Events in October highlighted a chronic feature of the human dignity crisis affecting the population of the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt): the pervasive absence of the rule of law and lack of accountability.
The olive harvest, which officially began in October, was repeatedly disrupted by violent attacks from Israeli settlers. During the month, over 3,700 olive trees were burned, uprooted, killed with chemicals or otherwise vandalized. To protect farmers who need to harvest olives in their land next to Israeli settlements, the Israeli authorities have allocated specific periods of times, during which farmers can work under IDF protection. However, this measure not only puts the onus on the Palestinian farmers to adapt to Israeli access restrictions rather than on the violent settlers, but it has also proven largely ineffective in preventing property attacks, most of which occur outside the times allocated to the protection of Palestinian farmers. According to an Israeli human rights organization (Yesh Din), over 90 per cent of complaints regarding settler violence filed with the Israeli police in recent years have been closed without indictment.
The persistent attacks of Israeli settlers occur in the context of the Israeli government’s continued refusal to abide by its duty under international humanitarian law to halt the transfer of its civilians to the oPt. In addition to the protection concerns outlined above, the expansion of settler presence in the West Bank has resulted in a reduction in the areas available to Palestinians, as well as in increasing restrictions to their freedom of movement, resulting in greater humanitarian vulnerability.
In the Gaza Strip, most of the olive groves that existed in areas up to 1,500 meters from the fence with Israel (17 percent of Gaza’s territory), were uprooted during Israel’s ‘Cast Lead’ offensive and the incursions conducted on a regular basis since then (including 19 this month). Access to the remaining trees in these areas is prevented by Israeli forces, through the opening of ‘warning fire’ of live rounds. In October, 11 civilians were injured in these areas, including one elderly farmer who was picking olives. None of these cases has led to the opening of an investigation.
Perhaps the most striking absence of accountability in recent years has been the failure to investigate allegations of serious violations of international humanitarian and human rights law during the “Cast Lead” offensive. This month, front page media reported that a criminal investigation was recently opened into the circumstances of one attack that resulted in the killing of 21 members of the same extended family, all of whom were civilians. While this is a positive step, the vast majority of allegations remain uninvestigated. Of the few criminal investigations opened by the Israeli authorities, only three have resulted in indictments, of only four low ranking soldiers. On the Palestinian side, the Hamas authorities have yet to undertake credible investigations into allegations involving Palestinian attacks on Israeli civilians.
Lack of accountability within the framework of international law has been a main feature of Israel’s control of Gaza. Despite the recent increase in the volume and variety of imports, the entire population of Gaza remains subjected to collective punishment. The bulk of the population remains ‘locked in’ as a result of the general ban on the movement of people through the crossing with Israel and Egypt. While the latter (Rafah) has been operating on a daily basis since last July, only limited categories of people are allowed to cross. Moreover, the sweeping restrictions on the import of basic construction materials and on the export of goods continued to impede economic recovery, as well as the ability to address immense, and growing, housing and infrastructure needs.
Although a few building projects to be carried out by international organizations were recently approved by the Israeli authorities, very little progress has been achieved in their implementation. Currently, the largest constraint is the limited capacity of the crossing facility used for the transfer of gravel (a conveyer belt at Karni Crossing), which operates only two days a week. A prior commitment by the Israeli authorities to extend its operation remains unimplemented.
Also this month, two Israeli human rights organizations (B’Tselem and Hamoked), issued a joint report highlighting allegations of mistreatment of Palestinian detainees held in an Israeli interrogation center (Petah Tikva). Of note, none (zero) of the 645 complaints submitted by Palestinian detainees concerning abuses by interrogators since 2001 has led to the opening of a criminal investigation. Hamas continues to deny the Israeli soldier captured in 2006 (Gil’ad Shalit) the basic right to be visited by the ICRC.
Holding individuals and states accountable to international law is an essential condition to restore dignity to victims of abuses and denial of basic human rights.
Palestinian-Israeli tensions in the
West Bank remain elevated
Demonstrations and settler violence continue to
result in high number of Palestinians injured;
thousands of Palestinian-owned olive trees
destroyed by Israeli settlers during olive harvest
The level of tension in the West Bank remained high in October, with three Palestinians killed in the context of Israeli-Palestinian violence, and 127 others injured; three Israelis were injured, including two members of Israeli security forces, and one Israeli settler.1
On 3 October, Israeli forces shot and killed a Palestinian civilian attempting to enter East Jerusalem without an Israeli-issued permit. The circumstances behind the shooting remain disputed, and the Israeli authorities have launched an investigation. The remaining fatalities were two men affiliated with the armed wing of the Hamas movement (Izz Idin al Qassam), killed in the course of an exchange of fire with Israeli forces in the Israeli-controlled area of Hebron City. The two were suspected of involvement in the killing of four Israeli settlers in Hebron in August. During the armed clash, Israeli bulldozers partially demolished a three-storey building where the armed Palestinians were hiding, displacing three people and affecting 24 others.
More than half of this month’s Palestinian injuries (56) occurred during weekly demonstrations in the West Bank, including 45 in the village of Nabi Salah, and six in the Beit Ummar village (Hebron), protesting access restrictions to agricultural land.2 (See also box herein)
In addition, 23 Palestinians were injured in clashes that occurred in the Silwan neighborhood of East Jerusalem—the most significant of which happened on 15 October: according to local sources, Israeli forces fired tear gas canisters at worshippers performing Friday prayers in the area. The action provoked confrontations with Palestinian residents, resulting in the injury of 15 Palestinians, including one child, the majority by rubber-coated-metal bullets. Violence in Silwan has escalated in recent months between Palestinian residents and Israeli settlers, along with their armed private guards and the Israeli Police. The Municipality’s stated intention to demolish a section of the neighborhood (Al Bustan) and displace its Palestinian residents to make way for a recreation park has also contributed to rising tensions.