Human rights in Israel: Wikis


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Human rights in Israel have been evaluated by various human rights treaty bodies, intergovernmental organizations, non-governmental organizations and individuals, often in relation to the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict which forms part of the wider Arab-Israeli conflict and Israel internal politics.

When analyzing Israel's human rights records, most observers agree that it is important to maintain the distinction between Israel proper and the territories that it currently occupies (Golan Heights, West Bank and Gaza strip). However, residents of the Golan Heights are entitled to citizenship, voting rights and residency that allows them to travel within Israel's borders.[1] Israel proper is a multiparty parliamentary democracy, and while it is a Jewish state,[2], it includes religious and ethnic minorities. Some of these claim de facto discrimination. In the Palestinian territories, successive Israeli governments have been subject to severe criticism by other governments and human rights groups inside and outside the country. While Israel does not have a constitution, it has a set of Basic Laws, intended to form the basis of a future constitution. One of those Basic Laws, Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty, serves as one of the major tools for defending human rights and civil liberties.


Declaration of Independence

David Ben-Gurion proclaiming independence of Israel.

A longstanding diplomatic precedent required that religious and minority rights in the territory of newly created states be guaranteed and placed under international protection. That was particularly true of those cases where the Great Powers had assisted in the restoration of sovereignty over a territory. The UN resolution on "The Future Government of Palestine" contained both a plan of partition and a Minority Protection Plan.[3] It placed minority, women's, and religious rights under the protection of the United Nations and the International Court of Justice. The plan provided specific guarantees of fundamental human rights. The new states had to acknowledge the stipulated rights in a Declaration, which according to precedent was tantamount to a treaty.[4] The resolution stated that "the stipulations contained in the declarations are recognized as fundamental laws of State, and no law, regulation or official action shall conflict or interfere with these stipulations, nor shall any law, regulation or official action prevail over them."[5] The resolution also required that the Constitution of each State embody the rights contained in the Declaration. Abba Eban said that the rights stipulated in section C. Declaration, chapters 1 and 2 of UN resolution 181(II) had been constitutionally embodied as the fundamental law of the state of Israel as required by the resolution. The instruments that he cited during the hearings were the Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel, and various cables and letters of confirmation addressed to the Secretary General.[6] Mr. Eban's explanations and Israel's undertakings were noted in the text of General Assembly Resolution 273 (III) Admission of Israel to membership in the United Nations, 11 May 1949.

The Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel proclaimed on May 14, 1948 that "the right of the Jewish people to national rebirth in its own country" ... "was recognized in the Balfour Declaration of 2 November 1917, and re-affirmed in the Mandate of the League of Nations which, in particular, gave international sanction to the historic connection between the Jewish people and "Eretz-Israel [Land of Israel] and to the right of the Jewish people to rebuild its National Home." It also declared that the state "...will be open for Jewish immigration and for the Ingathering of the Exiles; it will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions; and it will be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations."[7]

Status of freedom, political rights and civil liberties in Israel

Rights and liberties ratings by NGOs

Rating of Israel, and its occupied territories, by Freedom House and Transparency International
Country / Entity - NGO Freedom House Freedom House Freedom House Transparency International
Report-Ranking Freedom in the World Freedom in the World Freedom in the World Corruption Perceptions Index
Freedom rating
Free, Partly Free, Not Free
Political rights
Civil liberties
Political corruption
 Israel Free 1 2 6.0
Israeli occupied territories Not Free 6 5 N/A
Territories under Palestinian National Authority Not Free 5 6 N/A
(FH): Per Freedom House 2009 ratings.[8] For indices PR and CL, 1 represents the most free and 7 the least free rating.
(TICP): According to the annual Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index[9], the score ranges from 10 (squeaky clean) to 0 (highly corrupt).

Elections, political parties, and representation

According to 2005 US Department of State report on Israel, “the law provides citizens with the right to change their government peacefully, and citizens exercised this right in practice through periodic, free, and fair elections held on the basis of universal suffrage...The country is a parliamentary democracy with an active multiparty system. Relatively small parties, including those primarily supported by Israeli Arabs, regularly win Knesset seats.”[10] In some instances, however, parties have been disqualified from listing candidates for election.

The Kach Party had run candidates under a platform which proposed forced population transfer of Arabs from Israel and establishment of a theocracy in Israel ruled by traditional Jewish law. This platform was felt to be inciting of racism by the Knesset and the party was banned from participation in elections. In 1988, the Supreme Court of Israel upheld this Knesset decision. After a member of the Kach party killed 29 Palestinians, the party was outlawed completely. See also Reactions in Israel to the Cave of the Patriarchs massacre.

A concurrent 1985 decision to disqualify the Progressive List for Peace, a party which was found to threaten the Jewish character of the State of Israel, was overturned by the Supreme Court in 1988.

Freedom of religion

Adherents of Judaism pray at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. Judaism is major religion in Israel.

All religious groups have freedom to practice and maintain communal institutions in Israel. According to the 2009 US Department of State report on Israel and the occupied territories, "The Israeli Basic Law on Human Dignity and Liberty provides for freedom of worship and the Government generally respected this right in practice." The report added that in 2009 the "Government policy continued to support the generally free practice of religion, although governmental and legal discrimination against non-Jews and non-Orthodox streams of Judaism continued." and noted that "Many Jewish citizens objected to exclusive Orthodox control over fundamental aspects of their personal lives." The report stated that approximately 310,000 citizens who immigrated to Israel under the Law of Return are not considered Jewish by the Orthodox Rabbinate and therefore cannot be married, divorced, or buried in Jewish cemeteries within the country.[11]

After gaining control of the West Bank in 1967, Israel guaranteed Muslim access to mosques including the Al-Aqsa Mosque and Christian access to churches.[12] Israel has extended protection to religious sites of non-Jewish religions; most famously the IDF foiled a Kach party attempt to destroy the Al-Aqsa Mosque, and continue to protect this site from attacks by non-Muslims.[13] At times, the observances of holy days by various religions has the potential to cause conflict; thus Israeli police take measures to avoid friction between communities by issuing temporary restrictions on movement[14] and audible worship.[15] The 1967 Protection of Holy Sites Law protects all holy sites, but the government has implemented regulations only for 137 Jewish sites, leaving many Muslim and Christian sites neglected, inaccessible, or threatened by property development.[16]

The city of Jerusalem has given financial support to Muslim religious activities as well has giving them facilities for their use.[17] Israel does not give funding to some religious communities including Protestants.[10] Proselytising is illegal.

The Bahá'í Faith (in 1960) maintains the seat of their governing bodies, the Universal House of Justice in Haifa.[18] Buddhism is also active as a religion in Israel.[19],[20]

According to a 2009 report from the U.S. State Department Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, Israel falls short of being a tolerant or pluralistic society. According to the report, Israel discriminates against Muslims, Jehovah's Witnesses, Reform Jews, Christians, women and Bedouins. Israel only recognises and protects Jewish holy sites, ignoring and neglecting all Christian and Muslim sites. All 137 official holy sites are Jewish.[21]


A major issue is the lack of civil marriage, as opposed to religious marriage, in Israel. A couple wishing to marry must do so through a religious ceremony, be it Jewish, Muslim, Christian or other. Non-religious couples must undergo a religious ceremony to marry, as do persons with no recognized religion, such as many of the immigrants from the former Soviet Union, who received citizenship based on a Jewish relative, but who are not recognized as Jews by the Chief Rabbinate of Israel. As a result couples of mixed religion, for example a Christian and a Jew, or a Muslim and a Jew, cannot legally marry in Israel. Common-law marriage, which gives couples the same rights married couples enjoy, mitigates this difficulty. Israeli citizens may also travel abroad for a civil marriage, which is then binding under Israeli law.

Israeli master's degree student Libi Oz criticized Israel for "discrimination in personal and civil status matters against non-Orthodox Jews." The Israeli government only recognizes Orthodox rabbis for the purpose of marrying couples.[22]

Judiciary system and criminal justice

Israeli law provides for the right to a fair trial and an independent judiciary. The 2005 US Department of State report on Israel[10] notes that the courts sometimes ruled against the executive branch, including in some security cases. Human Rights Groups believe these requirements are generally respected. As well the system is adversarial and cases are decided by professional judges. Indigent defendants receive mandatory representation. Some areas of the country fall under the separate judicial jurisdiction of military courts. These courts are believed to be in alignment with Israel's other criminal courts on matters pertaining to civilians. Convictions in these courts cannot be based on confession alone.[10]

Treatment of prisoners

In 1978, two cable messages, Jerusalem 1500 and Jerusalem 3239, sent from the United States Consulate General in Jerusalem to the United States Department of State in Washington, D.C., described abusive methods allegedly used by Israeli authorities to interrogate Palestinian detainees in Jerusalem and the West Bank. Alexandra U. Johnson, the consular officer who wrote the cables, was terminated from the United States Foreign Service later that year; and the cables became the focus of controversy when their contents became public in 1979.[23] A third report, Jerusalem A-19, sent as an airgram message from the Consulate General in Jerusalem to the Department of State in October 1978, described the military trial of two young American citizens who reported that Israeli authorities used physical coercion to obtain confessions from them. The report concluded that Israeli authorities were aware that "physical coercion and mistreatment" probably had been used to obtain the confessions.[24]

The 2005 US Department of State report on Israel:[10] notes that, "conditions in IPS facilities, which house common law criminals and convicted security prisoners...generally met international standards, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) had access to these facilities, and there were no reports of political prisoners in Israel.

However, the report referenced above[10] notes that in 2005 nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) have filed numerous credible complaints with the government alleging that security forces tortured and abused Palestinian detainees. There have been other reports to that effect.[25][26][27] According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, more than 40,000 Palestinians have been arrested since the start of the September 2000 Al-Aqsa intifada, and in 2006, Israel held 9,400 Palestinian prisoners in more than 30 jails located across Israel including over 369 jailed before the Oslo Accords and 330 minors. According to the Palestinian Authority, 70 of these minor prisoners are considered seriously ill due to lack of "basic medical attention." [28]

Lebanese citizen Mustafa Dirani has charged that Israeli security forces tortured and raped him during interrogations. Another former detainee alleged he was subjected to painful positioning, beatings, long periods of interrogation, threats, and food and sleep deprivation. One of the aforementioned NGOs, the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel, reported “…the complainant suffered severe back pains and paralysis in his left leg from the abuse.”[10]

Freedom of speech and the media

See also: Media of Israel
A cross-section of Israel's local newspapers in 1949.

According to the 2005 US Department of State report on Israel, "[t]he law provides for freedom of speech and of the press, and the government generally respected these rights in practice subject to restrictions concerning security issues. The law provides for freedom of assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights in practice.[10]

Some government officials and others have been critical of the freedom of speech rights afforded to Israeli settlers during their forced evacuation from the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. This led to the criticism that “the authorities took disproportional steps, unjustifiably infringing on the right to political expression and protest.”[29]

Within Israel, policies of its government are often subjected to criticism by its press as well as a vast variety of political, human rights and watchdog groups[citation needed] such as Association for Civil Rights in Israel, B'Tselem, Machsom Watch, Women in Black, Women for Israel's Tomorrow, among others. According to the press freedom organization Reporters Without Borders, "The Israeli media were once again in 2005 the only ones in the region that had genuine freedom to speak out."[30]

In 2009, Israel came 93rd out of 175 in the Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index. This was a nose-dive from the previous year and was mainly due to actions from the government during Operation Cast Lead. The fall have left Israel trailing Kuwait (ranked 60th), Lebanon (ranked 61st) and UAE (ranked 86th) in its region. Overall Israel was ranked one behind Guinea-Bissau and right before Qatar.[31] Freedom House ranked Israel as having a "Partly Free" media climate in 2009. Previously Israel have been the only country in the region with a "Free" media.[32])

In 2003, Israel's film board banned from commercial screenings (in cinemas) a film about the 2002 Battle of Jenin.[33] The film, titled "Jenin, Jenin", was a collection of interviews with residents of the Jenin refugee camp filmed in April 2002, a week after the battle. Mohammad Bakri, an Israeli Arab, directed the film. The film was banned due to its allegations of war crimes committed by Israeli forces, which the board deemed false and hurtful to the soldiers' families. In a later deposition following a slander lawsuit by Israeli soldiers' families, Bakri admitted to inaccuracies throughout his film.[34]

Following legal proceedings, a petition was filed to the Supreme Court of Israel, which unanimously overturned the board's decision, and allowed the movie to be shown in cinemas.[35]

Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index

Reporters Without Borders publishes an annual report on worldwide press freedom, called the Press Freedom Index. The first such publication began in 2002. The results for Israel and the Palestinian Authority from 2002 to the present are shown below, with lower numbers indicating better treatment of reporters:

Year Israel (Israeli territory) Israel (extraterritorial) Palestinian Authority Year's Worst Score Report URL
2002 92 Not Specified 82 139 [36]
2003 44 146 130 166 [37]
2004 36 115 127 167 [38]
2005 47 Not Specified 132 167 [39]
2006 50 135 134 168 [40]
2007 44 103 158 169 [41]
2008 46 149 163 173 [42]
2009 93 150 161 175 [43]

Right to privacy

According to a 2005 US Department of State report on Israel, “[l]aws and regulations provide for protection of privacy of the individual and the home. In criminal cases the law permits wiretapping under court order; in security cases the defense ministry must issue the order…”[10]

LGBT rights

Rights for sexual minorities in Israel are considered to be the most tolerant in the Middle East. While Israel has not legalized same-sex marriage, same-sex marriages valid in foreign countries are legally recognized in Israel.[44][45] Israel guarantees civil rights for its homosexual population, including adoption rights and partner benefits.[46] Israel also grants a common-law marriage status for same-sex domestic partners. The Sodomy law inherited from the British Mandate of Palestine was repealed in 1988, though there was an explicit instruction issued in 1953 by the Attorney General of Israel ordering the police to refrain from enforcing this law, as long as no other offenses were involved. A national gay rights law bans some anti-gay discrimination, including in employment; some exemptions are made for religious organizations. In the past, military service of homosexuals was subject to certain restrictions. These restrictions were lifted in 1993, allowing homosexuals to openly serve in all units of the army.[47]

Ethnic minorities, anti-discrimination and immigration laws

Protest against the Ethiopian-Israeli Jews absorption's failure in Nov. 2006.

Ethnic minorities have full voting rights in Israel and are entitled to government benefits.

Israeli Employment (Equal Opportunities) Law, 1988 prohibits discrimination in hiring, working conditions, promotion, professional training or studies, discharge or severance pay and benefits and payments provided for employees in connection with their retirement from employment, because of race, religion, nationality and land of origin, among other reasons.[48] Prohibition of Discrimination in Products, Services and Entry into Places of Entertainment and Public Places Law, forbid those who operate public places or provide services or products to discriminate because of race, religion, nationality,and land of origin, among other reasons.[49]

The 2005 US Department of State report on Israel wrote: "[T]he government generally respected the human rights of its citizens; however, there were problems in some areas, including... institutional, legal, and societal discrimination against the country’s Arab citizens."[10]

In a report submitted to the United Nations, Bedouin claim they face discrimination and are not treated as equal citizens in Israel and that Bedouin towns are not provided the same level of services or land that Jewish towns of the same size are and they are not given fair access to water. The city of Be'er Sheva refused to recognize a Bedouin holy site, despite a High Court recommendation.[50]

Human rights group B'Tselem has claimed that Arabs in Jerusalem are denied residency rights, leading to a housing shortage in the Arab areas of Jerusalem.[51]

A Druze in Tel Aviv on 3 September 2009 protests against discrimination of Druze councils in Israel on water issues.

During the Al-Aqsa Intifada in 2003, the Knesset made a temporary amendment to the Citizenship and Entry into Israel law which prohibited Palestinians married to Israelis from gaining Israeli citizenship or residency. Critics argue that the law is racist because it is targeted at Israeli Arabs who are far more likely to have Palestinian spouses than other Israelis; defenders say the law is aimed at preventing terrorist attacks and preserving the Jewish character of Israel.[52][53] The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination unanimously approved a resolution saying that the Israeli law violated an international human rights treaties against racism.[54] The Israeli Ambassador to the UN in Geneva, Yaakov Levy, said the resolution was "highly politicized", citing the committee's failure to grant Israel's request to present evidence of the, "legislation's compliance with existing international law and practice', examples of "numerous concrete instances [in which the] granting of a legal status to Palestinian spouses of Israeli residents [was] abused by Palestinian residents of the territories for suicide terrorism", and also ignoring the fact that at the time of the UN resolution the matter was under review by the Israeli High Court of Justice.[55]

The Association for Civil Rights in Israel filed a petition to have the law struck down[56] but it was upheld by a High Court decision in 2006.[52] In formulating the law, the government cited, "information presented by the security forces, which said that the terrorist organizations try to enlist Palestinians who have already received or will receive Israeli documentation and that the security services have a hard time distinguishing between Palestinians who might help the terrorists and those who will not [57] " In the Israeli Supreme Court decision on this matter, Deputy Chief Justice Mishael Cheshin argued that, "Israeli citizens [do not]enjoy a constitutional right to bring a foreign national into Israel... and it is the right -- moreover, it is the duty -- of the state, of any state, to protect its residents from those wishing to harm them. And it derives from this that the state is entitled to prevent the immigration of enemy nationals into it -- even if they are spouses of Israeli citizens -- while it is waging an armed conflict with that same enemy[58] "

In 2009, the US State Department Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor released a report critical of Israel's tolerance of ethnic and religious minorities. The report claims that 300,000 immigrants who are not considered Jewish under rabbinical law are not allowed to marry and divorce in Israel or be buried in Jewish cemeteries. The report recognizes the 1967 law on the protection of all areas of religious significance but "the government implements regulations only for Jewish sites. Non-Jewish holy sites do not enjoy legal protection under it because the government does not recognize them as official holy sites." All 137 of the recognized holy site are Jewish whilst Muslim and Christian sites are neglected. The report claims that Israel discriminates against Muslims, Jehova's Witnesses, Reform Jews, Christians, women and Bedouin.[59][60]


An August 2009 study published in Megamot by Sorel Cahan of Hebrew University's School of Education demonstrated that the Israeli Education Ministry's budget for special assistance to students from low socioeconomic backgrounds severely discriminated against Arabs. It also showed that the average per-student allocation at Arab junior high schools was one-fifth the average at Jewish ones. This was the result of the allocation method used - assistance funds were first divided between Arab and Jewish school systems, according to the number of students in each, and then allocated to needy students; however, due to the largest proportion of such students in the Arab system, they received less funds, per student, than Jewish students. The Ministry of Education said that it had already decided to discontinue this allotment method in favor of a uniform index method, without first dividing the funds between the school systems.[61]

Ministry data on what percentage of high school students pass their matriculation exams, broken down by town, showed that most Arab towns were once again the lowest ranked - an exception was Arab Fureidis which had the third highest pass rate (75.86 percent) in Israel.[61]

Migrant workers

In June 2006, the United States Department of State issued a report which stated that "the Government of Israel does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and has failed to show efforts to address conditions of involuntary servitude allegedly facing thousands of foreign migrant workers."' [62]

People with disabilities

Israel enacted an Equal Rights for People with Disabilities Law in 1998. Nevertheless, the US Department of State report on Israel stated that “de facto discrimination against persons with disabilities.” exists in Israel.[10]

In Israel more than 144,000 people with disabilities rely solely on government allowances as their only means of support. According to Arie Zudkevitch and fellow members of the Israeli Organization of the Disabled: "The amount of money that we get cannot fulfill even the basic needs of people without special needs." In Tel Aviv, more than 10,000 people marched in solidarity with the disabled, demanding increased compensation and recognition from the Israeli Government.[63]

A 2005 report from the Association for Civil Rights in Israel raised the concern: "It was reported this year that the Health Ministry has known for over two years that private psychiatric hospitals are holding 70 individuals who no longer need hospitalization, but continue to be hospitalized to serve the institutions` financial interests." The report suggests that, "the Health Ministry is supposed to supervise the private hospitals, but has been powerless to move these patients into an appropriate community situation."[29] The most recent statistics of the Israeli Health Ministry showed over 18,000 admissions for psychiatric hospital care.[64]

Human trafficking

Israel has been criticized for its policies and enforcement of laws on human trafficking. Women from the former Soviet Republics are brought into the country by criminal elements for forced labor in the sex industry. In 1998 the Jerusalem Post estimated that pimps engaging in this activity derived on average $50,000 - $100,000 (USD) per prostitute, resulting in a countrywide industry of nearly $450,000,000 annually.[65][66] By July 2000, Israel passed the Prohibition on Trafficking Law. In its 2003 report, the Human Rights Committee noted it "welcomes the measures taken by the State party to combat trafficking in women for the purpose of prostitution” [67]. The 2005 US Department of State report on Israel mentioned "societal violence and discrimination against women and trafficking in and abuse of women."[10]

In October 2006, the Knesset passed a new law outlawing human trade with sentences for human trade offences of up to 16 years, and 20 years when the victim is a minor. The law also addresses forced labor, slavery, organ theft, and prostitution. The bill also requires compensation of victims of human trade and slavery. Trials will be able to be held behind closed doors to protect the identity of victims.[68] By November, prostitution activity in Israel has become less apparent. Police raided the places that offered sex services, and detained criminals related to prostitution and sex trafficking.[69] However, campaigners say that police action has shifted the industry to private apartments and escort agencies, making the practice more difficult to detect.[70]

Privatization and human rights controversy

The 2005 annual report of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) found that "accelerated privatization" is damaging human rights. According to the report, "State economic policy, including cutting stipends, reducing housing assistance, and constantly declining state participation in health-care and education costs, are forcing more elderly, children and whole families into poverty and despair. The increasing damage to citizens' rights to earn a dignified living - both due to low wages and the lack of enforcement of labor laws - is particularly prominent."[29]

Human rights record in the Occupied Territories

Since 1967, Israel has had control over territories which it captured during the Six-Day War. According to the United Nations, the disputed and occupied territories currently include the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, which is held by the State of Israel in belligerent occupation,[71][72] and the entire Golan Heights which has been placed under civil administration. Israel no longer exercises military control in the Gaza Strip, but has subjected it to various measures such as blockades and other measures it deems necessary to Israeli security. The government of Israel has declared that it observes the international humanitarian laws contained in the Fourth Geneva Convention in the occupied territories.[73]

Non-Israeli residents of Israeli-held territory are subject to Israeli security measures and regulations. However, they are not citizens of Israel. For this reason, many organizations and groups maintain separate records of Israel's human rights record in these territories.


On April 7, 2005 the United Nations Committee on Human Rights stated it was "deeply concerned at the suffering of the Syrian citizens in the occupied Syrian Golan due to the violation of their fundamental and human rights since the Israeli military occupation of 1967...[and] in this connection, deploring the Israeli settlement in the occupied Arab territories, including in the occupied Syrian Golan, and regretting Israel's constant refusal to cooperate with and to receive the Special Committee" [74]

Israeli military strategists defend the occupation of the Golan Heights as necessary to maintain a buffer against future military attacks from Syria.[75] The land was captured in the Six Day War.

Apartheid analogy

Israeli treatment of non-Israelis in territories occupied by Israel for the past forty years, has been compared to South Africa's treatment of non-whites during the apartheid era by various instances and persons such as the Congress of South African Trade Unions[76], Jimmy Carter[77], archbishop Desmond Tutu and Michael Ben-Yair, attorney-general of Israel[78]. In 2009, South Africa's Human Sciences Research Council released a 300-page study that concluded that Israel practiced colonialism and apartheid in the Occupied Palestinian Territories[79].

The term apartheid in the context of the West Bank is used in relation to certain Israeli policies in force in the area. These include segregated roads and settlements as well as restrictions placed on movements of Palestinians but not Israelis, in the form of checkpoints and segmentation of the West Bank. The comparison also extends to access to natural resources such as water as well as access to the judicial system[78][80][81][82].

Israeli West Bank barrier

Israeli West Bank Barrier‎
A Palestinian boy and Israeli soldier in front of the Israeli West Bank Barrier.

A physical barrier, consisting mainly of fences and trenches, built by the Israeli Government which has been the center of much controversy. It is located partly within the West Bank, partly along the border between the West Bank and Israel proper. The barrier's stated purpose is "to keep the terrorists out and thereby save the lives of Israel's citizens, Jews and Arabs alike." [83] The barrier is sometimes called a 'wall', mainly by its opponents.

The barrier was condemned by a UN Resolution "overwhelmingly" passed by UN General Assembly which also called for all construction to halt.[84] The building of the barrier inside the west bank was also condemned by the International Court of Justice which stated: "Israel also has an obligation to put an end to the violation of its international obligations flowing from the construction of the wall in Occupied Palestinian Territories...reparation must, as far as possible, wipe out all the consequences of the illegal act.."[85] During 2003, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled, concerning a stretch of the barrier to the north-west of Jerusalem: "The route [of the West Bank Barrier] disrupts the delicate balance between the obligation of the military commander to preserve security and his obligation to provide for the needs of the local inhabitants." [86]

Echoing this sentiment, Amnesty International issued in a statement in 2005 saying: "Israel built a fence/wall through the West Bank, confining Palestinians in isolated enclaves cut off from their land and essential services in nearby towns and villages."[87]

Gwynne Dyer, writing about barriers being built around the world, including Israel's barrier with the West Bank, Thailand's 50 mile security fence with Malaysia, India's 1,800 mile fence with Pakistan and 1,950 mile barrier with Bangladesh, Morocco's 1,600 mile barrier with Algeria, Pakistan's 1,500 mile fence with Afghanistan, Uzbekistan's fence with Tajikistan, Kuwait's wall with Iraq, and Saudi Arabia's efforts to fence the borders with Yemen and Iraq, in her article A World of Walls, "The majority of the new walls springing up around the world are there to stop either terrorist attacks or illegal immigration, but sometimes they also serve as a unilateral way of defining a country's desired borders."[88]

Military and security-related activity

In a report on Israel for 2004, Amnesty International accused the IDF of war crimes, including "unlawful killing," "extension and wanton of destruction of property; obstruction of medical assistance and targeting of medical personnel; torture, and the use of Palestinians as 'human shields' They accuse the Israeli army of "reckless" shooting and "excessive use of force" against militants that endanger the lives civilians. They claim Israeli soldiers are rarely punished for human rights violations, and investigations of crimes are not carried out. [87]

Gal Luft has written that Palestinian militants have utilized a tactic of blending among civilian populations, which exacerbates civilian casualties in Israeli attacks. He also claims that an absence of independent "Western media" in the Palestinian territories prevents accurate and reliable reporting on conflicts. He cites the media coverage of Operation Defensive Shield as an example. He believes this encourages the militants to use civilians and refugees as "human shields" because they are not held accountable for their actions.[89] The Israeli military has stated it does not target civilians and that critics do not take into account the "realities" of war faced by the IDF.[90][91]

Human shields

Picture of Mohammed Badwan tied to jeep, published in the Daily Mail.

In April 2004, human rights activists from Rabbis for Human Rights reported that Israeli soldiers used 13-year-old Muhammed Badwan as a human shield during a demonstration in the West Bank village of Biddu,[92] by tying him to the front windscreen of their jeep with the purpose, according to the boy's father, of discouraging Palestinian demonstrators from throwing stones at them. A picture of Badwan tied to the jeep was published in the Daily Mail. On July 1, 2009, Amnesty International stated that Israeli troops forced Palestinians to stay in one room of their home while turning the rest of the house into a base and sniper position, "effectively using the families, both adults and children, as human shields and putting them at risk," the group said. "Intentionally using civilians to shield a military objective, often referred to as using 'human shields' is a war crime," Amnesty said.[93] Such actions are condemned by human rights groups as violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention.[94]

The Israeli High Court has issued an injunction against the practice, but human rights groups claim the IDF continues to use it.[94][95] During the 2008-2009 Gaza invasion known as Operation Cast Shield, Israeli military forces continued using civilians as human shields. According to testimonies, Israeli forces used unarmed Palestinians including children to protect military positions, walk in front of armed soldiers; go into buildings to check for booby traps or gunmen; and inspect suspicious objects for explosives.[96] "You cannot exploit the civilian population for the army's military needs, and you cannot force them to collaborate with the army", said Aharon Barak, President of the Supreme Court of Israel.[87][97]

According to testimonies submitted to B'Tselem during the 2006 war in Gaza, Israel Defense Force soldiers used six civilians, including two minors, as human shields during an incursion into Beit Hanun. Two boys, one aged 14 and the other 16, were ordered to lead soldiers into an area where a heavy firefight with Palestinian militants had just taken place.[94][98]

According to testimonies collected by Amnesty International and Breaking the Silence[99] Israeli soldiers used Palestinian civilians as human shields during Operation Cast Lead in 2009[100][101]. IDF says it investigates alleged abuses wherever specific detail is given, and that "dozens" of investigations are currently under way, some involving military police.[102] Judge Goldstone's 525-page Report on Operation Cast Lead also concluded that Israel used Palestinians as human shields. The report dismissed Israel's own investigations into the incidents as not credible and called on the UN Security Council to investigate[103].

Targeted killing

See also IDF: Code of Conduct against militants and Palestinian civilians.

Israel has a policy of targeted killings. In 2006, the Supreme Court of Israel issued it's judgment in a case "The Public Committee against Torture in Israel v. The Government of Israel". The case addressed the issue of whether the state acts illegally in its policy of targeted killings. The court considered that the legal context is a conflict “of an international character (international armed conflict). Therefore, the law that applies to the armed conflict between Israel and the terrorist organizations is the international law of armed conflicts.” The court decided that "members of the terrorist organizations are not combatants", "They do not fulfill the conditions for combatants under international law." and that "they do not comply with the international laws of war." They concluded that "members of terrorist organizations have the status of civilians" but that "the protection accorded by international law to civilians does not apply at the time during which civilians take direct part in hostilities." They ruled that they could not determine whether targeted killings are always legal or always illegal, but the legality must be established on a case by case basis. Their ruling stated “it cannot be determined in advance that every targeted killing is prohibited according to customary international law, just as it cannot be determined in advance that every targeted killing is permissible according to customary international law. The law of targeted killing is determined in the customary international law, and the legality of each individual such act must be determined in light of it.” The judgment included guidelines for permissible and impermissible actions involving targeted killings and provided the conditions for investigating the criminality of some of the actions.[104][105][106]

Palestinian militants have planned multiple attacks against Israeli civilians such as suicide bombings while living among non-militant Palestinian civilians, and thwarting such attacks may have saved lives.[90][107] The Israeli army maintains that it pursues such military operations to prevent imminent attacks when it has no discernible means of making an arrest or foiling such attacks by other methods. Some commentators claim that this practice is in accordance with the Fourth Geneva Convention (Part 3, Article 1, Section 28) which reads: “The presence of a protected person may not be used to render certain points or areas immune from military operations.” According to some commentators there may be circumstances when international law gives Israel the right to conduct military operations against civilian targets.[108][109]

For example, on July, 2002 the Israeli Defense Forces carried out an air strike targeting Salah Shahade, the commander of Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, in a densely populated residential area of Gaza City. The bombing resulted in the deaths of 15 persons, 9 of whom were children and the injury of 150 others.[110] According to the Israeli Government, Shehade was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of Israeli civilians, and earlier Israel asked the Palestinian Authority to arrest him, but no action was taken.[111] Israel maintains that Shehade was in the process of preparing another large-scale attack inside Israel and thereby constituted a “ticking bomb”.[112]

On 1 March 2009, The Independent has obtained an account which, for the first time, details service in one of the Israeli military's assassination squads. A former IDF soldier of an assassination squad in an interview with The Independent has told of his role in a botched ambush that killed two Palestinian bystanders and two militants. According to the interviewer "the source cannot be identified by name, not least because by finally deciding to talk about what happened, he could theoretically be charged abroad for his direct role in an assassination of the sort most Western countries regard as a grave breach of international law."[113]


According to Amnesty International: "Military checkpoints and blockades around Palestinian towns and villages hindered or prevented access to work, education and medical facilities and other crucial services. Restrictions on the movement of Palestinians remained the key cause of high rates of unemployment and poverty. More than half of the Palestinian population lived below the poverty line, with increasing numbers suffering from malnutrition and other health problems." [87]

Israel maintains that the majority of checkpoints and blockades were erected following the Al-Aqsa Intifada (October 2000) as security measures against terrorist attacks.[114]

In August 2009, U.N. human rights chief Navi Pillay criticised Israel for blockading the Gaza strip in a 34-page report, calling it a violation of the rules of war[115]. In September 2009 the UN found in the Goldstone report that the blockade of Gaza amounted to collective punishment and was thus illegal[116].

2006 Lebanon war

The human rights watch and other organizations have accused Israel of committing war crimes in the 2006 Lebanon war.[117] Israel has rejected those accusations and accused Hezbollah of deliberately firing from civilian areas during the fighting.[118]

2009 Gaza War

The UN fact finding mission published a 575 page report on September 15, 2009 stating it had found that war crimes were committed by both sides involved in the Gaza War[119].

The report condemns Israel's actions during the conflict for “the application of disproportionate force and the causing of great damage and destruction to civilian property and infrastructure, and suffering to civilian populations". It came "to the conclusion, on the basis of the facts we found, that there was strong evidence to establish that numerous serious violations of international law, both humanitarian law and human rights law, were committed by Israel during the military operations in Gaza”[119]. Israel has also come under fire for the use of white phosphorous - a incendiary weapon which is deemed illegal to use against civilians (already forbidden by the Geneva Conventions) or in civilian areas by Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons - and depleted uranium[citation needed] during the conflict. The use of such weapons has been allegedly linked to a rise in birth defects among the Gazan population[120].

The UN report also condemned the use of indiscriminate rocket attacks by Palestinian militants which targeted known civilian areas within Israel, stating that “[t]here’s no question that the firing of rockets and mortars [by armed groups from Gaza] was deliberate and calculated to cause loss of life and injury to civilians and damage to civilian structures. The mission found that these actions also amount to serious war crimes and also possibly crimes against humanity”[119].

Administrative Detention

Administrative detention is a procedure under which prisoners are held without charge or trial. The sentences are authorized by an administrative order from the Israeli Ministry of Defence or Israeli military commanders. Amnesty International believes that the practice breaches Article 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which "makes clear that no-one should be subjected to arbitrary detention and that deprivation of liberty must be based on grounds and procedures established by law". Amnesty International is also concerned that prisoners of conscience are being "held solely for the non-violent exercise of their right to freedom of expression and association".[121] According to B'Tselem there are currently 645 Palestinians being under administrative detention by the Israel Prisons Service and 105 by the IDF.[122] Most are kept in the West Bank in Ofer Military Camp or in the Ansar 3/Ketziot Military Camp in the Negev desert.[123]

Economic development

Israel and the Palestinian Authority began in late 2007 to explore opportunities for joint economic projects and activity, in an effort known as the Peace Valley plan. This would include construction of industrial parks in order to create new local businesses and jobs. Much of this was organized through President Shimon Peres who had been directly involved since before his assumption of the presidency.

At an economic conference in Bethlehem in May 2008, various Palestinian businessmen noted that Israel was one of the biggest markets for Palestinian agriculture and other products, but they also noted that some political and security concessions by Israel would be necessary for Palestinian businesses to grow.[124]

In 2009, efforts continued to build Palestinian local institutions and governments from the ground up. Much of this work was done by Tony Blair and U.S. General Keith Dayton. Some analysts saw this as a more substantial way to lay a groundwork for viable institutions and for local peace.[125]

Joint economic cooperation between Israeli officials in Gilboa and Palestinian officials in Jenin has begun to have major results and benefits. In October 2009, a new project got underway promoting tourism and travel between the two areas. Major new business efforts and tourist attractions have been initiated in Jenin.[126] The two regions are planning a joint industrial zone which would bridge the border. Palestinians would produce locally-made handicrafts and sell them through Gilboa to other regions of the world. Another possible project is a joint language center, where Israelis and Palestinians would teach each other Arabic and Hebrew, as well as aspects of their cultural heritage. [127]

According to Amnesty International report published on 27 October 2009 Israeli restrictions prevent Palestinians from receiving enough water in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The report says Israel's daily water consumption per capita was four times higher than that in the Palestinian territories.[128][129]

Allegations of bias in human rights organizations

United Nations

There are some who claim that the United Nations has a history of negative focus on Israel that is disproportional in respect to other members, including actions and statements of the UN Commission on Human Rights. One such example given to support this is in 2005 the Commission adopted four resolutions against Israel, equaling the combined total of resolutions against all other states in the world. Belarus, Cuba, Myanmar, and North Korea were the subject of one resolution each.[130] In addition, in 2004-2005 alone the U.N. General Assembly passed nineteen resolutions concerning Israel, while not passing any resolution concerning Sudan, which at the time was facing a genocide in the Darfur region.[131]

In 2006, the UN General Assembly voted to replace UNCHR with the UN Human Rights Council.[132]

Amnesty International

Amnesty International has been accused of having a double standard when it comes to its assessment of Israel.[133]

Claims of disproportionate attention to Israel

In 2004, the NGO Monitor, a program of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs which has a stated objective to stop other NGOs from promoting perceived "ideologically motivated anti-Israel agendas"[134], released a study comparing Amnesty International's response to the twenty years of ethnic, religious and racial violence in Sudan in which (at that time) 2,000,000 people were killed and 4,000,000 people displaced, to their treatment of Israel. When NGO Monitor focused on 2001, they found that Amnesty International issued seven reports on Sudan, as opposed to 39 reports on Israel.[135] Between 2000–2003, they claimed the imbalance in issued reports to be 52 reports on Sudan and 192 reports on Israel which they call “lack of balance and objectivity and apparent political bias is entirely inconsistent with AI's official stated mission." They further called attention to the difference in both scale and intensity: “While ignoring the large-scale and systematic bombing and destruction of Sudanese villages, AI issued numerous condemnations of the razing of Palestinian houses, most of which were used as sniper nests or belonged to terrorists. Although failing to decry the slaughter of thousands of civilians by Sudanese government and allied troops, AI managed to criticize Israel’s ‘assassinations’ of active terrorist leaders.”[135]

In 2004, Professor Don Habibi of the University of North Carolina at Wilmington lamented the limited reports on Sudan and Darfur, in contrast to reports on Israel. He criticizes Amnesty International, among others, for their “obsession” with Israel, to the exclusion of other human rights violators. Habibi wrote in Human Rights NGOs and the Neglect of Sudan:[136]

This obsession would make sense if Israel was among the worst human rights offenders in the world. But by any objective measure this is not the case. Even with the harshest interpretation of Israeli’s policies, which takes no account of cause and effect, and Israel’s predicament of facing existential war, there can be no comparison to the civil wars in Sudan, Algeria, or Congo. Like the UN, the policies of AI and HRW have more to do with politics than human rights.

Alan Dershowitz's claims

Professor Alan Dershowitz, an American legal scholar, is also critical of Amnesty International's perceived bias. Dershowitz analyzed an Amnesty International report on violence, rape, and murder perpetrated against Palestinian women by Palestinian men in the West Bank and Gaza which placed blame on Israel. Dershowitz points out that Amnesty International ranks the "escalation of the conflict” and “Israel’s policies” higher than the “norms, traditions and laws which treat women as unequal”, implying Israel is more to blame than the Palestinian perpetrators.[137] Dershowitz claims that when he asked Donatella Rovera, Amnesty International’s researcher on Israel and the Occupied Territories, for sources or statistical data that supported the report’s claims, he was refused anything other than a suggestion to Google "pretty much all the NGOs” in the region. He concluded that Amnesty International's excuses show that it "places its own political biases ahead of the interests of the female victims.”[137]

See also

External link

The amazing life and deeds of Mohammed Badwan – The Human Shield


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