2003: The State of Human Rights in Israel

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and US President George W. Bush at the White House (White House/Paul Morse)


In the third year of the Al Aqsa Intifada we are witnessing an increase in the scope and severity of human rights violations, and an unprecedented rise in injury to innocent Palestinian and Israeli civilians. More than 700 Palestinians and over 200 Israelis have lost their lives, and many more on both sides of the conflict have been injured.

In the last year, Palestinian terror organizations carried out terror attacks against Israelis. The Israeli population’s daily life was disrupted, and their quality of life was undermined. The sense of threat hovers over everyone, even those not harmed directly. Unfortunately, this feeling is converted into publicly endorsed legitimacy to trample on the human rights of the civilian population in the territories.

We decided this year to turn our attention to these abuses that have become a day-to-day reality in the Occupied Territories. Most of the abuses occur not as a result of operational necessity on the part of the IDF, but from vindictiveness on the part of the soldiers, who receive implicit approval to denigrate the dignity, life and liberty of innocent Palestinian civilians.

ACRI denounces and condemns every infringement of the right to life, and even more so when innocent civilians on both sides are involved. The embroilment of a nation in a conflict does not justify the terror attacks or the mass killing of Israeli citizens by Palestinian organizations. Likewise, the terror does not justify revenge attacks or exempt Israel, as a democratic country, from its obligation to human rights. The fight to maintain human rights is the fight for the moral identity of the state and Israeli society. Both in a state of emergency and during wartime, both sides of the conflict are compelled to do everything in their power to avoid the abuse of human rights.

In repeated declarations, senior officers in the IDF claim that the army regards any harm caused to an innocent civilian as a matter of great seriousness, and makes every effort to prevent it. The military prosecutor stated that any reports or information about attacks or injury to innocent civilians is thoroughly investigated by senior officers. The findings are handed over to the military prosecutor for further examination and if there is evidence of criminal behavior by the soldiers involved, then the prosecutor initiates criminal proceedings. (The statement was taken from a letter to ACRI Attorney Noa Stein from General Menachem Finklestein, 29.12.02). However, data supplied by the military Judge Advocate General, reveals that in reality that most of the incidents, and the majority of deaths, are not investigated, and no incidents that involve death are investigated if they occur during combat. The military prosecutor justifies this failure to conduct investigations by claiming that other armies behave in exactly the same way.

Between September 2000 to June 2003 the IDF opened 362 internal army investigations involving soldiers serving in the territories; 134 cases relating to property, (theft, looting, and damage); 153 investigations of willful violence; 55 cases related to use of firearms; 18 investigation of other infringements, such as the deliberate detention of pregnant women at checkpoints.

46 investigations (less than 13%) resulted in formal charges: 23 related to property crimes; 14 to violence; and only 8 dealt with the misuse of firearms. (All the trials are in process)

(The data is based on statements made by the military Judge Advocate General (JAG) during a hearing at the Knesset Constitution and Law Committee, 22.6.03, and an interview he gave to Ha’aretz journalist Amos Harel, 10.7.03).

Checkpoints - Abuse, Intimidation, and Preventing Medical Treatment

Roadblocks and physical blockades (concrete blocks, ditches, and dirt roads) in the West Bank are situated around every one of the Palestinian villages and are the focal point of human rights abuses in the occupied territories. The abuse begins with the aggressive behavior of the soldiers at the roadblocks, continues with the deliberate delays imposed without military justification on those trying to pass the roadblock by car, and includes arbitrarily holding people for hours by taking away their identity cards. It is not uncommon for these injustices to turn into real abuse: Kassam Avisa’at, a 19 year-old student from Kalkilia, documented the events of 30.4.03 at the Saida roadblock in Tulkarem when one of the soldiers engraved a Star of David onto his arm using cut glass.

Reservists serving at the Kalandia checkpoint concluded that, “after two weeks of searching people’s bags as they came and went, and after endlessly checking their identity cards, I came to the conclusion that the Kalandia checkpoint has no purpose, and should be dismantled as soon as possible….a great deal of damage is caused by the superfluous checkpoint, especially if one takes into account the A-Ram roadblock situated close by whose purpose is to prevent any explosive material from entering Jerusalem.” (Anar Atar, Ha’aretz 24.11.02).

In a meeting of the Knesset Constitution and Law Committee, the military Judge Advocate General (JAG), expressed his increasing concern over checkpoint incidents and added that he would consider shortening the period of time spent by individual soldiers at the roadblocks. Although this would ease, to some extent, the treatment experienced by the local population, the central issue is and will always be the presence of the roadblocks themselves. (The JAG recognized the fact that the presence of the soldiers among the civilian population is the central cause of the moral dilemmas)(13). A second factor impacting the scope of the abuses at the checkpoints is the lenient view of commanding officers toward inappropriate behavior by soldiers toward Palestinians.

In March 2003, ACRI and Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) petitioned the Supreme Court demanding that the IDF remove the physical barriers preventing the entry and exit of residents from three Palestinian villages in the area of Nablus: Salim, Deir el-Hatab, and Izmut. For the past year the IDF has prevented access to these villages, where over 11,000 residents have been held in complete closure. As a consequence the right to free movement is denied them, as is the right to pursue a livelihood, access to medical services, and the right to education. In July 2003, the petition was rejected by the Supreme Court on the grounds that, although other methods exist for checking the movements of residents from Nablus to the villages and preventing the infiltration of terrorists – the method chosen by the army is not unreasonable and is proportionate. The judges emphasized the need to clarify sharply for the soldiers the appropriate rules of behavior at the checkpoints.

Although the security forces on numerous occasions stated their intent, primarily before the Supreme Court, to allow the passage of Palestinians in the event of a medical emergency, and the army even issued special orders to facilitate this decision, it was never implemented in the field. Individuals are continually prevented from passing through the roadblock either by physical barriers, or by the soldiers guarding the particular checkpoint.

The physical barriers not only prevent pregnant women and civilians in need of medical care from leaving the geographical area they reside in, but also prevent ambulances and doctors from reaching them. If it is hard for healthy individuals to find some way to negotiate the physical barriers, it is clear that a pregnant woman, a sick person, an old person or baby will find it impossible. Even if an individual does overcome the physical barrier then he will very quickly run into a roadblock manned by soldiers preventing – or in the best case delaying –his passage. In an investigation carried out by the organization Physicians for Human Rights, it became clear that in many cases ambulances were delayed up to an hour by security checks, a period of time that is clearly critical when one considers the medical implications of such a delay and the fact that it is probably only one checkpoint among many.

The following is a few examples of individuals who lost their life as a result of delayed medical treatment:

Rawan Harizat, a four day old baby from Hebron who died on 14.10.02, after IDF soldiers delayed her evacuation to the hospital.

Azzam Alawana, an individual suffering from heart disease from the village of Azmut died on 8.12.02, after medical staff was unable to negotiate the ditch blocking access to the village in time to save her.

A chemist from the village of Salam felt pains in his chest and had to go by foot across the fields surrounding his village to reach the road where the ambulance was waiting for him. He died before reaching his destination.

A pregnant woman tried to reach the road from the village of Azmut but soldiers blocked her way and she was forced to give birth on the spot. The baby did not survive.

Muhammed Mahmud el Masimi from the Balata refugee camp, suffered a heart attack during an IDF search of his home on 24.2.03, and died after soldiers delayed his access to medical treatment.

Deliberate Intimidation and Cruel Treatment

ACRI appealed to the military Judge Advocate General demanding the investigation of a number of incidents involving the intimidation of the local Palestinian population by soldiers stationed in the area of Mount Hebron. The soldiers imposed a reign of intimidation and terror on the local population with no military justification whatsoever. They prevented farmers from working in their fields, harassed those leaving and entering, carried out house to house searches that caused serious collateral damage and terrorized the inhabitants in the early hours of the morning. A number of times the soldiers tore around the village in armored personnel carriers, accompanied by the ear-splitting sound of a wailing siren.

In a few instances the armored personnel carrier parked in front of a house and revved the engine to its maximum creating large amounts of thick smoke that choked the occupants of the house and those in the immediate area. The visits by the armored personnel carrier are documented in writing and one incident, the gratuitous “smoking” was even filmed by a video camera. The fact that the IDF turned a blind eye to the incident and never filed charges sends a message to the perpetrators that there is tacit agreement and support for their actions, even when they clearly had no military value or security purpose.

Curfew

At the end of 2002, 45,000 people in the old city of Hebron were under curfew for half a year. After a few weeks of a total curfew, the IDF began to organize breaks in the curfew for 4 hours every 48 to 96 hours. However, this policy was not consistent, and sometimes the curfew continued for more than 96 hours in succession. After a few months of almost total curfew, the IDF introduced a few measures to ease the situation. This period of relief lasted only a short time until the full curfew was reinstated and the residents’ only break was for a few hours every three days.

One of the reasons the army gave for the curfew in the old city was the frequent clashes between the Palestinian population and the Jewish settlers. The curfew it must be remembered discriminates against the Palestinian residents. While the Palestinians are not allowed out of their houses, Jewish residents are free to move around at will.

As a result of the extended curfew, most Palestinians were out of work for a long period of time. According to statements made by some of the families, they have reached starvation levels. Residents living in other areas also lost their source of livelihood since their work places were situated in the curfew area.

The petition submitted by ACRI was rejected after the court was convinced that the IDF was acting in accordance with a coherent policy, and was doing its utmost to ease the situation for the local population.

Since June 2000, the curfew in the old city is only imposed on weekends, except for the houses that are adjacent to those of the Jewish settlers, which are under curfew the rest of the week also.

The total number of hours under curfew: 18.6.02 – 31.5.03

Ramallah - 2,419
Nablus - 4,232
Jenin - 3,046
Hebron - 4,786
Kalkiliya - 2,134
Bethlehem - 2,597
Tulkarem - 4,167

The question is, whether there is any justification for halting the lives of an entire city, chaining thousands of people to their houses, preventing them from working, studying, playing and socializing. If, for example, it was proved that a full curfew on Haifa would prevent the residents from being injured in traffic accidents, or that a full curfew on Herzliya would stop the trade in drugs – would that be enough of a justification to impose a curfew on these cities?

Palestinians found outside their homes during curfew hours because they did not know it was imposed or for any other reason, are liable to pay for the mistake with their life. In some instances, soldiers shot smoke grenades at people outside of their homes when the curfew was imposed, a method of notifying the population that the curfew was being imposed with no prior warning provided.

Thus, between July and October 2002 at least 12 people lost their lives (mostly children and youths) by soldiers opening fire on those considered to be breaking the curfew:

Sohri Fawak Abed el-Aj Dawad, 10, killed in Kalkilya, 7.7.02.

Abed a-Rahim Ibrahim, 40, killed in Hebron, 3.8.02.

Hamza Badawi, 15, killed in the Balata refugee camp, 5.8.02

Ahmed el-Kuraine, 54, killed in Nablus, 1.8.02.

Abed a-Salam Samrin, 12, killed in El Bireh in the district of Ramallah, 19.9.02

Riram Muhamed Ibrahim Mana, 14 months, died of inhaling smoke from a smoke grenade fired Ba’ab al Zawia in Hebron, 26.9.02

Rami a-Barberi, 13, killed in the Balata refugee camp, 30.9.02.

Muhammed Zallul, 12, killed in the center of Nablus, 30.9.02.

Muhammed Zayad, 15, killed in Jenin, 5.10.02.

Amar Rajib, 15, killed in the refugee camp in Ein Bet Alma in the Nablus district, 5.10.02.

Shadin Abu Hijala, 60, killed in the courtyard of her house in the Rapidia neighborhood in Nablus, 11.0.02.

The insistence of the family of Shadin Abu Hijala, that the IDF investigate his death resulted, after 8 months, in a change in the policy of opening fire and the ban of firing merely to impose a curfew.

Harming Innocent Civilians During Targeted Assassinations

In the last year (16.6.02-12.6.03) the IDF assassinated 80 Palestinians (26 in the Gaza Strip and the rest in the West Bank). In at least 20 incidents the IDF admitted to the assassination. During assassination operations in the same period, 90 innocent bystanders, women, children, and men, were killed, and more than 300 people were injured. According to statistics published by the Israel Air Force in June 2003, in 25-30% of instances involving the use of helicopters against fugitives the pilots hit innocent civilians. In urban areas the number is even higher and reaches almost 50%.

In July 2002 the IDF assassinated Hamas activist Salam Mustafa Shahada by firing a rocket from an Israeli Air Force helicopter at his house, in the neighborhood of El Daraj in Gaza. The bomb weighed 1000kg and the force of the blast killed an additional 14 people, including the wife and daughter of Shahada, and injured 150.

At the end of August 2002 the IDF tried to assassinate two fugitives in the town of Tubas, near Nablus. Helicopters fired missiles at the car in which the two were traveling. The blast killed 5 Palestinians, among them a 10-year-old boy, and a 6-year-old girl, and another 10 were injured. The fugitives were not harmed: one of them left the car before the missiles were fired, and the other one disappeared after the first missile hit.

At the beginning of June 2003 the IDF tried to assassinate the Hamas leader, Abed el Aziz Rantissi. The attack killed his wife and baby, more than 20 Palestinian were injured (among them Rantissi himself), and of the injured, 14 were seriously hurt.

At this time a petition is pending regarding the policy of targeted killing that was submitted by the Public Committee Against Torture and LAW (The Protection of the Environment and Human Rights).

Human Shields

In April 2002, during the IDF Defensive Shield operation in Jenin, reports started to filter in that the IDF were forcing Palestinian citizens to act as human shields: to accompany them during military operations, to stand in front of them, to knock on doors, to remove suspicious objects from the street, to order people to leave their houses so that the IDF could detain them, to stand in front of soldiers while the latter were firing from behind them, and other fighting tactics that endangered their lives. The citizens, among them children and old people who were chosen randomly, could not refuse the order of armed soldiers.

In May 2002, ACRI, Adalah and Btselem, and other organizations petitioned the Supreme Court against the IDF use of human beings to achieve military goals. The petitioners claimed that the IDF was denying the right to life, dignity, and freedom of innocent civilians. As a result of the petition the IDF issued an order prohibiting the use of civilians as human shields, but in the field the practice continues as before.

On 5.12.02 the IDF informed the court that it opposes the use of human shields but then issued a new operational order allowing the use of local Palestinian residents when arresting fugitives. The order was allegedly designed “to prevent injury to the local population and the fugitives themselves”. The use of local residents was supposed to give the residents of the fugitive’s house enough warning that the arrest was about to take place, providing innocent bystanders time to get out of the building and allowing the fugitive to turn himself in. In this way, the IDF would purportedly avoid using force and endangering bystanders. The order was dependent upon the agreement of the individual in question to help the soldiers, and only if in the discretion of the officer in the field no danger would be posed to the life of the Palestinian citizen “volunteer”.

On 21.1.03, the Supreme Court authorized the implementation of the new order. During the hearing in July 2003 the petitioners submitted affidavits demonstrating that the IDF ignores the section of the order that prohibits endangering the individual’s life, and that the condition requiring the resident’s agreement is meaningless.

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