Israel/Occupied Palestinian Territory
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Palestinians gather near the border wall separating the Gaza Strip from Egypt, during a protest organized by the Popular Resistance Committees demanding Egypt and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas open the Rafah terminal, in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip, July 23, 2007. The border crossing has been closed, stranding thousands of Palestinians on the Egyptian side, since the previous month when Hamas wrested control over the volatile Gaza Strip in fighting with the rival Fatah movement. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)
The situation of Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza presents a uniquely difficult human rights situation. The State of Israel declared independence in 1948, soon after the Holocaust, one of history's greatest human rights tragedies. It was quickly recognized and admitted by the United Nations, and has become a vibrant democracy. In several wars it successfully defended itself and in 1967 emerged in control of the Sinai, the Golan Heights, the West Bank, and Gaza. Israel and Egypt signed a peace treaty in 1979 and, in the 1990s, peace with the Syrians and with the Palestinians seemed to be within reach. However, the process failed, and Israel continues to occupy and control Palestinian lands and people in an increasingly brutal fashion. The human rights conditions for Palestinians have worsened and mounting tensions have increased the likelihood of a protracted conflict.
Human Rights Conditions
Human rights violations in the Occupied Palestinian Territory take place in the context of ongoing conflict with Israel, and are committed by both sides of the conflict. A great deal of focus is paid to the consequences of the occupation because the State of Israel possesses the instruments of a powerful government, whereas the Palestinian polity and institutions that should usually afford people basic protections of human rights are weak. The dream of nationhood and citizenship that Israelis realized has yet to be experienced by Palestinians, despite some attempts since 1996 to establish state institutions. For these reasons, the bulk of this report addresses the situation facing Palestinians living under occupation.
Actions of Palestinians to attack Israeli civilians are deplorable and cannot be considered legitimate acts of war. Those responsible for encouraging young men and women to use such tactics should be treated as criminals. Complicating this problem is the widespread view among Palestinians that "resistance" against Israel is necessary and heroic. Significantly, public support for this kind of violence falls when there is general optimism as was the case after the election of Mahmoud Abbas in 2005. According to the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, support for suicide bombings fell from 77 percent to 29 percen after Abbas' election. The same was true in the early-mid 1990s when progress was being made toward the establishment of a Palestinian State and peace with Israel seemed likely.
Fighting between Palestinian factions after the Hamas political party swept legislative elections in January 2006 contributed to the exacerbation of human rights violations on the ground. Numerous incidents of injuries and killings were reported by local human rights groups, as well as cases of property destruction in the West Bank. Forces loyal to the Palestinian National Authority, according to Al-Haq, arrested 200 Palestinians affiliated with Hamas throughout the West Bank. Cases of torture, kidnapping, and ill-treatment were reported. During the violent clashes in Gaza between Hamas and Fatah, which resulted in the dissolution of the National Unity Government and takeover by Hamas, casualties were reported on both sides.
Human rights groups reported violations of humanitarian law by both parties. B'tselem, for instance, reported that 160 civilians, including children, were killed in violent clashes in Gaza. Members of Hamas arrested and summarily executed Fatah officials in Gaza, including a disturbing incident of handcuffed individuals being thrown off the top of a building.
Obstruction of Movement--The WallThe daily lives of thousands of Palestinians are severely affected by the presence of the "Separation Barrier," referred to as "The Wall" by Palestinians. Israel's stated purpose for constructing the barrier was to prevent suicide bombers from entering Israel. Most critics of the barrier do not object to the principle of a barrier separating the two territories, but point out that the wall does not follow the Green Line the 1949 armistice line considered by the international community as the border between Israel and the "occupied territory." Instead, the barrier runs deep inside the West Bank, effectively seizing Palestinian land, and has created many hardships for Palestinians. In addition, other physical obstructions in the form of checkpoints, wire fences, dirt mounts, concrete blocks, boulders, trenches, and iron gates create a situation in which a short commute from one village to another may now take many hours, if its is possible at all. There have been scores of incidents of pregnant women giving births, or critically ill patients dying at checkpoints, having been refused passage by Israeli soldiers. Where construction of the wall is completed, the military has created buffer zones of 150-200 meters on the "Palestinian" side where any construction is prohibited, preventing the West Bank residents in keeping their homes, farms or gardens in these areas. A West Bank resident described the following:
"My extended family lives in a neighborhood of 14 houses, 150 people altogether, just next door to Abu Dis. We have lived in this area for generations. Although we are considered to be inside the city [Jerusalem] limits, we did not receive Jerusalem residency status in 1967. Now Israel has built the Barrier between our neighborhood and Abu Dis, causing us great hardship. The water pipes were damaged during the construction, and now we rely on our small reserves. My children study in Jerusalem schools, but I cannot enter Jerusalem to take them. Only my wife has Jerusalem residency, so she takes them to school. Just recently, they closed the only opening in the Barrier, so now we are basically confined to our homes. We can no longer enter Abu Dis freely, which is a blow to work and trade. The only road open leads up the hill to Jerusalem, but it is forbidden for me to use it. I have a spine injury, and the only place I can get treatment is the Al-Makassed hospital in Jerusalem. Every time I need treatment, I spend hours waiting in line to get a special permit to cross the Barrier to visit hospital. A week ago my son was detained and fined for being in Jerusalem illegally he was just 600 feet from home. I am afraid that the Israelis are trying to push us out in order to build the new settlement of Kidmat Zion." (Moussa Al-Kunbar, 47, father to 14 children, unemployed, resident of A-Sawahkra, B'tslem, A Wall in Jerusalem: Obstacles to Human Rights in the Holy City, Summer 2006.)
In areas where the wall has been erected, it consists of 25-foot high concrete blocks, with barbed wire, a patrol road, and manned military towers. Other sections of the wall, under construction, consist of electronic fences with surveillance devices, trenches, barbed wire, and patrol roads for Israeli military vehicles. Along completed sections of the barrier, the Israeli government built gates through which permit holders are allowed to pass. Many Palestinians living on the other side of the wall must have a pass to access their land, jobs, and even families. As of October 2006, according to United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA), out of the planned total of 703 kilometers, 406 kilometers of the Wall had been constructed (58 percent finished), 9 percent was under construction, with 33 percent, or 232 kilometers, still in the planning phase. Approximately 20 percent of the current route of the Wall tracks the Green Line the 1949 armistice line that identifies the current Israeli border, and even those portions mostly fall inside the West Bank, not on the line itself. The rest of the barrier extends far into the West Bank, creating areas for Israeli settlements in the West Bank, entry into which is prohibited for Palestinians and controlled by a system of permits. Where construction of the Wall is completed, the Israeli military has created buffer zones of 150-200 meters on the "Palestinian" side, where any construction is prohibited,  preventing West Bank residents from keeping their homes, farms, or gardens in these areas. A March 2007 West Bank barrier power point presentation by OCHA, which documents the route, is viewable on line.
Security Rationale: Since the construction of the barrier, many question the Israeli government's security rationale for the Wall, since its route, according to Palestinian human rights organizations, Al-Haq, "traps more than 10 percent of the territory of the occupied West Bank and more than 60,000 Palestinians between the Green Line and the Wall," at times separating Palestinian villages, families, and farms from other Palestinians residing in the area. In Jerusalem for instance, the route of the Wall is based approximately on the municipal boundary at the times of Israeli annexation of East Jerusalem in 1967. The route of the Wall cuts through Palestinian neighborhoods and urban streets enclosing 220,000 Palestinian Jerusalemites on the Israeli side of the Barrier. Furthermore, the Wall cuts off Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank, placing access to the city's hospitals and schools, previously within a walking distance of the town, out of reach for many residents, and making travel in different parts of the West Bank extremely difficult.
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Palestinian children fly a kite next to a destroyed house in the Rafah refugee camp, southern Gaza Strip, June 6, 2007. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas canceled a planned summit meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, saying the Israeli leader has failed to accept any of his suggestions for reducing tensions, such as renewing a cease-fire and releasing frozen tax revenues. (AP Photo/Eyad Baba)
Legality of the Barrier: In 2004, the United Nations' International Court of Justice, which resolved disputes between nations, ruled that the barrier violated international law and ordered Israel to cease construction of the barrier, dismantle the parts of the barrier constructed in the West Bank, and compensate Palestinians who have suffered as a result of the barrier. The Israeli Supreme Court also ruled that the barrier must be rerouted in some places, but did not go nearly as far as the ICJ ruling. The Israeli government has made minor adjustments to the route but has not ceased most construction.
Other restrictions on Movement
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An Israeli tank maneuvers behind a separation barrier inside the northern Gaza Strip, near the border with Israel, June 16, 2007. The United States strengthened its offer of support for President Mahmoud Abbas, telling him an international aid embargo against the Palestinians would end as soon as he forms a new government without Hamas, aides to Abbas and a Western diplomat said. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)
In addition to the barrier, Israel restricts Palestinian movement throughout the West Bank by other physical obstructions in the form of dirt mounds, concrete blocks, boulders, fences, trenches, and iron gates, according to B'Tselem, totaling 455 as of summer 2007. Further, Palestinian entry into Israel and within the West Bank is controlled by 82 fixed checkpoints and more than 100 temporary checkpoints, which are set up weekly between the fixed checkpoints. Separation among Palestinians and Israelis within the West Bank manifests itself in further prohibition on use of roads. 312 kilometers of main roads in the West Bank, for instance, are forbidden by Israel for the use by Palestinian vehicles.
Permit System: In order to travel to Israel, or within the West Bank, to keep their homes or farm their lands, Palestinian residents must obtain Israeli permits, valid for one year. Individuals without permits are denied entry to schools, hospitals, and ambulances. Even if a permit is obtained, however, it can take many hours to cross the checkpoint preventing ambulances, equipment, and supplies, and other critical services from reaching people in need. In the words of B'Tselem,
the restrictions on movement impede many Palestinians in exercising their right to health by denying proper access to medical services: sick persons needing treatment have difficulty getting to the medical centers, the quality of services provided at these facilities suffers because of the absence, or delay in arrival of physicians and staff; medical emergency teams have trouble getting rapidly to the ill or injured. The restrictions also impair the ability to develop the health system and build medical reserves, a deficiency that is liable to increase the already heavy dependence of Palestinians on health services in Israel and other countries."
Requests of many Palestinians for permits to enter their land are frequently rejected on the grounds of security or lack of evidence of proof of ownership of the land. Even a granted permit, at times of complete closure of West Bank by Israeli military, does not guarantee that an individual will be allowed to pass through the gate. In more successful cases, many West Bank residents "have to travel long distances, usually along unpaved roads, to get to their gate. The difficulty and expense in gaining access to their land have turned farming into an unfeasible venture, and many residents do not exercise their right to go to their land and work for their primary source of livelihood." Checkpoints as Flashpoints: In May 2007, Al-Haq reported that, "the manned checkpoints located through the West Bank not only prevent Palestinians from moving freely, but they also constitute a recurrent setting for ill-treatment. Al-Haq received new reports of Palestinians being subjected to delays, abuse, and humiliating treatment by Israeli forces at checkpoints."
"When I tried to prevent a soldier from beating my husband, he hit me in the stomach with the butt of his gun. I was very scared of being hit because of my pregnancy. Then, a female soldier came and took me away, while the other soldier continued beating my husband, who collapsed. I was screaming, but the female soldier prevented me from reaching him. My son was also screaming; he was very scared and turned pale." (Extract from Al-Haq Affidavit # 3524/2007, Given by Hiba Muhammad Abu-Ra'iyya, (resident of Hebron City, Hebron Governorate, West Bank) cited in Al-Haq Field Report April-June 2007.)
In one of the testimonies collected by Al-Haq, a resident of Árrabá village, in Jenin Governorate, retold the following:
"I spoke to them in Hebrew and said, 'I want to go to Kufr Ra'i in order to transfer a sick child to the hospital.' I showed them my personal ID as well as my work ID, which states that I am a paramedic. This had no effect on the soldiers, who shouted, 'No one is allowed to pass through here!' The soldiers then started to swear at me. All of the conversation with the soldier was in Hebrew. Afterwards, one of the soldiers opened the door on my side of the ambulance, grabbed my left hand and started to drag me out of the ambulance. At the same time, another soldier began beating me with the butt of his gun."(Extract from Al-Haq Affidavit # 3449/2007), cited in Al-Haq Field Report April-June 2007.)
For more similar testimonies view Al-haq's and B'Tselem's websites listed below.
Consequently, all aforementioned restrictions have a negative impact on economy and trade in the West Bank. The restrictions have a devastating direct effect on profits, trade relations, and operation of business.
Arrests of Palestinian Legislators
During the 2006 Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) elections, Hamas was permitted legally to contest the elections and was elected to a majority in the legislature. Israel and the international community rejected the outcome of the elections, and Israel subsequently arrested 41 Hamas members of the PLC for "membership in a terrorist organization." With most of its representatives in Israeli prisons, the Palestinian Legislative Council never assembled the required quorum for meetings and hence was unable to carry out legislative functions designated to the PLC.
Other Human Rights Violations
The effects of Israeli occupation take a heavy toll on the civilian population of the West Bank. As reported by Al-Haq in its latest June 2007 Field Report, from September 2000 June 2007,
"Israeli Forces killed 1,772 Palestinians in the West Bank, 338 of whom were children, and 71 of whom were women. It is estimated that 292 Palestinians were killed in the course of targeted assassination operations. During the same period, Al-Haq documented the demolition, for punitive reasons of 528 homes in West Bank (whereof 488 were totally demolished and 40 were partially demolished), leading to displacement of 3,209 people. Israel has also carried out a large number of administrative house demolitions on the pretext that the houses were built without the required license. Since the beginning of 2004, 484 houses have been demolished for lack of license, 211 of which were in East Jerusalem."
Conditions for Human Rights Defenders
The work of human rights defenders becomes even more difficult in the context of occupation. The restrictions on movement, discussed above, are equally applicable to human rights defenders. Additional restrictions are placed on human rights organizations documenting conditions in the West Bank. Attempts to document and report on human rights violations by the Israeli military in the West Bank could serve as a cause of arrest or administrative detention, and labeling as a "threat" to Israeli security or a terrorist.
For instance, since October 2006, Israeli officials placed restrictions on the movement of Al-Haq's Director Shawan Jabarin, and refused to grant him permission to travel abroad to attend a conference in Germany. "This has severely hindered his right to freedom of movement, and disrupted his professional duties and activities for Al-Haq." Mr. Jabarin's attempts to challenge these restrictions in courts were not successful. In June 2007, the Israeli High Court refused to lift Mr. Jabarin's travel ban based on secret evidence provided by the Israeli government. Mr. Jabarin's lawyer was not allowed to review this evidence. "Such restrictions severely impede the work of human rights defenders and jeopardize their ability to satisfactorily carry out their mission of defending human rights in the [the Occupied Palestinian Territory]."
Ziyad Hmeidan Case as Illustration: Further obstacles faced by human rights defenders in the Occupied Palestinian Territory are illustrated in the case of Al-Haq's field worker, Ziyad Hmeidan, who was initially detained on May 23, 2005 at the Qalandiya checkpoint between Ramallah and Jerusalem, and spent nearly two years in several Israeli prisons, where he was frequently mistreated.
As a field worker for Al-Haq, Hmeidan is often required to collect first-hand evidence and documentation regarding ongoing violations of human rights by Palestinian and Israeli authorities. He is in constant contact with victims, perpetrators, and eye-witnesses of human rights abuses, some of whom are allegedly dangerous to Israeli security. No formal charges have ever been brought against Hmeidan, nor has he been granted access to a judicial process that meets international standards of due process. Israeli authorities have based his administrative detention on "secret evidence," which has not been made available to Hmeidan or his legal counsel.
In addition to numerous flaws in the legal process, the Israeli authorities frustrated Al-Haq's efforts to assist Hmeidan. He was moved between detention centers, denied access to Al-Haq's lawyers, and court dates were shifted, preventing Al-Haq and other observers from attending the proceedings. During the process of the first extension of the administrative detention order, Al-Haq's request to have two of its lawyers attend the proceedings of the appeal session was turned down, and international observers were barred from attending the proceedings. Al-Haq's requests to be informed of the reasons of Hmeidan's arrest, and the charges against him, have gone unanswered by the Israeli authorities.
After multiple requests to the Israeli High Court by Hmeidan's lawyer, Ziyad Hmeidan was finally ordered to be released, after almost two years in detention. Hmeidan's mistreatment continued even in the context of his release. Israeli authorities failed to inform Al-Haq and Hmeidan's lawyers on location of his release. Eventually Al-Haq succeeded in contacting Israeli Prison Service (IPS), which informed them of Hmeidan's release location at the Tarqumiya checkpoint, located Southeast of Hebron. Mr. Hmeidan was finally released at the location 30 kilometers from the location that was indicated by the IPS, without any means to contact his friends and family, and without his belongings. Despite these odds, Mr. Hmeidan was finally able to reunite with his friends and family. However, over 700 Palestinians currently remain in administrative detention.
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Adalah The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel
Addameer Prisoners' Support and Human Rights Association
B'Tselem The Israeli Information Center on Human Rights in tthe Occupied Palestinian Territory
Human Rights Watch
International Crisis Group
Machsom Watch Women for Human Rights
Palestinian Center for Human Rights
Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research
The Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group
Palestinian Independent Commission for Citizen's Rights
Rabbis for Human Rights
Women's Affairs Technical Committee
Al-Ayyam (in Arabic)
Al-Quds (in Arabic)
Ma'an News Agency
Maariv (in Hebrew)
International Herald Tribune
Human Rights Reports:
Human Rights Watch
International Crisis Group
Updated August 2007