Israel, P.A. criticized on human rights

Israeli border police surround a Palestinian man after his arrest during clashes in Jerusalem. The U.S. is criticizing both Israel and the Palestinian Authority for human rights abuses. (Brian Hendler)

Israeli border police surround a Palestinian man after his arrest during clashes in Jerusalem. The U.S. is criticizing both Israel and the Palestinian Authority for human rights abuses. (Brian Hendler)

WASHINGTON, March 5 (JTA) — The United States is criticizing both Israel and the Palestinian Authority for human rights abuses. In its annual report on Human Rights Practices, the State Department described the records of both entities as "poor." It specifically condemned the increase in violent attacks and the use of what it described as excessive force by Israeli troops fighting Palestinians. "In contravention of their own rules of engagement, which provide that live fire is to be used only when the lives of soldiers, police, or civilians are in imminent danger, Israeli security units often used excessive force against Palestinian demonstrators, including live fire," the report said. The report highlighted some of the more vicious attacks by both sides during the last year of Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and noted that neither side had implemented measures to end violence set forth by a committee headed by former Sen. George Mitchell. Despite the criticisms, an Israeli official said that, compared with last year´s report, this year´s study showed greater American understanding of Israel´s predicament in the face of Palestinian attacks. While the report found that Israel generally respects human rights within its borders, it cited major disparities between its treatment of Jewish and Arab citizens. The report says Israel has not taken enough steps to provide adequate education, housing and other services to Arabs, who make up about 16 percent of the Israeli population. The Palestinian Authority was criticized for an increase in violent attacks against Israelis, and for Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat´s failure to exert control. The report found that members of Arafat´s Fatah faction and off-duty members of Palestinian security services were involved in attacks on Israelis, but said there was no "conclusive evidence" of senior Palestinian Authority involvement. "Arafat did not take sufficient sustained action to end the violence," the report said. "P.A. security forces arrested some of those implicated in the violence, but many quickly were released or not kept under credible conditions of arrest." Both Israel and the Palestinian Authority were criticized for bad prison conditions — including the torture of detainees — and arbitrary arrests. Israeli forces also were accused of abusing Palestinians at checkpoints, including forcing Muslims to eat or drink during the fasting month of Ramadan. Most of the comments mirrored the critique from last year´s report, which essentially divided its assessment into the period before and after the Palestinian intifada began in September 2000. Among other findings in this year´s report: • Israeli forces killed 501 Palestinians in 2001. Most "were killed during violent demonstrations, armed clashes, targeted killings, incursions into Palestinian-controlled areas, at checkpoints, or as a result of sometimes excessive or indiscriminate fire toward Palestinian civilian areas," the report said, noting that 33 of the deaths were considered "targeted killing." • Approximately 208 Israelis were killed in Israel by suicide bombings, shootings and other terrorist acts. There were at least 1,970 attacks during the year aimed at Israelis, including drive-by shootings, ambushes, and the firing of mortars and grenades. • The Israeli legal system imposes more severe punishments on Israeli Arabs than Jews. The report found that Arabs are more likely to be convicted of murder and are more likely to be detained before trial. • Violence against women continues to be a problem in Israel, with 21 women killed by their husbands or other male relatives in 2001. In addition, seven percent of women are abused on a regular basis, the report found. Trafficking of women for prostitution remains a problem as well. Mark Regev, spokesman for the Israeli embassy in Washington, said Israel was studying the report closely. "We treasure the relationship with the United States and our dialogue on the issue of human rights," he said. "We are steadfast in our support for the same universal principles."

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