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U.S. hits Israel, Palestinians on human rights

WASHINGTON, Feb. 26 (JTA) – The United States is holding both Israel and the Palestinians accountable for the violence in the region that erupted in September.

Israeli forces “committed serious human rights abuses,” according to the annual Report on Human Rights Practices, released Monday by the U.S. State Department. The report sharply criticized Israel for its treatment of Arab citizens and its use of live ammunition and rubber-coated steel bullets in conflicts against the Palestinians.

“In many instances, Israeli security forces used excessive force against demonstrators in contravention of their official rules of engagement,” according to the report.

Specifically, the report says excessive force led to the deaths of 13 Israeli Arabs during widespread riots in October.

The Palestinian Authority was criticized for killing several Israeli soldiers during clashes with Israelis and for arbitrary arrest and detention of prisoners. It said Palestinian forces “failed to prevent armed Palestinians from opening fire on Israelis in places in which Palestinians were present.” The report said it was unclear whether Palestinian leadership authorized the incidents.

The report said human rights actions by both groups were improving before the recent violence began. The report’s author said stopping the violence in the region would greatly increase both sides’ human rights record.

“The report could actually be divided into two parts: up until September and post-September,” said Michael Parmly, the acting U.S. assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor.

“We’re confident that the democratic institutions in Israel will get that country moving in the right direction,” Parmly said. “I would like to see Palestinians get out of the street.”

The Israeli Foreign Ministry defended its use of force in a statement Monday, saying it must be seen within the context of “daily terrorist acts against Israeli civilians.”

“Since September, the Palestinian Authority has engaged in over 3,000 live ammunition attacks against Israeli soldiers and civilians,” the statement said. “Israel has reacted in a proportionate, measured and responsible fashion to the systematic, ongoing attacks by Palestinian militia and members of the Palestinian Authority.”

The Anti-Defamation League called the report’s characterization of Israel “unfair and distorted.”

“The report rushes to judgement by harshly condemning Israeli action as ‘excessive force’ while ignoring the involvement of the Palestinian Authority in inciting and directing anti-Israel violence,” the ADL’s national director, Abraham Foxman, said in a statement.

The report devotes almost five pages to issues facing Israeli Arabs. The report found that Arabs do not have the same quality of education, housing, employment, and social services as Jews, but noted a $975 million governmental assistance plan for Arab citizens that was approved in the fall.

Among the report’s other findings for the year 2000:

• Three Palestinian prisoners died in Israeli custody under unclear circumstances, and there were “numerous credible allegations” that Israeli police beat detainees.

• Some of the Palestinians killed during the autumn violence “were targeted specifically by Israeli security forces.”

• Palestinian soldiers prevented medical aid from reaching an injured Israeli border policeman in October. The man later died.

• Palestinian Authority officials continue to harass and abuse journalists, leading to self-censorship by Palestinian media.

• Israel was cited for arresting hundreds of Arab citizens during the period of demonstrations that started in September, and for arresting people more than a month after the disturbances ended.

• Conditions for Palestinians in Israeli prisons were described as “poor.” Conditions in Palestinian facilities were considered “very poor.”

• Problems in the treatment of women by both the Israelis and Palestinians were noted. Women’s groups in the Palestinian territories were cited for heightening awareness of problems of rape, domestic violence and “family honor” violence attacks, but problems remain widespread. In Israel, the report notes concern about the trafficking of women for prostitution.

Other countries came under criticism for their treatment of Jews:

• In Iran, anti-Semitic propaganda increased after the arrest of 13 Jews in early 1999 for alleged spying for Israel. Ten of the Jews have since been sentenced to terms of two to nine years. The Jewish community in Shiraz has been under close governmental surveillance, and Jewish businesses have been the targets of vandalism and boycotts. The report said Jewish leaders are reluctant to draw attention to the “official mistreatment” because of fear of governmental reprisals.

• Despite government reports on the issue, only limited steps have been taken in Russia to prevent anti-Semitism. Also, Russian President Vladimir Putin was accused by some of playing a role in the election of a second chief rabbi there. Putin has been accused of creating division within the Jewish community for advocating a rival to longtime Chief Rabbi Adolf Shayevich, who is aligned with groups critical of Putin. In addition, an illegal search took place by legal authorities in October of a rabbi aligned with Shayevich.

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