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Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Surprise! New Amnesty International report critical of Israel

"Evictions and Demolitions Must Stop"
According to Amnesty's press release yesterday,
Israel's unjustified destruction of thousands of Palestinian and Arab Israeli homes as well as vast areas of agricultural land has reached an unprecedented level and must stop immediately, Amnesty International said today.

Over the last three and a half years, Israeli armed forces have demolished more than 3,000 homes, leaving tens of thousands of men, women and children homeless or without a livelihood.

In a report released today -- Israel and the Occupied Territories. Under the rubble: House demolition and destruction of land and property -- Amnesty International said: "The grounds invoked by Israel to justify the destruction are overly broad and based on discriminatory policies and practices."

According to the United Nations, more than 2,000 homes in Gaza have been destroyed in the last three years and 10 percent of the agricultural land. In the West Bank, almost 90% of Israel's fence/wall is being built on occupied territory and at least 600 homes have been destroyed.

In the Occupied Territories, demolitions are often carried out as collective punishments for Palestinian attacks or to facilitate the expansion of illegal Israeli settlements. Both practices contravene international law and some of these acts are war crimes.

Forced evictions and house demolitions are usually carried out without warning with families given little or no time to leave their homes and salvage their possessions. Most cases of house demolition and destruction of land are not subject to legal supervision or appeal.

Amnesty International is calling on Israel to halt all unlawful destruction of homes and land, including for the expansion of Israeli settlements and/or for the building of the fence/wall in the Occupied Territories.

The Palestinian Authority is called upon to take measures to prevent attacks by Palestinian armed groups on Israeli civilians.

Amnesty International is also pressing for other States, particularly the US, to stop the sale or transfer of weaponry and equipment that are used to commit unlawful destruction of homes and other human rights violations..
Amnesty also has an Action Alert whereby you are asked to appeal to PM Sharon:
"Such destruction has resulted in widespread violations of the right to adequate housing and a decent standard of living for tens of thousands of people and violates fundamental principles of international human rights and humanitarian law."

An Israeli Armored Personnel Carrier moves into Rafah during an incursion.
At least 15 Palestinians were killed and more than 30 wounded as dozens of
Israeli tanks and hundreds of troops swept through the heart of this Gaza
refugee camp in one of the bloodiest operations of the intifada.
(AFP/Nadav Neuhaus)

Initial Response from Israel's Ministry of Foreign Affairs
For nearly four years, Israelis have been the victims of a relentless and ongoing campaign by Palestinian terrorists to spread death and destruction, condemning our region to ongoing turmoil, killing more than 900 Israelis and injuring more than 6000.

In light of this unprecedented lethal threat, and the failure of the Palestinian leadership to comply with its obligations to fight this terrorism, Israeli security forces have sought to find new effective and lawful counter-measures that would minimize the occurrence of such attacks in general, and suicide terrorism in particular.

One such security measure is the demolition of structures that pose a real security risk to Israeli forces. When terrorists fire from within civilian structures or activate roadside charges from trees and fields, military necessity dictates the demolition of these locations. Under International Law, these structures are considered legitimate military targets. Therefore, in the midst of combat, when dictated by operational necessity, Israeli security forces may lawfully destroy structures used by terrorists.

Israel refrains whenever possible from attacking terrorist targets from the air or with artillery, in order to minimize collateral damage, a policy which entails risking the lives of Israeli soldiers. The death of 13 soldiers in ground operations in the Gaza Strip in early May 2004 is just one example of the heavy price Israel pays for its commitment to minimize Palestinian civilian casualties.

A further factor necessitating the demolition of buildings is the use made by terrorist groups of civilian buildings in order to conceal openings of tunnels used to smuggle arms, explosives and terrorists from Egypt into the Gaza Strip. Other buildings in the West Bank and Gaza Strip are used for the manufacturing and concealment of rockets, mortars, weapons and explosive devices to be used against Israel. The demolition of these structures is often the only way to combat this threat.

Justus Reid Weiner, a member of Amnesty International and lecturer on international law and business at Hebrew University, also responds in an interview at Access/Middle East, and JPost covers the Rafah incursion (and world condemnation) here.