Human Rights

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HUMAN RIGHTS: U.S. State Department's Annual Report Document's Israeli Human Rights Violations

The U.S. State Department's Human Rights Report on Israel and the Occupied Territories was released in February, two months after the Israelis' expulsion of 415 Palestinians to southern Lebanon. The men, several of whom are in their 60s, were said to be associated with the Hamas or Islamic Jihad organizations, both of which are Islamic radical groups, although no specific charges were made and no court hearings held.

The release of the report so soon after the expulsions worried some pro- Israel activists. One was Rep. Charles Schumer (DNY), who, according to the Jan. 22-26 Queens (NY) Jewish Week, worked "behind the scenes" to soften the report's criticism of Israel's human rights record.

Nevertheless, the report, organized under the subtitles used for all country reports, documents an extensive list of human rights abuses. Its overall tone is made clear in the sentence: "The longstanding U.S. position is that several Israeli practices, such as transfer of prisoners outside the occupied territories and demolition or sealing of houses as a form of collective punishment, contravene specific provisions of the Fourth Geneva Convention."

Regarding Palestinian deaths at the hands of the Israel Defense Forces, the State Department reports that "despite an overall reduction in intifada violence, IDF killings of Palestinians were 62 percent higher in 1992 than in 1991 (158 killed in 1992 compared to 98 in 1991)."

The violations documented include forced confessions. The report cites an unusual public statement released by the International Committee of the Red Cross in May 1992 on the treatment of Palestinian detainees under interrogation. The ICRC states that "means of physical and psychological pressure are being used that constitute a violation of the Geneva Convention." As of Dec. 15, five Palestinians had died in custody either during interrogation or shortly thereafter. The Department's report on Israel adds, "Most convictions in military courts are based solely on confessions. Physical and psychological pressures and the probability of reduced sentences for those who confess contribute to the likelihood that security detainees will sign confessions." The report notes that confessions are usually recorded in Hebrew, which most of the defendants cannot read.

Under the section entitled "Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government," the report states bluntly, "The people of the occupied territories do not enjoy this right." It notes that the last municipal elections held in the West Bank were in 1976 and in Gaza in 1946. Israeli authorities dismissed most of the mayors elected in 1976 on "security grounds."

Not only do the occupied Palestinian people not have any political representation but they must pay higher than their fair share of taxes." Significant disparities exist between the personal income taxes levied on Palestinians as compared to the taxes levied on Israeli settlers," asserts the report. Although an Israeli pays no tax if his monthly income is below $1,000, Palestinians pay taxes on any monthly income in excess of $250. The report also mentions that corporate tax breaks available to Israeli settlers in the occupied territories are not available to Palestinians. (According to Prof. Bishara Bahbah of the Center for Policy Analysis on Palestine, the average annual per capita income of Palestinians in the territories prior to the intifada was about $1,600. Following the outbreak of the intifada in 1987, it dropped to about $800 a year.)

Under the section "Freedom of Movement Within the Occupied Territories, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation," the Department's report describes the strict controls the Israeli authorities exert over Palestinians' movement. A particularly harsh practice is the issuance of green identity cards. …