Human rights organizations such as Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International regularly attack Israel for alleged abuses, and their reports frequently generate headlines in the international press. These groups do monitor Palestinian behavior, to the extent they're allowed to by the authorities, but the abuses they find are rarely publicized.
Every year, the US State Department publishes a human rights report that documents Palestinian abuses, but have you ever seen it quoted in the press? As a public service to those who might genuinely care about the lives of Palestinians, let me share some of its findings.
- Have engaged in unlawful or arbitrary killings, torture, and arbitrary detention.
- Hold political prisoners and detainees.
- Interfere with the independence of the judiciary.
- Restrict freedom of expression, the press, and the Internet through violence, threats of violence, unjustified arrests, and prosecutions against journalists, censorship, and site blocking.
- Interfere with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, including harassment of non-governmental organizations.
- Restrict political participation and have not held a national election since 2006.
- Engage in corruption.
- Are responsible for violence and threats of violence motivated by antisemitism.
- Are responsible for violence and threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons (which you would think would be of interest to the "Queers for Palestine" group and others).
The PA and Hamas routinely detain people without charge or trial. The detainees face "barriers to their ability to challenge in court the legal basis or arbitrary nature of their detention and to obtain prompt release and compensation if found to have been unlawfully detained." Hamas offers them "no recourse to legal counsel, judicial review, or bail."
"Hamas authorities searched homes and seized property without warrants. They targeted critics of their policies, journalists, Fatah loyalists, civil society members, youth activists, and those whom Hamas security forces accused of criminal activity. Hamas forces monitored private communications systems, including telephones, email, and social media sites."
Press freedom is non-existent in the disputed territories.
Hamas harasses, arrests, and interrogates journalists, and limits the access and movement for some journalists, which leads "many journalists to self-censor." Similarly, "PA authorities arrested West Bank Palestinian journalists and social media activists who criticized or covered events that criticized the PA." Critics of Hamas and the PA on social media can be charged with "harming revolutionary unity" and "misuse of technology."
Citing HRW, the report says the PA arrested more than 1,600 people for insulting "higher authorities" and creating "sectarian strife." Another 750 were arrested for social media posts. In Gaza, Hamas "arrested, interrogated, seized property from, and harassed Palestinians who publicly criticized them." The group also "censored television programs and written materials, such as newspapers and books."
Israel's detractors talk a lot about academic freedom, but have you ever heard any complaints from Jewish Voice for Peace, Students for Justice in Palestine, or the Middle East Studies Association about the PA security forces on West Bank campuses monitoring the activities of faculty and students? Because of fears that criticism could get them arrested, professors engage in "self-censorship."
In Gaza, Hamas interferes in students' education if they believe the content or methodologies "violate Islamic identity, the religion of Islam," or "traditions."
We hear a lot about Israeli checkpoints, but what about Palestinian restrictions on the movements of their own people?
According to the State Department, "Hamas authorities restricted some foreign travel into and out of Gaza and required exit permits for Palestinians departing through the Gaza-Israel Erez crossing. Hamas also prevented some Palestinians from exiting Gaza based on the purpose of their travel or to coerce payment of taxes and fines. There were some reports unmarried women faced restrictions on travel out of Gaza."
In addition, Hamas "occasionally enforced movement restrictions on Palestinians attempting to exit Gaza to Israel via the Erez Crossing and to Egypt via the Rafah Crossing." Those who returned to Gaza could be interrogated "about their activities in Israel, the West Bank, and abroad."
Both the PA and Hamas place limits on political parties, especially those that express opposition to their rule. In December 2018, PA President Mahmoud Abbas called for elections within six months. They still have not taken place; Abbas is now in the 15th year of his four-year term.
The corruption of Palestinian officials is well-documented. Fatah officials, for example, engage in "favoritism and nepotism in public-sector appointments." Hamas members receive "preferential purchasing terms for real estate and financial gains from tax and fee collections from Gazan importers."
While Abbas was complaining about the budget crisis in the PA, he secretly approved a 67% raise, retroactive to 2014, for his cabinet. When the news leaked, it provoked public outrage, which prompted Finance Minister Shukri Bishara to return more than $81,000 in secret bonuses. Other officials were expected to do the same.
Antisemitic leaders of the women's movement who routinely criticize Israel don't seem to care about women in the territories, where the PA reported that "one in five Palestinian women reported at least one incident of physical abuse from their husbands" and that "women in Gaza were twice as likely to be a victim of spousal abuse as women in the West Bank."
This figure undoubtedly underestimates the problem, because Palestinian women are reluctant to report cases of violence or abuse "due to fear of retribution or little expectation of assistance." Their fears appear justified, as there is no law explicitly prohibiting domestic violence, and the report says neither the PA nor Hamas effectively enforce laws against assault and battery in domestic violence cases.
Rape is illegal in the territories, "but the legal definition does not address spousal rape." The State Department acknowledges "the PA repealed a law that relieved a rapist of criminal responsibility if he married his victim," but reported that laws pertaining to rape were not enforced effectively.
Murdering women for bringing shame or dishonor to their family, or violating Islamic law or norms, is known as an "honor killing." At least 20 honor killings were reported in the West Bank and Gaza.
The report also noted, "No PA law specifically relates to sexual harassment, which was a significant and widespread problem in the West Bank and Gaza. Some women claimed that when they reported harassment, authorities held them responsible for provoking men's harassing behavior."
In addition to the mistreatment of women, the State Department said, "Child abuse was reportedly widespread," and the authorities "rarely punished perpetrators of family violence."
According to the report, "Some Palestinians and Muslim religious leaders used antisemitic rhetoric and engaged in Holocaust denial" and "there were instances in which media outlets, particularly outlets controlled by Hamas, published and broadcast material that included antisemitic content, sometimes amounting to incitement to violence."
It is particularly bizarre that some LGBTQ groups are anti-Israel considering that Israeli society is one of the most tolerant, and Palestinian culture among the least tolerant. "PA security officers and neighbors harassed, abused, and sometimes arrested people due to their sexual orientation or gender identity" in the West Bank. In Gaza, sexual acts "against the order of nature" are criminalized based on an old British law, and Hamas security forces harassed and detained people due to their sexual orientation or gender identity."