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US Human Rights Report Whitewashes Israel’s Abuses Against Palestinians

State Department Report Diverges Widely From Last Year’s

The American and Israeli flags outside the U.S Embassy in Tel Aviv December 5, 2017. © 2017 Reuters

The US State Department’s newly released human rights report, designed to be a “factual resource” on human rights abuses in nearly 200 countries and to inform US foreign policy, has numerous problems and omissions – including with the chapters covering Israel and Palestine.

The problems start with the chapters’ names. In previous years, the State Department produced joint but separate chapters on “Israel” and “The Occupied Territories.” This year the State Department renamed the chapters “Israel and the Golan Heights” and the “West Bank and Gaza.” Additionally, the report almost entirely removes any reference to the occupation. Occupying powers have particular responsibilities under international humanitarian law and obscuring the nature of Israel’s control undermines efforts to hold Israel to these standards.

Also, the report goes even further than previous years in ceding to the Israeli government’s narrative on key issues. For example, last year’s report highlights “institutional and societal discrimination against Arab citizens of Israel” as among Israel’s “most significant human rights problems.” This is gone in this year’s report, a trend across many chapters of removing societal discrimination from the top line summaries.

In fact, the “Israel and the Golan Heights” chapter explicitly omits to mention Israel’s two-tiered discriminatory system in Jerusalem, where Israeli policy explicitly sets out as a goal “maintaining a solid Jewish majority in the city.” Instead, the report speaks of “Israeli residents of Jerusalem” – which presumably includes illegal Jewish settlers in East Jerusalem – explicitly leaving almost all mention of Palestinian residents in Jerusalem to the “West Bank and Gaza” chapter.

This year’s report also diverges from previous years by noting its drafters “sought and received input from the government of Israel (and, where relevant, the Palestinian Authority) with regard to allegations of human rights abuses.” Notably, this type of caveat or sourcing explanation does not appear in the chapters of other close US allies like Japan, the United Kingdom, France, or Germany.

The US has for decades failed to sufficiently use its leverage to pressure Israel’s government to end decades of repression, institutionalized discrimination, and systematic abuse of Palestinians’ rights. This year’s report, though, speaks to the shift under the Trump administration to further whitewashing of those abuses, even while acknowledging, at times, that abuses against Palestinians have been independently documented by groups like Human Rights Watch.

Far from strengthening the US’s standing, turning a blind eye to reality only isolates the US from the international consensus around Israel’s abuses and makes its voice less credible and relevant. 

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