Israeli Response Needs to Respect Palestinian Rights
June 16, 2014
There is no justification for abducting civilians. It is a disgrace to drag children into this conflict, whether Israeli or Palestinian.
Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director

(Jerusalem) – Any Palestinian armed groups unlawfully holding three Israeli teenagers should release them immediately and unconditionally. Israeli forces searching for the three should respect the laws of war with respect to the Palestinian population in the occupied territory and not carry out mass, arbitrary arrests. The three teenagers apparently were abducted in the West Bank on June 12, 2014.

Eyal Yifrach, 19, and Gil’ad Shaer and Naftali Frenkel, both 16, were reported missing after they tried to hitchhike home from the southern West Bank, near the Kfar Etzion settlement. The three attend Jewish religious schools in Kfar Etzion and in Kiryat Arba, another settlement, Israel media reported.

“There is no justification for abducting civilians,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director. “It is a disgrace to drag children into this conflict, whether Israeli or Palestinian.”

One of the youths called an Israeli police hotline at about 10:30 p.m. on June 12 and said, “We’re being kidnapped,” before the call was disconnected, Israeli news media reported. Human Rights Watch could not confirm two separate reported claims of responsibility by Palestinian armed groups.

Israeli security forces responding to the missing youth have arrested up to 150 Palestinians in the West Bank since June 14, including 80 Palestinians that night alone, according to Israeli and Palestinian news reports and the Israel Defense Forces website. Israeli forces have imposed closures or restricted movement in the southern West Bank, especially in the Palestinian city of Hebron, Israeli and Palestinian news media reported. No one taken into custody should be arbitrarily detained, Human Rights Watch said. Anyone arrested should be released unless promptly brought before a judge and charged with a credible offense.

According to Palestinian rights groups and news reports, Israeli forces on June 15 closed off the northern entrance to Hebron, a city of 170,000 people, to vehicular and pedestrian traffic, setting up a steel gate and concrete road blocks. Israeli forces closed all checkpoints on roads in the southern “Hebron/Judea district” of the West Bank. They closed the Erez crossing to the Gaza Strip except for humanitarian and medical cases, prohibited Hebron residents under 50 from traveling to Jordan, and imposed other restrictions that prevented many Palestinians from getting to their jobs, Palestinian media reported.

While international law permits restrictions on freedom of movement, they need to be strictly limited and proportional to achieve a specific and lawful aim.

Human Rights Watch could not confirm claims of responsibility for the abductions. One, posted on an online forum, claimed that Sarayat al-Quds, the military wing of Palestinian Islamic Jihad, detained the Israeli teenagers. A second, circulated in a pamphlet in Hebron, claimed that an armed group affiliated with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) had apprehended the Israelis as “the first act of retaliation for the assassination” by Israeli forces of three of its members in the West Bank in 2013, and that the capture “will help us to seek the liberation of our prisoners from the [Israeli] occupier’s prisons.”

More than 100 Palestinian detainees are on a long-term hunger strike to protest Israel’s practice of administrative detention without charge, trial, or the ability to contest the evidence against them. But reprisals against civilians in response to alleged unlawful acts by the other side violate the laws of war, Human Rights Watch said.

“Abuses by one side never justify abuses by another in a conflict,” Whitson said. “Israeli forces should not impose excessive restrictions on movement or carry out arbitrary arrests while searching for the three missing citizens, and anyone holding the three should release them.”