The report notes that Hebron, the largest Palestinian city on the West Bank, which has remained in large measure under Israel Defense Forces (IDF) control, is home to 120,000 Palestinians and 500 Jewish settlers living in the center of the city. Another 7,000 settlers live in outlying areas.
Since the al-Aqsa Intifada, according to the report, Hebron has become a flash point of human-rights violations and the trampling of international law. A leading source of such abuse is the excessive use of lethal force by Israeli security forces in clashes with Palestinian demonstrators, many of whom are unarmed and pose no dire threat to the Israeli security personnel, or anybody else. Many of the Palestinians who have been killed or hurt by IDF fire in the vicinity of demonstrators were pedestrians — this fact conveys a hint that some IDF soldiers have fired indiscriminately in populated areas.
The report uses the term “unlawful killings” to describe assassinations of Palestinians suspected in involvement in “acts of terror.” It documents cases in which Palestinians have been shot and killed under dubious circumstances. The report rejects the IDF’s contention that it bears no obligation to investigate such incidents of criminal indictments because it is embroiled in a “state of armed dispute.” It notes that Israel’s systematic policy of imposing curfews and closures against Palestinian areas constitutes a form of “collective punishment” which is prohibited by international law and humanitarian standards.
Some 30,000 Palestinians who live in Hebron’s Israel-controlled “H2” area have been confined to their homes by a near-permanent, round-the-clock curfew. This drastic restriction applies only to Palestinian residents; Israeli settlers in the H2 area are allowed to move freely at all times. In some cases, the closure and curfews make it easier for settlers to perpetrate attacks against Palestinians, the report claims.
By and large, the same 21,000 pupils who live in the H2 region have been unable to attend classes because their schools have been shut down by closures and curfews. Scores of Palestinian breadwinners in this Hebron area have lost their jobs. Medical personnel are unable to do their work; health care is delayed; ambulances are stopped en route, dodging gunfire shot by Israeli security forces. Soldiers have beaten up the drivers, deflated the tires of their cars, or fired shots in their general direction.
Describing attacks carried out by settlers against Palestinians in the Hebron area, the report suggests that the IDF serves as a kind of shield for the aggressive Jewish civilians. “It is clear that the majority of physical attacks are initiated by Israeli settlers, and that the IDF has consistently failed in their obligation to protect Palestinian civilians from attacks by Israeli settlers. In effect, settlers are using the protection provided by the IDF to attack Palestinian civilians.”
Settlers have routinely attacked the Palestinian vegetable market in Hebron’s old city, damaging produce in the market, toppling vendors’ stalls and also vandalizing and attacking a large number of Palestinian homes in the old city. Settlers have also accosted numerous humanitarian and human-rights workers, Palestinian journalists, and international observers.
The authors of the report regret that, since October 2,000, Jewish settlers in the Hebron area have been forced to live with gunfire shot by armed Palestinians as “a matter of routine.” Examples of such Palestinian aggression noted in the report include the sniper-fire killing of ten-month old Shalhevet Pass, and the wounding of her father, Yitzhak Pass. Fatah members are responsible for a share of the gunfire attacks against settlers, the report says.
Though Jewish settlements, the report claims, violate international law, attacks against unarmed settler civilians, including children, are morally and legally reprehensible. In this section pertaining to settler issues, and other parts of the report, the authors find that IDF responses enacted ostensibly to protect Jewish citizens are often excessive. The authors add that “on many occasions, it appears that IDF soldiers have responded with widespread gunfire into civilian neighborhoods, hitting dozens of homes at a time. The apparently untargeted nature of IDF gunfire and its civilian toll raise serious concerns that the IDF is firing indiscriminately in violation of international humanitarian law standards.”
Hanny Megally, executive director of the Middle East and North Africa branch of the Human Rights Watch, sees Hebron as “a microcosm of the devastating effect of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on civilians.” The report calls on the international community to “urge the United Nations Security Council to establish immediately a permanent international presence in the West Bank and Gaza to monitor publicly and regularly on the compliance by all parties with international human rights and humanitarian law standards.”
Based on material published in Ha’aretz, 12.4.01.