U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1996 - Palestine
|Publisher||United States Department of State|
|Publication Date||30 January 1997|
|Cite as||United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1996 - Palestine, 30 January 1997, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa191c.html [accessed 29 December 2014]|
(including areas subject to the jurisdiction of the Palestinian Authority) Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, January 30, 1997 Israel occupied the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Golan Heights, and East Jerusalem during the 1967 War. The West Bank and Gaza Strip are now administered to varying extents by Israel and the Palestinian Authority(PA). Pursuant to the May 1994 Gaza-Jericho Agreement, Israel transferred most responsibilities for civil government in the Gaza Strip and Jericho to the PA. The Agreement on Preparatory Transfer of Powers and Responsibilities of August 1994, and the Interim Agreement provided for the further transfer of civil authority to the Palestinians, including education, culture, health, tourism, taxation, social welfare, statistics, local government, insurance, commerce, industry, fuel, gas, agriculture, and labor. Israel continues to retain responsibility in the West Bank and Gaza Strip for external security, foreign relations, the overall security of Israelis, including public order in the Israeli settlements, and certain other matters. Negotiations on the final status of the occupied territories as well as of Jerusalem, borders, Israeli settlements, refugees, and other matters began in May but were immediately adjourned and did not resume by year's end. Israel and the Palestinian Authority agreed on January 15, 1997 to resume these talks within 60 days. According to the timetable set out in the DOP, the interim period is to conclude in May 1999. In addition to most of the Gaza Strip and the Jericho area, which was turned over to the Palestinians in May 1994, Israel began redeploying its forces in the West Bank and turning over major towns and villages to the PA in late 1995. Pursuant to the Interim Agreement and the "Protocol Concerning Redeployment in Hebron," concluded on January 15, 1997, Israel redeployed its forces in Hebron. Israel continues to control some civil functions and is responsible for all security in portions of the occupied territories categorized as Zone C, which includes the Israeli settlements. The PA has jurisdiction over civil affairs and shares security responsibilities with Israel in areas known as Zone B, and the PA has control over civil affairs and security in Zone A. The PA also has jurisdiction over some civil affairs in Zone C. Accordingly, this report discusses the policies and practices of both the Israeli Government and the Palestinian Authority in the areas where they exercise jurisdiction and control. Israel continues to exercise civil authority in some areas of the West Bank through the Israeli Ministry of Defense's Office of Coordination and Liaison, known by Hebrew acronym MATAK, which replaced the now defunct Civil Administration (CIVAD). The approximately 150,000 Israeli settlers living in the West Bank and Gaza Strip are subject to Israeli law and are better treated by Israeli forces than are Palestinians. The body of law governing Palestinians in the Israeli-controlled portions of the territories derives from Ottoman, British Mandate, Jordanian, and Egyptian law and Israeli military orders. In Palestinian-controlled areas, regulations promulgated by the PA are also in force. The United States considers Israel's authority in the occupied territories to be subject to the Hague Regulations of 1907 and the 1949 Geneva Convention relating to the protection of civilians in time of war. The Israeli Government considers the Hague Regulations applicable and states that it observes the Geneva Convention's humanitarian provisions. In January the Palestinian Authority chose its first popularly elected government in democratic elections, which were generally well-conducted. An 88-member Legislative Council and Ra'ees (president or chairman) of the executive authority were elected. The PA also has an appointed cabinet of 20 ministers who oversee 19 ministries. PA Chairman Yasir Arafat continues to dominate the affairs of government and to make major decisions. Most senior government positions and positions of authority in the PA are held by individuals who are members of, or loyal to, Arafat's Fatah faction of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). The elected 88-person Legislative Council meets frequently and discusses a range of issues significant to the Palestinian people and the development of an open, democratic society in the Gaza Strip and West Bank. Pursuant to a series of agreements between the PA and Israel, the PA now also has full or partial control over major Palestinian population centers in the Gaza Strip and West Bank. Israeli security forces in Israeli-controlled parts of the West Bank and Gaza Strip consist of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF); the General Security Service (GSS or Shin Bet); the police; and the paramilitary border police. Israeli military courts try Palestinians accused of committing security crimes in Israeli-controlled areas. Members of the Israeli security forces committed human rights abuses. The Palestinian Police Force (PPF) was established in May 1994 and includes the Palestinian National Security Force (PNSF); the Palestinian civil police; the Preventive Security Force (PSF); General Intelligence Service, or Mukhabarat; the civil defense force; and the Palestinian Presidential Security Force. Several other quasi-military security organizations, such as the coast guard and military intelligence, also exercise law enforcement powers. Palestinian police are responsible for security and law enforcement for Palestinians and other non-Israelis in PA-controlled areas of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Israeli settlers in the occupied territories are not subject to Palestinian security force jurisdiction. Members of the PA security forces committed human rights abuses. The economies of the West Bank and Gaza Strip are small, poorly developed, and highly dependent on Israel. The economic situation deteriorated significantly during the year as a result of closures of the territories imposed by Israel after security incidents, including several serious terrorist bombings. Both areas rely on agriculture, services, and to a lesser extent, light manufacturing. Many West Bank and Gaza workers are employed at day jobs in Israel and Jerusalem, making their employment vulnerable to disruption due to closures. The West Bank and Gaza economies were significantly damaged by a closure first imposed by Israel in 1993. In the wake of terrorist bombings in Israel in February and March and violent clashes between Israeli and Palestinian forces in September, Israel temporarily tightened the existing closure, sealing off the West Bank and Gaza Strip from Israel, prohibiting most travel between towns and villages within the West Bank (the "internal closure"), denying Palestinian workers access to jobs in Israel, and hampering the flow of goods and people between Israel and the occupied territories. The "internal closure" was lifted in each case after about 2 weeks. The general closures of Gaza and the West Bank followed a pattern of being eased but then reimposed in the wake of new security threats. Partly as a result of the closures, the per capita Gross National Product of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip dropped by approximately 39 percent between 1992 and 1996 (from $2,425 to $1,480.) By year's end, however, the closure had eased in important ways. There were some improvements in the human rights situation in the territories. However, both Israel and the PA were responsible for serious human rights abuses. Two Islamic groups, the Islamic Resistance Movement (HAMAS) and the Palestine Islamic Jihad (PIJ), made a concerted effort this year to undermine the authority of the PA and restrict the Israeli-Palestinian peace process by killing Israeli civilians in a series of deadly suicide bombing attacks in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and Ashkelon. The most serious attacks occurred in late February and early March. On February 25, two Palestinian suicide bombers struck in Jerusalem and at a road junction near the southern coastal city of Ashkelon. The Jerusalem explosion killed 25 persons, including three U.S. citizens. In Ashkelon one person was killed and 36 injured. On March 3, another suicide bomber killed 19 persons, including Palestinian and Romanian workers, and wounded 7 in Jerusalem. The following day a fourth bomber killed 14 persons--including 6 children--and injured more than 100 others at an intersection in central Tel Aviv. In the aftermath of those terrorist bombings, Israeli authorities arrested approximately 1,000 Palestinians suspected of affiliation with extremist Islamic and secular opposition groups. Israeli authorities in some cases mistreated prisoners to obtain information on further terrorist attacks. Following the bombings, Israeli authorities demolished the homes of eight Palestinians implicated in terrorist attacks, compared with one demolition in 1995. Israel also tightened its existing closure of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, sealing off the territories from Israel and imposing an "internal closure." There was one credible report that an Israeli undercover unit killed a Palestinian, compared with 10 such deaths in 1995. There were also credible reports that Israeli authorities continue to abuse and torture Palestinian detainees and prisoners. At least two Palestinians died in Israeli prisons, after possibly being tortured by other Palestinians in custody for cooperating with the Israelis. Prison conditions are poor. In its intensive efforts to counter and prevent terrorism, the Palestinian Authority used excessive force on occasion in its searches of homes, and ordered two opposition newspapers closed. In the wake of terrorist bombings, PA authorities arrested approximately 1,000 Palestinians suspected of affiliation with extremist Islamic and secular opposition groups and held all but one without charge. There were credible reports that PA authorities mistreated prisoners to obtain information on further terrorist attacks. The PA also continued to harass, detain, and abuse journalists and political activists who criticized the PA. Although the PA claims to tolerate expression of a range of views, human rights watchers say that Palestinian commentators and critics practice self-censorship out of fear that they would be harassed or punished by the PA if they criticized it. The PA strongly discourages dissenting views. There were also credible reports that the PA continues to abuse and torture detainees. Four Palestinians died in PA custody, two after having been tortured, one shot and killed by a prison guard, and one apparently have committed suicide. Prison conditions are very poor. In September Israel's opening of a controversial tunnel near Muslim and Jewish holy sites in Jerusalem and calls by the PA for mass demonstrations to protest the move sparked several days of violent clashes between Israeli security forces and Palestinian security officers and civilians. Fifty-eight Palestinians (including 11 Palestinian security officers) and 16 IDF soldiers and border police officers died in the fighting. Israeli and Palestinian security forces used excessive force during the clashes. During clashes in Ramallah and Rafah, Israeli forces shot at demonstrators from a helicopter gunship and from elevated sniper positions; Israeli forces also shot persons who were trying to evacuate wounded Palestinians. Palestinian security forces in Gaza prevented the timely evacuation of wounded Israeli journalists. Terrorist attacks against Israelis continued after the series of deadly bombings in February and March. In April two gasoline firebombs were hurled at an Israeli commuter bus at Beit Omar, a village near Hebron, injuring 5 people. Two Palestinians with alleged Hamas sympathies shot and killed an Israeli with American citizenship and wounded another Israeli at a settlement at Beit El in May. In November Islamic militant Mohammud Assaf, who was reportedly preparing to launch a suicide attack against Israel, was killed in the West Bank town of Qabatya, when a bomb exploded prematurely in his hands. Palestinians believed to be affiliated with extremist Islamic and secular opposition groups killed two Israelis and wounded three in attacks in the West Bank. Israeli settlers continued to harass and threaten Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and they killed three Palestinians in 1996, whereas settlers killed four Palestinians in 1995. The number of Palestinians killed by other Palestinians for collaborating with Israel decreased again in 1996.