Menu JTA Search

U.S. Official Accuses Israel of ‘brutalizing’ Palestinians

A senior State Department official said Tuesday that Israel has violated human rights standards by “brutalizing” Palestinian prisoners and “randomly beating” civilians, but not by using lethal force on the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The official, Richard Schifter, assistant secretary of state for human rights and humanitarian affairs, testified at a hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on International Organizations and Human Rights. The session was devoted to Israel’s handling of violence in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

“We have made representations at the highest level of the Israeli government, urging that these acts of brutality or indiscipline be brought to an end and be punished,” Schifter said.

In addition to criticizing the “brutalization of Palestinian prisoners immediately after they have been taken into custody,” Schifter said the United States opposes “beatings administered to persons who were not taken into custody and who were not suspected of or known to have been engaged in any conduct in breach of civil peace.”

He also said there are “troublesome reports of physical mistreatment” of Palestinians when interrogated or detained.

But Schifter said Israel’s use of lethal force did not constitute a human rights violation, since the United States concedes it is “not in a position to expound upon the ‘proper’ or ‘ideal’ military or police tactics required to quell a disturbance.”

Schifter said demonstrators in the territories have the human right of assembly, but that the right does not extend to assembly “for the purpose of throwing rocks and firebombs.” He added that Israel has “not only the right, but the obligation, to preserve and restore order.”

In quantifying the effects of the rioting, Schifter said 118 Palestinians have been killed. Of those 188, four were killed by Jewish settlers and two by other Palestinians for collaborating with Israeli authorities. In addition, about 100 Palestinians have suffered serious injuries.

He said four Israeli soldiers have been imprisoned for excessive measures, three will soon be tried for aggravated assault and some will be relieved of their duties.

The hearing, chaired by Rep. Gus Yatron (D-Pa.), featured no jousting between Schifter and subcommittee members. Reps. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.) and Stephen Solarz (D-N.Y.), questioned U.S. responses to Israeli policy, but did not sharply disagree with any of Schifter’s arguments.

Earlier in the day, State Department spokesman Charles Redman criticized Israel’s decision to seal off the West Bank and Gaza Strip, not allowing Palestinians to leave or enter. The territories are also closed to reporters.

“We regret the restrictions that have been imposed since they affect the entire Palestinian community including many people who are not involved in disorders,” Redman said. “We also regret restrictions on the press access.”

“The continuing violent demonstrations by Palestinians and these harsh security measures taken by Israeli authorities in response are creating widespread suffering,” Redman added.

NEXT STORY