Question of the violation of human rights In the occupied Arab territories, including Palestine, Joint oral statement made by Raji Sourani
Human Rights Commission
20 March – 28 April 2000
Question of the violation of human rights
In the occupied Arab territories, including Palestine
28 March 2000
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VERIFIER A LA LECTURE
Question of the violation of human rights
In the occupied Arab territories, including Palestine
Joint oral statement made by Raji Sourani, in the name of the following NGOs:
Arab Lawyers Union
Arab Organisation for Human Rights
Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH)
World Federation of Democratic Youth
The above listed organisations wish to bring to the attention of the Commission the following violations of human rights being perpetrated by Israel in the Palestinian Occupied Territories.
Israeli Settlements and the Fourth Geneva Convention
The illegality of Israeli settlement activities in the Occupied Palestinian Territories under international human rights and humanitarian law has been repeatedly affirmed by the United Nations General Assembly in a series of resolutions. The last of these, dated 8 February 1999, called on the High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention to convene a conference on 15 July 1999 to investigate measures to enforce Israel’s respect for the Convention in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
The conference was convened on 15 July 1999 in the United Nations Headquarters in Geneva. However, despite extensive efforts by Palestinian, regional and international human rights organisations, no measures were discussed and no action was taken. In fact the conference was a huge disappointment to all parties committed to the upholding of international humanitarian law.
The High Contracting Parties, rather than fulfilling the goals of the UNGA resolutions, decided to adjourn the conference indefinitely, in order to allow the new Israeli government a chance to ‘get the peace process back on track’. The participants agreed that the conference could be re-adjourned in light of future developments ‘on the ground’.
It is our assertion that there is no need to wait for future developments, as the practices and policies of the Barak administration in the ten months since its election show very clearly that there has been no essential change from those of previous administrations. On the contrary, Israeli settlement activities in the Occupied Palestinian Territories have escalated under Barak. Therefore the factual situation which motivated the UNGA resolutions has not changed, and the High Contracting Parties decision to adjourn the conference represents a politicization of humanitarian law and threat to the security of civilians living under occupation throughout the world.
Settlement Activities under Barak
During 1999, the Israeli Occupation Forces continued settlement activities throughout the Occupied Palestinian Territories. PCHR recorded more than 43 cases of attack against Palestinian land in the Gaza Strip, in comparison to 33 similar cases in the previous year. Of these 43 incidents of settlement activity, 28 took place after the establishment of the new Barak government.
This notable increase in settlement activity in the Gaza Strip, which is not considered a strategic area from the Israeli point of view, suggests even more dangerous escalation of settlement activity in the West Bank, including Jerusalem. This is confirmed by reports from human rights organisations in the area.
In fact, Peace Now reported that settlement activity during the Barak government is proceeding at a rate 10 times higher than under Netanyahu.
This escalation in settlement activity took place simultaneously with an Israeli campaign to mislead international community public opinion. Towards this end Barak announced his intention to adopt a group of decisions concerning 42 settlement outposts in the West Bank. The Israeli media intensively covered the activities of the Israeli Occupation Forces during their actions to dismantle one of these outposts on 10 November 1999. In fact the settlement outposts were not dismantled, and many were retrospectively added to the number of established settlements recognised by the Israeli government in the West Bank.
In October 1999, the Israeli Peace Now Movement’s Settlement Watch reported to Israeli media that 106 housing units had been added to 41 West Bank settlement outposts under the new Barak administration. The Israeli government makes a distinction between these outposts, which are established without the government’s approval, and other settlements, which it considers legal. Under international law there is no distinction, as all settlements in occupied territories are illegal, and no endorsement by the Israeli government can affect that status.
On 7 December 1999, the Israeli government announced that it would freeze all new construction in the settlements and refrain from issuing any new housing tenders while discussions on the final status issues are ongoing. However, the use of the term ‘freezing’ in this context is particularly misleading, as the announcement confirmed that building already in progress would not be stopped. According to Peace Now estimates, this category includes some 7,000 housing units in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
Only days before this announcement the Housing Minister Yitzhak Levy issued 500 tenders for new housing units in West Bank settlements. In fact, in the five months between Barak’s assumption of office and December 1999, tenders for around 3000 new settlement housing units were issued, which is as many as were issued in the whole last year of Binyamin Netanyahu’s tenure. In addition Barak has not reduced any of the settler’s financial benefits.
Furthermore, at the beginning of October 1999, the special ministerial committee concerning settlement approved the Israeli housing minister Izhaq Livi’s proposal to establish 2,600 new housing unit in the established settlements in West Bank. The effect of Barak’s announcement in December on the status of this approval is not clear, but based on all previous experiences there is no reason for optimism that the approval will be cancelled.
According to figures released on 20 February 2000 by the Council for Jewish Settlements the population of Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories grew by 12.5 percent in 1999, the highest growth rate recorded in recent years. According to these figures the population of Israeli settlements in December 1999 was 193,680. About 66,500 of these settlers live in the greater Jerusalem area. Only in 1991 (15 percent), and 1992 (12 percent) were comparable rates of increase in settlement population recorded. From 1993 to 1997 the rate of growth was 9 percent, and in 1998, the last year under the Netanyahu government, the rate was 7.5 percent.
In further proof of the vacuity of Barak’s earlier posturing over the dismantling of settlements, and of the importance of regarding all assurances regarding settlements with informed suspicion, he made a statement, on 20 February 2000, in which he ‘absolutely’ denied reports that he had plans to dismantle 12 settlement outposts and that the status of a further 16 was doubtful.
Finally however, even these impressive figures do not give an accurate picture of the real effect of the Israeli government’s ongoing policy of settlement expansion in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. There are several reasons for this. The first is because the population figures, and even the number of housing units, do not accurately reflect the scale of land expropriation. In the Gaza Strip, for example, whilst the settler population is estimated to be around 5000 people, the land controlled by the Israeli government totals almost 40 percent of the entire area of the Gaza Strip. Along with the actual settlements, land is confiscated for the establishment of military installations to ‘protect’ the settlers, and for the construction of settler by-pass roads.
In the West Bank the network of settler by-pass roads criss-crosses the entire territory reducing the areas of Palestinian control to isolated bantustans, depriving Palestinians the possibility of anything remotely resembling freedom of movement. Furthermore, whilst the area of land actually inhabited by settlers in the West Bank is estimated at around 78,786 dunams (Peace Now settlement watch report), the Settlers Council estimates that the area of land under ‘settlement jurisdiction’ amounts to a million dunams. This figure does not include IDF installations or settler bypass roads.
Furthermore, even these figures, which give a fuller picture of the situation on the ground, do not express the reality of the everyday problems faced by Palestinians as a result of these settlement activities.
For one thing, it is important to point out that the Israeli settlements are located in the most strategic areas of Gaza Strip, and include within their territories the most fertile land and most important water sources in the Gaza Strip.
Furthermore, the 43 incidents of settlement activity documented by PCHR in 1999 included all the following provocative practices against Palestinians and their property:
· Demolition of buildings and fences
· Destruction of crops and uprooting trees
· Destruction of water pipes
· Forced evictions
· Confiscation of Palestinian land
· Expansion of existing settlements
· Construction of new settlements
· Construction of new military installations
· Construction of new settler roads
· Diversion of water sources into settlements
· Preventing farmers from entering and working their land
· Searches, interrogation and beatings of residents in the Mawasi areas
· Settler cars hitting Palestinian pedestrians
· Closing roads and junctions
· Detention and searching of Palestinians at the entrances to the Mawasi areas
Israeli soldiers are stationed on the main roads in the Gaza Strip where they control the movement of citizens, and subject them to searches. PCHR’s data for the end of 1999 reports that there are 53 Israeli checkpoints and installations inside Gaza Strip. From time to time Israeli Occupation forces and Israeli settlers close roads and junctions. Closures are thereby imposed on citizen’s movement inside Gaza Strip, in grave violation of the right to freedom of movement.
The largest concentration of Israeli settlements in the Gaza Strip are located in the Mawasi areas in Rafah and Khan Younis, and this is where most of the harassment of Palestinians by Israeli occupation forces and settlers takes place. The Israeli soldiers at El Tuffah and El Sultan checkpoints located at the entrances to the Mawasi areas engage in systematic provocation of citizens. Citizens are detained by Israeli soldiers and subjected to searches, which often last for many hours. At other times the checkpoints are simply closed by the Israeli soldiers, and citizens’ movement is prevented outright. This includes 3,000 school students, who are prevented from travelling to their schools outside the Mawasi area, or from returning back to their homes inside the area.
Moreover, Israeli occupation forces, from time to time, close the two main roads that connect the south of the Gaza Strip to its north. On more than one occasion the closure of these roads, which in most cases is initiated by settlers, has lead to conflict between the Israeli and Palestinian sides. In all cases where settlers, with the protection and support of Israeli soldiers, confiscated Palestinian land, sharp clashes between Palestinian civilians and Israeli occupation soldiers took place.
Meanwhile the Occupation forces gave great priority to increasing settlement in Jerusalem and surrounding areas. At the same time the Israeli government continued to pursue policies aimed at ethnic cleansing in the city. During 1999 the Israeli government continued to withdraw the Jerusalem identity cards of Palestinian civilians in the city, thereby denying their right to reside in the city, despite its claim to have changed this policy. According to the Israeli Ministry of the Interior the number of identity cards withdrawn from civilians in Jerusalem between the beginning of January and mid-October 1999 was 394.
The responsibility of the international community, and particularly the High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention, in relation to illegal Israeli settlement activities in the Occupied Palestinian Territories are clear.
1. The international community must continue to refuse to recognise these illegal annexations and settlements, and continue to affirm that all such activities are legally void, as well as being violations of international humanitarian and human rights law.
2. States must ensure that neither they nor their citizens are guilty of acting in a way which directly or indirectly supports, encourages or assists these illegal activities.
3. Pressure must be applied to Israel to bring these illegal practices to an end.
4. The High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention must reconvene their Conference and work genuinely to find measures to enforce the Convention in the Occupied Palestinian Territories in fulfillment of the intentions of the UNGA resolutions.
5. All State Parties that supported the UNGA resolutions must take further steps to recover the genuine attempt embodied in those resolutions to bring Israeli violations of the Convention to an end, an initiative which was unfortunately undermined by the manner in which the Conference of High Contracting Parties was conducted in July.
As we have clearly shown in this report, any claims that the Conference and its aims should be postponed in order to see the results on the ground of the policies of the new Israeli government are no longer tenable, if they ever where. The Barak administration has not only continued the previous government’s practices and policies of settlement expansion and annexation of Occupied East Jerusalem, but has in fact intensified such activities.
Freedom of Movement
Israeli restrictions on the movement of Palestinians
The right to freedom of movement is guaranteed under international law, it is specifically guaranteed in Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 12 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Furthermore, violation of the right to freedom of movement, particularly in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, has a direct and devastating impact on the enjoyment of other fundamental rights such as the right to work (Article 6 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights), the right to family protection (Art. 10), the right to adequate standard of living and to the continuous improvement of living standards (Art. 11), the right to the highest attainable standard of health (Art. 12) and the right to education (Art. 13).
The Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreements on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip signed in Washington on 28 September 1995, affirmed the territorial integrity between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and the right of Palestinians to move freely between these territories. Moreover, Article IX (a)(1) of Annex 1 (Protocol Concerning Withdrawal of Israeli Military Forces and Security Arrangements) of the Agreement on the Gaza Strip and the Jericho Area signed in Cairo on 5 May 1994 provides that “there should be a safe passage between the Gaza Strip and the Jericho Area”.
Similar provisions were repeated in several subsequent agreements throughout the interim period. However, Israel has consistently failed to meet its obligations both under international law and under the agreements.
During the past five years the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights has closely monitored the restrictions imposed by the Israeli occupying forces on the freedom of movement of Palestinians. These have included a persistent policy of closure under which all entrances and exits to the Occupied Territories are closed preventing any movement between or out of the territories. Along with these periodic complete closures, Israel has imposed a permanent partial closure on the territories, preventing free movement of Palestinians to work, reunite with family member, seek medical attention, or to study. Furthermore, Israel has imposed restrictions on all commercial transactions and trade between the territories and abroad.
The ‘Safe Passage’
On 25 October 1999, after more than four years delay, a ‘safe passage’ was opened between the Gaza Strip and Turkumya crossing point in the West Bank. After a thorough analysis of the provisions of the Protocol governing the use of the ‘safe passage’ and the practices implemented by the Israeli occupation forces in its actual use, the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights reached the following conclusions:
1. The provisions of the Protocol and the measures adopted in its implementation have limited the ability of Palestinians to enjoy their right to freedom of movement, and have perpetuated the lack of territorial unity between the West Bank of the Gaza Strip.
2. Israel has retained the full authority to decide the number and nature of people who will be allowed to use the passage. Between the opening of the safe passage and the end of 1999, the Israeli Authorities refused the applications of 5,155 people to sue the safe passage.
3. Israel has retained the full authority to open and close the passage according to its own interests, and particularly its ‘security’ interests.
4. The Protocol provides no definition of the term ‘security interests’, and therefore Israel retains the full authority to define this term according to its own interest.
5. Israel retains full authority to make searches at the entrances to the passage, and nothing in the Protocol prevents Israel from using the passage to arrest Palestinians (in fact PCHR has already documented one case in which a Palestinian was arrested at the Erez entrance to the passage).
6. The provisions of the Protocol, and the measures adopted by Israel in its implementation constitute a clear violation of the relevant international standards guaranteeing the right to freedom of movement.
Throughout 1999 Israel continued to implement its policy of closure in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. The year witnessed a decrease in days of total closure from 21 in 1998, to 13 in 1999. On the remaining days of the year, however, a partial closure was imposed.
Under the closure measures, Israel closes all the exits from Gaza Strip into the Israeli territories, and prevents Palestinians from entering into Israel. Usually imports and exports from and to the Gaza Strip are also prevented under these measures. Under a partial closure, a limited number of citizens are allowed to move between West Bank and Gaza Strip, and to work inside Israel.
The right of individuals to freedom of movements is one of the basic human rights, which must be guaranteed and protected. The closure policy is a form of collective punishment, and is banned by international humanitarian law, and international human rights law.
On 28 February 1999 the Israeli Authorities imposed a comprehensive closure on the OPTs due to the Jewish holidays. While Palestinian laborers were prevented from entering Israel to work, Palestinians who hold VIP cards, humanitarian cases, travelers through Ben Gurion Airport, and trading activities, were allowed. The closure lasted until 4 March 1999. On 19 April 1999 the Israeli Authorities imposed a closure on the OPTs lasting until 21 April 1999. Only VIP’s were allowed to enter Israel, while Palestinian laborers and trading activities were prevented.
Moreover, the Israeli Authorities imposed on 17 May 1999 a comprehensive security closure due to the Israeli Elections. The siege had lasted for one day, and only urgent humanitarian cases were allowed to enter Israel. On 9 September 1999, because of the Jewish New Year, the Israeli Authorities imposed a total closure lasting until 13 September 1999. During this closure neither goods nor individuals were allowed to enter Israel. The aim was to prevent any military attacks by Palestinian groups against Israeli targets.
On 18 September 1999 the Israeli occupation forces imposed a comprehensive security closure lasting until 20 September 1999 due to the El-Ghfraan Feast. Between 12:00am 1991999 until 12:00pm 2091999, flights in and out of Gaza International Airport were prevented, and all entrances, including the Rafah border entrance were closed. During the closure, movement between West Bank and Gaza Strip, and movement into Israel was not allowed, except for the most urgent medical cases.
The Disastrous Impacts of the Closure Policy
The closure policy and the restrictions imposed on the individual’s rights to freedom of movement lead to disastrous economic and social impacts. The closure policy violates the economic and social rights of Palestinians, particularly the right to work, right to health, and the right to education.
Prevention of Palestinian Laborers from Working in Israel
Between February 15 until March 13, 1999, Israel cancelled the permits of 1200 workers from the Gaza Strip to exit at Erez crossing for different reasons. These permissions were gradually returned to their owners after March 17, 1999.
The year of 1999 did not witness any notable change concerning the number of Gazan labors who are allowed to work in Israel. Until December 1998, the number was about 25,647 labors. During the year of 1999, the number remains around 25,000 labors. It is worth mentioning that thousands of Palestinian labors are working inside Israel without legal permission, and without being subjected to Israeli security checks. This by itself refutes the Israeli security claims used to justify the closure on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
Closures Imposed on Trading Activities
During 1999 the Israeli occupation forces continued imposing restrictions and obstacles against the trading activities of the Gaza Strip. Most recently, in February 2000, the Israeli occupation authorities announced that from March 2000, Palestinian commercial vehicles will no longer be able to pass through Erez checkpoint under the Convoy system.
Under this system, Palestinian trucks, after extensive searching which lasts sometimes up to six hours, have been able to pass into Israel in a convoy with Israeli military escort. More than 450 Gazan vehicles operated under this system, with more than 150 trucks using it daily.
From March 2000, all commercial vehicles will have to go to Karni checkpoint, where they will not be able to pass into Israel, but will have to unload their product and have it reloaded onto Israeli trucks.
Palestinian industry officials have estimated that under the new restrictions transport costs will increase by 100-110%.
These new restrictions will clearly have a devastating effect on the living conditions in the Gaza Strip, particularly for the hundreds of families who earn their living in the transport sector.
The Prevention of Gazan Citizens from Receiving Medical Services outside the Gaza Strip
The PA inherited a destroyed health infrastructure as a result of Israeli neglect over the last three decades, therefore the Gaza Strip lacks sufficient medical facilities to be self-sufficient. Accordingly, many Gazans find themselves with immediate need for health treatment, which cannot be provided in the Gaza Strip.
Under to the policy of closure, strict measures are imposed on the movement of patients through Israel. In some cases the patients are not allowed to cross through Israel. This can sometimes lead to fatal medical consequences. Many patients have died as a result of long delays at checkpoints or because of Israel’s refusal to issue them permits. In all cases security considerations, rather than the state of health of the patient, remain the basic criteria in deciding whether to accept a request for a permit.
Prevention of Gazan Citizens from Travelling outside
The Israeli occupation forces continue to control all international borders with the Occupied Palestinian Territories. They are therefore able to implement their closure policy to prevent Palestinians from travelling abroad. In 1999 they continued to do so, and furthermore continued to arrest Palestinians at the international borders.
Palestinian Detainees in Israeli Prisons
There are more than 1500 Palestinian and Arab prisoners being held in Israeli jails. Israeli authorities also continue to arrest and detain Palestinians at checkpoints and border crossings. Under Barak’s government, new and stricter measures have been adopted against juvenile detainees. Under the new rules Palestinian children under the age of 13 years may be arrested and tried before a military court, which often lack the minimum requirements for a fair trial. According to information published by international organisations for the protection of juveniles, Israel is currently holding more than 80 Palestinian children in detention.
Moreover, Israel detains Palestinians in its own territory, in contravention of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which prohibits the detention and transfer of detainees in the territory of the occupier. In addition to inhumane conditions many detainees have been subjected to degrading treatment and torture (see below). Detainees also often suffer serious health problems as a result of lack of adequate medical facilities or care. In 1999, two Palestinian detainees died in prison: the first was from Gaza and the second from Tulkarem in the West Bank. The first detainee died as a result of medical negligence, and the second was killed by unidentified attackers.
Furthermore, in many cases family visits to the detainees are denied, and Israel continues to prevent lawyers from visiting their clients in order to provide legal advice.
The Decision of the Israeli High Court to Ban Torture
On 6 September 1999, the Israeli Supreme Court, sitting as the High Court of Justice issued its ruling on a number of applications submitted by human rights groups against the use of torture by the Israeli General Security Service (GSS). In its ruling the Court found that the GSS had been systematically employing illegal methods of torture in its interrogation of Palestinian detainees. The methods which the Court found to be illegal included shaking, shabeh (which involves hooding and handcuffing the detainee in painful positions for extended periods), sleep deprivation, loud music and frog crouching.
However, despite finding that the methods employed by the GSS were illegal and contrary to both the Israeli Basic Law and to international law (including the Convention Against Torture) the Court, later in its judgment, declined to take a stand on the legality of the use of physical force in “special circumstances” (such as the so-called ‘ticking bomb’). Rather, the Court held that under current Israeli law the GSS was not authorised to employ such methods and that,
“If the State wishes to enable GSS interrogators to utilise physical means in interrogations, it must seek the enactment of legislation for this purpose.” (para 37)
Furthermore, in the conclusion of its ruling the Court said that,
“If it will be nonetheless be decided that it is appropriate for Israel, in light of its security difficulties to sanction physical means in interrogation this is an issue that must be decided by the legislative branch … we don’t take any stand on the matter at this time.” (para 39)
Accordingly the door was opened by the Court for the Legislature to enact a law that would authorise the use of torture against Palestinian detainees. A possibility that the Court declined to take a position on, despite its own finding that such methods were contrary to both international law and Israeli Basic Law, without any exception.
Since the Court Decision
After the Court’s decision, on 15 September 1999, the Ministerial Committee for GSS Affairs, headed by Prime Minister Barak, established a commission to examine the subject, and to “to find a lawful solution to the use of physical force in interrogations of terrorist suspects, where there is an immediate security danger (‘ticking bomb’)”.
In establishing the commission PM Barak expressed his concern that the High Court’s decision had seriously compromised the GSS’s efforts to uncover information regarding terrorist activities. GSS agents also complained that the decision severely hampered their efforts. Both these reactions make it clear that the GSS has, at least up until the time of the Court decision, employed illegal methods of torture in its interrogation of Palestinian detainees.
In mid-January 2000, the Committee reported to Prime Minister Barak that it had been unable to reach a unanimous conclusion on the matter. Instead the commission, which was headed by Deputy State Attorney Rachel Sucar and Deputy Attorney General Mani Mazoz, proposed three alternatives in accordance with the views of key Ministry of Justice and GSS officials.
The first calls for the passage of a law that would allow GSS interrogators to use “moderate physical pressure”. This proposal essentially calls for legalising the state of affairs which existed before the Court decision.
The second proposal, supported by Sucar and Elyakim Rubinstein (Attorney General), calls for more moderate legislation which would give a priori permission to GSS interrogators to use “moderate physical pressure” in certain, rigorously defined cases, but would not provide the blanket approval envisioned in the first proposal.
The third proposal, supported by the Minister of Justice, Yossi Beilin, is to leave things as they are in the wake of the High Court decision, thus banning the use of “moderate physical pressure” altogether.
Since the findings were not unanimous, PM Barak will have to decide on his own what action to take.
PCHR expresses its deep concern at these developments. Firstly because torture is illegal under any circumstances, and no exceptions can be made. Secondly because the experience of Palestinian detainees during the past 12 years while the GSS was working under the provisions of the Landau Commission of 1987 prove beyond any doubt that even the most rigorously defined guidelines to allow the use of torture in certain cases lead inevitably to widespread and uncontrolled employment of illegal torture methods by the GSS in Israel.
The experience under the Landau Commissions recommendations are relevant to the extent that they are similar to the first two proposals put forward by the Ministerial Commission in mid-January 2000.
The Landau recommendations restricted the use of “moderate physical force” to those exceptional cases in which it was necessary to save human lives. However, in an extensive paper recently published by the Israeli human rights organisation B’Tselem, they reported that in the 12 years since 1987 the GSS interrogators have tortured thousands, if not tens of thousands of Palestinians. According to official figures, from 1987 to 1994 the GSS interrogated about 23, 000 Palestinians. Based on a survey released by Hamoked: Centre for the Defense of the Individual in 1996-1997, it is estimated that 85 percent of Palestinians interrogated by the GSS were interrogated by methods amounting to torture. Furthermore, on 30 July 1995, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin said that “shaking” (a method of torture ruled illegal by the recent High Court decision) had been used against 8000 detainees.
These figures are used as an example of the acute danger of allowing torture to be legalised in any form, and no matter what restrictions are apparently placed on its use. If legislation is passed in Israel along the lines of either of the two proposals suggested by the Ministerial Commission, this situation will continue as it has for the past 12 years, and the High Court’s historical decision will be rendered completely meaningless
Until recently, indications were that the Prime Minister wasending towards the second option. On 15 February 2000, a meeting was held between PM Barak, the Attorney General Elyakim Rubinstein, Misiter of Justice Yossi Beilin, and GSS officials to discuss the second proposal. The attorney general’s proposal is in effect that the existence of ‘extenuating circumstances’ can exonerate a GSS interrogator from criminal liability as a result of employing torture against a detainee.
According to the attorney general’s proposal, instead of being used as a de facto defense in a criminal trial, this “exit route” would be provided de jure. The proposed law would empower the attorney general to authorise the use of torture if the GSS could offer persuasive evidence that the person being interrogated was an immediate threat to the lives of others.
On 17 February 2000, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that the outcome of the meeting was that the GSS Chief Ami Ayalon had dropped its demand for the enactment of legislation legalising torture (the first proposal). However, no conclusion was reached regarding the second proposal, and a further committee was appointed to continue investigating the matter. In the meantime, the attorney general reiterated his promise to the GSS officials that he would grant legal protection to any interrogator who was compelled to use “special means” – meaning torture – in singular cases.
Continuing Practice of Torture
On 1 March 2000, the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel released a report of its research into GSS practices since the High Court’s decision in September 1999. They reported solid evidence that the GSS has continued to torture Palestinian detainees. The research revealed recent evidence of use of most of the methods that were prohibited in the Court’s decision.
1. While the Court’s decision represents a milestone in the battle against torture, the situation has very quickly returned to a situation of acute danger, with the highest officials of Israeli government currently considering the enactment of legislation to allow torture in certain ‘exceptional’ cases. A situation which would resemble that under the Landau report, during which thousands of Palestinian detainees were tortured by the GSS interrogators in a systematic and routine manner. Furthermore, the attorney general, defender of the rule of law and the public right, has declared repeatedly that he will provide legal protection to perpetrators of torture. Palestinian, Israeli and international human rights organisations as well as the international community at large, and particularly the High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention, must act urgently that torture is not re-legitimized in Israel, by any means whatsoever.
2. The State of Israel should commit itself immediately to the ruling of the Court and ban all directives that admit the use of torture against Palestinian prisoners.
3. All those who were involved in the practice of torture, whether as the direct perpetrators, those who gave directives or those who sanctioned the practice at the executive level, must be held accountable for their involvement in these illegal acts.
4. All victims of torture who remain under detention must be released or retried, and all victims of torture must receive redress and reparation for their suffering.
Many of the violations mentioned in this report have been occurring for the past 32 years. The organisations submitting this report call on the Commission to condemn these Israeli human rights violations in the strongest possible terms and to take action to protect the Palestinian people from the violation of their rights.