Inter-factional tension remained high between the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority (PA) caretaker government of Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, appointed by President Mahmoud Abbas of the Fatah party, and the Hamas de facto administration in the Gaza Strip. Both the PA security forces in the West Bank and Hamas security forces and militias in Gaza arbitrarily detained hundreds of members or sympathizers of rival factions without charge or trial and often tortured and otherwise ill-treated detainees. Both security forces used excessive force against demonstrators. Hamas security forces in Gaza killed 24 members of armed clans. During the military offensive launched by Israeli forces on 27 December, Hamas forces and militias abducted political opponents and former detainees alleged to have “collaborated” with Israeli intelligence services; some were summarily killed, others were beaten or shot in the legs. The PA in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza continued to clamp down on freedom of expression. Military courts in the West Bank and Gaza sentenced nine people to death; no executions were carried out. Palestinian armed groups in Gaza indiscriminately attacked towns and villages in southern Israel, killing seven Israeli civilians and two Palestinian civilians. Palestinian armed groups and individuals from the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, killed 16 Israeli civilians.
Reconciliation negotiations between the PA caretaker government and the Hamas de facto administration in Gaza, which were mediated by Egypt and aimed at forming a unity government, continued without reaching agreement. Most donor countries refused to provide aid to the Hamas de facto administration, but gave more than US$1.3 billion to the PA government in the West Bank with very limited aid allocated to emergency projects in Gaza. The Hamas de facto administration and Israel agreed a six-month ceasefire on 19 June, which broke down on 4 November after Israeli forces killed six Palestinian militants.
The Israeli government maintained a tight blockade of the Gaza Strip, a form of collective punishment of its 1.5 million population, for the continuing detention there of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. The inhabitants of Gaza became increasingly dependent on food, fuel and other goods smuggled into Gaza from Egypt through dangerous underground tunnels. At least 50 Palestinians were killed when tunnels collapsed. In October, the Hamas de facto administration took steps to regulate use of the tunnels. Conditions worsened further when Israeli forces launched the military offensive on 27 December in response to continued indiscriminate rocket attacks on population areas in southern Israel by Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups in Gaza.
"Palestinian armed groups in Gaza frequently launched indiscriminate rocket attacks against civilian areas in southern Israel"
Even before the December offensive, more than 1 million Palestinians faced deepening poverty, food insecurity and lack of access to adequate health care because of the Israeli blockade on Gaza and Israeli military checkpoints and barriers in the West Bank, including a 700km fence/wall (see Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories entry).
Arbitrary arrests and detentions
In the West Bank, PA security forces arrested hundreds of people, mostly Hamas supporters, and held them often without access to due legal process. More than 100 were detained after Hamas detained Fatah supporters in Gaza in July, but waves of arrests of Hamas sympathizers continued through 2008. Members of Fatah’s armed groups were also held in prolonged detention without charge or trial at the request of the Israeli army.
In Gaza, security forces of the Hamas de facto administration detained hundreds of suspected supporters of Fatah, including more than 200 arrested after bomb attacks in July targeted Hamas members. The security forces were sometimes supported by Hamas’ armed militia, the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades. Such militia have no legal authority to arrest or detain people; those taken into their custody were handed over to the security forces or held by the Brigades in secret locations.
Both PA and Hamas forces rarely complied with Palestinian laws requiring that detentions be reviewed by a prosecutor within 24 hours and by a judge within 72 hours. Detainees’ right to prompt access to legal counsel was routinely ignored. Most political detainees were released after a few days but some remained in detention for weeks or even months.
In both the West Bank and Gaza, detainees were allowed access to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Palestinian Independent Commission for Human Rights (ICHR), but often only after 10 or more days. In December, Israeli forces bombed and destroyed all Gaza’s prisons and detention centres, and most police stations. Some detainees were killed or injured in the bombardments, but most escaped unharmed.
The judicial systems in the West Bank and Gaza remained highly dysfunctional. The PA continued to forbid former members of the judiciary and security forces from working for the Hamas de facto administration in Gaza, and to pay them for not working. Hamas continued to use alternative prosecutors and judges who often lacked training and qualifications. Rulings made by the Palestinian High Court of Justice were frequently not implemented.
Torture and other ill-treatment
In the West Bank, detainees complained that they had been tortured or otherwise ill-treated by the PA’s General Intelligence and Preventive Security services, apparently to make them confess involvement with Hamas’ armed wing. Methods alleged included beatings, suspension, and forcing detainees to sit or stand for prolonged periods in painful positions (shabeh).
- Majd al-Barghouthi, imam of a mosque in Kobar near Ramallah, was detained by the General Intelligence on 14 February and died eight days later. The PA stated that he had a heart attack, but fellow detainees said they had seen him being beaten and suspended by a chain from the ceiling of his cell. A fact-finding committee set up by members of the Palestinian Legislative Council found that Majd al-Barghouthi had been tortured; photographs of his body substantiated their findings.
In Gaza, allegations of severe beatings and other torture of detainees by Hamas forces and militias were widespread. After the Israeli military offensive began in December, Hamas forces and militias sharply increased their attacks on political opponents, former members of the security forces in the PA government and former detainees alleged to have “collaborated” with Israeli intelligence services. Some were summarily killed, others were shot in the legs or severely beaten.
- Taleb Mohammed Abu Sitta, 72, was detained in al-Zawaida on 26 June following the arrest of his son for an alleged drugs offence. He was reported to have been severely beaten and taken the following morning to hospital in Deir al-Balah, where he was declared dead on arrival. The Interior Ministry announced an inquiry and several police officers were reported to have been suspended from duty, but no one was known to have been tried.
Neither the PA in the West Bank nor Hamas in Gaza took any credible measures to end impunity for torture and other ill-treatment of detainees or for excessive and unwarranted use of force by security forces against demonstrators.
Freedom of expression
Both the PA in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza suppressed freedom of expression, closing media outlets affiliated to or accused of supporting the rival party. Journalists were frequently detained, often several times and for long periods. At least 15 media workers were detained by the PA, which also closed media such as the pro-Hamas al-Aqsa TV station. Hamas suspended the distribution of newspapers such as al-Ayyam and al-Hayat al-Jadida, detaining and putting on trial their directors in Gaza.
- PA security forces detained Mustafa Sabri, a freelance journalist and member of Qalqiliya municipal council affiliated to Hamas, at least three times during the year.
Excessive use of force
PA security forces in the West Bank used excessive force against demonstrators. For example, they fired live ammunition against demonstrators throwing stones in the village of Beit Furik near Nablus on 1 June, causing gunshot injuries to seven people, including two children.
Hamas security forces in Gaza frequently used excessive force against demonstrators and suspected opposition supporters attending public meetings.
- Palestinian police and Hamas activists in civilian clothes used force to disperse a peaceful demonstration in Rafah commemorating the death of a Fatah activist in inter-factional fighting the previous year.
A committee of inquiry set up by the Interior Ministry of the Hamas de facto administration in Gaza into the killing of six demonstrators in November 2007 issued a report in April, but it was seriously flawed. The committee, which was not independent, concluded that Fatah supporters had carried out most of the shooting despite eyewitness testimony to the contrary and even though the people killed were Fatah supporters.
In August and September Hamas security forces in Gaza killed 24 members of armed clans linked to Fatah and Jaysh al-Islam (Army of Islam), including three children, when an attempt to arrest clan members turned into armed clashes. Several members of the Hamas security forces were killed by armed clan members.
In the West Bank, PA military courts sentenced four people, all civilians, to death after convicting them in summary trials of collaborating with Israeli intelligence. Two others, both security officers, were sentenced to death for murder. In Gaza, a Hamas military court sentenced one person to death for murder and two for collaborating with Israeli intelligence, after unfair trials. No executions were carried out.
Right to health
The dire situation caused by the Israeli blockade, which prevented hundreds of critically ill patients from leaving Gaza to obtain medical treatment unavailable in local hospitals (see Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories entry), was exacerbated by a strike of some 30 per cent of health workers in Gaza’s hospitals and clinics. The strike, which lasted for the last four months of the year, was called by the Palestinian Union of Health Professionals in protest at the removal or transfer of health managers and hospital directors by the Hamas de facto administration in Gaza. Hamas claimed that the strike was politically motivated and carried out at the behest of the West Bank-based PA caretaker government. The strike in Gaza was supported by the West Bank-based PA Ministry of Health.
Abuses by armed groups
Palestinian armed groups in Gaza frequently launched indiscriminate rocket attacks against civilian areas in southern Israel. From the beginning of the year until the ceasefire in June, Palestinian armed groups in Gaza, including groups affiliated to Hamas and Fatah, fired more than 2,000 rockets and mortars against nearby Israeli towns and villages. These indiscriminate attacks killed seven Israeli and two Palestinian civilians, and wounded several other Israeli civilians. After the breakdown of the ceasefire in November, rocket attacks by Palestinian armed groups in Gaza against Israel resumed but did not result in further deaths of Israeli civilians until after the onset of the 27 December offensive by Israeli forces.
- Roni Yihya was killed in Sapir College near Sderot in Israel and 10 others were injured on 27 February when Palestinian armed groups fired more than 50 “qassam” rockets and dozens of mortar rounds at the towns of Sderot and Ashkelon.
- Malak Yunes al-Kafarneh, a three-year-old Palestinian girl, was killed on 1 March by a “qassam” rocket fired by an armed group towards Israel. The rocket fell short and hit her home in Beit Hanun, Gaza.
Palestinian armed groups and individuals from the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, killed 16 Israeli civilians.
- On 6 March an armed Palestinian killed eight students, including four children, in the library of a yeshiva (religious school) in Jerusalem. He was not known to be affiliated to any armed group, although several groups, including the previously unknown group Ahrar al-Jalil (Free People of Galilee), claimed responsibility.
Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier captured by Palestinian armed groups in June 2006, continued to be held in an unknown place in Gaza without access to the ICRC. His family received two letters from him and he reportedly received a letter from his family.
Violence against women and girls
At least three women were killed in alleged “honour killings” in the West Bank and Gaza.
- In June Khouloud Mohammed al-Najjar was beaten to death in the southern Gaza Strip by members of her family who accused her of “immoral behaviour”. Her father was detained.
- In July the PA police in the West Bank town of Hebron said they had detained a man accused of killing his sister for “family honour”. The police did not divulge the names of those involved.