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 it to:
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.
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 civilians.
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:
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 disabilities.
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:
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.
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 maliciously.
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 children.
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 international law.
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.
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 borders."
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:
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 Treatment
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 party.
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 whatsoever.
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:
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 officials.
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 allowed.
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 Law"
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 Palestinian land.
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 and Property
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:
Israeli settlers openly carry (and use) automatic weapons like people in the West use cell phones.
Destruction of Houses and Other Civilian Property
For decades and throughout 2008, the IOF continued destroying Palestinian houses and property, especially in East Jerusalem. This constitutes a grave breach of Fourth Geneva's Article 53 that states:
"Any destruction by the Occupying Power of real or personal property belonging individually or collectively to private persons, or to the State, or to other public authorities, or to social or cooperative organizations, is prohibited, except where such destruction is rendered absolutely necessary by military operations."
In addition, Article 147 prohibits the "extensive destruction and appropriation of property, not justified by military necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly."
Such attacks constitute illegal collective punishment as defined under Fourth Geneva's Article 33 that states: "No protected person may be punished for an offence he or she has not personally committed."
Nonetheless throughout 2008 and earlier, Israel wantonly and maliciously attacked civilian property, including homes, schools, industrial and commercial facilities, public buildings, and farmland using illegal pretexts as justification.
Last year, PCHR documented 216 houses destroyed prior to Operation Cast Lead - 107 in the West Bank and 109 in Gaza. Also, 680 houses were badly damaged and 3424 donums of agricultural land razed. Numerous other structures were also destroyed to make way for Jewish ones or in retaliation for claimed provocative Palestinian acts, either exaggerated or false.
The West Bank's Separation Wall
In June 2002, the Sharon government began constructing it as another form of land theft, harassment, and policy of containing Palestinians in isolated cantons under the false claim of security.
In the past seven years, construction proceeded inside the West Bank, rather than along the Green Line separating the Territory from Israel. On July 9, 2004, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled the construction violated international law. It ordered it halted, existing sections demolished, and for Palestinians to be compensated for harm done them. Israel ignored the ruling and continues new construction on annexed Palestinian land.
The Wall around Jerusalem
Construction in 2008 focused mainly around Jerusalem, according to Israeli Municipality of Jerusalem plans - building it along the city's municipal border. Work in the south, north, and east is part of a settlement project called the "Jerusalem envelope," running about 50 kilometers. In late December, prime minister Olmert ordered this portion completed by 2009 because it's "necessary for Israel's security." When finished, it will be 164.5 kilometers long, two-thirds of which was completed by year end. When completed, the entire Wall will exceed 700 kilometers.
Free Movement Restrictions Imposed on Palestinian Farmers
The IOF imposed severe restrictions on both sides of the Separation Wall, including limited gate opening hours that restrict farmers from free access to their land. They must also obtain permits to reach it on the other side of the barrier, and to get them, must be a registered owner - nearly impossible for many as most farmland is registered to deceased people, and their heirs don't all live in the West Bank or near the land in question.
As a result, thousands of Palestinians can't easily work their fields or market their crops when harvested. Farming is a major source of income in Palestinian communities along the Wall's route. Harming it has had an enormous detrimental affect to already beleaguered Palestinians, driving many more of them into poverty.
The Absence of Justice in Israeli Courts and Efforts to Prosecute Israeli War Criminals in International Ones
Justice for Palestinians in Israeli courts, especially military ones, is nearly impossible because of laws protecting Jews alone. "Through its long experience, PCHR has concluded that the Israeli judiciary is used to provide legal cover for the IOF to commit war crimes against Palestinian civilians, and that it is a means used to avoid resorting to the international justice directly under the pretext of the existence of a just Israeli national judiciary."
As a result, PCHR and other international legal and human rights organizations resort to "international legal means to prosecute Israeli war criminals." On June 24, 2008, PCHR filed a lawsuit at the National Court of Spain, the country's highest judicial council, against seven former senior Israeli military officials, all accused of committing war crimes in Gaza in July 2002. The Spanish Court accepted the case as a first step toward launching a formal prosecution.
In May 2008, PCHR worked with Dutch law firm Bohler Franken Koppe Wijngaarden (BFKW) to submit a complaint to the prosecutor's office asking that Ami Ayalon (currently Minister without Portfolio in Israel) be arrested and prosecuted in the Netherlands regarding the torture of Khaled al-Sharmi in 1999 - 2000 when he was Shin Bet Director, the Israeli General Security Service.
In October, PCHR petitioned the Court of Appeal in the Hague for an Order requiring the Prosecutor to start a criminal investigation and issue an extradition order or international arrest warrant. Getting any nation to challenge Israel is daunting at best. In all previous cases when arrest warrants were issued, executive bodies were so hesitant that no follow-through occurred in time, allowing suspects to flee to safe havens. PCHR and other committed groups continue pursuing justice anyway. It's just a matter of time before they and others succeed.
On June 30, 2009, a PCHR press release explained that the "the Spanish Appeals Court voted 14 - 4 in favor of closing the (National Court's) investigation into the" July 2002 attack. The resolution was voted on but not issued. It marks a "major setback in the pursuit of international justice and victims' rights....To date, neither the State of Israel nor individuals accused of committing war crimes have been brought" to justice. PCHR will appeal to the Spanish Supreme Court.
PCHR's Commitment to Human Rights and Social Justice
Throughout 2008 and currently, PCHR focused on the following issues:
PCHR also provides legal aid for Palestinian prisoners in spite of the enormous obstacles in doing it effectively given that Israel affords Palestinians no chance for justice. Still, PCHR represents them in court, visits them as able, submits complaints and appeals, and tries to stop torture and ensure medical aid and better detention conditions are provided. PCHR also seeks compensation for victims of injustice and represents them on numerous other issues such as denying them free movement, including for vital medical care.
Overall, PCHR and similar human rights organizations address the "essential (unresolved) elements of the Palestinian issue - the right to self-determination, the right to an independent Palestinian state with its capital in Jerusalem, the right of return for Palestinian refugees, and the right to remove illegal Israeli settlements from the Occupied Territories."
International laws affirm these rights, but for Palestinians they're unfulfilled. Peace, justice, and democratic freedom as well. As a result, PCHR and others keep working "to protect (and restore) Palestinian human rights from ongoing violations by the Israeli government and courts," and to demand that an uncaring world community address these issues.
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