B’Tselem today releases its year-end report. According to B’Tselem data, the number of Israelis and Palestinians killed in clashes in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip dropped. However, there has been deterioration in many other measures of the human rights situation in the occupied territories. The primary one is the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip, which has declined to an all time low, following Israel’s siege on the area.
Other highlights include:
- In 2007, there was an increase of 13 percent in the number of Palestinians held in administrative detention without trial, which averaged 830 people.
- Sixty-six staffed checkpoints and 459 physical roadblocks on average controlled movement inside the West Bank. There was little improvement in Palestinians’ freedom of movement, despite the promised easing of restrictions.
- Israeli settlement population grew by 4.5 percent (compared with 1.5 percent population growth inside Israel), a more moderate increase than the previous year.
- Israel continues the freeze policy on family unification, denying tens of thousands of Palestinians the right to a family life. However, in what was termed a one-time gesture, Israel approved family unification for some 3,500 Palestinian families.
- The number of houses demolished in East Jerusalem rose by 38 percent, to 69 homes.
- Palestinians continue to face severe discrimination in the allocation of water in the West Bank, causing serious hardship in the summer.
- The number of Palestinians killed in intra-Palestinian clashes was the highest throughout the intifada.
According to B’Tselem, two themes clearly emerge from examination of the spectrum of human rights concerns in 2007. The first is the use of security justifications for virtually every Israeli action in the occupied territories. There is no doubt that Israel faces serious security threats, and is entitled and even obligated to do its utmost to protect its population. However, far too often, Israel fails to appropriately balance its security needs with equally important values, including protecting the rights of Palestinians under its control. In addition, Israeli authorities often exploit security threats in order to advance prohibited political interests, such as perpetuating settlements and effectively annexing them to Israel.
The second theme arising from the report is the lack of accountability of Israeli security forces, in all matters relating to human rights. This can be seen clearly in the reluctance of the state to thoroughly investigate violations and to prosecute those responsible for them. The lack of accountability can also be seen in the denial of most Palestinians’ right to compensation when they are injured through no fault of their own by Israeli forces.
The right to life:
A comparison between 2007 and 2006 reveals a decrease in Palestinians killed by Israeli forces, and a decrease in those cases that raise the suspicion of arbitrary killing. However, the figures for 2007 still give cause for concern.
In 2007 (up to 29 December), Israeli security forces killed 373 Palestinians (290 in Gaza, 83 in the West Bank), 53 among them minors. By comparison, in 2006, 657 Palestinians were killed, including 140 minors: 523 in Gaza, 134 in the West Bank. In 2007, about 35 percent of those killed were civilians who were not taking part in the hostilities when killed. This is a reduction in comparison with the number of casualties who did not participate in the hostilities in 2006, which was 54 percent, (348 persons).
Palestinians killed seven Israeli civilians (three in a suicide attack in Eilat, two in Sderot by Qassam attacks, and two by gunfire in the West Bank). This is the lowest number of Israeli civilian casualties since the beginning of the intifada. Palestinians also killed six Israeli security forces. In 2006, Palestinians killed 17 Israeli civilians.
In intra-Palestinian fighting, at least 344 persons were killed, almost all in the Gaza Strip in the first six months of the year. At least 73 of the dead, among them 22 minors, were not taking part in the fighting.
Freedom of movement
The number of permanent checkpoints — on average 102 — barely changed from 2006. Sixty-six of these checkpoints control movement inside the West Bank (16 are in Hebron), and 36 are the final inspection point before entering Israel. The army also sets up dozens of flying checkpoints. In the second half of 2007, the average number of flying checkpoints dropped, from 141 in May to 69 in November.
Israel continues to maintain physical roadblocks, which limit access to major roads and channel traffic to staffed checkpoints. In recent years, the number of these roadblocks has increased, from an average of 410 in 2005 to 445 in 2006 to 459 in 2007. In addition, Israel forbids or limits Palestinian travel on over 300 kilometers of roads in the West Bank. The movement restrictions and the resulting geographical fragmentation severely harm central social institutions and systems serving the Palestinian population in the occupied territories, including the health system, the economy, family networks and municipal services.