Highlights

  • Palestinian Airlines (Al-Filastiniya) began its operations on January 10, 1997, with two flights departing from Port Said Airport in Egypt to Jedda, Saudi Arabia, carrying Palestinians traveling to Mecca to perform al-umrah or "minor pilgrimage". The two Fokker-50 aircraft comprising the fleet were received from the Netherlands as part of its assistance to the Palestinian Authority. The pilots and crews of both planes were all Palestinians. The airline, however, was not able to begin its operations from Rafah Airport in Gaza, which is practically ready for use, because of Israeli delays in concluding an agreement on the airport in accordance with the Interim Agreement on the West Bank and Gaza Strip of 1995. The chairman of the airline expressed hope that operations from Gaza could begin in the near future. Once the airport in Rafah is opened, Palestinian Airlines will schedule flights to and from many cities, beginning with Cairo, Amman and Larnaca.
  • On January 20, 1997, the Israeli government approved the construction of 60 housing units in a settlement in the Jordan Valley, called "Maaleh Ephraim" as part of its aggressive illegal settlement campaign. Also, on February 4, 1997, the government audaciously advertised the sale of 120 units in 30 different settlements throughout the West Bank. In addition, the Israeli government continued to carry through other illegal actions such as prohibiting Palestinians in Hebron from renovating their homes and shops in the old part of the city and abrogating the residence rights of Palestinian Jerusalemites in an attempt to further change the demographic composition and character of the city.
  • The Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor of the U.S. Department of State issued its 1996 Human Rights report. It included a part entitled "The Occupied Territories Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1996", which was released on January 30, 1997. The report mixes both the Israeli practices in this regard and practices of the Palestinian Authority and attempts to represent human rights violations as a shared blame between the two sides. Also, it only approaches the issue on an individual case basis, ignoring many of the gross, collective human rights violations committed by Israel against the Palestinian people. This includes, for instance, completely ignoring Israeli settlement activities and the theft of Palestinian natural resources. Even the closure of the occupied territories is presented in the report in a way which underestimates its huge impact as a collective punishment and in a manner that seemingly accepts the Israeli explanation of this practice.

The fact is that Israel remains the occupying Power and it still retains overall responsibility of the situation and, clearly, it can virtually affect all aspects of life for the Palestinian people in this regard. As such, it must be emphasized that international humanitarian law (Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 and the Hague Convention of 1907 and its Annexed Regulations) is applicable to the occupied territories and it should be used to evaluate all facets of Israeli practices. Different legal instruments and practical measures should be used in evaluating the Palestinian Authority's record on human rights. The report is structurally flawed and has obviously been influenced heavily by political considerations. It appears to be a political instrument more than anything else.