No atrocities in Jenin
So it was in Jenin, where 23 Israelis -- more than all the U.S. battle deaths in Kosovo and Afghanistan combined -- died in 10 days of intense fighting. There was the usual grumbling about ''sticking out our necks for civilians who only hate us,'' but still the reservists fought on. Jenin was cleared, house by house, alley by alley, without the aid of air power or heavy artillery, giving civilians time to get out of the way. Israelis did not question why. It is what their army, and their country, is about.
Israelis have since been stung by accusations of atrocities and massacres in the West Bank, by ''big lies'' that add insult to the pain of their losses. I felt similar resentment in Lebanon, where I saw Israeli soldiers repeatedly risking their lives to reduce civilian casualties, only to be charged with heinous crimes by the United Nations and other ''impartial'' bodies.
So often I would ask myself: ''If we're going to be condemned for what we didn't do, why don't we do it already and save our own skins?''
But I never acted on that thought. Instead, in Lebanon in 1982, we moved out of that garage and into a desperate battle. I came home -- many did not -- and had a son, who today serves in a frontline combat unit. He now faces the same dangers and dilemmas that I grappled with 20 years ago, and he tells me that he and his friends are making the same decisions.
He would not have it any other way, he says. As his father, in spite of my fears, neither would I.
Michael B. Oren, senior fellow at the Shalem Center in Jerusalem, is the author of the forthcoming Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East.
(from USA Today, April 24, 2002)
ISRAEL AND THE OCCUPIED TERRITORIES
The heavy price of Israeli incursions
''The Palestinians must be hit and it must be very painful. We must cause them losses, victims, so that they feel the heavy price''.
Ariel Sharon, Israeli Prime Minister, speaking to the press on 5 March 2002
Since 27 February 2002 the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) have launched two waves of incursions into the Palestinian areas occupied by Israel in 1967, using tanks, armoured personnel carriers (APCs) and Apache helicopters. In the six weeks up to 11 April 2002 more than 600 Palestinians may have been killed and more than 3,000 injured.
The declared aim of the incursions into the Occupied Territories, which were continuing as this report was written, was, according to a briefing on 1 March 2002 by the Commander of the West Bank division Brigadier General Yitzhak Gershon:
''To clarify that there isn't and will not be a safe place for the terrorists and their senders. Our intention is to destroy the terror infrastructure in the refugee camps, if they are found''
He added that:
''It is important to clarify that this activity is not intended against the population which is not involved in terrorism. We have done all efforts to prevent causing harm to civilians.''
However, the IDF acted as though the main aim was to punish all Palestinians. Actions were taken by the IDF which had no clear or obvious military necessity; many of these, such as unlawful killings, destruction of property and arbitrary detention, torture and ill-treatment, violated international human rights and humanitarian law. The IDF instituted a strict curfew and killed and wounded armed Palestinians. But they also killed and targeted medical personnel and journalists, and fired randomly at houses and people in the streets. Mass arbitrary arrests were carried out in a manner designed to degrade those detained.
Amnesty International delegates, who visited the area between 13 and 21 March, saw a trail of destruction: homes, shops and infrastructure demolished or damaged; apartments trashed and looted; cars crushed and lamp-posts, walls and shopfronts smashed. The IDF had deliberately cut electricity and telephone cables and water pipes, leaving whole areas without power and water for up to nine days. David Holley, an independent military expert, one of Amnesty International's delegates, said:
''The military operations we have investigated appear to be carried out not for military purposes but instead to harass, humiliate, intimidate and harm the Palestinian population. Either the Israeli army is extremely ill-disciplined or it has been ordered to carry out acts which violate the laws of war."
The first incursions were ended by a gradual and partial Israeli pullback after the arrival of US envoy Anthony Zinni on 14 March. However, the destruction and gross violations of human rights inflicted by the IDF between 27 February and 20 March (when the IDF finally pulled out of areas round Bethlehem) reached unprecedented levels during the second wave of incursions, ''Operation Defensive Wall'', which started on 29 March 2002 with an attack on President Yasser Arafat's headquarters in Ramallah. The IDF spread through Ramallah, then entered Bethlehem, Tulkarem and Qalqiliya from 1 April, followed by Jenin and Nablus from the nights of 3 and 4 April. Towns were declared closed military areas, with strict curfews imposed on those within the towns. The IDF showed a widespread disregard for life, law and property. People from outside the invaded areas, including journalists, United Nations agencies, other humanitarian workers and even diplomats, were prevented from gaining access to offer aid or report on what was going on.
With six main cities and many villages effectively under siege, blocked off from the outside world, and with movement within the towns prohibited, a humanitarian disaster loomed as supplies of food and water ran out for many Palestinians. Ambulances, including those of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), were not allowed to move or suffered lengthy and life-threatening delays. Medical personnel or those who tried to help the injured were fired on and the wounded bled to death on the street. With movement banned, those who died could not be properly buried; they remained in houses or morgues or were hastily buried in parking lots or gardens. In the 10 days until 7 April, according to IDF figures, 200 Palestinians were killed and 1,500 wounded; on 12 April the IDF admitted that the real figures of those killed were in hundreds in Jenin alone. As the IDF tried to keep journalists and outsiders away from areas where they were carrying out operations, many of the reports of large-scale human rights violations by the IDF, including extrajudicial executions, expulsions, massive house destruction by the IDF could not be verified.(1) At first the families of Palestinians arrested had no idea where they were or even whether they were alive or dead. On 11 April 2002 official IDF figures stated that, since 29 March, more than 4000 Palestinians had been arrested and more than 350 were in administrative detention. A military order, issued on 5 April, banned visits to detainees by lawyers for the first 18 days of their detention.
Beautifully argued piece, but I still wonder about the seemingly rampant bulldozing in Jenin and elsewhere throughout this second intifada.
I say this as someone with children and grandchildren in Israel.
Background and international standards
The West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip were occupied by Israel in 1967 after the Six-Day War. An intifada of Palestinians against Israeli occupation, which began in 1987, ended when the Israeli government and Yasser Arafat, Chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization, signed the Declaration of Principles in September 1993. However, little or no progress had been made on these negotiations by September 2000 when talks between the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority (PA) on a final settlement collapsed.
The second, or al-Aqsa, intifada began when demonstrations and riots by Palestinians were met with lethal force by Israeli police on 30 September 2000 in the precinct of al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem. This triggered a series of Palestinian demonstrations and riots which were also met with lethal force. By the end of 2000 more than 300 Palestinians had been killed, mostly by the IDF using excessive force including lethal force when other lives were not in danger.(2)
From January 2001, the IDF went increasingly on the offensive, invading Palestinian areas (including areas under full Palestinian control), shelling and demolishing houses, and razing orchards and crops. In February 2001 Ariel Sharon was elected to succeed Ehud Barak as Prime Minister. By the end of 2001, the number of Palestinians killed had risen to 750 and by the end of February 2002 to more than 1,000. Most Palestinians had been killed by IDF shooting at residential areas, during exchanges of fire or in extrajudicial executions.
Members of armed Palestinian groups, including Hamas, Fatah and the Martyrs of al-Aqsa, as well as individuals, deliberately killed Israeli civilians, arbitrarily shooting at cars with Israeli numberplates on roads in the West Bank and launching suicide bomb attacks targeting civilians, often in cafes or shopping malls. By the end of February 2002 over 250 Israelis had been killed during the intifada, the vast majority of them civilians. The Israeli government called on the PA to arrest the organizers of attacks on Israelis, but bombed with Apache helicopters and F16s, often several times in succession, centres of the Palestinian security services.
The Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip has been accompanied by the progressive settlement of the Occupied Territories by Jewish Israelis. In response to Palestinian attacks on Israelis, Israel's policy of closure of Palestinian areas, preventing Palestinians from travelling within the Occupied Territories and outside them has progressively tightened. By the end of 2001 more than 100 roadblocks - manned checkpoints, piles of earth or concrete blocks erected by the IDF - separated Palestinian towns and villages from each other and from the outside world. Many main roads are barred to Palestinians and a journey of 20 kilometres can take two hours along twisting dirt roads. At times the IDF completely blocked off towns and villages, leaving no way out. At least 30 Palestinians have died after delays encountered at checkpoints, including babies born on the roads or after long delayed journeys.
Israeli pressure on Palestinians during the current intifada has included demolition of more than 600 family homes up to the end of February 2002 mostly in the Gaza Strip, but also in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The practice of demolishing Palestinian houses is long established and discriminatory.(3) The demolitions over the past 18 months appear to be a collective punishment for Palestinian attacks on Israelis or part of a policy of creating wide no-go areas around Israeli settlements. In November 2001 the Committee against Torture stated that Israel's policy of closures and its demolitions of Palestinian homes "may, in certain instances, amount to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment" in breach of Article 16 of the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment which Israel ratified in 1991.
Amnesty International's exclusive concern in Israel and the Occupied Territories is the human rights of all people; these human rights are codified in international humanitarian law. The Palestinian people are living under occupation and this fact is fundamental in assessing the human rights and humanitarian law standards Israel, as the Occupying Power, is bound to respect in relation to the Palestinians.
The rules of an Occupying Power are set out in the Fourth Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War of 1949, to which Israel is a High Contracting Party. Palestinian residents of the Occupied Territories benefit from the protection of the Fourth Geneva Convention and are ''protected persons''. The unfinished peace process did not change the status of the Occupied Territories in this regard.
Under the Fourth Geneva Convention Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, as protected persons, may not be wilfully killed, tortured, ill-treated or suffer humiliating and degrading treatment. They may not be deported. The occupying power may not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies. The property of protected persons may not be destroyed unless such destruction is "rendered absolutely necessary by military operations".
In addition, the Fourth Geneva Convention has a categoric prohibition against collective punishment and reprisals. It states, in Article 33:
''No protected person may be punished for an offence he or she has not personally committed. Collective penalties and likewise all measures of intimidation or of terrorism are prohibited.
Pillage is prohibited.
Reprisals against protected persons and their property are prohibited.''
Article 147 of the fourth Geneva Convention sets out a list of "grave breaches'' of the Fourth Geneva Convention:
"... wilful killing, torture or inhuman treatment, including biological experiments, wilfully causing great suffering or serious injury to body or health, unlawful deportation or transfer or unlawful confinement of a protected person, compelling a protected person to serve in the forces of a hostile Power, or wilfully depriving a protected person of the rights of fair and regular trial prescribed in the present Convention, taking of hostages and extensive destruction and appropriation of property, not justified by military necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly."
Israel also has obligations to respect and protect human rights under UN human rights treaties which it has ratified. These include the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). This treaty, which Israel has of its own accord made a solemn obligation to uphold, contains several articles which cannot be suspended even "in time of public emergency which threatens the life of the nation" (Article 4(1)). These non-derogable articles include the duty to protect and respect the right to life and the right not to be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
The relationship of the PA to the armed groups which carry out attacks on Israeli civilians has long been a subject of controversy. The Israeli Government alleges that a document reported to have been found by the IDF during its attack on PA offices in Ramallah in April 2002 shows that the official in charge of PA finances helped to finance the making of explosives for bombs. A basic rule of customary international law is that civilians must never be the target of an attack. This principle applies at all times. It is binding on Israel and the PA, but also Palestinian armed groups and Israeli and Palestinian individuals. Palestinian armed groups, and, if its involvement is proved, the PA, have broken this fundamental principle.
Amnesty International's research
After receiving reports of human rights violations committed by the IDF during their incursions into refugee camps and other areas in February-March 2002, Amnesty International sent three delegates to the region, including Major David Holley, a former member of the British regular army; Curt Goering, Executive Deputy Director of Amnesty International USA; and an Amnesty International researcher. Delegates arrived in the region on 13 and 14 March and visited the Gaza Strip, Ramallah, Bethlehem and its vicinity, Tulkarem, and Nablus and Balata Refugee Camp. IDF action often made travel and research in Palestinian areas difficult and dangerous.
During the period delegates were in the Gaza Strip - and for the previous nine days - the area south of Gaza city, where three-quarters of the population live, including around 300,000 refugees, was effectively cut off from the north and Amnesty International delegates were unable to investigate reports of unlawful killings in that area.
After visiting Ramallah on 15 March to carry out research, it proved extremely difficult for Amnesty International's delegates to leave the town by the only route left open, a heavily guarded checkpoint at Qalandiya. As the delegates waited, a tank shone a blinding light at the Palestinians waiting to cross after the border was opened for the first time in four days and a shot was fired over their heads. The Jerusalem residents were not allowed to cross and only those who approached the tank waving foreign passports were allowed to pass.
Towns and refugee camps
The West Bank extends 130 km north to south, and some 50 km east to west, with a total area of 5,800 square km. The boundary with Israel to north, west and south is the "Green Line" (the 1949 armistice line); to the east lies the River Jordan flowing into the Dead Sea, and beyond that the Kingdom of Jordan.
The present Palestinian population is two million; natural growth is very high at 3.5 per cent per annum. Overcrowding is high especially in the 27 refugee camps where those Palestinians expelled from their homes in 1947-8 have lived for the past 50 years; here educational, health and other services are provided by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). Refugee camps are within or beside existing towns: Nablus (population 110,000) includes Balata refugee camp (population 19,000); Tulkarem hosts Tulkarem refugee camp (population 14,500); Bethlehem (population 45,000) contains Deheisheh refugee camp (population 10,000) and Aida refugee camp (population 4,000). Jenin (population 31,000) contains Jenin refugee camp (population 14,000) while Qalqiliya (population 38,000) has no refugee camp. Both Hebron (population 141,000) and Jericho (population 18,000) also have neighbouring refugee camps.
The Gaza Strip is 45 kilometres long and never more than 12 kilometres wide. More than 20 per cent of this area is occupied by Israeli settlements, with a population of about 5,000 settlers, less than 0.5 per cent of the total population of the Gaza Strip. This area is barred to Palestinians. More than a million Palestinians, including 824,672 refugees, nearly 80 per cent of the total population, live in the remaining area. Jabaliya refugee camp, with some 102,000 refugees, is the largest of all the refugee camps.
While Amnesty International was carrying out research in Deheisheh Refugee Camp, a curfew was announced by the IDF over a loud speaker. Delegates immediately went to Bethlehem University through streets thronged with armed Palestinians, and, as the shooting grew more intense, they were forced to leave by a back route. Travelling to Nablus, the second largest town in the West Bank, an important commercial centre, the only way into the city was by taking a taxi to the village of Burin, south of the city, then climbing over a mountain ridge on foot, about four kilometres, and taking a taxi from the village of Tel on the other side. On the way back, around 5pm, as it was growing dark, the way was barred by an Israeli armoured personnel carrier sitting on the top of the ridge. Amnesty International's delegate, with a foreign passport, was the only individual allowed to cross the mountain; on the way down she passed a weeping girl and men, women and children stranded in the gathering dark on the bare, rocky, slope.
Amnesty International's delegates, who arrived just after the IDF withdrawal, were able to investigate immediately the damage and havoc left behind by the Israeli incursion in Ramallah, al-Am'ari, Deheisheh and Khader before Palestinians had repaired houses and surrounding areas or tidied up the trashed apartments. In Tulkarem, which delegates visited on 18 March, and Balata Refugee Camp, visited on 20 March, houses had already been patched up (new cement clearly covered bullet holes) and apartments which had been messed up by the IDF had been tidied. However, the remains of demolished and damaged homes were visible legacies of the incursions.
Amnesty International delegates talked to eyewitnesses of killings, the owners of occupied, destroyed or damaged homes, members of the refugee camp councils, Palestinians who had been rounded up, arrested and released, ambulance workers and coordinators of the Red Crescent, Palestinian medical relief committees, foreign health workers, and lawyers. Amnesty International is particularly grateful to those, including members of Palestinian human rights organizations, the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, al-Haq, Addameer and LAW, who accompanied them in most of their visits to the Occupied Territories, sometimes at considerable risk. In addition to gathering information about human rights abuses committed by the IDF in the course of the incursions, delegates also raised concerns about the killing of Israeli civilians and alleged Palestinian ''collaborators'' by Palestinian armed groups and individuals with Ahmad 'Abd al-Rahman, Cabinet Secretary of the PA. They did not meet a representative of the IDF during this research visit; however, Amnesty International delegates have been able to discuss IDF strategies and the organization's findings and concerns with the legal adviser to the IDF four times since the beginning of the present intifada, most recently in February 2002. On previous visits Amnesty International delegates have raised concerns on the killing of Israeli civilians with leaders of Palestinian armed groups, including Marwan Barghouti, Secretary General of Fatah and Shaikh Ahmad Yassin, leader of Hamas.
Violations of the right to life
''Every human being has the inherent right to life. This right shall be protected by law. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his life''. [ICCPR, Article 6(1).]
Without proper investigations, which are not taking place, it is impossible to say how many of those killed by the IDF were armed Palestinians who were actively engaged in targeting Israeli forces. However, the use of force by the IDF appears to have been disproportionate and often reckless. There are also reports of extrajudicial executions.
The IDF incursions into Palestinian refugee camps and towns have encountered resistance by Palestinian armed groups. Amnesty International delegates witnessed the exchanges of fire between the two sides on two occasions during their recent visit.
- In Jabaliya on 13 March 2002 five Israeli tanks rolled into Salah al-Din Street, the main street of Jabaliya, flattening a car (a seemingly gratuitous act of vandalism as the road is extremely wide) and terrifying the population, especially the small girls from a primary school who had just ended their morning lessons; the five- to seven-year-olds ran weeping down the street trying to escape. The tanks were fired on from the roofs of houses by armed Palestinians. The Kalashnikov bullets were ineffective against tanks and the IDF clearly had orders not to respond to the fire. The incursion passed off without casualties apart from the material damage and the trauma to the children and the population.
- On 17 March Amnesty International delegates in Deheisheh camp and Bethlehem witnessed heavy exchanges of fire by both members of the IDF and armed Palestinian groups. Delegates saw some 200 armed Palestinians in civilian dress as they passed through the streets of Deheisheh and Bethlehem. Palestinian bystanders, including children, in the town appeared to be at risk of being targeted by the IDF or shot by either side in crossfire.
During Amnesty International's research in other areas its delegates were told that Palestinians who had weapons and who were not members of armed groups had shot at the IDF forces.
During Israel's incursion into Jabaliya on 11-12 March the IDF unlawfully killed bystanders by shooting randomly. Any Palestinian seen by the IDF on the top of a building appeared to be targeted by the IDF. In addition, there were many cases in all areas where Palestinians who apparently misunderstood instructions by the IDF - standing still, or coming forward or retreating when ordered to do something different - were shot. One IDF conscript told Amnesty International in February: ''Any person that is considered a threat can be killed. 'Threat' is a very fluid notion - as big as the ocean''.
Eight Palestinians watched the incursion on the roof of their house in Tel al-Za'tar quarter in north Jabaliya when it started around 10.30pm. As IDF Apache helicopters flew overhead the eight hastened to leave, but 'Abd al-Rahman Muhammad 'Izz al-Din, aged 55, the last person to flee, was shot in the back apparently by IDF snipers on a neighbouring roof, just as he reached the door to the roof to go downstairs. His son Walid 'Abd al Rahman 'Izz al-Din, 35, turned to rescue him and was himself shot dead minutes later by a bullet that passed from his shoulder to his heart. Ambulances tried to reach the 'Izz al-Din house but were unable to do so. An ambulanceman from the Palestinian Red Crescent Society (PRCS) said: ''It took us more than an hour to enter the house. A tank was standing at every entrance to the house''.
In Salah al-Din Street a deaf and mute man, Samir Sadi Sababeh, aged 45, died when the IDF prepared to demolish a small metal workshop on the other side of the street from where he sheltered. Around 10.30pm on 11 March the IDF summoned all residents of the flats beside the workshop to leave, allowing them no time to collect their possessions. The IDF called Samir Sababeh to join the residents being evicted from their houses. When he failed to come, they shot and killed him.
Huda al-Hawaja, aged 31, a mother of five children living in Aida Refugee Camp in Bethlehem, was killed on 8 March when IDF soldiers used explosives to open the door of her house in order to occupy it as a strategic post. The incident was recorded by a reporter of Israel's Channel 10 TV and shown on Channel Two. According to the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz: ''During the briefing before entering the house, the soldiers are told to break down the door with a hammer, and if that didn't work, to use an explosive brick. That's what they do. The result: the mother of the family is mortally wounded and lies on the floor bleeding. The children stand behind her choking back tears. The father tries calling an ambulance but it is trapped between checkpoints. The soldiers continue moving through the house by cutting through the walls.''
Mahmud Salah, aged 23, alleged to have been a member of an armed militant group, al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade, reportedly on his way to carry out a suicide bombing in Jerusalem, was killed at al-Ram checkpoint near Jerusalem on 10 March in what appeared to be an extrajudicial execution. Investigations carried out by the Palestinian human rights organization, LAW, as well as by Agence France Presse, showed, through videos and photographs taken by residents of houses overlooking the checkpoint, that Mahmud Salah was lying on the ground, stripped of his clothing, with his hands tied behind his back when he was shot at close range by a member of a special unit of the IDF.