Amnesty accuses IDF of rights abuse

Fails to document "unlawful killings;" army: Report is rife with inaccuracies.

security fence 298 88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
security fence 298 88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Israeli forces committed "war crimes" and other "serious violations of international humanitarian law" in their 34-day war against Hizbullah last summer, Amnesty International said Wednesday. "The Lebanon war was a continuation of a practice that displays contempt for human life by the army and the state leadership, first and foremost regarding the lives of Lebanese civilians of which 1,200 died during the war, but also with the lives of Israeli citizens," said Amnesty's Israel director, Amnon Vidan, in presenting its annual 2007 global report at a press conference in Tel Aviv on Tuesday. The report was embargoed until Wednesday. "The Winograd Committee asked many questions but none about the decisions to attack civilian targets, the use of cluster bombs, or any other concerns about the harm caused to the Lebanese civilian population. Is this not indicative of the fact that these things simply do not matter to us?" he asked. The human rights group also accused soldiers and settlers of committing "serious human rights abuses, including unlawful killings, against Palestinians, mostly with impunity." It also criticized Israel for deepening the poverty in Palestinian territories by withholding customs duties, and widening a network of blockades and other travel restrictions. IDF troops killed more than 650 Palestinians last year - half of them unarmed civilians and including some 120 children - a threefold increase from 2005, it said. No such killings were documented in the report, however. The number of Israelis killed by Palestinian armed groups diminished by half last year, to 27, 21 of them civilians, the report said. "In total, 21 Israeli civilians, including a child and six soldiers, were killed in Palestinian attacks in Israel and the occupied territories," it said. Amnesty reported a "significant increase" in the launching of rockets by Palestinian armed groups from Gaza into southern Israel, in which two Israeli civilians were killed. But the report gave no number for rockets fired and did not quantify the increase. The report "shows that the conflict can only be solved through diplomacy and not through military methods," Vidan said. The IDF, in a statement, said in response that it "does its ultmost to avoid harming innocent contrast to terror organizations that do their utmost to harm innocent civilians." It said, without elaborating, that the report was "rife with inaccuracies" and rejected what it called "the attempt to equate terror organizations" with a "democratic state that acts within the confines of the law to exercise its right to defend itself, its sovereign territory, and civilians against terror organizations." Most of the Palestinians were killed during frequent air and artillery bombardments against the Gaza Strip, though dozens were also killed in the West Bank, Amnesty said. Israeli attacks "escalated dramatically" after Palestinian armed men attacked a military post inside Israel in June 2006, capturing a soldier, the report said. Amnesty accused Israel of violating the economic and social rights of Palestinians by restricting passage within Palestinian territories and keeping vital cargo and passenger crossings closed for large chunks of time. Israel says it closes the passages because of security concerns, but the closures grew much more frequent after the soldier, who remains in captivity, was seized. Israel's withholding of hundreds of millions of dollars in tax duties to the Palestinians caused humanitarian conditions in the West Bank and Gaza to deteriorate "to an unprecedented level," the report said. Poverty, food aid dependency, health problems and unemployment have reached "crisis levels," it added. Israel suspended the tax transfers after Hamas swept Palestinian parliamentary elections but refused to renounce violence or recognize Israel's right to exist. Amnesty also criticized Israel for the continued expansion of settlements and stepped-up construction of the West Bank security barrier that Israel says it is building to keep out attackers. According to the report, over 70 percent of the victims of armed conflicts around the world were unarmed civilians. Non-combatants have become "tools of war used as strategic targets for achieving wartime goals," it said. "There is a common thread that flows between Sderot, Gaza, Baghdad, Darfur, Guantanamo and the other conflict regions. We see armed groups terrorizing and threatening the established order and reactions by strong governments who use force, usually against civilians, while crushing basic values and human rights forming an endless cycle of violence," said Vidan. The report addressed 153 countries and covered abuses ranging from ethnic cleansing, displacement and mass rape in Sudan to changes in migration and asylum laws in Switzerland. "Through short-sighted, fear-mongering and divisive policies, governments are undermining the rule of law and human rights, feeding racism and xenophobia, dividing communities, intensifying inequalities and sowing the seeds for more violence and conflict," said Irene Khan, secretary-general of Amnesty International. "The politics of fear is fuelling a downward spiral of human rights abuse in which no right is sacrosanct and no person safe," she said.