Israel illegally occupies Palestinian land

Israel / West Bank: Equal Rights for Palestinians

(Jerusalem) - Israel should give Palestinians in the West Bank at least the same rights as Israeli citizens, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. The area has been occupied for 52 years with no end in sight. Occupation law allows civil rights to be restricted at the beginning of the occupation. However, this has to be done in the context of very limited security considerations. Far-reaching restrictions are not permitted and are clearly illegal after more than 50 years of occupation.

The 92-page report "Born Without Civil Rights: Israel’s Use of Draconian Military Orders to Repress Palestinians in the West Bank" examines Israeli military regulations that criminalize peaceful political activities. These include demonstrations, the publication of political material and membership in groups hostile to Israel. Human Rights Watch has looked at several individual cases to show that Israel is unjustifiably putting Palestinians behind bars on the basis of these far-reaching regulations. Cases include expressions of opinion, activity or political proximity to groups opposing the occupation and political organizations such as NGOs and media that have been banned.

"Israel's arguments, with which the country has tried to justify the lawlessness of the Palestinians under military occupation for more than half a century, no longer convince anyone today," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Executive Director of the Middle East and North Africa Department. "Given Israel's long-standing control over the Palestinians, the country should at least grant them the same rights as its own citizens - regardless of the political framework."

Human Rights Watch spoke to 29 people, mostly former prisoners and their lawyers. Judgments and decisions by the military courts were also analyzed and eight exemplary cases of activists, journalists and other Palestinians arrested under Israel's strict regulations over the past five years were examined. The report also included the responses we received from the Israeli army and police.

The Israeli government did not respond to the Human Rights Watch report prior to publication. Rather, it has questioned the sincerity of a Human Rights Watch employee.

Governments and international organizations should emphasize the importance of civil rights to highlight the impact of Israeli military regulations in the West Bank. They should also demand from Israel that the Palestinians be granted full civil and other rights, at least as much as Israeli citizens. These should complement the protective provisions that apply under occupation law, such as the ban on building settlements, which are in force for the entire period of occupation.

International law, to which the law of occupation is subject, requires Israel, as the occupying power, to restore "public life" for the Palestinian population in the occupied territories. This requirement becomes particularly important with such a long occupation as in the West Bank. This has been determined by the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Israeli Supreme Court, and the Israeli government has recognized this itself. In recent years the plight of the Palestinians has worsened, while Israel has done too little to find an adequate response to security threats that minimizes encroachments on human rights.

Suspending basic rights for a short period of time can temporarily restrict public life. However, if this happens over a long period of time, social, political and intellectual life suffers. The longer the occupation lasts, the more the military government should conform to an ordinary system of government that respects international human rights standards. In the case of an unlimited occupation, as by Israel, the rights granted to the people under occupation should at least correspond to the rights that apply to the citizens of the occupied country.

British Mandate provisions that are still in force in the West Bank, as well as military ordinances issued by Israel since the conquest of the West Bank in 1967, allow the Israeli army to deny the Palestinians any protection of civil rights. For example, Israel can illegally identify groups that incite hatred, contempt or discontent against local authorities and arrest Palestinians who join these groups.

Military ordinances allow civilians to be sentenced to up to ten years in prison, which can be imposed by military courts if public opinion has been influenced that could endanger public peace or order. In addition, Palestinians can be sentenced to ten years in prison if they attend a meeting of more than ten people without obtaining permission from the military. This applies to all areas that can be considered political or where flags or political symbols are displayed without the permission of the army.

These extensive restrictions only apply to the 2.5 million Palestinians in the West Bank, excluding East Jerusalem. However, they do not apply to the more than 400,000 Israeli settlers in the same area who are subject to Israeli civil law. The latter is also true in East Jerusalem - which has been annexed to Israel but continues to be considered an Occupied Territory under international law - and Israel, and offers much better protection for the exercise of freedom of expression and assembly.

“Nothing can justify the reality on site today. In some places, residents on one side of the street have civil rights while residents on the other side are denied them, ”said Whitson.

According to the Israeli army, provided to Human Rights Watch, the military persecuted 4,590 Palestinians between July 1, 2014 and June 30, 2019 for entering a "closed military zone". This reason is often used on the ground against demonstrations. 1,704 Palestinians were persecuted for "membership and activity in an illegal organization" and 358 for "sedition".

For example, the Israeli army arrested Farid al-Atrash (42 years old), who works for the Independent Commission on Human Rights, a quasi-official body of the Palestinian authorities. He was charged with participating in a peaceful demonstration in Hebron in February 2016 calling for the reopening of a street in the center of the city for Palestinians. The military prosecutor relied on the military law prohibiting political gatherings and referred to the waving of the flag of the Palestinian authorities and a poster that read, "Open Shuhada Street."

Farid al-Atrash was also accused of entering a "closed military area" and attacking a soldier. However, no evidence of this has been presented. He was released five days later. But three years later he is still being persecuted for this.

The Israeli authorities also invoke military orders to justify banning 411 organizations, including all major Palestinian political movements. In addition, people associated with these movements are arrested on this basis. The allegation against the banned organization al-Hirak al-Shababi is that they protested against the Palestinian authorities on the basis of a judgment against Hafez Omar, an artist who has been in Israeli custody since March 2019. The military law does not allow an appeal against this judgment.

Prosecutors have used the extensive definition of "sedition" in the military law to criminalize expressions of opinion that express resistance to the occupation, even if they do not call for violence. This justified the arrest of the 43-year-old activist Nariman Tamimi, who posted a live stream on Facebook in December 2017 in which her 16-year-old sister Ahed met a soldier in her courtyard.

"For 52 years, Israeli military law has denied Palestinians in the West Bank basic freedoms such as waving a flag and peacefully protesting the occupation, joining major political movements and publishing political material," said Whitson. "These regulations give the army a free hand to prosecute those who organize politically, express their opinions or report news that the army does not like."