Al-Haq is deeply concerned by the arrests carried out by Israeli forces across the occupied West Bank in the early hours of 29 June 2006. According to news reports, 64 parliamentarians, ministers and mayors who are members of the ruling Hamas party were arrested across the West Bank. The Israeli soldiers who carried out the arrests held judicial arrest warrants. It appears that the arrests were planned several weeks ago at the highest levels of the Israeli government and that more arrests will follow, including in Gaza. On 27 June, Israeli Infrastructure Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer declared that Israel had “no problem entering the Gaza Strip and kidnapping half the Palestinian government.” According to an official statement released today by the Israeli Foreign Ministry, “Israel intends to continue with the arrest of additional members of Hamas.”
The sweeping nature of today’s arrests of Hamas officials suggests that they are a form of collective punishment either in response to the involvement of certain persons affiliated with Hamas in military actions against Israeli targets, or as a measure of intimidation to achieve political ends. Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention provides, “No protected person may be punished for an offence he or she has not personally committed. Collective penalties and likewise all measures of intimidation or of terrorism are prohibited.” If the Occupying Power can show that a specific individual has personally carried out a crime, it is entitled to arrest that person, subject to adhering to universally recognized standards of fair procedure. It is not entitled to carry out sweeping arrests based merely on the membership of an organisation.
Furthermore, while a spokesperson for the Israeli army has denied that the Hamas officials were arrested as bargaining chips for the return of captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, Israeli Army Radio reportedly announced that they may be used for this purpose. If this is indeed a motivation behind the arrests, it would constitute a clear breach of Article 34 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which provides, “The taking of hostages is prohibited.” The International Committee of the Red Cross’ (ICRC) authoritative commentary on the Convention notes that this prohibition includes “the taking of hostages to guarantee the life of persons themselves detained as hostages by the Adverse Party.” The ICRC commentary also notes that the most frequent example of illegal hostage taking is “that of an Occupying Power taking as hostages persons generally selected from among prominent persons in a city or a district in order to prevent disorders or attacks on occupation troops.”
Finally, Al-Haq is concerned that the arrests will destroy the functioning of the democratically elected Palestinian National Authority – already crippled by international sanctions – through which the Palestinians are struggling to exercise their right to self-determination. According to media reports, Yuval Diskin, the head of Shin Bet, warned on 25 June that, “If the [captured] soldier is not returned in 24 hours, Israel will not allow the Palestinian government to survive.” Arresting vast numbers of members of the Palestinian government is sure to further impair democratic institutions already increasingly unable to provide basic services such as health, education and security.
Convinced that the current wave of arrests is further accelerating the already severe deterioration of the human rights situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Al-Haq demands that: