WASHINGTON (Feb. 8)
The United States believes that if Israel had a trained riot-control force, it could have prevented human rights violations in dealing with the Palestinian uprising on the West Bank and Gaza Strip, a senior State Department official said Wednesday.
Richard Schifter, assistant secretary of state for human rights and humanitarian affairs, was commenting on the State Department’s annual “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices” in which Israel was accused of “a substantial increase in human rights violations” in the territories last year.
But Schifter acknowledged that the situation in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip was unique and “not the typical setting for gross human rights violations as would be mass killings or total repressions.”
Schifter drew a contrast between Israel and what he identified as the world’s top human rights violators, including North Korea, Cuba and Iran.
“The situation in the Israeli occupied territories is sui generis,” Schifter said. He explained that Israel faces a situation in which the “occupying army responds to serious disorder” by an “excessive” use of force.
This is largely due to the fact that the Israeli army is untrained for such a situation, Schifter said.
He contrasted this to South Korea, where security forces were able to contain riots against the government without any loss of life in 1988.
The State Department’s human rights report found that 366 Palestinians were killed in 1988, mostly by the Israeli army, but some also by Jewish settlers.
Schifter said the situation was also better in Jerusalem, where Palestinian rioting is contained by the police force, rather than the army.
But Yossi Gal, the Israel Embassy’s spokesman, rejected the analogy with South Korea.
He said there is a basic difference between students demonstrating on a specific issue in South Korea and the situation in the territories, where young people and women and others throw rocks at Israelis.
The real solution in the territories, Gal said, is negotiations and a peaceful solution. In the meantime, the Palestinians must learn that “Israel will not ignore violent acts. Violence will not get them anywhere.”
While the report contains the harshest criticism of Israel since the uprising began in December 1987, it cites improvements in human rights practices by the Soviet Union.
Schifter said the two countries with the worst record of human rights abuses continue to be Cuba and North Korea.
Schifter also cited Iraq for the use of chemical weapons against the Kurds, and the forced relocation of a half-million people.
He said Syria continues to be a repressive society, but that in the Middle East, Egypt and Tunisia have made the most gains toward a more open society.