JERUSALEM (Feb. 8)
Israel reacted angrily and defensively to the harsh criticism of the U.S. State Department over Israel’s handling of the Palestinian uprising.
A statement issued by the Foreign Ministry Wednesday stressed that all of Israel’s actions were “fully in keeping with international law.”
The ministry maintained that the allegations of human rights violations by the Israel Defense Force were taken out of context, and did not reflect “the lethal nature of some of the means employed by the Palestinian rioters.”
The statement was in response to the State Department’s annual “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices,” which described the human rights situation in 169 countries during 1988.
The 1,559-page document was released in Washington on Wednesday, though much of it was leaked to the news media a day earlier.
One of Israel’s complaints was that “within the context of massive human rights abuses throughout the Arab world, the special focus on Israel takes the issue entirely out of perspective.
“These (Arab) nations do not draw the enormous degree of attention that Israel receives for measures taken in defense of its security needs and in accordance with international law,” the statement concluded.
The State Department report emphasized rights abuses in Iraq, Egypt, Iran and Kuwait and in other countries elsewhere in the world.
But the 22 pages on Israel were the most devoted to any country.
The report said that the IDF, “caught by surprise and untrained and inexperienced in riot control, responded in a manner which led to a substantial increase in human rights violations.”
ACCUSED OF EXCESSIVE FORCE
It accused the IDF of excessive use of force, resulting in deaths of civilians that could have been avoided.
The Foreign Ministry’s statement insisted that contrary to the State Department’s findings, “live bullets are used only as a last resort, in life-threatening situations.”
Deputy Foreign Minister Binyamin Netanyahu told a news conference Wednesday that Israel could end the intifada “overnight” if it used draconian means, which it determinedly has refused to do.
The ministry statement took pains to dispel the image of the intifada, or uprising, as a relatively peaceful mass protest.
It noted the lethal nature of some of the weapons employed by rioters — rocks and other missiles and gasoline bombs.
“Such violence is meant to kill, and 12 Israelis have lost their lives as a result,” the statement said.
“More than 1,280 Israelis — about 830 soldiers and 450 civilians — have been injured, some of them critically.”
The ministry also charged that “66 Palestinians were murdered and more than 100 wounded because they did not comply with the Palestine Liberation Organization and Islamic fundamentalist demands.”
The Ministry insisted that soldiers who violate standing orders of conduct are “subject to military trial and punishment.
The statement detailed the legal procedures available to residents of the administered territories, including access to the High Court of Justice, Israel’s supreme court.
It defended deportations and house demolitions, which were some of the rights violations cited by the State Department.
The Foreign Ministry said such actions were applied sparingly, and were in accordance with international law that included recourse available to the supreme court.
The State Department document was defended by some on the Israeli left, notably Yossi Sarid, a member of the Citizens Rights Movement.
Sarid said it was sad but necessary that the State Department held up a “distant mirror” to show Israelis the true face of their behavior in the territories.
He clashed in the Knesset with Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin, author of IDF policy in the territories.
But by and large, Israelis rallied behind the IDF and their government’s policies. They were supported by the American Jewish leadership.
Seymour Reich, chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, an umbrella body considered to represent mainstream American Jewry, issued a strong statement in rebuttal of the State Department.
“In fulfilling its responsibilities under international law to maintain order, Israel has made every effort to act decently and fairly and with restraint toward those who have committed these violent and provocative acts,” Reich said.