In October 2001, one year after the beginning of the so-called Al-Aqsa Intifada, OMCT expressed its deep concern over the deteriorating situation in Israel and Occupied Palestinian Territories.
Today, the situation continues to deteriorate in a cycle where violence begets violence and where no viable prospects for peace are apparent. Given the fact that the situation continues to worsen, OMCT wonders how far conditions must deteriorate before the International Community reacts with all the urgency that the situation requires.
This vicious cycle of violence, where Israel security forces have been using disproportionate, excessive and indiscriminate force and where Palestinian suicide bombers have been targeting innocent civilians, has led and continues to lead to serious Human Rights violations, that, if not addressed promptly, will only engender further violence. OMCT strongly condemns the use of violence by both sides.
While torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment continue to be perpetrated by Israel, OMCT is deeply concerned by Israel’s attempts to legitimise the use of this practice. While many Palestinians prisoners, including women and children, continue to be subjected to methods of interrogation - that include, but are not limited to, painful shackling, sleep deprivation, forcing the detainee to squat for long periods, loud music or screaming noises, beatings, slapping and kicking, shaking, threats of physical and sexual violence, insults - Israel claims that in exceptional circumstances (‘ticking bomb cases’) it would be justified to use force in order to extract information from suspects.
In this respect, the Convention Against Torture clearly and specifically prohibits torture under any and all circumstances: the Committee Against Torture stressed that ‘no exceptional circumstances may be involved as a justification of torture’.
An important number of Palestinian children are also deeply affected by this situation. About 600 Palestinian children, mostly 14-17 years old, from the West Bank, Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, have been arrested by the Israeli Security Forces. As a matter of routine, children have been arrested, inter alia, by officers wearing balaclavas or with their faces blackened, in the middle of the night and taken directly from their beds to the interrogation room. The majority of them were accused of stone throwing. Of those arrested, dozens have been subjected to torture or ill-treatment during arrest, interrogation, detention and imprisonment. Humiliation, insults, curses and threats (death threats, threats of the use of electric shocks, threats of a sexual nature and threats related to family members) have been used to put children under psychological pressure. They have also been forced to hear the screams of other children being beaten. About 160 Palestinian children are currently being held in detention centres and prisons throughout Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Conditions of detention are harsh and children are at risk of severe abuse.
The list of human rights violations is not limited to the use of torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. Since September 2000, Israel has been dramatically tightening the closure in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, rendering any movement within the Occupied Territories and from the Occupied Palestinian Territories to Israel almost impossible. This policy of restrictions on the freedom of movement of persons and goods continues to represent a gross and systematic violation of economic, social and cultural rights of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories, since it severs access to food, water, health care and supplies, education and work. In this respect, the discriminatory nature of these policies, as well as their failure to respect both the principles of proportionality and necessity, highlight their illegality. The nature of these actions, their timing and indiscriminate nature, as well as their destructive consequences raise serious and well-founded doubts about whether they are strictly required, as Israel pretends, by the security situation. It rather indicates that they constitute a form of collective punishment against the whole Palestinian population in the Palestinian Occupied Territories, which is prohibited under Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention. The United Nations Committee Against Torture noted in November 2001 that Israeli policies on closures might, in certain instances, amount to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
The Israeli authorities have also continued to pursue a policy of house demolition in circumstances that constitute a form of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, as recognised by the Committee Against Torture. Indeed, house demolitions have been carried out against Palestinians accused of security offences and their families, but also as arbitrary reprisals for the attacks of Palestinian individuals against Israeli citizens, for example in the wake of suicide bombings. While the UN Secretary General Kofi Annan reaffirmed on January 11th, 2002, that the deliberate destruction of civilian homes and property in retaliation for attacks on Israeli targets in the Occupied Territories or in Israel constitutes a form of collective punishment, in violation of Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, Israel continues to argue that the house demolitions are necessary for ‘security’ reasons, in order to prevent Palestinian gunmen from shooting from specific houses.
The Israeli policy of extra-judicial killings has continued unabated over recent months, with many Palestinians having been extra-judicially killed in Israeli state-sanctioned assassinations since the beginning of the Intifada, as part of a policy of assassinating alleged Palestinian militants and political leaders. Assassinations are carried out without recourse to even the most basic judicial procedures and no attempt is made to arrest the individuals in question. These extra-judicial killings constitute a gross and systematic violation of the right to life, the right to a fair trial and other human rights standards and laws. Not only do they raise the concerns of the United Nations Committee Against Torture but, as wilful killings, they also constitute grave breaches of the Fourth Geneva Convention.
Palestinians living in the Occupied Territories are therefore confronted, on a daily basis, with miserable living conditions, and this situation contributes to nurture increasing frustration and despair, which can only result in an endless perpetuation of this cycle of violations of the most fundamental human rights, as highlighted by the increasing number of indiscriminate suicide bombing attacks, which, for the most part, target innocent members of the Israeli civilian population. These attacks are strongly condemned by OMCT, representing as they do a manifest violation of all basic principles of human rights and humanitarian law.
The lack of political will and of effective action on the part of the international community regarding the past and current situation, which involves gross and repeated human rights violations by both parties, is totally unacceptable and continues to fan the flames of conflict. Whereas the situation of human rights in the Palestinian Occupied Territories and in Israel has been regularly condemned by international and regional human rights mechanisms, no concrete steps have been taken to put an end to the violations and the impunity that surrounds them.
The resolution of the current crisis, as well as further peace negotiations, require the full integration of human rights concerns, including civil and political rights, but also economic, social and cultural rights, the right to self-determination and the right of return. The past and present denial of human rights in the region only fuels the cycle of violence and tarnishes future hopes of finding a peaceful solution to the crisis.
On the eve of the 58th session of the United Nations Human Rights Commission, it is the time for Israel, the International Community, including the European Union and its commitments undertaken within the Barcelona Process, and the Palestinian National Authority to fully recognise that human rights are an essential prerequisite for the resolution of the current situation in the region, and act in accordance with their international and regional human rights and humanitarian law obligations.