The human rights record in the Occupied Palestinian Territories for 1997 was not better than the year before. The suffering of Palestinian citizens deepened, their living conditions deteriorated, and the violations of their basic human rights by Israeli occupation forces continued. Even areas under the jurisdiction of the Palestinian National Authority (PA) witnessed Israeli violations of Palestinian human rights, often manifested in the form of collective punishment prohibited under international law.
With increased pressure exerted against the PA by the governments of Israel and the United States of America, demanding that it carry out human rights violations in the areas under its jurisdiction, the year 1997 witnessed clear shortcomings on the Palestinian level. There were failures to implement the rule of law; setbacks for the judiciary, including non-implementation of court rulings; stagnation in the development of democracy, including the indefinite postponement of local council elections; and a second year of deficient performance by the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC), elected in January 1996. Despite the enthusiasm of some of its members, after 22 months of work the PLC had not taken effective measures to ensure the implementation of the Basic Law. Although it passed in the third reading, the Basic Law has still not been promulgated.
The year 1997 also witnessed growing frustration, depression, bitterness, and disappointment of Palestinian citizens towards the peace process. From the very beginning, this process raised high the hope that Palestinians would soon see an end to occupation, tangible improvements in their living conditions, more security, and more welfare. By the end of 1997, the living conditions of the Palestinian people have not improved, security and order have diminished, and the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land continues both physically and legally.
During 1997, the peace process itself witnessed continued setbacks as a result of the policy of the Netanyahu government in Israel, which turned its back on the Interim Agreement and its obligations contained within. The Netanyahu government accelerated its settlement policy by establishing new settlements and expanding already existing ones. It confiscated more and more Palestinian land for this settlement construction and for building new bypass roads to connect settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories with Israeli territory.
At the same time, the judaization of East Jerusalem continues, house demolitions proceed, and Palestinian Jerusalemites continue to face the confiscation of their ID cards. All of this creates new facts on the ground. By the end of 1997, in a breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention (1949), more than 4000 Palestinian prisoners remained in Israeli prisons, facing miserable living conditions and the oppressive measures of the Israeli prison administration. Many of these Palestinian detainees were also subjected to brutal methods of torture during interrogations, under the approval and permission of the highest judicial authorities in Israel, the only country in the world with legalized torture.
At the same time, Israel continued its policy of collective punishment against Palestinian citizens, including the imposition of prolonged closure on the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Severe restrictions on the movement of goods and individuals between the Occupied Palestinian Territories and the outside world have had destructive effects on all aspects of life for the Palestinian people, and have been a major factor in obstructing social and economic development in Palestinian.
Under these circumstances, the PCHR continued throughout 1997 to work towards achieving its goals. The PCHR continued monitoring, documenting, and following up on Israeli violations of Palestinian human rights. In this regard, the PCHR addressed the closure and its destructive effects on Palestinian society; violations by Israeli occupation forces; provocative practices of Israeli settlers in the Gaza Strip; detention campaigns carried out by Israeli soldiers against Palestinians at checkpoints and border crossings; and the living conditions and torture of Palestinian detainees in Israel.
The PCHR continued its activities on the international level, reporting on Israeli violations and unveiling facts to the international community. These activities included intervening before UN specialized bodies and concerned governmental and non-governmental organizations and urging them to take effective measures against Israels illegal practices in order to force Israel to live up to its commitments in accordance with international law.
The PCHR also upgraded its activities on the Palestinian level during 1997 in order to ensure respect for the rule of law, promote the development of democracy, strengthen civil society, and build a democratic legal system in Palestine. The PCHR intervened before the judiciary and concerned bodies to stop illegal measures; provided legal aid and counseling for victims of these illegal measures; worked with the PLC to urge the adoption of legislation in accordance with international standards of human rights and democratic principles; and carried out community awareness campaigns and other activities.