"As is" reference - not a United Nations document
Human Rights and Democracy:
The 2011 Foreign & Commonwealth Office Report
Quarterly Updates: Occupied Palestinian Territories
Latest update: 31 December 2012
Violence in Gaza and southern Israel
November saw a severe escalation of violence in Gaza and southern and central Israel. Between 14 and 21 November, 1,506 rockets were fired by Gazan militant groups towards Israel, of which 58 struck urban areas in Israel killing six Israelis, including two children. Some 420 rockets which were heading for urban areas were intercepted by the Iron Dome Missile System. 1,500 IDF strikes from air and sea in Gaza killed 158 Palestinians, including 43 children. UN figures also reported 1,269 people wounded in Gaza and 244 in Israel. In Gaza, 298 buildings were destroyed and 8000 buildings were damaged, including a significant amount of public infrastructure. 80 houses were destroyed in Israel
During the conflict, FCO Minister for North Africa and the Middle East, Alistair Burt visited Kiryat Malachi in Israel, where a family of three had been killed by a rocket attack, and met members of the community affected by rocket fire from Gaza. He also spoke to a member of the Dalou family in Gaza, of whom 11 members had been killed in a single Israeli airstrike, and offered his condolences to President Abbas for the loss of innocent civilian life during their meeting on 20 November. On 15 November the Foreign Secretary released a statement and called on those involved “to avoid any action which risks civilian casualties or escalates the crisis”.
The violence has resulted in a number of humanitarian needs, including a worsening of the already precarious humanitarian situation in Gaza. Before the recent outbreak of hostilities, 80% of households in Gaza relied on humanitarian assistance and 44% of the population were food insecure. Fuel, water and sanitation have been serious problems for some time and there are now critical shortages of essential drugs and medical disposables. A UN Initial Rapid Assessment identified a number of additional emergency needs as a result of the conflict, including health, infrastructure and psycho-social care. The psychological impact of the violence on both Israeli and Gazan citizens, particularly children, is a particular concern. In addition the European Commission Humanitarian Office (ECHO) assessed that 10,000 individuals living in north and north-east Gaza were displaced during the violence with an estimated 350-700 unable to return due to houses being destroyed or partially destroyed as of 26 November.
On 11 December, International Development Minister, Alan Duncan visited Gaza City to observe the impact of the airstrikes firsthand and announced an additional £1.25m in aid to be channelled through the Red Cross to address the humanitarian needs of people in Gaza affected by the conflict
Settlement Construction in East Jerusalem and the West Bank
The UK Government was concerned about developments relating to Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank over the reporting period. On 30 November, the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office announced that he would advance the next stage of the planning process for the area of West Bank land known as ‘E1’, thereby building illegally on the last remaining open space of land East of Jerusalem. Announcements were also made to progress plans for the future construction of 3000 additional illegal settlement units in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. Further settlement plans were advanced in East Jerusalem neighbourhoods including in Ramot Shlomo (17 December) and in Givat Hamatos (19 December).
In reaction to these announcements, the Foreign Secretary reaffirmed the UK’s position that “Israeli settlements are illegal under international law and undermine trust between the parties”. Commenting on the most recent announcements, the Foreign Secretary said that “this decisionconstitutes a serious provocation and an obstacle to peace. If implemented, it would make a negotiated two-state solution, with Jerusalem as a shared capital, very difficult to achieve.”
The construction of a new settlement in ‘E1’ would, if implemented, have a severe impact on freedom of movement, limiting the ability of Palestinians to move easily along the length of the West Bank. This would have an impact on the economic development, transport links and the ability of the Palestinian Authority to deliver services to its citizens. Of particular concern is the impact settlement construction in E1 would have on the area’s 2300 Palestinian Bedouins, who would very likely be displaced if the plans were to be implemented.
Law and order in the West Bank
Appropriate policing of protests remains an issue. The last quarter has seen an increase in the number of Palestinians wounded by live IDF fire during protests in the OPTs. This has included the death of off-duty Palestinian Police Officer, Rushdi Tamimi in Nabi Saleh and the deaths in Hebron of Hamdi Al-Falah on 19 November. Internal investigations into all of these deaths have been opened but findings have not yet been published. On 6 December, British Consul General, Sir Vincent Fean visited the family of Rushdi Tamimi to hear about the situation in Nabi Saleh and to offer the British Government’s condolences for Mr Tamimi’s death. The village was also visited by FCO Minister, Alistair Burt, on 10 January 2012.
The capacity of Palestinian forces to police the areas under their control has been undermined by the Israeli decision to freeze the transfer of Palestinian customs revenue. This has created a severe financial crisis within the Palestinian Authority, delaying the payment of government salaries, including to the Palestinian Security Forces and civil police. While the UK remained committed to helping train the Palestinian Security Forces to administer law and order, such work risked being undermined by Israeli decisions. The British Ambassador in Tel Aviv has made our concerns clear to the Government of Israel
The UK Government remained concerned about incidents of incitement which work against the creation of a culture of peace. A number of inflammatory statements were made during the last three months by Hamas leaders, denying Israel’s right to exist. The UK welcomed Palestinian President Abbas’ public rejection of these statements and acceptance of the State of Israel within 1967 borders and European Foreign Ministers at the Foreign Affairs Council on 10 December reiterated the EU’s commitment to opposing those who embrace and promote violence as a way to achieve political goals.
The British Consulate General are investigating reports of a song alleged to have been played on PA radio praising suicide bombings in Israel on 1 December.
FCO Minister Burt has condemned incitement on a number of occasions, reiterating that “the UK is against any comments that could stir up hatred and prejudice in a region that needs a culture of peace and mutual respect.” We call on both parties to refrain from statements which legitimise violence and take steps to develop a culture of peace and coexistence where differences are resolved solely through negotiations.
Incursions into Area A
Over the last three months, there have been a number of recorded instances of Israeli inclusions into Area A including Israeli patrols through ‘H1’, an area of Hebron under Palestinian control. This creates increased tension with the Palestinian Security Forces and can spark civil disturbances. Israeli military incursions into Area A (the 16% of the West Bank under full Palestinian sovereignty, according to the Oslo Accords) undermines the Palestinian Authority and the success of internationally-backed Palestinian state building efforts.
The fact that several civil society organisations were targeted during some of these raids is of particular concern. On 11 December the IDF raided offices of three NGO’s with which the EU and some Member States have implemented projects: Addameer, the Union of Palestinian Women Committees (UPWC) and the Palestinian NGO Network (PNGO). The IDF have said that the raids were carried out to track down members of the Palestinian Liberation Front, though no further information has been made available. A statement released by the European Union on 17 December highlighted that “incursions by Israeli forces into Palestinian cities where the Palestinian Authority under the Oslo Accords assumes the powers and responsibilities for internal security and public order, put in jeopardy the internationally recognized success of Palestinian institution building efforts. The EU missions in Jerusalem and Ramallah see Palestinian civil society as an essential partner in the shared project of democratic state building.”
Quarter three update: 30 September 2012
The UK Government remains concerned about the firing of rockets from Gaza. The last three months saw 48 rockets and 12 mortar shells fired at Israel from Gaza in 40 separate attacks to date according to the Israeli military. While the attacks have achieved several direct hits, the real effect is felt psychologically with over a million citizens in southern Israel threatened, and many cases of post traumatic stress disorder observed among local communities due to frequent air raid sirens.
The use of the death penalty in Gaza is a cruel and inhuman punishment that is strongly opposed by the UK Government and our European Union Partners. The issuing of two death sentences on 12 September by the de facto Hamas Authority was condemned by all 27 EU Member States who further called for an absolute ban on the use of such punishment in the future. We welcome President Abbas’s moratorium on the use of the death penalty in the West Bank, but continue to urge that the death penalty is abolished in its entirety in both Gaza and the West Bank.
The UK continues to have serious concerns over the demolition of Palestinian structures in the South Hebron Hills, as in other parts of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The vulnerable communities in the South Hebron Hills have been under threat from nearby Israeli settlement expansion and the designation of parts of their land as live firing zones. The UK Consul General, Sir Vincent Fean, led an EU delegation to the area, joining Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad to “show their concerns over the humanitarian impact and political implications of the recent demolition orders” (EU statement, 8 August 2012).
At the heart of the current problem lies the Israeli permit system in Area C. In many cases the Palestinians own the land that they currently live on, but do not have building permits for construction. Attempts to get the land zoned for building through the Israeli Authorities have mostly failed to date – UN OCHA state that only 1% of Area C has been granted permits for Palestinian building. The UK Government has supported these communities by the provision of emergency relief (through the UN Humanitarian Relief Fund) and by working with organisations that apply for planning permission from the Israeli Authorities on behalf of vulnerable communities. We continue to raise our concerns with the Israeli Government and lobby for a substantive change in the way the planning system is operated in Area C.
The last three months has seen planned and actual expansion in Israeli settlements in both Jerusalem and the West Bank. This has included announcements of new construction in Har Homa (South of Jerusalem) which was condemned by FCO Minister Alistair Burt who highlighted that “systematic settlement construction has a profound impact on the possibility of a two state solution”. The evacuation of the illegal Israeli outpost of Migron was welcome, but the construction of houses for the residents in a nearby settlement will effectively moves settlers from one settlement to another, with no overall impact on the settlement footprint in the West Bank. Commenting on the relocation, Minister Burt said that by “entrenching illegal settlements in the West Bank, as we believe this agreement does, Israel risks sending the wrong message about its commitment to the goal of a two-state solution”.
Further attempts to expand settlements in and around the Old City of Jerusalem included settlers taking over one house in the Ras Al Amoud neighbourhood in East Jerusalem and the temporary occupation of a house in the Old City. The UK has continued to press for these negative changes on the ground to be reversed by the Israeli Authorities and has provided a diplomatic presence at Court hearings and during evictions: in one instance British diplomats were able to assist a Palestinian family regain access to their home in the Old City, working closely with lawyers from a Jerusalem based NGO.
The proposed visit of the then Israeli Vice Prime Minister Shaul Mofaz, to Ramallah in July led to a small scale demonstration near the Presidential Palace. This was suppressed by the Palestinian Police, who used excessive force to remove the protesters from the streets. Along with the arrest of some of the demonstrators, a number of journalists were detained and equipment confiscated. The handling of the protests was condemned by the Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas who invited some of those arrested to meet with him to discuss their concerns. The UK also raised concerns about the conduct of the police with the President’s Office and the Ministry of Justice. The Palestinian Ministry of Interior opened an investigation into what went wrong, and we continue to encourage the PA to absorb the lessons of this incident.
Starting in August, demonstrations took place across the West Bank protesting against price increases and static wages. The economic situation has placed an additional strain on poorer families with the price of basic foodstuffs and fuel increasing significantly. The vulnerable fiscal position of the Palestinian Authority has led to multiple delays in paying wages for public sector workers who make up a significant percentage of the Palestinian workforce, further exacerbating the problem. This led to widespread protests in major towns and cities across the West Bank accompanied by strikes and isolated incidents of violence from protestors against official buildings. These were handled effectively and professionally by the Palestinian Authority Police Force who respected the rights of freedom of speech and of assembly, allowing the protests to proceed, and intervening only when public and private property were at risk. The UK will continue to assist in the training of the Palestinian Security Forces: respect for human rights is a central tenet of the work that the British Government is undertaking.
Quarter two update: 30 June 2012
17 – 21 June 2012 witnessed a spike in violence in and around Gaza, with Palestinian militants firing rockets into Southern Israel and Israeli air strikes into Gaza. At least seven Palestinians were killed and nine Israelis were injured. Commenting on the violence, FCO Minister Alistair Burt said: “I am deeply concerned about this week’s escalation of violence in Gaza and southern Israel. I condemn the indiscriminate rocket fire into southern Israel, as I do all acts of terrorism. The UK urges all parties to exercise restraint and prevent civilian casualties and loss of life”.
We continue to raise concerns about the policing of demonstrations in the West Bank. During the last three months there were continued reports of the firing of high-velocity tear gas canisters directly at demonstrators. The Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) suspended one soldier who fired live rounds towards stone-throwing Palestinian protestors in the village of Nabu Saleh on 1 June, and an IDF officer was suspended after he was filmed assaulting a Danish protestor in the face with his rifle butt on 15 April. Prime Minister Netanyahu was quick to condemn the incident, saying “this kind of behaviour does not represent IDF soldiers or officers, and is not acceptable in the IDF or in the State of Israel.”
The UK Government remains concerned about the levels of settler violence in the West Bank. Two recent shootings of Palestinians by the same settler group mark a worrying trend of using live ammunition. Both incidents occurred during confrontations between Palestinian villagers and armed settler protection squads. Footage was published which appears to show settlers shooting at stone-throwing Palestinian protestors, unchallenged by the Israeli authorities in attendance. The Minister for the Middle East, Alistair Burt, issued a statement on 22 June in which he condemned arson and vandalism against a mosque in the West Bank town of Jala on 18 June as a “deplorable and deliberately provocative act” and part of a worrying trend of violence by extremist Israeli settlers, including the two recent shootings. He welcomed Prime Minister Netanyahu’s strong condemnation of the incident, and the commitment of the Israeli authorities to bring the criminals responsible to justice and called on them to do so in all such cases occurring the areas under Israeli control.
Many of our human rights concerns continue to be rooted in the continued expansion of Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. A positive move made by the Israeli Government to block legislation seeking to legalise outposts was compromised by the Government of Israel’s decision to move settlers from the illegal outpost of Ulpana to the nearby settlement of Beit El. The Foreign Secretary condemned this decision, reflecting the British’s Government’s view that both outposts and settlements are illegal under international law and damage the prospects for peace. In addition, the announcement by the Israeli authorities of plans to build 800 new houses in the settlement of Har Homa, in the crucial border area between Jerusalem and Bethlehem, has made the prospect of a final status agreement, including a continuous West Bank including East Jerusalem, harder to achieve.
Highlighting the detrimental impact of these announcements, the Foreign Secretary urged “the Israeli government to desist from further settlement announcements, to revoke previous announcements and to remove – not legalise – illegal outposts from across the West Bank, as required under international law and in fulfilment of Israel’s obligations under the Roadmap”.
Quarter One Update: 31 March 2012
The UK has continued to lobby for the protection of human rights in the OPTs including the right to property and the need for Israel to adhere to international obligations in respect of settlement building and evacuating outposts. In particular, we pressed the Israeli Government publicly and privately to dismantle the illegal West Bank outpost of Migron without further delay.
On 11 March settlers from the West Bank outpost in Migron signed an agreement with the Israeli government. The deal would have allowed Migron settlers to have until 30 November 2015 to build new homes in Givat Ha-Yekev, creating new settlement buildings just two kilometres from the current illegal outpost. However, on 25 March, the Israeli Supreme Court rejected this deal on the Migron outpost, ruling that it must be evacuated by 1 August.
Another issue of concern is Palestinian access to water springs in the West Bank, which has increasingly come under threat by settler activity. These sources of water are vital for life for communities not connected to the water network. The UN reported that 56 springs have been the subject of access restrictions, with 30 found to be under full settler control. The majority of these springs (84%) are on privately owned Palestinian land. This takeover of a vital resource has had serious consequences for communities whose lives depend on agriculture. The springs are also used for domestic consumption, making it increasingly difficult to maintain Palestinian communities in Area C (the 63% of West Bank under full Israeli control). To ameliorate this situation, the UK has funded the International Peace and Cooperation Centre (IPCC) to help communities apply for planning permission for infrastructure projects. The UK is also funding a project working with Palestinians and Israelis to improve cooperation on water issues to the benefit of both parties.
The UK also continues to have concerns about the policing of protests in the OPTs. The recent deaths of two demonstrators at Qalandiya (near Ramallah) and Erez checkpoints, the latter during Palestinian ‘Land Day’, are part of a worrying trend of heavy-handed policing. Tear gas canisters are still being fired directly at protesters in contradiction of the IDF’s own rules of engagement. After the tragic death of Mustapha Tamimi in 2011, the UK has continued to call for restraint when policing protests. To monitor this, UK diplomatic staff continue to observe demonstrations first hand and raise these matters with the government of Israel.
We also remain concerned about the failure of Palestinian security forces to comply with the decisions of the justice sector, particularly those High Court decisions ordering the release of detainees belonging to different Palestinian security forces. There is also a need for an inspection system for prisons and detention facilities to ensure that security forces refer all detainees to the proper courts. To help raise standards, the UK funds both the British Support Team and the European Union Police Mission Co-ordinating Office for Palestinian Police Support (EUPOL COPPS) to provide training and assistance to ensure that the Palestinian justice and security sector reaches the required standard. This work has been complemented by an additional project run by the UK Ministry of Justice in this area.