinians as a means to expropriate West Bank land and collectively punish ordinary Palestinians for acts committed by terrorists. In January 2005, Israel's Supreme Court – in response to a petition filed by nine Palestinian village councils – issued an interim injunction preventing the government from constructing a portion of the fence near two Palestinian villages. In March, the Israeli government announced its intention to expand three large settlement blocs close to the Green Line and to route the security barrier around them. The blocs house approximately 74 percent of West Bank settlers. Analysts suggested that the barrier would ultimately incorporate 8 percent of West Bank land, putting 99.5 percent of Palestinians outside the barrier in 92 percent of the West Bank. Once complete, however, the barrier will cut off approximately 55,000 Palestinians living in East Jerusalem from the rest of the city. Israel continued to insist that the fence is a temporary solution to an ongoing terrorist threat, not a permanent border.

While the road map calls for a freeze on settlement activity, U.S. president George W. Bush publicly acknowledged in 2004 that some large West Bank settlementswould remain intact as part of a final status resolution to the conflict, particularly heavily populated settlements close to the Green Line. A report issued in the spring – before Israel dismantled four West Bank settlements in August – stated that more than half of the illegal settler outposts in the West Bank were built on land whose ownership was unclear or on land owned by Palestinians. Outposts normally consist of a handful of trailer homes placed mainly by religious Jews on uninhabited land. The report, prepared by an Israeli lawyer at the request of the prime minister's office, said that the Israeli Housing Ministry had provided some financing for the outposts even though the cabinet had not approved their construction.

In August, Israel withdrew all settlers from the Gaza Strip, ending its 38-year presence in the Palestinian coastal enclave. Approximately 9,000 settlers left their homes in 21 settlements in Gaza. Despite the presence of Israeli protestors and calls by some Orthodox religious leaders to resist withdrawal efforts, the pullout took place with little violence and ahead of schedule. By September, all IDF troops had pulled out, and Palestinians were free to move about Gaza, no longer encumbered by numerous IDF checkpoints and roadblocks. However, while Israel handed over control of Gaza's southern border to the PA, Israel retained control over Gaza's airspace and coastline.

The Gaza withdrawal was not coordinated with the PA and was carried out unilaterally by Israel. Palestinians voiced concern that the plan was part of a larger permanent settlement envisioned by Israel that would be imposed unilaterally and would stop short of a larger Israeli pullout from the West Bank.

In September, Israel pulled out of the "Philadelphi" route, the border area between Gaza and Egypt it had long controlled. A lack of effective PA policing and apparent indifference on the part of Egyptian authorities led to chaos in the days immediately following Israel's evacuation. Palestinians poured over the border and freely smuggled arms and other contraband back into Gaza.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties

Since they are not citizens of Israel, Palestinians in the West Bank cannot vote in Israeli elections. They are permitted to vote in elections organized by the PA. Palestinian presidential elections were held in January, resulting in the election of Mahmoud Abbas as head of the PA. Israel helped facilitate voting by easing roadblocks and checkpoints in the West Bank and Gaza.

After Israel annexed East Jerusalem in 1967, Arab residents there were issued Israeli identity cards and given the option of obtaining Israeli citizenship. However, by law, Israel strips Arabs of their Jerusalem residency if they remain outside the city for more than three months. In February 2005, Israel's attorney general overturned a government decision allowing the confiscation of East Jerusalem property owned by West Bank Palestinians without compensation. Arab residents of East Jerusalem who do not choose Israeli citizenship have the same rights as Israeli citizens except the right to vote in national elections (they can vote in municipal elections). Many choose not to seek citizenship out of solidarity with Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, believing East Jerusalem should be the capital of an independent Palestinian state. East Jerusalem's Arab population does not receive a share of municipal services proportionate to its numbers. Arabs in East Jerusalem have the right to vote in PA elections.

Druze and Arabs in the Golan Heights, who were formerly under Syrian rule, possess similar status to Arab residents of East Jerusalem. They cannot vote in Israeli national elections, but they are represented at the municipal level.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is one of the most closely covered stories in the world, a circumstance that suggests there is a relatively high degree of press freedom in the occupied territories. However, international press freedom groups regularly criticize Israel for preventing journalists' access to live conflict zones, for harming and sometimes killing reporters during armed battles, and for harassing Palestinian journalists. Israel has long denied that it deliberately targets journalists and insists that reporters covering armed conflict in the West Bank and Gaza are in danger of getting caught in crossfire. At least one Palestinian journalist was shot and injured in 2005 while covering clashes.

Israel generally recognizes the right to freedom of worship and religion. On several occasions during the intifada, Israel has restricted Muslim men under 40 from praying on the Temple Mount compound in Jerusalem's Old City, for fear of violent confrontations. Palestinians have deliberately damaged Jewish shrines and other holy places in the West Bank. In the wake of Israel's withdrawal from Gaza, Palestinians desecrated or destroyed several synagogues in former settlements.

While academic freedom is generally respected, IDF closures and 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.

Freedom of assembly and association is generally respected. However, Israel has imposed strict curfews in the West Bank at various times since September 2000. There are many Palestinian nongovernmental organizations and civic groups, whose activities are generally not restricted by Israel. 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 in Jerusalem are subject to Israeli labor law.

Palestinians accused by Israel of security offenses in Israeli-controlled areas are tried in Israeli military courts. Security offenses are broadly defined. Some due process protections exist in these courts, though there are limits on the rights to counsel, bail, and appeal. Administrative detention is widely used. Most convictions in Israeli military courts are based on confessions, sometimes obtained through physical pressure. In 2000, Israel outlawed the use of torture as a means of extracting security information, but milder forms of physical coercion are permissible in cases where the prisoner is believed to have immediate information about impending terrorist attacks. Human rights groups still criticize Israel for engaging in what they consider torture. Confessions are usually spoken in Arabic and translated into Hebrew for official records.

Israel holds approximately 7,000 Palestinians in jail. Many suspected of involvement in terrorism are held in administrative detention without charge or trial. In February, in accordance with the truce agreement reached in Sharm al-Sheikh, Israel released 500 Palestinian prisoners, although not those charged with taking part in attacks that killed Israelis. In June, Israel released another 400 prisoners. While Palestinians have recourse to Israel's highest civilian courts to protest home demolitions and Israel's tactics in carrying out targeted assassinations, decisions made in their favor are rare. However, Israel's high court has ruled in favor of Palestinians who have petitioned to have sections of the West Bank security barrier rerouted.

Violence between Palestinians and Israeli settlers is not uncommon. Israeli settlers in the Gaza Strip were ambushed and killed by Palestinian gunmen or attacked with mortar fire in 2005. Attacks by Israelis against Palestinians also occasionally take place. In August, an Israeli terrorist shot and killed four Palestinians in the West Bank.

Freedom of movement improved measurably in 2005, especially with Israel's withdrawal from Gaza. Reduced security checkpoints in the West Bank, especially around the time of Palestinian elections early in the year, also contributed to an easing of Palestinian mobility, as did Israel's handing over security control to the PA in the West Bank town of Tulkarm and its dismantlement of four settlements in the northern West Bank. The security measures had denied Palestinians easy passage from one town to another, making access to jobs, hospitals, and schools extremely difficult.

Israel exercises overall military control at border crossings between the West Bank and Jordan. Construction of Israel's security barrier has also disconnected many Palestinians from their farming fields and has denied them and others easier access to other parts of the West Bank. All West Bank and Gaza residents must have identification cards in order to obtain entry permits into Israel, including East Jerusalem. Israel often denies permits without explanation.

The Palestinian economy has been seriously affected by the intifida and the Israeli closures of the West Bank and Gaza; thousands of Palestinians rely on access to jobs in Israel. At various times during the year, Israel permitted several thousand Palestinian workers to enter the country, but not the nearly 200,000 who regularly crossed daily into Israel before the intifada.

While Palestinian women are underrepresented in most professions and encounter discrimination in employment, they do have full entry access to universities and to many professions. Palestinian 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.

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