Under Repression

Report on Israeli violations of the civil and political rights of members the popular struggle movement in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.

Policy Paper. September 2010

Executive Summery
Introduction
The popular struggle against the Occupation
The civil and Political rights of the protesters
Key findings

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EXECUTIVE SUMMARY:

Faced by a rising tide of violence and arbitrary arrests against the grassroots anti-Occupation movement, the Popular Struggle Coordination Committee (PSCC) identified the need to present key findings on Israel's violations of Civil and Political Rights of Palestinians as part of the Israeli attempt to quash the movement, and attempts to do so in this policy paper.

The PSCC is a grassroots initiative which was formed by prominent activists in the popular committees from all over the West Bank and across the Palestinian political spectrum.

This report includes a brief presentation of the movement, its goals and the main strategies utilized by it to actively implement international law and bring about justice for Palestinians.

After briefly presenting violations of the UN Civil and Political Rights Convention, the report sets forth key findings showing how Israel is violating these rights. The paper will classify key findings according to the list of rights guaranteed by the convention, and provide clear and updated proof of the violation of these rights as part of a concerted and politically motivated campaign to quash the Popular Struggle movement.

The paper offers a plan of action listing the PSCC 's demands for the International Community, framed in the European Union Guidelines on Human Rights Defenders, in order to stop the current wave of repression against the movement.

This report is a preliminary summary of the findings, based on the examples of a few leading villages in the popular struggle against the Wall and settlements.

PURPOSE OF THIS POLICY PAPER:

Based on the findings recorded in this policy paper, it presents a suggested plan of action directed to the International Community.

It is not intended to offer a legal analysis of all the violations committed by Israel under the Civil and Political Rights Convention of the United Nations. These violations have all been well documented and analyzed elsewhere in the past. Rather, the purpose of this paper is to research and record key findings, with updated information, on how these rights are currently being violated.

INTRODUCTION:

More than five years have passed since the International Court of Justice (ICJ) issued its advisory opinion on the Legal Consequences of the Construction of a Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, in which it ruled that "The construction of the Wall being built by Israel, the occupying Power, in the occupied Palestinian territory, including in and around East Jerusalem, and its associated régime, are contrary to international law. Israel is under an obligation to […] dismantle forthwith the structure therein situated, and to repeal or render ineffective forthwith all legislative and regulatory acts relating thereto".[1]

Israeli authorities rejected the ICJ's advisory opinion despite public support from the international community, despite the court’s citation of a number of international law provisions applicable in the Occupied Palestinian Territory[2], despite the recognition of the International Committee of the Red Cross that the current route of the Wall is contrary to international humanitarian law and despite the UN General Assembly endorsement of the verdict of the ICJ.

Five years after the advisory opinion of the ICJ, no significant progress has been achieved rectify the situation[3]. While the international community advocates applying the rule of international law, Israeli authorities continue to systematically violate international law on the ground[4]. The dispossession and forced displacement of Palestinian communities, the destruction of their economies, and the fragmentation of the West Bank caused by the Wall are conditions that block any long-term solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

While the international community continues to speak out against the illegality of the Wall and settlements, this policy paper aims at shedding light on a newly developing threat – the repression of the popular struggle against the Wall and the continued expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Palestinians have formed local popular committees In different locations all across the West Bank and East Jerusalem. These committees lead a campaign of civil resistance to the Wall, engaging in weekly, and even daily, demonstrations. The communities involved have faced a staggering level of repression, arrests and violence carried out by the Israeli authorities in an attempt to suppress this movement. This report aims to investigate that repression and determine its true extent and nature.

The report will provide evidence of injuries and deaths inflicted by the Israeli military at demonstrations and other protest activities to be the result of a calculated policy of repression, and as such not isolated cases of error or accident.

Moreover, this report aims to present internal and external challenges faced by the movement. It will provide facts to substantiate the emergence of this movement in the affected villages, in an effort to protect their rights and their land, and to implement key provisions of international law.

Furthermore, this policy paper aspires to ascend beyond being a collection of key facts on the ground. It intends to propose a plan for action for the International Community, Israeli authorities, Palestinian leadership, local and international media and Palestinian, Israeli and international civil society.

THE NONVIOLENT POPULAR STRUGGLE AGAINST THE OCCUPATION:

Faced by the undeterred violation of their rights by Israel, most notably through the construction of the Wall and settlements, Palestinians civil society began organizing in the form of popular committees in the year of 2003. These committees served as an ad-hoc non-partisan mobilization platform for the creation of a civic grassroots movement, inspired by the long tradition of Palestinian nonviolence, as well as by the schools of Martin Luther King Jr., Mahatma Gandhi and the South African anti-Apartheid movement[5].

The popular struggle possesses the potential for a civic transformation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and poses the most significant alternative to ongoing violence and despair. Though demonstrations do sometimes escalate into clashes with limited, unarmed, violence by protesters, which are met with disproportional violence by the Army - the PSCC calls for and strives to organize nonviolent resistance as a strategic choice. Contrasting the violence embedded in military occupation with an essentially nonviolent, civilian mobilization, the popular struggle has the capacity to minimize the general level of violence in the conflict. It also strives to involve individuals and communities in a constructive, development-oriented endeavor for liberation and assertion of rights.

The popular struggle, which enjoyed the support and participation of both Israeli and international activists from its inception, emerged in the affected villages in an effort to protect their rights and their land, and avert the destruction of their livelihoods and communities. The movement's strategic goal of implementing international law on the ground was further encouraged by the ICJ advisory opinion and relevant UN resolutions regarding the violations of Palestinian rights by Israel.

Far surpassing the reactive nature of protests, the Popular Committees and the movement they spearhead, lead a proactive and strategic political agenda. The Popular Committees' capacity-building program includes increasing the involvement of the Palestinian political leadership and cooperation with the Israeli and international solidarity movements. The committees' agenda includes nonviolent direct action, legal and media training for local activists, monitoring and reporting, advocacy and legal assistance. The popular struggle's guiding principles resonate from the Coordination Committee's motto: Nonviolence. Creativity. Joint Struggle.

At present, between a thousand to two thousand people are mobilized on a weekly basis, in about ten active villages that organize diverse actions and activities against settlement expansion and the Wall.

Recent months have seen a significant rise in the exposure of the movement in the Palestinian street, as well as a momentous shift in mainstream Palestinian political discourse - most notably the explicit support of the senior Palestinian Authority officials, including West Bank prime minister Salam Fayyad and Palestinians president Mahmoud Abbas.[6]

CIVIL AND POLITICAL RIGHTS OF THE PROTESTERS:

This policy paper investigation is limited to Israeli violations of the rights bestowed in the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights[7], which details the obligations of nations and individuals towards the implementation of the following rights (among others):

(1) the right to effective remedy when rights have been violated;  (2) the right to life; (3) the right to liberty and freedom of movement; (4) the right to equality before the law; (5) freedom of opinion and expression; and (6) freedom of assembly and association. The covenant also forbids: (1) torture and inhuman or degrading treatment and. (2) arbitrary arrest and detention.

As a signatory and ratifying state, Israel is legally bound by the covenant to maintain and protect these rights. While a temporary suspension of some of the rights detailed in the covenant is permitted under a state of emergency, a 42 years long state of prolonged occupation cannot reasonably be considered a state of emergency justifying such a suspension.

Future research should consider expanding the scope of reference to include additional binding human rights treaties, agreements, covenants and other articles of international law[8].

KEY FINDINGS ON ISRAEL’S MAIN VIOLATIONS OF THE CIVIL AND POLITICAL RIGHTS OF PROTESTERS:

Demonstrations and various other protest activities against the Wall and settlement expansion are met with a wide Israeli strategy of repression, using a number of seemingly separate but complimentary tactics.  Palestinian, Israeli and international protesters are regularly met with violence, curfews, blockades and mass arrests.

Former detainees and their families are often subjected to particular forms of indiscriminate collective punishment in the form of blacklisting, permit confiscation and, in some cases, harassment, long after they have completed their sentences.

In the past year, since the “Cast Lead” military operation in Gaza, Israeli authorities have intensified their efforts to suppress the Palestinian popular struggle in general, and Palestinians involved in grassroots campaigns against the Wall and settlement expansion specifically.

These efforts are manifested mostly (though not exclusively) in three tactics:

  1. Increased violence against protesters, most notably the introduction of new arms, and a policy of negligent use of these arms.
  2. Cover up of continued criminal misconduct.
  3. Legal persecution.

1. Disproportionate Violence and Negligent Use of Arms as a Policy
Violations of the Right to Life (Article 6)

The right to life of those taking part in protests against the Wall and settlements is under continued threat by the Israeli military’s systematic use of violence, which amounts to a directed policy of repression rather than isolated cases of individual ill judgment.

Since December 2008, four protesters have been killed while participating in unarmed anti-Wall demonstrations.

  • Arafat Khawaja, age 22, was shot in the back with live ammunition on December 28th, 2008, during a demonstration in the village of Ni'ilin.
  • Mohammed Khawaja, age 20 was shot in the head with live ammunition December 28th, 2008, during a demonstration in the village of Ni'ilin. Mohammed sustained critical wounds that left him clinically dead. Khawaja passed away three days later, on December 31st, 2008.
  • Bassem Abu Rhamah, age 31 was shot in the chest with a high velocity teargas projectile on April 17th, 2009, during a demonstration the village of Bil'in.
  • Aqel Srur, age 36 was shot in the chest by a sniper using .22" caliber ammunition on June 5th, 2009, during a demonstration in the village of Ni'ilin.

Since operation "Cast Lead" in January 2009,  two kinds of ammunition have been introduced by the army as means for dispersing demonstrations: (1) High velocity tear-gas projectiles and (2) 0.22” caliber live ammunition, shot by snipers. The introduction of these new weapons against demonstrators amounts to a directed policy of negligent use of arms in order to achieve political goals, most notably the suppression of Palestinian popular struggle.

High Velocity Tear-Gas Projectiles:
  • Manufactured and sold to the Israeli military by Combined Systems Inc.; a United States Company based in Jamestown, Pennsylvania.  According to the company's subsidiary website[9], the projectiles are not meant for use in open-air crowd control situations, but rather as indoor barricade penetrators[10].
  • According to Palestinian Red Crescent records in Bil'in and Ni'ilin, 18 people have been directly shot at and hit by the high velocity projectiles since their introduction, in these two villages alone.
  • On April 17th, 2009, Bil'in resident Bassem Abu Rahmah was killed as a result of being hit in the chest with a high velocity tear-gas projectile.
  • In Bil’in and Ni’ilin two additional people have suffered severe head injuries caused by the high velocity tear-gas projectiles:
  • On January 23rd, 2009, Bil'in resident Khamis Abu Rahmah suffered a fractured skull and brain hemorrhage after being struck in the back of his head with an extended range tear gas projectile. He is left partially handicapped and suffers slight cognitive damage.
  • On March 13th, 2009, American citizen Tristan Anderson suffered numerous condensed fractures to the skull above the right eye socket after being struck with a high velocity tear-gas projectile. He suffered extensive brain tissue damage.
0.22” Caliber Bullets:

0.22” caliber bullets have been reclassified as live ammunition by the Israeli army's own Judge Advocate General (JAG) in 2001[11], and therefore are strictly forbidden for use as crowed control specifically, or in non life-threatening situations, generally[12].

  • Nevertheless, the Israeli military resumed using the 0.22” caliber ammunition to disperse demonstrations in the wake of operation “Cast Lead”. This was done without the JAG revising the categorization of the ammunition, and in situations far removed from "life-threatening".
  • On June 5th, 2009, during an unarmed demonstration in the village Ni'ilin resident Aqel Srour was shot dead by a sniper using 0.22" caliber ammunition,
  • Following Srour's death, and the February 13th, 2009 death of 14 year old Az a-Din al-Jamal, in Hebron under similar circumstances, the JAG reiterated the ban on using live ammunition, including 0.22” caliber bullets, to suppress demonstrations[13].
  • After a temporary decrease in casualties during anti-Wall demonstrations between June and November 2009, Israeli authorities reintroduced the use of 0.22” caliber live ammunition for crowd control purposes on November 13th, 2009.
  • According to Red Crescent records in Ni'iln, since operation “Cast Lead”, 29 people, including Aqel Srour, have been injured by .22” bullets in that village alone.
  • On September 15th, 2010, Major Igor Moiseev who testified as an expert witness on behalf of the prosecution in Abdallah Abu Rahmah's trial, said that 0.22" caliber bullets are considered non-lethal ammunition, in complete disregard to JUG directions[14].
  • Moiseev, the Operations Officer in the Binyamin Brigade, which is in charge of the military's operations in Bil'in, Ni'ilin and Nabi Saleh, in fact said that he does not even know any directive forbidding the use of 0.22" caliber live ammunition for crowd control purposes.

Unlike occasional misuse of ordinary crowd-control measures, which can be attributed to the erring of individual soldiers – an introduction of new weapons and their systematic and repeated misuse over a prolonged period of time can only be viewed as an intentional policy. The military's field command's disregard to the JUG's directives as exemplified in Major Moiseev's testimony in court further illustrates this policy.


2. Cover Up of Criminal Misconduct
Failing to Ensure Effective Remedy to Violation of Rights (Article 2)

For a policy of negligent use of arms to be an efficient tool in Israel's strategy of repressing the nonviolent popular resistance movement, lack of personal accountability is essential.

  • A criminal investigation has not been opened regarding any of the fatalities during anti-Wall demonstrations since December 2008, except in that of Aqel Srour. Investigations have not been opened despite the fact that all casualties were unarmed civilian protesters, and were killed in strictly policing situations rather than ones of armed hostilities.
  • Even the killing of Bassem Abu Rahmah, who's shooting was clearly recorded on video[15], did not merit a criminal investigation. To date, the only examination of the case was an internal inquiry by the shooter's commanding officers, in an operational-debriefing procedure. The findings and evidence collected in an operational-debriefing cannot later be used against those investigated in criminal proceedings.
  • Even when a criminal investigation is opened, derelict policing ensures there will be no punitive legal sanctions against soldiers and Border Police officers.
  • In the case of Aqel Srour, a criminal investigation of the shooting was initiated, but the investigating team in charge of the case has not bothered to visit the scene of the shooting.
  • In the case of American citizen Tristan Anderson, the prosecution has decided to not file indictments against the Border Police officers involved. The case was closed for “lack of wrongdoing” despite the fact that the investigating team has never visited the site of the shooting.
  • In Anderson's case, the police preferred the Border Police officers' version of the story over that of numerous civilian eyewitnesses.
  • The Border Police officers' version has them located 200-300 meters away from Anderson. A simple visit to the scene would have refuted their version, as that would locate them two hills away from Anderson, and with no line of fire.

3. Legal Persecution
Violations of the Freedom of Expression, Assembly and Association (Articles 19, 21, 22)

The Israeli strategy of quelling grassroots resistance also consists of legal persecution of both the rank and file, and the leadership of the movement. Such persecution is in clear violation of the rights to freedom of opinion, expression, assembly and association. The recent augmentation in the use of legal repression against anti-Wall demonstrators conjoined with the rise of other methods of repression should not only be examined on a case-by-case base, but rather in its wider context. This rise in the use of force against civilians must be acknowledged as a systematic implementation of an illegitimate policy of political repression, in an attempt to suppress the grassroots protest movement.

  • Since June 23rd, 2009, the Israeli Army has carried 46 arrests in the West Bank village of Bil'in in connection with anti-Wall protest.
  • Five of those arrested during this period in Bil'in are members of the village's Popular Committee Against the Wall and the Settlements; one of the, Mohammed Khatib, was arrested twice during this period
  • All five were detained under the suspicion of "organizing and participating in illegal marches" and "incitement" – a blanket charge for organizing demonstrations. Incitement is defined in military law as "An attempt, whether verbally or otherwise, to influence public opinion in the Area in a way that may disturb the public peace or public order."
  • Both charges have not been used in military court since the period of the first Intifada, and were brought back to use as part of the legal campaign to silence the groping wave of popular struggle.
  • Of the five, two, Adeeb Abu Rhamah and Abdallah Abu Rahmah, have been remanded until the end of legal proceedings.
  • Adeeb Abu Rahmah, a taxi driver and a father of nine was arrested during a demonstration on 10 July 2009, and has been held in detention since.
  • Abdallah Abu Rahmah, a high school teacher, coordinator of the Bil'in Popular Committee and a father of three, was arrested during a military night-raid on his Ramallah home in Palestinian Authority controlled Area A on December 10th, 2009, and has been held in detention since.
  • Abdallah Abu Rahmah was also charged with "illegal possession of weapons", for collecting spent tear-gas canisters,  which, according to the indictment itself, "the Accused and his companions used for the purposes of an exhibition, at which they showed people what means the security forces employ."
  • Both Adeeb Abu Rahmah and Abdallah Abu Rahmah have been convicted of incitement and are facing a potentially harsh sentence.
  • Adeeb Abu Rahmah was sentenced to 12 months imprisonment, which he had already served by the time he was sentenced (July 7th, 2010).
  • Despite having already served his sentence, Adeeb Abu Rahmah is still behind bars. Following an appeal of the so-called lenient sentence filed by the military prosecution, the Military Court of Appeals decided to remand him until it rules on the case.
  • Since May 2008, the Israeli Army has carried 119 arrests in the West Bank village of Bil'in in connection with anti-Wall protest.
  • Since December 16th, 33 arrests were carried in Ni'ilin in connection with anti-Wall protest.
  • On 12 January 2010, three residents of Ni'ilin were detained under suspicion of being members of the village's Popular Committee. The three, Ibrahim Amirah, Hassan Mousa and Zaydoun Srour, are all charged with incitement, stone-throwing and organizing illegal marches
  • Since December 16th, 2009 and May 6th, 2010, 25 military raids on the village have been recorded.
  • Prominent grassroots activists Jamal Jum'a (East Jerusalem) and Mohammed Othman (Jayyous) of the Stop the Wall organization, have recently been released from detention after being incarcerated for long periods (a month and four months, respectively) based on secret evidence and with no charges brought against them. The two are involved in advocacy work and grassroots organizing, mostly regarding the Wall and Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel.
  • The level of prima facie evidence required in order to remand Palestinian detainees until the end of legal proceedings in military courts is, in practice, significantly lower than that needed in a criminal procedure inside Israel.
  • Palestinians protesters who have been remanded until the end of legal proceedings are often driven to accept plea bargains and confess to offenses they did commit, as the duration of an average trial significantly exceeds the imprisonment periods mostly handed on protest-related offenses.

4. Institutionalized Racial Discrimination
Violations of the Right to Equality Before the Law (Articles 26)

Recent research on Israel’s violations of the right to equality before the law, conducted by Addameer, the Palestinian Prisoners Support and Human Rights Association[16], provides the following conclusions:

  • While Israelis, internationals and Palestinians all face high levels of violence when arrested, it appears most force is used during the arrests of Palestinians.
  • Israelis and internationals are less likely to be arrested than Palestinians.
  • Once detained, Israelis and internationals are treated with significantly less violence than Palestinians, and do not suffer the same human rights violations.
  • Palestinians - unlike Israelis and internationals - face violence, torture, and long periods of interrogation. Palestinian detainees commonly face humiliation, denial of adequate medical care, poor sanitary and hygiene conditions, insufficient and inadequate food and drink and exposure to the elements.
  • In addition to physical abuse, Palestinians face threats of arrest and violence to their families, as well as damage to their property and livelihoods, among other forms of psychological abuse.
  • Israel fails to recognize the applicability of international law when detaining juveniles, and fails to meet minimal child protection standards: The Israeli prison system has special facilities for juveniles, but the military courts use sixteen as the cut-off age. Palestinian juveniles are therefore treated and sentenced as adults. From the accounts received from children in detention, child protection measures are not respected in detention, and juveniles are subjected to ill-treatment and torture.
  • Israel practices institutionalized racism during the sentencing process: Israelis and Internationals are tried in civil courts and are much less likely to face charges. Palestinians are tried in military courts and are more likely to be convicted of an offence, on less substantiated evidence against them.
  • Palestinians do not receive fair trials, due to problems with accessing legal advice, coercive methods used during interrogations – which are used in court against them, contrarily to international law - and an inability to prepare their case properly.
  • Palestinians and their lawyers are caught between a rock and a hard place: admit guilt and be sentenced for a short period or appeal and risk facing a much harsher sentence. The fines that Palestinians are charged with are much higher than those of other nationalities, and constitute one of the punitive measures used against them.
  • One of the key bail conditions for Palestinians released is that they do not attend the protests. Often, prisoners who are released have to sign a statement that they will no longer participate in protests.
  • Suspended sentences are used as a means of coercing Palestinians to stop protesting. They can be applied at any time to threaten further arrest for attending a protest.

[2]  Summary of High Court Findings, Feb. 28th 2005, http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Peace/fencereply.html
[3] Israel has not dismantled any section of the “Separation Barrier” that was nullified by the High Court, 9th July 2008.   http://www.btselem.org/English/Press_Releases/20080709.asp
[14] http://www.popularstruggle.org/sites/default/files/abdallah.sentencing.phase.15092010.pdf. Court protocol from the September 15th 2010 hearing in Abdallah Abu Rahmah's case (Hebrew, page 3, lines 38-56)