One such factor is the civilian suffering that lies at the heart of this conflict. More than 1200 Palestinians and 370 Israelis have been killed, and the vast majority of them have been civilians. Thousands more, Palestinians and Israelis alike, have been badly injured or maimed for life.
Since violent clashes broke out in September 2000, the conflict has been marked by attacks on civilians and civilian objects, by Israeli security forces and Palestinian armed groups. Both Israeli and Palestinian authorities have failed to take the steps necessary to prevent the security forces under their control from committing abuses. They also have failed to investigate and punish the perpetrators.
The Israeli security forces committed extensive abuses during the first year of the al-Aqsa Intifada. These included the excessive use of lethal force against unarmed Palestinian demonstrators; unlawful or suspicious killings committed by IDF soldiers; and disproportionate IDF gunfire in response to Palestinian attacks. Israeli authorities, both military and police, failed to respond adequately to abuses against Palestinian civilians committed by Israeli settlers.4 The Israeli government instituted "closure" measures on Palestinian areas of a severity that amounted to collective punishment. And Israeli forces have killed a number of alleged Palestinian militants under the so-called "liquidations" policy; a policy Israeli officials have stated is directed against individuals alleged to be responsible for planning or participating in attacks against Israeli military targets and civilians. Human Rights Watch has previously criticized this policy as one of killing without accountability.5
During the same period, the PA failed to meet its obligation to prevent and punish attacks by Palestinian armed groups, including suicide bombers against Israeli civilians. The multiple PA security forces arbitrarily arrested alleged Palestinian "collaborators" with Israel, many of whom were tortured and held in prolonged detention without trial. Others were sentenced to death after unfair trials: two were executed.6 The PA arrested some Islamist and other militants suspected of involvement in attacks against Israeli civilians and held them in untried detention. In other cases, detainees were released shortly after being taken into custody, in what has been termed a "revolving door" policy.
As the violence entered its second year, the conflict became more militarized and more intense, despite increasing restrictions on the freedom of movement. Many armed Palestinian groups resorted increasingly to suicide bombing attacks, the majority targeting Israeli civilians. Live fire exchanges and other attacks increased in frequency. IDF forces expanded the "liquidations" policy, and undertook large-scale punitive house demolitions. Israeli forces reoccupied Palestinian villages, towns, and refugee camps in progressively larger operations from October 2001. Israeli government officials have repeatedly stated that the purpose of these operations is to arrest or punish those responsible for planning and participating in attacks against Israeli military targets or Israeli civilians.
The raids followed a consistent pattern. Israeli soldiers, often members of non-uniformed undercover units, entered a village and took up positions between midnight and 2:00 a.m. Infantry and armored forces, including tanks, armored personnel carriers (APCs), and bulldozers, entered at a pre-arranged signal. Attack helicopters provided air cover and the IDF commander announced a curfew.
In both Beit Rima and Salfit, Israeli authorities have stated that they warned Palestinian security officials of the impending operation, saying that any PA security personnel found on the streets would be considered legitimate military targets.8 But in both cases local Palestinian security officials told Human Rights Watch they either received no warning or were warned after the raid had already commenced, denying those of their forces on patrol or asleep the opportunity to take protective cover. In every case studied, armed Palestinians exchanged fire with the Israeli forces. As the IDF moved in, villagers would be wakened by the sound of gunfire-or by the IDF knocking at their door.
The doors at which the IDF knocked were generally not those of the "wanted" Palestinians. Instead, the IDF chose others, usually neighbors or relatives of "wanted" individuals, and ordered them, often at gunpoint, to bring those persons to the Israeli forces. In each of the four case studies investigated by Human Rights Watch, the IDF compelled civilians with threats and intimidation to identify the houses of individuals "wanted" for questioning or arrest, and to walk with IDF soldiers, sometimes during live fire exchanges, to knock at the doors of those houses and ask the inhabitants to open the door and come out. The IDF coerced some into providing information about the families of "wanted" Palestinians, exposing those individuals to the potentially lethal accusation of acting as a "collaborator."9 Others were not just coerced and threatened, but also beaten.
Inhabitants of entire households and apartment buildings were made to wait on the street, men separated from women and children, often for several hours in cold and sometimes rainy weather. The IDF detained local Palestinian men, blindfolded and handcuffed them, and then took them away in jeeps and armored personnel carriers to be identified and individually questioned. The majority of those detained were released within twenty-four hours; others were transferred to Israel for interrogation, detention, and, in some cases, trial.10
Israeli forces frequently damaged cars, houses, and other civilian property during the raids. Electricity, water, and phone lines were cut. Three houses of family members of "wanted" Palestinians were demolished in both Beit Rima and Salfit, with another attempted demolition in Artas. In every case study, Human Rights Watch found other houses damaged by IDF gunfire and grenades. In some raids not documented in this report the IDF also carried out "liquidations" of Palestinians alleged to have planned, or participated in, attacks against Israeli targets.11
About this Research
4 Human Rights Watch, "Investigation into the Unlawful Use of Force in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and Northern Israel; October 4 through October 11, 2000," A Human Rights Watch Report, vol. 12, no. 3 (E), October 2000; Human Rights Watch, Center of the Storm: A Case Study of Human Rights Abuses in Hebron District, (New York: Human Rights Watch, 2001).
5 Human Rights Watch and other human rights organizations have strongly criticized the "liquidations" policy. See Human Rights Watch, "End `Liquidations' of Palestinian Suspects," press release, January 29, 2001. Human Rights Watch has previously documented a pattern of unjustified killings of "wanted" Palestinians in Human Rights Watch, A License to Kill (New York: Human Rights Watch, 1993).
7 Israeli authorities have said they were obliged to undertake these raids because the Palestinian Authority (PA) had failed to arrest such individuals, despite numerous requests to do so. Procedures for the arrest and transfer of individuals between the PA and Israel are set out in Annex IV of the Israel-Palestinian Interim Agreement on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Human Rights Watch was unable to confirm whether the Israeli lists of "wanted" Palestinians conformed to the procedures laid out in the Oslo Agreement. The PA's responsibility for "internal security and public order" in the areas under its authority is set out in Article XIII of the Agreement.
10 Of the some 161 persons detained in the incidents documented in this report, 133 were released shortly after arrest and twenty-eight were transferred to Israel. Human Rights Watch was only able to locate four instances in which individuals arrested during the raids investigated in this report had been put on trial by mid-February 2002.
11 For example, an incursion into Nablus on January 21, 2002 that included the "liquidation" of four alleged Hamas members. See Mohammed Daraghmeh, "Four Islamic Militants Die in Raid," Associated Press, January 22, 2002. Human Rights Watch has previously criticized this policy as one of killing without public accountability, often carried out in circumstances where arrest would have been possible.
12 Human Rights Watch initially requested a meeting in writing via facsimile to the IDF Spokesperson's Office on January 28, 2002. Following the receipt of the fax, Human Rights Watch called the IDF Spokesperson's more than fifteen times over a three week period, but did not receive an appointment.