WORLD REPORT 1999 - Israel, The Occupied West Bank, Gaza Strip, and Palestinian Authority Territories

Human Rights Developments
The 1992 Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty, Israel’s main law addressing human rights, defined Israel as a religious state and did not prohibit discrimination or guarantee equality before the law. Many laws and practices openly discriminated against ethnic and religious minorities and against women on issues ranging from housing and employment to personal status. Israeli law did not guarantee freedom of religion, and as of mid-October Israel had still not fully implemented a two-year-old law allowing civil burial, and had no provisions for civil marriage. On May 20 a Knesset bill providing for a three-year prison sentence or NIS 50,000 (U.S.$13,700) fine for “preaching with the intent of causing another person to change his religion” passed its first reading.

The U.N. Human Rights Committee concluded in July that discrimination against Palestinian citizens of Israel had produced “significantly lower levels of education, access to health care, [and] access to housing, land and employment” compared to Jewish Israelis. According to the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel (Adalah), the police response to demonstrations in September against Israel’s confiscation of Palestinian citizens’ land near Um al-Fahm left 400 injured, some by live ammunition. Deputy Commander Elihu Ben-On explained the police actions, telling reporters, “In the territories it’s common in such situations to fire live munitions with intent to harm.” In July the interior ministry acknowledged that from 1984 to 1990 Israel had revoked Palestinian women’s Israeli citizenship if they married non-citizen Palestinians and lived with them in the occupied territories or Jordan.

Israel revoked permanent residency permits of Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem who could not produce the many documents required to prove that their “center of life” was within Jerusalem municipal boundaries. According to interior ministry officials, 1,641 Palestinians and their families lost their right to reside in Jerusalem between 1996, when the policy began, and August 1998. Five hundred other cases were under review. Individuals who lost residency rights also lost health insurance and social benefits, and risked being barred from reentering Jerusalem.

On March 13 Mordechai Vanunu was transferred to regular custody, after spending more than eleven years in solitary confinement, a form of punishment characterized by the U.N. Human Rights Committee as constituting torture. Vanunu was serving an eighteen year sentence for providing evidence of Israel’s nuclear capability to the press.

Workers’ groups like the Tel Aviv-based Kav La’Oved/Workers’ Hotline continued to criticize government labor policies which left foreign and Palestinian workers vulnerable to exploitation by employers and labor contractors. In March Labor Minister Eli Yishai announced plans to reduce the number of foreign workers in the labor force from 10 percent to 1 percent by 2005, replacing them with Palestinian workers from the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The number of foreign workers had significantly increased after 1993 when Israel severely limited West Bank and Gaza Palestinians’ access to Israel and East Jerusalem. Yishai promised to increase deportations of unregistered workers to up to 2,000 per month and reduce processing of deportation orders to “about ten days.” Israel jailed migrants pending deportation and workers who could not pay their repatriation costs sometimes spent up to six months in prison, without judicial oversight, awaiting deportation.

Israel exercised full or partial control over 97 percent of the West Bank and 40 percent of the Gaza Strip, while the Palestinian Authority (PA), established in 1994 pursuant to the Oslo Accords, had full control over the rest. Although most Palestinians lived in areas under some degree of PA control, Israel exercised extensive control over the freedom of movement of all West Bank and Gaza Strip Palestinians, impeding the exercise of those rights dependant on freedom of movement.

Israel had barred Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza Strip who lacked hard-to-obtain permits from entering or transiting through Israel or East Jerusalem since March 1993. The closure obstructed Palestinian economic activity and access to health care, schools and universities, places of worship, and family members in other parts of the territories or in Israeli prisons. Despite Israeli claims that closure was a justified security measure, the arbitrary nature of the procedures and criteria for issuing permits and the policy’s imposition in an indiscriminate fashion on an entire population made it an act of collective punishment.

Roadblocks used to enforce closure were a frequent point of friction, leading to several deaths and numerous injuries. Two Palestinian infants died during a closure and curfew imposed on Hebron in August, after soldiers blocked their mothers from reaching hospitals. The Israeli Defense Force (IDF) characterized the deaths as the result of “wrong judgment” and “an unfortunate misunderstanding.” Even when IDF regulations were followed, the closure policy sometimes resulted in deaths, as when three Palestinian workers were killed and six others wounded on March 10 at a roadblock at Tarqumiya. Soldiers fired on their van after it went out of control, apparently because of a mechanical failure. General Uzi Dayan, then head of the army’s Central Command, told reporters “During the two years that I have had this assignment, no soldier has been brought to trial because of events that occurred when he was in the field,” and in May a military prosecutor closed the investigation without bringing charges.

Despite rules of engagement intended to minimize civilian injuries, the IDF and border police were implicated in at least twelve other deaths and numerous injuries during the first ten months of the year. On May 14 five Palestinians were killed and as many as 300 wounded, some seriously, by soldiers using live ammunition and rubber-coated bullets to disperse demonstrations in the West Bank and Gaza. According to the Gaza-based Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR), forty-six of the seventy-one Palestinians injured in Gaza that day were shot with live ammunition, and fifty-two were shot in the upper body.

As of mid-October Israel had not released the bodies of ‘Adel ‘Awadallah, thirty-one, and his brother, ‘Imad ‘Awadallah, twenty-seven, killed by a police special forces unit on September 10. Both were wanted by Israel for suspected activities with the armed wing of the militant Islamic Resistance Movement, HAMAS. The exact circumstances of the killings remained unclear, and Israel refused requests for an independent forensic investigation. ‘Imad had been in PA custody from March 29 to August 15, when he was reported to have escaped from an unlocked cell. Brig. Gen. Yitzhak Eitan responded to early questions about whether the men had an opportunity to surrender, saying “What do you want me to do? Knock on the door?” West Bank commander Major General Moshe Yaalon later denied charges by PA chief of intelligence Amin al-Hindi and others that the two had been assassinated, saying “They tried to shoot the [police] dogs and our men killed them.”

As of August, more than 3,000 Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza Strip were held in Israeli prisons, in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention. Almost 1,400 were serving life sentences. Many were held in poor conditions with inadequate health care. In addition to these prisoners, as of mid-September at least fifty-three other persons were held as administrative detainees under similar conditions. Many had been held for years, without charge or trial and without effective judicial review of their detention. The Supreme Court ruled in November 1997 that administrative detention could be used to hold Lebanese nationals as “bargaining chips”—in effect, hostages—even though the detainees were not themselves a threat to state security. The longest-held administrative detainee, Ahmad Qatamesh, was released on April 15, after being held almost six years without charge.

Torture or ill-treatment during interrogation by the General Security Services (GSS) continued to be widespread and systematic. In January and May a nine-member panel of the Supreme Court heard arguments on GSS interrogation methods, but postponed ruling on whether these methods constituted torture under Israeli law, although the U.N. found them to violate two treaties prohibiting torture (see below). The Knesset also debated legislation that would codify these methods in a new GSS Law, in effect legalizing torture, but as of October the bill had not passed its final reading.

Israel’s demolition of Palestinian homes built without permits continued around Israeli installations in the West Bank including East Jerusalem, displacing hundreds. Building permits were almost impossible for Palestinians to obtain, and according to Israeli officials as many as three thousand homes in the West Bank could be subject to demolition. At the same time Israel targeted Palestinian homes for destruction, Israel authorized massive housing construction, tax incentives, and roads and related infrastructure for Jewish settlements in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. Government approval of new construction often immediately followed attacks by Palestinians on settlers, as in the decision in August to expand the Yitzhar and Tel Rumeida settlements, and to allot NIS 90 million to build new settlements and expand existing ones. In response to a survey in August by Peace Now that found 5,892 new units under construction in 142 settlements, while 2,888 completed units stood empty, the Housing Ministry admitted that almost a quarter of all units built by the government in the West Bank between 1989 and 1992 had never been occupied.

Israel pressured the Palestinian Authority (PA) to extradite to it approximately thirty-six “suspects and defendants” as a condition of progress in Oslo Accord negotiations. The transfer of persons protected by the Geneva Conventions to the territory of an occupying power is illegal, and extradition to a state where there is substantial risk of torture is prohibited by the Convention against Torture, which Israel has ratified.

Palestinian Authority
The Palestinian Authority (PA) failed to institutionalize important safeguards against human rights abuses that included patterns of arbitrary detention without charge or trial, torture and ill-treatment during interrogation, grossly unfair trials, and persecution of its critics. PA president Yasir ‘Arafat’s refusal to ratify the Basic Law, passed by the Palestinian Legislative Council in October 1997, left Palestinians without any clear statement of their rights, or of the duties and responsibilities of the executive, judicial, and legislative branches of government. Officials with specific responsibilities to safeguard human rights, like the attorney general, as well as judges, often found themselves under pressure to follow the executive’s wishes, and unable to enforce their own rulings.

Palestinian security forces arbitrarily arrested and detained individuals for long periods without charge and sometimes without access to lawyers or family visits, even in cases where the attorney general or courts ordered access to lawyers. As many as 150 arrests followed the March 29 killing of HAMAS activist Mohiyadin al-Sharif. As of October many detainees from these and other arrests were still being held without charge or trial, including Mahmud Muslih, arrested on September 14, 1997; Dr. ‘Abd al-‘Aziz al-Rantisi, arrested on April 9; Dr. Ibrahim Maqadama, arrested on April 10; and Ghassan al-Adassi, arrested on March 29.

Lawyers reported difficulty in seeing their clients, despite receiving permits from the attorney general or court orders allowing visits. Detainees at several prisons held hunger strikes demanding trial or release. In cases where the High Court did order a detainee released, the security services sometimes refused to act on the order. As of mid-October security forces still held Muslih, ordered released on November 30, 1997, al-Rantisi, ordered released on June 4, and al-Adassi, ordered released on October 6. Attorney General Fayez Abu Rahmeh, who had promised to investigate cases of arbitrary arrest and detention when he was appointed in July 1997, resigned on May 1 and as of mid-October the post remained unfilled. In explaining his resignation, Abu Rahmeh criticized the justice minister for “trying to limit my role and my powers,” and security officials for not consulting him when detaining political prisoners.

Trials often lacked minimal due process guarantees, and judges who complained about judicial abuses sometimes faced retaliation. In January Chief Justice Qusai al-Abadlah was reportedly forced to “retire” after publication of an interview critical of the judicial system. The State Security Courts (SSC) and military courts lacked almost all due process rights, including the right to appeal, and were responsible for the majority of the twenty-three death sentences issued since 1994. Sentences in these courts were sometimes issued only hours after arrest. On August 30 brothers Mohammad and Ra’id Abu Sultan, both military intelligence agents, became the first persons executed by the PA after being convicted of the murder three days earlier of two brothers and the wounding of a third during a dispute between their two families. The death sentence of another Abu Sultan brother, Faris, was commuted to life imprisonment. The trial took place in a military court presided over by former attorney general Khaled al-Qidra, who had been removed from that office in 1997. Despite the extreme speed of the trial and execution, Minister of Justice Freih Abu Medein said he was “100 percent satisfied” with the legal proceedings.

Security forces were repeatedly implicated in torture and corruption. On August 11 President Arafat appointed a prosecutor to investigate the death in General Intelligence (GI) custody of Walid Mahmud al-Qawasmi, forty-eight, on August 9. It was the twentieth known death in custody since 1994. Al-Qawasmi had reportedly been arrested in Hebron in July, released, then rearrested in Jericho in August. According to the Jerusalem-based Palestinian Society for the Protection of Human Rights and the Environment (LAW), al-Qawasmi told his son during an August 7 visit that he was being tortured, and an autopsy revealed skull fractures and internal bleeding. In September Palestinian sources reported Hussein Abu Ghali, fifty-five, died after being beaten by the chief of Presidential Security, Jazar al-Ghoul. According to family members, Abu Ghali had gone to the president’s office to ask for help obtaining a travel permit for his son’s medical treatment. The police told them a few hours later to pick up his body at the hospital; the family then found footprints on his clothing and blood around his nose and mouth.

Press freedom remained restricted. On April 9 police ordered Reuters’ Gaza office closed for three months after it broadcast a taped interview with ‘Adel ‘Awadallah (see above). Police Chief Ghazi al-Jabali explained the closure, saying “The Reuters correspondent intentionally broadcast news and subjects which spread divisions in Palestinian society.” The office reopened on April 15 but ‘Abbas al-Mumani, the journalist who received the tape, was arrested on May 5 and held until May 14, when he was released after a visit by Reuters representatives. Al-Mumani alleged he was tortured while in General Intelligence custody. On March 18 the Supreme Court ordered al-Risala, a weekly newspaper of the Khalas party, reopened, and on July 11 al-Istiqlal, a weekly newspaper affiliated with Islamic Jihad, issued its first edition since its closure in 1996.

Defending Human Rights
Israel for the most part permitted human rights organizations to collect and disseminate information in the areas under its control, but closures often kept Palestinian human rights workers and lawyers, including those with Israeli citizenship or Jerusalem identity cards, from traveling freely within the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and Israel. Palestinians who had been previously detained or served sentences were also refused access to prisons and detainees.

Sha’wan Jabarin, fieldwork coordinator at the Ramallah-based al-Haq, was released from administrative detention on January 25 after being held two years without charge or trial.

The PA allowed human rights groups to operate in the areas under its jurisdiction, but their legal status remained unclear. As of mid-October President ‘Arafat had not signed the draft law regulating nongovernmental organizations submitted to him on August 19. The two bodies with the clearest mandate to investigate human rights abuses, the Palestinian Independent Commission on Civil Rights, created by a presidential decree in 1994, and the Palestinian Legislative Council, continued to face difficulties investigating complaints.

On August 25 security forces violently dispersed a demonstration by human rights groups protesting the house arrest of the ‘Awadallah family after ‘Imad Awadallah’s escape from custody (see above). The family was prevented from leaving the house or receiving visitors. According to LAW, security forces assaulted Palestinian Legislative Council members and journalists, and at least one person was hospitalized. Legislative Council members who attempted to visit the family the following day were also assaulted, and two more persons hospitalized. On August 31 the council created a committee to investigate the attack, charging that the PA’s response was inadequate.

The PA denied human rights activists and lawyers regular access to prisons and detainees and sometimes detained or threatened activists who criticized the PA. Lawyer Ahmad Yasin was detained on September 2 on a charge of obstructing justice after the magazine “Peoples’ Rights” published his account of police ill-treatment of himself and his client. In March security forces detained Shawqi ‘Issa and Samih Muhsin of LAW incommunicado for eleven hours following publication of an article critical of Police Chief Ghazi al-Jabali in the same magazine. They were asked to sign a pledge not to criticize the PA, which they refused.

United Nations
In March Kofi Annan made the first official visit by a United Nations secretary-general to Israel and the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and in June issued a statement deploring Israel’s expansion of the boundaries of Jerusalem. The Security Council adopted a presidential statement on July 13 calling on Israel not to proceed with its plan to expand Jerusalem’s boundaries and urging it to abide by its Fourth Geneva Convention obligations.

Hannu Halinen, U.N. special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, noted in his March report to the U.N. that his work had been limited by the uncooperativeness of the Israeli government, which failed to provide direct information or to allow him to visit prisons in Israel.

The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination reviewed Israel’s periodic report on March 4 and 5, and found the convention to be “far from fully implemented in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory.” The committee recommended Israel introduce legislation to implement its obligations under Articles 4 and 5, which address the prohibition of racial and ethnic discrimination and the guarantee of equality under the law, and give high priority to ensuring the right of Palestinians to return and possess their homes in Israel or claim compensation.

The Committee against Torture reviewed Israel’s periodic report on May 14 and 18, and reiterated its position that Israeli interrogation practices violated Articles 1, 2, and 16 of the convention, which define torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment or treatment and the state’s obligation to prevent it. It called upon Israel to incorporate the convention’s provisions into Israeli law, and publish its “Landau” interrogation procedures. The committee also recommended Israel review its practice of administrative detention in the occupied territories to ensure conformity with Article 16, which obligates states to prevent cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

The Human Rights Committee reviewed Israel’s first report on its implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights on July 15 and 16. The committee identified twenty-one areas of concern, including practices discriminating against Palestinians living in the OccupiedTerritories, Arab Israelis, women, and Bedouin; the use of rubber-coated bullets in dispersing demonstrations; the use of prolonged solitary confinement; and the lack of provision for civil marriage and burial. It found Israel’s interrogation and administrative detention practices, including holding persons as “bargaining chips,” to violate the convention’s non-derogable prohibition of torture and all forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, and it criticized Israel’s failure to incorporate the covenant into domestic law and to fully apply it in all the territories it controlled, including those in Lebanon.

The General Assembly, meeting in Emergency Special Sessions on November 13, 1997 and March 17, 1998, passed resolutions calling for the high contracting parties of the Fourth Geneva Convention to convene a conference on measures to enforce the convention in the occupied Palestinian territories. The resolutions recommended Switzerland convene a meeting of experts to prepare for the conference, and set February and then April as target dates for the meeting. In July the Swiss sponsored a closed meeting of Israel, the Palestine Liberation Organization, and the International Committee of the Red Cross to discuss matters related to the convention’s effective application in the territories, but as of mid-October had not set a date for a conference of high contracting parties.

The General Assembly voted on July 7 to upgrade Palestine’s status in the U.N., increasing its delegation to six members, and granting it additional rights and privileges to participate in the General Assembly and U.N. conferences. The new status did not include the right to vote or nominate candidates.

European Union
European Union foreign ministers expressed concern with the stalemate in negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority and sharply criticized Israeli settlement policies, but rarely publicly raised human rights concerns. In February the E.U. Council of Ministers expressed “grave concern” over closures and other Israeli obstacles to Palestinian economic development. Following Britain’s assumption of the E.U. presidency, Prime Minister Tony Blair noted the negative economic impact of “restrictions on the free movement of Palestinian goods and people,” but did not address the closures as a form of collective punishment prohibited under international humanitarian law. In mid-May the European Commission criticized Israel for interfering with the operation of an interim E.U. trade agreement with the PA and for attempting improperly to market in Europe as “made in Israel” goods originating in Israeli settlements in the occupied territories under the preferential provisions of an interim Israel-E.U. trade agreement.

As of October, France and Belgium had yet to ratify the Euro-Mediterranean Association Agreement between the E.U. and Israel.

The E.U. continued to be the largest single donor to the PA, including funding of security forces and a counterterrorism program. Between 1993 and 1997, the E.U. allocated ECU 1.68 billion (U.S. $ 1.88 billion) for the Palestinian-controlled areas and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). The Council of Ministers, in its statement following the February 23 meeting, underlined E.U. concern regarding the PA’s adherence to commitments regarding transparency and accountability. On March 6, U.K. Foreign Minister Robin Cook, then president of the E.U. Council of Ministers, announced an extension of E.U. funding to the PA, continuing at the rate of approximately ECU 80 million per year, and ECU 30 million to UNRWA. On March 17, Foreign Minister Cook announced the establishment of a European Union/Palestinian Joint Permanent Security Committee, towards which the E.U. was contributing LS 5 million (U.S. $8.3 million). A Joint Declaration on E.U./Palestinian Security Cooperation, which remained classified, was signed at British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s meeting with PA President Yasir ‘Arafat in Gaza in April. On July 9 Foreign Minister Cook said that the U.K. had also seconded a security advisor to the staff of E.U. Special Envoy Miguel Moratinos.

United States
Israel remained the largest recipient of U.S. bilateral aid, receiving approximately U.S.$3 billion in economic and military assistance. The U.S. continued to be the principle third party in the Israeli-PLO negotiations, where its diplomatic efforts focussed on meeting Israeli security concerns, further Israeli troop redeployments, movement toward permanent status talks, and what Secretary of State Albright termed “a time-out on unhelpful unilateral steps.” In practice, this meant U.S. criticism of “provocative” actions it saw as undermining the negotiations, such as Israel’s June decision to expand Jerusalem’s borders, but almost no discussion of Israeli human rights abuses.

The U.S. continued to pressure the PA to act decisively against anti-Israeli violence. U.S. pressure was often applied in a manner that, in light of the past record of the PA, condoned arbitrary arrests and other abuses in the name of containing this violence. In December 1997 the U.S. drafted a Memorandum of Understanding on principles to govern PA performance on security and counterterrorism, which was incorporated into the Wye Memorandum, signed by Israel and the PA on October 23. The memorandum, a result of nine days of high level U.S.-sponsored negotiations, included Israeli and PA commitments to “take all measures necessary in order to prevent acts of terrorism, crime, and hostilities.” PA implementation of the security aspects of the memorandum was to be supervised by U.S. Central Intelligence Agency officials. The agreement did not include a clear commitment by all sides to safeguard human rights.

The U.S. provided an annual U.S.$100 million in economic support funds to the West Bank and Gaza, most for programs supporting economic development and strengthening administrative and policy-making institutions.

Relevant Human Rights Watch reports:
Israel’s Record of Occupation: Violations of Civil and Political Rights , 8/98