Dear World . . . Sincerely, Palestine
The Heathlander recently posted links to annual reports by various human rights organizations to the United Nations Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review concerning the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT). The article which includes the links represents the views of Richard Falk, a UN human rights investigator recently relieved of his position because of his “hostile views” toward Israel. The findings of a few of these reports are summarized below.
The State of Israel was founded in 1948, carved chiefly out of what had been colonial possessions of the United Kingdom. While many support the existence of a Jewish homeland, particularly in the wake of the events of the Second World War, fewer agree that these particular lands should have been ceded to the control of relatively new Zionist immigrants rather than to the Palestinian ethnic groups which had resided there for centuries. The Zionist settlers believed that they enjoyed a religious “right of return” to the area according to scripture, a controversial notion which, even where accepted, is not generally held to entail such brutal disregard for the sovereignty and basic human dignity of Palestinians.
Since 1967, Israel has occupied lands which were ceded to the Palestinians under a U.N. agreement, pursuing what many feel are policies of expansion, oppression, and apartheid against Palestinians. Additionally, Israel, which possesses without acknowledgment the sole known nuclear arsenal in the region, continues to threaten other surrounding powers—particularly Iran—which have criticized its occupation of Palestinian lands and cruel treatment of Palestinians. At one point or another, it has occupied lands belonging to all of its Arab neighbors; yet the Israeli government continually represents itself as an innocent victim of anti-Semitic violence, refusing to acknowledge that such violence, while unfortunate and deplorable, represents desperate guerrilla-type self-defense on the part of the disenfranchised Palestinians.
In 2006, Hamas, frequently described as an “Islamic militant” or “terrorist” organization due to its sponsorship of guerrilla activities against the Israeli military and some civilians, won free elections in Gaza. Since then Israel has aggressively boycotted the government in Gaza using blockades, military incursions, and other harmful and violent means which amount to collective punishment of Gaza’s 1.5 million citizens. The West Bank, in contrast, is now presided over by a U.S.-backed government.
The United Nations has, on too many occasions to count, reprimanded Israel and called for an end to these atrocities. Such proceedings are routinely boycotted by Israel, the United States, and sometimes a few other member states, while being overwhelmingly supported by the majority of the international community. The United States provides billions of dollars in financial and military aid to Israel annually, and is characteristically quick to defend Israeli hegemony and expansionism in the region in the name of self-defense.
The following are direct or paraphrased excerpts of just a few of the many 2008 reports to the UNHRC concerning conditions in Palestine. For the full set of reports, visit this page. These documents represent merely the latest additions to a huge book detailing many of the atrocities visited against the Palestinian people according to a pattern of U.S.-sanctioned abuse which stretches back for decades.
- “The patterns of human rights violations carried out by the Israeli authorities against Palestinians in the OPT are deeply entrenched in the normative and institutional structure of the state. The Israeli authorities contend that measures which violate human rights of Palestinians in the OPT are necessary for Israel’s security.”
- “Israel’s grave human rights violations in the OPT stem to a large extent from its refusal to recognize the applicability of international humanitarian and human rights law to the OPT.”
- “Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention prohibits the transfer of the population of the occupying power into occupied territory. However, Israel has settled more than 450,000 Israelis in the occupied West Bank, including some 200,000 in East Jerusalem . . . Settlers receive generous housing allowances and tax incentives from the government and protection by the Israeli army.”
- The fence/wall being constructed by Israel in the West Bank since 2002 restricts the movement of Palestinians; the system of checkpoints between villages severely inhibits Palestinians from pursuing education, work, and obtaining healthcare. Ostensibly designed to protect Israel from terrorist attacks, these measures happen to encompass some of the most fertile, water-rich Palestinian land. When complete, the wall will confine more than 35,000 Palestines to enclaves where they will need permits to live on their own land. The Israeli High Court has ordered re-routing of the fence/wall on more than one occasion, but the Israeli government has yet to heed its orders.
- “Israel has consistently denied building permits to Palestinians in more than 60% of the West Bank, claiming the areas are zoned as green land and not for urban development. At the same time the Israeli authorities have built tens of thousands of houses and other infrastructure for the exclusive use of Israeli settlers on Palestinian land zoned as green land.“
- Israel has repeatedly engaged in the destruction of thousands of Palestinian homes, claiming “military neccesity” or “lack of permit.” Some demolition has been used against Palestinian and Israeli Arabs as a punitive measure in response to armed attacks, a violation of international law, but is virtually never used against Israeli Jews.
- “Some 100,000 Israeli Arabs live without basic services and are at risk of expulsion from scores of villages which the authorities refuse to recognize—even though many predate the establishment of Israel itself. At the same time . . . the authorities have devoted significant resources to establish new Jewish villages.”
- “Closures and blockades in the West Bank, including the fence/wall, have paralyzed the Palestinian economy, caused increasing poverty and unemployment, and ultimately restrict or deny Palestinians’ economic, social and cultural rights, including their right to health and education. Israeli forces routinely deny passage to Palestinians . . . in violation of Israel’s obligation under international human rights and humanitarian law.”
- “The Israeli government maintains that its blockade of Gaza is in response to rocket attacks on Israel by Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups. However, the blockade does not target armed groups but rather it collectively punishes the whole population of 1.5 million people and denies them their fundamental rights. The blockade has prevented entry into Gaza of all but the minimum and insufficient quantities of fuel, food and basic necessities. . . Some 80% of the population now depends on international aid.”
- A number of very ill Palestinians have been denied the right to leave Gaza to seek attention. Many have died as a result.
- “Israel’s claim that it no longer occupies Gaza has no foundation. Israel retains effective control of Gaza’s airspace, territorial waters, and land borders. The Israeli army routinely operates in Gaza, carrying out military occupations, attacks, and arrests.”
- Israel holds approximately 8,500 Palestinians in detention, many of whom were tortured upon incarceration. They may be held up to 90 days without access to lawyers. Administrative detention, a provision which allows detainees to be held without charge, may be renewed indefinitely; detainees and their lawyers are not necessarily granted access to any evidence against them. Some detainees have been held without trial for seven years.
- The Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law, enacted in 2003 and perpetually renewed since, denies Palestinians married to Israeli Arabs even temporary entry into Israel.
- In another breach of the Geneva Convention, most Palestinian detainees are held within Israel itself. Therefore Palestinian relatives and advocates are denied access to them, as they cannot obtain permission to enter Israel.
- “Israeli settlers who have assaulted Palestinians and international peace activists have also consistently benefited from impunity. The Israeli army frequently fail to intervene to protect Palestinians attacked by settlers and in most cases the Israeli police fail to carry out proper investigations into such attacks. Over 90% of police investigations into such attacks committed by Israeli settlers end without indictments.”
- “In the first six months of 2008 some 400 Palestinians, including more than 50 children, were killed by Israeli forces. Most were killed in Gaza and at least half of them were unarmed civilians. In the same period 26 Israelis, including 17 civilians, were killed in attacks by Palestinian armed groups.”
Defence for Children International/Palestine Section
- “Although party to a number of human rights treaties which prohibit torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment . . . Israel has yet to implement effective domestic legislation incorporating these prohibitions.”
- “DCI/PS continues to receive reports of torture and other forms of ill treatment against Palestinian adult and child detainees. These reports include the excessive use of blindfolds and handcuffs that cut the flesh, beating, slapping and kicking, sleep deprivation, solitary confinement, denial of food and water and access to toilets, exposure to the elements, position abuse, yelling and exposure to loud noises, and insults and cursing. Many of these elements occur in conjunction with one another over long periods of time.”
- “In addition to the physical techniques referred to above, DCI/PS is concerned by the continued threats used by Israeli authorities against adult and child detainees in order to induce confessions, including threats to harm the detainee’s family . . . to revoke work or study permits and threats to demolish the family home.“
- Palestinian child detainees are sometimes presented with confessions typed in Hebrew, which they cannot understand.
- There is little or no effective mechanism in Israel for investigating such charges as these, as charges against the Israeli Security Agency are investigated within the ISA itself.
- Israeli settlers routinely carry out violence against Palestinians in the OPT. Palestinians face “considerable bureaucratic difficults” in lodging complaints. Investigations, when they are conducted at all, are slipshod and unscientific.
- Settlers often use attackers under the age of 12, which is the legal age of responsibility in Israel, because they cannot be prosecuted.
- Israel defies the Geneva Convention by having its military use Palestinian civilians as human shields. “The practice consists in using civilians to protect a certain area from military attack or in forcing civilians to carry out dangerous military tasks to assist operations.” Sometimes civilians are made to walk near or in front of Israeli soldiers to deter armed group from launching attacks, even while Israeli soldiers fire over their shoulders.
- The report documents the case of a 15-year-old boy from Beit Ummar who was taken from his home by Israeli soldiers. The soldiers spit on him and degraded him in other ways. He was taken to a station where he was interrogated about having thrown stones and Molotov cocktails, which the boy denied having done. There he was first beaten and then threatened with sexual assault by a man, in the interrogator’s words, with a “very large penis.” The boy eventually gave a false confession and was sentenced to 15 months imprisonment.
- Also documented are numerous cases of attacks against Palestinians by Israeli settlers, none of which were satisfactorily investigated/resolved by the authorities.
FrontLine Protection of Human Rights Defenders
- “FrontLine is extremely concerned regarding the dangerous conditions under which human rights defenders are forced to operate. The broader human rights situation has severely deteriorated in Israel and the OPT; issues of particular concern include the continuing use of administrative detention [detention without charge], and the increase stringency of restrictions on the movement of Palestinians, including Palestinian human rights defenders.”
- “The practice of arresting and placing human rights defenders under administrative detention is a procedure which allows for those detained to be held without charge and without trial, the authorities often claiming they are being detained on the basis of ‘secret evidence’ that cannot be disclosed. There are approximately 800 Palestinian administrative detainees currently being held by the Israeli authorities.”
- “There is still significant impunity for attacks against Palestinian human rights defenders and members of the Israeli security and armed forces regularly go unpunished. Investigations into allegations of torture and ill-treatment of human rights defenders in custody have not been systematically undertaken by the authorities.”
Human Rights Watch
- “Respect for human rights in Israel and in the OPT deteriorated over the past year in a number of key areas.”
- “Israel’s comprehensive blockade of the Gaza Strip, including restrictions on freedom of movement, constituted collective punishment of the civilian population in violation of international humanitarian law.”
- “Israeli military operations in Gaza caused high numbers of civilian casualties.”
- “Israel also applied laws and practices that discriminate on the basis of ethnicity or national origin. Among these are laws that prevent Palestinians from the OPT from uniting with their Israeli spouses in Israel, and preventing Palestinians from filing tort claims for injuries caused by Israeli security forces.”
- “Israel continued to deny property and housing rights to much of its Bedouin population, demolishing hundreds of homes and forcing families and communities to move with little or no notice.”
- “Israel’s near-total blockade of the Gaza Strip has had a severe impact on the civilian population, drastically reducing the availability of basic goods and severely constricting the provision of essential services. Israel, along with Egypt, sharply restricted the movement of people into or out of Gaza, preventing departure for work, study, and medical care, with the exception of a very small number of exit permits for humanitarian emergencies. The closure crippled the Gazan economy. In March 2008 the World Bank reported that the restrictions had led to the suspension of more than 95% of Gaza’s manufacturing operations.“
- “Israel made itself Gaza’s major source of electricity and sole source of fuel, so that its severe restrictions on their supply in 2008 crippled transportation as well as water, sewage and sanitation facilities, with serious consequences for the population. Israel’s fuel restrictions as well as restrictions on the import of spare parts for water treatment facilities forced the Gaza Coastal Municipal Water Utility to dump 10 to 40 million liters of raw sewage a day into the sea in the first half of 2008.“
- “Israel has sought to justify these measures as a legitimate response to rocket attacks by Palestinian armed groups against Israel. . . Collective punishments during armed conflict are prohibited as a matter of treaty and customary law.”
- Israel continues to develop settlement in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, and a statement by Tzipi Livni that Israel’s future borders would roughly correspond to the fence/wall being built in the West Bank explicitly links the wall with Israel’s political aims, not its security needs, as has been claimed.
Reporters sans frontières (Reporters without Borders)
- While Israeli law provides reporters with a high degree of freedom of expression, military censorship heavily negates its value, and includes the reports of foreign correspondents and of Palestinian journalists in East Jerusalem.
- “Israeli Defence Force soliders are also responsible each year for dozens of physical attacks on journalists and other media workers in the OPT. Journalists reporting on demonstrations against the Israeli occupation of the West Bank or against the “separation wall” built by Israel are hit by rubber bullets fired to break up the protests. Israeli soldiers do not bother to ensure that journalists are not aimed at during shooting.”
- “Reporters Without Borders deplores the lack of transparency in enquiries made by the Israeli military into incidents. The results and details of such investigations must be made public.”
“We have no solution . . . You shall continue to live like dogs.”
– Israeli General Moshe Dayan, speaking to Palestinians, 1985
“I learnt all the words and broke them up
To make a single word: Homeland.”
– Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish, “I Come from There”