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From the field

The Right to Demonstrate in the Occupied Territories

In recent years, Palestinian, Israeli, and foreign activists have regularly demonstrated against the Separation Barrier in the West Bank. In the past several months, the army has changed its attitude toward the demonstrations and has taken measures with the intent to end them.

As part of this effort, security forces have arrested many of the organizers of the demonstrations, have used violence to disperse the demonstrations, and have deported some of the foreign activists. On 17 February 2010, OC Central Command signed two orders of Declaration Regarding Closing of Area (Prohibition on Entry and Staying), which classify the areas adjacent to the Separation Barrier in the villages of Bi'lin and Ni'lin a closed military area at the time that the demonstrations have been taking place every Friday for several years.

Regarding Palestinian protesters, since the beginning of 2010, the army has also used another tool: Military Order No. 101, of 1967, which prohibits demonstrations in the West Bank. From the beginning of the Oslo process until this year, the Order had not been enforced, except for its incitement provisions.

Under the Order, an assembly, procession, or vigil of ten or more persons requires a permit from the commander of military forces in the region if the assembly is for the purpose of “a political subject, or which might be construed as political, or to discuss such a subject” or, in the case of a procession, “for a political purpose or for a matter that might be construed as political.” Such a sweeping definition greatly limits freedom of speech, in all its aspects. The penalty for breach of the Order is harsh - ten years' imprisonment and/or a heavy fine.

Following the renewed use of the Order, B'Tselem is now publishing a position paper that analyzes, from the perspective of Israel's obligation to ensure the right of demonstration under international law, the Order and the limitations it imposes on the freedom of Palestinians to demonstrate in Areas B and C. The position paper also compares the law applying to Palestinian demonstrators in the West Bank and the law applying to Israeli citizens demonstrating inside Israel or in the West Bank.