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http://www3.haaretz.co.il/eng/scripts/article.asp?mador=5&datee=4/12/01&id=116516

Human Rights Watch blasts Israel

By Joseph Algazy Ha'aretz 04/12/2001

"Jews destroyed our house," three-year-old Rageh Jaber cried in his young voice, after hearing his father Ata Jaber recount on the phone how Jewish settlers attacked his east Hebron home on December 8, as part of a series of reprisals for the killing of two settlers (Rina Didovski and Eliyahu Ben-Ami) from Palestinian gunfire. In addition to causing serious damage to Jaber's home and neighboring residences that day, enraged settlers shot and badly wounded 13-year-old Mansour Jaber.The story of the attacks against the Jaber residence and nearby homes is included in an 82-page report, "Center of the Storm: A Case Study of Human Rights Abuses in the Hebron District," released this week by the American organization Human Rights Watch. The report is based on investigations carried out by the organization's human rights workers for five weeks, between November 2000 and February 2001. Human Rights Watch workers interviewed dozens of victims of alleged abuses, along with witnesses, international observers stationed in the Hebron area, Israeli and Palestinian Authority officials, and settlers.

"Hebron is a microcosm of the devastating impact of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on civilians," says Hanny Megally, executive director of Human Rights Watch's Middle East and North Africa division. Megally adds: "These widespread human rights abuses simply cannot be deferred to future negotiations."

The report calls on the international community to "urge the United Nations Security Council to establish immediately a permanent international presence in the West Bank and Gaza to monitor and report publicly and regularly on the compliance by all parties with international human rights and humanitarian law standards." The report notes that Hebron, the largest Palestinian city on the West Bank which has remained in large measure under direct Israel Defense Forces control, is home to 120,000 Palestinians, along with a large concentration of settlers (500 Jews live in the center of the city, and another 7,000 dwell in outlying areas).

Since the eruption of the Al-Aqsa Intifada, Hebron has been a flash-point of conflicts which pit Palestinians against settlers and Israeli security forces. Like other parts of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Hebron plays host to human rights violations, and the trampling of international law.

The report contends that a leading source of human rights abuse in Hebron is the excessive use of lethal force by Israeli security forces in clashes with Palestinian demonstrators, many of whom are unarmed and pose no dire threat to the Israeli security personnel, or anybody else. Many of the Palestinians who have been killed or hurt by IDF fire in the vicinity of demonstrations were pedestrians - this fact conveys a hint that some IDF soldiers have fired indiscriminately in populated areas.

The report uses the term "unlawful killings" to describe assassinations of Palestinians suspected of involvement in acts of terror against IDF soldiers or Israeli civilians which are carried out by Israeli security men. It documents cases in which Palestinians have been shot and killed under dubious circumstances which warrant investigation, and possibly the submission of criminal indictments.

The report's authors reject the IDF's contention that it bears no obligation to investigate incidents in which such Palestinian terror suspects have been killed because it is embroiled in a "state of armed dispute."

Israel's systematic policy of imposing curfews and closures against Palestinian areas constitutes a form of "collective punishment" which is prohibited by international law and humanitarian standards, the report contends. Drastic restriction Some 30,000 Palestinians who live in Hebron's Israel-controlled "H2" region have been confined to their homes by a near-permanent, round-the-clock, curfew. This drastic restriction applies only to Palestinian residents; Israeli settlers in the H2 area are allowed to move freely at all times. In some cases, the closures and curfews make it easier for settlers to perpetrate attacks against Palestinians, the report claims. Hadj Fahmi Abu-Turki, a 46-year-old father of 10 who lives in Hirbet Al-Qass, complained this week that "the curfew which has been imposed on our neighborhood, close to the Beit Hagai settlement, has been in effect almost since the start of the Intifada. Soldiers sometimes shoot as though they are in training [exercises]; and all day and night, settlers curse and throw rocks at us."

By and large, the some 21,000 pupils who live in the H2 region have been unable to attend classes because their schools have been shut-down by closures and curfews. Scores of Palestinian bread-winners in this Hebron area have lost their jobs. Medical personnel are unable to do their work; health care is delayed; ambulances are stopped en route, dodging gunfire shot by Israeli security forces.

The Human Rights Watch report documents cases in which Israeli security men abused and assaulted Palestinian taxi drivers and owners of private vehicles who attempted to skirt around closures and checkpoints by using alternative roads. Soldiers have beaten-up the drivers, deflated the tires of their cars, or fired shots in their general direction.

Describing attacks carried out by settlers against Palestinians in the Hebron area, the report suggests that the IDF serves as a kind of shield for the aggressive Jewish civilians. "It is clear that the majority of physical attacks are initiated by Israeli settlers, and that the IDF has consistently failed in its obligation to protect Palestinian civilians from attacks by Israeli settlers. In effect, settlers are using the protection provided by the IDF to attack Palestinian civilians," the report claims. In most of the cases it has monitored, the Human Rights Watch organization claims that "the IDF has only intervened to protect the Israeli settlers from counterattack."

Settlers have routinely attacked the Palestinian vegetable market in Hebron's Old City, the report claims. The settlers damage produce in the market, topple vendors' stalls, and also vandalize and attack a large number of Palestinian homes in the Old City.

The report claims that settlers have accosted numerous humanitarian-human rights workers, Palestinian journalists, and international observers (such as members of the "Christian Peacemakers Team").

The report's authors regret that since October Jewish settlers in the Hebron area have been forced to live with gunfire shot by armed Palestinians as "a matter of routine." Examples of such Palestinian aggression noted in the report include the sniper-fire killing of 10 month old Shalhevet Pass, and the wounding of her father, Yitzhak Pass. Fatah members are responsible for a share of the gunfire attacks against settlers, the report says.

Though Jewish settlements, the report claims, violate international law, attacks against unarmed settler civilians, including children, are morally and legally reprehensible. In this section pertaining to settler issues, and other parts of the report, the authors find that IDF responses enacted ostensibly to protect Jewish civilians are often excessive. The "heavy weaponry" operated by Israel the report says, "increases the destructive potential of the IDF response, and must be used with great care to prevent disproportionate harm to civilians."

The authors add: "On many occasions, it appears that IDF soldiers have responded with widespread gunfire into civilian neighborhoods, hitting dozens of homes at a time. The apparently untargeted nature of IDF gunfire and its civilian toll raises serious concerns that the IDF is firing indiscriminately, in violation of international humanitarian law standards.

http://www.hrw.org/press/2001/04/hebron041101.htm


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