U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1997 - Palestine
|Publisher||United States Department of State|
|Publication Date||30 January 1998|
|Cite as||United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1997 - Palestine, 30 January 1998, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa1a8.html [accessed 4 October 2015]|
Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, January 30, 1998.
THE OCCUPIED TERRITORIES
(INCLUDING AREAS SUBJECT TO THE JURISDICTION OF THE PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY)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 and the September 1995 Interim Agreement, Israel transferred most responsibilities for civil government in the Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank to the PA, including responsibility for 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 1996 but were immediately adjourned and have not been resumed. According to the timetable set out in the 1993 Israel-PLO Declaration of Principles, 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 PA 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, Israel also 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 PA 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 the 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 authorities 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, laws and regulations promulgated by the PA are also in force. The United States and the international community 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 1996, Palestinians chose their first popularly elected government in democratic elections, which were generally well-conducted. The 88-member Council and the Chairman of the Executive Authority were elected. The PA also has a cabinet of 20 appointed ministers who oversee 23 ministries. PA Chairman Yasir Arafat continues to dominate the affairs of government and to make major decisions. Most senior government positions 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 Council meets regularly 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 the agreements signed between the PLO and Israel, the PA has full or partial control over most major Palestinians 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 Israeli Defense Forces (IDF); the General Security Service (GSS or Shin Bet); the Israeli National Police (INP); 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 Public Security Force; the Palestinian civil police; the Preventive Security Force (PSF); General Intelligence Service, or Mukhabarat; the Palestinian Presidential Security Force; emergency services and rescue; and the Palestinian Coastal Police. Other quasi-military security organizations, such as 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 PA security force jurisdiction. Members of the PA security forces committed human rights abuses. The economy of the West Bank and Gaza Strip is small, poorly developed, and highly dependent on Israel. According to U.N. estimates, Palestinian per capita gross national product (GNP) fell by 36 percent between 1992 and 1996 due principally, but not entirely, to Israeli restrictions on the free movement of people and products into Israel. These restrictions imposed for lengthy periods following terrorist attacks are collectively referred to as closure. The economy relies 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 tightened closures. In the wake of terrorist bombings in March, July, and September, Israel tightened the existing closure, virtually sealing off the West Bank and Gaza Strip from Israel, prohibiting most travel between towns and villages within the West Bank (an 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 tightened closures of Gaza and the West Bank followed a pattern of being eased after a period, but lasted longer, and were enforced more strictly than in previous years. There were some improvements in the human rights situation in the Occupied Territories. However, both Israel and the PA were responsible for serious human rights abuses. Two militant groups, the Islamic Resistance Movement (HAMAS) and the Palestine Islamic Jihad (PIJ), continued to try to undermine the authority of the PA and halt progress in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process by killing Israeli civilians in a number of deadly suicide bombing attacks in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. The most serious incident occurred on July 30 when two suicide bombers attacked an open air produce market in Jerusalem. Sixteen persons were killed, including 1 U.S. citizen; 178 were injured. On September 4, three suicide bombers attacked a crowded Jerusalem pedestrian mall, killing 5 people, including a 14-year-old American girl; 181 were injured. On March 21, a suicide bomber attacked an outdoor cafe in Tel Aviv. The blast killed 3 Israelis and injured 48, including a 6-month- old child. In the aftermath of the terrorist bombings, Israeli authorities arrested hundreds of Palestinians suspected of affiliation with extremist Islamic opposition groups, to obtain information on further terrorist attacks. Israeli security forces abused, and in some cases tortured, Palestinians suspected of security offenses. In May an alleged HAMAS activist from the West Bank village of Surif, Omar Ghanimat, was allowed to testify in open court about such torture, and to show his cuts and bruises to the Israeli and Arabic press. Israel also tightened its existing closure of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, sealing off the occupied territories from Israel and imposing an internal closure. When it was discovered that a terrorist cell based in Surif was responsible for the March 21 cafe bombing in Tel Aviv, Israel imposed a targeted closure on the village (13,000 residents were unable to leave the town). During the 7 weeks of the closure residents were also under a curfew (i.e., they were unable to leave their homes except during designated hours to purchase household necessities). Israeli authorities demolished six homes of suicide bombers; four in the village of Surif and two in the village of Assira Shamaliyya. In the latter village, two other homes were permanently sealed by filling them with concrete from floor to ceiling. Israel also imposed a targeted closure on the northern West Bank village of Assira Shamaliyyah in September, when it determined that four of the five suicide bombers in the Jerusalem attacks were from that town. There was one credible report that on February 25, an Israeli undercover unit, operating in the village of Hizma, shot and killed a Palestinian. Israeli officials acknowledged that the unit acted in a negligent manner without prior planning; however, the members of the unit received only administrative reprimands. In a second incident, an Israeli undercover unit shot and killed a youth on April 30 in Ras Al Amud. The unit was investigating alleged terrorist attacks when a skirmish broke out and the youth was killed. There has been a marked decrease in this kind of activity by Israel in the past 2 years. There were also credible reports from human rights groups that Israeli authorities continue to abuse and torture Palestinian detainees and prisoners. In May a Palestinian prisoner undergoing treatment at a Jerusalem hospital was beaten to death by Israeli police and private hospital security guards. The Israeli Government investigated the incident, but has not revealed the results. Prison conditions are poor, and Israeli authorities arbitrarily arrest and detain persons. Prolonged detention, limits on due process, and infringements on privacy rights remained problems. PA security forces committed a number of serious human rights abuses during the year. Seven detainees died in prison; the PA acknowledged that two died after being tortured. One was tortured by Military Intelligence personnel in February, and the other by members of the Presidential Security Force in June. The other detainees died after suffering medical emergencies, and it remains unclear whether the PA provided prompt medical attention. In the wake of the three terrorist bombings in 1997, PA security forces made fewer mass arrests than in the past, and there were fewer complaints of human rights abuses. PA authorities arrested approximately 200 people on suspicion of involvement in terrorist activity. PA security forces subjected some of the detainees to torture and repeated beatings. Although the PA claims to respect its citizens' right to express themselves freely, the PA limited freedom of speech and the press. The PA continued to harass, detain, and abuse journalists. PA harassment has lead many Palestinian commentators, reporters, and critics to practice self-censorship. Fathi Sobh, a prominent university professor, and Daoud Kuttab, a well-known journalist who criticized the PA, were both imprisoned without charge during the year and Sobh was tortured. PA prison conditions are very poor. PA security forces arbitrarily arrest and detain persons. Prolonged detention and lack of due process are problems. The courts are inefficient, lack staff and resources, and do not ensure fair and expeditious trials. PA security forces infringed on the right to privacy, and there were reports that the PA placed some limits on the freedom of association. Discrimination against women and the disabled is a problem. In March Israel began constructing a controversial housing project at Har Homa/Jebel Abu Ghanaim on the southeastern outskirts of Jerusalem. The move sparked demonstrations by angry Palestinians throughout the spring. However, unlike the demonstrations that followed the 1996 opening of the controversial tunnel in Jerusalem's old city, these demonstrations did not result in violence between Israeli and PA security forces. The demonstrations did result in charges that Israeli security forces, in several instances, used excessive force against Palestinian protesters. During the year, 10 Palestinian demonstrators, including a deaf and mentally-impaired 14-year-old boy in Gaza and an 8-year-old boy in Bethlehem, were killed in incidents involving the IDF's use of both live ammunition and rubber-coated metal bullets. No Israeli civilians or security personnel were killed or seriously wounded by demonstrators. Israeli settlers continued to harass and threaten Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. For example, on January 1, a settler in the IDF reserve opened fire on a crowded Hebron market place, injuring nine Palestinians. In 1996 settlers killed three Palestinians. After two separate stonethrowing incidents in April, three Palestinians were shot by settlers near Ramallah and Hebron. In general settlers are not prosecuted for these crimes and rarely serve prison sentences even when convicted of a crime. In November an unidentified gunman shot two Jewish religious students in Jerusalem, killing one and seriously wounding the other.