WASHINGTON (Feb. 10)
A State Department official ruled out Wednesday any possibility that the United States would cut aid to Israel because of its handling of the unrest on the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Although about 50 Palestinians have died in the territories since December, this was not a “gross” violation of human rights, said Richard Schifter, assistant secretary of state for human rights and humanitarian affairs, at a State Department briefing.
The “regrettable” number of deaths is not “unusual” when compared to “similar situations” in other countries, he explained.
Legislation requires the United States to cut off aid to any country that is guilty of “gross” human rights abuses.
“I don’t believe that we are dealing here with the kind of pattern set forth in various statutory injunctions,” Schifter stressed. For aid to be cut off, there would have to be “a gross pattern of human rights abuses,” he noted.
His remarks were in response to questions as he briefed reporters on the State Department’s “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1987,” which was released Wednesday.
160-PLUS COUNTRIES COVERED
The 1,358-page report, which covers human rights practices in more than 160 countries, is submitted annually to the Senate Foreign Relations and the House Foreign Affairs committees.
As in previous reports, the section on Israel notes that Israel is in law and practice a parliamentary democracy.
“As in the past, the most significant human rights problems for Israel in 1987 derived from the strained relations between the Israeli authorities and some Israelis. on the one hand and the Arab inhabitants of the occupied territories on the other hand,” the report states.
“These problems were again exacerbated in 1987 by attacks against Israelis in these areas and by acts of provocation or violence by Jewish settlers. The number of attacks by Israelis and acts of violence by settlers increased somewhat in 1987.”
The report deals with the current situation in the territories in one short paragraph.
Schifter explained that since the report covers only the period through the end of December, the situation in the territories since then will be dealt with in next year’s report.
The 20-page section on Israel is one of the longest in the report. It is divided in two parts, one on Israel proper and the other on the territories. Officials in the past have pointed out that the length has more to do with information available than with the extent of human rights abuses.
Scattered through the report are descriptions of the situation of Jews in various countries, including some Arab countries.
In Syria, the status of Jews “continues to be influenced by the ongoing state of war with Israel,” according to the report. “The 2,000 to 3,000 Jews in Syria are free to practice their religion and the situation of the Jewish community has improved in recent years, despite the uncertainty dictated by regional developments.”
The report adds that only Jews and Palestinians are required to post bonds by Syria if they travel abroad, which are forfeited if they do not return. But while Palestinians can post less than $20, Jews must provide the full $300 to $800.
Iraq, the report notes, is home to about 400 Jews, and while the community was once “severely persecuted” there “is no evidence of recent persecution. One synagogue in Baghdad still functions.”
About a 1,000 Jews reside in the Yemen Arab Republic, according to the report. “There are no synagogues, but Jews are permitted to practice their religion in private homes,” the report adds. “The government makes a point of ensuring that no impediment to this right exists.”
BEST IN MOROCCO
Probably the best situation for Jews in Arab countries is in Morocco, where some 10,000 still live, according to the report. Synagogues and Jewish communal activities, including publications in Hebrew, are permitted. Jews hold high positions in the business community and some government posts. Morocco encourages Jews who have emigrated to return.
In Ethiopia, the report notes, 25 persons were arrested in 1987 for helping Jews to leave the country, but have not yet been brought to trial. Some reportedly have been tortured.
At the same time, the report finds that “stories of ‘genocidal’ actions by Ethiopian authorities or of highly brutal behavior toward Ethiopian Jews have not been substantiated by American visitors” to the areas where the Jews live.
In Iran, according to the report, Jews are permitted to practice their religion and there is more tolerance than before.
At the same time, “Jews are seen as pro-Israeli and therefore a possible fifth column against Islam and Iran. In this connection, Jews are subject to travel restrictions which are not applied to members of other recognized religious groups.”