Israeli Violations of Palestinian Human Rights
Throughout 1997, the PCHR continued to monitor Israeli violations of Palestinian human rights. Particularly in Gaza, the PCHR documented these violations and reported them internationally and locally. The PCHR intervenes before international bodies in an attempt to gain worldwide support for the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people and to urge the international community to exert pressure on the State of Israel to stop its violations and illegal practices in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. The PCHR also provides legal aid and counseling to hundreds of victims of such practices, including intervention before Israeli courts and concerned bodies.
The year 1997 witnessed a full record of Israeli human rights violations in the Gaza Strip. Israeli authorities continued to enforce a policy of comprehensive and partial closures of the Occupied Palestinian Territories. As a form of collective punishment, such a policy is prohibited by international law. Also in 1997, the file of Palestinian detainees in Israel remained wide open, while their living conditions deteriorated and they continued to face torture. In addition, Israel continued its campaign of arrests against Palestinian citizens, detaining those living in areas under Palestinian jurisdiction at internal checkpoints and border crossings, such as the Rafah international crossing.
The provocative activities of Israeli settlers and soldiers also continued during 1997. Attempting to control and confiscate Palestinian land near settlements, the settlers and soldiers often provoked clashes with Palestinian civilians who confronted them and attempted to prevent the confiscation of their lands. During these clashes, many Palestinians were shot dead and many other injured in circumstances that did not threaten the lives of the Israeli soldiers.
Other Israeli violations continued in 1997, especially in areas still under the security jurisdiction of the Israeli occupation forces (Yellow Areas according to the Interim Agreement). In these areas, Palestinian citizens were subjected to systematic harassment by soldiers and settlers. Often Israeli soldiers closed al-Tufah checkpoint, the only outlet available for Palestinians to enter or leave the Yellow Areas. Even when al-Tufah was not closed, Israeli soldiers at this checkpoint restricted the movement of citizens and subjected them to prolonged checks, sometimes lasting many hours. At the same time, Israeli marine forces continued their provocative practices against Palestinian fishing boats in the tiny strip of sea in which Palestinians are allowed to fish. In many cases, the Israeli forces shot at these boats, detained Palestinian fishermen, and confiscated their boats and equipment.
The Continued Closure of the West Bank and Gaza Strip
In 1997, Israeli occupation forces maintained a tight closure on all Occupied Palestinian Territories, including areas under Palestinian jurisdiction in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Often the Israelis imposed a comprehensive closure, during which they completely prohibited the movement of individuals and goods between the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Israel, and the international community through Israel, Jordan, and Egypt. During 1997, Israeli authorities imposed comprehensive closures for 54 days, 14.8% of the year. The rest of the year witnessed partial closures, during which Israeli authorities announced gradual easing measures. This usually began by permitting limited imports of some basic commodities and then allowing limited exports of a few Palestinian products, particularly agricultural products. Eventually, the Israeli authorities would allow a few thousand Palestinian laborers access to their work in Israel and a few people permits to move from the West Bank and Gaza through Israel. While these gradual easing measures occurred, the essential aspects of the closure remained and restrictions on the movement of goods and individuals continued.
The Closure Update
During 1997, the PCHR continued to monitor and document the effects and implications of the Israeli policy of closure on all aspects of life in the Gaza Strip. The PCHR continued to publish its Closure Update, first published in March 1996. By the end of 1997, 21 issues had been published 15 during 1996 and 6 during 1997. The field work team of the PCHR gathered information for these updates from several primary sources:
- Field events and reports on the most recent developments
- Regular visits to Gaza Strip outlets to Israeli territory. These visits include witnessing the situation and interviewing Palestinian officials and citizens (workers, businessmen, passengers, drivers, and others).
- Visits to PA Ministries concerned with the closure and obtaining their documentation
- Visits to major economic institutions and unions
- Members of the community
- Concerned local and international organizations
- Other resources
The Closure Update, published in both Arabic and English, is the first specialized publication in the Occupied Palestinian Territories that provides detailed information on the closure. In general, the Update has covered the following aspects of closure:
- Restrictions on the freedom of movement between the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Israeli restrictions on the freedom of movement between the Gaza Strip and West Bank continued during 1997, despite the Interim Agreement signed by the PLO and the State of Israel, which confirmed the territorial integrity of these areas and included the activation of safe passages between them. The safe passages have yet to be opened. The Closure Updates included comprehensive documentation and vital information on the restriction of movement, challenging Israeli allegations that the freedom of movement has been eased. Issue 16 (25 February 1997) included a comparison between the number of Israeli permits for Palestinians to move between the Gaza Strip and West Bank during 1996 and the number of passengers between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank in 1991, before the imposition of the closure. Based on data obtained by the Field Work Unit, the PCHR estimated the number of passengers in normal circumstances at 600,000, compared with 6041 permits issued for 1996. Thus, the Israeli easing measures met 1% of real needs of Palestinian citizens, a tragically low figure. Throughout the year, other issues of the Update also monitored restrictions on the movement of citizens. In repeated cases, the Update detailed restrictions on the movement of Palestinian officials and members of the PLC, which resulted in canceling or postponing council sessions.
- Restrictions on the freedom to travel abroad. During 1997, Israeli authorities continued to impose restrictions on the freedom to travel outside of the country. In particular, from 30 July through 6 August 1997, citizens of the Gaza Strip were completely denied their right to travel through the Rafah border crossing into Egypt. Also, Al-Karama border crossing between the West Bank and Jordan was completely closed to Gazans from 21 March through 3 May 1997, followed by a partial closure from 4 May through 30 July, before the total closure was re-imposed between 31 July and the end of the year.
Also during 1997, Palestinians were restricted from leaving the country through Ben Gurion Airport in Israel. From 20 March to 10 April, Israel completely denied all Palestinians access to the airport, then partially lifted the closure from 11 April to 30 July, before re-imposing complete denial of access from 31 July to 6 August and from 4 September to 14 September. Throughout the rest of 1997, a few people were selectively allowed to leave the country through the airport. These measures and restrictions on the right to travel were imposed while Israel continued to obstruct the activation of the fully built Gaza International Airport.
- Restrictions on the right to education. For the second consecutive year, Israeli authorities continued throughout 1997 to deny more than 1200 Gazan students the right of free access to their educational institutions in thWest Bank. On 25 February 1996, Israel imposed the tightest closure ever imposed on the Occupied Palestinian Territories. On 12 March 1996, Israeli occupation authorities issued a military order demanding the transfer back to Gaza of all Gazan students who were in the West Bank at the time of the closure, including students living in areas under the jurisdiction of the Palestinian Authority. Since that time, Israel has not allowed more than 900 Gazan students who were on vacation in Gaza at the time of the closure to return to their universities in the West Bank. Despite the fact that tens of Gazan students managed to return to the West Bank after 12 March 1996, their stay was illegal from an Israeli point of view and they were tracked and arrested at checkpoints in areas under Israeli jurisdiction. These Israeli measures have resulted in a dramatic decrease in the number of Gazan students in West Bank universities, for which there are no appropriate alternatives in Gaza.
- Denying workers access to their jobs in Israel. With the comprehensive closure imposed on the Gaza Strip, tens of thousands of workers were denied access to their places of work in Israel. This led to a dramatic increase in unemployment rates and a deterioration of living conditions. In 1997, all Gazan workers were completely prohibited from reaching their places of work in Israel for 54 days. Throughout the rest of the year, a few thousand were gradually permitted access. Under the best circumstances, Israeli authorities allowed no more than 25,000 workers from Gaza to enter Israel on a given day. According to UNSCO, the average daily flow of labor from Gaza to Israel was 17,365 in 1997, compared with 120,000 in 1991.
- The closure of border-crossings to commercial transactions. During 1997, Israeli authorities continued to strangle the Palestinian economy, which already suffers from structural weakness and dependency on the Israeli economy. This condition has resulted from years of systematic Israeli policies designed to turn the Occupied Palestinian Territories into a cheap source of labor and an open market for Israeli products. As part of the systematic closure of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the Israeli authorities imposed severe restrictions on economic transactions between the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Israel, and the outside world. These restrictions included the prevention of all imports and exports during times of comprehensive closure and the permission of very limited commercial exchange during times of partial closure. Israeli restrictions on economic transactions in the Gaza Strip during 1997 led to:
- Shortage in provisions of commodities and basic food supplies
- Shortage of construction materials and raw materials for industry, which prolonged the disruption of production in industrial factories and damaged building projects, especially those related to infrastructure
- Stockpile and oversupply of both industrial and agricultural products in Gazan markets, which severely damaged both agriculture and industry
- Decline of 5.8% in the family standard of living in the West Bank and Gaza Strip during the first quarter of 1997 alone
Press releases regarding the closure
In addition to the Closure Updates, the PCHR published many press releases related to a number of issues regarding the closure. Most of these were urgent appeals presenting immediate information to the world in order to exert pressure on the Government of Israel.
- On 30 January 1997, the PCHR issued a press release about the Israeli denial of permission for Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) member Rafat Al-Najjar to travel from Gaza to the West Bank. This refusal stemmed from a decision of the Israeli Ministry of Defense. The press release condemned the Israeli decision against Al-Najjar, describing it as a severe escalation by Israel against members of the PLC. The release also recalled previous restrictions imposed by Israel against the free movement of PLC members. Depriving these officials of their right to travel between the West Bank and Gaza Stip demonstrates a provocative insult to the Palestinian people in general and their elected representatives in particular.
Additional damage stems from the canceling of Council sessions. In many cases, the Councils first priority has been to explore ways to overcome Israeli restrictions and secure the presence of all of its members. The press release called upon the international community for urgent action in order to lift the restrictions against Al-Najjar and to stop interfering with the parliamentary immunity of Palestinian representatives. The release also demanded an end to the policy of closure and the implementation of the Interim Agreement, specifically the activation of safe passages between the West Bank and Gaza.
- On 6 March 1997, the PCHR issued a press release regarding restrictions imposed on the freedom of movement of Palestinian lawyers as a result of the closure. For the second consecutive year, Israeli authorities continued to prevent Gazan lawyers from providing legal aid to Palestinian prisoners in Israel. Palestinian lawyers were denied permission to visit prisons and prisoners were deprived of their right to receive proper representation at military courts. Since 8 April 1996, Israeli authorities have refused to give Palestinian lawyers permits to visit Israeli prisons and to represent their clients at Israeli courts. This situation jeopardizes the rights of prisoners, in the following ways - as demonstrated in the PCHRs release:
- Thousands of Palestinian citizens, especially laborers in Israel, are detained in Israel and brought before a judge to extend their detention, without representation from a lawyer.
- In many cases, courts are convened without due process or proper procedure. Deprived of their right to defend themselves simply because they are not aware of the law and are not provided with lawyers, detainees in these courts receive long prison sentences.
- In most cases, the procedures of detention and hearing in the courts have no legal basis and could be declared null and void. However, lawyers are denied access to such courts to defend their clients.
- In many cases, military courts only impose fines on the detainees. However, because no lawyers or representatives are allowed access to the court, the decisions sometimes take months to reach the families, who would otherwise pay the fine immediately.
The press release called upon the international community to exact pressure on the Government of Israel to force it to abide by international standards relating to prisoners and to permit all lawyers access to Israeli prisons and courts.
- On 15 April 1997, the PCHR issued a press release about restrictions on the movement of Dr. Kamal El-Shrafi, head of the Human Rights Committee of the Palestinian Legislative Council. Israel had prevented El-Shrafi from travelling out of Gaza to the West Bank to participate in a Council meeting. The release declared once again that such Israeli measures obstruct the work of the PLC and impair the dignity of the Palestinian people. In addition, such measures reflect the lack of concern and negative intentions on the part of the Government of Israel regarding the peace process. Clearly, these provocative restrictions do not serve to promote the efforts to achieve a just peace and order in the region.
- On 18 June 1997, the PCHR issued a press release on the escalation of measures taken by Israel to restrict the movement of Palestinians. The release considered such restrictions a direct contradiction to the provisions of the Interim Agreement, which guarantees the territorial integrity of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and to the basic principles of human rights, which guarantee the right of the individual to free movement. The press release also included the cases of a number of Palestinian citizens who had been deprived of permission to move through Israel, including members of the PLC, lawyers, doctors, and journalists.
- On 31 July 1997, the PCHR issued a press release condemning measures taken by Israel to tighten the closure of West Bank and Gaza Strip in the aftermath of two suicide bombings that took place in West Jerusalem the day before. The press release challenged Israeli security justifications, stating that such measures had never contributed to the security of the State of Israel and that they represent a form of collective punishment prohibited by international law. The release called upon the Government of Israel to reconsider its policy of closure and to tackle the real causes for the deterioration of the regional security situation. These causes are the provocative policies implemented by Israel against the people of Palestine, including the policy of expanding and establishing settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Such policies have resulted in a stalemate in the peace talks.
- On 12 December 1997, the PCHR issued a press release condemning Israels denial of permission for a number of experts and human rights activists from the West Bank to travel to the Gaza Strip. As a result of this policy, these experts and activists were unable to participate in the International Conference: Human Rights and the Final Status Issues organized by the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights and held in Gaza from 1215 December 1997. The press release also demanded that the international community exert pressure on the Government of Israel to stop its policy of closure, an illegal form of collective punishment used against the Palestinian people.
Legal aid offered with regard to the freedom of movement
During 1997, hundreds of citizens who were prohibited from leaving the Gaza Strip approached the PCHR for legal assistance. Lawyers from the PCHR Legal Aid Unit intervened on their behalf before Israeli concerned bodies in order to lift restrictions imposed on their movement. In very limited and exclusive cases, the PCHR achieved positive results. For the entire year, only the following four cases received permits:
- Abdel Nasser El-Hawajri Jabalia, 27, student. El-Hawajri sought legal aid on 3 March 1997 in order to obtain a permit allowing him to enter Israel to study at the Hebrew University Jerusalem, where he had a full scholarship for graduate studies provided by UNESCO. The Israeli authorities had refused to grant him a permit and it took the PCHR two months to obtain the required permit.
- Sami El-Iasawi Gaza, 38, medical doctor. El-Iasawi sought legal aid on 3 June 1997 in order to obtain a permit to enter Israel to participate in a training program in Tel Aviv. El-Iasawi was nominated to this program by the Palestinian Ministry of Health and after only ten days of PCHR intervention he was granted the necessary permit.
- Randa Jabber Jabalia, 27. Jabber was denied permission to leave Gaza with her five children for family reunification outside of the country. Four times the Israeli authorities refused to let her leave Gaza and turned her back from the Rafah border crossing. Jabber approached the PCHR on 27 November 1997 and received permission to leave the country after 50 days.
- Muna El-Farra Gaza, 43. El-Farra approached the PCHR on 23 December 1997 seeking legal aid to obtain a permit to accompany her daughter to Jordan for medical treatment. She was granted a permit after one week.
The Use of Torture against Palestinian Prisoners and the Deterioration of their Living Conditions
The number of Palestinian prisoners inside Israeli jails is estimated at roughly 4000, including more than 650 from the Gaza Strip. However, this number is not a fixed number. It increases on a daily basis due to the continued campaign of arrests against Palestinians by Israeli forces:
- In areas of the West Bank and Gaza Strip under direct Israeli occupation rather than under the jurisdiction of the Palestinian Authority.
- Inside the Israeli borders, particularly concerning Palestinians working without permits.
- At military checkpoints in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
- At border crossings between the Occupied Palestinian Territories and Israel.
- At border crossings with Egypt and Jordan controlled by Israeli occupation forces.
For example, in 1997, Israeli authorities arrested 151 Palestinians at international border crossings: 48 at the Rafah border crossing with Egypt and 103 at the El-Karama border crossing with Jordan. At the same time, in a very dangerous escalation, on 28 September 1997 the Israeli military commander of the West Bank issued military order #1455, amending previous military orders concerned with security. He thus allowed Israeli occupation forces to bring Palestinian citizens before military courts for activities carried out within areas under the civil and security jurisdiction of the Palestinian Authority.
Palestinian prisoners are held in prisons and detention centers inside Israeli territory in a grave breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which prohibits the transfer of the population of occupied territories, including prisoners, to the territory of the occupying power. In these prisons, Palestinian prisoners face inhuman living conditions, are subjected to torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment, and are deprived of their right to receive family visits on a regular basis.
The death of Palestinian prisoners inside Israeli jails
During 1997, four Palestinian prisoners died inside Israeli jails. At least one of them was tortured to death by Israeli interrogators. The four prisoners were:
- Riyad Mahmoud Odwan 44, Rafah. Arrested on 12 April 1991, after attempting to stab an Israeli soldier in Rafah, Odwan was shot in the chest, legs, and left arm by Israeli soldiers. Later he was sentenced to 24 years in prison. On 12 January 1997, Odwan died at Beer Sheva prison in Israel. His family was informed of his death by a phone call from a prisoner. He informed the family that Odwan died as the result of a heart attack. He informed the family that prisoners asked the prison administration for urgent medical aid, but that the administration provided aid only after a delay. Later Odwan was sent to the hospital, but he arrived dead. Odwan suffered from asthma and chest pains.
- Omar Ibrahim Faraj 23, Silwan. Faraj was arrested on 29 January 1986 and sentenced to life in prison on charges of killing an Israeli officer. On 6 February 1997, he was found stabbed to death in his cell at Ramle prison. Medical examinations demonstrated that his wrists had been slit.
- Khalid Ali Abu Daya 37, Bethlehem. On 16 May 1997, Abu Daya was arrested and violently beaten by Israeli soldiers while on his way to pray at the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. Abu Daya suffered from mental disorders. After four days in prison, he was transferred to Givat Shaoul mental health hospital in Israel, where he was confined to a special room for prisoners. He was found dead on 21 May 1997. On 22 May, an autopsy was conducted without the presence of a representative from the family. Later, upon the request of his family and the Palestinian Ministry of Justice, another autopsy was conducted by a Palestinian doctor. The second autopsy revealed that there were signs of torture on many parts of his body, a broken left arm, bruises on his neck, and marks proving that his arms and legs were bound. The report stated that Abu Daya died as the result of nervous shock due to severe pain caused by outside violence.
- Marwan Hassan Maali 33, Jenin. Maali was arrested on 3 August 1997 and was placed under administrative detention until 3 October 1997. He was then sent to Majido detention center. Prior to his arrest, Maali was receiving medical treatment from a mental health specialist. According to the Israeli military spokesman, he was found hanged in his cell.
Legal Aid offered for Palestinian prisoners inside Israeli jails
The Legal Aid Unit of the PCHR offers free services to prisoners and their relatives, in terms of legal counseling and intervention on behalf of detainees before Israeli courts and other concerned bodies. The Legal Aid Unit functions through the following mechanisms:
- Specifying the place of imprisonment.
- Providing Israeli lawyers to visit detainees because Gazan lawyers are access to Israeli detention centers.
- Intervening before Israeli courts on behalf of detainees to stop torture and to intervene against deteriorating living conditions.
The Legal Aid Unit treated 65 files for prisoners during 1997. In all cases, the unit determined the place of imprisonment. Israeli lawyers working with the PCHR were able to visit 30 of the detainees and 15 of them received intervention before Israeli courts. Following are the major cases:
- Abdel Halim Yousef Safi 34, El Bureij. On his return to Gaza from Syria after receiving a PhD in engineering, Safi was arrested at the Rafah border crossing on 4 September 1997. On 20 September 1997, the PCHR appealed to the Israeli court to stop the use of torture against Safi by Israeli interrogators. On 13 October, he was released due to lack of evidence.
- Ashraf Rafiq Nasrallah 25, Gaza. Nasrallah was arrested at the Rafah border crossing on 1 November 1997 on his return to Gaza from Syria after finishing a law degree. The PCHR appointed an Israeli lawyer to defend him before Israeli courts. He was tortured during interrogation and released on 4 February 1998 with a fine of 8000 shekels.
- Muhammad Hassan Abu Sultan 22, Gaza. Abu Sultan was arrested on 19 October 1997 at the Rafah border crossing while leaving Gaza to study in the Sudan. On 29 October, the PCHR appealed to the Israeli High Court of Justice to stop the use of torture against Abu Sultan by Israeli interrogators. Another appeal was filed at the Military Court of Appeals against the extension of his detention. On 22 December 1997, he was sentenced to four months in prison and a fine of 1000 NIS.
- Mustapha Hassan Abu Nasser 22, Jabalia. Abu Nasser was arrested on 25 October 1996 near Bir Zeit University because he had no permit to live in the West Bank. In coordination with Bir Zeit University, the PCHR followed this case and intervened on his behalf before the Israeli military court at Erez.
El Asra (Prisoners) Special update on Palestinian and Arab prisoners in Israeli prisons
During 1997, the PCHR began to issue the occasional publication, El Asra (Prisoners), concerned with Palestinian and Arab prisoners inside Israeli jails. El Asra aims at the following:
- To provide a data-base about prisoners in Israel including information about their living conditions and Israeli practices against them.
- To evaluate their living conditions and the practices against them in light of accepted international norms relevant to their case, especially the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (1955).
- To contribute to the effort to ensure the release of Palestinian prisoners as a basic legal, international, and humanitarian commitment and as an obligation required by the Interim Agreement signed by Israel and the PLO.
In addition to data obtained by the Legal Aid Unit and the Field Work Unit, the PCHR also hired an ex-prisoner to gather additional information, which was vital for the publication of El-Asra. The first issue covered a variety of subjects relevant to prisoners. It included statistics about the number of prisoners and their distribution in Israeli jails and detention centers. The issue also included a thorough analysis of the articles of the Interim Agreement relevant to the release of prisoners and demonstrated the systematic Israeli breaches of the agreements.
Among the breaches discussed were the restrictions imposed by Israeli authorities on family visits. These restrictions isolate Palestinian prisoners from the outside world and violate their fundamental right to receive visits, which is internationally accepted in humanitarian and human rights law. The publication also exposed the implications of restrictions imposed on Gazan lawyers, which deny them access to their clients and courts for purposes of legal aid and representation.
Al-Asra also included information about the systematic use of torture and other forms of cruel, degrading, and inhuman treatment of prisoners. The article pointed to Israeli High Court of Justice rulings that legalize the use of torture against Palestinian detainees. With legal cover from the highest judicial authority, Israel is the only country in the world that has legalized torture. Finally, Al-Asra addressed the living conditions of prisoners and exposed specific cases in which Israeli authorities used excessive force against detainees. The two major cases discussed were:
- The use of excessive force against prisoners in Majedo prison on 19 March 1997, when Israeli soldiers shot gas canisters and rubber bullets at the prisoners. Ten prisoners were injured and sent to a hospital.
- On 6 May 1997, the prison administration at Nafha prison unleashed a special force that attacked prisoners and beat them with clubs.
Poster about Palestinian prisoners in Israel
As part of the PCHRs activities to commemorate Palestinian Prisoners Day on 17 April 1997, the PCHR produced a special poster created by Palestinian artists expressing the suffering of prisoners and their aspirations for freedom. The poster also reflected popular solidarity with prisoners and their just cause. The poster was distributed both locally and internationally and was a significant part of the marches in the Gaza Strip.
Press releases regarding Palestinian prisoners in Israel
- On 13 January 1997, the PCHR issued a press release about the death of Riyad Odwan at Beer Sheva prison on 12 January. As stated above, Odwan was arrested on 12 April1991 after attempting to stab an Israeli soldier in Rafah. He was shot in the chest, legs, and left arm by Israeli soldiers and later sentenced to 24 years in prison. On 12 January 1997, Odwan died at Beer Sheva prison in Israel. His family was informed of his death by a phone call from a prisoner. He informed the family that Odwan, who suffered from asthma and chest pains, died as a result of a heart attack. The prisoner stated that other prisoners had asked the prison administration for urgent medical aid, but that such aid was provided only after a delay. Later Odwan was sent to the hospital, where he arrived dead. Odwans wife informed the PCHR in November 1995 that she had visited her husband and that he appeared pale, weak, and in a worse state of health than ever before. He had informed her that he did not receive the proper medication and that the prison doctor demonstrated a complete lack of concern. The press release also reported that many Palestinian human rights groups had repeatedly demanded the release of Odwan due to his poor health conditions.
- On 12 February 1997, the PCHR issued a press release on the occasion of the release of Palestinian female prisoners from Israeli jails after 16 months of delay. According to Article 16 of the Interim Agreement of September 28, 1995 signed by Israel and the PLO, confidence-building measures should be taken by both sides to create a general atmosphere of support for the agreement. These confidence-building measures included, inter alia, the release of Palestinian prisoners in three stages, the first of which was to be implemented immediately after signing the agreement. According to the agreement, all Palestinian female prisoners were among those to be released in the first phase. Israel did not fulfill this commitment until February 1997, 16 months after the agreement was signed. The press release further called for the immediate release of all Palestinian prisoners in accordance with creating an environment of peace in the region.
- On 15 April 1997, the PCHR issued a press release in commemoration of Palestinian Prisoners Day on 17 April. The release expressed the PCHRs deep concern over the living conditions of Palestinian prisoners and demanded international intervention to protect Palestinian prisoners. The press release stressed the importance of intervention from high contractors to international conventions, especially the Fourth Geneva Convention. Silence on the part of the international community is interpreted as responsibility for crimes perpetrated by Israel.
- On 14 May 1997, the PCHR issued a press release condemning the oIsraeli measures against Palestinian detainees at Nafha prison. According to information collected by the PCHR, a special force run by the prison administration attacked 17 prisoners with clubs on 6 May. A number of the prisoners were injured. The press release asserted that Israeli practices against Palestinian detainees violate international conventions and demanded protection for prisoners held hostage by Israel.
- On 13 November 1997, the PCHR issued a press release about the decision by Israeli authorities to issue magnetic cards to Gazan women who wish to visit their husbands in Israeli prisons. The PCHR warned against this step, considering it another measure in the systematic Israeli policy to tighten its grip on Palestinian civilians in the West Bank and Gaza. The press release recalled that in late 1988 the Israeli occupation authorities issued a military order requiring all male Gazans over the age of 16 to obtain a magnetic card as a precondition for applying for access to enter Israel. The magnetic card alone did not grant permission to enter Israel and its imposition came as part of a system of restrictions imposed on the movement of Palestinian civilians. Through the system of magnetic cards, Israel has been able to restrict the movement of thousands of Gazans by refusing to issue them cards.
Settler Activities and their protection by Israeli soldiers inside the Gaza Strip
Israeli authorities have maintained their policy of expanding and establishing Jewish settlements in all of the Occupied Palestinian Territories, in a severe breach of international law and UN resolutions. Although Palestinian and Israeli officials agreed to postpone negotiations over settlements to the final status negotiations, a freeze on settlement activities has been a fundamental requirement for sustaining the peace process since its inception in Madrid in 1991. According to Article 31 of the Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement signed in Washington, DC on September 28, 1995 by representatives of Israel and the PLO, the parties agree to avoid taking any step that will change the status of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, pending the outcome of the final status negotiations.
Israel was therefore temporarily allowed to retain its more than 150 settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, including 18 settlements in the Gaza Strip with a population of 5000 settlers. It was understood, however, that the agreements obligated Israeli authorities to freeze all settlement activities in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Israeli authorities have never lived up to these commitments and, with the arrival of the Likud coalition in May 1996, the Israeli government has accelerated its settlement program to a level unprecedented since the start of the peace process.
In August 1996, the new Israeli cabinet canceled a decision, taken by the previous Labor government of Yitzhak Rabin under international pressure in June 1992, to freeze settlement construction. In 1997, the government of Israel intensified its campaign to establish new settlements and expand existing ones. It also intensified its illegal confiscation of Palestinian land for constructing settlements and bypass roads to connect the settlements with Israeli territory, in order to avoid passing near Palestinian cities and populated areas.
During 1997, the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights concentrated considerable effort on settlement activities in the Gaza Strip, including settler and Israeli soldier attempts to confiscate Palestinian land and settler practices against Palestinian civilians. These provocative activities often resulted in clashes with Palestinian civilians who confronted settlers and soldiers in defense of their threatened land.
Study on Israeli Settlements in the Gaza Strip
In January 1997, the PCHR published a book on Israeli settlements in the Gaza Strip. The first part of the 105-page book presented a thorough analysis of the Israeli settlement program, the goals of the settlement policy, the confiscation of land, the provocative practices of the settlers, and the role of the Israeli government in protecting and promoting settlements. Part two of the study concentrated on the position of international law with regard to settlements, confirming that all Israeli settlement activities in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, including Jerusalem, are illegal. The third part of the study provided a comprehensive analysis of all settlements in the Gaza Strip: number, size, demography, history, and economy. This section also concentrated on provocative and violent activities carried out by settlers against Palestinian civilians and Israeli attempts to confiscate additional Palestinian land, according to data and information gathered by the Field Work Unit of the PCHR.
Press releases regarding settlements in the Gaza Strip
During 1997, a number of press releases were published by the PCHR on various issues related to settlements and the activities of settlers inside the Gaza Strip.
- On 27 April 1997, the PCHR issued a press release condemning the clearing of land close to settlements in El-Mowasi area, near Khan Younis. On 23 April, an individual settler seized and fortified five dunums of land near Kfar Doram settlement, under the protection of Israeli occupation forces. Later, Palestinian civilians organized a sit-in to protest the confiscation and bulldozing of their land. The Israelis intensified their fortifications and closed both the surrounding area and the Tufah checkpoint, the only passage between the area and the rest of Khan Younis. Residents of El-Mowasi were denied access to their lands and those who were out of the area were not allowed to return home, including over 300 students between the ages of 7 and 17. The press release urged immediate intervention by the international community to stop the deterioration of the situation. The PCHR considered Israeli occupation forces completely responsible for the situation and warned of the use of force against civilians.
- On 16 June 1997, the PCHR issued a press release warning about increased tension as a result of a further escalation of settlement activities. The day before, Israeli settlers, supported by soldiers, bulldozed and fortified 70 dunums of Palestinian land in Deir El Balah as an initial step in confiscating and annexing the land to the settlement of Netzer Hazani. When Palestinian civilians gathered to protest the settlers activities, a settler shot his pistol at a Palestinian youth, injuring him in the foot. Israeli soldiers fired gas canisters against protestors. The PCHR also mentioned an earlier attempt by Israeli settlers and soldiers to gain control of Palestinian land close to the settlement of Muraj, near Rafah. This attempt also sparked clashes between civilians and Israeli soldiers. The PCHR considered the Israeli government completely responsible for the deterioration of the situation and for the provocative practices carried out by soldiers and settlers against Palestinian citizens and their property. The PCHR urged the international community, especially the co-sponsors of the peace process, to exert pressure on the Israeli government to stop activities designed to change the status of the Occupied Palestinian Territories in defiance of international law and the peace agreements.
- On 2 July 1997, the PCHR issued a press release after a Palestinian youth was shot dead while protesting the confiscation of Palestinian land near Deir El-Balah. Earlier that day, an Israeli bulldozer began clearing Palestinian land near the settlement of Netzer Hazanim. Palestinian civilians immediately began gathering at the threatened land and organized a sit-in to protest the illegal Israeli activities. Israeli soldiers, large numbers of whom were present to protect the settlers, began shooting live ammunition and gas canisters at protestors who threw stones at the soldiers. Maher El-Assar, an 18 year-old Palestinian civilian, was shot dead by Israeli soldiers with a bullet in the heart. The press release reiterated demands for the internationcommunity to intervene against the use of excessive and deadly force by Israeli soldiers against Palestinian civilians. Also they urged intervention to end the creation of facts on the ground aimed at changing the status of the Occupied Palestinian Territories in a fundamental breach of international law and the Interim Agreement.
- On 3 July 1997, the PCHR issued a press release exposing the activities of an American hotel chain opening a branch in the Gush Katif settlement in Gaza. The press release, based on PCHR field-work investigations, revealed that in early 1997 the American hotel chain Days Inn had opened a new franchise in Gush Katif: Days Inn-Palm Beach. The press release pointed out that all six Days Inn franchises in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories were run by the same Israeli citizen. The brochure of Days Inn-Palm Beach included a distorted map which did not refer to its location within Occupied Palestinian Territory. The plan did not even mention the Gaza Strip, despite international recognition that the Gaza Strip is Occupied Palestinian Territory.
The release also stressed the illegal status of settlements according to international law, in particular the Fourth Geneva Convention, and urged the international community to prevent all corporations registered in their territories from investing in Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. The press release also called for the immediate implementation of the Fourth Geneva Convention and urged the government of the United States to take serious measures against such corporations, in particular Days Inn. The absence of such measures represents official approval of illegal settlement activities carried out by Israel in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. It should be mentioned that the Days Inn affair, uncovered by PCHR, has received international attention. Many organizations in the United States have organized campaigns to force Days Inn to end its illegal project in the Gaza Strip.
- On 6 December 1997, the PCHR issued a press release regarding the confiscation of Palestinian land near Rafah. Israeli occupation forces bulldozed 160 dunums of Palestinian land along Gazas border with Egypt in order to expand a military installation. The PCHR pointed out that this step was part of a systematic escalation of settlement activity in the Occupied Palestinian Territories carried out by the Government of Israel. On 6 December, Palestinian civilians protesting this confiscation were confronted with the indiscriminate firing of live ammunition and gas canisters. A number of citizens were injured, including a three-year-old child and a photographer working with the Associated Press. The PCHR considered the Israeli government responsible for the dangerous escalation of tension in the area and demanded international pressure on the Government of Israel to live up to commitments under international law and the peace process.
The use of excessive force by Israeli soldiers against Palestinian civilians in Gaza
During 1997, three Palestinians from Gaza were shot dead and 13 others injured by Israeli soldiers. According to information gathered by the PCHR, these people were all shot in circumstances that did not threaten the lives of Israeli soldiers. In at least two cases, the Israeli soldiers used excessive force with the intent to kill.
Palestinian citizens killed by Israeli soldiers in Gaza
- Abdel Karim Mahmoud El-Krinawi 58, Deir El-Balah. On 12 June 1997, El-Krinawi was participating in a peaceful sit-in protesting settler attempts to confiscate Palestinian land around the settlement of Muraj near Rafah. Clashes erupted between Palestinian civilians and Israeli soldiers, who began shooting gas canisters and live ammunition. El-Krinawi, who was sitting in a tent, lost consciousness and suffered a heart attack due to the inhalation of tear gas. He died on his way to the hospital.
- Ibrahim Tawfiq Abu Rtaima 14, Rafah. On 22 June 1997, an Israeli soldier shot Abu Rtaima in the head. He was transferred to Al-Shifa hospital in Gaza and died on 3 July. Abu Rtaima was deaf and dumb. Information obtained by the PCHR revealed that Abu Rtaima was walking near an Israeli military unit when he was shot.
- Maher Abdel Minam El-Assar 18, Deir El Balah. El-Assar was shot in the heart by an Israeli soldier and died instantly. The incident took place on 2 August when Israeli soldiers began shooting live ammunition and gas canisters towards Palestinian civilians gathering on Palestinian land in Deir El-Balah to protect it from confiscation.
Palestinian citizens injured by Israeli settlers and soldiers
- Ayman Hamad Kishta 29, Rafah. On 24 March 1997, Kishta was shot by Israeli soldiers in the shoulder and the back at an Israeli checkpoint in Rafah. Accompanied by his brother, Kishta was riding on a cart going to farm in El-Mowasi, under Israeli security jurisdiction.
- Mamdouh Mustapha Abu Shalouf 13, Rafah. On 5 May 1997, an Israeli soldier in a military jeep hit Abu Shalouf 500 meters away from a military checkpoint. Abu Shalouf was returning home from school in an area under Israeli control. His suffered a broken, bleeding leg and injuries to the face and chest. Information received by the PCHR confirmed that the Israeli vehicle was travelling at an excessive speed when it hit the child.
- Abdel Karim Ahmad Al-Astal 20, Qarrara. On 12 June 1997, an Israeli settler driving his car fired indiscriminately towards Palestinian demonstrators near a crossroads leading to the Gush Katif settlement. The Palestinians were protesting the construction of a shrine to commemorate the death of an Israeli settler killed in clashes during September 1996. Al-Astal happened to be walking along the road and had no relation with the demonstrators when he was shot in the leg.
- Saleh Yousef Mismeh 51, Khan Younis. Mismeh was injured in the leg while travelling by car from Gaza to Khan Younis in the same incident.
- Sameh Ayesh Al-Aimawi 27, Qarrara. Al-Aimawi was injured on 12 June 1997 when a settler hit him with his car while Al-Aimawi was walking on a road controlled by Israeli occupation forces in the middle area of the Gaza Strip.
- Fuad Abed Al-Nahal 50, Rafah. Al-Nahal was shot in the chest and arm by live ammunition when Israeli soldiers fired at Palestinians demonstrating against the confiscation of their land near Rafah. Arbitrary firing was reported in the incident.
- Walid Khader Afana 24, Rafah. Afana was injured in the head in the same incident.
- Muhammad Ismail Al-Salkawi 20, Deir El-Balah. On 16 June 1997, Al-Salkawi was shot in the knee when a settler opened fire against Palestinian civilians gathered in a sit-in on confiscated Palestinian land near Deir El-Balah.
- Ahmad Haidar Al-Abeet 15, Deir El-Balah. Al-Abeet was shot in the leg when Israeli soldiers opened fire against Palestinian demonstrators near the Kfar Dorom settlement in the middle area of the Gaza Strip on 27 September 1997.
- Farid Aid Muammar 30, Rafah. On 30 October 1997, Muammar was shot in the face by a rubber bullet when Israeli soldiers opened fire against high school students in Khan Younis. Students threw stones against settlers after soldiers attempted to confront a peaceful student march near the school. Farid Muammar is a teacher at the school and happened to be in the area when Israeli soldiers began firing live ammunition, rubber bullets, and tear gas.
- Mahmoud Khamis Heikal 17, Khan Younis. Heikal was shot in the stomach by a rubber bullet in the same incident.
- Ahmad Mahmoud Hijazi 3, Rafah. Hijazi was shot in the throat by a rubber bullet while playing on the roof on his house in Rafah while nearby there was a peaceful sit-in by Palestinian civilians on land threatened with confiscation. The Palestinian civilians attempting to hold their afternoon prayer, were confronted with the firing of sound bombs, tear gas canisters, live ammunition, and rubber bullets from the Israeli soldiers. One of these bullets struck Hijazi.
- Najib Zakariya Abu El-Jubain 30, Gaza. Abu El-Jubain, a photographer workiwith the Associated Press, was shot in the arm by a bullet on 5 December 1997, while covering clashes in Rafah.
Violations perpetrated by Israeli marines against Palestinian fishermen along the Gaza coast
During 1997, Israeli marines escalated their illegal activities against Palestinian fishermen along the coast of the Gaza Strip. These illegal activities included firing at Palestinian boats, arresting fishermen, and confiscating boats and equipment. According to the Interim Agreement signed by the PLO and the Government of Israel, Palestinian boats have the right to fish in an area 20 nautical miles wide. Israel has never lived up to this agreement. On many occasions, the Israeli marines announce that the coast is a closed military area and deprive Palestinian boats of the right to fish for several days. For example, on 30 August 1997, Israeli marine forces stopped Palestinian boats and ordered the fishermen to leave the sea within five minutes because the area had been closed. The boats were forced to return before fishermen were able to retrieve their nets and equipment. This closure was imposed for six days, costing Palestinian fisherman great losses.
Other practices by Israeli occupation forces in Gaza
In addition to settlement activities, confiscation of land, and the use of excessive force against Palestinian civilians, 1997 also witnessed the daily perpetration of tremendous provocative activities by Israeli soldiers and settlers against Palestinians who reside in areas under Israeli security jurisdiction and nearby areas controlled by the Palestinian Authority. In the settlement of Kfar Yam, near the beach of Khan Younis, settlers terrorized Palestinian children with their trained attack dogs. Israeli soldiers at checkpoints repeatedly stopped Palestinian citizens for hours and subjected them to searching, the temporary confiscation of ID cards, and other provocative practices. In many other cases, Israeli soldiers beat Palestinian citizens at these checkpoints and fired live ammunition, rubber bullets, and gas canisters at them in areas under the jurisdiction of the PA.
During 1997, Israeli soldiers and settlers also carried out many seemingly meaningless activities intended to provoke the Palestinians and make their lives difficult. Israeli occupation forces continuously closed the roads connecting areas under the jurisdiction of the PA, such as the road leading to El Mowasi and the main road between Rafah and Gaza near Gush Katif and near Deir El Balah. On 1 June 1997, Israeli soldiers attacked a primary school in Deir El Balah under the pretext that students threw stones at soldiers. Israeli settlers drive their cars in a dangerous manner at excessive speeds, leading to the injury of many Palestinian citizens, including school children going to or returning home from school. In an effort to strangle Palestinian citizens residing in El Mowasi, Israeli soldiers at the checkpoint between Khan Younis and El Mowasi deny access to construction material, fertilizers, and pesticides. And settlers of Neve Dekalim, to the west of Khan Younis, direct their sewage to flow towards Palestinian communities. This pollutes the areas, attracts insects, creates a very unhealthy environment, and causes many diseases in Palestinian children. Settlers also allow their sewage to flow into the sea, causing terrible smells, unhealthy water, and polluted areas under Palestinian jurisdiction.
Press releases regarding other Israeli violations
- On 6 January 1997, the PCHR issued a press release regarding the Israeli agreement to release the bodies of Hassan Abbass and Salah Jad Allah to their families after holding them for two years. Hassan Abbass, from Gaza, born 1975, participated in a military operation in Jerusalem on 9 October 1994. He was killed by an Israeli military unit. Salah Jad Allah, from Gaza, born 1972, participated in kidnapping an Israeli soldier on 19 September 1994. According to commands from late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, Israeli soldiers attacked the house where the soldier was being held. During the operation on 14 October 1994, the soldier and all of his kidnappers, including Salah Jad Allah, were killed. Since that time, Israeli authorities had refused to release the bodies of Abbass and Jad Allah. They conditioned such a release on Palestinians uncovering the burial place of an Israeli soldier kidnapped and killed by the Islamic Resistance Movement, Hamas. On 12 February 1995, the Israeli High Court of Justice affirmed this position in ruling on an appeal. The Court decision angered Palestinians. In deciding to hold bodies as ransom, the State of Israel was overtly defying human and religious values that demand the burial of the dead. On 22 August 1996, after the body of the Israeli soldier, Ilan Sadon, was found, the PCHR and the Center for Defense of the IndividualHaMoked sent a joint letter to General Oran Shahor, Coordinator of Israeli government activities in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, demanding the release of the two bodies.
- On 29 January 1997, the PCHR issued a press release after Israeli authorities released the bodies of Abbass and Jad Allah. In early January, the PCHR received the Israeli decision concerning the release and immediately made contact with the concerned institutions in the PA, to receive the bodies of Abbass and Jad Allah and put an end to this two year human tragedy.
- On 8 July 1997, the PCHR issued a press release condemning the decision of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to appoint Ehud Yatom as his Counselors Assistant for Terrorism Affairs. The press release reported that in an interview published by the Israeli newspaper, Yediot Ahronot, on 26 July 1996, Ehud Yatom confessed that he killed two members of the Palestinian resistance in 1984 after they had been detained by Israeli soldiers in what is known as the Bus 300 Affair. On 10 August 1986, Yatom was granted presidential amnesty after he provided falsified testimony before an investigation committee established for this affair. Following Yatoms confession, on behalf of the victims families, the PCHR demanded the reopening of this file and the reconsideration of Presidential amnesty for the killer. However, the Israeli Attorney General refused the PCHR demand, claiming that the amnesty covered all activities that led to the death of the two Palestinians. The PCHR press release considered the decision to appoint Yatom to this new position as an official reward for his crime. According to the press release, the decision reflects the deterioration of ethics and values in the Israeli administration.