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Human Rights Developments

The most severe human rights abuses continued on a large scale in the occupied territories in 1992 despite two dramatic developments that might have been expected to improve the human rights situation: the pursuit of regional peace talks and the ouster in June elections of Israel's Likud-led government by a coalition dominated by the more moderate Labor party. There was no let-up in the use of torture against suspects under interrogation, and in the use of often-unjustified lethal force against Palestinian activists, only a minority of whom were engaged in violent resistance when shot.

At the same time, there was a decrease in the imposition of abusive forms of administrative control and punishment, such as deportations, administrative detention, school closings, house demolitions and round-the-clock curfews.

These divergent trends may be explained by the shifting character of the Palestinian intifada. The decline in abusive administrative measures accompanied a drop-off in the overall level of confrontation with Israeli authorities. However, the persistence of more violent abuses accompanied a rise in attacks by armed Palestinians, many of them thought to belong to groups opposed to the peace talks. These attacks, which represent an increase in the use of firearms by Palestinian activists, were responsible for an increase over previous years in the killing of Israeli soldiers and civilians, and Palestinians said to be suspected of collaborating with Israeli authorities.

Thus, as the intifada of mass resistance subsided, the Israeli Defense Force (idf) has intensified its battle against what it calls "hard-core" activists. It employs special forces, who often disregard international and Israeli standards on the use of lethal force, and behave at times as if they have shoot-to-kill orders. And Israel relies heavily on coercive methods of interrogation to gather intelligence-perhaps more heavily than ever since its network of covert collaborators is under constant assault by Palestinian activists.

The advent of Yitzhak Rabin as prime minister has not changed this general picture. However, his administration made a number of encouraging gestures during its first weeks in office. These included cancelling deportation orders against 11 Palestinian activists and negotiating a peaceful resolution to an army siege of al-Najah University, in the West Bank. In October, his government brought a hunger strike by Palestinian security prisoners to an end by admitting that conditions were poor and promising to respond to a number of the strikers' demands.

The most pervasive system of control in the day-to-day lives of Palestinians-the permit system for entering Israel and annexed East Jerusalem, the de facto capital of the West Bank-was also eased marginally when the government exempted men over 50 from the requirement that they obtain both special identity cards and a short-term permit to enter these areas, to work, seek medical care, visit friends, or pursue any other activity. The authorities routinely deny such permits, for several months or even indefinitely, without explanation.

Palestinian residents of the occupied territories have long been victimized by such institutionalized Israeli government practices as the arbitrary confiscation of land; a judicial system that is lenient toward settler violence against Palestinians; the discriminatory allocation of resources and services; and a planning process that encourages the expansion of settlements while preventing development by Palestinians. Prime Minister Rabin's promise to reduce the construction of Jewish settlements could thus be beneficial from a human rights standpoint, although its practical consequences in these areas remain to be seen.

Despite these positive signs from the new government, the underlying human rights problems remained unaltered. According to the Israeli human rights organization B'Tselem, security forces shot dead 108 Palestinians between January and November, well above the figure for the same period in 1991.

The figures included many avoidable casualties that are the foreseeable result of Israeli policies. These policies include open-fire orders that do not conform to internationally accepted principles of permitting the use of lethal force only to counter a mortal threat and only when no lesser means are available. In the fifth year of the intifada, the idf continued to resort readily to live ammunition in riot-control situations, instead of relying on conventional riot gear such as protective shields and nonlethal means of quelling unrest. Large numbers of Palestinians sustained bullet wounds in the upper parts of their bodies despite open-fire orders requiring soldiers to aim at the legs. Moreover, a continuing laxness in investigating and disciplining soldiers encouraged them to believe that they were unlikely to face meaningful punishment if they exceeded their orders.

Undercover units of the idf and the paramilitary Border Police were responsible for about one third of the killings by security forces during the first ten months of 1992. According to the army, these units are an essential tool in the pursuit of armed and dangerous activists. The idf claims that these units are bound by the army's open-fire orders, which permit gunfire only to counter a life-threatening situation or when a person suspected of a serious crime refuses orders to halt. (The definition of a life-threatening situation was liberalized in February, to permit soldiers to shoot without warning at any Palestinian carrying a gun-a liberalization that violates international standards and Israeli law.)

However, several human rights groups, after interviewing eyewitnesses to many of the killings, assert that special forces have shot many of their victims at close quarters, in circumstances in which the wanted person could have been apprehended without endangering the lives of others. Based on ongoing research, Middle East Watch is strongly inclined to agree with this assertion. Many of the victims were hit without warning by multiple rounds of automatic fire, suggesting that the purpose was to kill rather than effect an arrest. In only a minority of cases did the army claim that the victim was armed and had made an attempt to attack the soldiers.

Some of the victims of the special forces were not on wanted lists. Rather, they were young activists who were ambushed because they were wearing masks over their faces and were spotted writing political graffiti on walls, manning roadblocks, or publicly ordering others to obey political strikes. Soldiers are permitted by their written orders to open fire in the context of the procedures for apprehending a suspect if they encounter a person who is masked and behaving "suspiciously."

Evidence of unacknowledged idf shoot-to-kill orders surfaced during the court-martial on manslaughter charges of a lieutenant colonel who had commanded an undercover unit in Gaza-the only criminal trial to date of a member of an undercover unit in connection with a shooting death. Soldiers testified that the officer had ordered them to shoot at "the center of the mass" of fleeing suspects, exceeding the official idf instructions to fire at the legs only when pursuing fleeing suspects. The lieutenant colonel was convicted of negligence in July 1992 and given a suspended one-month sentence. In light of the exposure that the trial gave to the trigger-happy conduct of the special forces, the lenient sentence was a disgrace, effectively condoning their illegal actions.

More encouraging was the order of an Israeli civil court judge in November that the state pay damages to a West Bank Palestinian who was wounded and to the family of another who was killed during an undercover operation in 1988. The judge ruled the state had not proven that the two were in fact "suspects" against whom it was permitted to open fire to stop them from fleeing. The court couched its finding of state liability in an explicit determination that the applicable norms were those of law enforcement rather than of war.

At various moments in 1992, senior Israeli officials incited civilians to use excessive force in response to violent Palestinian attacks on Israelis. Their comments ignored Israeli law, which prohibits the use of lethal force except when necessary to prevent a threat to life or of serious physical injury. After an Israeli girl was slain near Tel Aviv in May, then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir was quoted on the state radio as saying that the assailant, who was arrested, should have been shot, and that it was a pitythat the persons who fired at him had missed. Prime Minister Rabin sounded a similar note in July when, after a Palestinian fatally stabbed a policeman in Jerusalem, he declared, "The perpetrator was shot and killed and that's what has to be done to anyone who tries to attack a policeman or a soldier."

The deaths while under interrogation of four Palestinians in 1992 indicated no softening of interrogation methods by the General Security Service (gss, or Shin Bet). At least two of them died as a result of the conditions of their interrogation, according to American pathologists who attended the autopsies on behalf of the victims' families.

Evidence continued to accumulate that the mistreatment of Palestinian security suspects under interrogation was systematic. In a rare public statement in May, the International Committee of the Red Cross (icrc) urged Israel to end techniques of physical and psychological pressure "that constitute a violation of the [Fourth Geneva] Convention." The icrc is particularly well-informed about interrogation techniques because it is permitted by the Israeli government to meet with all detainees after fourteen days of custody.

Interrogation methods include beating, hooding, tying up for long hours in painful positions, sleep deprivation, confinement in closet-like cells, threats, and enforced exercise. In a March 1992 sequel to its March 1991 report on interrogation methods, B'Tselem charged that "out of about 20,000 total arrested [during the past year], we estimate that at least 5,000 detainees were interrogated by some combination of these methods."

The state's endorsement of the gss's abusive methods was exhibited by the official response to the death of 35-year-old Mustafa Akawi in February. In the ensuing investigation, the victim's interrogators freely admitted to having subjected him to beatings, sleep deprivation, prolonged hooding and extreme cold. An independent pathologist concluded that his death was caused by the effect of these conditions on an undetected heart condition. Israeli authorities responded by blaming the undetected malady and clearing the interrogators of wrongdoing. The government thereby confirmed that the methods employed on Akawi fell within the range of "moderate physical pressure" permitted by the gss's secret internal guidelines. Those guidelines were the subject of a Supreme Court challenge filed in June 1991 by human rights lawyer Avigdor Feldman, who claimed they violate the prohibition of torture in Israeli law. The case is still pending before the court.

Indefinite deportations of Palestinians from their homeland have ceased since January 1991, although neither the Shamir nor the Rabin government publicly renounced this controversial measure. Instead, both governments have imposed on a limited number of suspected activists a form of deportation that is less severe but no more legal in terms of international law. This milder form of deportation carries a finite term, usually three years, during which the deportee is not permitted to return. Like indefinite deportations, this measure is handed out without charge or trial, and violates the absolute prohibition of deportations found in the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949.

About 240 Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza Strip were being held in administrative detention at the beginning of October 1992, well below the 1,500-plus Palestinians who were jailed without trial during much of 1988 and 1989. However, some of the remaining detainees are now in their second or third year of continuous or near-continuous detention without charge. The longest-serving detainee is Sami Abu Samhadana, currently in Ketsiot detention camp, who has been held without charge almost continuously since 1985. A military order of December 1991 reduced the maximum length of an administrative detention order to six months from 12. However, the orders can be renewed indefinitely, and avenues of appeal are inadequate.

The demolition or sealing of the homes of Palestinians suspected of serious security offenses decreased in 1992, as they had in 1991. According to B'Tselem, eight homes were demolished and 15 sealed between January and October 13, 1992, compared with 82 demolished and 87 sealed during the corresponding period of 1990.

In April, authorities gave the green light to the reopening of Bir Zeit University. For the first time since 1988, all six Palestinian universities were permitted to function.

The trend toward reducing administrative sanctions was interrupted bysporadic flare-ups. After sniper fire killed a Jewish settler in the West Bank city of el-Bireh on December 1, 1991, all Palestinian inhabitants of the Ramallah-El-Bireh area were subject to a round-the-clock curfew for two weeks, followed by a dusk-to-dawn curfew that lasted two months. During the initial curfew, schools, health clinics, and other institutions were closed, while soldiers conducted extensive house-to-house searches and arrested scores of young men. The idf commander for the West Bank said on December 15, 1991 that the curfew was for "purely intelligence and operational reasons," but in the view of Middle East Watch its severity and scope made it an act of collective punishment, in violation of international human rights and humanitarian law. The same judgment applies to the nightly 9:00 p.m.-to-4:00 a.m. curfew continuously imposed for the past four years on all 750,000 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.

In 1992, the leadership of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and prominent pro-PLO figures in the occupied territories made serious attempts to stop the slaying of Palestinians said to be suspected of collaborating with Israel. In the Jerusalem-based Palestinian press and in public fora, they condemned the practice in far stronger terms than in previous years, and urged its end. However, the fear that their calls would only expose their lack of authority in this regard proved well-founded. According to the Associated Press, between January and November, 197 Palestinians were killed by other Palestinians on the apparent grounds of their suspected collaboration, compared to 154 in all of 1991.

The perpetrators generally appear to be members of Islamist groups and of nationalist groups that do not heed orders from the traditional PLO leadership. Middle East Watch condemns these extrajudicial executions, as well as the frequent use of torture during prior interrogations. Neither can be excused by the impossibility of establishing a formal Palestinian judicial system under Israeli occupation.

The Right to Monitor

Human rights work is permitted under certain constraints, which are far less onerous for Israeli and foreign monitors than they are for Palestinians. Foreign and Israeli journalists generally need no special permission to enter the occupied territories. However, on many occasions, their access to events or places is restricted by military authorities, often when their presence as witnesses would be most critical.

Palestinian human rights workers and journalists are at greater risk of harassment by soldiers at checkpoints and at the scene of disturbances or arrests. They have also been subject to arrests and restrictions on their movement. Israeli authorities deny that any Palestinian is restricted because of human rights or journalistic activities, but generally refuse to disclose the precise "security" reasons for restrictions.

In March, authorities issued a restrictive (green) identity card to Musa Bakri, a field worker for the Jerusalem-based Palestine Human Rights Information Center (phric) who co-authored a report on the use of electric-shock torture in a detention center in Hebron. Because holders of green identity cards may not enter Israel and annexed East Jerusalem, Bakri was prohibited from reaching the phric office. This restriction was renewed for another six-month period in September.

As of early November, no field workers with the Ramallah-based human rights organization al-Haq possessed green identity cards, following the return earlier in the year of an ordinary card to Zahi Jaradat, a field worker in the Hebron area. However, Gaza Strip staff of al-Haq were impeded in their work by the requirement that they seek one-day exit permits from the Civil Administration each time they wish to cross Israel to reach the West Bank-ordinarily a weekly occurrence to attend staff meetings in Ramallah.

Only one al-Haq staff member spent time in detention in 1992, the same figure as 1991 and well below that of the first three years of the intifada. In June, Hebron-area field worker Sha'wan Jabarin was arrested and held for 17 days before being released without charge. In an August 7 letter to Middle East Watch, the idf claimed that Jabarin, winner of the 1990 Reebok Foundation's human rights award, was "involved in the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine terrorist organization" and "is party to breaches ofhuman rights he is supposed to protect." Despite the idf claim that Jabarin belonged to a "terrorist organization," he was never charged or tried during these this or two previous periods of detention.

U.S. Policy

The Bush administration was actively engaged during 1992 in promoting peace talks between Israel and its neighbors. Regrettably, it dispensed public criticism of ongoing human rights violations with an eyedropper, arguing that such criticism would derail the fragile peace process. Since the process picked up speed in July with the appointment of the Rabin government, the U.S. administration has been virtually silent on continuing violations. In the view of Middle East Watch, this silence is both wrong because serious violations are not mitigated by the possibility of future peace, and short-sighted because the persistent abuses tend to undermine the confidence needed to build peace.

Israel received more than $3 billion in U.S. economic and military aid in 1992, far more than any other country. Congress approved an administration request for the same amount for 1993. In addition, favorable terms for delivering the aid and other programs push the value of the package well above $3 billion.

As in previous years, the administration never indicated publicly that the massive aid should be linked to greater respect for the human rights of the Palestinians living under occupation. However, aid and Israeli policies in the territories were explicitly linked over the issue of Jewish settlements.

In 1991, Israel requested U.S. government guarantees for $10 billion in commercial loans to build housing for new immigrants. President Bush insisted on conditioning the guarantees on a commitment from Israel to limit new settlements. Secretary of State James Baker adamantly justified the linkage, telling the House Appropriations Committee on February 24, "Our opposition to settlements has been there since 1967....Nobody else is asking us for $10 billion in additional assistance over and above the $3 to $4 billion that we give every year with no strings attached."

The grounds for the Bush administration's objection to settlements were that they impeded the peace process, not that they were illegal under international law-as the Carter administration had maintained-or that they created a blatantly discriminatory dual society within the occupied territories.

The administration's conditions on loan guarantees were rejected by then-Prime Minister Shamir. It was not until his successor, Yitzhak Rabin, pledged to curtail settlements that an accord on the loans was reached.

The chapter on the Israeli-occupied territories in the State Department's Country Reports on Human Rights Practices in 1991, issued in January 1992, provided a reasonable survey of the range of abuses, but often failed to present findings in the State Department's own voice. The chapter frequently repeated official Israeli justifications without presenting its own findings about how those assertions held up in reality. For example, it stated that "[p]olitical and extrajudicial killing are not condoned by Israel." Such a bald assertion cried out for comment in light of the continuing furor over unjustified killings by idf undercover units.

Deportation was one issue that continued to provoke U.S. ire. On January 6, the administration backed U.N. Security Council Resolution 726, which "strongly condemns" the deportation orders issued against 12 Palestinians. However, in fixed-term deportations (see above), Israel found a deportation technique that has escaped, at least thus far, public criticism from the U.S.

The administration remained hesitant to weigh in on the issue of mistreatment under interrogation. The Country Reports called "credible" the reports of torture published by various human rights groups, but declined to speak in its own voice. Following the death of detainee Mustafa Akawi in February, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher twice expressed concern about reports of Akawi's mistreatment, and said that the case had been raised with the Israeli authorities. But the Department would not press the issue any further in public. Asked to comment in April on a new B'Tselem report on torture, spokeswoman Margaret Tutwiler said only, "Our 1991 human rights report noted that a number of Israeli and Palestinian and international humanrights organizations have issued reports on Israeli mistreatment of Palestinians during interrogation, and thus I would refer you to that report." While the U.S. is not obliged to make a statement merely because a human rights organization issues a report, Washington's reticence on the issue of mistreatment of detainees put it in the anomalous position of having said less about this issue than the ordinarily close-mouthed International Committee of the Red Cross.

The U.S. position on the use of lethal force by Israel was also a combination of bland comments and claims that the issue was being examined. Asked about the idf's relaxation of open-fire orders, spokeswoman Tutwiler stated on May 7, in the Department's only public comment: "I don't have a specific reaction for you. As you know, we can condemn the violence-any violence that is there, not this specifically-and that we have looked into it, is basically where we are."

In the one instance when the Bush administration made waves on a human rights issue in the occupied territories, it quickly retreated. On May 12, as a multilateral session of the peace talks devoted to refugees was getting under way, despite an Israeli boycott, State Department spokeswoman Tutwiler restated U.S. support for U.N. General Assembly resolution 194 (1948), which affirms the right of Palestinians displaced by the 1948 war to return to their former homes or receive compensation. The following day, Tutwiler again called attention to the plight of refugees by saying that the issue of their return should be addressed by direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

The comments provoked a storm of protest in Israel and on May 18 Tutwiler backed down, saying that the resolution was no longer relevant to American policy in the Middle East or to the ongoing peace talks.

The U.S. was right to raise the issue and should support the discussion in the peace talks of the rights of Palestinian refugees. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states that "[n]o one shall be arbitrarily deprived of the right to enter his own country." For Palestinians who fled or were forced to flee the area of Palestine that became Israel in 1948, their "country" is Israel, just as Israel has become the country of citizenship to the many Palestinians who remained within its boundaries. This clear right needs to be addressed, however complex the issues surrounding its implementation may be.

Following the change of governments, Israel ended its boycott of the multilateral talks on refugees and attended the November round in Canada.

Encouraged by Prime Minister Rabin's more accommodating position on peace talks and new settlements, the Bush administration in the second half of the year refrained from commenting on continuing human rights abuses. On the eve of her first trip to Israel in October, the new Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs, Patricia Diaz Dennis, told Middle East Watch that she was under instructions not to say or do anything during her trip that would complicate the peace talks.

The Work of Middle East Watch

In 1992, Middle East Watch's work on the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip focused on two persistent violent forms of abuse: the often-unjustified killings of Palestinian activists by undercover units of the idf and the Border Police, and the use of torture during interrogation.

Middle East Watch issued a report in March on the death in detention of Mustafa Akawi and other developments related to the abuse of Palestinians under interrogation. It also sent a number of letters to Israeli authorities during the year, expressing concern about particular individuals undergoing interrogation.

In July, Middle East Watch embarked on four months of research into the killing of wanted and masked Palestinians by undercover units. A major report will be issued in early 1993.

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