An official website of the United States government

May 17, 2023

2022 Report on International Religious Freedom: Israel, West Bank and Gaza

Executive Summary

West Bank and Gaza Strip residents are subject to the jurisdiction of separate authorities, with different implications for the fabric of life. Palestinians in the West Bank are subject to Jordanian and Mandatory statutes in effect before 1967, military ordinances enacted by the Israeli military commander in the West Bank, and, in the relevant areas, Palestinian Authority (PA) law. Israelis living in the West Bank are subject to Israeli laws and Israeli legislation and military ordinances enacted by the military commanders, whereas Palestinians living in the West Bank are subject primarily to Israeli military ordinances. The PA exercises varying degrees of authority in the small portions of the West Bank where it has some measure of control. Although PA laws theoretically apply in the Gaza Strip, the PA does not exercise authority there, and Hamas continues to exercise de facto control over security and other matters. The PA Basic Law, which serves as an interim constitution, establishes Islam as the official religion and states the principles of sharia shall be the main source of legislation but provides for freedom of belief, worship, and the performance of religious rites unless they violate public order or morality. It also proscribes discrimination based on religion, calls for respect of “all other divine religions,” and stipulates all citizens are equal before the law.

The Israeli government continued to allow controlled access to religious sites in Jerusalem, including the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount (the site containing the foundation of the First and Second Jewish temples and where, the Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa Mosque are located). Israeli authorities in some instances barred specific individuals from the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount site. Several instances of intercommunal violence during the year culminated in deaths.

On May 13, Israeli authorities used force against the funeral procession of Palestinian-American al-Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh in Jerusalem, beating mourners, including casket bearers, with batons, firing stun grenades into the crowd, and seizing Palestinian flags. On May 16, Israeli police and Palestinians violently clashed during funeral processions for Walid al-Sharif, a 21-year-old Palestinian who died from a brain injury sustained in clashes on April 22 on the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount. On May 29, as part of Jerusalem Day celebrations, the “Flags March” took place in Jerusalem in which an estimated 70,000 Israeli marchers entered the Old City of Jerusalem through the Damascus Gate and the Muslim Quarter, according to press reports. Crowds danced and chanted anti-Muslim slogans including insults to the Prophet Muhammad and “death to Arabs.” A record number of more than 2,600 Jews toured the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount during the day, while young Palestinians reportedly threw rocks in protest and barricaded themselves inside the al-Aqsa Mosque. The Palestinian Red Crescent reported that Israeli authorities responded using rubber bullets, sound grenades, pepper spray, and, in one instance, live bullets, injuring 79 Palestinians and caused 28 to be hospitalized. Police detained more than 60 suspects and remanded 35 for trial.

On April 14, Israeli police arrested six Jewish activists who were planning to sacrifice a goat on the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount ahead of Passover. Israeli police imposed new restrictions on Christian attendance at the Orthodox Easter Holy Fire celebrations in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in the Old City of Jerusalem on April 23; Christian leaders said there was no need to alter the ceremony and that the restrictions infringed on religious freedom and worship, while Israeli authorities said the crowd control measures were necessary for safety.

On June 30, Palestinian gunmen fired at Jewish worshipers and accompanying Israeli Defense Force (IDF) soldiers at Joseph’s Tomb in Nablus, sparking a gun battle in which 17 Palestinians, two Israeli civilians, and an Israeli military commander were injured. On October 12, dozens of Jewish worshipers entered Joseph’s Tomb under the protection of Israeli forces after authorities approved the visit. According to Palestinian reports cited by Haaretz, the Jewish worshipers were escorted into the city in military vehicles, and there was an exchange of gunfire between Palestinians and soldiers. No casualties were reported. On August 30, gunmen opened fire on a car near the entrance to Joseph’s Tomb, wounding two Israelis. The IDF said the Israeli civilians, whom they described as Jewish worshipers, failed to coordinate their pilgrimage to the site with the military.

On April 26, Haaretz reported that Israeli police restricted male, Muslim worshipers between the ages of 17 and 45 from entering the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount during Ramadan prayers unless they agreed to hand over their identification cards to police. The newspaper’s report described the act as a violation of the law and the right to freedom of worship and said the practice had been used at other times going back to 2015. There were reports that Israeli authorities used excessive force against protesters in East Jerusalem, at the Damascus Gate and at Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount, throughout the year. According to media reporting, on April 15, Israeli police raided the al-Aqsa Mosque compound in East Jerusalem before dawn, as thousands of worshippers gathered for morning prayers. Police said they were trying to break up a crowd that was throwing rocks. Videos showed police firing tear gas and stun grenades at the crowd.

Authorities continued to allow use of a temporary platform south of the Mughrabi Bridge and adjacent to the Western Wall, but not visible from the main Western Wall Plaza, for non-Orthodox “egalitarian” (mixed gender) Jewish prayers. Authorities designated the platform for members of the Conservative and Reform movements of Judaism, including for religious ceremonies such as bar and bat mitzvahs. On January 28, then Prime Minister Naftali Bennett stated his government would upgrade the egalitarian plaza but avoid the implementation of other parts of the 2016 agreement, a compromise between Orthodox and non-Orthodox communities, that included the construction of a permanent plaza for mixed-gender prayer managed by non-Orthodox groups and a merged entry to all prayer spaces adjacent to the Western Wall. On June 30, a group of ultra-Orthodox, including minors, interrupted a bar mitzvah ceremony at the egalitarian plaza, calling the participants “Nazis,” “Christians,” and “animals.”

Over the weekend of November 19, more than 32,000 Jews visited Hebron to mark Chayei Sarah, a reading from the Torah, recounting when Abraham purchased the cave of Machpelah, traditionally viewed as the site of the Ibrahimi Mosque/Tomb of the Patriarchs, for Sarah’s burial place and, eventually, his own burial site as well as that of Isaac and Jacob. Many also visited the nearby tomb of Othniel Ben Kenaz, the first biblical judge after Joshua. During the observances, Haaretz reported that “hundreds of Israelis” took part in disturbances in the city and its surrounding areas. Israeli Jews threw rocks, vandalizing Palestinian property and injuring several Palestinians.

The Christian heads of churches in Jerusalem continued to raise public concerns that the Christian presence and Holy Sites in Jerusalem were under threat. The statements identified pressure points on Christians that included violence and harassment against clergy and worshipers by Israeli extremists; vandalism and desecration of church properties; attempts by settler organizations to obtain strategic property in and around the Christian quarter of the Old City and the Mount of Olives; and restrictions on residency permits for Palestinians as part of Israel’s Citizenship and Entry Law. This law remained an especially acute problem, according to church leaders, because of the small Christian population and consequent tendency to marry other Christians from the West Bank or elsewhere (i.e., Christians who held neither citizenship nor residency).

Hamas, a U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organization exercising de facto control of Gaza, as well as the U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organization Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) and other extremist groups, disseminated antisemitic materials and advocated violence through traditional and social media channels as well as during rallies and other events. On September 22, prior to the start of Rosh Hashana, Hamas, PIJ, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) released a joint statement calling on Palestinians to support Jerusalem and al-Aqsa Mosque through popular resistance against Israeli interests everywhere. Hamas Gaza Politburo member Mahmoud al-Zahar warned of a “religious war” over Israeli actions at the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount.

During the year, there were incidents of violence that perpetrators justified, at least partially, on religious grounds, including individual killings, physical attacks and verbal harassment of worshippers and clergy, and vandalism of religious sites. There was also harassment of members of one religious group by members of another, social pressure to stay within one’s religious group, and antisemitic content in media. On January 15, unknown persons ignited a fire in a building used as a synagogue at a memorial site near the West Bank settlement of Ma’ale Hever and the Palestinian village of Birin. Firefighters said perpetrators threw several burning car tires into the building, destroying the contents including Jewish prayer books and an empty Torah ark. On January 23, Jewish extremists slashed tires and vandalized vehicles of Palestinian residents in the West Bank village of Qira with Stars of David and chanted slogans calling for an end to administrative orders, under which suspects of settler violence can be barred from areas without formal charges.

Palestinian leaders, media, and social media regularly used the word “martyr” to refer to individuals killed during confrontations with Israeli security forces, whether those individuals were involved in confrontations or were innocent bystanders. Some official PA media channels, social media sites affiliated with the Fatah political movement, and terrorist organizations glorified terrorist attacks on Jewish Israelis, referring to the assailants as “martyrs.” The PA continued to pay “martyr payments” to families of Palestinians killed during terrorist acts or of those killed in Israeli military actions, including victims of airstrikes in Gaza, as well as stipends to Palestinians in Israeli prisons, including those awaiting charges and those convicted of acts of terrorism.

On March 24, unknown persons attempted to burn a mosque in the Palestinian village of Zeita Jamain near Nablus and vandalized the mosque and nearby Palestinian homes with graffiti, including, “Jews won’t be silent when our brothers are murdered.” On March 7, the Higher Presidential Committee on Churches Affairs in the Palestinian Territories denounced what it described as the “sinful attack” on the Abbey of the Dormition on Mount Zion in Jerusalem. Vandals targeted the monastery several times with stones and glass bottles, in addition to throwing garbage in its orchard, causing some damage to the property. On June 6, local media reported that Israeli Jewish extremists broke into the Greek Orthodox Chapel of the Pentecost on Mount Zion and threatened the church groundskeeper.

Senior U.S. officials, in meetings with PA representatives, raised concerns about PA officials’ statements or social media postings that promoted antisemitism or encouraged or glorified violence. U.S. officials used public diplomacy programming and messaging aimed to combat antisemitism and promote nonviolence more broadly in Palestinian society throughout the year. U.S. government officials repeatedly and publicly pointed out that Palestinian officials and party leaders did not consistently condemn individual terrorist attacks nor speak out publicly against members of their institutions, including Fatah, who advocated violence. U.S. embassy officials met with political and civil society leaders to discuss religious tolerance and a broad range of issues affecting Christian, Muslim, and Jewish communities. They met with political, religious, and civil society leaders to promote interreligious tolerance and cooperation. U.S. representatives met with representatives of religious groups to monitor their concerns about access to religious sites, respect for clergy, and attacks on religious sites and houses of worship.

This section of the report covers the West Bank and Gaza and East Jerusalem territories that Israel occupied during the June 1967 war. In 2017, the United States recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Language in this report is not meant to convey a position on any final-status issues to be negotiated between the parties to the conflict, including the specific boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem or the borders between Israel and any future Palestinian state.

Read the full report