Laws of Associations
In December 1998, the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) passed the Law of Charitable Associations and Community Organizations. This law repealed the Ottoman Law of Charitable Organizations and the Law of Charitable Organizations No. 33 of 1966 that were effective previously. In May 1999, the PLC passed an amendment to the law that transferred responsibility for the administration of NGO’s to the Ministry of Interior instead of the Ministry of Justice. Since the office of the Minister of Interior remained vacant, however, a new ministry of non-governmental organizations was established in 2000.
According to Article 3 of the NGO Law, “the competent ministry will set up a department responsible for the registration of the associations and organizations in co-ordination with the competent ministry.” Associations or organizations may collect contributions from the public and carry out any social services provided these services are compatible with the developmental priorities of Palestinian society. Foreign organizations that want to establish ties with Palestinian NGOs must apply to the competent ministry, which, in turn, consults with the Ministry of Planning and International Cooperation regarding the application. It is not possible to confiscate funds of associations or organizations, or close them, or conduct a search in their main and branch offices without an order issued by the competent judicial part.
Associations and Unions
Civil society organizations such as the Palestinian Center for Human Rights have been quick to criticize the new law, yet most of them have learned to work their way around the cumbersome regulations, and many enjoy external financing from Western donors. Research organizations have been shut down only to reappear as strong as ever under new names. The West Bank and Gaza still hosts a richer variety of professional, research, welfare, charitable, and human rights organizations than most of its neighbors. At least thirty-six NGOs and sixteen research centers have active presences on the Internet. Many privately owned media also survive, despite efforts of the Authority to clamp down upon them.
The great majority of West Bank and Gaza unions belonged to the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU). An estimated 95,000 to 100,000 workers in the West Bank were members of the PGFTU, the largest union bloc, which consisted of 12 trade unions in the West Bank and 8 in Gaza. The organization had approximately 46,500 members in Gaza. The PGFTU estimated that actual organized membership of dues-paying members, included approximately 75 percent of all Palestinian workers. The PGFTU was involved in the completion of the negotiations with Histadrut regarding workers' fees. The reorganization of unions under the PGFTU was intended to enable the West Bank and Gaza unions to better represent the union members' interests. The PGFTU has participated in some programs of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions but is currently not a member.
Palestinian unions that seek to strike must submit to arbitration by the PA Ministry of Labor. If the union disagrees with the final arbitration and strikes, a tribunal of senior judges appointed by the PA decides what, if any, disciplinary action is to be taken, such as a fine. There are no laws in the occupied territories that specifically protect the rights of striking workers. In practice such workers had little or no protection from an employer's retribution.
Media and Government Regulations
The 1995 Palestinian Press Law states, “no security agency has any right to question, interrogate, detain, incarcerate or arrest a journalist on matters pertaining to his work.” The law does not provide for formal censorship. However, Article 37 prohibits the publication of articles that may cause harm to national unity.
The Ministry of Information licenses the media. The General Intelligence Directorate has established a Bureau of Press Information to accredit and monitor foreign media. The Voice of Palestine Radio and two television stations are government-controlled, but many private media and research organizations maintain active presences in print and online. Of particular interest is the Palestine Center for Policy and Survey Research (PSR), which continues the valuable polling efforts of the Center for Palestine Research and Studies. The Jerusalem Media and Communication Centre (JMCC) also conducts regular polls and issues the Palestine Report, an excellent weekly news summary that reports on the activities of civil society.