Background on demonstrations in the territories

Published: 
7 Sep 2011
Updated: 
2 Jan 2013

Over the past few years, Palestinian, Israeli, and foreign activists have held regular demonstrations at several West Bank locations against the construction of the Separation Barrier and settlements there. Since the beginning of 2010, the Israeli military has changed its response to these demonstrations and has taken various steps to quell them.

A demonstration in Bil'in. Photo: Oren Ziv, Activestills.org, 22 Feb. 2008A demonstration in Bil'in. Photo: Oren Ziv, Activestills.org, 22 Feb. 2008

As part of these efforts, Israeli security forces have arrested many of the organizers of the demonstrations, occasionally used violence to disperse the protests, and deported some of the foreign activists who participated in the demonstrations. Israeli military commanders in the West Bank issue orders declaring the areas where the demonstrations are held every Friday closed military zones during the time of the demonstration.

The order regulating demonstrations in the West Bank is Order No. 101, from1967, “Order Regarding Prohibition of Incitement and Hostile Propaganda Actions". The order imposes severe restrictions on the right of Palestinians to organize or take part in demonstrations. In November 2011, B’Tselem contacted the Israeli military, requesting data on the number of demonstrators tried under the provisions of the order on charges of conducting a procession or holding an assembly or a vigil without a permit. The military informed B’Tselem that between 2004 and 2011, 30 people were convicted of violating the order: one person in 2004, 28 in 2010 and one in 2011. Neither the military nor the police were able to say how many people had been investigated for alleged participation in demonstrations and then released without indictment. 

B’Tselem was told by attorneys representing Palestinian demonstrators arrested by the Israeli military that over the years Order No. 101 was not continuously implemented: commonly used during the first intifada, its use declined after the beginning of the Oslo process. In early 2010, the army once again expanded use of the order, warranting a re-examination of the order and its significance. As with all Israeli military legislation, the order applies only to Palestinians in Areas B and C, whereas Israeli citizens and third-party nationals are tried in the Israeli legal system.

In January 2011, the commander of Judea and Samaria Division, Brig. Gen. Nitzan Alon, said:

The approach, as far as we’re concerned, is to allow the demonstration so long as it is non-violent. We make a clear distinction between a non-violent demonstration, which is a legitimate protest, and a violent demonstration in which stones and pieces of iron are thrown and the security fence is damaged and destroyed. Against the latter, we will use crowd control measures.

However, the claim that the army only restricts demonstrations in the West Bank because of demonstrator violence is inaccurate.  Disregard for Palestinians’ freedom of protest is illustrated by the orders issued on 17 February 2010 by OC Central Command. The orders prohibit – in advance – demonstrations in the villages of Bil’in and Ni’lin. A sweeping, a priori prohibition for a lengthy period of time cannot be considered lawful, as the appropriate balances are not taken into account for each particular demonstration (for further information on the legal background of restrictions on demonstrations in the Occupied Territories, click here).

Since early 2010 the Israeli military has altered its position with regard to these demonstrations and has employed various means to stop them. Every Friday, Israeli border police and soldiers are deployed to demonstration locations, sometimes actually preventing the demonstrations from taking place.

In certain places with regular Friday demonstrations, the Israeli military has issued “closed area (entry and presence prohibited)" orders, classifying locations as closed military zones for the duration of the demonstrations. The military then immediately declares demonstrations there "unlawful."

In other places, such as Bil'in, Israeli security forces are relatively tolerant so long as the demonstrators do not touch the Separation Barrier. Elsewhere, for example at a-Nabi Saleh, they sometimes disperse the demonstration before it has even begun.

Israeli security forces make extensive use of crowd control means, even when demonstrations have been restricted to a populated area and are not permitted to leave its boundaries. In addition, cases have been documented of security forces using more lethal means, not means for crowd control, for dealing with the demonstrations.


A-Nabi Saleh, security forces disperse a demonstration at its outset, 15 July 2011.

The most lethal means employed by Israeli security forces during demonstrations in the West Bank is live ammunition. According to Israeli military open-fire regulations as well as according to official declarations by military commanders, the use of live ammunition is prohibited in policing situations in West Bank demonstrations, with the exception of firing in the air under certain circumstances.

The Israeli military’s standing orders state explicitly that, as a rule, live ammunition may not be fired at stone-throwers. Stone-throwers may be detained only when the assault is significant enough to endanger the physical well-being of a soldier or other person and then only immediately after the incident. Only in cases of actual mortal danger may live ammunition be fired directly at assailants to eliminate the danger they pose. Nonetheless, security forces sometimes do use live fire at demonstrations, usually firing at Palestinians who have thrown stones at them.

Since 2004, in the course of demonstrations against the Separation Barrier, 15 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli security forces and two by barrier security guards. Among the fatalities, eight were minors. Twelve fatalities resulted from live fire, two from tear gas grenades aimed directly at them, two from rubber-coated bullets and one from a 0.22 inch caliber bullet.

Many residents of villages where demonstrations have taken place have been arrested and tried for demonstrating. They are often charged on additional counts as well. Foreign activists have been deported for taking part in demonstrations. Many organizers of demonstrations in West Bank villages have been arrested and tried for organizing demonstrations and for inciting violence, mostly on the basis of evidence given by minors detained in the dead of the night and interrogated without their parents’ presence, often without having been properly advised of their rights. Palestinians are tried in military courts under military law, which virtually prohibits demonstrations. Israelis and foreign nationals are tried in Israeli courts, which recognize the freedom of protest in accordance with democratic standards.