Annual Report on Human Rights 2008 - Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories


The UK welcomes Israel's commitment to promote and protect human rights, as outlined in its report to the UN Human Rights Council of September 2008. However, we remain deeply concerned about continued human rights violations in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. We are particularly worried by the humanitarian situation in Gaza, the restrictions on movement and access in the West Bank, continued settlement activity and the situation of minorities.

Over the last year, Palestinian militants continued to fire rockets against Israeli civilians, and human rights violations were committed by both Hamas militias and Palestinian Authority security forces. In Gaza, the UK remains deeply concerned by the widespread disregard for human rights demonstrated by Hamas since its violent rise to power in 2007.

Current concerns: Israel

Humanitarian situation in Gaza (until 26 December 2008)

Although there is no permanent physical Israeli presence in Gaza, given the significant control Israel has over Gaza's borders, airspace and territorial waters, Israel retains obligations as an occupying power under the Fourth Geneva Convention. The Fourth Geneva Convention is clear that an occupying power must co-operate in facilitating the passage and distribution of relief consignments.

The UK continues to have serious concerns about the Israeli-imposed restrictions on Gaza and their detrimental impact on the humanitarian situation. By 26 December 2008, over 80 per cent of the population of Gaza was dependent on humanitarian assistance, compared with 63 per cent in 2006. In less than 10 years, the number of families dependent on UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) food aid has increased tenfold. A UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA) report in December 2008 stated that 80 per cent of Gaza's water supply failed World Health Organization standards.

Border restrictions have also led to complete stagnation in the Gazan economy and a steady decline in vital infrastructure. Hundreds of thousands of Gazans do not receive adequate electricity or running water. Sewage facilities are overwhelmed. The NGO Physicians for Human Rights reported a sharp increase in the number of patients referred for treatment to medical centres outside Gaza. Patients were required to apply for permits to cross into Israel via the Erez crossing; the proportion of patients denied exit permits increased from 10 per cent in the first half of 2007 to 35 per cent in the first half of 2008. Israeli restrictions on the Gaza crossings intensified following renewed outbreaks of violence on 4 November 2008. UN OCHA reported that a daily average of five truckloads of aid was let into Gaza at the end of November 2008, down from 123 in October 2008 and 475 in May 2007.

Use of force by Israel

2008 saw an increase in the number of conflict-related incidents. According to UN OCHA, 457 Palestinians were killed in 2008 (till 1 December), compared with 392 in 2007. Several hundred more were killed during Operation Cast Lead (see text box on page 150). 2,145 Palestinians were injured in direct conflict-related incidents between January and 1 December 2008, compared to 1,843 for the whole of 2007.

While we recognise Israel's right to defend its citizens, we also believe that Israel must comply with its obligations under international law, including the obligation to avoid the use of disproportionate or indiscriminate force.


In 2008 there was a significant increase in settlement activity, despite Israel's repeated commitment to freeze settlement growth. Peace Now reported that the number of tenders for construction in the settlements increased from 65 housing units in the first 11 months of 2007, to 417 housing units and 125 new buildings at outposts – including 30 permanent structures – during the same period in 2008.

Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem are illegal under international law and a major obstacle to peace. Continued settlement activity is in contravention of Israel's obligations under the 2003 Roadmap.

Settler violence

In 2008 there was an increase in violence against Palestinians and their property by Israeli settlers. UN OCHA reported 290 incidents of settler violence in the West Bank in the first 10 months of 2008, compared with 243 for the same period in 2007 and 182 in 2006. UN OCHA recorded that since 2006 approximately half of all the Palestinians injured by settler violence were women, children and the elderly.

We are concerned that the Israeli authorities do not adequately enforce the rule of law with regard to settler violence. The Israeli NGO Yesh Din reports that over 90 per cent of Israeli investigations into settler violence are closed without an indictment being filed.

House demolitions

The resumption of house demolitions in Area C of the West Bank was a particularly discouraging development in late 2008. House demolitions had been halted under a moratorium agreed between the Israel and the Quartet in May 2008.

Israeli restrictions on the granting of housing permits to Palestinians in Area C and East Jerusalem mean that Palestinians often build houses without obtaining permits. Such properties are targeted by the Israeli authorities for demolition. According to Amnesty International, more than 100 homes were demolished in 2008.

We are particularly concerned about the threat of demolition against 88 homes in Bustan, the highly controversial neighbourhood in the Holy Basin area of East Jerusalem. In November 2008, three homes were demolished in Bustan.

We have made it clear to Israel that, subject to limited exceptions, house demolitions in occupied territory are in breach of article 53 of the Fourth Geneva Convention.


We remain worried about Israeli confiscation of property and the eviction of their occupants. Two cases highlight our concern: the Cliff Hotel owned by the Ayyad family, which was taken over by the Israeli Border Police in May 2004; and the eviction of the al-Kurd family from their home in Sheikh Jarah.

In the first case we are extremely concerned about the Israeli use of the Absentee Property Law and the impact on the private property rights of the owners. The family has not been compensated for loss of earnings during the 11-year period they have not had access to their property. The Foreign Secretary wrote to Foreign Minister Livni about this issue on 19 August and again on 11 November.

In November 2008, the al-Kurd family, including the elderly, wheelchair bound father, was evicted following claims by an extremist settler group that they owned the land on which the property was built, having bought it from an Ottoman owner in the 1800s. An Israeli Court ruled the settlers' claim fraudulent, but the Israeli Land Registrar refused to recognise the finding. The family has been living in a tent near their home since the eviction. A further 27 families in the area face the same threat. Both the EU and the US have lodged formal complaints with the Israeli government.

Freedom of movement and access

Restrictions on the movement of Palestinians in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and to and from Gaza have a humanitarian and economic impact in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

Continued or increased use of checkpoints, roadblocks, curfews, a permit system and the barrier severely restricted the ability of Palestinians to move within the West Bank. Between September 2007 and April 2008, UN OCHA reported a net increase of 41 checkpoints within the West Bank (from 566 to 607). These obstacles included permanent checkpoints, earth mounds, concrete and stone blocks at village entrances or across roads, trenches and locked gates.

Despite recent improvements in the West Bank economy, such restrictions remain a key reason for the sharp decline in the Palestinian economy since 2000. GDP per capita has fallen by more than 40 per cent since 1999, and investment levels have halved.

The UK has called on the Israeli government and Palestinian Authority to implement the 2005 Agreement on Movement and Access. We support the work of the Quartet Representative, Tony Blair, to improve the flow of trade, goods, services and people across the West Bank.

The barrier

The UK's concerns over the route of the barrier were detailed in the 2006 and 2007 reports. While we recognise Israel's right to self-defence and to protect its citizens through the construction of a barrier, it has been our longstanding position that any barrier must be built on Israeli territory. The barrier along the chosen route is contrary to international law and continues to have a highly detrimental impact on the lives and livelihoods of those Palestinian affected by the barrier's route. Additional construction in 2008 compounded these problems.

Jerusalem permits

West Bank Palestinians seeking to enter Jerusalem for work, education or medical treatment are required to apply for a permit. Permits are time restricted and the process to obtain one is often lengthy. There is no requirement to state the reason for denying a permit, and no appeals process. In 2008 Israel imposed restrictions on doctors, nurses and patients getting to hospitals in East Jerusalem, by restricting access to the city to two checkpoints for anyone with a medical permit.

Access to Holy Sites is also restricted for West Bankers. In 2008, men under the age of 45 and women under 35 were forbidden from entering Jerusalem during Ramadan, while others had to apply for permits to worship at the Holy Sites.

Administrative detention and detainee abuse

The UK is concerned about interrogation techniques employed by Israel on Palestinian detainees. NGOs have reported the ill-treatment of detainees and the use of coercive techniques to extract confessions. Other concerns include the provision of typed confessions, in most cases in Hebrew, to Palestinian child detainees; the use of confessional evidence in the Israeli military courts in order to obtain convictions; and the lack of effective mechanisms for investigating complaints of torture.

We are particularly worried about approximately 800 Palestinian prisoners who are being held in administrative detention without charge or in trial detention (which may be renewed indefinitely), including 42 who have been held for more than two years.

Although we welcomed Israel's release of two Hamas Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) members in June 2008, we continue to call for all elected PLC members detained by Israel to be either released or subject to due legal process.


Approximately 20 per cent of Israelis are non-Jewish (about 1.3 million people). The largest group from this minority are Arab Muslims (approximately 83 per cent of this number). Christian Arabs, Bedouin Arabs, Druze, Circassians, Samaritans and non-Arab Sunni Muslims also live in Israel. They are often referred to collectively as Israeli-Arabs or Palestinian Arabs of Israel.

Under Israel's Declaration of Independence all minority communities are entitled to full social and political equality However, according to the Association for Civil Rights, Arab citizens of Israel face entrenched discrimination in all fields of life, particularly in education, economic development, land, urban panning and housing infrastructure. According to the UK-based Council for Arab-British Understanding, Israeli government spending in predominantly Arab areas is proportionally much lower than in Jewish areas.

The situation of more than 200,000 Israeli Bedouin, the majority of whom live in the Negev desert in the south of Israel, has been of particular concern in the past, and there has been some progress on this issue this year. Many Bedouin currently live in villages that are not recognised by the State of Israel. Their homes are not connected to water or electricity grids, nor do they have telephone lines or sewage systems. In December 2008, the Israeli government's Goldberg Commission recommended that the Government formally recognise these villages. We look forward to further progress on this in 2009.

Current concerns: Palestinian Authority and Palestinian militant groups

Use of force by Hamas and other militant groups

Hamas has exercised control over the Gaza Strip since June 2007. The Gaza truce agreement, in effect from 19 June to 18 December 2008, reduced the number of rocket attacks from Gaza on Israeli targets and brought a reduction in violence for the people of Gaza and southern Israel. During this period, 223 rockets were fired into southern Israel from Gaza compared to 967 between April and May 2008 (Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs statistics). Only six mortars and rockets were fired during the months of September and October. We were extremely concerned by the spike of attacks between 4 November (following an Israeli incursion into the Gaza strip) and 19 December 2008, when over 203 rockets were fired at Israeli targets.

We are deeply concerned about the impact of rocket attacks on the population of southern Israel. The number of Israeli deaths as a direct result of rocket attacks was 8 in 2008 (four between 27 and 31 December), compared with 13 in 2007. In addition to causing deaths and injuries, rockets have a profound practical and psychological impact on those living in southern Israel. We frequently condemned rocket fire from Gaza and regularly called on Gazan militants to stop all targeting of Israeli civilians.

In addition to rocket fire, there were a number of other attacks on Israelis in 2008. These included a suicide bombing in Dimona, a shooting in a religious school in Jerusalem which killed 8 Israelis, and four other attacks in Jerusalem. A total of 35 Israelis were killed by Palestinians in 2008.

Arbitrary detention, mistreatment of prisoners and extra-judicial killings

This year saw further arbitrary detention and mistreatment of prisoners in both the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. Hamas militants launched two major crack downs on political opponents. Following a bomb attack that killed five of its members, Hamas arrested over 200 people connected with the rival Fatah movement and closed down a large number of Fatah-related institutions. Both Palestinian and international NGOs report that torture of detainees is commonplace. During Operation Cast Lead, Hamas targeted large numbers of Fatah supporters. Human rights groups have documented cases of punishment beatings, knee-capping and, in more than 20 cases, summary execution of Fatah activists.

In the West Bank there have been cases of politicallymotivated detentions by Palestinian Authority security forces. There are also credible reports of mistreatment of prisoners. In February 2008, a 43-year-old imam, Majd al Barghouthi, died in a detention centre in Ramallah run by one of the Palestinian Authority's intelligence services. It is probable that he was beaten and tortured.


The Israeli Defence Forces' Corporal, Gilad Shalit, remained in Hamas detention following his kidnap in 2006. We continued to call for his immediate release.

UK action

The UK works closely with Israel and the Palestinian Authority to advance the peace process and improve daily lives on both sides of the conflict. In May 2008 the Prime Minister set out clearly to the Knesset the need for real movement towards a two state solution based on 1967 borders: Israel, secure from attack, recognised by and at peace with its neighbours, alongside a peaceful, democratic and territorially viable state of Palestine; with Jerusalem the capital for both and a just and agreed settlement for refugees.

The Foreign Secretary visited twice, seeing the progress made by Palestinian security forces in Jenin in the northern West Bank, but also the impact of Israeli restrictions there and the impact of militant rockets on Sderot in southern Israel. Mr Rammell visited Hebron, where the issues around Israeli settlements are most acute, and the Cliff Hotel. He also went to Ashkelon, where rockets continue to fall, and met the father of Gilad Shalit. In addition, we have a constant dialogue at all levels with both sides. We continue to believe that such a close dialogue – understanding their real concerns, but pressing hard for full respect of human rights – is the best way to move towards justice for Palestinians and security for Israelis.

We work closely with the Palestinian Authority to build the institutions of a future Palestinian state and to improve the lives of Palestinians. We have pledged up to £243 million over three years. In the financial year 2007-08, we spent £40 million in direct support to the Palestinian Authority. We will continue this support, with rigorous controls to ensure that money is not mis-spent. We will also continue our efforts to support and professionalise the Palestinian Security Forces, to increase their effectiveness and reinforce the importance of human rights. We fund a range of projects to support human rights groups, which highlight the effects of the occupation and challenge its implementation, including by taking legal action to enforce demolition orders on Israeli settlements.

The weight of the occupation is not reducing in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. In Gaza, the situation has deteriorated even further over 2008. The restrictions and humiliations are wrong, do nothing for Israel's long term security and make peace harder to achieve. We will continue to press Israel to remove them, while at the same time working with Israel towards a permanent peace.


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