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US State Department Human Rights Report (2015)

[21 April 2016] – On 13 April 2016, the US State Department released its annual global report on human rights for 2015. The report considers a multitude of human rights violations and concerns in Israel and Palestine attributable to various state and non-state actors. According to the report, the most significant human rights abuses in the region are: 
  • Excessive use of force by Israeli forces;
  • Arbitrary arrest and associated torture and abuse by multiple actors in the region; and
  • Restrictions on civil liberties, particularly by Hamas in Gaza. 
In considering the actions of the Palestinian Authority (PA), the State Department noted that the PA only has limited authority in parts of the West Bank due to Israel’s continued military occupation. Although PA laws apply in the Gaza Strip, the PA had little authority in the Gaza Strip, where Hamas exercises de facto control.
 
The report noted that the PA only maintains civil and security control in Area A (18 per cent of the West Bank containing 55 per cent of the Palestinian population) and only civil control of Area B (21 per cent of the West Bank containing 41 per cent of the Palestinian population) with joint security control with Israel. The PA has no authority over Israeli residents of the West Bank, Palestinian residents in Area C (61 per cent of the West Bank with 4 per cent of the Palestinian population), over which Israel has security and civil control, or over Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem.
 
A selection of some of the issues covered in the State Department’s report are summarised below:
 
Human rights violations and/or issues of concern related to Israel
 
Night raids:- The State Department referred to a report submitted by WCLAC to the UN relating to repeated night raids conducted by the Israeli military on Palestinian homes in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The report found that Israeli forces conducted the raids “in a widespread and systematic manner” and noted that they almost universally led to “a sense of fear and terror” among residents.
 
Settler violence:- The number of settler attacks against Palestinians decreased compared with 2014, according to the UN (OCHA). OCHA identified 214 incidents of settler violence as of December 2 (compared with 324 incidents in 2014) that resulted in Palestinian injuries or property damage. It was reported that authorities closed 85 per cent of investigative files due to a failure to locate suspects or find sufficient evidence to enable an indictment.
 
Dual legal systems:- The State Department noted that Israeli authorities continue to operate dual legal systems in the occupied territories. Israeli authorities tried Israelis living in settlements in the West Bank and in East Jerusalem under Israeli civil law while subjecting Palestinians to military courts. Israeli military courts rarely acquitted Palestinians charged with security offenses, although they occasionally reduced sentences on appeal.
 
Freedom of assembly:- The State Department noted that the Israeli military continued to use a 1967 military order that effectively prohibits Palestinian demonstrations and limits freedom of speech in the West Bank. The order stipulates that a “political” gathering of 10 or more persons requires a permit from the regional military commander - which the commander rarely granted. The penalty for a breach of the order is 10 years’ imprisonment or a heavy fine.
 
Revocation of residency:- The State Department noted that continued Israeli revocation of Jerusalem identity cards amounted to forced exile to the occupied territories or abroad. Between 1967 and 2014, Israel revoked the status of 14,416 Palestinians from East Jerusalem. Reasons for revocation included having acquired residency or citizenship in another country, living “abroad” (including in the West Bank or the Gaza Strip) for more than seven years, or, most commonly, being unable to prove a “center of life,” interpreted as full-time residency, in Jerusalem.
 
Home demolitions:- The State Department noted that Israeli authorities continued to demolish homes, cisterns and other buildings constructed by Palestinians in areas of the West Bank and East Jerusalem on the basis that they lacked Israeli planning licenses. In just one month (August 2015) demolitions reached an all-time high for any month over the past five years. Israeli authorities demolished 131 structures in 34 incidents, which displaced 201 persons. In July 2014, the military authorities also recommenced the practice of “punitive demolitions” which were halted in 2005.
 
Gaza:- Travel restrictions 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 Egyptian authorities have closed Rafah, opening the crossing only for special categories of travellers for 12 days during the year. With the increase in commercial activity between Gaza, the West Bank, and Israel, Israeli border officials increased the detention and interrogation of Palestinians from Gaza traveling with business permits.
 
Human rights violations and/or issues of concern related to the P.A. and Hamas
 
Female participation in public life:- Legally women can vote and participate in political life on the same basis as men, although women faced significant social and cultural barriers in the West Bank and Gaza. There were 17 women (13 per cent) in the 132-member Palestinian Legislative Council, which represented West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem districts, and there were three women (13 per cent) in the 23-member cabinet. Hamas excluded women from leadership positions. Meanwhile, women made up just 4 per cent of the civil police force.
 
Domestic violence:- PA law does not explicitly prohibit domestic violence, but assault and battery are crimes. Authorities did not enforce the law effectively in domestic violence cases. Women are frequently unwilling to report cases of violence or abuse to police due to fear of retribution and few domestic violence cases were successfully prosecuted in recent years. Many women and girls stated they believed the legal system discriminated against women. According to the PA violence against wives, especially psychological violence, was common in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
 
Discrimination:- While the law provides for equality of the sexes, it also discriminates against women, as do traditional practices. Women can inherit, but not as much as men. Women may add conditions to marriage contracts to protect their interests in the event of divorce and child custody disputes, but they rarely did so. Societal pressure generally discouraged women from including divorce arrangements in a marriage contract. Cultural restrictions associated with marriage occasionally prevented women from completing mandatory schooling or attending college.
 
Early and forced marriage:- Palestinian law defines the minimum age for marriage as 18; however, religious law allows persons as young as 15 years old to marry. Child marriage did not appear to be widespread, according to NGOs, including WCLAC. According to UNICEF data for the year, 2 percent of girls were married by the age of 15.
 
Freedom of assembly:- According to a Hamas decree, any public assembly or celebration in the Gaza Strip requires prior permission, in contradiction of the PA basic law. Hamas generally did not permit Fatah members to hold rallies. Activists reported Hamas officials harassed women in public and impeded their ability to assemble peacefully. Activists also reported women’s rights groups faced significant pressure from Hamas.
 

The above summaries are not an exhaustive list of the issues covered in the State Department’s report which is available in full here.