War crimes and humanitarian disaster

The FIDH urgently appeals for a protection force to be sent to Israel and the Occupied Territories. We demand the immediate withdrawal of the Israeli armed forces and free access to victims. We call on all States to declare the Occupied Territories a humanitarian disaster zone.

In recent weeks, and especially these last few days, a constant stream of alarming news has reached the FIDH from member organisations and partners in Israel and the Occupied Territories - the Palestinian Society for the Protection of Human Rights and the Environment (LAW, West Bank), the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR, Gaza), the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI, Jerusalem), B’Tselem, the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel, Adalah. These recent events evidence an unprecedented tragedy unfolding in Israel and the Occupied Territories. Three Israeli human rights NGOs confirm the information: Hamoked, Physicians for Human Rights in Israel and B’Tselem, which the FIDH hosted in France on April 6 to 9, in collaboration with our member organisation, the Ligue des droits de l’Homme and the French section of Amnesty International.

Based on this information, on April 7 a joint press conference was held in Jerusalem by the FIDH, Amnesty International, the International Commission of Jurists, Human Rights Watch, Médecins sans frontiers, the World Organisation Against Torture, the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network, Reporters Without Borders, LAW and B’Tselem. This is the first time the main international human rights NGOs have taken such a joint initiative at the very site of a conflict. Their purpose in doing so was to highlight the extreme gravity of the situation.

Humanitarian crisis

The Israeli military operations of recent days have created an unprecedented humanitarian crisis in the Occupied Territories. Mobilization of humanitarian resources is tragically inadequate internationally, and is hampered in the Occupied Territories and Israel.

CICR delegates, volunteers of the Palestinian Red Cross Croissant and staff of Israeli, Palestinian and international humanitarian NGOs have been prevented from reaching the wounded. The dead cannot be evacuated, and this is bound to have damaging effects on public health.

The FIDH observes that the humanitarian aid envisaged by States around the world is still insufficient. The FIDH calls on governments not to limit their reaction to humanitarian issues but to firmly condemn the human rights violations and serious breaches of humanitarian law and take the necessary steps to have them stopped. Is the European Union prepared to keep rebuilding indefinitely what the Israeli armed forces have destroyed since the Intifada began, without condemning this destruction unanimously and while still regarding Israel as a partner?

The FIDH considers that in view of the prevailing economic and social situation, the Occupied Palestinian Territories are a humanitarian disaster zone and the current situation a “complex emergency” according to the criteria of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. These criteria are: (1) extensive violence and loss of life; massive displacements of people and widespread damage to societies and economies; (2) the need for large-scale, multi-faceted humanitarian assistance (3) the hindrance or prevention of humanitarian assistance by political and military constraints (4) significant security risks for humanitarian relief workers in some areas.
The FIDH considers that these four criteria are met, and calls on the international community and the World Health Organisation to declare the occupied Palestinian Territories a humanitarian disaster zone in a situation of “complex emergency” requiring extensive humanitarian aid. The FIDH calls on Israel to ensure the protection of medical staff and free access to victims.

War crimes, crimes against humanity, massive violation of human rights and humanitarian law

The FIDH condemns the operations by the Israeli army in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, which have caused the death of an as yet unknown number of people. These acts officially aim at dismantling terrorist networks. But most of them have no military target and strike the civilian population first and foremost. They are serious breaches of international humanitarian law and in particular of the 4th Geneva Convention concerning the protection of civilians in times of war. They breach international agreements on the protection of human rights, particularly the UN Convention against Torture.

More generally, they are contrary to the most basic human rights such as the right not to be subjected to humiliating and degrading treatment, the right to physical integrity and the right not to be condemned without “previous judgment pronounced by a regularly constituted court affording all the judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples. ” (Article 3 common to the Geneva Conventions).

The FIDH denounces with equal force the suicide attacks perpetrated by Palestinians. Such acts are absolutely and unconditionally forbidden, politically inefficient and ethically condemnable. The legitimate resistance of the Palestinian people again Israeli occupation cannot in any case authorise violence against civilians, spreading horror and terror.

The FIDH condemns the death sentences imposed by the Palestinian Authority’s State Security Court on 6 April on six Palestinians suspected of collaborating with Israel. One of these sentences, concerning an under age, has been commuted to a life prison sentence. The FIDH calls on President Arafat not to ratify the sentences of 6 April, which are in violation of the right to an equitable trial and against which the condemned have no right of appeal.

While this conflict has long since overstepped the limits set by humanitarian law, in the last few weeks the Israeli authorities seem to have pushed the limits to such extremes that it is impossible to tell what degree of horror will be reached in the future.

Human rights and humanitarian law violations by the Israeli forces include in particular:

- Summary and arbitrary executions and targeted assassinations.
- Massive arbitrary arrests of Palestinians. Some are transferred to detention centres without their families being informed. Those who are released are usually left in a no man’s land, far from their domicile, which they cannot reach because of the severe restrictions of movement within the territories.
- Inhuman conditions of detention, including torture.
- Absence of legal guarantees enabling the detainees to exercise their right of appeal, and impossibility for the detainees to contact their lawyers.
- Systematic destruction of the Palestinian infrastructure.
- Massive violations of the freedom of movement. Each town and each village is entirely isolated, like the “bantustans” in South Africa under apartheid. The sealing off of the Palestinian territories from the outside world is thus accompanied by an internal “sealing off”.
- The prolonged closure of the Occupied Territories gives rise to many violations of economic and social rights. In particular the right to health is denied by actions aimed directly at preventing access to care, for instance by preventing hospitals from getting supplies, and by attacking ambulances.

These violations are amplified by the systematic and general imposition of a curfew, which is not justified by “imperious military reasons” under the terms of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

The FIDH again expresses its support of, and solidarity with, the Israelis and the Palestinians who each day come out against the blind violence and who work for a fair peace.

The FIDH calls on the Israeli authorities to put an immediate stop to the violations of human rights and humanitarian law committed by the army, to initiate investigations into such violations and to call those responsible to justice, and to withdraw immediately for the territories occupied in 1967.

The FIDH calls on each State to “seek out the persons accused of having committed or having ordered to commit one or the other of the serious violations”, and to “determine adequate penal sanctions” against any person having committed or ordered to commit any serious violation of the Convention, in accordance with the Fourth Geneva Convention, thereby bringing into effect the universal jurisdiction specified in Article 146 of the Convention.

The FIDH condemns the “anti-Semite” acts committed in several countries. The FIDH is particularly shocked by the announcement of the “accident” that happened on 11 April close to the Ghriba synagogue in Djerba (Tunisia), one of the main and oldest holy places of African Judaism, and which in all likelihood is of criminal origin. The FIDH calls on the national authorities of the countries concerned to take all possible steps in order to guarantee freedom of worship and to afford protection of the population against such acts.

Information blackout

The conflict is more and more taking place “in camera”, as the Israeli authorities systematically prevent access to information other than military propaganda.

The zones in which the Israeli army’s operations have been carried out remain closed off, so that it is at present impossible to make a precise assessment of the scope of the resulting Human Rights and humanitarian law violations. Journalists do not have access to the combat zones, no more than Human Rights defenders, medical personnel, Government or United Nations representatives.

The fact that access to information is systematically denied by the Israeli authorities gives the FIDH reason to fear that the Israeli authorities seek to dissimulate war crimes and crimes against humanity. These fears are founded on numerous testimonies gathered by the Palestinian and Israeli human rights organisations. For instance, following operations in the Jenin refugee camp, FIDH has received information, through its member organisation in the West Bank, LAW, to the effect that, according to eye witnesses, the Israeli forces would be digging large pits inside the camp, where a number, as yet unknown - several hundred according to some estimates - of persons died during the last few days. Eyewitnesses have apparently seen Israeli soldiers put bodies into the pits. Several testimonies also describe the summary execution of Palestinian fighters who had just given themselves up after the military operation carried out in the Jenin camp.

FIDH requests the Israeli authorities to guarantee journalists and human rights defenders access to information.

  • Demand that Israel should respect its international obligations: an appeal to the 15 Member States of the European Union

    The FIDH salutes the unprecedented position adopted on 10 April by the European Parliament, in a resolution calling on all Member States of the European Union to suspend the Association Agreement with Israel. Article 2 of the Agreement establishes that the relations between the EU and Israel are based on respect for Human Rights and the democratic principles that must guide their national and international policies.

    The FIDH considers that under the Agreement Israel benefits from trading facilities in complete violation of international law. It wonders what degree of violation is required on the part of a State for economic sanctions to be at last imposed under the human rights provisions (Article 2).
    It calls on the Member States of the European Union to follow the recommendations of the European Parliament, and to suspend the Association Agreement with Israel, and impose on Israel and the Palestinian authority an arms embargo.

    The FIDH:

  • Reiterates its call for a fair and immediate peace in the Middle East. The FIDH is convinced that peace will be unattainable without the end of the Israeli occupation, and without the security of Israel and the Israelis being guaranteed. Peace requires compliance with the United Nations resolutions, the immediate withdrawal of the Israeli forces from the territories occupied in 1967, the dismantling of the settlements, the establishment of a Palestinian State alongside the State of Israel, respecting the legitimate rights and aspirations of both peoples.

  • Calls on States to decide to dispatch on site an international protection force, mandated to prevent the continuation of the violations and to ensure the implementation of the appropriate Security Council resolutions, without which peace cannot be restored in the region. The sending of such a force comes under the obligation for the States party to the Fourth Geneva Convention “to take the necessary steps to bring to a halt acts that are contrary to the provisions of the Convention”.

  • Asserts its support for the mission by Mary Robinson, Felipe Gonzalez Marquez and Matamela Cyril Ramaphosa, mandated by the United Nations Commission on Human Rights during its present session, and calls on the Israeli authorities to co-operate closely with the mission.

    Federation International des Ligues des Droits de l’Homme (FIDH), 17, passage de la Main d’Or, 75011, Paris, France, CCP Paris: 76 76 Z, Tel. (33-1) 43 55 25 18 / Fax. (33-1) 43 55 18 80, Email: fidh@fidh.org, web: www.fidh.org