Israel: placing the Palestinian population outside the protection of the law

The International Secretariat of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) is deeply concerned by a growing trend within the Israeli Government of systematically denying Palestinian nationals the protection of both international and national law.

The Government-sanctioned policy of assassinations, the widespread use of administrative detention, resulting in hundreds of persons being imprisoned without trial, and the recent decision by the Knesset to approve a law denying compensation to Palestinians living in the territories, who have become the victims of numerous illegal actions by the Israeli Army, have resulted in a situation in which Palestinians can be executed without having been tried, indefinitely detained without ever being sentenced and now cannot claim reparations for damages suffered because of these illegal actions.

In addition, measures of collective punishment, such as the recent arrests and threats to forcibly transfer male relatives of Palestinians suspected of being involved in suicide bombings, also mean that Palestinians can be punished for crimes they have not committed.

The Israeli policy of “targeted” assassination is a blatant violation of the right to life and has often been implemented with complete disregard for civilian life. An extreme example of this is the recent killing of 14 Palestinian civilians, including nine children, and wounding of scores of others, during an air raid conducted by Israeli F-16 fighter aircraft in the densely populated al-Daraj area of Gaza City, on July 23rd, 2002. The attack’s intended target was Hamas military leader Salah al-Shahada, who was killed in the attack, along with an aide.

Of particular note is that, in its reply to a petition filed to the High Court on January 24th, 2002 by LAW and the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (PCATI) - both members of the OMCT network - demanding the end to the policy of assassinations, the Government responded that the policy in question is implemented in a responsible way and that the principle consideration is preventing injury to innocent persons. On July 25th, LAW and PCATI submitted an urgent request to the High Court demanding that it issue an interim injunction ordering the Government to cease this policy of assassination.

The extensive and indiscriminate use of administrative detention is also a reason for grave concern. Since the beginning of the current Intifada in September 2000, the number of persons being held in administrative detention has reportedly risen from 9 to some 1700 prisoners. Administrative detention orders that previously were typically handed out with durations of three months have now, apparently arbitrarily, been extended to six months. For many years now Israel has abusively used administrative detention to keep certain persons imprisoned for extended periods without charge or trial. However, the current scale of the practice has resulted in increasingly deteriorating and difficult detention conditions, including over-crowding and poor sanitary conditions that are accompanied by the denial of medical attention. As no evidence is ever presented to the detainees concerning the reasons necessitating their detention, it is highly questionable whether these undisclosed “security reasons” in fact justify the detention of hundreds of Palestinians.

The approval on July 24th by the Knesset of a law (“Torts Law, amendment “Law for Handling Claims Related to IDF Activity in Judea and Samaria) will mean that Palestinians will now be unable to demand compensation for many actions carried out by the Israeli Armed Forces. According to the information received, the law broadens the definition of war activity, for which the state is not considered responsible, so that no liability is due to cover operations against “terror”, “hostile activity” and “uprising”. Instances in which compensation will be denied would include: damage to property committed during arrest, negligent wounding of persons at checkpoints, beatings during arrest operations and deaths resulting from preventing persons gaining access to hospitals.

Finally, the use of measures of collective punishment, such as the recent demolition of houses of the families of persons wanted by the Israeli authorities in connection with suicide bombings, as well as the arbitrary arrest and threats of deportation of these persons, are prohibited under international human rights and humanitarian law. The destruction of these houses have damaged or destroyed many surrounding houses: for example, on July 19th, 2002, the destruction by the Israeli Forces of the three-storey building in which suspected Fateh member Ali Mohammad Ahmed Ajouri lived, in Asker Refugee Camp, has reportedly resulted in 26 persons, including six women and twelve children, losing their homes without being given the chance to retrieve any of their possessions.

The actions described above represent actual or potential in violations of both positive and customary international human rights and humanitarian law. In particular, such action is in violation of provisions established in a number of treaties ratified by Israel such as, among others: the Fourth Geneva Convention which prohibits violations of the right to life, collective penalties and unlawful deportation of protected populations; the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which contains provisions protecting the right to life, the right to be free from torture and other cruel inhuman and degrading treatment, the right to be detained in humane conditions, the right to liberty and security of the person, the right to a fair trial, the right to an effective remedy for violations of rights recognized in the Covenant, and the right to benefit from the rights in the Covenant without discrimination; and the United Nations Convention Against Torture.

OMCT International Secretariat, PO Box 21, 8, rue du Vieux-Billard
CH-1211 Geneva 8, Switzerland, Phone: + 41 22 809 4939, Fax: + 41 22 809 4929, Email:, web: