OCCUPIED WEST BANK AND GAZA STRIP
Human Rights Developments
This section is divided into two parts. The first concerns the areas under Israeli occupation with no concessions to Palestinian control (apart from limited responsibility in education, tourism and social welfare). These areas included all of the West Bank and Gaza Strip through May 1994, and, from May onward, only the West Bank excluding Jericho, an area with a combined population of about one million. The second covers the areas where, beginning in May, partial self-rule was implemented, namely the Gaza Strip and greater Jericho, with some 800,000 inhabitants.
Human Rights Developments
In the Areas Not Under Palestinian Partial Self-Rule
The peace process under way between the government of Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) dominated political developments in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip during 1994. In May, the first step was taken to transfer responsibilities to an interim Palestinian Authority (PA) as envisioned in the September 1993 Israeli-PLO Declaration of Principles. Israeli troops withdrew from population centers throughout the Gaza Strip and the West Bank town of Jericho, and the PA took over internal security and governmental services inside these areas. In August, the two sides reached an agreement in principle on transferring responsibilities over several civilian sectors throughout the occupied territories, excluding East Jerusalem. (Human Rights Watch/Middle East considers the parts of Jerusalem captured in 1967 to be occupied territory. However, since Israel unilaterally annexed these areas and applies to them its domestic law, the human rights situation there differs from the rest of the West Bank and is not covered in this report.)
The applicable legal framework for Israel's treatment of the Palestinian population includes the Hague Regulations of 1907, the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949, and broad portions of international human rights law. Israel's government has, in defiance of a broad international consensus, never recognized the de jure applicability of the Fourth Geneva Convention.
During 1994, Palestinians under Israeli direct rule continued to experience widespread abuses, including killings through the excessive use of force, torture, arbitrary arrests, and long-lasting curfews over wide areas. They also were subjected to strict and arbitrary controls on movement, which impeded their ability to earn a living, study at universities, obtain goods and services, and otherwise conduct their everyday lives.
The level of certain abuses, including killings by the security forces, declined compared to previous years. No Palestinians were deported during the first ten months of 1994, and scores who had been deported in the past were permitted to return. No houses were demolished as a security-related sanction.
These trends accompanied a decline in the level of everyday violence in the occupied territories. The fervor of the early intifada, or uprising, had cooled for Palestinians, although it was easily reignited. The Israeli security forces also entered Palestinian population centers less frequently than in past years, thereby reducing the opportunities for violent clashes that so often ended in unarmed Palestinians being shot dead by soldiers.
Palestinians also suffered at the hands of Israeli settlers, who are licensed to bear arms by the state. Settlers continued to use unjustifiable force against Palestinians with little risk of experiencing the harsh response that the military authorities reserved for Palestinian attacks on Israelis.
Militant Palestinian groups were also responsible for grave abuses. Between January and October, forty-nine Palestinians were murdered by other Palestinians on suspicion of collaborating with the Israeli authorities, according to an Associated Press tally. The rate of such killings in the past had been higher.
The Islamist Hamas movement claimed responsibility for a number of attacks on Israelis. These included bombings in April directed at civilians in the Israeli towns of Hadera and Afula, killing twelve people and an October 19 suicide bombing of a civilian bus in Tel Aviv that killed twenty-three persons, including the bomber. Earlier in October Hamas militants took a soldier hostage and then apparently killed him during a failed rescue operation. All of these acts violated basic humanitarian principles that prohibit the targeting of civilians and acts of violence against any person who is in custody.
The peace process brought about the release of over 5,000 prisoners between October 1993 and October 1994, halving the number of Palestinians in Israeli prisons. In negotiating releases with the PLO, Israel said priority would be given to prisoners who did not "have blood on their hands." However, as of early November, some of the prisoners still being held had not been convicted of or charged with any violent offense. And, as in previous years, hundreds of West Bank Palestinians were arrested each month by the Israeli security forces.
The majority of Palestinian prisoners were held in detention facilities inside Israel, in violation of Article 76 of Geneva Convention IV, which forbids the occupying power to transfer prisoners out of the occupied lands. One consequence of this policy was that relatives and lawyers faced difficulties in visiting prisoners because of restrictions on entering Israel.
Many detainees were subjected to torture or ill-treatment at the hands of their interrogators. They underwent some combination of beatings, shackling, confinement for prolonged periods in painful positions, hooding, sleep deprivation, denial of access to a toilet, and other forms of humiliation. The abuse is systematic, and not limited to persons suspected of committing grave acts of violence. Many who are mistreated are not themselves suspected of serious offenses, but rather are picked up and interrogated for the purpose of obtaining information about acquaintances.
There were 163 Palestinians in administrative detention (internment without charge or trial) as of August 3, 1994, according to official figures. This number indicated the continuing overall decline in the resort to this measure, but obscured a surge that put the number of administrative detainees over 400 in May as a result of a crackdown on Islamists following two bombing attacks inside Israel. Geneva Convention IV permits the use of administrative detention only as an exceptional measure.
Between January and October, Israeli security forces killed 102 Palestinians, including fourteen aged sixteen or under. Many of these killings occurred in situations where the soldier's resort to lethal force could not be justified in terms of an imminent danger facing the soldier or others. As Human Rights Watch/Middle East has pointed out in its reports, both the Israel Defense Forces' permissive open-fire orders (especially with regard to shooting at fleeing suspects) and its failure to vigorously punish breaches of these norms contribute to this phenomenon.
Israeli special forces continued to carry out undercover operations, mainly in the pursuit of fugitive militants. While these units often succeeded in arresting the persons being sought, they also killed a number of persons, sometimes in what appeared to be shoot-to-kill operations.
For example, on May 31, two men were shot dead as they got off a bus near Jerusalem. Eyewitnesses said the men were shot without warning by members of an undercover unit, who continued to fire into their bodies as they lay on the ground. Security sources said one of the men was wanted in connection with the killing of an undercover agent, and the other in connection with membership in Hamas. But at the time they were killed, they were posing no threat to others, according to the witnesses.
The mass murder committed at the Ibrahimi mosque in Hebron on February 25 forced the issue of settler violence to center stage. Early that morning, settler and reserve soldier Baruch Goldstein, armed with an army-issued automatic rifle, entered the shrine and fired indiscriminately on worshippers, killing twenty-nine and wounding scores more.
The government-appointed commission of inquiry into the massacre concluded in June that Goldstein had acted alone. But the testimony before the commission revealed that settler violence did not occur in a vacuum. Soldiers and officers testified to conflicting instructions on handling settlers, with several asserting that the standing orders were never to fire at a settler, even if he or she was unjustifiably endangering lives.
Embarrassed, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) promptly "clarified" the orders, stating that the procedures for responding to life-threatening situations applied whether the perpetrators were Jews or Palestinians. A communiqué from the Israeli Cabinet affirmed that the government "is solely responsible...for the security of all inhabitants, both Jewish and Arab" of the occupied territories, and "will continue to act to prevent harm to Jews and Arabs."
Israeli security and judicial authorities have long practiced a double standard, moving forcefully to prevent and punish acts of violence perpetrated by Palestinians against Israelis, but acting leniently when armed settlers shot at Palestinians, launched vigilante raids in villages and refugee camps, or harassed motorists. Palestinian suspects are tried in military courts, while settlers, should they be charged, face judgment in civil courts, where they enjoy greater due-process rights.
These points were made in a March 1994 study by B'Tselem that assessed the Israeli judicial system's handling of the sixty-two cases in which Palestinians were killed by Israeli civilians (nearly all of them settlers) between 1988 and 1992. In at least forty-nine cases, B'Tselem found, the perpetrator was not in mortal danger. Yet among these cases, only one resulted in a murder conviction and one in a manslaughter conviction.
In responding to Palestinian unrest following the Hebron massacre, the IDF displayed some of its most abusive practices. When protests broke out, troops suppressed them forcibly, killing twenty-one Palestinians during the six days following the massacre.
Three-quarters of the population of the occupied territories was placed under a curfew lasting four to five days after the massacre. In addition, authorities imposed a strict closure of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, preventing Palestinians from entering Israel or East Jerusalem. As in the past, settlers were exempted from both measures.
Hebron's 100,000 inhabitants remained under a round-the-clock curfew for more than a month, with infrequent breaks. Employment, commerce, school, and medical services were all severely disrupted for Palestinian residents of the Hebron region, as the Palestine Human Rights Information Center documented in a May report.
The IDF spokesman said the post-massacre closure and curfews were imposed owing to the "valid security considerations" of "prevent[ing] massive disturbances, and the risk to human life, and to reduce friction between Jews and Arabs." However, these disruptive measures were carried out on a wholly disproportionate scale. They constituted a collective punishment of nearly two million Palestinians for a crime committed by a Jewish settler.
In responding to demands to rein in settler violence Israel took unprecedented measures against settler militants. It banned two militant organizations and applied military orders, rather than domestic law, to administratively detain six men. But administrative measures against a handful of individuals known for their advocacy of violence, in violation of their rights to due process are no substitute for a committed and consistent policy of preventing, investigating, and prosecuting all acts of violence.
After a month of difficult negotiations after the massacre, Israel and the PLO agreed to a three-month, 160-person multinational monitoring presence in Hebron whose purpose was to create "a feeling of security among Palestinians" by "promoting stability and in monitoring and reporting the efforts to restore normal life." The Temporary International Presence in Hebron (TIPH) represented the first time that Israel had consented to the insertion of a multinational force in the occupied territories. However, the mandate of the TIPH was weak. It sought to protect rights by its mere presence on the ground, its offer of good offices, and by filing reports to a joint Israeli-Palestinian committee and to donor governments. (It did not make these reports public.) It was not given police powers or any other means of physically intervening to halt abuses, mobilizing international opinion, or enlisting third-party intervention. The TIPH was hobbled further by the absence of any reference in its mandate to applicable humanitarian and human rights law.
Many human rights advocates hope that future agreements on international observers_envisioned in general terms in the Declaration of Principles _ will assure a protection role more substantive than the one performed by the TIPH.
Regulatory controls on various aspects of Palestinian life by the occupying power are an often underestimated form of abusive conduct. The opaque, inconsistent and time-wasting procedures Palestinians endure when seeking permits and authorizations seriously impede the exercise of freedom of movement and other rights. Moreover, they affect nearly the entire Palestinian population and not only those suspected of resistance activities.
Israel's internal intelligence agency, the General Security Service (GSS), routinely reviews applications to travel abroad or to obtain permission to enter Israel and East Jerusalem. As B'Tselem pointed out in a September 1994 report, "Unlike a conventional civilian authority, the GSS does not operate according to uniform, reasonable, and open criteria. Its considerations are secret and it is under no obligation to explain its decisions, endowing it with immense power, which it frequently uses arbitrarily."
The most wide-reaching bureaucratic controls are over the movement of Palestinians into Israel and East Jerusalem. Because the latter was unilaterally annexed in 1967, all Palestinians who are not registered as Jerusalem residents are required to obtain permits in order to enter the city.
These controls have tightened in response to violent attacks inside Israel carried out by residents of the occupied territories. Now, Palestinians wishing to enter Israel and East Jerusalem must obtain hard-to-get temporary permits. Many categories of persons, such as those with security records, are usually refused.
Obstacles to travel affect not only Palestinians who work in Israel and East Jerusalem, but also those who need to cross Israel when traveling between the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The Gaza Strip is not a self-sufficient entity; cut off from Israel and the West Bank, Gazans are deprived of access to certain essential services such as comprehensive health care facilities, foreign consulates, and a broad range of higher education institutions.
Immediately after the Hebron massacre, Israel closed the occupied territories and cancelled all valid permits. Most men who had jobs in Israel found themselves unemployed for months with no compensation. (Few alternative jobs are available in the occupied territories, owing in large part to Israeli policies that stunted economic development in these areas.)
The post-Hebron closure was lifted very gradually beginning in March. Prime Minister Rabin pointed out in August that, according to a defense establishment study, none of the political killings inside Israel since the March 1993 closure had been committed by workers holding permits. A new closure was nevertheless imposed in October in response to a series of attacks inside Israel claimed by Hamas and carried out by residents of the occupied territories.
Israel, like all countries, has the right to restrict entry at its borders, and is permitted by humanitarian law to restrict the movement of the population under its occupation. However, Israel is obliged to weigh these prerogatives against the obligation to attend to the occupied population's legitimate daily needs, some of which require enjoying freedom of movement.
Human Rights Developments
In the Areas under Palestinian Partial Self-Rule
An unprecedented legal situation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip has emerged from the Israeli-PLO peace process. The Palestinian Authority has assumed control over Jericho and much of the Gaza Strip, yet it lacks essential elements of sovereignty. Israel, meanwhile, no longer exercises full nor exclusive control over these areas, yet its impact on daily life remains significant.
Both Israel and the PA bear responsibility for protecting the human rights of the residents of the self-rule areas. Israel's legal responsibilities as occupying power have not ended, even if its contact with the protected population has diminished.
As for the Palestinian Authority, it is not a state government and therefore cannot formally accede to human rights treaties. Nevertheless, it is bound by humanitarian norms and customary human rights law. The Geneva Convention IV affirms that the protection it provides toward a population under occupation cannot be compromised by any interim agreement, short of a definitive political solution, that is reached between the occupying power and other authorities.
While Gazans celebrated the withdrawal of Israeli troops from most of the Gaza Strip, they were soon reminded how utterly dependent their economic and community life remained on Israeli decisions, particularly with regard to their freedom to travel into and out of the Strip. Israeli control over the population of the self-rule areas was also evident in the continued incarceration, as of early November, of over one thousand residents of the self-rule areas, nearly all charged with or convicted of "security" offenses.
In its first half year in office, the Palestinian Authority had a mixed record on human rights. For most Palestinians in the self-rule areas, the replacement of Israeli troops by Palestinian forces in population centers marked a substantial improvement in their safety and freedom. There were no more daily casualties in clashes with troops, and no more nighttime curfew. The number of persons imprisoned for periods longer than a few days dropped sharply.
At the same time, the Palestinian Authority took a number of troubling steps, including hundreds of arbitrary arrests, the temporary banning of the only critical daily newspaper, and directives restricting political gatherings. The first violent clashes between the Palestinian police and demonstrators erupted on November 18. The toll of at least fifteen dead and hundreds wounded raised troubling questions about the committment and ability of the police to use non-lethal means in confronting unarmed protestors.
Despite widespread confusion over what laws and regulations were in effect, the Palestinian Authority failed to anchor the conduct of its agencies and security forces in the rule of law. Security forces in Gaza, for example, routinely carried out arrests without warrants, without explaining the reasons for the arrest, and without informing families of the whereabouts of the person taken into custody.
Some of the problems could be attributed to the extraordinary difficulties that the Palestinian Authority faced in assuming responsibilities over a restive population in the wake of a twenty-seven-year occupation. The Palestinian Authority commenced governing without adequate funding and with substantial limits on its powers, pursuant to the Israeli-PLO agreements. Its security forces lacked the experience, training and equipment that might have helped to promote respect for human rights in their conduct.
None of these shortcomings, however, could excuse the violations of fundamental rights that occurred, such as the use of violence against detainees under interrogation, and the closure of an-Nahar newspaper because its views offended the PLO.
Arbitrary arrests generally took the form of round-ups of supporters of a particular opposition movement shortly after an attack on Israeli targets claimed by or attributed to that group. Hundreds of alleged supporters of Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine were rounded up in this fashion beginning in August. Most of those arrested were never charged, and were released within three weeks. The handling of these detainees and the way they were questioned suggested that persons were being detained on the basis of their suspected political affiliations rather on solid evidence linking them to specific criminal acts.
There was no pattern of physical abuse of opposition group members and supporters while in detention. However, these sweeps formed a dangerous precedent. Even the Palestinian Justice Minister, Freih abu Medein, acknowledged to the Los Angeles Times in September, "Mass arrests are political arrests, and they are against the law. To make an arrest, you must have evidence and go to a specific address and detain a specific person. You can't just sweep through a mosque and pick up those you find."
Beatings and harsher conditions were experienced by some suspects detained on suspicion of collaborating with the Israeli authorities. One such suspect, Farid Jarbou', died under torture in July. Authorities quickly acknowledged that he had died under torture, and three security-force members were charged in connection with causing the death. But other collaboration suspects arrested in May and June complained to their lawyers and to visitors that they too had been beaten.
In July, the Palestinian Authority took a laudable step toward promoting accountability by authorizing the International Committee of the Red Cross to conduct regular visits to all persons detained by the Palestinian Authority.
The PA's record has been mixed with regard to freedom of expression, assembly and association. The gravest attack on press freedom came on July 28, when PA Chair Yasir Arafat banned the only critical daily newspaper, the Jerusalem-based an-Nahar. The pretext provided was that the paper's license had expired, but the legal basis of the licensing requirement was never made clear. Instead, the ban was widely seen as an act of displeasure with an-Nahar's sympathies for Jordan's King Hussein at the expense of Arafat. An-Nahar resumed publication on September 5, with a distinctly more pro-PLO line than before.
At the same time, there has been no systematic effort by the Palestinian Authority to suppress the diverse and vibrant political life in the self-rule areas. Permits have been issued to independent and opposition figures to launch new papers in the Gaza Strip. And while the Gaza police chief in September banned unauthorized political gatherings in Gaza's four largest meeting halls, opposition political organizations continued to hold meetings, rallies, and demonstrations without police interference; human rights organizations documented and publicized abuses without harassment, and criticism of the authorities was heard from a variety of quarters.
By the end of October, one of the most important rights of Palestinians, the right to take part in public affairs through the free election of representatives, had yet to be realized. With Israeli-PLO negotiations bogged down over the modalities of Palestinian elections, the Palestinian Authority remained entirely an unelected body. This made it vulnerable to charges from Palestinian critics that its authority derived entirely from the Israeli occupation authorities.
The Right To Monitor
Human rights work was generally permitted. A variety of organizations conducted monitoring and produced highly critical reports with minimal interference from the authorities.
However, restrictions on movement affecting much of the Palestinian population also impeded the work of Palestinian rights workers. Monitors and journalists based in Gaza or the West Bank were constantly forced to miss work-related appointments in Jerusalem because of closures and permit problems. Because of curfews, checkpoints, and other restrictions, field workers had great difficulty documenting the aftermath of the Hebron massacre in and around that city. Israeli and foreign journalists were able to work with only occasional hindrance from soldiers on the ground or the military censors. Palestinian journalists faced more difficulty moving about, and have sometimes been assaulted by soldiers. Human rights reporting by the Palestinian media was subject to significant Israeli censorship.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency both maintained representatives in the field whose responsibilities included monitoring human rights conditions (but not making public their findings). They carried passes that generally enable them to reach trouble spots without hindrance. The ICRC was permitted by the Israeli authorities to visit all Palestinians arrested for security reasons within fourteen days of their arrest.
Human Rights Watch/Middle East was invited to visit Israeli prisons during 1994, but declined the invitation because the IDF, in contrast to the Israel Prison Service, had stipulated that conversations with inmates would have to take place in the presence of IDF escorts.
A number of human rights workers were subjected to administrative sanctions. Al-Haq field worker Zahi Jaradat was prevented from traveling in August to attend a human rights seminar in Cyprus. Al-Haq paralegal Sha'wan Jabarin was held in administrative detention from March until May and again under a six-month order commencing in June. Israel's Ministry of Justice asserted that "Jabarin has never been detained for his work with al-Haq....In addition to his open activities in al-Haq, Jabarin has been for many years a senior member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a terrorist organization..." Similarly, the Ministry of Justice stated that the administrative detention for five months of lawyer Faraj al-Ghoul, director of the Gaza-based organization House of Right and Law, was due not to his professional work but to his being a "senior activist" in Hamas. In the absence of specific charges or trials, the official claims that these detentions had nothing to do with human rights work could only be met with skepticism.
In the Palestinian self-rule areas, the Palestinian authorities allowed human rights organizations to work freely. They collected information, criticized violations committed by the Palestinian Authority, and met with Palestinian officials. However, unlike the ICRC, which obtained PLO approval to conduct regular visits to all detainees in Palestinian hands, no independent Palestinian organizations obtained authorization to conduct regular prison visits, although some were able to conduct ad hoc visits.
In 1994, a group of prominent Palestinians formed the Independent Commission for the Rights of the Citizen, pursuant to a vow by Yasir Arafat to charter an independent human rights ombudsman agency. The Commission, which is independently funded and chaired by Dr. Hanan Ashrawi, received complaints and made interventions with the Palestinian authorities, mostly in private. Although Dr. Ashrawi occasionally publicly criticized violations by the Palestinian Authority, the Commission adhered to its declared preference for attempting to discourage abuses through direct and private contacts with the authorities.
The U.S., the leading third-party player in the Middle East, has actively promoted the peace process in the region. It is also Israel's largest benefactor, with a military and economic aid program exceeding $3 billion a year.
The Clinton administration insisted that maintaining U.S. aid to Israel was essential to achieving peace. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Dan Kurtzer stated on April 13 that President Clinton had "reaffirmed his commitment to work with Congress to maintain our present levels of assistance to Israel" and "to maintain and enhance Israel's qualitative military edge over any likely combination of aggressors. The security of Israel must not be in doubt if the peace process is to succeed."
After Israel and the PLO signed the Declaration of Principles in 1993, the U.S. pledged $500 million in assistance over five years to the West Bank and Gaza Strip, a huge jump from previous years. The stated objective was to provide Palestinians with quick rewards from the peace process.
Israel's poor human rights record in the occupied territories has never been a focus of U.S. policy. No administration has publicly suggested that aid should be conditioned on improvements in Israel's treatment of Palestinians. The U.S. approach to human rights problems has been, almost invariably, to treat them as subordinate to the quest for peace: variously as symptoms of the lack of peace, as irritants to negotiations, or as candidates for confidence-building measures.
The relationship between peace and human rights is indeed complex. Achieving progress toward peace can brighten the human rights outlook, while stigmatizing abusive governments can upset delicate negotiations. But neglect of human rights can also derail peace moves. Abuses can erode public support for the process, fuel the cycle of violence, and undermine the prospects for a stable, democratic authority in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Third parties do not necessarily serve the goal of a stable peace by placing faith in whatever is agreed upon by a weak and unelected Palestinian negotiating team and a far stronger Israeli side.
During 1994, as the peace process was producing tangible changes on the ground, the Clinton administration pursued to its logical conclusion the policy of subordinating human rights to the peace process. The administration remained virtually silent on Israeli human rights abuses, despite its clear grasp of their gravity, as shown in the generally sound section in the 1993 State Department's Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1993.
Whenever an issue with human rights dimensions was slated for negotiations between Israel and the PLO, the U.S. adopted a hands-off approach in public, stating that the issue was a matter for discussion between the parties. The U.S. even backtracked on issues on which it had, in the past, taken at least partially principled positions, including settlements, the status of Jerusalem, and the rights of refugees. And when new issues arose, such as the presence of a multinational observer force, the U.S. missed opportunities to advocate principled positions, declaring that whatever the two sides okayed would also be fine with Washington.
This approach was pursued at the United Nations, where Ambassador Madeleine K. Albright wrote in July to member nations urging them to adopt a policy in the General Assembly such that "Resolution language that refers to 'final status' issues of the peace process should be dropped on the grounds that such issues are now under negotiation by the parties themselves....Key final status subjects include refugees, settlements, territorial sovereignty and the status of Jerusalem."
The U.S. position would have been less objectionable if Israel had frozen its activities in these realms pending negotiations. But new settlement activity, especially in and around annexed East Jerusalem, was changing facts on the ground, while Washington obligingly remained silent on these "final-status" issues.
The U.S. was quick to deplore the Hebron massacre, as it was to condemn attacks on Israeli civilians by militant Palestinians. But at the United Nations, the U.S. invoked the peace process to oppose a resolution on the massacre that referred to East Jerusalem as occupied territory and that endorsed "the need to provide protection and security for the Palestinian people."
On March 18, Resolution 280 passed only after the Security Council had accepted a U.S. demand for a paragraph-by-paragraph vote. Alone among the fifteen Council members, the U.S. abstained on the passages regarding international protection and Jerusalem. Although the U.S. had in the past approved resolutions referring to East Jerusalem as occupied territory, this was no longer desirable, Ambassador Albright explained, because the city's final status was now a matter for bilateral talks.
U.S. efforts during the post-massacre crisis focused not on promoting effective protection mechanisms or compliance with human rights and humanitarian law, but rather on finding a package acceptable to Israel that would coax the PLO back to the negotiating table. Palestinian human rights organizations reported being asked at the time by U.S. diplomats to suggest the "minimum price" sought by Palestinians in terms of protection that would ensure the PLO's return to the talks.
In the view of Human Rights Watch/Middle East, the U.S. should use its standing as Israel's most generous backer and staunchest ally to promote respect for human rights and humanitarian law in the territories, including, when necessary, through publicly criticizing abusive practices. Such a policy will help rather than hinder the prospects for peace.
With regard to the Palestinian Authority, the U.S. has to its credit pledged to increase aid programs aimed at promoting the rule of law in the self-rule areas. It has endorsed free and fair elections as vital to Palestinian self-rule. But while senior officials publicly urged Palestinian authorities to establish fiscal accountability and prevent attacks on Israelis, they were more circumspect toward the human rights of Palestinians in the self-rule areas. Initial missteps by the Palestinian Authority, including the first death in detention and the banning of an-Nahar daily, occasioned no public comment by senior officials.
Secretary of State Warren Christopher, in Jerusalem in October during the crisis over the kidnapping by Hamas of an Israeli soldier, echoed Prime Minister Rabin's incorrect assertion that the hostage was being held in the self-rule areas. He was also widely reported to have endorsed the Israeli assertion that Arafat was directly responsible for solving the crisis. Christopher's statements came at a time when Palestinian security forces were carrying out their most indiscriminate round-up of suspected opposition figures to date. In their timing and content, Christopher's comments gave the impression that the U.S. condoned the mass arbitrary arrests in the self-rule areas.
The Work of
Human Rights Watch/Middle East
With the peace process and transfer of authority dominating the news, Human Rights Watch/Middle East worked both to cover the evolving situation and to re-direct attention toward abuses that continued unabated.
In keeping with its focus on abuses involving violence, Human Rights Watch/Middle East released a report in June on Israel's torture of Palestinians under interrogation. The inclusion of testimonies of persons who had been tortured since the signing of the Declaration of Principles showed that the peace process had not done away with the problem of torture. Press interest in the report was enhanced by releasing it just as Israel television was airing a major documentary on the same subject. Following the report's release, Human Rights Watch/Middle East worked to engage the world medical community in the issue of the complicity of Israeli prison doctors in abusive interrogations.
After the Hebron massacre, Human Rights Watch/Middle East visited the West Bank to research settler violence. A study of the issue is included in the forthcoming Human Rights Watch report on communal violence around the world.
With regard to the Palestinian self-rule areas, Human Rights Watch/Middle East visited the Gaza Strip in June, September and October to assess human rights conditions. Human Rights Watch/Middle East wrote letters to the Palestinian Authority regarding the first death in detention and the banning of an-Nahar newspaper, and met with both civil and security officials to discuss Human Rights Watch/Middle East's preliminary findings and concerns. And in December, Human Rights Watch/Middle East issued a report on human rights conditions in the self-rule areas, documenting both Israel and Palestinian violations and making recommendations to both parties.
Human Rights Watch/Middle East also issued statements and wrote open letters to Israeli authorities in response to a number of specific cases and incidents throughout the year. In April, we wrote to the Hamas organization to demand a halt to attacks targeting Israeli civilians. This demand was repeated in a statement, issued in English and Arabic, condemning the suicide bomb attack on a crowded bus in Tel Aviv in October.