State Dept. slams Israel on blockade, Palestinians on hatred

WASHINGTON (JTA) — The U.S. State Department’s annual human rights report cited Palestinian incitement and Israel’s denial of some basic Palestinian needs as ongoing problems in the region.

Much of this year’s lengthy report dealing with "Israel and the occupied territories" was devoted to last year’s Gaza war and its aftermath.

The report, released Thursday, quoted Israeli human rights groups in some instances and in others accused Israel outright of deprivations, without attribution. It was especially blunt in dealing with Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip.

"Since 2007 Israel has enforced a strict blockade of Gaza, seriously impeding persons and goods from entering or leaving," it said. "Following hostilities in Gaza in January, Israel severely tightened restrictions at crossings into the Gaza Strip. International and Israeli human rights organizations described this action as ‘collective punishment’ of the residents of Gaza, as it restricts access to basic goods and restricts civilians desiring to go abroad temporarily or change their place of residence permanently."

The report noted the relative success of Israel’s invasion in stopping Hamas rocket attacks from Gaza.

"There were 125 rockets and 70 mortar shells fired into Israel from Gaza since the end of Operation Cast Lead on January 21, and 850 rockets and mortar shells during the hostilities, compared with 1,750 rockets and 1,528 mortar shells in 2008," it said.

It also noted the Goldstone report into the war, commissioned by the U.N. Human Rights Council, as well as criticisms of the inquiry as fundamentally flawed and biased against Israel.

The Goldstone commission claimed that Israeli soldiers "were responsible for deliberate targeting of civilians, for the destruction of critical infrastructure in Gaza, and for using weapons such as white phosphorous in highly populated areas, all of which it deemed to be violations of international humanitarian law," the State Department reported. "The Goldstone report was widely criticized for methodological failings, legal and factual errors, falsehoods, and for devoting insufficient attention to the asymmetrical nature of the conflict and the fact that Hamas and other Palestinian militants were deliberately operating in heavily populated urban areas of Gaza."

The State Department report also dealt with abuses committed by Palestinian authorities, including anti-Israel incitement.

"Rhetoric by Palestinian terrorist groups included expressions of anti-Semitism, as did sermons by some Muslim religious leaders," it said. "Some Palestinian religious leaders rejected the right of Israel to exist. Hamas’s al-Aqsa television station carried shows for preschoolers extolling hatred of Jews and suicide bombings."

Palestinian textbooks, the report said, "showed imbalance, bias, and inaccuracy."

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