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Israel & Occupied Territories: US Country Reports on Human Rights Practice
24 mar 2004
Country Reports on Human Rights Practices - 2003
Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
February 25, 2004

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. 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 newly created Palestinian Authority (PA). The 1995 Interim Agreement divided the territories into Areas A, B, and C, denoting different levels of Palestinian and Israeli control. The PA controls security and civil affairs in Area A, civil affairs and shared responsibilities with Israel in Area B, and Israel controls certain civil functions and all security in Area C. In parts of the West Bank and Gaza, Israel exercised civil authority through the Israeli Ministry of Defense's Office of Coordination and Liaison (MATAK). The approximately 193,170 Israeli settlers (a decrease of approximately 15,000 since 2002) living in Area C of the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip were subject to Israeli law and, as citizens, received preferential treatment from Israeli authorities compared to Palestinians in the protection of their personal and property rights.

These distinctions were not in force during the year following Israel's reassertion of security control over most PA-controlled areas in 2002, which Israel carried out citing the PA's failure to abide by its security responsibilities. The international community considered 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 considered the Hague Regulations applicable and maintained that it largely observed the Geneva Convention's humanitarian provisions. Palestinians and international human rights groups maintained that Israel consistently violated these provisions. (This annex on the occupied territories should be read in conjunction with the report on Israel).

The "Intifada," or Palestinian uprising, began in September 2000. Since 2000, the security situation has deteriorated both within Israel and within the occupied territories. Israeli and Palestinian violence associated with the Intifada has claimed 2,369 Palestinian lives, 856 Israeli lives, and the lives of 48 foreign nationals, including 41 American citizens. Israeli military operations and armed attacks and terrorism by Palestinians against Israeli targets--including civilians within Israel, settlers, and soldiers in the occupied territories and Israel marked the conflict. On October 15, three American security personnel were killed and one wounded when a bomb detonated under their car as they drove in Gaza as part of a diplomatic motorcade. At year's end, the PA continued to investigate the incident. The attacks by Palestinians also included suicide bombings, roadside bombings, shooting at Israeli vehicles and military installations, firing of antitank missiles and mortars, and use of hand grenades. Israel Defense Forces (IDF) military actions against Palestinians included violence and abuse at checkpoints, incursions into Palestinian-controlled towns and villages, targeted killings, demolitions of homes, property, and public buildings, firing toward civilian areas with tanks and fighter aircraft, and intense gun battles with Palestinian gunmen. By year's end, Israel asserted military control over all major West Bank cities except Jericho and Bethlehem, demolished homes, including those of suicide bombers and wanted men, conducted mass arrests, and forcibly relocated some suspects. In response to the ongoing terrorist threat originating in the West Bank, Israel began construction of a security barrier to be built along parts of the Green Line and in the West Bank.

In 1996, Palestinians chose their first popularly elected government in democratic elections that generally were free and fair; an 88-member Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) and the Chairman of the Executive Authority were then elected. The PA has a cabinet of 24 ministers serving under Prime Minister Ahmad Quray. President Arafat asserts executive authority over the government and Prime Minister. Most senior government positions in the PA are held by individuals who are members of, or loyal to, President Yasir Arafat's Fatah faction of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO).

The Independence of the Judiciary Law and the PA Basic Law define the authorities of the three governmental branches and prescribed direct election of a president accountable to a cabinet and the elected PLC. At year's end, neither law was implemented fully and the respective roles of the Ministry of Justice and the High Judicial Council remained unclear. The PA courts were perceived as inefficient, and the PA executive and security services frequently ignored or failed to carry out court decisions.

Israeli security forces in the West Bank and Gaza Strip consisted of the IDF, the Israel Security Agency (the ISA-formerly the General Security Service, or GSS), the Israeli National Police (INP), and the paramilitary border police. Israeli military courts tried Palestinians accused of committing acts of violence and terror in Israeli-controlled areas. Members of the Israeli security forces committed numerous, serious human rights abuses.

The Palestinian Police Force (PPF) included the Palestinian Public Security Force, the Palestinian Civil Police, the Preventive Security Force (PSF), the General Intelligence Service, or Mukhabarat, the Palestinian Presidential Security Force, and the Palestinian Coastal Police. Other quasi-military security organizations, such as the Military Intelligence organization, also exercised de facto law enforcement powers. Palestinian police were 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 were not subject to PA security force jurisdiction. Members of the PA security forces committed numerous, serious human rights abuses.

The occupied territories comprise the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem. The population of the Gaza Strip was approximately 1,397,011, not including some 7,781 Israeli settlers. In the Gaza Strip, 62 percent of the land consists of Area A; 6 percent of Area B; and 32 percent of Area C. In the West Bank, 18.1 percent of the land consists of Area A; 21.6 of Area B; and 60.3 percent of Area C. The population of the West Bank (excluding East Jerusalem) was approximately 2,237,194 not including some 187,854 Israeli settlers. In the West Bank, Area A includes 55 percent of the Palestinian population; 41 percent of the Palestinian population is in Area B; and 4 percent is in Area C (which also contains Israeli settlements). The population of East Jerusalem, within the municipal boundaries established by Israel in 1967 was approximately 385,600, including 177,333 Israeli settlers.

The economy of the West Bank and Gaza Strip is small, underdeveloped, and highly dependent on Israel and international assistance. Israeli curfews and closures, as well as the continuing conflict, severely impacted the economy. The economy relied primarily on agriculture, services, and small manufacturing. Before the beginning of the Intifada, up to 146,000 workers from the West Bank and Gaza (approximately 25 percent of the Palestinian work force) were employed in Israel. During heightened terrorist activity in Israel or periods of unrest in the West Bank or Gaza, Israeli-imposed closures on Palestinian cities, curfews, and strict limitations on movement within the West Bank and Gaza impeded Palestinians from reaching jobs or markets and disrupted internal and external trade. In addition, the IDF and settlers destroyed sections of Palestinian-owned agricultural land and economic infrastructure. The Government of Israel stated that some of these actions, such as the destruction of groves alongside roadways and security fences by the IDF, were necessary for security reasons. Unemployment in the West Bank and Gaza was estimated at 30 percent, and approximately 63 percent of Palestinian households were living below the poverty line (54 percent of families in the West Bank and 84 percent of families in Gaza). These circumstances effectively prevented any amelioration of worker rights in the occupied territories.

During the year, the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and Johns Hopkins University reported that 7.8 percent of Palestinian children under 5 suffered from acute malnutrition, 11.7 percent suffered chronic malnutrition, and 44 percent were anemic.

Israel required Palestinians to obtain Israeli permits for themselves and their vehicles to cross from the West Bank or Gaza into Israel and Jerusalem. Citing security concerns, Israel applied partial "external closure," or enhanced restrictions, on the movement of persons and products, often for lengthy periods. During times of violent protest in the West Bank or Gaza, or when it believed that there was an increased likelihood of such unrest or of terrorist attacks in Israel, Israel imposed a tightened, comprehensive version of external closure, generally referred to as "total external closure." Total external closures also were instituted regularly during all major Israeli holidays and during some Muslim holidays. During such closures, Israel prevented Palestinians from leaving the occupied territories.

Israel also placed Palestinians in the West Bank under strict "internal closure" for the entire year, allowing only Palestinians with special permits for work or health services to leave cities and pass through checkpoints on main roads. Most Palestinians were unable to leave their towns or were forced to travel without authorization on secondary roads. Israeli forces further restricted freedom of movement of Palestinians by imposing extended curfews on Palestinian towns or neighborhoods.

These curfews did not apply to Israeli settlers in the same areas.

Israel's overall human rights record in the occupied territories remained poor and worsened in the treatment of foreign human rights activists as it continued to commit numerous, serious human rights abuses.

Security forces killed at least 573 Palestinians and 1 foreign national and injured 2,992 Palestinians and other persons during the year, some of whom were innocent bystanders. Israeli security forces targeted and killed at least 44 Palestinians, many of whom were terrorists or suspected terrorists.

Israeli forces undertook many of these targeted killings in areas where civilian casualties were likely, killing 47 bystanders in the process, including children. The Israeli Government said that it made every effort to reduce civilian casualties during these operations.

Israeli security units often used excessive force when confronting Palestinian demonstrations, while on patrol, pursuing suspects, and enforcing checkpoints and curfews, which resulted in numerous deaths.

In response to Palestinian attacks on Israeli targets, Palestinian civilian areas suffered extensive damage as a result of IDF retaliation, which included shelling, bombing, and raiding. Israeli soldiers placed Palestinian civilians in danger by ordering them to facilitate military operations, which exposed them to live fire between armed Palestinians and Israeli soldiers.

The Government of Israel said that is has reiterated to its forces that this practice is prohibited unless the civilian gives his voluntary consent; however, in practice, most Palestinians who agreed to assist such operations often did so out of fear of the soldiers even if they were not directly coerced. Palestinians who took part in such operations without being harmed still faced the risk of being branded as collaborators and risked being attacked by other Palestinians.

Israeli forces sometimes arbitrarily destroyed, damaged, or looted Palestinian property during these operations.

Israeli security forces often impeded the provision of medical assistance to Palestinian civilians by strict enforcement of internal closures that prevented passage of ambulances, asserting in some cases that emergency vehicles have been used to facilitate terrorist transit and operations.

Israeli security forces harassed and abused Palestinian pedestrians and drivers who attempted to pass through the approximately 430 Israeli-controlled checkpoints in the occupied territories.

Israel conducted mass, arbitrary arrests in the West Bank during military operations, summoning and detaining males between the ages of 15 and 45. Israel provided poor conditions for Palestinians in its prisons. Facilities were overcrowded, sanitation was poor, and food and clothing at times were insufficient. Israeli security forces and police officers beat and tortured detainees. Prolonged detention, limits on due process, and infringements on privacy rights remained problems.

Israel carried out policies of demolitions, strict curfews, and closures that directly punished innocent civilians.

Israel demolished the homes of families and relatives of suspected terrorists as well as buildings suspected terrorists used as hideouts.

Israel's demolitions left hundreds of Palestinians not involved in terror attacks homeless. Israel often demolished homes after suspects had already been killed or arrested.

Israel maintained that such punishment of innocents would serve as a deterrent against future terrorist attacks.

The IDF destroyed numerous orchards, olive and date groves, and irrigation systems on Palestinian-controlled agricultural land. Israel constructed parts of a large security barrier on land inside the West Bank isolating residents and limiting access to hospitals, schools, social services, and agricultural property.

At year's end, Israel was engaged in a process of reconsideration and reassessment of the routing and operation of the security barrier. A number of petitions in connection with the routing and operation of the barrier were pending before Israel's Supreme Court.

In several instances, Israel killed, injured, and obstructed human rights monitors and NGO workers through the use of excessive deadly force and the imposition of strict closures.

Israel censored Palestinian publications in East Jerusalem, raided and closed media outlets in the territories, blocked publications and broadcasts, and periodically detained or harassed members of the media and clergy.

IDF fire allegedly killed two journalists covering clashes between Palestinians and Israeli security forces, both of whom had clearly identified themselves as noncombatants, and injured at least three others.

The Israeli authorities placed strict limits on freedom of assembly and severely restricted freedom of movement for Palestinians.

Israeli security forces failed to prevent Israelis from entering Palestinian-controlled areas in the West Bank who injured or killed several Palestinians.

In some cases, Israeli soldiers escorted Israeli civilians who beat Palestinians and damaged Palestinian property.

The PA's overall human rights record remained poor, and it continued to commit numerous, serious abuses. Many members of Palestinian security services and the Fatah faction of the PLO participated with civilians and terrorist groups in violent attacks against Israeli civilians inside Israel, Israeli settlers, foreign nationals, and soldiers.

Palestinian security forces used excessive force against Palestinians during demonstrations. PA security officials abused prisoners and arbitrarily arrested and detained persons. Prolonged detention without respect for due process remained a problem. The PA provided poor conditions for prisoners. PA courts were inefficient and failed to ensure fair and expeditious trials. Internal closure in the occupied territories obstructed courts from holding sessions or issuing rulings during most of the year. The PA executive and security services frequently ignored or failed to enforce court decisions. PA security forces infringed on the right to privacy and restricted the freedom of speech and press. Palestinian groups harassed and abused journalists. Such restrictions and harassment contributed to the practice of self-censorship by many Palestinian commentators, reporters, and critics. During the year, informal reports of domestic abuse of women and "honor crimes" persisted. Societal discrimination against women and persons with disabilities and child labor remained problems.

Israeli civilians, most often settlers, harassed, attacked, and occasionally killed Palestinians in the occupied territories.

During the year, settlers attacked and killed at least one Palestinian. Settlers also caused significant economic damage to Palestinians by attacking and damaging greenhouses and agricultural equipment, uprooting olive trees, and damaging other valuable crops. The settlers did not act under government directive in the attacks, and Israeli soldiers sometimes restrained them, but in several cases Israeli soldiers accompanied them or stood by without acting.

Palestinian terrorists and gunmen were responsible for the deaths of 376 Israelis killed in the occupied territories. Palestinian extremists targeted Israelis in drive-by shootings and ambushes, suicide and other bombings, mortar attacks, and armed attacks on settlements and military bases. Palestinian terrorist and militant groups used minors to prepare attacks or carry them out, exploitation that amounted to forced conscription. During the year, Palestinians acting individually or in groups, including off-duty members of the PA security services, killed 25 Israeli civilians and 39 Israeli security personnel. Most of the attacks were organized by a number of Palestinian terrorist groups, including the militant Islamic Resistance Movement (HAMAS), the Palestine Islamic Jihad (PIJ), the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), and the Fatah-affiliated al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades. The Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP) and Fatah-affiliated groups also participated in the attacks. Palestinian civilians also killed at least five Palestinians in the occupied territories who allegedly had collaborated with Israel. Most of the deaths were shootings perpetrated by small groups of unidentified Palestinian gunmen. The PA conducted no investigations and made no arrests in any of these killings. "
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