Amnesty slams Israel's 'unlawful acts'

Annual report criticizes fence and "excessive force" against demonstrators.

idf checkpoint 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
idf checkpoint 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
Israel continued to build a "separation wall/fence" in occupied Palestinian land, restrict Palestinian movement in the West Bank which contributed to high unemployment and poverty, and conduct unlawful attacks routinely using excessive force against peaceful demonstrators, Amnesty International charged in its annual report for 2006 released Tuesday. The report also referred to Palestinian suicide bombings, shootings and mortar attacks "that were part of a pattern of war crimes and crimes against humanity" perpetrated by both sides. The report began by referring to Israel's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in August 2005. It then presented a list of human rights violations that Israel allegedly continued to commit during the previous year, including:
  • The killing of 190 Palestinians, including 50 children, by the IDF. "Many were killed unlawfully, in deliberate and reckless shootings, shelling and air strikes in densely populated residential areas or as a result of excessive force," AI charged.
  • The repeated destruction by Israeli settlers in the West Bank of Palestinian crops and olive trees, the contamination of reservoirs and the intimidation of farmers.
  • The arrest by the IDF of Palestinians suspected of terrorism and the charging of hundreds of them in military court procedures which often did not meet international standards of fairness. Israel also passed a law denying compensation to innocent Palestinian victims of military actions. Israeli security forces who committed unlawful killings and abuse of innocent Palestinians enjoyed impunity.
  • The building of the "security fence/wall" on Palestinian territory and the seizure of land to build roads for Israeli settlers, military checkpoints.
  • The large-scale banning of Palestinian movement to and from the Gaza Strip and the West Bank and the restricting of Palestinian movement within the West Bank.
  • The destruction of Palestinian homes and land, though to a far less degree than in previous years. Amnesty International also charged that Palestinian armed groups killed 41 Israeli civilians and six children. The report did not elicit an angry response from the Foreign Ministry, but instead resulted in assurances - amid regret that the report did not taken into account the wider context of the conflict here - that the group's findings would be investigated and taken seriously. "Defending human rights is central to Israeli democracy, and we take any allegations as to possible violations of human rights extremely seriously and investigate them thoroughly," Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said. "We have received the Amnesty International report and are carefully studying it," he said. The findings will be passed on to an inter-ministerial committee that deals with the human rights reports of various NGOs. Orli Gil, head of the ministry's NGO section, said that the context of the conflict here needed to be taken into greater account. "IDF soldiers are dealing with people coming out of civilian populations in order to harm us, and the only thing they can do is to check them thoroughly," she said, intimating that the context of the conditions under which the soldiers are operating did not come out in the report. "This campaign," the statement said, "demands carefully checking the civilian population in the territories, where the few who are involved in terrorism find cover." Unfortunately, the statement read, there were times when there is no choice but to disrupt daily Palestinian life, such as when it is necessary to set up roadblocks which "have proven effective in stopping suicide bombers." The statement said it was also important "to emphasize that human rights organizations investigating the situation in Israel and the territories merit full cooperation, with the authorities doing their best to ensure freedom of movement and freedom of action for the researchers." The net result of this situation, however, is that Israel inevitably comes out worse than some of its neighboring countries - such as Syria - where human rights organizations don't enjoy similar access and freedom of action. The Foreign Ministry statement also pointed out that every shooting incident, whether by Israeli soldiers or civilians, is investigated by the IDF, and if it is found that rules and regulations were not followed, the results are passed on to the IDF legal authorities. "No Israeli civilian or soldier who transgress military orders or the law has immunity," the ministry statement said. Military sources also said the Amnesty International report lacked context. For example, while criticizing Israel for building the security barrier, it did not mention the fact that the government was reluctant to do so and only decided to build it at the end of 2002, when the terrorist attacks had become intolerable. It also did not point out that the barrier had proven very effective in preventing terrorist attacks and that there had not been a single infiltration through those parts which had been completed. The sources also said there was something skewed about the implicit symmetry between IDF and terrorist operations that led to the deaths of civilians. While the Palestinians deliberately target civilians, the IDF does not do so, the sources said. "We totally reject this," they said.