- Established in 1995, PCHR functions independently in
Gaza and enjoys "Consultative Status" with the UN's Economic
and Social Council (ECOSOC). It's also an affiliate of the International
Commission of Jurists-Geneva, the International Federation for Human Rights
(FIDH) in Paris, the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network in Copenhagen,
the Arab Organization for Human Rights in Cairo, and the International
Legal Assistance Consortium (ILAC) in Stockholm.
- Palestinian lawyers and human rights activists established
- -- "protect human rights and promote the rule of
- -- create, develop and promote a democratic culture in
Palestinian society; and
- -- work for Palestinian self-determination and independence
"in accordance with international law and UN resolutions."
- PCHR is an "independent legal body dedicated to
the protection of human rights, the promotion of the rule of law, and the
upholding of democratic principles in the Occupied Territories." It
issues documents, fact sheets, and reports like its latest 2008 Annual
Report - divided in two parts.
- Part One assesses the overall human rights situation
in the Occupied Palestinians Territories (OPT) throughout 2008. Because
they affect regional peace overall, this article focuses solely on Israeli
crimes, not those committed by Palestinian elements in Gaza and the West
Bank that pale by comparison. Part Two covers PCHR's local and international
efforts over the same period.
- Israeli Violations of Human Rights and International
Humanitarian Law - Excessive Use of Force, Killings, and Other Violations
of the Right to Life
- Throughout 2008, the Israeli Occupation Force (IOF) repeatedly
violated international law with regard to excessive force, willful killings,
wanton destruction, and other right to life abuses against Palestinian
- During the first five days of Operation Cast Lead alone,
dozens of air strikes killed 411 Palestinians and wounded 996 others, many
seriously. "Contrary to Israeli claims, the majority of victims were
unarmed civilians," including 13 women and 38 children.
- Over the entire 22-day period, the IOF killed 1417 Palestinians,
including 1181 non-combatants. Of these, 926 were unarmed civilians (including
313 children and 116 women) and 255 police officers, 240 on the first day,
including dozens in formation and vulnerable at their graduation ceremony.
The number of wounded totaled 4336, the great majority being civilian men,
women, and children.
- Throughout 2008, the IOF committed willful killings and
right to life violations, especially in the first six months. Numerous
air strikes and incursions targeted civilians in Gaza. Extra-judicial assassinations
also against persons accused of involvement in "hostilities against
Israel," including anyone acting legitimately in self-defense as international
law allows. From January through June, the IOF killed 409 Palestinians,
including 225 civilians, 58 of whom were children and 16 women. Another
741 Palestinians were wounded.
- On June 19, a six-month Tahdey'a (lull) was declared
on the following terms:
- -- Israel would stop attacking Palestinians, including
shelling and extra-judicial assassinations; also, Gaza's border crossings
would be gradually reopened to allow free movement in and out of people
and goods; and
- -- Palestinians would cease resistance attacks.
- They complied but Israel reneged. The IOF greatly reduced
its attacks but kept Gaza under siege. By October, Israeli incursions and
targeted killings increased. Palestinians responded modestly in self-defense.
By late December, Operation Cast Lead was launched, a clear case of premeditated,
unprovoked aggression in violation of international law.
- Throughout 2008 in the West Bank, repeated incursions
and targeted executions continued, including during the Tahdey'a, mostly
by IOF undercover units. In total, 42 Palestinian civilians, including
9 children, were killed.
- PCHR 2008 tallies show 868 Palestinians died at the hands
of the IOF and Israeli settlers - in Gaza and the West Bank combined. Another
2260 Palestinians were wounded. From the beginning of the September 2000
Intifada through 2008, Israel killed 5287 Palestinians, mostly civilian
men, women and children. In addition, over the same period, "tens
of thousands of Palestinians" were wounded, hundreds sustaining permanent
- According to eye-witness accounts, the IOF used excessive
and disproportionate force against Palestinian civilians, a practice ongoing
for over six decades through bombings, shellings, targeted killings, incursions,
and attacks by Israeli settlers. In the first five days of Operation Cast
Lead (and continuing for another 17 in 2009), Israel used massive air,
ground, and sea power against a defenseless civilian population trapped
inside Gaza under siege.
- On the day after the Operation ended, attacks continued
daily. One instance among many involved the IOF bombing of a five-story
Gaza building near the Palestinian Governmental Complex in the densely
populated Tal al-Hawa neighborhood - completely destroying it. Flying debris
and shrapnel killed a woman on her way to a wedding and injured 46 others,
including 19 children and three women. A large number of other houses and
vehicles in the area were damaged.
- Below are a few examples of 2008 attacks:
- -- on February 5, a surface-to-surface missile targeting
the Palestinian riot control police workplace in 'Abassan village, east
of Khan Yunis, killed seven police officers and injured another; and
- -- on February 7, 23, and March 1, the IOF killed eight
members of one family, wounded another eight, and killed and wounded seven
- Repeated attacks throughout the year were similar, mostly
against civilian men, women and children.
- Incursions into Palestinian Communities
- Continuing its decades-long practice, Israel repeatedly
conducted incursions into the OPT in 2008. In Gaza, they were particularly
intensive from January through June, killing nearly 200 Palestinians before
Operation Cast Lead began in December. Israel's pretext - to arrest wanted
Palestinians and destroy home-made rocket launching sites and weapons.
These are grievous war crimes for which Israel must be held responsible.
- Significant examples:
- From February 29 - March 2, the IOF conducted Operation
Warm Winter, a wide scale offensive in Jabalya and surrounding areas using
"their full-fledged arsenal and....excessive force without any consideration"
for civilian Palestinian lives. Air strikes preceded a ground invasion.
As a result, dozens of non-combatant lives were lost or wounded, including
women and children. Also, ambulances and medical crews were attacked, and
many houses and large areas of agricultural land destroyed - wantonly and
- The total death toll was 69, including 21 children and
two women. Another 175 were wounded, including 44 children and six women.
- On January 2, the IOF attacked the al-Shojaeya neighborhood
in Gaza City. Clashes followed killing six Palestinian resistance fighters
and wounding a seventh.
- On January 3, the IOF killed seven Palestinians in al-Zanna
and al-Qarara east of Khan Yunis, including a woman, her two sons, her
daughter, and her nephew.
- On January 15, the IOF killed 17 Palestinians and wounded
another 30 during an incursion into the al-Shojaeya and al-Zaytoun neighborhoods
in Gaza City.
- In the West Bank on January 3, the IOF conducted a three
day operation in Nablus and neighboring refugee camps, wounding 38 Palestinians
and arresting 31 others. Indiscriminate firing occurred against "anything
that moved," including medical crews, ambulances, and hospitals.
- Repeated other incursions were made against numerous
towns, villages and neighborhoods. Deaths and injuries resulted, including
to innocent bystanders too close to the action, many of them women and
- Extra-Judicial Assassinations
- In 2008, the IOF committed them by bombing civilian establishments,
houses and cars in Gaza and with West Bank undercover units. Israel's High
Court and top government officials approved the practice in violation of
- Throughout the year, PCHR documented 53 assassinations,
including 44 targeted persons - 31 in Gaza and 13 in the West Bank. In
addition, dozens of civilians were wounded. From September 2000 through
2008, the IOF extra-judicially executed 743 Palestinians, including 513
targeted and 230 bystanders.
- One example illustrates many. On March 12, four Palestinians
in a car in the center of Bethlehem were intercepted by members of an IOF
undercover unit. They opened fire at close range killing the four instantly
and continued firing indiscriminately to secure their withdrawal.
- In other cases, Israeli aircraft fire missiles at homes,
vehicles, or other targets where wanted individuals are believed to be
located. Often, innocent bystanders, including women and children, are
killed or wounded and property destroyed.
- Killing Palestinian Children
- In 2008, the IOF killed 108 children, 99 in Gaza and
nine in the West Bank. >From September 2000 through 2008, the total
was 919 children or nearly one-fourth of Palestinian deaths. The IOF has
a history of willfully killing children and women - easy pickings for intrepid
Israeli soldiers and airmen.
- One instance is typical. On April 16, an Israeli aircraft
fired two missiles at a number of Palestinian civilians gathered near al-Ihsan
Mosque, about 300 meters away from where IOF troops were deployed. Nine
deaths resulted, including six children, and 12 others were wounded.
- Attacking Medical Crews
- The IOF repeatedly attacks clearly marked ambulances
and medical workers, grievously in violation of international law. PCHR
documented three killings in 2008 and 27 since September 2000. Numerous
others were wounded, some seriously - while they were carrying out their
humanitarian mission to help the injured and dying.
- Attacking Journalists
- They're willfully targeted to prevent coverage of human
rights violations, including killings, denial of access to certain areas,
entry into Israel or territory under its control, detention, confiscation
and destruction of property, beatings, harassment, and intimidation. An
October 2008 Reporters without Borders report placed Israel among "countries
that extensively violate press freedoms, especially in areas beyond its
- In 2008, one journalist was killed and another 28 wounded.
Since September 2000, the toll was nine deaths and at least 170 injured.
- Closure and Prevention of Free Movement
- Throughout 2008, the West Bank remained militarily occupied
and Gaza continued under a medieval siege with access to vital food, medicines,
fuels, electricity, and other essentials denied beyond woefully spotty
and limited amounts. The result has been a humanitarian disaster with no
signs of abating well into the new year. Besides the effects of Operation
Cast Lead, the toll includes:
- -- 80% of Gazans impoverished;
- -- unemployment exceeding 55%;
- -- movement in or out of the Territory denied even for
emergency humanitarian needs;
- -- permission denied to travel, work or study abroad;
- -- Palestinians trapped on the Egyptian side of the Rafah
International Crossing Point (into Gaza) refused reentry or restricted
by long delays under severe humanitarian conditions;
- -- intolerable shortages of everything; too little food
to sustain nutrition; inadequate medicines and equipment for health and
life; and fuel and power restrictions for heat, electricity, vehicles,
hospitals, and workplaces;
- -- severe movement restrictions in the West Bank by
imposing hundreds of checkpoints, barriers, the Separation Wall built on
stolen Palestinian land, and hundreds of kilometers of for-Jews only roads;
overall, about one-third of the West Bank, including Occupied East Jerusalem,
is inaccessible to Palestinians without IOF-issued permits that are extremely
hard to get; the result is increasingly isolated Palestinian communities,
cut off from each other, including farmers from their land; the sick from
access to care; and everyone from family, friends, and a normal life people
in the West take for granted;
- -- the West Bank and Jerusalem totally cut off from Gaza;
- -- Gazans denied essential industrial, agricultural,
construction, transportation, fuel and power, and basic raw material needs;
- -- overall, the collective punishment of the civilian
population causing "a chronic deterioration in all aspects of....life"
that's decimating the lives of 1.5 million Gazans trapped in the world's
largest open-air prison and being slowly suffocated.
- Throughout 2008 and earlier, Gazan cities, villages,
and refugee camps were paralyzed under a state of siege that continues
unabated. Living conditions deteriorated steadily. UNRWA was forced to
curtail its humanitarian and food distribution programs for days. Around
15 drinking water wells stopped, causing water shortages for more than
100,000 people. Another 125 water reservoirs were also affected. Transportation
as well with 85% halted for lack of fuel. Wastewater treatment plants were
forced to dump their untreated water in the sea. Additional environmental
contamination occurred. Flour mills shut down. Warehouses ran out of flour
and wheat. Most production stopped, and Gaza's economy collapsed.
- Gaza's border crossings have been closed for over two
years under Israel's collective punishment policy. The humanitarian effect
is disastrous - against a civilian population oppressed for being Palestinians
and for having elected the wrong government.
- Throughout the year, hundreds of Gazans were denied access
to Israeli and West Bank hospitals, including in Jerusalem. Nor to Arab
ones in Egypt or elsewhere. As a result, 29 died and 50 since the tightened
siege began in June 2007, including 17 women and 10 children.
- International humanitarian law prohibits collective punishment,
including closure. Artcle 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention "relative
to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War" states:
- "No protected person may be punished for an offense
he or she has not personally committed. Collective penalties and likewise
all measures of intimidation or of terrorism are prohibited."
- Article 12(1) of the International Covenant on Civil
and Political Rights states that "everyone lawfully within the territory
of a State shall, within that territory, have the right to liberty of movement
and freedom to choose his residence."
- For over 60 years, Israel repeatedly, systematically,
and willfully flouted international laws and norms with impunity. The result
has been incalculable numbers of human deaths, suffering, and destruction
to many tens of thousands of innocent Arab people who when they resist
in self-defense are called "terrorists."
- Arrests, Torture and Other Forms of Cruel and Inhuman
- At year end 2008, from 9000 - 12,000 or more Palestinians
were in Israeli detention facilities (mostly inside Israel), including
at least 248 children and 69 women - in violation of the Fourth Geneva
Convention that obligates an occupier to intern arrested persons inside
the territory in question and only for just cause.
- Israel continues to arrest anyone thought to represent
a threat, including political leaders and ordinary civilian men, women
and children. At year end 2008, at least 40 elected members of the Palestinian
Legislative Council (PLC) were imprisoned, mostly from Hamas' Change and
Reform parliamentary bloc. Included are Dr. 'Aziz al-Dweik, PLC Speaker,
and Dr. Mahmoud al-Ramahi, PLC Secretary. Many were tried and unjustly
sentenced to months or years in prison for belonging to the wrong political
- Torture and Ill-Treatment
- International laws leave no ambiguity on torture. It's
prohibited at all times, under all circumstances, against anyone for any
reason, with no allowed exceptions ever. Article 13 of the Third Geneva
Convention (on the Treatment of Prisoners of War) states:
- Prisoners "must at all times be humanely treated.
Any unlawful act or omission by the Detaining Power causing death or seriously
endangering the health of a prisoner of war in its custody is prohibited...."
- Third Geneva's Article 17 states:
- "No physical or mental torture, nor any other form
of coercion, may be inflicted on prisoners of war" for any reasons
- Fourth Geneva's Article 27 states:
- Protected persons under occupation "shall at all
times be humanely treated, and shall be protected especially against all
acts of (physical and mental) violence or threats thereof...."
- Fourth Geneva's Articles 31 and 32 prohibit torture and
other "measures of brutality...."
- All four Geneva Conventions have a Common Article Three
requiring all non-combatants to be treated humanely at all times.
- Even Section 277 of Israel's 1977 Penal Law prohibits
torture by providing criminal sanctions against its use. Its language is
very similar to the UN Convention against Torture that bans force, violence,
or threats against anyone for purposes of extracting a confession or to
obtain information relating to an offense.
- Nonetheless, torture and degrading treatment are official
Israeli policy, freely practiced against most Palestinian detainees. PCHR
cited numerous ways:
- -- violent beatings and insults in detention and during
- -- blindfolding and hitting detainees, especially in
the face and abdomen;
- -- strangling to cause extreme breathing difficulties;
- -- humiliations and insults;
- -- forcibly removing hair and beards;
- -- hanging detainees by their feet, then beating them
on sensitive body parts such as the genital area;
- -- bridging under which three interrogators carry a detainee
using chains, with his or her face down;
- -- sexually abusing detainees - in some cases raping
them with iron bars;
- -- Shabeh - the practice of tying prisoners so they can't
sit, stand, or kneel, or tied to a chair with their arms pulled back for
hours or days at a time; the pain and pressure on joints becomes excruciating;
- -- handcuffing or other shackling tight enough to restrict
circulation and inflict pain; also tying hands and legs with plastic chains
to cause pain;
- -- employing various stress positions, including:
- (1) the forced "banana" one involving bending
the back in a painful arch while the body is extended horizontally to the
floor on a backless chair with arms and feet bound beneath it;
- (2) forced "frog" crouching on tiptoes with
cuffed hands behind the back accompanied by shoving or beating until detainees
lose balance and fall forward or backward; and
- (3) detainees made to stand on tiptoes for prolonged
- -- sleep deprivation for long hours; and
- -- other abusive practices, clearly prohibited under
international law and that no civilized society should practice, let alone
routinely against most detainees - up to 80% or more by some estimates.
- The Public Committee against Torture in Israel says that
detainees are first examined by a doctor who certifies they're healthy
enough to withstand harsh interrogation methods amounting to torture. The
Israeli judiciary sanctions it, including the High Court and top government
- Abusive ill-treatment continues throughout detention
during which necessary medical care is denied, access to legal counsel
obstructed and limited, and family visitations severely restricted or not
- Administrative Detention
- Hundreds of innocent Palestinians are arrested and held
without charge or trial in administrative detention - for up to 36 months,
then indefinitely renewed. At year end 2008, it affected at least 900 Palestinians
by IOF issued orders.
- This practice violates Article 78 of the Fourth Geneva
Convention that states:
- "If the Occupying Power considers it necessary,
for imperative reasons of security, to take safety measures concerning
protected persons, it may, at the most, subject them to assigned residence
or to internment (that) include(s) the right of appeal (to) be decided
with the least possible delay."
- Detention According to the "Illegitimate Combatants
- Following the IOF's summer 2005 Gaza redeployment, Israel
enacted an "Illegitimate Combatant" law applying to protected
Palestinian civilian prisoners to justify detaining them. It lets the IOF
Chief of Staff issue an arrest warrant against anyone so designated.
- It's the same idea as America's 2006 Military Commissions
Act definition of an "unlawful enemy combatant," applied to anyone
the president claims is "engaged in hostilities against the United
States who is not a lawful enemy combatant." Neither the Israeli or
US position has any legitimacy in international law.
- Palestinian Detainee Deaths in Israeli Jails
- In 2008, at least two occurred, likely from abuse and
medical negligence. Detained Palestinians with chronic illnesses, like
diabetes or heart conditions, deteriorate badly during prolonged incarcerations,
especially when subjected to torture and other abusive treatment. The situation
may be life threatening if proper medical care is denied or inadequate.
- Settlement Activities and Attacks by Settlers against
Palestinian Civilians and Property
- Israeli settlements are illegal under international law.
Expanding them compounds the problem. They continue nonetheless, and during
2008, the IOF and civil authorities, such as the Municipality of Jerusalem,
Ministry of Housing, Ministry of Interior, and Higher Council of Organization,
took bids for constructing 2400 West Bank housing units. Approval was also
given for 6570 units in East Jerusalem and suburbs. In all, 8970 new units
were approved and/or started in 2008, mostly in East Jerusalem on seized
- Confiscation of Palestinian Civilian Property
- This longstanding practice continued throughout 2008
- for settlement expansions in violation of international law. Israel's
High Court supports the practice, and in "PCHR's view....has turned
(it) into a tool to legalize illegal Israeli measures and settlement activities
in the OPT."
- Judiazation of East Jerusalem
- The practice remains ongoing - to replace an Arab population
with a Jewish one. The Israeli government cut off the city from its Palestinian
extension in the West Bank, expanded settlements inside and around the
city, and used the Separation Wall to seize more land.
- Throughout 2008, the Municipality of Jerusalem continued
to demolish Palestinian homes under false claims of unlicensed construction
- by people on their own land to make way for Jewish expansion.
- Judaizing Arab East Jerusalem began by annexing it to
Israel, confiscating Palestinian property, establishing Jewish settlements,
building the Separation Wall, preventing new Palestinian home construction,
and demolishing existing ones. The idea is to transform all of Jerusalem
into a Jewish city with at most a small, marginalized and segregated Arab
population denied all rights afforded Jews in hopes they'll leave voluntarily
and make Israel's job easier.
- Attacks by Israel Settlers against Palestinian Civilians
- Israeli settlers do it with near-impunity, including
by shootings, running down civilians with vehicles, and destroying or damaging
Palestinian property. In 2008, settlers killed five Palestinian civilians.
Since September 2000, the total was 45.
- "Attacks by Israeli settlers often take place before
the eyes of IOF, which even protect them." Palestinian complaints
get short shrift enough to encourage settlers to keep doing it, knowing
they can get away with murder. In 2008, PCHR documented 170 settler attacks
in the West Bank cities of Hebron, Nablus, Ramallah, Qalqilya, Jerusalem,
Salfit, Bethlehem, and Jenin:
- -- 48 harassments;
- -- 36 against houses;