Human Rights Watch called today on the leaders of Palestinian factions and Palestinian government officials to bring an immediate end to the lawlessness and vigilante violence that has plagued the Occupied Palestinian Territories and to hold the perpetrators of this violence accountable. Eleven Palestinians were killed and more than 100 injured, mostly civilians, in the unrest on Sunday and Monday. Sporadic clashes and attacks on government institutions have continued during the week, with reports that three masked men shot dead a local Hamas leader as he left a mosque in Qalqilya on Wednesday.
“Demonstrators’ attacks on government and public property have endangered civilians,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The only way to curb this cycle of violence is for the Palestinian government to use the law to crack down on the perpetrators.”
The latest round of clashes erupted on Sunday after the two leading Palestinian political parties, Hamas and Fatah, failed to reach an agreement on forming a unity government. Palestinian police and Fatah loyalists, who blame the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority (PA) for seven months of unpaid public sector wages, then stepped up demonstrations against the Hamas-led government.
The Hamas-led government has faced a financial crisis since taking office in March. Israel has refused to remit tax monies it collects on behalf of the PA, citing Hamas’s refusal to meet the Quartet demands of recognizing Israel, renouncing violence and recognizing previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements. Many international donors have also suspended direct aid to the PA. Together, these funds made up approximately 75 percent of the PA’s monthly budget.
According to the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) and press reports, demonstrators attacked government property in Gaza while the Hamas-led Ministry of Interior called on its security services to violently crack down on the demonstrators. Throughout the course of Sunday, these clashes extended to several areas of Gaza City, and eight people were killed.
There were also demonstrations in the West Bank towns of Ramallah, Hebron, Nablus and Jericho, where Fatah loyalists reportedly attacked Hamas political party offices, Islamic institutions and the house of Deputy Prime Minister Naser El-Deen al-Shaer. In Ramallah, demonstrators attacked the Palestinian Legislative Council building, the Palestinian Government Building and cars belonging to the Ministry of Education. They also attacked the house of Assistant Under-Secretary of Finance Tamer El-Birawi, kidnapping him but later releasing him unharmed.
On Monday, violent demonstrations and attacks continued. Fatah loyalists set fire to the buildings of the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Civil Affairs in Gaza, and fired at the Palestinian Legislative Council Building in Gaza. Clashes erupted in Shifa hospital between relatives of those killed the day before and Palestinian security forces stationed inside the hospital.
In Jericho, members of the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, a Fatah-linked militia, reportedly enforced a Fatah-led commercial strike by firing on open businesses and in one instance killing a restaurant worker. Other clashes and violent incidents were reported in Bethlehem, Nablus and Qalqilya on Monday.
“Rather than fanning the flames and allowing the violence to continue, Palestinian officials and party leaders should send a clear message that they will tolerate only peaceful means of protest,” said Whitson.
Human Rights Watch also called upon all security forces to respect the rule of law and to open fire only when strictly necessary to avoid serious injury or loss of life. The PA president, prime minister and minister of interior should ensure that all security services receive clear instructions regarding the use of firearms, as outlined in the UN Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials and the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials.
Human Rights Watch called on the Palestinian attorney general to thoroughly investigate all incidents where civilians and their property were harmed, and to bring the perpetrators to justice. Finally, all security services and responsible government officials should ensure that Palestinians’ right to peaceful protest is respected and that when demonstrations turn violent, security officials employ only appropriate law enforcement means for dispersing demonstrations while apprehending those responsible for the violence.