Saturday, 15 December 2001, the United States vetoed a United
Nations Security Council resolution that would have cleared the
way for international monitors in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Many believe that such monitors would help end the increasingly
bloody low-intensity war Israel is waging against Palestinians
living in the Occupied Territories, as well as the devastating
suicide bombings against Israeli civilians. Among the reasons
the US gave for its veto was that the United Nations is not the
proper forum for resolving Middle East violence. The US prefers
to see itself as the sole arbiter in this conflict despite or
perhaps because of its marked pro-Israel bias, all the more evident
of late in its backing of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's
public condemnation of PA President Yasser Arafat, and in its
refusal to challenge Israel's appropriation of the Bush administration's
language regarding America's "War on Terror." We are
expected to accept that Israel's policies and strategy towards
the Palestinians are analogous to US policies and strategy towards
al-Qa'eda in Afghanistan and elsewhere.
people in the Arab and Muslim worlds know that this is a standard
example of US hypocrisy and support for unjust regimes. The United
States Government is well aware of Israel's poor human rights
record both towards the Palestinians living under its 34-year-old
occupation and towards Palestinian citizens of Israel itself.
Our politicians and pundits regularly distort the reality of the
situation, however, ignoring or overlooking carefully documented
records of Israeli human rights abuses. To highlight this point
one need not only quote from the extensive reports of Amnesty
International or Human Rights Watch. The US State Department has
yearly, detailed reports of Israeli human rights abuses available
for anyone interested.
State Department's "Country Reports on Human Rights Practices
2000: Occupied Territories" (February 2001) states unequivocally
that "Israel's overall human rights record in the occupied
territories [is] poor." It goes on to report that:
security forces committed numerous serious human rights abuses
during the year
. Since the violence began, [September 2000]
Israeli security units often used excessive force against Palestinian
demonstrators. Israeli security forces sometimes exceeded their
rules of engagement, which provide that live fire is only to be
used when the lives of soldiers, police, or civilians are in imminent
Israeli security forces abused Palestinians in detention
suspected of security offenses.
There were numerous credible
allegations that police beat persons in detention. Three Palestinian
prisoners died in Israeli custody under ambiguous circumstances
during the year. Prison conditions are poor. Prolonged detention,
limits on due process, and infringements on privacy rights remained
problems. Israeli security forces sometimes impeded the provision
of medical assistance to Palestinian civilians. Israeli security
forces destroyed Palestinian-owned agricultural land. Israeli
authorities censored Palestinian publications, placed limits on
freedom of assembly, and restricted freedom of movement for Palestinians."
lauded as the only democracy in the Middle East, Israel nevertheless
appears to have difficulty applying its high human rights standards
to non-Jews. One might plausibly argue that these standards are,
out of necessity, suspended in areas under military occupation
were it not for the fact that the Jewish settler population in
the territories benefits from the same rights and privileges accorded
their counterparts within Israel's internationally recognized
borders. One might also argue that Palestinians with Israeli citizenship
are equal participants in the country's democratic social institutions
were it not for certain serious problems such as the fact that
nearly 70,000 Arab Israelis live in legal limbo: the more than
100 villages they live in within Israel are unrecognized by the
government. As a result these residents pay taxes to the government
but are "not eligible for government services
such villages have none of the infrastructure, such as electricity,
water, and sewers, provided to recognized communities. The lack
of basic services has caused difficulties for the villagers in
regard to their education, health care, and employment opportunities.
New building in the unrecognized villages is considered illegal
and subject to demolition."
"Country Reports on Human Rights Practices 2000 [CRHP 2000]:
Israel," US State Department, February 2001.
Israeli government has yet to resolve the legal status of these
villages and their inhabitants.)
addition, the report continues, Palestinian citizens of Israel
are continually subjected to discrimination in education, housing,
and employment and are underrepresented in most of the professions
and in government. Arab land ownership remains problematic owing
to policies prohibiting the transfer of land to non-Jews. In 1996
Arab Israelis challenged a state policy known as the "Master
Plan for the Northern Areas of Israel" which "listed
as priority goals increasing the Galilee's Jewish population and
blocking the territorial contiguity of Arab villages and towns"
on the basis that it discriminated against Palestinian citizens
of Israel. The government continues to use this document as the
basis for its planning in the Galilee.
is but a small sample of the abuses listed against Arab Israeli
citizens. The report documenting Israeli human rights abuses in
the Occupied Territories is still more extensive and not limited
to Israeli security forces such as the IDF (Israel Defense Forces).
The settler population, whose presence in the territories contravenes
international law, serves as a daily provocation to Palestinians
living under the occupation. "Israeli settlers harass, attack,
and occasionally kill Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza,"
the report informs us.
were credible reports that settlers injured a number of Palestinians
during the 'al-Aqsa Intifada,' usually by stoning their vehicles,
which at times caused fatal accidents, shooting them, or hitting
them with moving vehicles. Human rights groups received several
dozen reports during the year that Israeli settlers in the West
Bank beat Palestinians and destroyed the property of Palestinians
living or farming near Israeli settlements. For example, according
to Palestinian eyewitnesses, a group of Israeli settlers beat
a 75-year-old Palestinian woman in April (i.e., 5 months before
the uprising began).
Settlers also attacked and damaged
crops, olive trees, greenhouses, and agricultural equipment, causing
extensive economic damage to Palestinian-owned agricultural land.
The settlers did not act under government orders in the attacks;
however, the Israeli Government did not prosecute the settlers
for their acts of violence. In general settlers rarely serve prison
sentences if convicted of a crime against a Palestinian. According
to human rights organizations, settlers sometimes attacked Palestinian
ambulances and impeded the provision of medical services to injured
"CRHRP-2000: Occupied Territories," US State Department,
US State Department report takes note of the fact that "Settlers
convicted in Israeli courts of crimes against Palestinians regularly
receive lighter punishment than Palestinians convicted in Israeli
courts against either Israelis or Palestinians." It also
notes that Palestinians accused of security offenses (defined
so broadly as to include almost everything) in the Occupied Territories
are tried in Israeli military courts, whereas Jewish settlers
accused of security and other offenses are tried in Israeli civil
courts. That this point is noted in a report on the human rights
abuses of another country may interest Americans recently informed
that non-US citizens accused of terror-related crimes will now
be tried by US military tribunals. A US State Department-issued
human rights report on the United States could prove highly instructive.
litany of abuses conducted by the Israeli government, security
forces, and civilians against Palestinians in the Occupied Territories
goes on for twenty pages of tiny, single-spaced print. The list
includes home demolitions; lengthy and damaging military "closures"
on Palestinian cities, towns, and villages; the restriction of
freedom of worship and of travel; the arbitrary closing of schools
and universities; the state-sponsored destruction of olive and
citrus orchards; censorship of Palestinian media; restrictions
on freedom of assembly; extradition of Palestinian prisoners to
prisons in Israel and the difficulty of obtaining proper legal
counsel; it takes note of the IDF killings of hundreds of demonstrators
and of the policy of assassinating terror suspects without ever
attempting to bring them to trial.
State Department report on the Occupied Territories details the
human rights abuses committed by both the Palestinian and Israeli
regimes, but makes clear that the international community considers
Israel's authority in these areas not only abusive but also
illegal. In the report on Israel we are reminded that "the
international community does not recognize Israel's sovereignty
over any part of the Occupied Territories," and any mildly
critical glance at the body of international law dealing with
this subject, including the 1949 Geneva Convention relating to
the Protection of Civilians in Time of War (to which Israel is
a signatory), will reveal the full extent of Israeli legal and
human rights violations.
to government documents on US Foreign Military Assistance, Israel
will receive $720,000,000 in economic support (allowing it to
free up money for military expenditures), and $2,040,000,000 in
foreign military aid for fiscal year 2002. Congress approved this
aid package on 24 October 2001, eight months after the US State
Department published its latest human rights report on Israel
and the Occupied Territories. Because it is no secret that Israel
commits serious human rights abuses (indeed, Senator Russ Feingold
[D-WI] called the most recent State Department human rights report
on Israel "disturbing" in a letter to me dated 31 October
2001) one has to wonder how it is that this public record is virtually
unknown to, or ignored by, our major media and intellectual classes.
Could it be that our reasons for supporting Israel have nothing
to do with valuing those who believe in "progress and pluralism,
tolerance and freedom"? (George W. Bush; 20 September 2001)
We may need to redefine what "civilized" means. Or perhaps
we should simply urge Attorney General Ashcroft to suppress such
information in the future.