Human Rights Watch examined in detail one case each in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the two areas where the Palestinian Authority has law enforcement personnel.1 In both cases Palestinian security forces failed to act consistently and effectively to prevent armed civilians from opening fire on IDF soldiers from positions where civilians were present. This failure endangered the Palestinian civilian population when the IDF responded, often excessively and indiscriminately.
At al Bireh-Ramallah in the West Bank eyewitnesses told Human Rights Watch that armed Palestinians took up positions in one or more unfinished buildings and opened fire on IDF forces positioned in and around the City Inn Hotel. The hotel is located on a traffic circle where an area under Israeli security control abuts a Palestinian self-rule area, and is not far from a Palestinian Authority checkpoint. One of the roads entering the traffic circle leads to Beit El settlement, and a road just off the traffic circle leads to a district coordinating office for joint Palestinian and Israeli police patrols. Other roads lead to Palestinian towns and villages. The IDF responded to the Palestinian fire with rubber bullets, plastic-coated metal bullets, and live fire. Human Rights Watch's inquiries did not reveal evidence of any efforts by the Palestinian police to prevent attacks by armed Palestinians. IDF return of fire, itself excessive and indiscriminate at times, resulted in high numbers of casualties.
At Netzarim Junction in the Gaza Strip, eyewitnesses present during the course of several days of clashes told Human Rights Watch that on multiple occasions armed Palestinians drove up to the junction, fired at the IDF bunker there, and then returned to their cars and left the area without ever having been stopped by Palestinian security officials. Ensuing fire from the IDF forces, sometimes indiscriminate, injured or killed demonstrators or passers-by. Human Rights Watch's inquiries did not reveal any evidence that the Palestinian police systematically sought to prevent attacks by armed Palestinians. At most we heard from eyewitnesses that Palestinian security forces on some occasions attempted to restrain demonstrators, but their efforts diminished when the size of the crowds and the number of injured grew throughout the day. Eyewitnesses also recounted that the crowds often mocked and taunted the police for not responding to Israeli live fire, and urged them to give their weapons to others who were willing to fire back at the IDF. In some instances Human Rights Watch learned that individual members of the Palestinian police did indeed fire back.
Human Rights Watch interviewed Palestinian Brigadier General Osama al-`Ali, the Palestinian representative to the Gaza Regional Security Committee and a member of the overall Palestinian-Israeli Joint Security Committee. He stated that in the initial days of the violence at the Netzarim junction in Gaza his security personnel had sought to intervene between the demonstrators and the IDF, with only limited success. General al-`Ali said that crowds not only outnumbered them, but the police themselves came under fire from the IDF, sustaining a number of casualties, some of them fatal.
The Palestinian security forces' failure to prevent armed Palestinians from shooting at the IDF, or their acquiescence in such shooting from positions where civilians were present, is to be deplored. By their inaction they implicitly encouraged such attacks. Their failure put in danger the lives of the innocent civilians they were there to protect. It was such civilians who were often left to bear the brunt of the response by the IDF.
Human Rights Watch's findings that the Israeli security services have been responsible for the majority of serious human rights violations in no way excuses the Palestinian security services' failure to consistently and fully perform its law enforcement duties. The Palestinian Authority has a responsibility to publicly urge its security forces to discourage attacks on IDF positions by armed civilians when civilian lives are thereby endangered, and to provide clear and public instructions on actions to be taken by its law enforcement officials in such circumstances.
1 In addition to the Palestinan police, a variety of Palestinian security agencies have law enforcement powers. In this report we refer to them collectively as Palestinian security forces.