Global Policy Forum

Israel and the Occupied Territories: An Ongoing Human Rights Crisis

Amnesty International
March 2, 2003

There appears to be no end in sight to the human rights crisis which has been unfolding in the past two years in the context of the Palestinian uprising (known as the al-Aqsa intifada) against Israeli occupation.

Some 1,800 Palestinians have been killed, most of them unlawfully, by the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF), who routinely use F16 fighter jets, helicopter gunships and tanks to bomb and shell densely populated Palestinian residential areas. The victims included more than 300 children and some 80 individuals killed in targeted state assassinations.

In the same period Palestinian armed groups have killed more than 600 Israelis, some 440 of them civilians, including 82 children. The victims were killed in deliberate attacks, including frequent suicide bombings in buses, restaurants and other places, which specifically targeted families and other civilians.

Thousands of other Palestinians and Israelis have been injured, many maimed for life.

Thousands of Palestinians, hundreds of them children, have been arbitrarily detained in mass arrests. Most have been released without charge and often without having been questioned. Ill-treatment of detainees has become once again widespread during arrest and interrogation and some have been tortured. Some 1,000 Palestinians are held in administrative detention without charge or trial, on the basis of "secret evidence", which neither they nor their lawyers are allowed to see or challenge in court. Most detainees cannot receive family visits because of the closures preventing movement of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories. Dozens of Israelis have been imprisoned as prisoners of conscience for refusing to perform military service or to serve in the Occupied Territories.

Scores of Palestinians suspected of having assisted Israeli intelligence services in killing wanted Palestinians have been unlawfully killed by Palestinian armed groups. The Palestinian Authority (PA) has failed to investigate such cases and to bring the perpetrators to justice. The systematic bombings and destruction of PA security installations, including prisons, and administration buildings has undermined the PA's capability and its apparent unwillingness to take effective measures to stop and prevent attacks by armed Palestinian groups on Israeli civilians and to ensure respect for the rule of law.

Since the beginning of the intifada, the IDF has destroyed more than 3,000 homes and damaged thousands more, as well as large areas of agricultural land and other public and private properties, and water and electricity infrastructure in both urban and rural areas. As a result thousands of Palestinians have been made homeless, many of them children, and tens of thousands have lost their main or sole source of income.

Since the IDF retook control earlier this year of most areas under the jurisdiction of the PA, it has imposed comprehensive and prolonged closures and curfews on an unprecedented scale throughout the Occupied Territories. Most Palestinian towns and villages have been cut off from one another and from surrounding villages for most of this year, and prolonged curfews continue to be imposed on the major population centres and elsewhere. These sweeping measures of collective punishment affect millions of Palestinians, whose access to work, education and medical care has continued to be denied or severely restricted. This has resulted in the overall collapse of the Palestinian economy. Unemployment has spiralled and about half of the Palestinian population is now living under the poverty line.

The restrictions on movements in the Occupied Territories are making it increasingly difficult for Palestinian, Israeli and international human rights and humanitarian NGOs to operate and to carry out their work of documenting and acting against human rights violations and bringing relief to the victims.

Concerns about the continuously worsening situation are regularly expressed by world leaders, the United Nations (UN), the European Community (EU), the Arab League and others. "Peace and security" are the recurring keywords of the various political initiatives which have been put forward - while human rights are rarely mentioned, if at all. AI has repeatedly called for human rights to be placed at the heart of any negotiation or peace talks. Yet, no concrete measures have been taken by the international community to ensure that the concerned parties in this conflict live up to their obligations and their stated commitments to human rights.

In this respect the international community has failed the Palestinian and Israeli victims, whose human rights have been neglected in the pursuit of a "peace and security" formula which, if achieved, cannot be durable unless based on respect for the fundamental human rights of all. As the situation continues to worsen the need for steps to be taken becomes more pressing. AI has repeatedly called for international human rights monitors to be sent to Israel and the Occupied Territories. The call has been echoed by Palestinian, Israeli and international NGOs and has been widely supported at the international level, including by the UN and EU, but the international community has failed to act in the face of Israel's rejection of the proposal. AI does not claim that human rights observers can bring the solution to all the problems in this complex situation. However, the presence of international monitors could contribute to saving Palestinian and Israeli lives. It is not too late to make amends for past failures.




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