Despite Bias, U.S. State Department Human Rights Report Strongly Critical of Israel

In late February, the U.S. Department of State submitted its annual "Country Reports on Human Rights Practices" to the U.S. Congress. According to the State Department, these reports cover internationally recognized individual, civil, political and worker rights as defined by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Among the Country Reports for 2000, a report on the Occupied Palestinian Territory, referred to in the report as the "Occupied Territories", was submitted. The report focused on the human rights situation in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, as well as in East Jerusalem. A separate report was submitted on the human rights situation in Israel proper.

As with most other U.S. efforts regarding the Israeli-Palestinian situation, the Country Report on the Occupied Territories in some ways reflected the long-standing U.S. bias in favor of Israel. The U.S. bias has typically been reflected in its unqualified support of Israeli actions and positions, as well as its frequent attempts to shield Israel from international criticism and absolve it from its obligations to abide by international law and agreements reached. This was basically manifested in the format of the report, which did not present a clear evaluation of a case of human rights under foreign occupation, wherein the specific focus is the actions of the occupying Power that violate the human rights of the occupied people. Instead, the report fluctuated between reviewing the two legally and politically distinct cases of the Israeli occupation on the one hand and the Palestinian internal situation on the other hand. References, for example, were repeatedly made to "Israeli security forces", rather than occupying forces, and to violence in general, rather than that of a military against a civilian population, and often employed a language of justification for certain actions. As such, the report mistakenly dealt with the two situations on a level of parity, apportioning blame and straying from a strict evaluation of the human rights practices of the occupying Power.

In spite of the above, and likely attributable to the appalling situation on the ground, the Country Report on the Occupied Territories was nevertheless strongly critical of Israeli policies and practices in the West Bank and Gaza. The report revealed innumerable violations of the human rights of the Palestinian people in the year 2000. In covering various issues, the report confirmed the harsh realities of life under the Israeli occupation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, where Israeli violations of human rights impact all aspects of Palestinian lives. The report focused in particular on the actions and violations of the occupying Power following the 28 September 2000 visit by Ariel Sharon to Al-Haram Al-Sharif and the Palestinian demonstrations and unrest that ensued in response, which have come to be known as "Al-Aqsa Intifada".

The report covered several human rights issues, including, inter alia, political and extrajudicial killings; torture and inhuman treatment; use of excessive force and violations of humanitarian law; denial of fair trial; freedom of movement within the occupied territories, foreign travel, emigration and repatriation; arbitrary interference with privacy, family, home or correspondence; and freedom of peaceful assembly and association. It revealed a sharp deterioration in the human rights situation in specific and the living conditions in general in the Occupied Palestinian Territory in the latter part of the year.

The following are excerpts from the U.S. State Department’s Country Report on Occupied Territories regarding Israeli human rights practices in the territories:

  • "Israel’s overall human rights record in the occupied territories was poor… it worsened in several areas late in the year, mainly due to the sustained violence that began in September. Israeli security forces committed numerous serious human rights abuses during the year. Security forces killed 307 Palestinians and 4 foreign nationals and injured at least 11,300 Palestinians and other persons during the year."

  • "Israeli security forces targeted for killing a number of Palestinians whom the Israeli Government stated had attacked or were planning future attacks on Israeli settlements or military targets."

  • "Since the violence began, Israeli security units often used excessive force against Palestinian demonstrators. Israeli security forces sometimes exceeded their rules of engagement, which provide that live fire is only to be used when the lives of soldiers, police, or civilians are in imminent danger."

  • "Palestinian medical relief organizations reported that 59.5% of the gunshot wounds inflicted by Israeli security forces during demonstrations were in the head or torso… According to human rights organizations, a total of 82 Palestinians under the age of 18 years were killed in the demonstrations."

  • "The IDF fired tank rounds and rockets from helicopters on cities and towns in the West Bank and Gaza, killing and injuring a number of persons and causing significant property damage."

  • "Three Palestinian prisoners died in Israeli custody under ambiguous circumstances during the year. Prison conditions are poor. Prolonged detention, limits on due process, and infringements on privacy rights remained problems."

  • "Israeli civilians, especially settlers, harassed, attacked, and occasionally killed Palestinians in the occupied territories. There were credible reports that settlers killed at least 14 Palestinians during the year… Settlers also caused damage to Palestinians by attacking and damaging greenhouses and agricultural equipment, uprooting olive trees, and damaging other valuable crops… the Israeli Government did not prosecute the settlers for their acts of violence. In general settlers rarely serve prison sentences if convicted of a crime against Palestinians."

  • "According to credible human rights organizations, Israeli security forces sometimes impeded the provision of medical assistance to sick and injured Palestinians; Palestinians claim that 7 Palestinians died as a result."

  • "Israeli authorities also frequently treat Palestinians in an abusive manner at checkpoints, subjecting them to verbal and physical harassment."

  • "Israeli courts treat Palestinians over the age of 12 as adults. Defense for Children International (DCI) reported that over 420 Palestinian minors (below the age of 18 years) were arrested and detained in Israeli prisons during the year, and that at year’s end, there were 200 minors in Israeli prisons.

  • "Israeli military authorities in areas of the West Bank under their control may enter private Palestinian homes and institutions without a warrant on security grounds… In conducting searches, the IDF has forced entry and sometimes has beaten occupants and destroyed property… Israeli security forces may demolish or seal the home (owned or rented) of a Palestinian suspected of terrorism without trial."

  • "Since 1993 Israel has applied closures, or enhanced restrictions, on the movement of persons and products, often for lengthy periods… During such closures, Israel cancels all travel permits and prevents Palestinians – even those with valid work permits – from entering Israel or Jerusalem. Due to the ongoing unrest in the occupied territories, Israel imposed 88 days of tightened, comprehensive closure during the year, compared with 15 days in 1999. In periods of extreme unrest in the West Bank and Gaza, the Israeli Government also prohibits most travel between towns and villages within the West Bank – an ‘internal’ closure – impeding the flow of goods and persons. During such internal closures, the Government also bans travel on the safe passage route between the West Bank and Gaza. Israel imposed 81 days of internal closure during the year."

  • "During periods of closure, Palestinians from the occupied territories were prevented from traveling to pray on the Temple Mount (Haram al-Sharif) in Jerusalem, Islam’s third holiest site."

  • "Palestinian residents of Jerusalem sometimes are prohibited by Israeli officials from entering the West Bank, and they require written permits from Israel to travel to the Gaza Strip."

  • "Beginning in October, the Israeli Government further constrained the movement of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza by intermittently closing the Gaza Airport and the Allenby and Rafah crossing points to Jordan and Egypt. Israeli also imposed a curfew in the Israeli-controlled part of Hebron. During the curfews, Palestinians generally were confined to their homes for all but a few hours per week during which they were allowed to buy food and other provisions. The IDF did not impose a curfew on the Jewish settlers in Hebron."

  • "The prolonged closures and curfews imposed by Israel on Palestinian cities and towns during the year had a significant negative impact on every sector of the economy… Unemployment of Palestinians nearly has quadrupled, the poverty rate has doubled, and income losses were estimated at over $500 million."

  • "Reports by foreign journalists also are subject to review by Israeli military censors for security issues, and the satellite feed used by many foreign journalists is monitored. The Israeli Government often closes areas to journalists when it imposes a curfew or closure… At least 10 journalists reportedly were hit by IDF gunfire during the "Al-Aqsa Intifada".