FAILURE OF ISRAEL TO HONOUR ITS INTERNATIONAL OBLIGATIONS
DISPROPORTIONATE AND INDISCRIMINATE USE OF FORCE
DEMAND TO ESTABLISH AN INTERNATIONAL COMMISSION OF INQUIRY
A STATEMENT FOLLOWING A MISSION TO EVALUATE THE CURRENT CRISIS IN ISRAEL AND THE PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES
On the basis of the findings of its mission to Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories from 4-8 October, 2000, the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network (EMHRN), the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH) and the International Committee of Jurists (ICJ)-Sweden strongly urge
the international community:
- To strongly appeal for immediate measures to protect the civilian Palestinian people
- To establish without delay an international independent expert commission of inquiry, in accordance with the resolution of the UN Security Council 1322 (2000), to carry out a thorough and comprehensive investigation into the events during the current crisis and in particular of alleged abuses of human rights and breaches of humanitarian law. In this respect the organisations urge those states and institutions which take part in the Barcelona Process to support the independent international investigation with all necessary means at their disposal.
- On finding evidence of such abuses to bring the perpetrators to justice.
- To support the sending of observers as well as effective international humanitarian assistance, and increasing the presence of the International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC).
- To urge the High Contracting Parties to immediately reconvene the adjourned conference and pressure Israel to implement de jure the 4th Geneva Convention in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
- To urgently call for an extraordinary Association Council meeting with reference to article 2 of the EU-Israel Association Agreement which calls for the respect for human rights in domestic and international policies. The EU should use available political and economic means to ensure Israel’s adherence to international standards of humanitarian and human rights law.
- To adhere to its international obligations and discontinue the use of excessive and unjustified force against both demonstrators and the civilian population both within Israel and the Occupied Territories
- To cease forthwith the use of illegal ammunition and heavy weapons, including helicopters with guided missiles, against civilians
- To withdraw immediately those security forces which have provocatively entered within the Palestinian Authority area
- To withdraw from other provocative areas within the Occupied Territories in order to reduce tension
- To respect the inviolability and safety of medical personnel as required under international law and to ensure they are not hindered in their work
Iain Byrne, Researcher at the Human Rights Centre, University of Essex, UK; Stefan August Lutgenau, Coordinator, Bruno Kreisky Foundation, Austria; Hubért Prévot, President de la Coordination Sud, France, on behalf of the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network (EMHRN) and the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH) and Per Erik Nilsson, former judge and Ombudsman on behalf of the International Committee of Jurists, Sweden.
Mandate and Activities
The members of the mission were mandated to evaluate the current crisis and the parties’ handling of the situation in the light of international human rights standards, including the provisions of the Barcelona Declaration in the field of human rights and the Association Agreements and visited Israel and the Palestinian territories from 4-8 October, 2000.
In carrying this out they liaised closely with local EMHRN and FIDH members, together with other human rights and humanitarian organisations working throughout the affected areas of Northern Israel, East Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
The mission spoke to victims and families of people who died in violent clashes, together with eye witnesses who were able to provide first hand information about particular incidents. Site visits were also carried out to places of conflict including Netzarim Junction and Khan Younnis in Gaza, Nazareth, Arrabe and Umm el Fahm in Northern Israel and Beit Sahour and Ramallah in the West Bank. It conducted meetings with the local authorities, members of the medical services and management of the Red Crescent in addition to NGOs and political representatives who were able to provide an overall assessment of the situation.
An itinerary and a summary of the interviews and meetings carried out by the mission will be made available shortly.
The mission found evidence of widespread and sustained abuses of human rights combined with a failure to adhere to international humanitarian law, in particular the Fourth Geneva Convention, as required by the provisions of the Barcelona Declaration and associated Agreements.
Excessive and Indiscriminate Use of Force
In response to both peaceful and violent demonstrations by Palestinians both within the Occupied Territories and Israel, Israeli Forces (IDF, police and border patrols) have used excessive force disproportionate to the threat faced. This has occurred repeatedly in different locations throughout the affected areas.
Although there has been some limited use of firearms by Palestinians most violence has taken the form of stone throwing and (to a much lesser extent) the use of ‘Molotov cocktails’.
Despite the fact that where it was used tear gas proved to be an effective reaction to violent demonstrations leading to a quick and sustained dispersal its use has been very limited. Similarly, there has been no evidence of water cannons being used. Instead from a very early stage in the conflict Israeli authorities resorted to using a range of firearms and heavy weapons which have resulted in widespread death and injuries amongst the Palestinians. Such use has been wholly out of proportion to the threat faced as reflected in the casualty figures provided by the medical services and human rights organisations.
In addition to so-called ‘rubber’ bullets (thinly coated iron balls or cylinders which can be lethal when fired at close range) live ammunition has also been consistently used – including, according to medical expertise, illegal dum-dum and explosive bullets. Heavy weapons normally reserved only for military warfare have also been deployed including machine guns, 9.6 mm high velocity ammunition and LAW rockets fired from Apache helicopters. Unsurprisingly, these have resulted in serious injuries and loss of life when used against not just violent demonstrators, but also peaceful protests and local residents.
Peaceful protesters have been attacked whilst lying on the ground after being overpowered by Israeli security forces. In one case in Arrabe, Northern Israel, execution of an unarmed protester by a single shot to the neck after being pursued and overpowered by two security personnel has been reported.
Lethal Use of Force Often Targeting Innocent Civilians and Children
Private houses and civilians have been attacked indiscriminately particularly at night. As reported, such attacks have involved the use of snipers with high velocity weapons. This is despite the fact that no demonstrations have been noted taking place within the vicinity. The increasing involvement of settlers in such attacks also gives cause for concern.
The majority of Palestinian casualties have received injuries to the upper part of their body with the apparent intention of inflicting the maximum harm. This includes a high number of eye injuries often sustained through the firing of ‘rubber’ bullets at close range. The result is not just the loss of an eye, but often severe brain damage or death. Several of these cases involve children.
Indeed, the number of children casualties is disturbingly high (22 killed by 10 October). There appears to be no attempt to distinguish between them and adults and to afford them special protection in accordance with Israel’s commitments under both the Fourth Geneva Convention and the Convention of the Rights of the Child.
Attacks on and Intimidation of Medical Personnel
Despite ambulances being clearly marked in accordance with international conventions they have been repeatedly targeted with live ammunition with resulting loss of life and injuries to medical personnel.
In addition there is evidence of deliberate hindrance of the work of medical personnel thereby endangering the lives of they are seeking to help. In some instances this has resulted in delays of hours before ambulances have been able to transfer the wounded to hospitals.
Impunity and Lack of Due Process
To date not a single case has been reported of any Israeli security personnel or civilians engaged in the lethal use of force against Palestinian civilians being held responsible. This impunity of Israeli forces is in sharp contrast to the judicial and administrative actions taken against Palestinians held in Israeli custody after having been arrested during the current crisis. Lack of access to lawyers and a failure by the courts to assess the evidence adequately raises doubts about the fairness of trials and the independence of the judiciary.
Initial Conclusions of the Mission
The above observations strongly suggest the following conclusions :
-The Israeli authorities have met the Palestinian unrest with an extraordinarily disproportionate and excessive use of force. The level of violence against civilians has escalated as the crisis has continued.
-The Israelis authorities have provoked violent demonstrations by using excessive force against peaceful protests.
-The Israelis authorities have terrorized civilians by attacking peaceful individuals and private homes which have not in any way been related to the civil unrest.
-The Israeli authorities have increased the loss of life of Palestinian civilians by preventing ambulances from helping the injured by blocking roads and by directly attacking ambulance and killing ambulance personnel.
Accordingly, there has been a failure on the part of the Israeli state to adhere to its international human rights and humanitarian commitments, in particular the 4th Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, as required by the Barcelona Declaration and related Association Agreements.
The mission’s findings and conclusions must be seen in a wider political context given that the current situation has the serious potential to escalate into war.
According to the information gathered, it is clear that the present conflict stems from an impasse in the peace process and the increased sufferings the Palestinians since the Oslo Peace Accords.
The Oslo Peace Accords incorporate two aspects : (1) confidence building measures and (2) a final settlement intended to be reached by May 1999. However, not only has a final settlement not been reached, but to date only extremely limited results have been reached in the realm of confidence building.
On the contrary the status quo which resulted from the Oslo Agreement and the Washington negotiations have increased and cemented mutual distrust by inventing and empowering a system of social and economic inequality combined with an overt military threat. The seeds of conflict have been sown in the structural economic, social and cultural rights violations that continue to be perpetrated against the Palestinians as well as a denial of basic civil liberties such as freedom of movement and right to fair trial. The continued confiscation of land and building of settlements in the Occupied Territories is a constant reminder that the Palestinians are not truly free in their own land, but victims of a form of apartheid. For example in the Gaza Strip - scene of the some of the worst violence - 20 Israeli settlements with a population of 6,000 control 42% of the land leaving the remaining 58% to 1.2 million Palestinians.
The result has been to create a deep-rooted distrust and disillusion on the Palestinian side of their Israeli neighbours. The unjustified provocation by Ariel Sharon’s "visit" to the Haram Al-Sharif, accompanied by a huge number of Israeli security forces, was merely the trigger needed to unleash this frustration and anger.
Thus with nearly ninety people killed and thousands injured it seems that there is a great risk that the situation will deteriorate seriously unless Israeli policies are drastically changed towards ending its belligerent occupation of the last thirty three years and . recognising the rights of the Palestinian people to be empowered through genuine self-determination and the independence for a Palestinian State.
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