State Dept. Report Charges Israel with Increased Rights Violations

In the harshest criticism of Israel’s handling of the Palestinian uprising since it began in December 1987, the State Department has charged Israel with “a substantial increase in human rights violations” during 1988.

In its annual report, “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices,” to be released officially Wednesday, the State Department also shows understanding for the difficulties the intifada has presented Israel.

“The Israeli government has regarded the uprising as a new phase of the 40-year war against Israel and as a threat to the security of the state,” the report said.

“The Israeli Defense Forces, caught by surprise and untrained and inexperienced in riot control, responded in a manner which led to a substantial increase in human rights violations.”

This has resulted in an “excessive use of force to try to maintain law and order in the occupied territories,” Paul Hare, acting assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern and South Asian affairs, said Tuesday.

His remarks were made in testimony to the House Appropriations subcommittee on foreign operations, which has jurisdiction over foreign aid.

The subcommittee was holding a hearing to determine whether foreign aid should be reduced to countries in the Middle East because of human rights violations. The human rights report is submitted to Congress to aid it in legislation.

But Rep. David Obey (D-Wis.), the subcommittee’s chairman, appeared to reject any reductions in the $3 billion in economic and military aid to Israel because of human rights violations.

Obey added that the fact that a country is a large recipient of U.S. aid “does not diminish” the U.S. obligation to press for reforms.

The Lawyers Committee for Human Rights and the Helsinki Watch, two U.S.-based human rights monitoring groups which testified before the subcommittee, also rejected any cuts in the $3 billion in economic and military aid Israel receives from the United States.

They argued that the United States should place additional private and public pressure on Israel to resolve their differences.

Amnesty International told the subcommittee it does not address aid issues.

The human rights report also emphasized rights abuses in Iraq, Egypt, Iran and Kuwait.

The report called Iraq’s human rights record “abysmal,” due mainly to its use of poison gas against Kurds.

It praised Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak for extending political liberties, but also cited “credible reports” that police and security officials practice torture with impunity.

As in past years, the human rights report contrasts the situation in Israel proper, which it calls an open and democratic society, with the situation in the territories, which is under military rule.

Also, as in past years, the 22 pages devoted to Israel are the most of the 169 countries dealt with in the 1,559-page report.

“This report differs from many others in this compilation because of the greater detail available on the situation in the occupied territories by virtue of Israel’s open and democratic society,” the section on Israel explains.

Compiling figures from various sources, the report finds that 366 Palestinians were killed, mostly by the Israeli army, but some by Jewish settlers.

Another 13 Palestinians were killed by Palestinians for collaborating with Israel. Eleven Israelis were also killed.

In addition, more than 20,000 Palestinians and 1,100 Israelis were injured, according to the report.

In Israel, initial reactions to the report were critical. Judge Advocate-General Amnon Strashnov, the IDF’s chief lawyer, complained on Israel television that the State Department did not account for the security threats facing Israeli soldiers in the territories.

In New York, Theodore Ellenoff, president of the American Jewish Committee, said the report “should be taken very seriously,” but “placed within the context of the security challenges Israel now faces.”

(JTA correspondents Howard Rosenberg in Washington and Gil Sedan in Jerusalem contributed to this report.)

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