U.S. pressures Israel to probe crimes against Palestinians

U.S. forces Israel to probe crimes against Palestinians
London |By Philip Jacobson | 13-01-2003

Israel’s military authorities have approached human rights organisations operating in the West Bank and Gaza to help with investigations into crimes committed by their troops against Palestinian civilians.

The unprecedented move follows pressure from the Bush administration for a full explanation of the circumstances in which the Israeli army shot dead a well-known Palestinian peace activist three months ago.

Shaden Abu Hijleh, a 61-year-old grandmother, had been working on her embroidery on the porch of her home in Hebron when she was killed, Palestinian witnesses said.

Her husband, a popular local physician, and one of her sons were wounded by the same burst of automatic fire from an Israeli vehicle barely 30 yards away.

The army’s initial investigation concluded that she had been hit by a stray bullet during rioting, but her family claims to have collected 15 spent rifle cartridges that were fired from the vehicle.

With her children, two of whom are American citizens, demanding a fresh inquiry, Washington let it be known through diplomatic channels that President George W. Bush expected prompt action.

According to the B’Tselem organisation, which monitors human rights abuses in Israel, the army has requested co-operation on several occasions over the past few weeks.

The most recent approach arose from an incident in Hebron last month when armed Israeli soldiers burst into a barber’s shop and forcibly shaved the head of the owner, Bassem Masawde, with an electric razor.

Following its usual procedure, B’Tselem sent statements by witnesses to the Israeli authorities expecting, in the words of one of its researchers, “the usual lack of any response”.

Instead, the group was astounded to receive a letter from Israeli officer Captain Henrietta Levy, suggesting that it should “talk to the relevant authorities to help to locate the soldiers involved … so this can be investigated”.

After another incident in which four Palestinians complained of having money stolen by troops manning a checkpoint, Israeli military police asked B’Tselem to find the victims.

Officials privately acknowledge that pressure from the U.S. in the Abu Hijleh case has contributed to a more rigorous examination of how troops treat Palestinians.

The army chief-of-staff, Gen Moshe Yaalon, has already introduced a system that requires an internal inquiry into all civilian killings to be completed within 72 hours. According to B’Tselem, on average one Palestinian civilian is now being killed every day.

The Telegraph Group Limited London 2003