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ADC Responds to New State Department Report on Israel and the Intifada



ADC Responds to New State Department Report on Israel and the Intifada

ADC Update:

ADC Responds to New State Department Report on Israel and the Intifada Today the State Department issued its annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for the year 2000. The report is online at http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2000/. ADC responded to the section on the Occupied Territories in a letter to Secretary of State Powell. He can be reached via email at secretary@state.gov.


February 26, 2001 Dear Secretary Powell:

We read with considerable interest the 2000 edition of the State Department's Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, which was released this morning. We were particularly interested in the section on the Occupied Territories: East Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, in light of the extreme brutality with which Israel has responded to the uprising against its military rule which began on September 27, 2000.

First of all, we are gratified to find that the State Department refers to "the Occupied Territories," thereby acknowledging that Israel remains the "occupying power" in the territories, as the UN Security Council reiterated on October 7, 2000, in Resolution 1322. We were also pleased by the recognition that "The international community considers Israel's authority in the occupied territories to be subject to the Hague Regulations of 1907 and the 1949 Geneva Convention relating to the Protection of Civilians in Time of War." We would additionally point out that the Security Council does not currently appear to have identified any ongoing belligerent occupation in the world today other than Israel's. Furthermore, we found the statements of fact in this section of the report to be reasonably accurate regarding the overall patterns of violence and repression by the Israeli authorities in the Occupied Territories, including repeated acknowledgments that, as the Security Council confirms, Israel has been using excessive force against civilians in its attempts to suppress the uprising.

However, we do have some serious concerns regarding the consistency of this section of the Report. The understanding that Israel is an occupying force does not appear to be consistently maintained throughout the document. For example, the Israeli settlement of Gilo, illegal under Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, is misidentified as "a Jewish neighborhood in East Jerusalem." Moreover, the title of Section 1, g., "Use of Excessive Force and Violations of Humanitarian Law in Internal Conflicts," is a completely unjustifiable description of events taking place under conditions of belligerent occupation. There is no compatibility between this concept of the occupied territories as "internal" to the Israeli state and the recognition of a condition of military occupation laid out in the opening of this section. In other words this is a disturbing miscatagorization of the events described in Section 1, g.

Furthermore, there is an unjustifiable and striking bias in the language used in this passage, where all actions taken by Israel are described as "counterattacks," "retaliatory attacks," and "retaliation," or "in response" and "in retaliation" for some action by Palestinians. Nowhere in the report do Palestinians act in this implicitly defensive and reactive manner. Their actions are all implicitly characterized as provocative and unprovoked. This inequity of language misleadingly paints the occupied population as the aggressive force against the occupying troops, which turns the actual relationship in the Occupied Territories on its head. Moreover, it can hardly be credited that only one side in a conflict of any kind is capable of response or retaliation, while the other side always sets the pace and acts in an unprovoked manner. Such an assertion is especially absurd in the context of an ongoing occupation.

It is impossible for us to understand how an occupying power, which is bound by the Geneva Convention to protect the civilians living under its control, can "retaliate" against civilian targets. This language seems to be more suited to a description of conflict between two equal parties or states rather than one between an occupying power and the population under its authority. Particularly troubling in this regard is the passage in Section 1, a. which states that "Armed Palestinians, some of them members of Palestinian security forces, fired at Israeli civilians or soldiers from within or close to the homes of Palestinian civilians; residents of the homes consequently bore the brunt of IDF retaliation for these attacks." This formulation seems to suggest that Israel would be justified in attacking civilian houses in an area under its occupation if it believes that gunmen have been active in the vicinity, and that the blame for such attacks belongs in such cases with the Palestinians rather than with the occupying troops. Once again the analysis seems to ignore Israel's legal status as the occupying power and reduce events in the occupied territories to that of a normal intra-state or inter-state conflict.

There are also serious questions raised by the repeated use of the phrase "brutal killing" in regard to the deaths of two out-of-uniform Israeli soldiers in Ramallah. This description may, in fact, be a perfectly justifiable characterization of that gruesome event. However, we note that no other incident in the Report is described using such emotive language and no other deaths are qualified with any such adjectives. This implies a moral inconsistency whereby only the killing of Israelis can be described as "brutal," whereas the killing of hundreds of unarmed Palestinian demonstrators, many of them children, and the extrajudicial execution of political leaders is reported without any such characterization. This inconsistency significantly mars the objectivity of the report.

Finally, in Section 1, d. is a very troubling and mystifying assertion that "There were no reports that the Israeli government held political prisoners." In fact, Palestinian and international human rights groups report large numbers of Palestinians held under "administrative detention" without charge, in arrests that can only be seen as political in nature. The same is true for some Palestinian citizens of Israel as well. And certainly, the Lebanese men held as hostages or "bargaining chips" by Israel are nothing if not political prisoners. In short, the statement is simply not accurate.

We feel that these inconsistencies and errors mar what is, in many other ways, a good report. The picture it paints is not fully coherent, in tune with itself, or fully accurate. We hope that future reports will remedy these errors.


Hala Maksoud, Ph.D.
President, ADC