Amnesty criticizes Palestinians, Israel

Human rights group slams rocket fire, terror attacks; says half of those killed by IDF were civilians.

Sderot hole in roof 224 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Sderot hole in roof 224
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Israel and the Palestinian Authority came in for sharp criticism in Amnesty International's annual report "The State of the World's Human Rights," released on Wednesday. The report documented human rights abuses in 150 countries and territories around the world during 2007. The PA section of the 380-page report highlighted the interfactional violence between Fatah and Hamas forces, accusing both factions of "grave human rights violations including arbitrary detention and torture." However, it said the deteriorating economic conditions for Palestinians were exacerbated by Israel's "further tightening of their blockade on the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT)." Frequent IDF attacks on Palestinian civil infrastructure is cited as another cause of the deterioration. "Economic and social problems caused by decades of Israeli occupation, military attacks, stifling blockades and punitive economic measures in the OPT grew more severe," it said. According to the report, more than 330 Palestinians - half of them civilians and including young children - were killed in Israeli attacks, mostly in the Gaza Strip, in the first four months of 2008. Kassam rockets were described as "homemade" in the report. It said the rocket attacks had killed two Israeli civilians and wounded several others. It also mentioned that indiscriminate attacks on Israeli civilians, in which 13 Israelis were killed, had resulted in the "lowest annual fatality figure since the outbreak of the intifada in 2000." However, the Jerusalem-based organization NGO Monitor said the context of the Palestinian campaign of terror against Israel was absent in the report. "The report states that 'suicide bombings and shooting attacks almost ceased,' implying a fall in the occurrence of these human rights violations. This absurdly ignores the frequent attacks thwarted by Israeli forces, using checkpoints - which are condemned by Amnesty - and other means," the group said in a statement. NGO Monitor analyzed Amnesty's Middle East coverage in 2007 and said that the report presented a "gross distortion of the conflict, selectively report[ed] events to remove the context of terrorism and ignore[d] human rights issues not related to its political agenda, while repeating un-sourced and anecdotal claims." In 2007, Amnesty singled out Israel for more condemnation than Syria, Saudi Arabia, Libya, Lebanon and Algeria, and more items were published on Israel than on Hamas, Hizbullah and the PA combined, NGO Monitor said. "If detailed reports are used as an indicator, Amnesty ranks Israel and Iraq as equally the worst human rights abusers in the Middle East," the organization continued. The latest Amnesty report also blamed Israel for the deaths of 40 Gaza residents, who it said died as a result of Israel refusing to allow medical supplies into Gaza or to let patients in urgent need of medical attention leave. Following last year's Annapolis peace summit, Israel has not lifted movement restrictions in the territories, the report continued. "Despite US-led efforts to achieve a resolution of the long-running Israeli-Palestinian conflict following talks at Annapolis in 2007, the Israeli authorities continued to build the 700-km. wall/fence, to expand illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank, to demolish Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem, the Jordan Valley and elsewhere, and more than 500 military roadblocks continued to restrict or impede the movement of Palestinians between towns and villages throughout the West Bank," it claimed. In response to the report's criticism, the IDF said it was doing its utmost to minimize harm to uninvolved Palestinian civilians in its struggle against terrorism. "Terrorist organizations, such as Hamas, operate from population centers, deliberately exploiting women and children as human shields, and as such bear direct responsibility for the harm caused to civilians on both sides," said the army. The IDF went on to emphasize that in recent years, there had been a significant decline in the number of uninvolved civilians hurt in the fighting, due to the relentless efforts of the IDF. In response to the condemnation of checkpoints, the army said it had been conducting regular security assessments on crossings and checkpoints, and that an extensive plan to ease restrictions had been implemented by the IDF and the Civil Administration. Regarding the Palestinian territories, the Amnesty report said that in the first half of 2007, 300 Palestinians were killed in interfactional fighting. It claimed that when Hamas seized power in Gaza in June 2007, lawlessness, unlawful killings and abductions decreased significantly. "Members of PA security forces and armed groups affiliated to Fatah and Hamas carried out unlawful killings and abductions of rivals with impunity," it said. Both Israel and the PA were accused of unlawful detentions and unfair trials. "Thousands of Palestinians, including scores of children, were detained by Israeli forces in the OPT. Among those detained were dozens of former ministers in the Hamas-led PA government and Hamas parliamentarians and mayors who were seemingly held to exert pressure on Hamas to release [kidnapped IDF soldier Cpl.] Gilad Schalit," the report said. After Hamas seized Gaza, the report added, some 1,500 people were detained. Most were released after 48 hours but were required to sign pledges promising to not participate in protests or other forms of opposition.Both Israel and the Palestinians were also accused of using torture. Many of those detained by Palestinian authorities alleged they had been tortured by being beaten, tied in painful positions and threatened. Some were told they would be shot in the legs. Tariq Muhammad Asour, a former policeman, was detained by Hamas in June. He was beaten for six hours with metal wires, sticks and a shovel and had nails driven into his shins with a hammer, according to the report. Published to coincide with the 60th anniversary of the UN's adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the report's main focus was the broken promises of governments that in the past six decades "have shown more interest in the abuse of power or in the pursuit of political self-interest than respecting the rights of those they lead." Amnesty challenged world leaders to apologize for these human rights failures and to recommit themselves to concrete action to bring about change. "The human rights flash points in Darfur, Zimbabwe, Gaza, Iraq and Myanmar demand immediate action," said Irene Khan, the organization's secretary-general. "Injustice, inequality and impunity are the hallmarks of our world today."