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map courtesy CIA World Factbook; click for detailed map of Palestinian Areas

map courtesy CIA World Factbook; click for detailed map of Palestinian Areas
Constitution, Government & Legislation

Israel occupied the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Golan Heights, and East Jerusalem during the 1967 War. The West Bank and Gaza Strip are now administered to varying extents by Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA). Pursuant to the May 1994 Gaza-Jericho Agreement and the September 1995 Interim Agreement, Israel transferred most responsibilities for civil government in the Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank to the PA while retaining responsibility for external security; foreign relations; the overall security of Israelis, including public order in the Israeli settlements; and certain other matters.

Israel and the PA have varying degrees of control and jurisdiction over the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. Israel continues to control certain civil functions and is responsible for all security in portions of the occupied territories categorized as Area C. In the West Bank, this constitutes more than 61 percent of the land, and approximately 4 percent of the total West Bank Palestinian population, including the Israeli settlements. In Gaza more than 12 percent of the land is designated as Area C equivalent, and includes the Israeli settlements. In areas designated as Area B, the PA has jurisdiction over civil affairs and shares security responsibilities with Israel. Approximately 21 percent of West Bank land is Area B, and approximately 41 percent of the West Bank Palestinian population resides there. The Area B equivalent in Gaza constitutes almost 19 percent of the land. The PA has control over civil affairs and security in Area A; however, contrary to the terms of the Interim Agreement, Israeli forces entered cities and villages in Area A for periods of a few hours up to several weeks during the year. The West Bank Area A constitutes nearly 18 percent of the land, and includes roughly 55 percent of the West Bank Palestinian population. The Gaza Area A equivalent constitutes approximately 69 percent of the land. The PA also has jurisdiction over some civil affairs in Area C, as specified in the Interim Agreement.

Israel continues to exercise civil authority in parts of the West Bank and Gaza through the Israeli Ministry of Defense's Office of Coordination and Liaison, known by the Hebrew acronym MATAK. The approximately 175,000 Israeli settlers living in Area C of the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip are subject to Israeli law and, as citizens, receive preferential treatment from Israeli authorities in terms of protection of personal and property rights and of legal redress. The body of law governing Palestinians in the occupied territories derives from Ottoman, British Mandate, Jordanian, and Egyptian law, and Israeli military orders. Certain laws and regulations promulgated by the PA also are in force. The international community considers Israel's authority in the occupied territories to be subject to the Hague Regulations of 1907 and the 1949 Geneva Convention relating to the Protection of Civilians in Time of War. The Israeli Government considers the Hague Regulations applicable and maintains that it largely observes the Geneva Convention's humanitarian provisions.

In January 1996, Palestinians chose their first popularly elected Government in democratic elections that generally were free and fair; the 88-member Palestinian Council (PC) and the Chairman of the Executive Authority were elected. The PA also has a cabinet of 30 ministers. Chairman Yasir Arafat continues to dominate the affairs of government and to make major decisions. Most senior government positions in the PA are held by individuals who are members of, or loyal to, Arafat's Fatah faction of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO). Prior to the "Al-Aqsa Intifada" which began in September 2000 in the wake of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's visit to the Temple Mount/al-Haram al-Sharif, the Council met regularly to discuss issues significant to the Palestinian people; however, it did not have significant influence on policy or the behavior of the executive. On December 2, as violence escalated, Arafat invoked a state of emergency that granted him broad powers to make arrests, prohibit demonstrations, and take action against organizations that the PA suspects are affiliated with terrorist groups. In the West Bank, pre-1967 Jordanian law and PA laws apply. In recent years, the PA had stated that it was undertaking efforts to unify the Gaza and West Bank legal codes; however, it has made little progress.

Source: U.S. Department of State

Courts & Judgments

Israeli law provides for an independent judiciary, and the Israeli Government generally respects this provision. Palestinians accused by Israel of security offenses in the occupied territories are tried in Israeli military courts. Security offenses are defined broadly and may include charges as varied as stone-throwing or membership in outlawed organizations. Military prosecutors bring charges. Serious charges are tried before three-judge panels; lesser offenses are tried before one judge. The Israeli military courts rarely acquit Palestinians of security offenses, but sentences in some cases are reduced on appeal.

The PA inherited a court system largely based on structures and legal codes predating the 1967 Israeli occupation. During 2001 a new law regarding the formation of the courts took affect, which changed the types or sizes of cases that some of the civil court can conduct. In each district there must be at least one conciliation court and a court of first instance that hears appeals from that conciliation court, and which has original jurisdiction of more serious cases. There is a court of appeals in both Gaza and Ramallah to review decisions of the first instance courts. Until this law took effect, the Courts of Appeal also served as the High Court. The law established one High Court, which will serve as an administrative court and the Constitutional Court until these are formed by law. However, it is not clear how the judiciary plans to manage this transition, since there are limited resources to make these changes to the judiciary. Additionally, it is not clear how or when the changes will take effect, since Article 1 of the law states that the courts are established pursuant to the Judicial Authority law, which has not been implemented.

The PA executive at times does not respect decisions of the High Court, and the Palestinian security agencies do not always enforce its rulings. In 1995 the PA established state security courts in Gaza and the West Bank to try cases involving security issues. Three military judges preside over each court. A senior police official heads the state security court in Jericho, and three judges preside over it. There is no right of appeal, but the PA Chairman reviews the court's findings, and he may confirm or reject the decision. The PA Ministry of Justice has no jurisdiction over the state security courts, which are subordinate only to the Chairman. There is a separate Attorney General appointed by the Chairman to work with the state security courts.

The court system in general is recovering from years of neglect; many of the problems predate PA jurisdiction. Judges and staff lack sufficient resources and suffer from a lack of skills and training. Court procedures and record keeping are antiquated. The delivery of justice often is slow and uneven. The ability of the courts to obtain enforcement of their decisions is extremely weak, and the appeals process is administratively confusing. A heavy caseload even before the Intifada exacerbated these systemic problems. During the year, the revolving caseload reportedly increased by at least 60 percent, because judicial officials rarely could reach the courthouse in time due to Israeli-imposed closures.

The High Judicial Council (HJC) is slowly gaining authority over judicial matters that formerly were administered by the PA Ministry of Justice. In 1998 the Palestinian Legislative Council mandated the creation of the HJC with the goal of enhancing the judicial system and its independence. Arafat approved the establishment of the HJC in 2000. During the year, the HJC planned the budget for the judicial branch, supervised judicial operations in the West Bank and Gaza, and nominated more than 30 new judges for the Chairman's confirmation. Prior to this year, the Ministry of Justice appointed all civil judges for 10-year terms and supervised judicial operations.

The PA's state security courts fail to afford defendants due process. The PA usually ignores the legal limits on the length of pre-arraignment detention of detainees suspected of security offenses. Defendants often are brought to court without knowledge of the charges against them or sufficient time to prepare a defense. They typically are represented by court-appointed lawyers, who generally are members of the security services who have earned valid law degrees, but who had not practiced trial law, or, in some cases, any law, as part of their career. Court sessions often take place on short notice in the middle of the night, and without lawyers present. In some instances, security courts try cases, issue verdicts, and impose sentences in a single session lasting a few hours.

The state security courts adjudicate cases that fall far outside the scope of the courts' original mandate. In addition to cases in which violations of state security allegedly occurred, the courts have on occasion dealt with tax cases and economic crimes, such as smuggling. In 2000 Chairman Arafat decreed that "serious" crimes, including homicide, rape, and drug trafficking, be referred to state security courts. The decision prompted human rights organizations to issue statements requesting the abolition of state security courts and the referral of all cases to the regular civil courts.

Source: U.S. Department of State

Human Rights

Israel's overall human rights record in the occupied territories was poor in 2001, continuing a deterioration that began in late 2000, after the beginning of the sustained violence of the Intifada. Israeli security forces committed numerous, serious human rights abuses during the year. Security forces killed at least 501 Palestinians and 1 foreign national and injured 6,300 Palestinians and other persons during the year, including innocent bystanders. Israeli security forces targeted and killed at least 33 Palestinians whom the Israeli authorities suspected had in the past attacked or were planning to attack Israeli settlements, civilians, or military targets. On August 27, Israeli forces also killed the secretary general of the political wing of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), which some claimed expanded the scope of such operations to include political figures. Palestinian and Israeli human rights groups stated that four of those killed were not directly involved in terrorist activities. At least 18 other persons, including 4 children, killed by Israeli forces during such operations were bystanders, relatives, or associates of those targeted.

In contravention of their own rules of engagement, which provide that live fire is to be used only when the lives of soldiers, police, or civilians are in imminent danger, Israeli security units often used excessive force against Palestinian demonstrators including live fire. IDF forces also shelled PA institutions and Palestinian civilian areas in response to Palestinian attacks on Israeli targets. Israeli security forces killed 93 Palestinians and injured 1,500 in these attacks. The IDF killed another 68 Palestinians during Israeli incursions into Palestinian-controlled territory (Area A). Israeli security forces frequently impeded the provision of medical assistance to Palestinian civilians by their strict enforcement of internal closures, which reportedly contributed to at least 32 deaths. Israeli security forces harassed and abused Palestinian pedestrians and drivers who were attempting to pass through the more than 130 Israeli-controlled checkpoints in the occupied territories. During the year, human rights organizations, including B'tselem, Human Rights Watch, the Palestinian Society for the Protection of Human Rights and the Environment (LAW), and the Mandela Institute for Political Prisoners reported that there was an increase in the number of allegations that Israeli security forces tortured detainees, including using methods prohibited in a 1999 High Court decision; there also were numerous allegations that police officers beat detainees. The Government states that the security forces have complied with the High Court's decision and that the Attorney General's office investigates any allegations of mistreatment. Two Palestinian prisoners died in Israeli custody under ambiguous circumstances during the year. Prison conditions were poor. Prolonged detention, limits on due process, and infringements on privacy rights remained problems. The IDF destroyed numerous orchards, olive and date groves, and irrigation systems on Palestinian-controlled agricultural land, and demolished the homes of Palestinians suspected of terrorism, without judicial review. Israeli authorities censored Palestinian publications in East Jerusalem. Some journalists who were covering the clashes were injured and killed by IDF fire. The Israeli authorities placed limits on freedom of assembly, and severely restricted freedom of movement for Palestinians. Israeli security forces failed to prevent, and in some cases protected, some Israelis who entered Palestinian-controlled areas in the West Bank and injured and killed several Palestinians.

The PA's overall human rights record also continued to be poor in 2001; its performance improved in a few areas, but worsened in several others during the year. Unlike in the previous year, there were no documented instances of on-duty Palestinian security forces killing Israeli security force members in the occupied territories during the year. Some off-duty members of Palestinian security services and Fatah faction reportedly participated with civilians and militant groups in violent attacks against Israeli settlers, other civilians, and soldiers. At year's end, there was no conclusive evidence that the most senior PLO or PA leadership gave prior approval for these acts. On a number of occasions, Arafat called on Palestinians not to fire from Area A and ordered a complete cease-fire. However, Arafat did not take sufficient sustained action to end the violence. PA security forces arrested some of those implicated in the violence, but many quickly were released or not kept under credible conditions of arrest.

At least five Palestinians in the custody of PA security services died under ambiguous circumstances. PA prison conditions were very poor. PA security forces arbitrarily arrested and detained persons, and prolonged detention was a problem. There were credible reports of abuse and torture of prisoners held by the PA during the year. Lack of due process also was a problem. PA courts are perceived as inefficient, lacking in staff and resources, and failing to ensure fair and expeditious trials. The imposition by Israel of internal closure in the occupied territories during the year prevented courts from holding sessions or issuing rulings during most of the year. The PA executive and security services frequently ignored or failed to enforce court decisions. Lack of due process also is a serious problem in the PA's state security courts. PA security forces infringed on citizens' rights to privacy and restricted freedom of speech and of the press. The PA continued to harass, detain, and abuse journalists. PA harassment contributed to the practice of self-censorship by many Palestinian commentators, reporters, and critics. The PA placed some limits on freedom of assembly and association. Violence against women and "honor crimes" persisted. Societal discrimination against women and persons with disabilities was a problem. Child labor was a problem.

Israeli civilians, especially settlers, harassed, attacked, and occasionally killed Palestinians in the occupied territories. There were credible reports that settlers killed at least 14 Palestinians during the year. Three Jewish extremist groups, believed to be associated with settlers, claimed responsibility for the killing of five other Palestinians, including an infant, in three separate attacks. Although Israeli officials criticized the acts and promised to take action and detained one suspect, they made no other arrests in any of these cases by year's end. Settlers also caused significant economic damage to Palestinians by attacking and damaging greenhouses and agricultural equipment, uprooting olive trees, and damaging other valuable crops. The settlers did not act under government directive in the attacks; however, they were at times accompanied by Israeli soldiers whose standing orders are to protect, not arrest or restrain, Israeli civilians in the occupied territories. The Israeli Government generally did not prosecute the settlers for their acts of violence. In general settlers rarely serve prison sentences if convicted of a crime against a Palestinian.

Palestinian civilians were responsible for the deaths of the 87 Israelis killed in the occupied territories. Palestinian-instigated violence in the initial months of the Intifada was characterized by violent demonstrations; shootings; incidents in which Palestinians usually threw stones and Molotov cocktails at IDF checkpoints; random shootings at Israeli settlements and IDF positions; and limited armed attacks on Israeli settlers, soldiers, and civilians. During the year, violence directed at Israeli civilians and settlers became more lethal as Palestinians targeted Israelis in drive-by shootings and ambushes, suicide and other bombings, mortar attacks, and armed attacks on settlements and military bases. Palestinians acting individually, or in unorganized or small groups, including some members of Palestinian security services, killed at least 36 Israelis, including 17 settlers, as well as 10 members of the Israeli security forces in the occupied territories during the year. Off-duty members of PA security forces and members of Chairman Arafat's Fatah faction participated in some of these attacks.

A number of extremist Palestinian groups, including the militant Islamic Resistance Movement (HAMAS), the Palestine Islamic Jihad (PIJ), the PFLP, the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP), and Fatah-affiliated groups such as the al-Aqsa Brigades, the Thabet Thabet Group, and the Brigades of Return, killed 51 Israelis and 4 foreigners and injured numerous others in the occupied territories during the year. The PA had made few arrests in these killings by year's end.

Source: U.S. Department of State

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