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(Ramallah) – Israel engaged in discriminatory practices and other rights violations against Palestinians during 2012, while Palestinian authorities committed abuses against their own population, Human Rights Watch said today in its World Report 2013.

Both Israeli forces and Palestinian armed groups committed serious violations of the laws of war during eight days of fighting in November. Neither side made meaningful progress in providing justice for abuses committed during the 2008-2009 conflict, which could be addressed by giving the International Criminal Court (ICC) jurisdiction over the situation in the West Bank and Gaza.

“Israeli and Palestinian authorities have committed serious rights abuses, and their allies and supporters have failed to press hard enough for change,” said Tom Porteous, deputy program director at Human Rights Watch. “In the coming year, leaders in the region and beyond should work much harder to end the cycle of impunity and abuse, not least by supporting, instead of trying to block, Palestinian access to the International Criminal Court.”

In its 665-page report, Human Rights Watch assessed progress on human rights during the past year in more than 90 countries, including an analysis of the aftermath of the Arab uprisings. The willingness of new governments to respect rights will determine whether the Arab uprisings give birth to genuine democracy or simply spawn authoritarianism in new clothes, Human Rights Watch said.

Israel engaged in discriminatory practices in the occupied West Bank, Human Rights Watch said. During 2012, Israeli security forces unlawfully demolished hundreds of Palestinian homes and buildings in areas under sole Israeli control. They denied West Bank Palestinian communities access to natural resources and basic utilities, displacing nearly 900 people, according to the United Nations. Meanwhile, Israel’s provision of preferential services and planning – such as the approval of thousands of new settlement housing units and the retroactive “authorization” of settlement outposts – encouraged and facilitated civilian settlement in occupied territory in violation of the Geneva Conventions.

Israeli forces also suppressed nonviolent Palestinian protests and used excessive force against demonstrators, arbitrarily banned the travel of human rights defenders, and unlawfully limited the ability of Palestinian farmers to access their lands. In December, Israeli forces raided the offices of several civil society groups in Ramallah. Israel’s military justice system, from which settlers are exempt, subjected Palestinians, including human rights defenders, to prolonged arbitrary detention, coercive interrogations, and unfair trials. In the majority of cases, Israeli authorities failed to indict anyone for attacks apparently carried out by Israeli settlers that harmed Palestinians or damaged their property.

The Palestinian Authority’s security services were responsible for serious rights violations in the West Bank during 2012, Human Rights Watch said. They carried out arbitrary arrests, harassed journalists and bloggers, and beat and assaulted peaceful demonstrators. In more than 150 cases documented by the Palestinian Independent Commission for Human Rights, they allegedly tortured or mistreated detainees. Despite strong evidence of torture in some cases, no security officials were convicted.

In Gaza, Hamas authorities carried out six judicial executions in 2012, some after unfair trials. Hamas authorities have not prosecuted anyone for seven extrajudicial executions committed in November, after the killers were able to take the victims from jails. Security forces conducted arbitrary arrests, frequently denied detainees access to their lawyers, and tortured detainees with impunity. The authorities permitted some local human rights organizations to operate, but repeatedly suppressed free association and peaceful assembly.

“Palestinians suffer not only from harmful Israeli policies, but also from serious abuses at the hands of the Palestinian Authority and Hamas,” Porteous said. “Palestinian leaders in the West Bank and Gaza should publicly acknowledge violations by their respective security services, and take concrete steps in 2013 toward ending impunity.”

Israeli and Egyptian policies toward the Gaza Strip impede Gaza’s economic recovery, Human Rights Watch said. Israel, with the assistance of Egypt, bans almost all exports. After the November fighting, Israel eased its restrictions on Palestinian access to some farmlands and to fishing waters, but continued to threaten Palestinian civilians with lethal force in areas close to the Israeli perimeter fence and beyond six nautical miles off the coast. Israel also barred Gaza residents from traveling or moving to the West Bank, where many have families and other close ties.

The renewal of fighting between Israel and Gaza from November 14 to 21 resulted in numerous laws-of-war violations by both sides. Human Rights Watch documented unlawful airstrikes that killed at least 44 Palestinian civilians, including children, in Gaza. Palestinian armed groups launched hundreds of rockets at Israeli population centers in violation of the laws of war, killing three Israeli civilians. Rockets that fell short of their intended targets in Israel apparently killed at least two Palestinians in Gaza.

In January 2012, Israel’s Supreme Court upheld a law that barred Israeli citizens from living inside Israel with their spouses from Palestine and other countries in the region, which had the practical effect of discriminating against Palestinian citizens of Israel. Israeli authorities demolished the homes of dozens of Bedouin families in the Negev, and refused to provide adequate infrastructure to tens of thousands of inhabitants in “unrecognized” villages. In some cases, planning authorities have approved plans for Jewish communities that would be built on the sites of existing Bedouin villages.

On November 29, the UN General Assembly voted to admit Palestine as a “non-member observer state.” This provides Palestine the opportunity to ratify the core human rights treaties and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. Despite the need for greater accountability for war crimes, including illegal population transfers, the UK and Italy publicly called on Palestine not to use its new UN status to pursue the jurisdiction of the ICC.

“Ending impunity for violations by all sides is an important goal for 2013,” Porteous said. “Influential governments should encourage Palestinian access to the ICC, not oppose it.” 

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