Within three weeks, more than 120 Palestinians were killed and over 4,800 injured in clashes with Israeli security forces that began on September 29. Most of the deaths were the result of excessive, and often indiscriminate, use of lethal force by Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soldiers, police, and border police against unarmed civilian demonstrators, including children. The casualties were disproportionately on the Palestinian side, but two Israeli soldiers were beaten to death by a Palestinian mob. The large number of deaths and injuries in the clashes and the resulting deteriorating relationship between Israel and the Palestinian Authority and neighboring states greatly overshadowed and put into question certain human rights improvements, notably, an apparent decrease in the use of torture by Israeli interrogators, a reduction in the hostages and administrative detainees Israel held, and fewer revocations of Jerusalem residency permits. In several cases the Israeli government also actively sought to thwart court rulings supporting human rights by supporting initiatives to legalize torture and hostage-taking, and by delaying the enforcement of court rulings against discrimination. On July 24, the Knesset voted to extend the fifty-two-year-old state of emergency until January 26, 2001, to allow the government time to enact similar powers into statute law.
Discrimination in law and practice against ethnic and religious minorities and other societal groups, especially on issues of employment, social benefits, and personal status, remained a major problem. While court challenges to discrimination were sometimes successful, the process often took years, and court rulings frequently were not applicable to other cases or were not fully implemented by the government. For example, on March 8 the High Court of Justice ruled on an October 1995 petition brought by a Palestinian couple who, though Israeli citizens, were barred from purchasing a home in a Jewish neighborhood built on state-owned lands. More than 90 percent of land in Israel is state land, much of it expropriated from Palestinians. The court ruled that the authorities could not allocate land to citizens solely on the basis of their religion, though it noted that discrimination between Jews and non-Jews might be acceptable under unspecified "special circumstances." The ruling ordered the government to take such "special circumstances" into consideration when determining "with deliberate speed" whether it would allow the couple to settle in the neighborhood, and stated that its ruling in this case would not affect previous discriminatory land allocations.
Women faced discrimination in employment, access to education and health care, and personal status, including marriage, divorce, inheritance, and child custody. (See Women's Human Rights.) Palestinian women and foreign women workers faced additional discrimination that made them especially vulnerable to abuses. A number of well-publicized cases of trafficking in women for prostitution, domestic violence, and sexual harassment and assault helped increase public awareness, but women suffering from such violations still had little recourse. As of this writing, the Defense Ministry had taken few steps to address an enduring pattern of sexual harassment of women in the military, despite a number of high-profile cases involving ministry officials. The Knesset voted on July 5 to lift the immunity of Transportation Minister Yitzhak Mordechai, a former defense minister who had served in the IDF for thirty-three years, after he was accused in March of sexually assaulting three women under his supervision beginning in 1992. By the end of July the Civil Service Commission had received fifty-five complaints of sexual harassment in the Defense Ministry, five more than in all of 1999.
On May 22, the High Court of Justice set a six month deadline for the government to establish procedures for women to pray "according to their custom" at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. The case was brought in 1989 after conservative Jews violently attacked Jewish women who were attempting to pray alongside men according to the customs of Reform Judaism. Despite a 1994 High Court of Justice ruling upholding the women's right to worship at the Western Wall, they were not permitted to do so. On March 31, a draft law punishing such prayer with up to seven years of imprisonment passed its preliminary Knesset reading, and in early June the government asked to have the May 22 court judgement reviewed by an expanded panel of judges, on the grounds that it failed to adequately address "the affront to the feelings of those who pray at the wall" that would ensue if women were allowed to pray with men.
The rate of revocation of permanent residency permits of Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem declined following Minister of Interior Natan Sharansky's October 17, 1999, announcement that he had ended the so-called "center of life" policy. (See Human Rights Watch World Report 2000). After repeated legal challenges led by the Jerusalem-based Center for Defense of the Individual (Hamoked), the High Court of Justice ordered Sharansky to clarify the terms of the new policy, and on March 15 he stated in an affidavit before the High Court of Justice that Palestinian Jerusalemites living abroad would not lose their permanent residency if they visited Jerusalem and maintained valid Israeli-issued travel documents. Those who acquired foreign nationality or permanent resident status elsewhere continued to lose residency rights in Jerusalem, and Minister Sharansky did not clarify the status of Palestinian Jerusalemites living in the West Bank. According to Hamoked, persons who sought to reinstate their residency status under the new policy frequently faced serious administrative obstacles. Some 11,000 Palestinians were estimated to have lost their residency rights between 1996 and 1999.
Labor conditions for foreign and Palestinian workers remained poor. Palestinians faced widespread discrimination in employment, while foreign workers were especially vulnerable to exploitation by employers and labor contractors. On August 22, Ha'aretz reported that Prime Minister Ehud Barak had ordered an increase in deportations of undocumented foreign workers and set a quota of 50,000 work permits per year. The move was opposed by workers' groups and even the Public Security Ministry, which preferred a policy of targeting labor importers. The government had temporarily halted deportations in December 1999 following allegations of abuses of foreign workers, including prolonged detention of persons awaiting deportation; their detention together with criminal prisoners; and the detention of victims of crimes while awaiting to testify in criminal cases. In May, the Interior Ministry acknowledged that it had prevented labor organizations such as Kav La'oved from handing out pamphlets on labor rights to workers arriving at Ben-Gurion airport.
On September 29, Israeli security forces used lethal force to disperse thousands of Palestinians attending Friday prayers at al-Aqsa Mosque in East Jerusalem after some of those present threw stones at police and at Jewish worshipers at the Western Wall. An unusually large number of Palestinians were present at the mosque to protest a visit the previous day by Knesset Member Ariel Sharon, interpreted by many as an assertion of Israeli sovereignty over the area. Israeli forces killed five Palestinians and wounded over 200. Violent clashes between Israeli security forces and Palestinians then spread to other parts of the West Bank, Gaza, and Israel. Within three weeks, more than 120 Palestinians were killed and 4,800 injured, many as result of excessive, often indiscriminate, use of lethal force by Israeli security forces against unarmed civilians. In a number of cases IDF soldiers appeared to target Palestinian medics, at least one of whom was killed and twenty-seven were injured by mid-October. At this writing, the IDF had significantly expanded its use of tanks and helicopter gunships armed with both missiles and medium-caliber machine guns in Palestinian residential areas.
Israel retained extensive control over, and placed restrictions on, the freedom of movement of all West Bank and Gaza Strip Palestinians. These policies obstructed Palestinian economic activity and access to health care, schools and universities, places of worship, and family members in other parts of the territories or in Israeli prisons. On October 25, 1999, Israel opened a "safe passage" allowing some increased movement between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, but the arbitrary nature of the criteria for issuing travel permits and their indiscriminate imposition on an entire population assured that the restrictions remained a form of collective punishment. Following September 29 Israel increased restrictions on movement into, out of, and within the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Palestinians passing through Israeli checkpoints were frequently subjected to harassment, physical abuse, and even torture by Israeli soldiers and police. For example, in a well-publicized incident on September 6, three Palestinian laborers required hospital treatment after being beaten by border police at a checkpoint. During the attack the police photographed themselves with their victims, and the unit commander later told Ha'aretz, "What we did was not special. Everybody does it." Other incidents resulted in deaths, as on July 9 when soldiers fired on a taxi carrying Atidal Muammer, killing her and injuring her husband, two children, and other passersby. Following an investigation, the IDF saidthe killing was "a terrible mistake," and stated that its soldiers were responding to shots from a different vehicle. However, no such vehicle was recovered and no spent cartridges were found at the scene of the shooting.
According to government figures, settlement construction in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip increased by 96 percent in the first half of 2000, with 860 of the 1,067 new starts in the Jerusalem area. At the same time, demolitions of Palestinian homes built without permits in the Israeli-occupied territories and in Israel continued, as did forced expulsions and expropriation of Palestinian land. In October and November 1999, Israeli authorities expelled some seven hundred Palestinian cave dwellers from the Mount Hebron area of the West Bank, and destroyed or confiscated their homes and their personal property, including livestock. The government alleged that the area where the cave dwellers had lived for decades was a "closed military zone." An investigation by the Israeli human rights group, B'Tselem, concluded, however, that the area had not been used for military exercises, and the expulsion was more likely intended to placate Jewish settlers whom the government had recently removed from a nearby illegal settlement outpost. On March 29 the High Court of Justice ruled that the cave dwellers could return to the area, pending a final determination in the case.
Close to one thousand Palestinian prisoners participated in a month-long hunger strike in May, protesting arbitrary treatment by prison officials, substandard prison conditions, prohibitions on family visits, use of solitary confinement, poor medical care, and Israel's refusal to release all the categories of prisoners specified in its agreements with the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). The strike was called off on May 31 after prison authorities promised to review complaints and ease some restrictions on visitors. According to Ha'aretz, a government report issued in June on conditions in Shatta prison described living conditions as "particularly harsh" in the wing where Palestinian prisoners from the Israeli-occupied territories were held, and concluded that the exposed tents used to house prisoners and filthy bathrooms at the prison were unfit for human use.
Several deaths in custody were reported. On August 11 Ramez Fayez Mohammed Rashid Elrizi died in al-Nafha prison. His father said that he had been in relatively good health during an August 9 visit. The family of Lafi al-Rajabi told the nongovernmental Palestinian Society for the Protection of Human Rights and the Environment (LAW) that he had contacted them on January 14, shortly before he died in an Israeli detention center near Nablus, saying his life was in danger. His body reportedly was returned to the family bearing cuts, bruises, and with wire marks on the neck. A third detainee, Sami As`ad, reportedly hanged himself in Kishon prison on June 19, seven weeks after being arrested. According to Ha'aretz, a psychiatric evaluation had found him to have personality disorders, and he had previously attempted suicide. As of this writing, Human Rights Watch is not aware of official findings regarding the causes of any of these deaths being made public.
On April 12, the High Court of Justice ruled that Israel could not continue to administratively detain Lebanese nationals solely as "bargaining chips" for the return of its soldiers missing in action. Five such hostages had been released in December 1999, and a sixth hostage, reported to be mentally ill, was released on April 5. Thirteen more hostages were released on April 19, but Israel continued to hold Shaykh `Abd al-Karim Obeid, kidnapped in July 1989, and Mustafa al-Dirani, kidnapped in May 1994, despite repeated court challenges. Both men were held in solitary confinement at an undisclosed location, and on March 13 a lawyer for al-Dirani filed a civil case against the Israeli government seeking NIS6,000,000 (U.S. $1,473,900) in compensation for torture, including rape, that al-Dirani had allegedly suffered while in Israeli custody. On June 11 the Israeli Cabinet approved draft legislation to legalize hostage-taking which was specifically intended to facilitate al-Dirani and Obeid's continued detention, and the bill passed its first Knesset reading on June 21.
Israel also continued to detain Palestinians for long periods without charge or trial. According to the IDF, as of September 12 Israel held five Palestinians as administrative detainees, including Khaled Hussein Jaradat, who had been held continuously since August 21, 1997.
Following a September 6, 1999, High Court of Justice ruling that General Security Service (GSS) officers were not authorized to use "physical means"-torture-during interrogations, reports of incidents of torture decreased significantly. However, according to the nongovernmental Public Committee against Torture in Israel (PCATI), the GSS continued to employ interrogation techniques including beatings, sleep deprivation, prolonged periods handcuffed to chairs, placing detainees with "collaborators" who beat, tortured, and threatened them to obtain confessions; and long periods of incommunicado detention. In February, the government made public the summary of a 1995 state comptroller report showing that high-ranking GSS officers had condoned "serious and systematic violations" by GSS interrogators between 1988 and 1992, and had lied to judges. No actions were taken, however, to prosecute individuals who had been responsible for torture, and the Knesset continued to consider draft legislation to legalize torture in cases where a suspect was believed to have information that could stop an imminent attack.
Palestinian security services continued to operate with impunity, despite recurring cases of torture, arbitrary arrests, and prolonged detention without charge or trial. An overwhelmed judiciary was further weakened by repeated executive branch interference in its work. Critics of these and other Palestinian Authority (P.A.) abuses were frequently subject to harassment, arrest, and in some instances, violent attacks. Military and state security courts issued death sentences after grossly unfair trials, which were not subject to appeal.
While individuals alleged to have affiliations to political organizations critical of P.A. policy were frequently targeted for arbitrary arrest, there were also reports of mass arrests, as when some thirty students were detained after a demonstration at Birzeit University on February 26. In June, the non-governmental Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group (PHRMG) reported that despite seventy-three High Court of Justice orders to release detainees that had been issued since January 1997, only four had been implemented. For example, as of this writing Wa`il`Ali Faraj, arrested on April 25, 1996, remained in detention despite a February 20, 1999, court order for his release.
The security forces' impunity extended to torture and ill-treatment of both political and criminal detainees. According to LAW, when questioned on August 7 about specific cases of torture, Police Commander Major Kamal al-Shaykh asserted that "the thief who does not confess must be beaten as a last resort to force him to confess." Such attitudes may have contributed to the June 6 death in custody of thirty-five-year-old Khalid Mohammed Yunis Bahar. According to the Palestinian human rights group Law in the Service of Man (al-Haq), P.A. police arrested Bahar on May 25, apparently without a warrant, and his family was prevented from visiting him. Earlier, on December 6, 1999, Mahmud Mohammed Khalil Hassan al-Bajjali, age thirty-three, died in Ramallah prison. Both men were reported to have been in good health. As of this writing the P.A. had not released autopsy reports in these and twenty-one cases of deaths in custody that occurred in previous years.
During clashes between Palestinians and the IDF that began on September 29 (see above), Palestinian security forces failed to act consistently and effectively to prevent armed civilians from opening fire on IDF soldiers or positions from places where civilians were present. This failure endangered the Palestinian civilian population when the IDF responded, often excessively and indiscriminately.
The judiciary suffered from a severe lack of resources and executive branch interference, and trials fell far short of international fair trial standards. P.A. President Yasser Arafat refused to ratify the Judicial Authority Law, passed by parliament on November 25, 1998, and instead issued ad hoc decrees, including a June 1 decree creating a Supreme Judicial Council with poorly defined powers, and a November 1, 1999 decree creating the post of "attorney general for state security courts." The new post was filled by Khaled al-Qidra, the disgraced former attorney general who had been removed from his post in 1997 following complaints of corruption and protests by human rights organizations.
Fair trial violations were particularly egregious in state security courts, which, along with "regular" military courts, had the power to try civilians and were responsible for the majority of death sentences passed. Trials in these courts were not subject to appeal, and sentences were sometimes issued only hours after arrest, as in the case of Raji Saqir. A state security court sentenced Saqir to death on July 3, having convened on the night of July 2, the day after the crime was committed. Security court jurisdiction was expanded in June to include drug trafficking cases, including those punishable by death.
The P.A. continued its efforts to control and restrict freedom of expression. Broadcast media were frequently subject to closure, and journalists and commentators to arrest, in retaliation for reporting criticism of P.A. policies. Five radio and television stations were ordered suspended between May 5 and June 2, and on June 2 Samir Qumsiah, chair of the Council of Private Radio and Television Stations, was arrested after calling on stations to halt broadcasts for half an hour to protest the closures. Security forces also arrested eight prominent personalities who signed a November 27, 1999, petition criticizing P.A. "tyranny and corruption." Six were released on JD50,000 (U.S. $70,000) bail on December 19, but Ahmad Dudin and `Abd al-Sattar Qassem were held until January 6. Qassem was rearrested on February 18 and detained until July 28, despite a July 11 High Court of Justice order for his release.
Academics risked punishment when their published views challenged social conventions. On November 24, 1999 the Islamic University in Gaza suspended Dr. Jawad al-Dalou and two students for publishing a student newspaper article that noted that many beggars came from the Nezla district in Gaza. A statement issued by the university said the suspensions were "in respect of the wishes of the dignified local personalities of the district of Nezla in the Jabalia camp."
On February 29 Chief of Police Ghazi al-Jabali issued new regulations limiting freedom of assembly, in contravention of existing law. The regulations prohibited organizing processions, demonstrations, or public meetings without prior approval from the district police commander, on penalty of up to two months of imprisonment or an up to JD50 (U.S. $70) fine. The High Court of Justice suspended their implementation on April 29, but as of September had not acted to revoke these or other regulations limiting freedom of assembly issued by President Arafat in his capacity as minister of interior on April 30.
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