Amnesty condemns Israelis and Palestinians for rights abuses

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The Independent Online
TORTURE AND death in custody, arbitrary arrest and detention without trial, executions and unfair trials by both Israelis and Palestinians; five years after the Oslo Agreement, could there be a more wretched indictment of the "peace" between Israel and the PLO than the report Amnesty International publishes this morning?

So rapidly are human rights being sacrificed in Israel and the West Bank - in the hopeless search for a "security" that cannot be guaranteed by policemen - that the report was too late to record the most recent atrocities: two Palestinians shot by a PLO firing squad for murder last week, and the apparent beating to death by Yasser Arafat's henchmen of Hussein Ghali, who called at a Gaza police station to make a complaint. But it is impossible to deny Amnesty's plague-on-both-their-houses catalogue of abuse - or its implications.

"In a spiral of violence," the report states, "killings of Palestinians by Israeli security services or settlers have led to suicide bombings and the deaths of Israeli civilians. These have led to waves of arbitrary arrests, incommunicado detention, torture and unfair trials. The Palestine population have been the main victims of such violations ... the Occupied Territories have become a land of barriers, mostly erected by Israeli security services, between town and town and village and village ..." The protection of human rights, Amnesty concludes, must be at the heart of all future policies and accords.

Some hope. As Amnesty admits, the five years since Oslo have been marked by a great increase in the number of Israeli civilians killed by armed Palestinian groups - more than 100 Israelis have died in suicide attacks, and more than 45 Palestinian civilians have been killed by Israeli civilians, some of them members of the violent Jewish Kach movement. After handing over to the Palestinian authority detention centres in the centre of West Bank cities - where the PLO now uses the same tortures against its own civilians that the Israelis used before the withdrawal - Israel has now built new prisons in West Bank areas still under occupation, at Beit El Majnuna and Dotan.

Methods of torture by the Israelis include shabeh (sleep deprivation while shackled in painful positions and hooding), gambaz (being forced to squat for more than two hours), tiltul (violent shaking that has already killed one Palestinian prisoner) and khazana (imprisonment in a closet). Other methods, according to Amnesty, include beatings, pressure on genitals and exposure to heat and cold.

"There is general acceptance by the international community that Israel has effectively legalised the use of torture."

Torture by Yasser Arafat's Palestinian authority includes beatings, suspension from the wrists, burning with electricity and cigarettes as well as tortures learnt from the Israelis - shabeh and exposure. The report says that 19 have died in Palestinian custody since Oslo - 20 if the weekend's killing is included. Most of them appear to have died during or after torture. "Security" detainees, suspected collaborators and those who have sold land to Jews appear to be routinely tortured.

Arbitrary arrests by the Palestinian authority - monitored by a CIA Israeli team (although Amnesty does not mention this) and applauded by the US State Department - have led to grossly unfair trials; a Palestinian State Security Court has undermined civil courts, and human rights activists are now brought before the former.

Extrajudicial killings by Israel include Hani Abed, a Hamas leader suspected of killing two Israeli soldiers, who was blown up in a Gaza car bomb; Fathi Shikaki, the Islamic Jihad leader shot dead in Malta; and Yahya Lyash, a presumed Hamas bomb maker, killed by a booby-trapped mobile telephone. Amnesty also refers to the Israeli attempt to murder a Hamas leader in Jordan by injecting his ear with poison.

Killings by Israelis include the death of Ali Jawarish, an eight-year- old boy, in 1997. Amnesty quotes an American reporter who saw Israeli troops fire at the boy during a demonstration. "I saw ... a wound on the right side of the forehead and a lot of blood flow," he wrote. "Later the doctors at Muqassed Hospital and at Beit Jala told me that the child's brain had spilt out."

Two members of the Islamic Jihad, Ayman Razaina and Imad al-Araj, were shot dead by Palestinian police; Palestinians selling land to Israelis have been tortured to death. Ferid Bashtiti was found dead in Ramallah with his hands tied behind his back last year; a few days later, the body of another land dealer, Harbi Abu Sara, was found with bullet wounds in the head.

Carefully putting quotation marks around the word "terrorism" and "peace" - presumably because Israeli terrorists are never called terrorists, thus making the word both racist and anti-Arab - Amnesty appeals to the world to put an end to the torture and killings.

"The acceptance by the international community of `peace' at any price, or of a security-led agenda involving the suppression of `terrorism' without regard for human rights, has often encouraged violations, and the international community have a crucial role to play in achieving respect for human rights by refusing to accept these violations."

Amnesty concludes its damning report with a demand that Israelis and Palestinians should bring detainees before fair courts, end imprisonment without trial, revoke all legislation permitting torture, end judicial killings and draw up clear firearm guidelines. Foreign governments, Amnesty says, should "use their influence" to secure the implementation of these recommendations. Since no government is prepared to put pressure on Israel and since the Palestinian authority pays little heed to such appeals, it is a fair bet that Amnesty will be publishing another equally horrific report in the near future.

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