Previous PageTable Of ContentsNext Page


The West Bank city of Hebron, long a flashpoint of conflict between Palestinians and Israelis, has been the scene of widespread human rights abuses since the renewal of violent clashes on September 29, 2000-an uprising that Palestinians commonly refer to as the Al-Aqsa Intifada. Hebron is the only major Palestinian city in the West Bank that remains in substantial measure under the direct control of the Israeli Defense Force (IDF). The city is home to about 120,000 Palestinians. It is also the only Palestinian city other than East Jerusalem with a substantial presence of Israeli settlers: some 500 live in the city center and some 7,000 others on the edge of the city. This report sets out the obligations of the parties to the conflict and documents human rights violations and violations of international humanitarian law committed by Israelis and Palestinians in Hebron and the surrounding vicinity since late September 2000.

To gather information for this report, Human Rights Watch researchers traveled to Hebron for a two week period in November 2000, and returned for an additional three weeks of research in February 2001. More than one hundred and eighty in-depth interviews were conducted with victims and witnesses to human rights abuses, Israeli and Palestinian officials, ambulance drivers, teachers, journalists, international observers, Israeli settler representatives, and representatives from local Israeli and Palestinian human rights groups. Human Rights Watch researchers visited the scene of many of the violations documented in this report, augmenting eyewitness testimonies with physical observations to the extent possible.

The crisis in Hebron, as in the rest of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, has at its core a disregard for human rights and international humanitarian law. Our research found serious and extensive human rights abuses in Hebron district, including excessive use of force by IDF soldiers against unarmed Palestinian demonstrators; unlawful killings by IDF soldiers; unacknowledged assassinations of suspected Palestinian militants; attacks by Palestinian gunmen directed against Israeli civilians living in settlements and in circumstances that have placed Palestinian civilians at grave risk from Israeli response fire; disproportionate IDF gunfire in response to Palestinian attacks; extensive abuses by Israeli settlers against Palestinian civilians and the lack of an IDF response to such abuses; and "closure" measures imposed by the IDF on the Palestinian community that amount to collective punishment. Both Israeli and Palestinian authorities have failed to take the necessary steps to stop the security forces under their control from committing abuses, and have also failed to adequately investigate and punish abuses committed by security forces and civilians in areas under their control.

Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law Obligations

The conduct of governmental authorities towards individuals under their jurisdiction is governed by international human rights standards. The core standards, such as those protecting persons against torture or the arbitrary deprivation of the right to life, are considered part of customary international law, and governments are obliged to uphold these fundamental rights even if they have not signed and ratified the relevant treaties.

In addition to non-derogable human rights standards, two legal regimes are directly relevant to Israel's obligations in the West Bank and Gaza Strip-International Humanitarian Law (IHL), which applies to situations of belligerent occupation as well as situations where hostilities rise to the level of armed conflict, and policing standards which apply to situations of civil unrest. Israeli authorities have sought to argue that the conflict in the West Bank and Gaza is "somewhere in the middle" between civil unrest and armed conflict, and have obfuscated Israel's legal obligations by attempting to exploit gaps or limitations in the protection standards of both regimes. No such "somewhere in the middle" regime exists under international law, however, and Israel has concrete legal obligations under both regimes. Both regimes aim to enhance the protection of the civilian population, and they complement and reinforce each other.

International human rights standards, in particular the U.N. Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials (1990) and the U.N. Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials (1979), offer authoritative guidance limiting the use of force in circumstances of civil unrest, such as during the clashes in the West Bank and Gaza Strip today. According to the Basic Principles and the Code of Conduct, law enforcement officials-including military or other security officials exercising police powers-must (1) use non-violent means before resorting to the use of lethal force; (2) only use lethal force "when strictly unavoidable in order to protect life;" and (3) punish as a criminal offence any arbitrary or abusive use of lethal force by such officials.

Israeli officials have asserted that the fire exchanges between Palestinian gunmen and the Israeli army in the West Bank and Gaza Strip amount to what is effectively "armed conflict." IHL, which governs the conduct of armed conflict and is codified in the Geneva Conventions of 1949, sets less stringent conditions for resorting to lethal force when dealing with persons actively engaged in hostilities. The basic principle, however, remains applicable: to protect civilians. Under IHL, the prohibition against firing on civilians remains absolute, and combatants must at all times distinguish between military and civilian targets. Indiscriminate or disproportionate military actions are strictly prohibited. IHL also prohibits "collective punishment." The extent of Israel's current policy of "closure," by imposing constant curfews and blockades in the West Bank without adequate security justification, amounts to collective punishment.

The Palestinian Authority, not being a state, does not have the treaty obligations of a state. It is, however, bound to conduct itself in an armed conflict situation in conformity with the basic humanitarian principles that prohibit under all circumstances targeting civilians or carrying out indiscriminate attacks. The Palestinian Authority, moreover, has repeatedly declared its intention to be held accountable to international human rights standards.

Excessive IDF force at Clashes, Unlawful Killings, Assassinations, and the Failure to Investigate

Since the outbreak of clashes in late September, Human Rights Watch has found clear instances of Israeli use of excessive lethal force during clashes between its security forces and Palestinian demonstrators in situations where demonstrators were unarmed and posed no threat of death or serious injury to the Israeli security forces or others. In two cases in the Hebron area investigated by Human Rights Watch, IDF troops killed unarmed, stone-throwing youth during clashes where there was no Palestinian gunfire or other serious threat to the IDF: Arafat al-Jabarin, aged fifteen, was shot to death during such a clash near Beit `Einun on December 22, 2000, and Samir al-Khadr, aged eighteen, was killed by IDF fire during a stone-throwing clash at al-Fawwar refugee camp on November 16, 2000. Human Rights Watch also documented two separate incidents in which Palestinian gunmen fired at the IDF from amidst stone-throwing Palestinians, thereby putting the unarmed Palestinian demonstrators in grave danger from likely IDF response fire. A Palestinian gunman shooting at the IDF appears to have contributed in this way to the death of thirteen-year-old Ahmad al-Qawasmi on December 8, 2000.

In addition, many of the persons killed or wounded by the IDF near the clash sites were unarmed bystanders, suggesting that the IDF often fires indiscriminately into densely populated areas near the clash sites. The IDF fired on several unarmed Palestinians who tried to help the mortally wounded Ahmad al-Qawasmi on December 8, 2000, narrowly avoiding additional casualties. IDF soldiers shot dead twenty-two-year-old Shaadi al-Waawi on October 13, 2000, while he was watching a clash from his roof, located at least two hundred meters away from the violence. On February 17, 2001, IDF soldiers shot at two civilian cars driving near the Al-Shuhada' street checkpoint, without any apparent provocation. A seventeen-year-old student was hit in the head with a rubber bullet on October 24, 2000, as she was walking home from school, and a taxi driver was shot in the right shoulder on October 23, 2000.

Israeli security forces have also been responsible for a disturbing number of suspicious killings and shootings of civilians under circumstances that warrant investigation and possibly criminal prosecution. Two civilians were killed on February 16, 2001, when the IDF attacked, apparently without provocation, a communal farm operated by the Islamic Charity Organization. Jad Allah al-Jabari, an unarmed municipal cleaner, was shot in the foot by IDF soldiers on January 1, 2001, in an incident where the IDF has acknowledged its soldiers acted wrongly. Yusif Abu `Awad, aged thirty-one, was shot and killed by an IDF soldier at the entrance to Beit Umar after the soldier provoked an argument by throwing rocks at Abu `Awad's car. Munib Abu Munshar, aged eighteen, was shot and killed on November 11, 2000, by an IDF sniper while unloading goods near the Israeli-controlled H2 area, at a time when there were no clashes. Ra'ed Muhtasib, aged twenty-four, was killed on the night of November 10, 2000, while driving home with his father and brother. Ibrahim Abu Turki, a thirty-eight-year-old father of ten, was shot in the head and paralyzed by an IDF sniper on October 13, 2000, as he rode his donkey past the Beit Haggai settlement. Fourteen-year-old `Ala Mahfouz was killed on October 6, 2000, at his home in al-`Arrub camp, apparently in retaliation for his hitting a soldier with a rock earlier in the day.

The IDF takes the position that it does not have to investigate such suspicious killings because it is in a "state of armed conflict," but this position is not warranted. Both the laws of war and nonderogable human rights standards require the investigation of apparently unlawful killings, even during times of armed conflict.

The IDF has also carried out assassinations in Hebron, part of an acknowledged Israeli policy to "liquidate" Palestinians suspected by Israel of involvement in attacks against Israeli military personnel or civilians. Israel has refused to provide public justifications for individual assassinations, and has not acknowledged responsibility for other killings, leading to concerns that Palestinian civilians may be among those targeted by the "liquidation" policy. In Hebron, Israeli authorities are implicated in two apparent "liquidations": the December 13, 2000, assassination of `Abbas al-`Awiwi, a known member of the military wing of Hamas, and the October 21, 2000, shooting of Fayez al-Qaimari, a member of Fatah.

While the individuals killed in the two cases studied by Human Rights Watch in Hebron appear to have been involved in military activities, it is still incumbent on Israel to both acknowledge responsibility for individual assassinations, and to provide evidence that the persons targeted were legitimate military targets who could not easily be arrested. Without the safeguards of public acknowledgment and justification, Israel's policy of "liquidation" is too open to abuse.

Palestinian Attacks on Settlers and the Settlements, and Disproportionate IDF Response

Since October 2000, the four settlements in the Israeli-controlled center of Hebron as well as the two larger settlements on the outskirts of Hebron have come under fire from Palestinian gunmen on a regular basis. On March 26, 2001, a Palestinian sniper shot at a group of Israelis, including many children, standing in front of the Avraham Avino settlement, killing ten-month old Shalhavet Pass and severely wounding her father, Yitzhak Pass. On March 10, 2001, Elad Paas, an eighteen-year-old brother of Yitzhak Pass who was visiting Hebron, was hit in the leg from Palestinian gunfire. Evidence suggests that members of Palestinian President Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement are responsible for some of the shooting attacks on the settlements. Palestinian gunmen have also been responsible for two recent deadly roadside attacks in Hebron district: on December 8, 2000, thirty-nine-year-old Rina Didovsky, a school teacher, and Eliyahu Ben Ami, a forty-one-year-old driver, were killed while driving near the Kiriat Arba settlement, in an attack blamed on Hamas. On February 1, 2001, Shmuel Gillis, a forty-two-year-old doctor living in the Karmei Tzur settlement, was killed while driving near al-`Arrub refugee camp. Although Israeli settlements are illegal under international humanitarian law, unarmed Israeli settlers are not legitimate military targets and attacks on them are prohibited. Some Palestinian leaders continue to make statements that seek to legitimize such attacks against settlers.

The IDF has frequently responded to this Palestinian gunfire with indiscriminate and disproportionate fire from powerful medium-caliber machine guns into densely inhabited Palestinian neighborhoods, leading to excessive Palestinian civilian casualties and severe damage to civilian property. At least four Palestinian civilians have been killed and many more wounded in Hebron by Israeli gunfire unrelated to civilian clashes, and hundreds of homes have suffered significant structural damage. Among the victims of the IDF fire were Issam al-Tawil, aged twenty-nine, killed on February 16, 2001, while driving home with his parents; eighteen-year-old Arij al-Jabali, shot in the stairway of her home on January 5, 2001, the day she was to introduce her suitor to her family; eleven-year-old Mu`ath Abu Hadwan, killed on December 31, 2000, while watching the evacuation of a wounded woman; and fifty-seven-year-old `Abd al-`Aziz Abu Sneineh, killed in his home on October 23, 2000, when he went to answer the phone during IDF shooting.

Settler Attacks and the Lack of an IDF response

Some 500 Jewish settlers live in four small settlements in the Israeli-controlled old city center of Hebron known as H2, which is home to some 30,000 Palestinians. Another 7,000 Jewish settlers live on the outskirts of the city in two larger settlements. Israeli settlers in Hebron have initiated many attacks against Palestinian civilians in and around Hebron, relying on the IDF to protect them from counterattack. The IDF has seldom made any serious effort to stop or prevent attacks by Jewish settlers against Palestinians. Settlers have regularly attacked the Palestinian vegetable market in the old city, ransacking goods and overturning stands. The IDF has consistently responded to such attacks by re-imposing the curfew on the Palestinian population. Settlers have physically attacked many Palestinian homes in the old city, often directly under the eyes of IDF soldiers present nearby, who did nothing to stop them. Anti-Islamic graffiti, referring to the Prophet Muhammad as a pig and a homosexual, has also been attributed to the settlers, as has a December 2000 act of vandalism that left most of the Palestinians in the old city without phone lines for more than a month.

Settlers have regularly attacked families in the Baqa`a valley, located just east of Hebron, next to the settlement of Givat Harsina. On November 21, 2000, a large group of settlers blocked the main road through the Baqa`a valley and stoned Palestinian drivers before attacking Palestinian homes and destroying agricultural property in the area. The settlers attacked again on December 8, 2000, following the roadside killing of two settlers near Kiriat Arba settlement, occupying and damaging the home of `Atta Jaber, stoning several other Palestinian homes in the area, and seriously wounding thirteen-year-old Mansur Jaber with a gunshot.

In the Jabal Johar area near Kiriat Arba settlement, settlers have attacked Palestinians living near the settlement. Palestinian farmers also suffer attacks when they attempt to reach their fields located close to settlements. Two brothers from the village of Bani Na`im were shot and injured in separate incidents in October and November 2000 as they were passing by the Pnei Hever settlement on their way home from their fields. Khalid Tairera, aged twenty-nine, was abused and beaten by Pnei Hever settlers after the IDF and a group of settlers stopped his car near the settlement.

Israeli settlers have frequently attacked Palestinian drivers in an attempt to keep them from driving on main roads in the West Bank, often with the complicity of the Israeli security forces. Israeli settlers regularly close main roads to Palestinian drivers, and stone approaching Palestinian cars. The IDF at times operates such unlawful roadblocks together with the settlers. Settlers have shot at or stoned Palestinian cars in the Hebron district on a number of occasions; such abuses are rarely investigated by the Israeli authorities.

Settlers have attacked humanitarian workers, independent observers, and journalists. On January 10, 2001, a car of the Temporary International Presence in Hebron (TIPH) was attacked by settlers. On October 6, 2000, Tel Rumeida settlers damaged a vehicle belonging to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). The brunt of settler attacks against international observers have been directed against a faith-based pacifist group, the Christian Peacemaking Team (CPT), who write publicly about the abuses they witness in Hebron. Settlers also attack accredited Palestinian journalists on a regular basis; AFP photographer Hussam Abu Aleim was beaten nearly unconscious on December 10, 2000, by settlers at the Palestinian vegetable market in the H2 area of Hebron.

The Impact of Curfews, Closures and Blockades

Israel's policy of sharply restricting Palestinian movement has been in place, with varying degrees of severity, since March 1993, but the restrictions now in place are the most extensive to date. The extent and duration of the closures imposed on the Occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip at the present time exceed the requirements of military necessity, and clearly amount to collective punishment, a practice prohibited by international humanitarian law.

Since violence erupted in early October 2000, Israel has sealed off nearly all Palestinian towns and villages in the West Bank, placing large concrete blocks or high earthen dams on nearly all exit roads, digging deep trenches across the roads, and preventing Palestinian drivers from passing through dozens of permanent and ad-hoc military checkpoints. The estimated 30,000 Palestinian residents of the Israeli-controlled H2 area of Hebron have also been placed under a nearly permanent, 24-hour "curfew," requiring them to stay in their homes around the clock. The curfew applies only to the Palestinian residents of Hebron; Israeli settlers are allowed to move around freely at all times. Such curfews have often facilitated settler attacks on Palestinians.

Palestinian drivers, officially prohibited from using the main "bypass" roads in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, have attempted to circumvent the closures and blockades by using alternative minor roads or by risking travel on the bypass roads. Israeli soldiers routinely beat Palestinian drivers, slash their tires, or shoot at their vehicles because they are traveling on "closed" roads. Human Rights Watch researchers documented more than a dozen cases of serious abuses by Israeli security forces against taxi drivers and private drivers in the Hebron district alone. The pattern of the attacks and frequency of the incidents suggests that the Israeli leadership is condoning these abuses, or even actively complicit in them.

The closures, blockades, and curfews have had a devastating impact on all aspects of Palestinian life. Some 12,000 Palestinian students living in the H2 area of Hebron have been effectively prevented from continuing their education, as their schools have been forced to close under curfew. Students walking to school are often harassed and told to return home by soldiers and settlers. The Palestinian economy has come to a standstill; the majority of Palestinians have lost their source of income and businesses can no longer operate. Medical personnel complain that their ability to carry out their duties effectively is greatly hampered by the constant blockades, closures, and checkpoints; they frequently suffer long delays as they have to walk patients over earthen blockades, transfer between different ambulances, travel on difficult back roads, and negotiate their way past hostile IDF checkpoints. On several occasions, ambulances have come under IDF fire, and IDF soldiers have threatened ambulance crews.

Previous PageTable Of ContentsNext Page